Everything You Need to Know About Having a First Look

April 13, 2023

Kelsey Justice

Elopements, Wedding

Birmingham Museum of Art Wedding First Look

If you’re planning a wedding—or have ever spent time around someone planning a wedding—chances are you’ve heard the phrase “first look” tossed around a time or two. Right on up there with deciding whether to have a DJ or a band, a seated or buffet-style dinner, choosing whether or not to have a first look is a top wedding planning decision. As a photographer, I have to admit that I’m #TeamFirstLook. (Though, I totally get it if you want to wait for the aisle, too. Both options are so special in their own ways!)

I’ve had the privilege of photographing weddings for 16 years, and I still get emotional while capturing first looks. And if a bride or groom cries when seeing their soon-to-be-spouse for the first time, you can almost guarantee I’ll be tearing up too. Some of my absolute favorite images I’ve ever captured have been from that pivotal moment when a couple sees each other for the first time on their wedding day. If you’re considering a first look for your wedding or elopement, you’re in the right place. Keep reading for all our best tips, tricks, and advice on the subject.

What is a first look?

Since we want to make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for, here are the quick hits on what a first look is. A first look is when a couple sees each other for the first time on their big day in their full wedding day attire. We all know the familiar superstition that says its bad luck for a groom to see his bride in her dress before the wedding day. A first look gives the couple a special moment to see each other before walking down the aisle without compromising the tradition of not seeing one another while getting ready.  

Why should I have a first look?

There are a ton of great reasons to have a first look but the biggest reason I recommend them is because it allows couples more time to relish, revel, and soak in every last second of their day. Photographers know better than anyone that wedding day timelines can be tight. A first look may seem like a time investment, but it actually frees up so much time. Building in those 15 minutes earlier in the day means couples can begin taking photos together before the ceremony. Without a first look, couples have to wait until after the ceremony to take the majority of their photos, eating up valuable dancefloor time—and cutting it close on daylight hours!

Another reason to have a first look? It’s low-stress and intimate. While a true ceremony reveal may seem to be the pinnacle of wedding day romance, the reality is that sometimes that moment can be so overwhelming that you don’t get to truly enjoy it. If you’re having a large wedding and aren’t a movie star, this is probably the first time in your life you’ll have 200-plus pairs of eyes on you all at once. With a first look, distractions are virtually nonexistent. Everything melts away, so all you have to do is focus on your partner and how lucky you feel to be with them.

How do I plan a first look?

Planning a first look is super simple! There are only a few things you need to decide, and then it’s up to your photographer to make the magic happen! First, you need a location. Do you want to climb to the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean? Escape into a quiet corner of the woods near your venue? You may even choose to have your first look at the altar. Whatever you decide, your photographer will frame up the perfect place for that big moment.

 Second, you need to decide how you’re going to do the reveal. Will you stand back-to-back and turn around at the same time? Does one person want to walk up to the other and tap them on the shoulder?

Finally, you’ll have to decide if you want to use this time to have any other “just you” wedding day moments. I’ve seen couples use this time to exchange thoughtful gifts with each other and even read love letters or personal vows to one another. This is your time, and you can use it exactly how you want!

Can I do a first look if I’m eloping?

Of course. Not all elopements are built the same, and many include friends and family members, so it’s still valuable to have this “just us” time. Even if will be just the two of you on your big day, I still love the idea of getting ready separately so you can save all the anticipation and emotion for that first look moment. Speaking from personal experience, there’s truly nothing like it!

Are first looks only for the couple getting married?

Absolutely not! You can have a first look with anyone special in your life. You’ve probably heard of father-daughter first looks, but I’m all for doing things your own way. Want that special moment with your mom? Go for it! Are you really close to your sibling? Grandparents? Treat them to a first-look photo session. I also love doing this trend with a bride and her bridesmaids. Even if you’re all getting ready in the same place, something about seeing your bestie in her gown and veil for the first time just hits different.

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