Let’s talk first looks. Zola just released a pile of information after conducting a study of over 4,000 American couples getting married this year. It was meant to be helpful for wedding professionals, giving insight into how couples are thinking, and what the wedding process was looking like from your side of the aisle. The thing that I found the most interesting, and not even a little bit surprising, was that the vast majority of people (we’re talking 76% of people), when asked what was the hardest thing about wedding planning, said one thing: all the decisions.
You are expected to make literally hundreds of decisions. You also usually have people you care deeply about, who often are contributing to the wedding, who have vocal opinions.
Welcome to wedding planning.
The vast majority of couples are opting for a first look and a new trend even has couples getting ready together. However, the first look still has the potential to be yet another contentious decision that you have to make. Even one that might need to be defended, or at least explained to grandma, who wouldn’t have even thought of seeing her partner before the aisle.
So, what makes a first look so special?
Time together, a moment alone on the most important day of your life.
It’s difficult to imagine, but on your wedding day you will not have a moment to yourselves unless you include a first look. Every wedding photography team will do this differently, but for us the setup is very purposeful. Although the location will change, the look and feel will always be the same. This is a moment for the couple alone.
I have one person (usually the groom) waiting for the other (usually the bride). Then the bride approaches from a distance. In a traditional setup, the groom sees his bride for the first time with potentially hundreds of people staring right at his face waiting to see “the reaction”. That’s a lot. It’s not unusual for the nerves to be so strong that it’s difficult for him to react the way he’s really feeling. It’s just too much adrenaline at that moment. Then once he sees his gorgeous bride for the first time, he can’t talk to her, touch her, or tell her how gorgeous she looks for at least 45 minutes. Even then they’re still surrounded by so many people, typically going directly into family formals. And this is potentially one of the most stressful moments of the day.
Contrast that with this picture. When we set up a first look for a couple, we tell them that we’re going to give them very little instruction. Those moments are personal to the two of you. We want it to be unscripted because we want you to be able to feel any way you need to. My team and I are as far back as our lenses will allow us, feeling like paparazzi sneaking into a private moment. Because this is your private moment. Oftentimes couples will exchange their vows privately, or maybe read letters to each other, or simply laugh and cry. Whatever happens, it’s a beautiful, moment that’s theirs alone.
Your wedding day is the busiest day of your life. You cannot even imagine how fast the day is going to pass you by. Sometimes years of planning will be gone in a number of hours. As crazy as it sounds, it’s really easy to miss it. Having some extra time in there that is about you and your partner can really be a game-changer. There is almost always a visible change in demeanor after a first look. When I ask couples what their favorite moment was, the first look is what gets brought up as the first thought.
Help with those nerves.
Often times a wedding day can actually be really nerve-racking. Sometimes having that special moment with your best friend really adds a feeling of joy to the day. This allows the couple to relax and be present on a wedding day. I’ve had many brides tell me they spend tons of time with their fiance. Then on the most important day ever they weren’t going to see him at all and they hated that idea. Having a moment to connect with each other makes a world of difference (including how relaxed you look in photographs).
Time for beautiful portraits and varied locations.
Once we’ve done the first look, now we’ll move on to the couple’s portraits. Adding the first look to your day can open up time for a much more relaxed photography schedule. This keeps everyone enjoying the day and feeling rested. A first look allows us to do all of your wedding party photos and couple portraits prior to the ceremony. We can handle all this before your guests are anywhere near arriving. That way you don’t lose any time with them. Plus, all of those gorgeous-light-filled-beautiful images you’ve googled online? They’re all from a first look. Ok, perhaps not every single one of them… but I promise at least 95%.
The reality is that photography takes time. There is the technical side of the camera (posing, locations, setting up lighting for indoor portraits). Then there is the physical side of the two of you enjoying the photos. In order to get those relaxed candid images that showcase the true emotion that you love, we need to have enough time for you not to feel like we’re on a production schedule.
Any wedding day schedule needs to be crafted well with the help of a great wedding planner. We work closely to craft a custom photography timeline so that your day feels exactly like you imagined it would. We can work within any time restraint, first look or not. But a timeline that allows you to feel relaxed and present is imperative. There is a difference between a tight timeline and a timeline with more than 20 minutes for photos. It allows us to showcase our best work to craft the images that you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
Won’t we miss the moment?
Occasionally I speak with a couple and they’re not sure if they love the idea of a first look. Usually, they sort of shake their head slightly and say “I think we’re pretty traditional for something like that…?”
On your wedding day, it’s extremely important that your day reflects what you want it to feel like as a whole. If a first look isn’t right for you then by all means pass. However, what I find when I see this reaction, is that the couple doesn’t actually know what a first look is. They are popular enough that everyone has heard about them. Except few couples have actually had it explained to them or what the potential benefits are. At some point when considering this, in the myriad of decisions, most couples wonder “if I do a first look will I miss the moment of him seeing me walking down the aisle??”
The short answer is NO. Actually, the long answer is no, as well. A first look doesn’t take away a moment. It adds a series of moments that you would have never been able to have if you didn’t carve time for just the two of you. Wanting that aisle moment to be special makes so much sense. The reality is, nothing will take away from that moment. It’s going to be spectacular, whether the person waiting for you knows what you look like or not. I’ve actually found that the aisle moment tends to be far more emotional when couples do a first look.
The last thing I’ll say is this. The vast majority of our couples choose to do first looks. When we do have a couple who is unsure about whether it’s right for them, it’s almost always for two reasons: 1. Tradition, for tradition’s sake. Or 2. Being afraid that if you see each other before the aisle you’ll miss the emotion of the moment. ⠀
To the second concern, I’ll respond with this image. ⠀⠀
Let me explain…
What I’ve found (after hundreds of weddings) is that you’re not taking away emotion, you’re adding to it.
Wedding days have a whole lot happening, including pressure on everyone, but especially the groom. “He’d better cry!” Is something I’ve heard just once or twice. BUT the reality is that you just don’t know how you’re going to feel. It would be wise to leave space to feel ANY way you need to on a day as important as your wedding day.
Marcus was full of laughter, awe, and even shock, at the sheer beauty of his bride during their first look. They laughed, danced, and held each other close. When he got to the aisle? ⠀
That’s when the tears came. ⠀⠀⠀
The point is that we added room for him and Unique to TAKE IN their wedding day. There was space to process what was happening. Not rushing from one thing to the next, but slowly taking everything in, one moment at a time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Simply put, that’s why I love first looks. Leaving room to really experience your day. ❤️⠀