Spotlight: The First Look Dilemma

Evaluating the pros and cons of this trendy wedding tradition
Written by
Laura Cross

The "first look" in the context of a wedding refers to a pre-arranged, private moment between the couple before the actual ceremony begins. During the "first look," the bride and groom see each other for the first time on their wedding day, often in their wedding attire, away from the eyes of the guests. The intimate encounter is typically orchestrated by the wedding photographer to capture the genuine emotions and reactions of the couple. Couples opting for a "first look" often weigh the desire for a special, personal moment against the traditional custom of seeing each other for the first time at the altar during the ceremony.

Navigating the intricate decisions of a wedding day involves careful consideration of traditions, emotions and logistical choices. Among these considerations, the "first look" has emerged as a pivotal moment for couples about to be married. This pre-ceremony encounter brings forth a myriad of perspectives. While some couples swear by the magic of this intimate encounter, others remain committed to the tradition of seeing each other for the first time at the altar. In this Spotlight feature, two wedding experts weigh in on the pros and cons of opting for a first look on your wedding day – shedding light on the nuanced factors that contribute to creating a memorable and meaningful wedding experience.

Irene Jones, IJ Photo
The first look has a lot of pros from a logistical standpoint. It helps the wedding day run smoothly because most of the wedding's more formal photos are done before the ceremony. On a day filled with emotional importance, logistics isn't a great argument though. So I've asked my couples over the years what they liked and disliked after doing the first look, and the responses I've gotten have all been about the feelings and not the schedule. My favorite response was from a groom who told me that he felt a different feeling during the first look that didn't take away from the awe of the ceremony moment. The first look helped alleviate the anxiety he was feeling. He was very glad to get the photos done so he could concentrate on the important moments that meant so much. Doing a first look it frees up a couple to enjoy the deep emotional resonance of the ceremony and reception instead of stressing about performing for the camera. 

The cons from a photographer's perspective are few, but some venues are harder to photograph in during the middle of the day. By doing your photos earlier, that often means bright overhead sun if you have an all-outdoor venue. I suggest having a conversation with your photographer about how to mitigate some of these lighting challenges so you can get the best of both worlds. 

My favorite first look of 2023 was at the Fairmont Hotel. Cailey had an amazing dress, and we did their first look down the aisle amidst tall floral arrangements. It was fun to shoot it here and use the ceremony decor in a different way and also be able to enjoy an intimate moment that felt like a first-look moment during the ceremony but without the crowd. 

 Irene Jones of IJ Photo
Irene Jones of IJ Photo

Shantel Wall, Shantel Wall Photography
A first look allows the couple to share an intimate and private moment together before the whirlwind of the ceremony and celebrations. It provides an opportunity for the couple to express their emotions, exchange words and enjoy a quiet moment together, away from the eyes of guests. This intimate moment can be incredibly special and emotionally charged. It can help the couple to calm nerves, share personal thoughts and create a meaningful memory that is just between them. It adds a personal touch to the wedding day and can enhance the overall emotional experience for the couple. By having a first look and capturing some of the formal photos before the ceremony, the couple can maximize their time during the cocktail hour. This means they can join their guests sooner to celebrate and enjoy the festivities. It extends the overall celebration time for the couple, allowing them to spend more moments with family and friends.

One potential downside to having a first look is that it deviates from the traditional anticipation of seeing each other for the first time as the bride walks down the aisle. For some couples, the surprise and heightened emotion of that moment are deeply ingrained in the traditional wedding experience.

Shantel Wall Photography
Shantel Wall Photography