How to get around doing a first look

I’ve talked a lot about first looks before and it’s an oft-debated part of wedding photography — to do a first look or not. Some people have very strong feelings about first looks. While I love first looks because of the joy and sense of calm I usually witness as the photographer, I totally understand and respect the desire for the “first look” to be during the ceremony as the bride makes her way down the aisle toward her groom.

I’d never push a couple to do a first look — that is their choice and theirs alone. And luckily, with a little creativity and planning, we can get some great photos before the ceremony without seeing each other in addition to the beautiful portraits after.

So how do we do this? Let’s dive in.

Plan your ceremony time accordingly.

Most couples don’t realize how long photos take at a wedding — and I don’t blame ya! You’ve never done this before so how would you know that most photographers expect to be coraling family members for 20-30 minutes right after the ceremony and each family grouping generally takes two minutes to shoot?

If you don’t want to do a first look, I would recommend having your ceremony start two hours before sunset if it’s going to be less than 30 minutes and if you don’t have to drive to another location for portraits. If your ceremony is going to longer or you have to drive somewhere for photos, I’d build in an extra half hour so you have plenty of beautiful golden light for your portraits.

Plan for a first touch.

Instead of doing a first look, a lot of couples will opt for a “first touch.” Either they’ll stand on opposite sides of a door or wall corner, or the groom will be blindfolded and the couple can be together physically. It’s a sweet time to talk, pray, and exchange notes if you so wish. Plus, the anticipation is always so palpable in these moments that it makes for great photos.

Changed your mind about a first look after invitations have already gone out?

This happened at a recent wedding I shot. The bride and groom originally wanted to do a first look but a few weeks before the wedding, they decided it would be more impactful to see each other for the first time at the ceremony. So with a few tweaks to the timeline, we were able to arrange a first touch for them outside of the church so they could exchange notes with each other.

Unfortunately the sun had set by time we got to their portraits so we utilized off-camera lights to get some portraits of the bride and groom outside the venue and then took a few more inside before they headed to the reception. You can always book a “day after” session with your photographer where you’ll put your wedding clothes back on and have a whole portrait session of just the two of you. (Side note: I did this for my anniversary — because our wedding day did not go according to plan! — and it was so fun. They’re some of my favorite images of us!)

In these situations, it’s important that your photographer be well-versed in using their lighting gear. Had I not known how to use my flash, I would not have been able to produce good images for this couple. If you do change your mind about a first look, I highly recommend communicating with your photographer and wedding planner to come up with an alternate plan. There are always creative ways to solve timeline issues!

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