19 Pros and Cons of Doing First Look Wedding Photos

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When I connect with my couples and learn about their wedding day, one of the questions I always ask is if they are planning on taking first look wedding pictures. This typically results in one of two initial answers from them:

  • What is a first look?
  • Are there any advantages/ disadvantages to doing a first look?

To the former, I explain that a first look is when the bride and groom take time prior to the ceremony to see one another in a special private moment away from family and friends. This then prompts them to ask the latter question, which I’m diving into today. :)bride walking towards groom during the first look

Should You Take First Look Wedding Pictures?

When it comes to deciding if you should have a first look or not, there is NO right or wrong answer. Are first looks beautiful and allow us to take more photos together? Yes! But, can the day still be memorable and filled with amazing, photo-worthy moments if you forego seeing each other before the ceremony? Absolutely!

I believe the first time you see one another on the wedding day is a truly special, once-in-a-lifetime moment. That moment should be carefully decided between the two of you as to when you want to celebrate it.

Sure, I could write a blog post where I only focus on the reasons I think you should have a first look because it’s more convenient for me as your wedding photographer and maximizes the time we have to take couple portraits. But this day is NOT about me – you’ve invited me to be part of your wedding, and while I’ll gladly share my thoughts and insights on how to make it a great celebration, I’ll never force you to have (or not have) a first look. :)

Below, I’m sharing 19 pros and cons of doing a first look!

Pros of a Wedding First Look

There are several advantages to doing a first look on the wedding day. I’ve outlined 10 perks for why I’ve seen couples enjoy including this event in their photography timeline when planning out the wedding day.

See Each Other Before the Ceremony

The main point of a first look is to see your significant other before the ceremony. This is usually done 1.5 – 2.5 hours beforehand, depending on your overall wedding day schedule. Doing this allows for you two to take more photos together, have more times with guests, and avoid any ceremonial nerves that might have kicked in.

Have Privacy

Getting a private moment can be important to some couples, and first looks allow for this to easily happen. Also, if one of you is a little nervous to show your full emotions in front of all your friends and family, seeing one another prior to the ceremony can let you just be vulnerable with your emotions in front of one another.
bride fixing the groom's bow tie during the first look

Enjoy More Time Alone

When you have a first look, it gives you extra time to spend alone together. While ensuring there is enough time to see all of your guests is important, getting quality time with your soon-to-be husband is equally important! Having those few extra minutes together before all of the excitement of the day sets in is something to consider!

Get Additional Time for Couple Portraits

While this might sound like a perk specifically for photographers at first, it’s actually great for all of us! You’re likely only going to be all done up in your wedding dress on your actual wedding day, so let’s try to maximize the number of photos you take!

Hair and Makeup is on Point

First looks generally take place shortly after you get your hair and makeup done on the morning of your wedding. If there’s going to be a time when your makeup and hair looks best, this is going to be the time. Depending on where you are getting married and what the weather conditions are like, wind or heat can pretty quickly alter your fresh look.

By taking photos together prior to the ceremony, you can ensure you get some couple portraits where you look your best!

Bride in a white tulle wedding dress waiting to walk to the groom during the first look
Bride and groom see one another for the first time during the first look at their wedding


Freshen Up if there are Tears

Seeing your fiance for the first time on the wedding day can be an emotional moment. Even if your makeup is waterproof, there’s a chance that you still have some tear residue left on your face. Doing the first look ahead of time gives you the opportunity to freshen up before the ceremony.

Remove Ceremony Nerves

If you (or your fiance) don’t generally like to be the center of attention or have a bit of stage fright, a first look can really help with this. It’s common to have pre-ceremony jitters, and seeing each other beforehand can be calming and give you peace of mind!

Spend More Time with Guests

One of the main reasons you have a wedding is to spend time and celebrate with your family and closest friends. So, why not maximize the time you have to mingle with each and every guest? By focusing on couple portraits earlier in the day after the first look is over, it allows you to have more time after the ceremony with guests. 
groom smiles as he turns around to see the bride for the first time during the wedding first look

Cocktail Hour can be Shorter

Cocktail hour is usually the time when you’re taking family formals, wedding party photos, and couple portraits. After those photos, there is typically additional time for you to get your dress bustled and take a breather before the reception begins.

With a first look, you have the potential to get all of those photos done BEFORE the ceremony. This means that cocktail hour can actually be much shorter, and you can get the party started sooner!

Beautiful Light During Winter Weddings

In the winter, the sun sets earlier, and often times, the ceremony takes place during sunset (which is beautiful!). Because of this though, any portraits that happen afterward are typically done with off-camera flash, since the sun is gone. By doing the first look, it allows us to take photos while there is still light out, and often times, the light is a soft, golden color. 

Sidenote: If you’re planning to get married at the beach in La Jolla during the winter months, I encourage you to do a first look! The golden light we’ll get during these photos will be amazing! :)

Cons of a Wedding Day First Look

While I love first looks, I think it’s only fair to share some of the cons of having them as well. Here are 9 downsides to having a first look that are worth thinking through!

Nontraditional

If tradition is important to you and your man, first looks go against the standard tradition of waiting to see the bride until she is walking down the aisle. Take time to talk together about this point to understand if this is a tradition that’s important to you or not.

Need to be Ready Earlier

Get that coffee going early in the morning, because your wedding timeline will start 2-3 hours earlier with a first look. You can still have a stress free and relaxing morning on your wedding day, but be sure that everyone is clear on what time you need to be ready by in order for the first look to happen on time.
wedding first look moment where the bride wraps her arms around the groom from behind

Can Be Rushed if the Timeline Falls Behind

If the getting ready portion of the morning falls behind, typically time gets reduced for the first look and the couple portraits that directly follow it. This is because the ceremony generally cannot get pushed by a significant amount of time, so whatever time is left between getting ready and the ceremony is for the first look.

Guests Won’t See Your Reaction

Do you want your guests to see your almost-husband tear up as he looks at how beautiful you are? If you do a first look, there’s less of a chance that he’ll be as emotional during the ceremony when he sees you for the second time.

Wedding Dress Can Get Dirty

Depending on where you want to have your first look, there’s a chance your dress can get dirty. If you envisioned doing a first look on the beach, be prepared for sand to be all over the bottom of your dress. For some brides, they want a perfectly clean dress to walk down the aisle with, so keep this in mind when determining if you should do a first look or not.
bride waits in anticipation to walk towards the groom during the first look

Not Wearing Wedding Bands for Some Couple Portraits

If we do a first look for you and take couple portraits directly after, you won’t have your wedding bands on in these photos. Again, this comes down to your personal preferences in terms of how you two feel about this.

Some couples like to look at their portraits together and see the wedding bands on (or at least know they were officially married), especially if they end up ordering an album or hanging a large wall print.

Reactions Might be Disappointing

I’ve seen couples get super emotional, tear up, and be at a complete loss for words during first looks because of how overwhelmed with happiness they are (which then chokes me up too!). I’ve also seen the complete opposite, where couples see one another, smile, give a brief hug, and are ready to move on.

Both of these are fine when both the bride and the groom are on the same page with how they react. Where I see disappointment occur is when one person THINKS the other is going to get taken aback with emotion… and then doesn’t. These hopeful expectations can then potentially put a slight damper on the day.
bride walks down the wedding ceremony aisle with her father

Walking Down the Aisle May Not Be as Meaningful

By seeing one another prior to the ceremony, it can potentially take away from the importance of walking down the aisle. Since you have already seen one another and likely spent the hour leading up to the ceremony together, the traditional meaning of going down the aisle might not be as meaningful.

Lighting Can Be Harsh During the Summer

With spring and summer weddings, first looks usually take place in the afternoon (and outside). Assuming it’s not overcast, the sun will be shining full blast, directly above you. This can lead to limited locations to do the first look in, along with harsh lighting conditions.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are pros and cons to first look wedding moments. Before the wedding day, it’s important to sit down with one another and talk about your preferences for this. Regardless of whether or not you choose to do one, your wedding day can be beautiful and we’ll create some amazing photos!

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