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Should You Plan a First Look at Your Wedding?


While a first look might seem like a small detail of your entire wedding day, deciding whether or not to have one can affect everything from how early the wakeup call is, to how much time you have to interact with your guests during cocktail hour. While I always encourage my couples to make decisions regarding their wedding based on what feels most authentic and preferable to them, I always think it’s valuable to talk about a first look from a logistical perspective. Read below to learn how having, or not having, a first look can affect the flow of your wedding day timeline.

First Things First – What is a First Look?

A first look is a planned private moment where the couple has an opportunity to see each other before the ceremony on their wedding day. Historically, wedding traditions have considered it to be bad luck for the couple to see each other before officially walking down the aisle. These days, more and more couples are asking for, and planning on, a first look pre-ceremony for a variety of reasons. This post has been written to help you decide which option is best, both for you as a couple and for your specific wedding day plans.

Of note: Couples that opt out of a first look sometimes still opt for one with another special individual such as a parent, child, or pet!

First Look At Wedding
In this image, Lauren sees her dad for the first time on her wedding day at Edson Hill.

Are You a Morning Person?

A first look takes place before the ceremony, which means the couple will need to be ready earlier than they would with no first look planned. This will depend on your photographer’s process and preferences, but I often ask couples to be fully ready for the first look at least 1.5 hours before the ceremony. An earlier start to the wedding day means an earlier wakeup call for you and for your hair & makeup vendors. Be sure to check with them to ensure they’ll have enough time to complete their work. If you’re not a morning person, option out of having a first look might mean an extra hour or two of sleep … if you can sleep with all of the excitement, that is.

Are You Hoping to Attend Cocktail Hour?

When couples opt out of a first look, that’s okay too! The caveat of opting out is that the entirety of the couple portraits, wedding party photos, and family portraits will need to take place during cocktail hour. These photos can take up to an hour of time, which means skipping a first look usually implies skipping cocktail hour attendance.

Opting for a first look, on the other hand, allows the photographer to capture couple portraits, wedding party photos, and most of your family portraits pre-ceremony. That way when cocktail hour starts, the couple can attend most of it and celebrate along with family and friends.

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First Look Photos from a Lodge at Spruce Peak Winter Wedding

Are You Hoping They’ll Cry as You Walk Down the Aisle?

One of the most common reasons my couples tell me that they want to opt out of a first look is that they want their partner to be emotional when he/she/they/ see their significant other walking towards them down the aisle. Saving that first look moment for the heart of the ceremony is beautiful, and I can absolutely appreciate the sentiment. What I’ve experienced in my years as a Vermont wedding photographer, however, is that if your partner is an emotional person, they’ll show that emotion both when they see you during a first look and when they see you walk towards them down the ceremony aisle. These are both wildly emotional moments, and the ceremony has the added pressure of guests watching – often someone who cries will tear up during both opportunities, and someone who is less emotional won’t. I certainly can’t speak for everyone when I say this, but time and time again I’ve seen emotional reactions both times on a wedding day when couples opt to include a first look in their timeline.

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First Look Images from Lexie and Hunter’s Basin Harbor Wedding

Are You Making Time for Quality Time?

Aside from the traditional first look where one partner taps a shoulder and the other turns around to see them for the first time, there are many ways to experience a first look. Some couples choose to see each other without their photographer present, since they’ll often get no other opportunity to be alone on a wedding day. Some couples choose to read their vows during their first look. This gives them an opportunity to be vulnerable with only a photographer present, and not 150 guests. They then read more traditional vows during the ceremony. All of this is to say that opting for a first look, however you choose to do so, often means opting to spend a little more quality time with your person on your wedding day.

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Ashley and John read vows to each other immediately following their first look at The Barn at Smugglers’ Notch.

Ultimately, your wedding is about you and your partner and celebrating your commitment to one another. So, choose the option that both feels good and enables you to best experience the wedding day you’ve dreamed up together.

For more thoughts on a first look and other wedding planning tips from a wedding photographer’s perspective, be sure to check out my Ultimate Wedding Guide here.

Otherwise, head back to the blog here!

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