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  • Writer's pictureAndrea O'Bert


Today, we are going to be chatting all about one of my favorite parts of the wedding day. Something that’s special, and fun, and emotional, and wonderful, and that is the first look! We are going to be talking all about what is a first look is, why you should or shouldn’t have one, how to successfully have one or not have one as well as a few alternatives if a first look just isn’t for you and your partner.


So first and foremost, let’s talk about what a first look actually is. If you haven’t heard of first looks, essentially what it is a is planned moment during the wedding day before the ceremony where the couple sees each other for the first time. This is generally planned by the photographer to be in a beautiful and well-lit location. In a traditional first look, the groom will stand facing away from the bride and the bride will come up behind them, tap them on the shoulder and then they will turn around and see each other for the first time in their wedding attire. Nowadays, there are so many different structures for first looks and it can really turn into anything you want it to be. Some couples wear blindfolds and go somewhere beautiful together and then see each other there. Some couples stand on opposite sides of a door and then open it to see each other. Others stand back to back and then turn around to face each other at the same time. You can really customize the experience to be anything that you like and that is one of the best parts of the the first look! Normally, this moment is incredibly emotional and there can be lots of laughs and tears and hugs for a lot of couples, it is one of the most well-remembered parts of the wedding day.

However, many couples prefer to wait until the ceremony to see each other for the first time, which is the traditional way of doing things. First looks are a relatively new trend in weddings and many couples struggle to decide whether it is something that they want to do. A lot of vendors like photographers and planners prefer a first look because it alleviates a lot of stress on the timeline but in the end, a couple seeing each other for the first time is one of the most important moments of the wedding day and it’s up to that couple to decide what is best for them. If you are considering a first look, but aren’t sure about it, I’m going to go over some of the pros of the first look and some of the pros to skipping the first look so you and your partner can decide what is best for your wedding day.


1. Intimate & Private Moment with Your Partner

The number one reason that many couples choose to have a first look is because it allows you to have an intimate moment together during the wedding day. Something that a lot of people don’t really think about weddings is that you don’t have a lot of time alone with your spouse! Seeing each other for the first time on the wedding day is very emotional and especially for people that might be more shy and private, it can be difficult to express those emotions in front of an audience. I definitely recommend first looks for couples that are more introverted and quiet, because you’ll have the chance to soak up that moment without the pressure of 100 people watching. Because it is intimate and private, you’ll also have the chance to talk and really BE together. During the ceremony, you won’t really have the chance to tell them how great they look or share about how your day has been so the first look is a great opportunity to soak in a moment alone together before you are surrounded by other people for the rest of the day.

2. Lowers Stress Before the Ceremony

While the first look moment is one of the most emotional parts of the wedding, it is also one of the most stressful for the couple since there is usually a lot of pressure for it to go perfectly. I often find that when I have couples who are stressed or nervous throughout the getting ready part of the day, all of their fears are immediately relieved when they see each other. I think that for a lot of people, they are constantly worried about what could go wrong but as soon as they see each other, there is a realization that none of it really matters because they have their person. It’s actually really sweet! So, if you are someone that is prone to stress or worry, I think a first look is a great option because it will lower your stress levels earlier in the day and give you more time to really enjoy yourself.

3. Allows for a Sunset Ceremony

A logistical perk of the first look is that it gives you the option to have a sunset ceremony if you wish without sacrificing your portrait time. Generally speaking, photos after the ceremony (including family, wedding party and couple’s portraits) will take at least 90 minutes, and if you are looking for naturally lit photos, this means that it is impossible to have a sunset ceremony. However, if you have a first look, it means that all of these images can be taken before the ceremony, so you can have your ceremony later in the day. If your photographer specializes in flash and night portraiture and you love that style, this isn’t necessarily an issue, but if you are looking for day-time photos, it’s important to keep in mind the time necessary to capture those images after the ceremony when deciding on a ceremony time.

4. Less rush during portrait hour

As I said in the last point, portrait hour after the ceremony can often take upwards of 90 minutes, and without a first look, this time is usually very fast-paced, rushing family in and out of photos, darting from spot to spot for portraits and generally trying to beat the sunset or make it back to the reception in time for dinner. However, since you can take many of these photos before the ceremony with a first look, it allows for a much slow paced portrait hour. Even if we don’t take all of the photos before the ceremony, a lot of times we just end up taking a few family portraits and sunset couple’s portraits, so it is usually much more relaxed and slow. It also means that there may be leftover time during cocktail hour before the reception begins! Some couples take this time to hang out with their guests at the bar and others choose to go for a walk alone with a bottle of wine and take in the sunset. Either way, it’s generally a bit slower paced and more relaxed.


1. You’ll have more time earlier in the day

One of the downsides of the first look is that is generally happens at least a couple hours before the ceremony, which means that you have to be ready earlier than you normally would. Most couples also want their wedding party to be ready at this time as well for photos, and depending on the time of the ceremony, this can be a bit stressful the morning of the wedding. If you have a large wedding party and are planning on professional hair and makeup for everyone, it’s really important to account for all of the time that it is going to take for everyone to be finished and coordinating that with an early first look can often mean that you will have an extra early start on the wedding morning, which isn’t for everyone.

2. You don’t have to worry about dirtying your dress before the ceremony.

With a first look schedule, you’ll generally end up taking a good portion of your portraits before the ceremony begins, and generally speaking, the more you wear your dress outside and about, the more you risk getting it dirty. It’s important to know that no matter what, your wedding dress WILL get dirty on your wedding day, but if you’d like to keep it pristine until after the ceremony, a first look (at least an outdoor one) might not be a good option for you. As a photographer, I love to have my couples swish their dress around, dance, walk and move around and these are all opportunities for the dress to get a bit dirty so doing this before the ceremony might mean that you have a bit of dirt or dust on the bottom of your dress. It normally isn’t bad or noticeable at all but depending on the material of your dress, this might not be something that you want.

3. You get to share the first look moment with friends and family

By waiting until the ceremony to see each other for the first time, you can to share the emotions of seeing your partner for the first time with all of your friends and family. For a lot of parents and grandparents, this moment can stir up a lot of memories and emotions and by waiting until the ceremony to have this moment, it gets to be a sweet and emotional moment for everyone in attendance.

4. It is simply more traditional.

If tradition is something that is very important to you and you have always imagined seeing your partner for the first time at the altar, that is okay! Wait until the ceremony! For a lot of people, they simply can’t imagine doing it any other way and there is nothing wrong with that at all. As I said, the moment you see each other for the first time is one of the most well-remembered moments of the wedding day and you should plan that experience to be however you want it to be.


1. Plan to be ready 3 hours before ceremony

As I mentioned, having a first look means that you have to be ready earlier in the day to account for all of the portrait time afterwards. Depending on the time of your ceremony relative to sunset, this can mean your first look can be two to two and a half hours before the ceremony time. As an average, most of my couples plan to be ready about three hours before their ceremony, but that can vary depending on your exact schedule.

2. Decide on a shaded, evenly lit location with your photographer

One of the best parts about the first look is that you get to choose an awesome location! You’ll want to plan this location in advance with your photographer so that it has even, beautiful lighting and a great backdrop. Because a first look is generally earlier in the day, you’ll likely want somewhere shaded or backlit to avoid harsh shadows and direct light, so while you might have some places in mind, make sure to talk to your photographer about them so that they can give you some professional feedback about whether it is a good option.

3. Have family & wedding party ready for portraits afterwards

To allow for a low-stress schedule, you’ll likely want to have your family and wedding party portraits immediately after the first look photos. This will allow you to get most of these images done so you have less to do after the ceremony. To make this run smoothly, you’ll want to make sure that your wedding party is ready right when you are and that they know where to go for wedding party photos and what time to be there. You’ll also want to inform all of the family that will be in photos what time to arrive and be ready so we aren’t running around looking for lost family members. A quick tip for this is to tell everyone a time that is 15 minutes before they actually have to be there, to avoid waiting on those folks to are always late. Depending on your people, you might have to say 30 minutes, or maybe even 45, but you know your family, so I’ll leave that one to you.


1. Schedule ceremony at least 2 hours before sunset

As I mentioned, portrait hour can take upwards of 90 minutes so depending on the length of your ceremony, I generally recommend scheduling it a minimum of two hours before the sunset. Most ceremonies take 15-30 minutes, so this should leave just enough time for portraits afterwards. If you are cutting it close with sunlight, you’ll also want to make sure you are not scheduled to enter the reception until after sunset so you can really make the most of that portrait time before the light is gone.

2. Allot time for separate wedding party & family portraits before the ceremony

While not having a first look means that there are a lot of photos that you won’t be able to take until after the ceremony, there are still quite a few that you can take beforehand like separate wedding party and family photos. Generally, most couples will each want photos alone with their side of the wedding party and their family without their partner and these can easily be taken before the ceremony. Generally, I’ll take one side out when they are ready and take all of their photos, send them back in and then take the other side out for their photos. This can alleviate some pressure during portrait hour and bring back some of the time you might be losing.

3. Build in alone time for you and your partner during the day

If you aren’t having a first look, I think it is really important to plan in some sort of time for you and your partner to be alone and decompress together during the wedding day. This is one of the perks of the first look and without one, I think that the day can whirl by so quickly that you never get the chance to sit down and be alone together. You can do this by eating dinner alone together in a separate space, having a last dance once all your guests have left or adding in just fifteen minutes before the reception to watch the sunset together. Seriously y’all ,don’t underestimate how important this is!

1. Reading Letters from each other

If you really love the emotional nature of the first look, but don’t want to see each other, one option is to write each other letters to be read on the wedding day and then have a moment alone as you are getting ready to read the letter from your partner. This is also very sweet and emotional, and creates a keepsake that you can treasure!

2. First touch

Another easy first look alternative is the first touch. For this moment, you stand against a door or corner with your partner on the other side of it, out of your sight. You can hold hands with them and talk to each other for a moment without actually seeing each other. These aren’t always easy to photograph, but they are very special for the couple, since you get to really be in that moment together without actually being face to face.

3. Other First Looks

Your first look doesn’t have to be with your partner either! If you don’t want to see your partner before the ceremony, you can do a first look with someone else special to you! Many brides do first looks with their bridesmaids and your dads and you can really alter that to be whoever you’d like! If you want to do a first look with your grandma, or your son or your brother or your best friend or your dog, you can!

Alright, I hope this little guide taught you a little more about the first look and can help you and your partner decide whether it is the right option for you! If you are still on the fence and can’t decide, my biggest recommendation is to sit down with your partner and imagine the moment seeing them for the first time on the wedding day. Think about what it looks like, who’s there, how you’re feeling, what do you want to say or do. Use this feelings to decide which is going to be the best option for you to have that moment the way you want it to be! The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong option and that if you are willing to build your wedding timeline accordingly, neither will be a source of stress. Don’t let anyone: planners, venues, photographers, parents, friends, siblings or anyone influence your decision, as it should just be between you and your partner.

Thank you so much for tuning in and don’t forget to let me know what topics you want to see in the future!

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