The couples first look (and when it should be scheduled) is a vital part of the wedding day, yet amazingly, it isn’t a question that most couples have considered when they contact us about wedding photography. Most couples sort of default to thinking, “Well, isn’t that how it’s traditionally done?” Sadly, it is, and for no more good reason then it’s presumed to be traditional – or even worse, for good luck! (Seriously, let’s be practical here! Luck is not what you should be depending on for your wedding day, is it!? You’d have to be nuts to let luck determine the outcome of your wedding – and life to follow – based on the Grooms first glance!) …And tradition? What tradition? The only traditional that can be attributed to this formality is “arranged marriages”, and – okay – in that case you would need luck. Lots of it!

The tradition of the Groom first seeing the Bride during the ceremony in the “civilized world” isn’t based on any belief system or religion, nor is it part of any modern cultural basis either. It’s mostly perpetuated by movies and fairytales that are fictional in an effort to provokes a sense of mystery and intrigue. Yeah, it’s so dreamy to visualize that moment when your planning your wedding, but lets dig a bit deeper into the implications of the first look in the real world where planning your wedding requires a somewhat more pragmatic approach.

Bride covers Grooms eyes during first look

Pros and Cons:

We have our obvious preference as wedding photographers, but our main concern is producing amazing wedding photography no matter what you choose, and regardless of your choice – most of the successes will come from knowing what to expect – and how to plan accordingly. The real objective here is to give you the insights we’ve gathered and interject some thoughts to consider. You come to your own conclusion, okay?

Calm Your Nerves:

If you are anything like me (and most everyone else), a large group of people staring at you makes you uncomfortable and nervous at best? That dream of yours since you were a little girl of walking down the isle to the delight of your new husband starts morphing into a swirling vortex and tunnel vision takes over. We’ve seen it hundreds of times; the expectations have been romanticized to dizzying heights, but when it becomes a real thing, the ability to take it all in – with all the pressures and difficulties that it took to get to that point – is overwhelming. Even those who think they’ll have no problem at all admit later on that it was all a blur and they can’t really remember any details they expected to treasure forever. Yet in strong contrast, those couples that do a first look ahead of time feel unified and confident by the easing of all those nerves. It’s a big stress reliever to feel solidarity moving forward together after that. The ceremony is a welcoming event because most of the the wedding day anxieties have been dealt with and the remaining formalities become effortless.

Bride is behind Groom for first look Groom turns to see smiling Bride

Far Less Risky:

It’s imperative to think logically and less emotionally when planning your big day. It’s a mind-set you’ll need to embrace if you expect to have any peace with the inevitabilities of a wedding. Whatever happens, happens, and that’s unchangeable. Better to expect a few mishaps and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to actually enjoy your day. Odds are you’ll enjoy it far more then you’d expected! (Besides, you’re betting against heavy odds if you expect you’re version of perfection anyway!) There are just too many things that are outside of your control that can have a disruptive effect; delays, weather, sickness, traffic, missing items, etc.

If your approach has been sensible and you’ve planned well beforehand, relax now and enjoy the moment. It’s a good reason to do the first look prior to the major formalities for this very reason. By the time all your guests are expecting to visit with you, a large portion of the important photos will be done and you’ll be able to give some attention to your guests. Plus, should something outside your control change your schedule, this provides extra back-up time to remedy the problem without leaving you cramming everything you’ve dreamt of into a few minutes before the sun goes down. There are no guarantees, and making a smart bet might not feel romantic now… but in retrospect, running around in a panic, isn’t romantic at all!

“Don’t romanticize your planning… Start planning for romance!”

Bride touches Groom's shoulder as he turns to see her

Rediscover Romance:

Hey ceremony dreamers, consider this! We find the first meeting to be far more romantic when the couple has the ability to interact in an intimate setting rather then during the actual ceremony. The reactions can be spontaneous, unrestricted, and completely real, whereas during a ceremony, those reactions are contained and confined (or even subdued by your preoccupation in it). Upfront, you can’t start hugging or gushing on about how wonderful each other looks (or even have a conversation). The ceremonies beauty is – in part, the structure and flow – whereas the reaction of a first look is unfiltered emotion, the real you; playful, tearful, excited, and unlimited and authentic. It’s a total release of stress and pressure shared equally with the one you love… What is more romantic then that?

Bride sees Groom waiting for her Bride and Groom hug during first look Groom turns to see his Bride during first look

Your Feelings Won’t Fade:

Many couples think they’ll spoil their ceremony with a first look ahead of time, expecting an emotional ceremony entry, and we can’t stress this enough… that doesn’t diminish or lessen how you feel at all. On the contrary, if anything, the emotions during the ceremony are generally more specifically focused on each other (harmonious and genuine), and less a display of nervous, anxiety, or an uncontrollable releasing of your built-up pressure in front of all your guests. Besides, there is a huge difference between seeing each other in private and seeing each other in front of all your guests, and each has it’s own emotions and responses. (If anything, I’d opt for doing both and enjoy the added bonus of twice the meetings! …and twice the photos!) There won’t be any less feelings or emotions (I promise), but having a grasp on which feeling and emotions occur – and when they do – will certainly give you the advantage of experiencing everything in a more meaningful way then simply recalling your meeting as a blur.

Bride snuggles up to Groom in first meeting

Doing a first look doesn’t lessen your emotions!

Emotional Bride walks down the isle

Free Your Wedding Schedule:

You really need to be a part of your wedding, and as silly as that sounds, it’s easy to find yourself trapped in an over-abundance of situations that have you occupied all day. Even as photographers, we realize this isn’t just a photo session and we encourage you to be involved in your day. You have family and friends to interact with, cake to eat, all sorts of formalities to enjoy, and we don’t need your attention the whole time to get amazing photos. Without good planning (and a few checkpoints along the way), the schedule can often lead to a train wreck with all the momentum of the schedule compressing at the end. Often we joke to ourselves, “We just pulled off the impossible… All those great photos in only 20 minutes”! But it’s a more of a sour note then something we’re really proud of. Sure, being forged in fire makes us better photographers; able to adapt and overcome crazy situations, but on the flip-side, do you really want to be the difficult wedding that we were tested at? Getting great results in those circumstances always leaves us thinking, “Imagine what we could have produced if they’d just given us more time?!” This is another compelling reason for a first look prior to the ceremony.

I can’t overemphasize how important it is to plan a balanced and evenly spread out day with “checkpoints” and bits of “flex time” to absorb the minor glitches that will inevitably happen. Even if you give us ample time after the ceremony for photos, it’s hard to tear yourself away from your guests and other developments that often depend on you or your input. (I’m sure you can imagine how that might affect the vibe.) If you have great pictures but didn’t enjoy your wedding, it’s a bittersweet victory.

Bride and Groom touch hands but cannot see each other Bride and Groom see each other around corner for first glance

More Photography Moments:

Regardless of all the other reasons, this might be the most significant. When the wedding is over, the photos will be all you have to look back on, so it’s important to get as many as possible, (and get your money’s worth). Scheduling a first look really smooths over the timeline in a way that keeps everything from piling up late in the day and causing chaos. It’s not just more photos either; it allows for more variety of photos too!

From our standpoint as photographers, we have very little control over what’s going on during a ceremony at all. If we have the perfect shot lined up and someone stands in front of us, we can’t call out to them to sit back down, or ask you to do something over again! We have to adapt constantly in those cases, and we have to do on-the-fly without creating a distraction or changing anything. It doesn’t mean we can’t get exceptional photos, but it most certainly has limitation and boundaries; things that wouldn’t restrict us during a less formal and more intimate first look… And of course, it’s not like we aren’t going to get those ceremony photos anyway, right?!

I talked about risk earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again… Spreading out your photo time throughout the day and using our checkpoint system not only creates more opportunities for pictures, but also protects you from certainties that could change at any time. (Example: If you wait until late to do all the photos where your are together, and the weather turns, you’re stuck!)

Bride sneaks up on waiting Groom Bride laughs as she comes down the isle Bride peeks around corner to look at Groom

Still not sure what you’ll do? No problem! Whichever way you choose to proceed is manageable if you plan ahead… but, taking into account what we’ve included above trying to learn from some of our suggestions, will give you a heads up on what to expect and how to adapt accordingly.

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