Should we do a first look on our wedding day?

As a wedding photographer, I get asked this question a lot! "Should we do a first look?" & I always have the same answer:

You should make your wedding day whatever YOU TWO want. There are definitely pros to having a first look, but if you've always dreamed of that moment when you walk down the aisle and your groom sees you all dressed up for the first time in that moment, then that's what you should do. But if that's not a *must* for you on your wedding day - then we can discuss the pros & cons of having a first look. I have photographed plenty of weddings with a first look, and plenty without, and we always make it work!

First Look at Walnut Hill Wedding Venue in Raleigh

Why a first look can be great: from the perspective of a photographer

When it comes to building a wedding day timeline, having a first look can have it's benefits. Having a first look allows the photographer to capture bride & groom portraits as well as wedding party (& potentially family) photos BEFORE the ceremony - allowing for more relaxation time after the ceremony for the couple to enjoy their day with friends and family.

If a couple chooses not to have a first look - we are able to take some wedding party photos before the ceremony and then we typically spend around an hour after the ceremony capturing full wedding party, family, and bride & groom portraits.

As a photographer, I can make either way work - but it can be nice to have a more relaxed schedule and feel less rushed during that cocktail hour time between the ceremony and reception. If you know you want to mingle with your friends and family during cocktail hour, I recommend having a first look so that your timeline will allow it. If you don't mind missing that & would prefer to save that first look moment for the aisle, then skipping a first look is a great idea!

Groom waiting for bride during first look at walnut hill in Raleigh
Bride tapping on grooms shoulder before first look
Groom in green suit turning towards blushing bride
Bride reading private vows to groom under a tree

Pros and cons of a first look

Pros of having a first look:

  • A private moment: A first look is a special moment for you and your partner to share together before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. It can be a chance to calm your nerves, share a hug, and have a few quiet moments together.

  • More relaxed: Doing a first look can help you feel more relaxed during the ceremony. Since you’ve already seen each other and shared a private moment, you might feel less nervous and more able to enjoy the ceremony.

  • Taking photos when your hair and makeup is fresh: If you wait to have your bride & groom portraits taken until after the ceremony - you run the risk of the humidity getting to your hair, unexpected bad weather ruining your hair or dress/suit, or tears from there ceremony messing up your makeup.

  • Exchanging vows privately: Something that I personally did with my husband on our wedding day, and have photographed couples doing - is reading your hand-written vows during a first look. If you want to keep your vows intimate and between the two of you on your wedding day, consider reading your private vows during your first look, and then saying the traditional vows at your ceremony.

Cons of having a first look:

  • Missing the aisle moment: If you have your first look before the ceremony, you won’t get to have that classic “walking down the aisle” moment. Some couples feel that this is an important part of the day and want to save that first look for when they see each other at the ceremony. Others say that they've still felt special in this moment even with doing a first look.

  • Tradition: Some couples feel that doing a first look goes against tradition. While this isn’t a reason to avoid a first look, it’s a valid concern for some couples who want to keep things more traditional.

  • You miss cocktail hour: The whole wedding day flies by once you walk down the aisle. If you really want time to mingle with all of your guests, its great being able to have some time to do that during cocktail hour. If you don't have a first look, you will most likely be taking photos during the entirety of cocktail hour, unless you have very minimal family photos.

Durham backyard wedding first look
Groom turning around and seeing his bride for the first time
Bride spinning around while groom looks at her on her wedding day

What to consider when having a first look on your wedding day

Timing: You’ll want to plan your first look at a time that works with the rest of your wedding day timeline. It’s usually done a few hours before the ceremony, which gives you plenty of time to take photos and still get to the ceremony location on time.

Location: The location of your first look is important because it will set the tone for the photos. You’ll want to choose a spot that is private and intimate, but also has good lighting and a nice backdrop. You'll want to make sure your guests won't be able to see your first look if you don't want them to, so make sure you choose a spot that is private. Talk to your photographer about possible locations, and they can help you find the perfect spot.

Attire: It’s important to wear your wedding attire for the first look so you can see each other for the first time in your full wedding day look. This is also a great opportunity for your photographer to capture some beautiful portraits of you both after you have your first look.

Emotions: The first look is an emotional moment, so be prepared to feel all the feels! It’s important to take a few deep breaths and really take in the moment together. Your photographer will be there to capture all the emotions on camera - but ignore them and focus on the two of you!

Bride smiling at groom at Whispering Oaks in Julian, North Carolina
Bride and groom standing together holding hands
Bride and groom holding hands on wedding day

Alternatives to a first look

If you are on the fence about having a first look but still want to do something special with your partner before your ceremony - there are a few great alternatives to a first look!

  1. Exchange letters or gifts: If you want to share a special moment together before the ceremony but don't want to see each other, consider exchanging letters or gifts. You could have a trusted friend or family member deliver the letters or gifts to each other while you’re getting ready. This is a great way to share your feelings and get excited for the day ahead.
  2. Pray or meditate together: If you and your partner are spiritual or religious, taking a moment to pray or meditate together can be a meaningful and calming way to start the day. You could each take a few minutes to sit in quiet reflection or say a prayer together.
  3. First touch: If you want to have a physical connection with your partner before the ceremony but don't want to see each other, consider doing a "first touch." You could hold hands around a door, or touch hands through a curtain or screen. This can be a sweet and intimate moment that allows you to connect without breaking tradition.
  4. Share a meal: If you have time before the ceremony, consider sharing a meal together. You could have a quiet breakfast or brunch with your partner, or you could share a family-style meal with your bridal party or close family members.

Bride and groom reading letters to each other
Raleigh Wedding Photographer

Remember, there's no one right way to start your wedding day. The most important thing is that you and your partner feel comfortable and connected. If a first look isn't for you, don't be afraid to get creative and find alternative ways to make your wedding day special. Talk to your wedding planner and photographer about your ideas, and they can help you create a wedding day that's meaningful and unique to you.