The notion of “bad luck” in terms of seeing your betrothed before the ceremony is from a time when a bride was considered property of her father; marriages were often arranged without the couple meeting each other before exchanging vows. If the groom saw the bride before the ceremony and didn’t like what he saw, he still had time to head for the hills (this is also where the tradition of the bridal veil comes from). So the bride was kept secret from the groom until it was, essentially, too late for him to escape.
What this means is that if you’ve met your husband before your wedding day, you’re good to go.
Still, the practice of waiting until “the big moment” for him to see you in the big white dress has become a tradition with social significance. It’s still important to many couples to maintain the dramatic “reveal” of the ceremony, and I firmly believe that’s something that should be respected by your photographer and any other wedding vendor. If I’m chatting with a client and they are hands-down set on waiting until the walk down the aisle to see each other, I do not consider it my place to try to change their minds.
If you want to wait until ceremony time to see each other, then that’s what we’re going to do.
BUT, for those of you on the fence or not sure what it means to have first look wedding photos, I’m here to share the details of what it means so that you make an informed decision.
Pro #1 // The anticipation of seeing each other for the first time on your wedding day is private. This is an emotional day that is going to zoom by faster than you can freakin’ imagine, so taking a moment to yourselves before all the festivities begin is a great opportunity to cry, hug, kiss, and whisper about how excited you are without all your friends and family looking on. Yes, I’ll be there with my camera, and maybe you’ll let your bridesmaids and groomsmen peek around the corner, but the moment is MUCH more intimate and allows the two of you to have a more authentic interaction (you’ll LOVE that you have photos of this moment when the day is over!).
Pro #2 // You might be able to focus on and remember your ceremony better. I’ve met a few couples who know they’re going to be a ball of nerves and thus would prefer to see their spouse-to-be before it’s time to focus on details like vows and rings and not tripping over their own two feet. If you reserve a separate moment for the excitement and joy of just being together for the first time on your wedding day, then the actual ceremony might be a little less stressful and a lot more memorable in terms of the pomp and circumstance of it all.
Pro #3 // Get a bunch of photos done before the ceremony. If you’re able to see each other, there’s no reason you can’t also plan to take some bridal portraits, bridal party group shots, and even some (or all) of your posed family photos instead of waiting until cocktail hour. Many couples who (a) want more time for bride and groom solo portraits, or (b) want to actually attend their cocktail hour will opt for getting some of the formal portraits taken care of before the ceremony. Again, this is just another way to savor your day and make it last a little longer by giving yourself more time later on for whatever is most important to you (whether it be more post-ceremony photos with just the two of you, or having a drink with your friends and family before sitting down for dinner).
Pro #4 // Depending on the time you’ve scheduled your ceremony, we might have to rush to take advantage of daylight for post-ceremony photos. If you’re getting married in winter (when days are shorter) or later in the evening (and it’s almost dark when the ceremony is finished), you’re basically guaranteeing yourself a shortage of photo opportunities if you wait until the ceremony to see each other. I know, I know, I said it’s not my place to change your mind about whether or not to do a “first look.” But it IS my place, as your photographer, to set some realistic expectations for your collection of wedding photos, and if we can’t take any bride and groom portraits until after dark but you LOVE that beautiful “magic hour” light, we’re in a bit of a pickle, no? Just something else to think about. And if you REALLY, REALLY don’t want to do a first look, then consider bumping up your ceremony time to a little earlier in the day. Or, understand you’ll only have nighttime photos of the two of you together, and know that your photographer is probably going to have to use flash for family portraits.
Pro #5 // Bridal hair and makeup is fresh earlier in the day!
Pro #6 // It’s less likely that your bridal party/family/you will be drunk already!
Pro #7 // You don’t hate me yet. I mean, hopefully, you won’t hate me at all, but there IS such a thing as “photography fatigue.” Even with my natural, unobtrusive approach, you’re still technically “posing for photos” with your family, your bridal party, and each other. And many couples reach a point at which they are over it. You just want to have a drink already, or make sure you actually get to eat your wedding cake. I totally get it! And I don’t want to be in your face all day, forcing you to run all over the venue for every photo op I can possibly think of (unless that’s what YOU want, of course!). If you’re not used to having your photo taken or you know you’re going to want to relax and keep photos to a minimum after the ceremony, then a “first look” is definitely a good idea.
Pro #8 // Spend more time with each other. You’ll see each other earlier in the day, so you get to hang out a little longer. This day is about the two of you, so you should be together for most of it, right? Enough said.
I’ll say it again: if you want to wait until ceremony time to see each other, then that’s what we’re going to do. If you’ve dreamed of the moment you turn the corner (or the chapel doors open, or however you’ll be entering your ceremony) and your future spouse sees you for the first time as you’re walking down the aisle, who am I to stomp on your dreams and force you to see each other for my own, selfish, photographic purposes? But maybe you have your own photography priorities (and not selfish at all on your end, by the way) — investing in a professional wedding photographer probably means you want some killer photos. A “first look” is a great way to commit some extra time together and create additional opportunities for beautiful photos.
As a side note, I love to help with timelines. If you need assistance or suggestions with the flow of the day or how much time you should allocate for stuff like bridal party and family photos, just ask! I’ll need details like how many bridesmaids and groomsmen you have (a larger bridal party usually means we’ll need a bit more time for those photos), and how many family combinations you’d like to include (as well as whether we’re doing just immediate family, or you want to get all the aunts and uncles and cousins-twice-removed involved).
Regardless of your decision regarding a “first look,” remember that this is YOUR wedding day and we’ll work with whatever you decide. The last thing I want is for you to regret doing a first look because your photographer “made you do it.” That’s not me. This is just to help you prioritize and maximize your wedding day timeline and photo opportunities.
Further reading: Tips for great wedding photos