What's a first look?

During timeline planning with my clients, a conversation I have time and time again is whether or not they should do a first look. There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer, but there are definitely some things to consider when deciding if a first look makes sense for you on your wedding day.

But before we get into things, I’m going to back up a bit, because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t break down the history of wedding traditions before diving into things.

Traditionally, weddings were arrangements between families, usually for a combination of money, land, status, and goods. The father of the bride would promise the groom a dowry to sweeten the pot for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and in exchange the bride would be secured a more stable future. (Well…”stable” is up for debate. But you get what I mean.) It was very, very romantic stuff.

Because most arranged marriages were not based on love or attraction, one of the ways to ensure that the business arrangement the groom and father of the bride struck was to keep the bride and groom from seeing one another prior to the ceremony. (Turns out nothing ruins a business deal like seeing your future spouse’s face and not liking what you see.) This is one of the reasons for the tradition of the wedding veil, literally hiding the bride’s face from the groom until, well, it was too late for the groom to back out…or at least socially inappropriate to.

Fast forward to today where arranged marriages aren’t as common as they used to be, and many couples in arranged marriages have the opportunity to meet face to face prior to their wedding day. These changes provided some freedom for couples to spend more face time together on their wedding day.

In comes the first look.

A first look is a quiet, intimate moment before the ceremony where the bride and groom see each other for the first time on their wedding day. Typically first looks are done without family or friends present, giving the couple a chance to get some much needed alone time together before the wedding day festivities really kick off.

An emotional groom hugs his bride for the first time on their wedding day after their first look.

A first look might be right for you if...

You’ve got a jam-packed day

This is my number one reason for suggesting couples to do a first look. If you’re doing the whole wedding-day shebang—getting ready photos, detail photos, wedding party photos, family photos, ceremony, couple portraits, speeches, first dances, cake cutting, reception activities—a first look is a great way to ensure you have enough time with your photographer to capture everything you want. This is especially true if you’re only working with one photographer and/or you and your partner are getting ready at different locations.

You want to enjoy your cocktail hour/reception

Considering all the shenanigans mentioned above, if you wait until the ceremony to see your partner, you’ll be taking all your couple portraits, family photos, and wedding party portraits after the ceremony, leaving little time to enjoy your cocktail hour or reception. I’ve found that by the time the ceremony is over and family photos have wrapped, couples are pretty much at the point of, “We just want to hang out with our friends and family," which is 1000000% valid. A first look ensures you can take advantage of personal time with all your guests and new spouse by allowing opportunities for photos throughout the entire day instead of during a small block of time.

And on top of that, your block of time can be even smaller if you're getting married later in the year. Keep in mind the sun sets as early as 5:00pm during the winter, meaning if you're having an evening ceremony any outdoor portraits with natural lighting will need to be done before the ceremony!

A groom smiles at his bride after seeing her for the first time.


First looks (and subsequently, private vows) are a great way to shake off some of the nerves of your wedding day. For some, ceremonies can feel like a LOT of pressure—being the center of attention isn’t always someones’ idea of a fun time. First looks provide a private, quiet moment between you and your partner and gives folks who might not enjoy being in front of large crowd the opportunity to enjoy being out of the public eye.


It might sound silly, but the main reason a lot of folks want to avoid a first look is to capture the emotion of the walk down the aisle. And as someone who cries at almost every wedding—typically more than once and almost always as someone walks down the aisle—I totally get that. (I have mastered the art of taking photos and crying at the same time.) But a lot of people don’t show their joy or excitement through an obnoxious amount of tears like I do. And if you or your partner aren't really the kind of person to cry or show a lot of emotion on your face when you're processing big feelings, those photos won't really show your true feelings on your wedding day.

However, if words of affirmation, physical touch, or quality time are more the way you or your partner show appreciation and love, a first look might be more ideal for expressing your feelings in a comfortable, authentic way. It will give you the opportunity to hug, chat, and check each other out without interruption.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, if someone is a cryer—like I am—consider the chances they’ll cry during a first look AND the walk down the aisle. Typically if someone is going to cry, the tears will make an appearance for both situations. If they aren’t a cryer, the tears wouldn’t have come either way.

Bride and groom hug outdoors after their first look.


Okay, okay, this one is a little biased as a wedding photographer. But having taken more than my fair share of photos of couples as they walk down the aisle, I can assure you that those photos aren’t always what you imagine in your head. You have to factor in a LOT of variables: 

  • How long is your aisle? 
  • How’s the lighting at the ceremony space? 
  • Are there restrictions for where the photographer can stand, limiting angles (which is especially common in churches and other spaces of worship)? 
  • Are you having an unplugged ceremony? 
  • Do you think your guests will respect that you’re having an unplugged ceremony?

First looks provide not only privacy, but  a LOT of control over the very special moment of you two seeing each other for the first time. Removing those pesky variables results in photos of you and your future spouse that you can cherish for a lifetime.

A groom gives his future wife a big smile, holding her hands and admiring her wedding dress.

All that said, my biggest piece of advice? Talk to your photographer and/or wedding planner to see what they think! They'll share their professional opinion with you keeping all of the day's variables in mind. But at the end of the day, only you and your partner can decide what's right for you!