The First Look: How to Decide


A bride and groom holding hands, facing away from the camera, and smiling over their shoulders in a perfect moment captured by wedding photography. The bride is in a lace gown and the groom in a light

It is traditional on a wedding day that the first time the couple sees one another is at the altar. However, in recent years, this tradition has become optional. In fact, more than half the couples we work with choose to do a first look. This allows them to have a private moment all dressed up before they walk down the aisle.

We are going to explain the origins of the traditional way of doing it, as well as some pros and cons of breaking with tradition and going for a first look. Here goes —

The Traditional Way

It is tradition not to see your partner 24 hours before the wedding for a number of reasons. The original reason was that, back when marriages were arranged, the couple wasn’t allowed to see or meet each other until the ceremony. However, that obviously isn’t the reason the tradition has endured. Many couples who choose to go with a more traditional first look usually do so because the waiting builds anticipation. Just imagine the first time you see each other all day is minutes before you get married. Romantic as heck.

The Modern Way

Nowadays, it’s common for couples to choose to see one another before walking down the aisle. This is for a number of reasons — some of which you might not expect.

First Look Pros

Streamline your wedding timeline. This is probably the biggest reason most of our couples decide to do a first look before the ceremony. If you opt not to see one another until the ceremony, that means your photographer can’t take photos that require the two of you together. This includes full bridal party portraits and all the family photos. With a traditional first look, you have to wait to do these photos until after the ceremony, which cuts into your party time.

Shake off some nerves. Seeing one another for the first time while you walk down the aisle can come with a lot of pressure. The remedy for those pre-wedding butterflies might actually be seeing one another beforehand. A lot of couples tell us the modern first look made them feel more relaxed during the ceremony.

Embrace a private moment. Sure, your photographer and videographer are around for your first look, but it’s one of the most private moments you will have with your spouse all day. I always like to choose somewhere quiet and secluded, and I’ll even ask family and friends to stay inside or in another room if you want some extra hideaway time.

Capture more couple’s portraits. You can’t ever really have too many portraits of the two of you together on your wedding day. You’d be surprised how much time you spend apart from one another, even though you’re the ones getting married. The first look before the ceremony provides some time to capture the emotion of you seeing one another for the first time on camera. And while your photographer will be there when you see each other coming down the aisle, you aren’t usually standing together when that moment happens.

First Look Cons

You have to get ready earlier. All the convenience and ease does come at a small price. Your wedding timeline will be a lot smoother, but it will require you to start getting ready earlier in the day. For those couple’s planning on doing a morning ceremony, this might be a dealbreaker. Ideally, your first look will happen at least an hour before the ceremony, but depending on the size of your bridal party and family photos, it could be even earlier.

Some of the magic is gone at the ceremony. Of course, since you only walk down the aisle once that day, it’s still pretty magical. But the initial flood of emotion might be diminished from seeing each other earlier. 

Reserved or private couples might find it uncomfortable. The modern first look isn’t for everyone. Some couples don’t enjoy PDA or expressing strong emotions in front of others. If that’s you, the first look might be an uncomfortable experience, and in some cases, might make you more nervous for the ceremony.

The Takeaway

The decision to have a first look or not is very personal and private. Having a first look before the ceremony can be a lovely, private moment to get rid of some nerves and take some awesome portraits. But it can be an anticipation buzzkill if you’re more interested in being swept off your feet while coming down the aisle. While some couples want to be as efficient as possible, others will value romanticism over practicality. Ultimately, as I tell all my couples, it’s your wedding day, and you can make it fit your personality. When it comes to weddings, tradition isn’t always everything. 

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