Deciding to have ‘first look’ at your wedding!

“Are you planning to have a ‘first look‘ before the wedding ceremony?”

I ask this question of every couple who contacts me about wedding photography. Why? Because it’s very important to establishing what the wedding day timeline is going to be!

Also, whatever your answer is, it gives me insight into what you want your wedding day to be like and what is important to YOU!

So, how do you decide whether or not to have a ‘first look’? Here are things to consider…

A Matter of Tradition…

Usually, when couples say that they are NOT interested in doing a first look at their wedding, their reasoning is that they want to be very traditional — you know, “You’re not supposed to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony!”

The tradition/superstition that it is ‘bad luck’ to see the bride in her dress before the ceremony actually stems from when arranged marriages were commonplace. The marriage was seen more as a business arrangement and the fear that a groom might back out of the wedding if he saw the bride before the wedding was high. So, they didn’t allow the couple to see each other until the last possible moment. The wedding veil? Part of the same deal.

This is actually one of the reasons for the pre-wedding ceremony where the ketubah is signed at Jewish weddings, because Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah when he thought he was going to marry Rachel…

But more often, couples choose not to see each other before the wedding ceremony because they don’t want to decrease the…

Emotional Impact!

The second most common reason for not wanting to do a ‘first look’ that I’ve come across in my nearly 20 years doing weddings is that couples think that it will lessen the emotional impact of seeing each other at the ceremony.

That is a totally valid feeling!

Wedding first look - photos by Casey Fatchett -

Personal note: In my experience, seeing each other before the ceremony has little effect on the emotional impact of the ceremony. That’s my experience both from photographing over 500 weddings and in getting married myself. Most couples who see each other before the ceremony still get very emotional at the ceremony. That’s because the ceremony is when you realize it’s all really happening. Your people are there. It all becomes very REAL in that moment. My wife and I had a first look…I cried like a baby both times…and I’m not the only one…

A Private Moment

Wedding first look - photos by Casey Fatchett -

On a day when you are feeling like you’re pulled in a million directions by everything and everyone associated with the wedding, the ‘first look’ offers the two of you a private moment where you can connect with one another. You can have close family and the wedding party there as witnesses if you want, but if you’d prefer that it just be a moment for the two of you, that’s great too!

Hundreds of Ways to Do It

I think that when most couples think of a ‘first look’ they think of one person walking up to the other and tapping them on the shoulder, cueing them to turn around — and, to some people, that idea is kind of cheesy. While that is the most popular direction couples go in, there are hundreds of ways to do a ‘first look’, here a few that I have personally seen:

  • Standing back to back (you need some people to get you into position, remind you to keep your eyes closed, but I’m happy to help with that) — I’ve even seen this done where the couple walked off ‘five paces’ and turned around to see each other like they were taking part in a duel!
  • Walking down a staircase
  • Walking around a corner towards each other
  • Just entering the room where the other person is. Think of it like a grand entrance!
  • Moving a rolling divider from between the two of you — this is like the big renovation reveal on Fixer Upper (man, I miss Chip and JoJo…)
  • If you can think of a way to just see each other in a way that let’s your photographer captures both of your reactions, that’s all that matters…
Wedding first look - photos by Casey Fatchett -

Is Your Timeline a Factor?

No break between the ceremony and cocktail hour? That leaves the only real time for pictures of the two of you, your wedding party, and any family/group pictures during the cocktail hour and reception. If you’d rather spend that time hanging out with your family and guests, you might want to consider a ‘first look’ before the ceremony to get those pictures out of the way so you can get on with the party.

Similarly, since often the couples who don’t want to do a first look are having ceremonies in a church and then traveling to their reception site, consider whether or not you will have a break between the ceremony and cocktail hour/reception. You will want to discuss with your photographer how much time you need for photos in between AND remember to consider travel time!!! Especially in New York City, where getting from a Manhattan church to a Brooklyn venue can take upwards of an hour and a half in traffic.

These are BOTH reasons why all of the standard wedding photography packages I offer include no time limits or overtime fees, because you will either need that extra time before the ceremony for group pictures or during the break between the ceremony and the reception to take your photos!

Do You Have a LOT of Groups You Want Photos With?

“We’ve got 34 different groups of people we need to get photos with!”

I refer to the group pictures as the ‘must haves’ — your favorite people are all gathering in one place and you MUST HAVE photos with them! However, if you have a lot of people you want pictures with, it stands to reason that it will take a lot of time to get all those photos.

When are you going to take those pictures? If you see each other before the ceremony, you can get portraits of the two of you, your wedding party, and any immediate family members out of the way before the ceremony starts. Then, if you need to, you only have to do a few larger groups at the beginning of cocktail hour with folks who can’t make it before the ceremony…

Notice how this keeps coming back to enjoying your cocktail hour/reception without having to worry about taking group pictures?

Well, that’s because it is the BIGGEST concern I hear from couples who want to do a first look at their wedding.  “We want to enjoy our party!”

I totally get it. I want you to enjoy your party to. And I want to get you through the group portraits quickly and painlessly so you can ENJOY YOUR PARTY!


Wedding first look - photos by Casey Fatchett -

As I mentioned before, you are probably going to feel pulled in many different directions on your wedding day. There’s a lot going on…things that you feel you need to keep track of…things that take away from your enjoyment of, or add stress to, your wedding day.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to be a little bit more leisurely about taking your portraits on your wedding day as opposed to feeling like you have to jam everything into a 20-30 minute window?

Normally, with the couples I work with, we allot 30-45 minutes (sometimes more, if we’re going to different locations) for pictures of just the couple, and then another 45 minutes to an hour for wedding party/family photos (again, more if we have different locations). This is another benefit of my ‘no limits’ wedding packages, you don’t have to worry about fitting all of your photos into some magical ‘one size fits all’ 8 hour timeline.

Whatever You Choose When It Comes to Having a First Look at Your Wedding

I am here to work with you whether you choose to do a ‘first look’ or not. I will work with you on the timeline and ask questions/give advice that perhaps you haven’t thought about. After all, this is your first time doing this and I’ve been to a lot of them. So, get in touch with me about photographing your wedding today – and let me know where you stand on the topic of ‘first looks’ in the comment section!

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