One of the most frequently pondered questions from my couples is whether or not to do a first look. Overall, the going rate for first looks is 50/50. Although photographers love first looks for the purpose of having a timeline that allows more opportunities for photography, it ultimately depends on the couple and whether they're comfortable seeing one another before the ceremony.
Let's explore a few topics related to first looks:
Types of "firsts"
Pros/Cons of first looks for the wedding timeline
Details of "firsts", tips, and tricks
Types of "Firsts"
Father-daughter First Look: this type of first looks typically occurs at the getting ready location after the bride or groom is finished getting ready. Typically, the bride or groom participating the first look stays in the room or getting ready spot, while the father or grandfather walk into that room, but the opposite can occur too - the bride or groom steps into a hallway or into a larger room where her father is waiting to see her. These types of family or wedding party first looks can be staged with larger groups, like the bride with her bridesmaids.
Private Couple-only First Looks: these types of first looks can occur at the getting ready location, or at a different location between getting ready and the ceremony locations. During these types of first looks, the couple will arrive in two separate vehicles, and one partner will be waiting for the other at the first look location. Typically, the photographers arrange the first look movement, explaining to which way to turn, and how far away to stand. After the first look occurs, the couple typically takes a few minutes to take each other in (some say a prayer together, others read letters - couples can always ask the photographers for a few minutes alone).
Private Couple First Touch: for some couples, they don't want to see each other before the ceremony, but they do want to participate in a first touch. There are so many ways to stage this, but the most common is around a door, corner, or wall. The photographer will scope out the best location, and help position both parties so there's very little risk of the couple seeing one another. Another really special first touch option is to actually do photos while the couple keeps their eyes closed, but is able to hug each other. The photographer will be a little more hands-on to help pose these types of photographs.
Wedding Party First Looks: the couple does their first look surrounded by their wedding party. This makes for some fun photos, especially with the wedding party cheering in the background.
Open First Looks: couples can invite their close friends, family, and other wedding guests to their first look, and do the first look in front of a much larger group of people. These types of first looks need to take place in a larger, more open location to be able to get all participants involved in the cheering. A creative way to do this type of first look is for some guests to surround one partner, while other guests surround the other, and then they "part" so that the couple can see one another, and each half of the guests gets a glimpse of the person they weren't shielding from view. It's a blast! We did one open first look where the bride and groom walked up opposite sides of a small hill, which was lined on both sides with family and friends. Each side had about 10 guests lining the route up to the top of the hill. Each of the guests spoke a blessing/wish while the bride and groom were on their way to see one another for the first time, showering them with love with each step they took towards one another. The guests were also equipped with some epic bubble wands, and whipped those out when they followed the bride and groom up to the top of the hill, so there were some bubbles during the first look!
Pros of first looks:
The couple gets to have an intimate moment during which to touch, speak to, and be with one another.
The couple gets to take formals in multiple locations
The lighting may be better/the photographers have more chances at good weather/good lighting outdoors, especially if the ceremony is later in the day, and it may be dark by the time the post-ceremony formals can start
The couple has a really large list of photographs they want between the ceremony and reception and they expect it to take the full time allotted for photography.
The couple can take part in the cocktail hour with their guests, or have time alone after the ceremony.
Cons of first looks:
The day (getting ready, hair, makeup, etc.) needs to start 1-2 hours earlier.
There may not be as much release of emotion from the couple during the ceremony itself.
Depending on the weather and location, hair, makeup, dresses, and shoes may be windswept or dirtied during the process.
There needs to be a back up plan in place for weather-related surprises, so there may be a variety of transportation needs between getting ready, first look, and ceremony locations.
Details, Tips, and Tricks for "Firsts"
If you decide on a first look, decide on the type, and work backwards from there. If you want to have an open first look, you'll need to account for more time to allow the photographers to compose all the participants. With a private first look, you'll have more time for quiet, romantic moments, and have more opportunities for creative photographs.
Have a back up location - you never know the what will happen with the weather, especially in New England. We bring umbrellas to all of our weddings in case of rain or snow, but couples should also consider having a back up pair of shoes, or even a back up dress. Imagine doing a first look outdoors in heavy snow - for a bride, the hem of her dress will get wet quickly, and will be unpleasant until it dries (possibly hours later!).
It's okay to bustle or hold a dress for a first look, especially if there is a chance for the dress or veil to get dirty during the first look.
Plan for separate transportation to the first look location. It's up to the couple whether they want to ride to the ceremony together, but keep in mind that one partner usually has to arrive earlier to the ceremony than the other.
Work with your photographer to plan your perfect first look. The photographer will be able to advise on best lighting times and locations. It's okay not to have the specific location determined until the photographer scopes it out the day-of, but let your photographer know if you have a specific vision. For example, "I want to walk through the willow branches as I'm walking toward my future wife," is helpful for a photographer to know as they set the scene and start directing the event.