first look before my wedding

Should I have a first look before my wedding?

Wedding first looks can seem like a big decision. If you asking yourself the question: “Should I have a first look before my wedding?” the blog post below will help you get to the bottom of the question. In fact, it will help you remember to ask a different question.

What are my priorities and values?

After over a decade of photographing weddings, we’ve seen a variety of scenarios play out and are here to tell you that there’s not always a one-size-fits-all solution.

One of our wedding planning advice posts that couples find the most helpful is the one on sample wedding photography timelines. Often figuring out the schedule for the day is challenging when you’re juggling hair appointments, hungry wedding guests, and that beautiful sunset light. The main factor in figuring out the timeline is deciding if you want a first look.

*Updated Post!

Should I have a first look before my wedding?

  • The short answer is maybe, but here are other questions to ask yourself to help you decide.
  • Is the moment of seeing each other for the first time walking down the aisle important to you?
  • Is being able to participate in cocktail hour important to you?
  • Do you have a big bridal party or family that you’ll need to coordinate for pictures?
  • How close is sunset to your ceremony time?

Let’s dive deeper into answering this question of wedding first looks.

If you’re just getting started with your wedding planning be sure to check out our free e-guide:  How to prioritize your planning so your wedding is a memorable adventure. We’re all about reminding you to follow your heart (it’s a wedding after all!)

What is a First Look

What even is a wedding first look? The first look is when the bride and groom first see each other on their wedding day. Historically the first look would happen as the bride and groom are walking down the aisle to begin the ceremony but now couples will choreograph a first look moment that might happen before the ceremony. Choreographed wedding first looks are an attempt to preserve the special emotions that come with anticipation while relieving some of the logistical challenges of the tradition on the wedding timeline.

Main Reasons for Wedding First Looks

  • Pro: I want to spend more of the day together
  • Pro: I want to have an intimate moment together
  • Pro: I want to make the timeline smoother
  • Pro: I have a big wedding party and I need to get those pictures done before the wedding ceremony
  • Pro: Our ceremony and wedding venue are far apart and I want to drive together
  • Pro: I want to do wedding portraits before the ceremony so I can enjoy the reception
  • Pro: I love first-look photos

Main Reasons Against Wedding First Looks

  • Con: I want us to be emotional walking down the aisle
  • Con: I want family and friends to witness the special moment the groom sees the bride walk down the aisle in her dress
  • Con: I want to do wedding portraits after the ceremony so the wedding dress stays clean
  • Con: If I do a first look I have to be ready earlier

The Short Answer: Maybe

I’m never one to say that everyone should do this or everyone should do that. You should always make your own decision after considering your options and applying whatever is best for you. Again, see our free e-guide about priorities: How to prioritize your planning so your wedding is a memorable adventure. When it comes to the first look a lot of wedding planners and photographers will encourage you to do one for the sake of the timeline. In general, this is true.

In general, yes, doing wedding first looks spreads out the wedding timeline a lot allowing us to make sure we can get all the photos we want without stealing you away from your guests. However, know that as professionals we have worked and are willing to work with a variety of timelines. If you favor a more compact schedule for the sake of preserving that special part of the day, it’s our job to handle the timeline and absorb any stress so that you can enjoy the day!

So if you don’t care about any of the reasons not to see each other before the ceremony, you can probably just make whatever decision your photographer and wedding planner recommends. But you might decide you lean one way or the other. Below are some questions to encourage you to think through the decision for your own wedding.

first look before my wedding

Is seeing each other for the first time walking down the aisle important?

No First Look

One of the main reasons that couples choose NOT TO DO a first look is that they like the idea of seeing each other for the first time walking down the aisle right before the wedding ceremony. They like that little bit of tradition. They like the anticipation.

They like the idea of seeing each other in front of witnesses, friends, and family. They’ve waited and planned a wedding ceremony and they want the emotion and excitement that goes with it.

For these couples, should I do a first look before my wedding has an easy answer: no.

Yes First Look

Alternatively, some people say that a first look doesn’t change the emotion and excitement. If a couple doesn’t care about that special moment, the answer is maybe, dig deeper. Would they rather see each other before the ceremony and have a first-look moment together?

Some people say that feel like they need to get the tears and pre-wedding nerves out of the way sooner. They need a moment to take a deep breath and they want that first moment to be intimate and private. They know they’re going to cry like a baby and need to do makeup touch-ups before the wedding ceremony.

Some people say they want more flexibility in the schedule in case anything is going on with the weather. And probably, the one that I have found to be the most true is that some couples want more time together on their wedding day. Doing a first look will allow them to spend more of the day together rather than in separate dressing rooms waiting for the wedding ceremony.

no first look before my wedding

Is participating in cocktail hour important?

One of the main reasons that couples choose TO DO  a first look is that they want to spend as much time with their wedding guests as possible. They want to participate in part of cocktail hour mingling and toasting with their friends. Often we’ll have couples tell us they want to get the majority of wedding photos done before the ceremony so that after the ceremony they can focus mostly on enjoying their guests.

People came from all over to celebrate with you and so it makes sense to want to maximize time with them. Alternatively, guests are actually pretty used to having a cocktail hour before dinner and they generally know you might be off taking pictures during that time so don’t think that they will judge you or be annoyed with you. Your guests are there to help you celebrate, they love and support you.

The Reality of A Wedding Day

The reality is that if you divide your guests by minutes you only have a few minutes with each wedding guest anyway. First look or not, you’re going to feel like everything goes quickly even if you try to get all the photos out of the way beforehand.

Depending on the size and dynamics of your bridal party and family, it can sometimes be easier to do group photos after the ceremony anyway. (We almost always do.) Depending on the ceremony time, the light might be better for photos during cocktail hour than before the ceremony anyway.

Wedding first looks often make the timeline easier but not always.

Let’s talk about those two issues next.

no first look before my wedding

Do you have a big bridal party or family?

If your reason for doing a first look is to get a lot of the posed photography out of the way beforehand so that you can focus on enjoying your reception and the photographers can focus on candids, then make sure that you can get those photos done beforehand. The main factor here is the size and dynamics of the family and bridal party.

Do you have one uncle that’s always late? Or a lot of Bridesmaids that might take a long time to get ready? How realistic is it for you to ask your flower girls and ring bearers to be ready an hour or more before the ceremony and then behave throughout?

Wedding first looks can make things easier or harder on your bridal party. Are you asking everyone to be ready way earlier than they would otherwise need to? Or can they continue getting ready while you head out for the first look?

When to do group pictures and portraits?

We almost always do family formals right after the actual ceremony regardless of a first look. The main advantage of doing family pictures after the ceremony is that everyone is usually present by then. Alternatively, we’ve had a missing family member during family photos before the ceremony and had to reshoot after the ceremony anyway.

Essentially, think about the members involved. If you don’t see a problem asking everyone to be ready early for family photos then they might appreciate being able to head right over to the bar after the ceremony rather than stand around for pictures.

Often wedding first looks can still relieve some stress on the timeline because you can get some bridal party portraits and couples portraits out of the way. Being efficient with whatever time we have is part of the job of a wedding photographer.

How close is sunset to your ceremony time?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, how close is sunset to your ceremony time? If you know a little about photography you know that it’s all about good light. At the minimum, it’s about some light and wedding first looks can impact the overall timeline.

In the worst-case scenario you time everything perfectly to be taking sunset portraits after the ceremony but then end up having to start the ceremony late for some reason or another. Then the ceremony’s over, the sun is about to set and the photographers have to choose between your sunset portraits and shooting family pictures in the dark.

Doing the first look allows for a little more flexibility in the schedule because if any delays happen on your wedding day, you won’t run out of light to get all your photos done. Yes, we have flash and can shoot in the dark. However, a lot of our couples would prefer beautiful mountain backdrops for their family photos!

Shoot sunset portraits either way

Regardless, even when our couples choose to do a first look we encourage them to plan to take some time for sunset portraits. These portraits are often the ones that end up hung over the mantel, on the cover of the wedding album, and used as social media profiles. We’re pretty good about helping you figure out how to sneak out of cocktail hour, dinner, or the reception for a few moments together under the setting sun whether you choose a first look or not.

first look before my wedding

Summary of Wedding First Looks

We hope those tips helped you answer that question: “Should I do a first look before my wedding?” Essentially, we view it on a case-by-case basis. We have even had couples do first looks for entirely different reasons such as a desire to do a first look somewhere far away from the venue like on a mountain top. We’ve had couples who want time together before the ceremony to exchange private vows. We’ve had couples getting ready in one location and getting married in another with a desire to ride from A to B together.

And we’ve also had couples who knew it wasn’t up for discussion. They were going to wait for that special, intimate moment when she was walking down the aisle. Wedding first looks are personal, and so are weddings!

More Tips Ahead

We hope you enjoyed this post on wedding first looks and making a decision that’s right for you.

Stay tuned for more tips for adventurous brides! You can also view more of our current and most popular wedding planning advice. If there’s a question we can answer, reach out. Most of our content is built from questions from our readers.

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We are Marc and Brenda Bergreen, a husband and wife photography team specializing in outdoor weddings and other adventures. Capturing people in nature and the mountain lifestyle is a passion that became a dream that became a life.

Based in Evergreen, CO we travel throughout the state as Colorado adventure wedding photographers and videographers. We also frequently travel to California and other wedding destinations to document love and adventure in a variety of memorable settings. Don’t hesitate to contact us and let us know how we can help! Be sure to follow us (weddings instagram & adventures instagram) and/or like us (facebook) to stay tuned.

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