Should I do a first look?

March 06, 2013  •  1 Comment

To See or not to See?

          If you found this page by searching specifically for "first look" in Google, then you probably already know that in the last 4-5 years it's become an increasingly common practice for a bride and groom to meet and see each other on the wedding day before the actual ceremony. This is a very polarizing concept. Most couples that I meet with feel strongly about this one way or the other, but often their position (whether they are for or against the first look!!) is based on faulty information or negative past experience.

          I absolutely have to preface this weighing of options by mentioning that whether I'm talking to a prospective client, a bride that I'm already working with or dealing with it in a more public forum like this, I never pressure anyone to have a first look moment as opposed to the more traditional process of keeping the bride and groom separated all day until she walks down the aisle, or however the ceremony begins in a different culture. The moment when a groom sees his bride for the first time is arguably the most special moment of the most special day of the couple's lives, and it can't be thrown around lightly. Once you understand the difference between the first look and the traditional "waiting" you should definitely choose the route that feels the best to you, but don't decide against it because your mom doesn't like the idea and don't decide in favor of it because the word "traditional" means "boring" to you. (Moms, if you're reading this don't hate!) Trust me both methods can be completely wonderful, memorable, special and respectful IF you understand the differences and make the choice that's best for you.

The Tradition


          The traditional protestant wedding ceremony begins with the bride being escorted by her father (or other man with a protective role in her life) into the area where the ceremony will take place and then he presents her the groom, symbolizing a transferring of responsibility and guardianship from the father to the groom. In other cultures, for instance Jewish weddings, the entire family presents the spouses to each other. No matter what your family dynamics are, this milestone in a couple's separate lives, about to be joined, does have a world of significance and these ceremonial practices help to brings that significance to the forefront of the mind and heart.

  • While this doesn't really have a direct relationship to whether or not the bride groom have seen each other, it's easy to feel that once and bride and groom are united on their wedding day that those feelings of oneness have taken hold and parents may understandably want to be a part of that "unveiling."
  • This is a very special moment, not something to be left unplanned like a trip to the grocery store.
  • Wedding guests and the bridal party have taken out time and many have spent money to be with you and celebrate this union which culminates in this moment. Do you want to leave them out of this moment?
  • While pictures can be taken beforehand, the pictures of the bride and groom together on their wedding are are ultimately why a photographer was hired, possibly at a premium and not much time will be available between the ceremony and reception.  Of course many memories throughout the day are there to be captured in a photo, but how many are as important as the time the bride and groom spend together on this day? 
  • With the advent of social media, magazines and wedding websites and blogs, girls have access to see thousands of wedding ideas in a short amount of time, many of which they will want to incorporate into their own wedding. Expectations quickly grow. While the guests will only be there for a few hours, the wedding is literally a full day now. Many photos of candid situations will be captured "in the moment," but there can be hours of posed pictures that go into recording the day as thoroughly as has become the standard. If the bride and groom take all their pictures together after the ceremony there has to be a decision as to the balance of importance between capturing those moments and rejoining the guests for the reception.
  • We've all heard of the cocktail hour, but if dinner is being served there is also that consideration.
  • As the photographer, I welcome the challenge to deliver everything a bride could hope for, BUT photographing weddings is what I do nearly every weekend (i.e. I can handle it better than you can). In all likelihood this is your first time getting married. What are the chances that you will be able to experience one of the most emotion times of your life and then immediately undertake the task of organizing dozens of people and being posed into as many pictures as would normally be taken in 2-3 hours in 45 minutes or less. I can probably pull it off, but I doubt you can, and I absolutely guarantee that you won't feel as "swept up in romance" as I will try to make you look in the photos. Usually an abbreviated version of coverage will be used. 
  • If you agree that this will be one of the most important moments on the the most important day of your life, at least consider how you feel about the fact that virtually everyone you're close to will be sitting there starring at you when it happens. Will that stress you out, or heighten the feeling of shared love? Do you tend to get queasy (or clumsy) under pressure?

Do you have to sacrifice all the wonderful photos you had pinned and clipped and bookmarked in order to have a meaningful and special moment of coming together as spouses and families??




The Alternative

           Ok, so I've pretty much went back on my word and gradually pressured you into seeing your fiance before the ceremony right? Come on, give me a little credit. I would at least go back and take that sentence out if I were going to muscle you into it :-).  No matter what you decide to do I will always strive to reduce stress on the wedding day by taking every photo that can possibly be taken before the ceremony so that if anything must be left until afterward no one will lose their mind. As I've stated numerous times throughout 

my website and have said like a mantra in consultations and during wedding planning, "happy people make happy pictures." Preserving a low-stress atmosphere is critical, and the wedding day is stressful enough by nature without trying to hold yourself to a strict and busy schedule. I estimate that over 50% of couples now decide to make all their normal wedding day preparations and then see each other before the ceremony, allowing for most or all of their pictures to be taken and for the ceremony to flow seamlessly into the reception with little or no delay. If you're considering a first look moment consider the following.
  • The first look can and should still be special.
  • Embrace the fact that it's not traditional. Plan for it to be private and intimate instead of having the fanfare, onlookers and sea of iPhones and camcorders.
  • The scheduling of the wedding day, especially with regard to photography will be significantly different. When a first look is used, I recommend that photo coverage start 4 hours prior to the ceremony to allow time for any and everything to be photographed without the pressure of the ticking clock and the arrival of guests that you still want to be hidden from until the ceremony. I normally try to have all pictures wrapped up 30-45 minutes prior to the ceremony so the bride can be hidden and simply so everyone can relax and regroup, especially in the hotter months.
  • The first look allows much more time to be dedicated to the bride and groom's pictures together. Your wedding venue probably has dozens of picturesque locations, but in the brief time between the ceremony and reception you'll probably only have time to use one or two of them.  
  • Generally speaking, your guests will be none the wiser. The ceremony still takes place the same way, but they will be pleasantly surprised when they don't have an hour to kill trying to avoid making eye contact with the extended family member that they got into a fight with at the last wedding
  • Myself and any second shooter that may be with me stay at a respectful distance during the first look and shoot with zoom lenses so that relatively privacy can be had and the bride and groom can feel free to say or feel whatever seems right.
  • All the previous information may not be new to you, but this next bit might be an original concept for you: If the family aspect of the traditional ceremony is of top priority to you, your family can be involved in the first look. Just imaging the purity of the moment and the power of the emotion to have your dad (or even both your parents) escort you to a private alcove where your future husband is waiting for you. As much as I appreciate the convenience that the first look provides and the amazing photographs that can result, I highly recommend making the first look your own instead of simply resigning yourself to the fact that you're taking an "alternative route."

If you have any input from past experience, fears or concerns in anticipation, or even confusion at how this all works please feel free to leave a comment on this post or send me an email directly.

You're welcome to reprint or repost this article on your website, blog or e-newsletter free of charge, provided that you don't change the article in any way and you include the byline "Authored by Brendon Pinola Photography" with the appropriate hyperlink to my website. In doing so you agree to indemnify Brendon Pinola Photography and it's directors, officers, employees and agents from and against all losses, claims, damages and liabilities that arise our of their use.


::about the author::

Brendon is a photographer in the Birmingham area, available worldwide for nearly any project or event. Visit his main website (linked below) to see his portfolio, resume, bio or to get in contact. Add this blog to your RSS feed and "like" his Facebook Fan page to receive fresh photos and content. 

Brendon Pinola Photography 2013

American Pictoralist  |  Storyteller




My husband and I did a "first look" and I would not change a thing! We didn't even realize the photographers were there. It was such a sweet moment shared just between the two of us, not the two of us and my 2nd cousins my mom made me invite. It relieved a lot of pressure about walking down the aisle during the ceremony for me, too. I didn't have to worry about being a blubbering mess because we had already had our "moment" together. I'm definitely on the "first look" team!!
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