How I feel about First Looks
A wedding day is an opportunity to create a beautiful setting in which to share your vows in front of your favorite people. Each wedding is a little different, and each couple is unique. Personally, I feel a wedding day is an opportunity to have the best party ever, and how you choose to have that party is completely up to you! You do you, it's your wedding day. Don't let people push you into things. Is it their wedding? Nope. Thank your friend or family member for their input, but politely remind them that selecting all of the details and activities for your wedding is fun and exciting and ultimately you will be making your own choices.
First Looks: Am I for it? Guess what, it's not my decision to make.
I'm the photographer, you're the client, and what you say goes. I am here to capture your vision. Below I will discuss, from the perspective of a wedding photographer, the realities surrounding this choice and how it will affect the way I photograph your wedding. I'm not selling one side or the other, but I do hope to provide you with some insight that may make this choice easier for you.
First Look: For it? Not for it?
Doing a First-Look is something many couples struggle with deciding on for their wedding, and I would like to talk a bit about both choices and how they may specifically affect your wedding photography. I've photographed hundreds of weddings, and in my experience, there is about a 70/30 split with my couples doing a first look, with 70% of them for it, and 30% not for it. The majority of my weddings were photographed in Houston, Texas, so whether or not that location affects these numbers is anyone's guess.
Let's start with the 30%
First Look: Not For It
You see that white spot under his left eye? That's a legit tear y'all. To get this shot I am crouched near the front of the aisle to allow his gaze to pass over my head and ensure the best angle.
When we are planning the wedding day timeline, one of the first questions I ask is if we are doing a first look. This is because it will alter the way I make my recommendations for how you allocate your time during the wedding day.
(You bet I'll have my camera locked onto your future spouse's face to get that timeless reaction as they see you walking down the aisle! This shot becomes infinitely important without a first look, and I make sure I am in prime position to capture it.) In the image above, you can see Travis overcome with emotion while seeing his bride Alyssa walk down the aisle. Legit tears were shed guys, and it was one of the most beautiful moments I've witnessed. Moments like this one are why I do this.
Before the ceremony, when possible, I like to photograph the bridesmaids and groomsmen groups separately. This allows me to spend time capturing group shots and individuals of the Bride, Groom, and bridal party before the ceremony to ensure we get great shots of everyone involved.
Whenever possible, I recommend that you plan to be ready long enough before your ceremony to allow for this photography time. In most cases, an hour and a half is more than sufficient. After the ceremony, the time is very strictly limited due to the impending beginning of the reception, and there is a lot to cover! Also, if there are any delays in your schedule, this is the time that your coordinator will take from in hopes of getting you back on schedule. This fact alone means that we need to plan for this time with extra care to ensure that your photography isn't going to suffer due to potential delays.
Typically following a ceremony, the first photos taken are of the full family. The time required to capture these shots varies greatly from wedding to wedding due to the size of the families involved and the number of family groupings requested. Next, I photograph the full wedding party together with the bride and groom, and follow that with photos of the couple with all of the bridesmaids, then with the groomsmen. After all of those shots are complete, it's time for your couple's photos.
Since weddings normally have approximately an hour to an hour and a half between ceremony time and reception time, every minute of that time window is precious! The more types of photos we need to capture, the fewer you will receive of each. For this specific reason, if there is anything I can photograph before the ceremony begins, I'm on it.
If you have chosen not to do a first look, and your reception time aligns with sunset, that time following your ceremony will be the ONLY time I have to take photos of you and your brand new spouse outside of your reception. If we have already captured photos of your bridal party before the ceremony, the time we would have spent getting those images can then be given to the couples photos. Take this into consideration when making your timeline.
Ways to help ensure we get the most use possible of the time between the ceremony and reception:
-Be ready an hour and a half before your ceremony time begins. This will allow for time to photograph your bridal party and any early close family members. I prioritize the bride and bridal party, and try to photograph them first to ensure none of the arriving guests see her before the ceremony. After these photos are complete (Typically 30 minutes required) I begin with the groomsmen, because if a guest happens to glance at the groom, in my experience, they don't seem to mind as much. In a wedding with two brides, or with a groom or grooms that do not want to be seen by guests, consider starting this process sooner. Guests will typically arrive 30 minutes early, and if you're in a relatively far away venue, sometimes they come as much as an hour early. If everything goes according to plan, all of your pre-ceremony photography will be complete 30 minutes before your ceremony, to allow you some cool-down time and an opportunity to address any attire or personal/makeup/hair issues you did not notice before the photography. Consider this a dress rehearsal for the activities to follow. :)
-Family Photos Shot List + Shot Caller: This is a task best delegated to a member of each of your families. I suggest picking a parent or close relative that is familiar with your family tree to ensure ease and efficiency during this traditionally chaotic portion of the wedding day. (Family photos are like herding kittens y'all) If you prepare a simple shot list that describes the groupings you would like photographed before the wedding it will ensure that nothing is missed, and that we can make it through them more efficiently. Your appointed shot-caller can assist with rounding up the right people and having them ready for me to direct into the next shot. Again, none of this is required, but if we are trying to make the most of your cocktail hour, this really makes a huge impact!
-Assign a Fixer: After we have gotten all of the family photos and all of the bridal party group shots, it is FINALLY time to be whisked away to another part of the property for those romantic newlywed photos you've been so eager to capture. Hurray! Personally, this is my favorite part of the wedding day. Brand new spouses fresh off the altar and swimming in joy? Yes please. To help us get the most out of this (too brief!) time, it is extremely helpful to have a friend or family member willing to help with small details to ensure that I can dedicate all of my time into creative efforts and getting more awesome shots. Discuss this before the wedding date with someone you feel is best suited for this task. I will give loads of great direction to both you and your fresh new spouse, but also to your Fixer. Common requests are to fluff the dress, perhaps adjust jewelry, and sometimes move a stray hair. This will keep me from running back and forth between you and my camera, which gives me more opportunities to capture more shots.
It all comes down to planning. I tell every single client this one thing: You can have anything you want if you plan for it. You don't have to feel pressured to do a first-look just to make it easier to get more photos. Proper planning is the thing that ensures that. Is it easier to get more photos if you do one? Yes. I won't deny that. Impossible to capture everything without a first-look? Hard no.
First Look Alternative: First Touch
First Touch: Diana and Jimmy
An alternative to a first look, some clients opt for something called a "first touch." This is a private moment between the couple that allows them to share a few moments together without technically breaking the rules about seeing each other on the wedding day.
The best settings for something like this: the corner of a building, a large doorway, or even back to back.
During special moments like these, I've seen couples share a prayer, exchange letters, give each other some crisp high fives, and so many more adorable ideas. Even if a first-look isn't for you, sweet moments like this are definitely something to consider.
First look: For It
Whitney and Kristin: First Look
Now about 70% of my past couples have chosen to go with a first-look. Does this mean you have to? No.
Here are some thoughts from my perspective to consider when making this decision:
Doing a first look offers up additional, stress-free, time before the wedding for extra couples photos. While I can absolutely capture a beautiful collection of couples photos without a first-look, I'll be honest, having that extra time sure is nice. It also allows for an opportunity to get a shot like the one above of Whitney and Kristin. The couple chose to have this private moment before the ceremony and ohhhh my gooooodness was is adorable! Would they have been this over-the-top joyous on the altar? I mean maybe, but I truly believe the privacy provided in this setting allowed them the comfort of letting those emotions run wild.
When I discuss the wedding day timeline with a couple who has chosen to do a first-look, it changes my plan of action entirely when compared to a non-first-look wedding.
Before the ceremony, the couple sets a certain time for the first-look, and in most cases, this ensures everyone in the wedding is ready far before the ceremony time. This allows for some buffer time to address any issues that may arise on the wedding day. (Wardrobe malfunctions, someone overslept, traffic delays, someone forgot their pants (this honestly happens more than you'd think, come on groomsmen!) hair disasters, and more.) Much like in a non-first-look wedding, I suggest being ready about an hour an a half before the ceremony start time. This allows for about an hour of photography followed by a 30 minute cool-down time to re-group and freshen up before the ceremony.
When it comes time for the first look, I've already discussed potential locations with the couple and made my final decision about where this would look best. I choose my spot based on available lighting conditions, beauty of the overall setting, and ease of access for the couple. I work together with the bridal party to get everyone in place and lead the future newlyweds toward one another.
The resulting shots are always emotional and beautiful. Sometimes there are happy tears, sometimes there are ear to ear smiles, and in the case of Whitney and Kristin, there was just completely overwhelming joy! I always photograph these special moments with my longest lens to ensure that I am far enough away from the couple that they still get to have that feeling of privacy. Ultimately, I don't want you to know I'm there at all.
Following the first look, I use the time before the ceremony to capture photos of the couple, the bridal party, and any family members or VIPs that are available before the wedding. We will photograph the full wedding party together, the couple with each member individually, both groups of the bridal party, and any requested further groupings. Since this time is insured with that half-hour of buffer time before the ceremony, this portion of the day is relaxed and often leads to the most genuine smiles.
After the ceremony, since all of the bridal party photos are complete, all we have to capture is the family photo list. If there is time left after those are completed, I will use it for a bonus round of couples photos! Often times the couple will not need the full cocktail hour for photography, and this allows them to join in the festivities and do some mingling with their guests before the festivities of the reception formally begin.
Whether you're for a first-look, or not for a first-look, your wedding day is your own, and how you choose your time is your decision. My hope is that my insight helps couples come to a decision they love! Regardless of which option you choose, proper planning will allow you to enjoy a day of joy, love, and fun festivities! I hope this helps all of the couples who are still on the fence about this decisions.
Did you do a first-look? I'd love for you to share your experiences! Perhaps your story will help a happy couple make their decision.
Have an awesome weekend y'all!