First of all, if you're here, you're probably getting married, so congratulations! If you're not getting married and you are just super curious about the hype around first looks, kudos to you for investigating! If you're in the process of planning your timeline and trying to figure out how long cocktail hour should be or how much time you should set aside for family photos, have you considered a first look?
While some couples adhere to the time honoured tradition of NOT seeing their partner before their ceremony, I firmly believe that there are worthy reasons to throw tradition to the wind, especially if your primary concern is spoiling the ceremony (the real spoiler? It will still be magical & pure gold). Here's why:
You can choose whatever you want for your wedding day! There are no rules that say you must do one or the other. Now, if you're very traditional and feel very strongly about not doing a first look, that's fine! Skip it. Don't force it! You don't want to do something that feels uncomfortable or awkward to you. But, if you're at all curious, and wondering why you would have a first look, consider these benefits.
Time considerations, available day light and cocktail hour: As you start creating your wedding day timeline, you're probably noticing just how much time everything takes up especially once you start adding buffer time in between for travel or things getting held up. If you aren't yet planning a first look, you might notice that pictures with your new spouse, bridal party and groomsmen and family members will take up a good chunk if not ALL of the cocktail hour. I typically recommend at least 25 minutes for your portraits, 15 minutes for you and wedding parties, and another 15 for family (more if you have a HUGE family), with buffer, that's at LEAST an hour and ten minutes. Buffer time is important. If you don't use it, great! You're early! If you do use it, you will be so so thankful that you included it. Also, with pictures beforehand, we'll only have to sneak out for a few minutes before sunset to get a few more gorgeous, dreamy amazing, sunset pictures of you two and you can spend the rest of the time with your family and friends.
If you want to spend a bit more time enjoying cocktail hour, consider this: if you have your first look before your ceremony, you have already set aside a chunk of time to get the pictures of you and your partner that you will treasure forever. You'll also be able to get your bridesmaids and groomsmen into those pictures and save another big chunk of time. Everyone will be in one place and they probably won't be distracted by food, drinks, and socialising yet because, it's not cocktail hour! Some couples also opt to have immediate family members join them for family photos at that point as well - especially if the ceremony and reception are at the same venue. If not you can always do family photos during cocktail hour! Finally, if you're getting married later in the day, and it is late fall, winter, or early spring, you won't have a lot of day light left by that point. In which case I'd strongly recommend getting your family photos taken right after your first look as well so you still have daylight to do it easily. Remember! This may mean starting your getting ready process a bit earlier in the day to make sure you have enough time before the ceremony. If you're going the traditional route and not opting for a first look, consider an elongated cocktail "hour" to make room for all of your photos, and to enjoy and hopefully get to eat a bit during cocktail hour.
Privacy: Oftentimes, people put a lot of pressure on a couple and their reactions leading up to the first time they see each other, whether it's for a first look or traditional ceremony. I find that unfair! While it is always emotional and meaningful, not everyone displays emotion in the same way, especially when you have twenty or two hundred people watching to see what you do! That can be intimidating, especially if that's already a concern for you. First looks create a sense of intimacy and privacy for you and your spouse to be. You don't have to worry about your reaction, you just get to focus on seeing your bride or groom for the first time. They can say "holy cow! you look absolutely amazing!" or I love you!" or "Wow" or they can say nothing and just smile with this huge grin and then get to hug you, or cry, or literally anything. There is zero pressure. As your photographer, I don't want to force emotion on you. I want to let things develop naturally! As far as a first look process is concerned, one partner comes outside to a spot that I've scouted or that you have specifically chosen, and then the other stands behind them. I'll get a few photos like that and then move to a different position so I can capture your faces! One partner tells the other to turn around and then cue: emotion, laughter, happiness, and privacy to see each other and react. From there, I let you focus on each other, and speak or hug and then we can go straight into taking your portraits so you can keep focusing on how freaking amazing your wife to be/husband to be looks! I usually read the emotion and go from there. It's low-pressure and relaxed!
Time alone + eliminating nerves: The emotion of a first look and having it private is definitely a huge plus for many couples for various reasons. It also means having time to breathe and take in the moment without the anxiety of everyone watching your reaction. You probably won't have a lot of time alone, just the two of you, during the day and this is an opportunity to check in with each other, and make sure you're not losing it with nerves!! The nerves leading up to the ceremony can be intense, and this is a moment to slow down and have the reassurance of seeing your partner and relaxing before you head into your ceremony. Also, once you get to cocktail hour, reception, dances, dinner, cake, etc. This is a few moments just for you two. Also, if you're sticking pretty traditional with your vows, for whatever reason, I've had couples use the first look as an opportunity to share promises or read something to each other before the ceremony.
You enjoying your reception ^^ and dancing because all of the formal photos are done!
Remember, it is up to you! If you choose a first look for practicality, privacy, or for fun, or opt not to for whatever reason, it is your choice! You can even change what you want on the day of your wedding if you decide that you DO want a first look or you Don't! Your photographer should be able to help you accommodate that change in plans. Because while yes, it totally is magical and amazing to see your bride or groom coming down the aisle for the first time at the ceremony location, when they come around the corner, or open the doors, it's also not your only option! Think about it! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or get in touch via my contact form so that we can start discussing YOUR wedding day plans.
Warmly, Catherine Johanna