What is a First Look Session?
Updated: May 12
What is it and why would you want it?
While the majority of wedding details are planned by you and your partner (hopefully 😆), there are a few details that you may want to keep from one another like the vows, wardrobe, etc! In most cases, a significant amount of time, skill, and money goes into your appearance for your wedding and naturally you hope your partner loves it. That plus it being your wedding day means your emotions will probably be all over the place, there will be a lot going on, and you'll be filled with anticipation as you get ready to see the person you're about to marry! Seeing your partner in their wedding attire for the first time is a special moment that should allow you to have an honest and genuine experience with each other.
You may choose to share this moment with friends and family by having one person walk down the aisle, as the other stands at the alter. Although this type of first look is the traditional way of doing things, it is by no means, the only way. Another, more intimate option is a first look session, something that is growing with increasing popularity! A first look session is a portion of the day set aside for you and your partner to see each other for the first time before the ceremony. This can consist of just you and your future spouse or you can choose to allow certain people to be a part of it too! It's completely up to you.
As a wedding photographer, I like to leave 5-10 minutes for the actual first look portion, so that I can capture various angles of you before you see each other! Of course, the time is flexible and can be extended if the first look runs straight into couples portraits. If that works best for your schedule, then the first look simply becomes the beginning of your portrait time!
Personalize Your First Look
Since there are no rules for this session, it's a great time for you and your photographer to get creative! Common first look ideas involve one person walking to other (simulating walking down the aisle), being back to back, or around a corner. As long as one of you (usually the groom, if there is one) doesn't see the other until the grand reveal, then everything else can be personalized! Want to use a blindfold? Do it! Don't want it to be too serious? Then have fun with it! First looks can be whatever you want them to be.
One of my favorite first look sessions comes from Reed and Bailey's wedding at their family's ranch in Donnelly, Idaho! Bailey knew she wanted something silly, so she asked me what I thought of breaking out a dinosaur mask. I loved it! When it came time for the first look, I placed them on a corner and had them hold hands so they could still feel connected. Almost immediately, Reed started to get emotional. It was such a cute moment between them! After I captured some shots of Bailey pre-mask, we took a brief pause so that her friend could help her "fix her hair." 😉 Once she was ready to go, it was time for them to see each other. It was just perfect because it went from Reed being extremely emotional to him absolutely losing it with laughter when he saw her! Everyone watching was doing some combination of laughing and crying. It was such a wholesome experience and it definitely helped to ease some of Reed's nerves for the rest of the day!
Does a First Look Session Suit You?
Ultimately, if you want a first look session, then it will definitely suit you! However, if you're on the fence or trying to figure out if it's right for you and your partner, then consider your preferences, relationship, and personalities. First look sessions are particularly nice if you want something a little different or want to control the situation when you see each other, like making it fun or in a particular area! It's also a great option if you prefer an intimate setting. Sometimes a first look can be an emotional experience and you might not be comfortable sharing that vulnerability with everyone. Another reason a first look might suit you is because you have a tight timeline! It doesn't always have to be a choice rooted in emotion; it can also be a logistical choice to help your day flow a little smoother.
Benefits of a First Look Session
First look sessions have many benefits, but there are a few in particular that I would like to mention. Firstly, these sessions can do wonders for people who have anxiety, feel self conscious, or get easily overwhelmed. Having a first look session allows you to control the variables, such as how you do it or who will be a part of it. You won't have to worry about people looking at you or thinking more about them than your partner. You can have an intimate experience in a safe space that makes you comfortable enough to express completely genuine emotions!
Another benefit of a first look session is the fantastic way it condenses your timeline! This is particularly the case if you're planning to get ready earlier in the day and your ceremony isn't until the evening. Of course keeping a tight timeline won't be an issue if you have all day photography coverage. However, that isn't always a possibility. By including a first look, you could have getting ready pictures at 1:00 PM, first look at 2:00 PM and complete your wedding party and family portraits before your 4:00 PM ceremony! It's a great way to smooth the flow of your day while freeing up some post-ceremony time.
With a traditional first look, a cocktail hour of sorts is recommended after your ceremony! The cocktail hour occurs before the grand entrance or dinner and is where your guests would have fun, socialize, and eat hors d'oeuvres, while the photographer captures the wedding party, family, and couples portraits. If you're planning on your ceremony being later in the evening and providing appetizers isn't in the budget, including a first look session can help keep dinner at a manageable time. Rather than having to capture the majority of the formal portraits after the ceremony, now you can sneak away for a short period of time to get those highly sought after golden hour portraits! You can even skip the cocktail hour completely by having your couples portraits done in conjunction with your first look or sneaking away for couples portraits after dinner! Do keep in mind the harsh lighting that may occur if your first look or couples portraits take place mid-day.
Considerations for a Traditional First Look
While first look sessions have some great benefits, there are reasons why you might choose a traditional first look instead. If you're wanting that raw, emotional ceremony experience, a great way to help make it happen is to have a traditional first look. Seeing each other for the first time while walking down the aisle can sometimes be more impactful. If you're comfortable in front of everyone, this moment can be just as special, if not more, by sharing it with your friends and family. You'll have all of the emotions of seeing your partner while being surrounded by the people who love you most in this world! All of those feelings will flow through your ceremony from your first look to your vows to your celebratory "we did it!"
Besides being an amazing way of inviting people to experience your love in a way that goes beyond your vows, it is also a fabulous way to ensure no one sees your wedding attire before the ceremony! If you're a bride or groom who cannot wait to stun your guests with an amazing dress or suit, then you should totally have a traditional first look. Build the suspense and let everyone see you as you walk down the aisle, looking elegant and in love. After all, people are probably dying to see what you look like; might as well give them a show! ✨
This Photographer's Opinion
Your decision to have a first look session is 100% yours as the engaged couple! With that being said, I thought it might be helpful to hear an opinion from one photographer, if you're still not sure which route you want to go. I personally like when couples choose to have a first look because it usually means we have more time to capture your couples portraits. These portraits are most often the pictures hanging on your walls, so photographers will always take as much time as you want to give us! A traditional first look will allow this too, if you can section off a few hours between your ceremony and reception to capture all of the formal portraits. Besides more time for portraits, I've also noticed newlyweds are less stressed when they can get back to their guests more quickly after their ceremony. That way they don't keep them waiting and have more time to socialize and dance!
If you take one point from this information, let it be that there is no right way to have a first look! It will be special no matter what and the logistics will fall into place. Whichever you decide, make sure it's most comfortable to you and your partner. After all, it's your wedding and you shouldn't stress about pleasing everyone! Do what you want and your guests will be happy, but...if you are going to have a cocktail hour, you may want to have snacks! 😊
I would love to hear if you found any of this helpful! Did you decide if a first look session was right for you or do you think a traditional first look is a better fit? If you find yourself with any questions or if you need advice about your particular situation, feel free to send me a message and I'll do my best to help you out!