What is a first look
A first look is a moment to have with your partner before the wedding ceremony where you both get to see each other in your wedding finest, but this is done long before the wedding ceremony itself. Though traditionally you wouldn’t see each other until walking down the aisle, more and more couples are opting to have this moment together before the ceremony.
Before I dive into the reasons why I think that first looks are usually the way to go, I do want to make sure to say that they aren’t the only way to go. If you’re more of a traditionalist or you want to put the wedding day in a different order, that’s totally fine. It’s your day, so make it your own.
Time with your partner
The biggest reason that I suggest couples to have a first look on their wedding day is that they then get to spend more of the wedding day itself with their partner. It’s your day. You’re getting freaking married. Spend as much of that celebratory day with the person you love most. My partner Erika and I had our first look so long before the wedding that I actually took off my wedding suit after it. We just wanted to be able to be around each other and to just have fun.
You can make it more intimate
For a lot of folks, the ceremony itself can be a little unnerving. You’re going to have quite a few pairs of eyes looking at you, so to be present in that moment, read vows, and focus on your partner can be a little daunting. The first look allows you to have a moment with just the two of you to get out the jitters and even more, just share emotions together. No one can see you. There aren’t any expectations to cry or not cry. It’s just you together.
As a bonus, I encourage couples who have written personal vows to read those to each other during the first look. Again, the tradition is to wait for your partner to hear these during the ceremony itself, but this lets you have that emotion with just the two of you. It’s easier to focus. It’s easier to really feel the words you’re saying and hearing.
As for scheduling, this is where the idea came from. It was about timing. Instead of trying to take photos of the couple, all family, the wedding party, and then get back during a cocktail hour, you get to spread those out over time before the ceremony. With this, you can start photo time whenever you’d like and spread them out over a while, making sure to give yourself water and rest breaks instead of trying to pack them all into a short time when most guests want to get to the bar.
Occasionally people ask about instead of doing a first look, doing their wedding party and family photos with just the individual sides (ex: just groom/groomsmen/groom’s family) before the ceremony and then doing combined photos after the ceremony. I’m just going to be honest and say that this isn’t the best use of time. You might save a couple of minutes by not having options, but it will take way longer and be more stressful because instead of bringing everyone together at once for photos before or after the ceremony, you’re basically doing it 3 different times (two separate groups before the ceremony and one after). It’s just a lot more work.
I live in Seattle, so if you’re getting married at 5 pm in June, this might not be as much of an issue (because sunset is at 9:30 pm). But, in general, cocktail hour and sunset are reasonably close in time. It then either means you’re going to have to jump back out of the reception just after arriving or have a long time away while the party is going on. It is tiring to be in front of camera for too long and as the photographer, I want you to be relaxed and joyful during a sunset photo session. In general, folks are in that mindset when it’s been a while since the last session, but if it’s just on the heels of family photos, sometimes it can be exhausting.
You get to be a part of your cocktail hour
Cocktail hours, happy hours, or whatever you want to call that time between a ceremony and dinner is one of the least structured times of the day. It’s one of the easiest for you to float around and connect with guests. You probably want one of those signature cocktails you picked out. So be there to enjoy with your friends and family.
Makes people feel special
Though it’s a bit more work, it is a nice little way of saying “you matter to me a lot” by asking folks to arrive early for photos. Whether that’s just immediate family or a whole reunion, most people will feel honored to be included.
Not-so-drunk wedding party
Wedding days can have a lot of downtime. The more-relaxed that time is, the more creative people can get with how to fill that time. I have seen a few wedding parties get a little overly-tipsy because they were on site for too long without structured activities and thus was a little saucy by the time the wedding itself rolled around. It’s a good thing to give folks something to do, even if that is smile for photos.