First Look - When, Why, How, and Who

by Jennifer Cram  Brisbane Marriage Celebrant  © 01/12/2019
Categories:  | Wedding Traditions | 
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                          covering his eyes with his hands as bride
                          approaches from behindThe incredibly romantic moment when a couple first locks eyes on their wedding day is a must-have photo opportunity. The traditional first look happened during the processional. Way back in the day, a groom would stand at the altar with his back to the aisle, so that the first time he saw his bride was when he glanced sideways as she took her place next to him. Occasionally in Australia, more often in the UK, we see an evolution of this, where the groom stands at the altar with his back to the aisle until the bride appears and then, at a whispered prompt from the celebrant or clergyperson, turns to see her for the first time.

The tradition of a couple not seeing each other (specifically, the groom not seeing the bride) before the ceremony is still strong, even though there is absolutely no reason for it any more.  When marriages were arranged for strategic and other reasons, bride and groom were prevented from seeing one another before the ceremony in order to guard against the possibility of one or other refusing to go ahead with the wedding. In time, this became a superstition that required the couple to spend the night before the wedding apart, and not see one another before the ceremony, to which was added a ban on the groom seeing the wedding gown - all supposedly to ensure the marriage lasts.

In our more enlightened times, when the first look happens during the processional grooms tend to stand looking down the aisle so they can see the bride's entrance, and photographers do their best to capture the magic of the expressions on the couple's faces (often having to compete with guests, smart phones, and Uncle Bob who steps into the aisle at the critical moment).

But there is an alternative. A pre-ceremony photo session - the private First Look. This emerging new tradition amongst modern couples side-steps the stresses and issues caused by the Uncle Bobs among your guests. It is no wonder it is growing in popularity.  First look wedding photos have been topping the wedding wish lists for a growing number of couples over the past few years as more and more couples choose to experience this special time privately and more intimately.

Whether you wait to see your beloved for the first time as you walk down the aisle, or whether you schedule your first look before the ceremony is entirely up to you. Just one word of warning. Discuss it fully before making a decision. If either of you feels awkward about the idea, leave it alone.

When do you do a First Look?


As the name implies, a First Look is the first time you see one another in all your wedding finery on your wedding day. So you should schedule it before the ceremony. Your photographer will guide you as to how long you will need for photos.. But, as a rough guide, you will need to allow time between your first look and the ceremony start time to be able to have any makeup touch-ups that might be required, any formal photos that will be taken after the first look, and travel time to the ceremony venue - whether that involves a limo ride or a short stroll.

Why do a First Look?


There are many reasons to choose to see your partner before walking down the aisle:
  • It often produces the best emotional expressions of the day
  • It's a great way to calm the nerves
  • You actually get to spend more time together on your wedding day
    With more than half the day spent in getting ready, then congratulations from guests, plus everything that happens at the reception, couples can find that they get to spend very little time together  - guests tend to monopolise you individually, not as a couple.
  • You get to spend some quiet time together in (semi) private
    After all the frenzy of wedding planning and getting ready on the day, scheduling a first look allows you to enjoy this time without the pressure of being in front of your guests. Because it is both more relaxed and without the time constraints imposed by the ceremony, you can be yourselves, rather than on your best behaviour,  and really immerse yourselves in the moment, reconnecting with one another and why you are getting married. It will feel private, and much more intimate, even though there will be others around. Having a discreet photographer, who will both capture the moment and know when to step back to allow you a private moment, is key to a successful first look.
  • You can choose to do this alone (just the two of you), or share the moment by having family and your bridal party present.
  • You can let your emotions show
    Brides, particularly, tend to try to hold back emotions on the walk down the aisle out of fear that they'll spoil their makeup. Scheduling a first allows you to be in the moment knowing that your makeup can be touched up before you make your grand entrance
  • Your are together in the moment in the photos
    When your first look is walking down the aisle it is emotional, and it is photographed, but you won't be together in the photos, and the individual photos won't be taken at exactly the same moment.
  • It minimises the waiting time for your guests between the ceremony and the reception
    A first look provides the opportunity to have a lot of the formal photos taken before the ceremony, with the added benefit that the bouquet is in peak condition, the boutonniere ditto (hugs can really trash those!), and there are no transferred makeup marks or lipstick smudges on either of you in the formal photos!
  • A First Look is a perfect prelude to walking down the aisle together<a
                                        photo created by freepic.diller
    In many countries, the couple traditionally walks down the aisle together, which creates a very different vibe and is great for settling the nerves. 
  • A First Look opens possibilities for the obligatory detail photos of the rings
    The fairly standard shots include the rings in their boxes, perhaps alongside the bride's bouquet, perfume, or jewellery or the groom's shoes, cufflinks, or cologne. A popular shot is the rings on the hand of the groom.  A first look allows a different possibility, one that is both gender-neutral and more intimate - the rings in the hands of the couple.

How to do a First Look


Generally speaking, a first look is set up so you see each others face simultaneously, and when you are close together so easy to get a photo of you both in the same frame. When discussing whether you will or you won't, it would be a very good idea for the two of you to explore your expectations, so you have a clear idea when it comes to discussing those expectations with your photographer. Just remember, this is not the moment for posed wedding photos. A first look only works when it is not posed!
  • Choose where you will do it
    A first look works best in a private location, preferably close to the ceremony location and outdoors during the daytime (so your photographer doesn't need to use a flash, which can be disturbing for the moment)
  • Decide whether you want it to be completely spontaneous
    Or whether you would prefer your photographer to guide you through it on the day. Discuss with your photographer so that you can be sure you make the most out of your first look
  • Make sure your photographer has a plan in place to avoid any possibility of you accidentally seeing one another before your scheduled first look
  • Make sure other vendors are aware of when and where the first look will be
    You don't want deliveries, or staff, photobombing your first look
  • Keep your hands free to be spontaneous
    Don't carry anything so you can enjoy the moment without juggling bouquets, purses, or anything else.
  • Have fun and get creative
    Although the more usual way of setting up a first look (groom facing away, bride walks up behind him and touches him on the shoulder) is effective, it isn't the only way to do a first look.
    • Use the lift
      Capturing that moment when the lift doors open to reveal one of you to the other is pretty magic - and fun.
    • Borrow from the Scottish tradition of the groom greeting the bride at the car when she arrives - first look can be through the window (those tinted windows are wonderful, keeping her hidden until the window is rolled down, or when he opens the car door. This is a great way to do a first look for anyone with mobility issues, or when the timeline is very tight.
    • Choose a location with meaning for your relationship
      Like the place you met, or where the proposal happened if those are logistically possible - it may not be as private, but can be lots of fun if other randoms are around.
    • Use a blindfold
      Or two. Blindfolds are a fun way to build the anticipation of seeing one another.
    • Include the car, your horse, or something else of significance
      And do your first look next to it, so that it is in the shots.
    • Mix it up and have the bride stand with her back to the groom
      With the groom sneaking up behind
    • Keep something back as a surprise
      Do your first look before you are completely ready to head into the ceremony. By that I mean, finish dressing after the first look, so you don't reveal your total look until the ceremony. A gentle way to retain an element of surprise for that moment. Of course you want the photos to look good, so schedule your first look for after hair and makeup has been done, but don't be completely turned out. You might decide to wear your dress, but leave your veil off. Or wear your veil, but turn up in jeans and tee-shirt. For the guys. perhaps shirt sleeves only.  '
  • Build the momentum
    Although the more usual way of setting up a first look (groom facing away, bride walks up behind him and touches him on the shoulder) is effective, it isn't the only way to do a first look.
    • Stay away from Social Media
      Just in case someone posts a sneaky photo that will spoil the surprise, neither of you should look at social media once you start getting dressed.
    • Start with a first touch
      That can be one of you walking up behind the other and touching to alert to your presence, or it can be the two of you coming to a corner or doorway from two opposite directions and reaching out to join hands. If doing the tap on the shoulder, discuss with your photographer which shoulder to make sure that the direction in which you turn is towards the camera.
    • Share a love letter right before your first look
      A lovely way to do this (and it makes for great photos), is both to stand where you are hidden from one another but visible to the photographer (and in the one frame), exchange letters, and read them.
    • Focus on one another and ignore the camera(s)
      Even if your first look is guided, the aim is to ensure it is candid and personal. Again, this is something to discuss with your photographer
  • Share some private time after the photos are done
    Ask your photographer, and anyone else present, to leave you completely alone for a few moments

Who to do a First Look with


When people say First Look, the assumption is that it is a moment between the marrying couple. But photographers have been capturing other first looks ever since wedding photography moved out of the studio and away from the camera on a pedestal. First looks aren't rationed!  Here are some of my favourites first look variations, but still adhering to the tradition of being the first time the bride shows herself to the groom or people close to her. Even if you've decided against a first look as a couple, there are plenty of nerve-settling opportunities to capture surprise and delight before heading down the aisle
  • First look plus one (or more)
    If you are marrying a man with children, it can be sweet and psychologically beneficial to have them stand with him for your first look, or, if you have decided not to see one another until you walk down the aisle, to have a first look with his children on their own.
  • First look with parents
    Traditionally the moment when the bride's father first saw her dressed in her bridal finery, but it's the 21stBride and Groom standing back to
                              back century, so however it works with your family is wonderful
  • First look with bridesmaids
    The stuff of reality shows, but can be a fun moment
  • First look with grandparents
    Sweet, sweet, sweet
  • First look with your dog
    I don't know why everyone who has a dog doesn't do this. If your doggo is all dressed up for the wedding, and will be part of the ceremony, that's great. But many get left at home for good reasons, so this is a great opportunity to include the fur kid.

First Look at the Groom


It is the 21st century. So why not acknowledge that it is the groom's day too?
  • First look with the groom's parents
  • First look with the groomsmen. All right, so maybe you all got dressed together, but if you can swing it, it can be great fun. Particularly if your groomsmen are mates who aren't used to seeing you all dressed up!
  • First look with the groom's grandparents
    Sweet as
  • First look with your special furbabies
  • First look with your children, or your soon to be bride's children.

Alternative First Looks


It is the 21st century. Anything goes. And these strict-gender-divide busting alternatives are gold!
  • First look - bride with the groomsmen. Definitely a high energy first look.
  • First look - groom with the bridesmaids. High energy and very sweet

Not quite a first look - some alternatives


Scheduling a first look gives your photographer a great opportunity to capture intimate portraits of you together that also capture both excitement and anticipation without impacting your wedding day timeline. But what if you're not sure about actually seeing one another? What if you want to save that first sight for the walking-down-the-aisle moment?

Have it both ways!  Stand on either side of a barrier, where you can't see one another but your photographer can see both of you, or, with careful management so you don't see one another face-to-face, stand back to back

  • Blindfold the groom. This is a great alternative where it might be difficult to hide from one another while still being close enough to talk
  • Ramp up the emotion with a First Touch. While not looking at one another, hold hands. The emotion will explode!
  • Read your personal vows to one another. Without the distraction of others around it will be so much easier to share what is in your hearts and what you commit to. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't repeat those personal promises as part of the ceremony.
  • Exchange the gifts you have for one another, allowing your photographer to not only capture the moment when you open them, but the emotions on both your faces when each of you reacts to the gift and the love and thought that went into choosing it.
  • Exchange cards and read them

If you decide against being in the same space, you can still capture some of the emotions from a First Contact. If you have two photographers you can coordinate First Contact photos and have simultaneous photos taken as you call one another to say a few words, perhaps read your love letters to one another and send air kisses.

Thanks for reading!

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