The First Look

Jan 6, 2011 | Information, Tips for Clients, Weddings

One of my favorite parts of the wedding day is the first look – the time set aside for the couple to see each other for the first time before the ceremony … and it kills me that so many of my couples opt out of doing a first look.  It’s partly a selfish thing – it makes for a more manic day for me, and I have less time to indulge my creative side – but mostly it’s because it means that you’re missing out on a whole ton of good stuff during your wedding day … not just awesome creative portraits, but also cocktail hour and some nice post-dinner relaxation time.  I want you to love your wedding day!

Here’s Megan on her way to the first look outside the hotel where she was getting ready.  I loved that her bridesmaids helped by carrying her train:

The first look, or reveal, is in itself a really special time.  Not only do you get awesome images of the two of you (the first look is the best time for me to get really genuine, relaxed, candid emotional shots of you sharing your first moments together on the big day) but you also get to spend longer with your partner on your wedding day (and – huge bonus – you actually get to spend at least a little time alone).  Catherine’s first look with Theis was super cute:

There are so many benefits to seeing each other before the ceremony begins: you get to spend as much time as you like taking fun photos with your significant other and/or bridal party (I don’t charge extra for fun time!);  you get to choose cool photo locations all around the city or town where you’re getting married, rather than being limited to just the church, hotel or reception venue; you get to hang out with the important people before the ceremony (your family and bridal party) meaning you can spend a little longer with your other guests at the reception; you get to relax, eat, drink and circulate during cocktail hour; you get to take the portraits while your hair and makeup are fresh; when you walk down the aisle you can relax a little better, knowing that your partner already LOVES how you look.

Here’s a lovely rainy-day first look – Kaitlyn and Aldo knew that by braving the rain they’d get some really special outdoor photos:

First looks are often filled with emotion – and excitement!  I love Chris’ reaction to seeing Jess in Weezie’s Garden at Elm Bank:

Brian had a similarly elated expression when he saw Lindsay during their first look in Cambridge:

A non-first look wedding is usually around 6-7 hours’ work for me; if there’s a first look it generally becomes 8-10 hours.  That translates to an additional 100-200 images to edit.  And I don’t charge more.  That may sound crazy, but I find that weddings where we complete the creative (and formal) portraits before the ceremony are more relaxed, result in better coverage, and enable me to give you the very best of my talent.  You also end up with tons of great photos of your guests during cocktail hour – that alone makes it worth disregarding tradition for many.

Erica and Jay were more than happy to do a first look – as well as getting some great candid shots of them, we didn’t have to worry about the light fading during the ceremony.

So why is it traditional to not see each other before the ceremony?  From WeddingBee: “Most couples today have disregarded the musty old superstition of the bridegroom not seeing his bride before the ceremony on the day of the wedding. The superstition stems from the days when marriages were arranged and the groom might never have seen the bride. There was a chance that he might take one look at her and bolt – so it was often safer for them to meet for the first time at the altar!”

I love these tender moments caught immediately after Alyssa and Aaron’s first look at their fall wedding in Seattle:

I am sometimes given other reasons for opting out of the first look.  The most oft-cited reason my couples give me is that they want to preserve the excitement of seeing each other for the first time walking down the aisle.  A completely valid argument … but note this: the couples who do choose to see each other beforehand still get the butterflies, and the excitement, and all of that good stuff anyway.  It’s still your wedding ceremony that you’re walking into!  Here’s Alyssa walking into her outdoor ceremony – she’s a ball of emotion!  That was despite doing a first look several hours earlier, and spending lots of fun time taking portraits with her best friends.  🙂

Speaking of portraits – having a first look means we can spend as long as you like going to a variety of fun locations for creative portraits before the ceremony.  Sara and Dave held their first look at the Seaport Hotel – then we took the bridal party over to the ICA for an hour of cool picture-taking:

Nell and Steve spent the time after their first look exploring the beautiful grounds of Fruitlands Museum – something there wouldn’t have been time for after the ceremony:

Becky and Travers got ready at Becky’s home 40 minutes’ drive from their venue – after a first look we took some gorgeous couples portraits in the privacy of the back yard.  These became some of my favorite shots of the day:

Alyssa and Aaron were able to get some really unique couples portraits at Seattle’s EMP thanks to them holding their first look a few hours before the ceremony:

Still not convinced?  That’s OK.  The first look isn’t for everyone, and I’m not going to push you into doing something that doesn’t feel right for you.  But if you’re even slightly tempted, talk it through … with your partner, your friends, your parents … or with me.  We can work out timelines for both scenarios, and talk about how to best capture the moments that are most important to you.

One last super fun pre-ceremony couples portrait – this time from Nicky and Zach’s wedding last fall:

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Are you doing a first look before your wedding ceremony?  Why/why not?  If you’re a past client, I’d LOVE to hear about your experiences!  Please leave a comment below and let’s make this a really great resource for all those couples out there who are currently undecided about having a first look!


  1. From Leokesh, via Facebook: Well I know some of my favorite shots are from these “First Look Sessions”. The reasons that Kate has provided, gives me confidence in this option. I understand the importance to some of the tradition, but having the option of having FANTASTIC images, capturing the moment between the couple up close and personal, vs. the one shot of him or her down the isle, chancing the moment and lighting? I vote not. You only get to do this once, so why not make the most of it! (Thanks Kesh!)

  2. We did a First Look Session. The main reason we chose to do it was so we would have more time to do pictures and could relax and enjoy our guests during the cocktail hour. Your wedding day goes by so fast any way, if you can do your pictures earlier you get more time to saver the day. Kate is right about it not ruining emotional expressions as you walk down the aisle. Nothing replaces the emotion you feel when you look at each other as you are about to walk up to great each other during the ceremony. That moment wasn’t ruined for us because we saw each other before. If anything, having a First Look enhanced it. I don’t think it is the way you look that creates the expression, it is the knowing you are about to be married to the love of your life.

  3. Thanks Karrie, that’s a really beautiful explanation.

  4. About 95% of my couples do a first look for all the wonderful reasons you listed. I went one step further for my own wedding and got ready together! I didn’t want to miss one second of being with my now wife on our wedding day. I still cried like a bathtub at our ceremony. I still gasped when she put her veil on. And I got to spend every moment with her. Best decision ever!

  5. Kelly, that’s awesome! What a great way to spend the day. I might start mentioning that as an idea to some of my couples. 🙂

  6. I have to say I was totally against it for my own wedding a few years ago because I didn’t want to spoil his reaction seeing me for the first time walking down the aisle, but I have to say if I had to do it all over again I think I’d do a first look. I think it would’ve taken away some of the nervousness he was feeling beforehand (as I was fine!) and we’d have gotten to spend more time together. I certainly will keep this in mind if someone asks me about it! Great explaination!

  7. Thanks Tracy – it’s great hearing from both sides … and good to know that if you were doing it all again you’d consider a first look.

  8. I’m exceedingly glad that we did a first look. Most of my favorite photos are pre-ceremony. Like the world’s coolest shot of us in a spaceship that Kate took. 🙂 But the biggest reason why I’m glad we did a first look is that, even though I had thought about the moment since the day I said “yes,” I FORGOT to look at my husband when walking down the aisle. There were so many guests I was so excited to see! If I had waited to see him then, it would have all been wasted.

  9. Awesome post, Kate! Such great photos. It really goes to show what a difference it makes to have this time on wedding day. LOVED that you thought to explain it, and you did so very well. It’s a must read for all brides…so I’m sharing via my twitter. 🙂

  10. Thanks so much Amy and Patricia! Amy, thanks so much for taking the time to post about that. Patricia, glad to be of help. I look forward to seeing you again, hopefully soon!



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