February 12, 2024

Wedding First Look Sessions: Everything You Need to Know

If you are planning a wedding you are probably wondering if a wedding first look is right for you. Well, you’re in luck because I am here to share everything you need to now to decide whether or not a wedding first look is the right choice for you and your wedding from a wedding photographer’s perspective!

Hi there. If we haven’t met I am Mollie Tobias and I am a photographer in Pinehurst, North Carolina. I have photographed hundreds of weddings since I started my career in 2009 – both with and without a wedding first look – and have seen all the pros and cons along the way.

Let’s start with the bad news first.

Reasons Not to do a Wedding First Look

The number one reason not to do a first look is simple – you do not want to see your significant other before the wedding.

This could be because you want to uphold tradition or maybe you’ve been dreaming about that moment where you lock eyes as you come down the aisle your whole life. Whatever your reason, if you feel strongly about not wanting to see each other first, opt out of the first look.

Ultimately it is your wedding and don’t let anyone talk you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable!

A second reason to opt-out of a first look is having an early start time for your wedding

Doing a first look *does* mean that you will need to start your wedding day photography coverage at least an hour earlier than you would if you were not planning one.

That also pushes your hair and make-up services earlier.

If you have an early ceremony time – and especially if you have a large bridal party who are all getting hair and make-up services – this can mean that you are starting the getting ready process in the wee hours of the morning.

Aside from changing your getting ready time, your family members will also need to be able to arrive about 1.5-2 hours prior to the ceremony to be in the family photos. Some people do not like their family having to get there so early.

Why you Should do a First Look at Your Wedding

I’ll be honest, after photographing weddings for so long I love when couples choose to do a first look. The short story is that you will have more time – with your guests and with each other – and more photos overall. Y’all know I always want you to have as many photo ops as possible on your wedding day!

So, let’s get into the benefits.

You get to spend your cocktail hour with your guests

As fun as I may be, you probably are most excited about spending time with your family and friends who have travelled all this way to help you celebrate your big day. Opting for a first look allows you to spend your cocktail hour mingling with guests, relaxing with a drink, and enjoying your hors d’oeuvres rather than being whisked away for photos.

Less Pressure, Better Photos

Even with a second photographer we are not often able to capture both of your reactions in the same image during the ceremony. During a first look we can see both of your reactions simultaneously which makes for more compelling story-focused images.

If you know that you are someone whose emotions run high (or if you are someone who doesn’t love being the center of attention) doing a first look can help take the pressure off since the first time that you see each other will be in private rather than in front of everyone you know.

Since the only other person present is your partner, you don’t have to be concerned about how you *look* and you can focus on how it *feels*. This allows us to get more emotive photos that feel more genuine and authentic.

Provides a Chance to Re-touch Make-up

Speaking of getting emotional, if you are concerned that you won’t be able to hold it together once you see each other doing so in private allows you to have a chance to re-touch your make-up before you walk down the aisle.

Since the first look happens shortly after the getting ready concludes it is often possible to arrange for your hair and make-up artist to stay through the first look for any needed touch-ups!

If you think this might be you, be sure to add 15-30 minutes into your schedule.

A Private Moment for You as a Couple

When we first start drafting your custom wedding day schedule it seems like the day will be long.

In reality, the day often flies by as a huge blur!

I can’t tell you how many couples tell me after the wedding that they don’t even remember certain things captured in their gallery happening. With all the people and events (not to mention alcohol – ha!) it all goes by so fast.

Choosing to do a first look allows you and your favorite person to have a few private moments together before everything kicks into high gear.

Maybe you just want to share a glass of champagne and relax a little.

You might choose to take this time to read letters you wrote to each other and to share private vows that are different than the ones that you will share during the ceremony.

This can also be a great opportunity to exchange any special gifts that you have for each other.

This is your wedding day after all. Feel free to carve out the space however you want to create your desired experience!

Ensures Ample Time for Couples Photos

When we do not do a first look at your wedding that means that we are putting all of the family, wedding party, and couples photos into the cocktail hour.

When we do the photos this way we photograph the family first, followed by the wedding party, and then the couples photos last.

What that means for you is that if we run behind schedule we either have to extend the cocktail hour (which leads to hangry guests) or we have to cut the couples photos short.

When we do a first look the order reverses.

We photograph the first look, the couples photos, the wedding party, and then the family photos last.

This order gives us a bit more flexibility because if we run behind we have the option of moving the wedding party and/or family photos to the cocktail hour. This is not the ideal situation, but if needed it is still minimally disruptive to the timeline and ensures that you get the full time for your couples photos.

Wedding First Look Alternatives

What if you want to have time together before the wedding, but do not want to do a first look? Are there other options?

Yes, there are several first look alternatives that you can do on your wedding day!

The “First Touch”

A first touch is where your photographer will position you where you can reach out and hold hands without being able to see each other.

Often this is around a corner or on opposite sides of a door.

You can hold hands and have a few minutes to talk before the ceremony while still upholding tradition.

Exchange Letters or Gifts

You can choose to exchange letters or gifts on your wedding morning with or without a first look.

If you do not wish to see each other one option is to send your gift or letter to the location where your partner is getting ready. Having two photographers helps orchestrate getting photos of both of you opening your gifts or letters even if you are in separate locations.

A second option is similar to a first touch, but instead of (or in addition to) holding hands you open your gifts or read your letters while nearby, but not in the same space as your partner.

A third, non-traditional, option is to read your letters or vows to each other over the phone prior to the ceremony.

Any of these options can allow you to feel connected without breaking tradition.

First Look with Dad

Another popular tradition is for the bride to have a first look with her father to capture his reaction to seeing her in her dress for the first time.

This is a very special moment for the bride and her father, who sometimes gets overshadowed on the wedding day.

It is a nice gesture to spend a few extra minutes with your dad on your wedding day – it’s a big day for him too! After all, he is giving you away today and will absolutely treasure the photos from this time.

Typically this will happen after the bride gets her dress on right before we get ready for the ceremony.

Bridesmaids First Look

My final first look alternative is a fun one for those with a larger bridal party – a first look with your bridesmaids!

After you have your mom help you put your dress on and get ready we will arrange all of your bridesmaids and have them close their eyes.

Once we get you in position, we have them open their eyes and capture all of their reactions to seeing you in your dress.

This can be such a fun photo opportunity for you and all your closest friends.

So, is a wedding first look right for you?

Ultimately the choice of whether or not to opt for a wedding first look is very personal and hinges on several factors.

Whatever you decide be sure to discuss your priorities and concerns with your photographer to ensure the best possible gallery of images for your wedding day!


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