The “First Look” – Taboo or To-Die-For?

first look bride groom wedding santa ynez gainey vineyard
caryn & mike (courtesy of kristin beinke)

What is this whole”first look” concept and why is my day-of wedding coordinator recommending it?! Well, here goes…

(I have modified an article from Alex M, a photographer based in East Texas. Thanks!)

What IS a First Look??

A First Look is when a bride and groom see each other before the wedding ceremony. This is done alone, away from your wedding party, and it is a moment shared by just the two of you.

“Sophie, why do you recommend a First Look for your couples on their wedding day?”

I am SO glad that you asked… (After 60+ weddings as a wedding coordinator, I have a lot of Pros about the First Look and not too many Cons)

1) It’s WAY more romantic when you see each other for the first time ALONE and not along with every, single guest than you invited.

2) My brides & grooms who see each other before hand are MUCH more relaxed when they are ready to walk down the aisle. The focus is on enjoying the ceremony instead of focused on “Tell him to turn around, I’m coming… oh no! Did he see me?!” If I got married again, one of the few things that I would change would be seeing Travis before the ceremony. I mean, he’s my BEST FRIEND so I would want to have him with me as much as humanly possible on such a special day!

3) Your hair & make-up looks BEST at the beginning of the day

4) You get all of your photos (bridal & family can follow First Look) done before cocktail hour… who doesn’t love cocktail hour?!

Read on for more detailed questions, answers and reasoning…

Isn’t is bad luck for the Bride & Groom to see each other before the ceremony??

This one came about back when brides were considered property of their fathers and marriages were arranged. Often the groom had NEVER seen the bride beforehand and if he caught a glimpse of her and did not like what he saw, the marriage was off. (Ouch) Thus it became “bad luck”. This is also where other traditions like the veil come from. (One more way of keeping the bride a secret) So, if you are nervous about him running at the sight of you, a First Look is probably not for you.

“But I really want him to have ‘that look’ when he sees me walking down the aisle.”
This sounds good in theory, but I can tell you from attending weddings for a living that often times all the groom is thinking as the bride walks down the aisle is… “Try not to pass out, try not to pass out, try not to pass out.” This is countered by the bride thinking, “Try not to trip on my dress, try not to trip on my dress, try not to trip on my dress.” (Did I mention there are also anywhere form 100-400 people staring at both of you?) Seeing each other alone before hand is a MUCH more natural and genuine interaction. This gives him a chance to say what he is thinking about how beautiful you look. It gives you a chance to tear up a bit and not feel like you are ruining your make up in front of the world. It gives both of you a chance to really reflect and just sit in the moment of your day. Believe me, he will say things to you then that you will never forget. Those minutes together may end up being your favorite part of the day. Then, when you do walk down the aisle you both still experience the realness of what’s happening, but the stress and anxiety has been removed.

Benefits of a First Look

1. Time Alone
I think this is my favorite thing about First Looks. It give the two of you time to hang out ALONE at your wedding. Even though you may have been to tons of weddings, there really is not anyway to understand what one is like ’til it’s yours. There are plenty of people who want to see you, timelines to stay on, and sometimes things get behind schedule. By seeing each other before hand, you ensure that you have time with the most important person in your life, on the most important day of your life. I have NEVER seen a couple who waited to see each other have time alone on their wedding day. Go back and read that last sentence. (I’ll wait.) Seriously, it’s crazy to think about, but someone is always with them, either their parent, a bridesmaid, the planner, or even the dreaded photographer. My favorite part of First Looks are when I leave you guys alone for a bit. You talk, relax, and remember that all the crazy wedding shenanigans are trivial compared to the person standing in front of you. There is something so intimate and powerful about seeing a bride and groom talking and laughing alone moments away from their wedding vows. I love it!

2. Better / More Photos

So, FINALLY, I get to talk about my part* in this whole thing. The photos. A few quick thoughts:

First off, most couples get married in the afternoon/evening. This means that by the time the ceremony is done and everyone has hugged a bit, there is only about 10-30 minutes of “good light” left in a day. If we just wanted a few shots of the two of you this would not be a problem, but we still have to get you guys with your side of the family, his side of the family, grandparents, that crazy aunt who insists on having a picture of the 3 girls together. (You get the idea.) Needless to say people start getting shuffled around like cattle and, rather than everyone enjoying the process, it feels like we are all in trouble and the clock is ticking away ’til the building explodes. Oh, and no matter how many times you’ve told them, there is always that one family member who heads to the reception and has already changed clothes and then we have to wait for them to come back.

Second, and this is HUGE:
You actually get MORE photos of the two of you when you choose to see each other before hand. This is not intentional, it’s just the reality of the day. Less time together means less photos together. Even though brides plan for some time alone with their groom, it always seems to get cut short. Things run behind schedule, the guests are hungry, it gets darker sooner than people realized, or that crazy aunt keeps coming outside to tell you you need to hurry up and get to the reception. I went and counted up my past 10 First Look vs. Non-First Look Weddings. Couples who saw each other before had an average of 74 photos of just the two of them. Couples who waited too see each other end up with 21.

I checked with some other photographers as well and they have similar sometimes even lower numbers. One photographer told me about how behind schedule the family formals were and how stressful the whole process was for the bride and groom that they only ended up with 3 photos of them. Three! They just were too tired and didn’t want to deal with it any longer.

*(Remember, this was written by Alex M, a wedding photographer in Eastern Texas)

3. More time to party like a rock star on YOUR wedding day!
One of the bonus benefits of having a First Look is it allow us to get all of those family formals we all love done before the ceremony. Again, everyone is relaxed and enjoying the process rather than feeling rushed as we try and shuffle Grandparents around so we can hurry up and go cut a cake. Typically we’ll have the formals done 30 minutes before your ceremony allowing you a bit of down time to do some make up touch up or just relax before things really get rolling. What this means is after the ceremony, you can head right to the reception and hang out with your guests longer. You can actually talk to people rather then half hug them as you try your best to move to the next table to make the rounds before everyone starts heading home. You’ll have more time on the dance floor, more time to enjoy your dinner, basically, it’s about a hour of fun that most couples lose when they do all their photos after the ceremony.

From the Groom’s POV (point of view)…

An opinion from a man about a wedding? Really? Ladies, you should jump all over this.

OK, in all seriousness, when considering doing a First Look, the first person you should talk to about this is your fiance’. Not your mom, not your planner, not even your photographer. I know that often times guys will just give the standard “whatever” answer to some of your wedding questions. The fact is, we are sometimes pretty clueless. When you say wedding tulle, we grab a hammer. The last time we thought about flowers was when our mom made us get one for a high school homecoming game, and if you ask us about what time we want to do the getaway, we’ll say “as soon as humbly possible.” (you can probably figure that one out.)

However, this does not mean that we necessarily want to be absent from the planning process. Just because it’s confusing, does not mean we want to be left out. Certain guys will be more into specific decisions. Your groom may really care about what car you leave in, someone else might care about the color of the tuxes, but one thing EVERY groom wants is to not be stressed out and to spend time with his bride on the wedding day.

So, how can we make that happen? I’m so glad you asked.

The one thing I hear grooms say over and over is how glad they are they choose to see their bride before the ceremony. It calms everyones nerves, makes the photography process something they enjoy, rather than something they are exhausted for. And, it gives you two quality time alone on a day when hundreds of people are pulling you in every direction.

Did you catch the theme there girls? He WANTS to see you on your wedding day! He wants to spend time with you, hold you, and he wants to do it in a “safe” environment; one without strangers, your mom, or even his groomsmen staring at him. If you have ever seen wedding photos where the groom looks scared to death, it’s because he is. He’s not scared of getting married. He’s scared of saying the wrong thing, stepping on your dress, or what his college roommate would yell if he leaned over to whisper something sweet in your ear.

Since this is about the guys, why don’t we use a football analogy. Think of your First Look as “halftime”. It’s super romantic, I know. Stay with me. The first half of your day is the first half of the game. You are each figuring out the day, the flow of the day / game, it’s basically a free for all. Having a First Look is like a time to stop, slow down, and catch your breath. Then you guys go out TOGETHER and take on the rest of the day. Suddenly everything is a bit easier. You have each other to help stay relaxed, you both know what’s happening and where to go. It’s almost like the wedding becomes “real” at that point.

*(Remember, this was written by Alex M, a wedding photographer in Eastern Texas)

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