February 12, 2024
A “first look” is wedding speak for when a couple decides to see each other before their ceremony, instead of waiting to walk down the aisle. In days past couple’s used to consider it bad luck to see each other before the ceremony- but as new generations of couples have challenged old traditions and created their own version of their wedding day, the “first look” has see increasing popularity. As your wedding day approaches you might be wondering if this is something you should consider doing, or not. As a San Luis Obispo based wedding photographer I have a ton of experience and insight to share with you- I am going to give you the pros and cons and everything else you need to do to help you decide if a “first look” is for you.
From a wedding photographer’s perspective there are many reasons to do a first look that can be helpful for couple’s- but it may surprise you to hear that there are also plenty of reasons they can actually cause more stress than they are worth. The truth is that the decision to see each other or not before your ceremony is unique to each couple- and one of the reasons I have such a firm believer in working with your wedding photographer and planner well ahead of time to develop the best plan for your wedding day.
I am a California wedding photographer and I shoot weddings mainly in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara- so I am going to go over some of the pros and cons of doing a first look based on weddings in this area. If you are getting married in a different state there could be other reasons to consider- but for this article we are talking about weddings in California near the Central Coast. I am also a natural light photographer who shoots mainly (99%) outdoor wedding ceremonies and I love a light and airy, colorful atheistic so I am always thinking about what is going to help my couples have the best result for that style of wedding photos.
There are many ways couple’s can choose to see each other before their ceremony. Most often it will be a private moment where one partner waits for the other partner to come up behind them, tap them on the shoulder, and they will turn to see the other one- this is before the ceremony happens. Sometimes they will read private vows to each other as well, or exchange a gift. If one of my couple’s is wanting to do a “first look” I will typically arrive early, scout out a good location where they will have a private moment and that makes for great photos, and when it’s time set the groom up in that spot.
When my couples choose to see each other before the ceremony it’s a moment full of excitement, romance, and emotion. Both partners get to enjoy a moment together without having a zillion eyes on them, and get to really take each other in. Many of my couples also like to read private vows during their first looks, or exchange a gift with each other.
First looks take place around 1-2 hours before the ceremony to make sure there is enough time for the couple to go and hide again before guests begin to arrive for the wedding- this is especially true if the couple is going to do family and wedding party photos after the first look and before the ceremony. It’s really important to allow for enough time to do all of this.
I have also seen variations of the traditional first look where my couples choose to see each other but be blindfolded, only doing a “first touch” and exchanging a few words without actually seeing each other. I have had couples go back to back in order to pray together, or hold hands across a doorframe without actually seeing one another. It’s fun to steal a moment together and I am always up for anything my couples want to do, especially when adorable pictures come out of it.
There are many reasons couples decide to do a first look- but also plenty of reasons not to. Let me break down some of the pros and cons for you to help you decide what is best for your wedding day. As a San Luis Obispo based wedding photographer with over 15 years of experience shooting beautiful garden wedding days like the one below, I am an expert on wedding day timelines and what works and what doesn’t.
There are plenty of reasons not to do a first look on your wedding day.
1. You are tradition and don’t want to miss out on this special moment.
This is a very special moment and full of so much emotion, and it definitely lives up to our fairytale ideas of what a wedding should be like. It can be hard to replicate the level of nerves, emotions, and joy of this moment during a first look- so if you have the vision in your head of this moment it is totally ok to not do a first look. I love capturing the emotions, happy tears, and excitement of this special event and there really is nothing like the look on a grooms face when he first sees his bride walking down the aisle.
Maybe your wedding is at one of our central coast venues with a gorgeous tree and you envision your husband to be waiting there for you.. or maybe you get to ride up in an old fashioned car like at Cass Winery… it’s a beautiful moment, that’s for sure.
If you and your future spouse or your families are superstitious or old fashioned, doing a first look might not be in the cards for you. By seeing one another before you walk down the aisle, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to partake in a longstanding ritual, and according to the tradition, you’ll experience a spell of bad luck—which isn’t the best way to kick off a marriage. (I don’t think its bad luck, but if you do, then that could be a big reason not to do it.)
2. There isn’t enough time before the ceremony to do it.
Many couples want to see each other before hand in order to get some of their photos done before the ceremony, but fail to realize that this can add extra hours to the day and cause you to have to get ready much earlier and have your friends and family be ready earlier for pictures in order to have your photos all done before your guests start to arrive.
It tends to extend the hours you will need with you photographer and leave less time later for reception photos. It can also add stress on to your day just having to be ready sooner and round everyone up. Sometimes guests can begin to arrive early and will see the bride before she can go hide again prior to the ceremony. Some of our Paso Robles wedding venues are way out in the country and take a while to get out to, so you can always count on a few guests arriving extra early.
It’s important to consider your own family and decide wether this makes sense for your situation- where will everyone be getting ready? How good is your family about taking directions? Are there small children involved who may not be able to make it early? Every family is different and for some this works great while for others it adds more stress. But, at the very least, doing your wedding party photos all ahead of time can save time and get you to your cocktail hour sooner.
Will everyone be getting ready together on-site like you can at Allegretto Resort or at Flying Caballos? Or will you be in hotels or Air B and B’s that are quite far apart and it will be difficult to mange people arriving at the same time.
3. The lighting isn’t as good early in the day.
During the summer the sun is overhead in the afternoon and this is not the best for photography- the later in the day you go the better the lighting gets. This is why photographers will look for areas of shade when the sun is overhead instead of having you stand in full sun. If your venue doesn’t have any shaded areas, it is usually better to wait to take photos until after the ceremony.
4. It’s going to be a really hot day.
San Luis Obispo is typically a temperate climate- most of our days are cool and it rarely gets over 85 degrees. But there is always that chance that it could get really hot in the summer or even late fall- and our Paso Robles wedding venues can get up to over 100 degrees in July and August.
If it’s really hot around midday it can be a bad idea to start things this early. Getting hot and sweaty before the ceremony is no ones idea of fun, especially for a bride wearing a long dress and a groom dressed in a tuxedo. If you are getting married in the summer and it looks to be extremely hot it’s best to wait until things cool down to start the pictures.
1. It just feels better for you both to see each other before the ceremony.
Maybe you are nervous, maybe you want to spend more of the day together, or maybe you want a chance to read private vows to each other or take a moment alone together. Seeing each other before everyone arrives can give you time to do this. Another reason is if you are someone who cries easily, maybe seeing each other before the ceremony will help you walk down the aisle a little calmer and have better photos of that moment-seeing each other will definitely ease any pre-wedding jitters.
First looks can be super romantic and special if done right, and I always try and make sure my couples get to fully enjoy this moment together in the way that feels best for them. I can find a private spot where it’s just the two of you, and help you to have that special moment while I capture your first look photos and video on one of my long camera lenses.
2. You want to go to your cocktail hour.
You’ve invited all your friends and family and many have come from far away to see you- wedding days go by so fast so it’s understandable to want to attend at least part of your cocktail hour. Getting your wedding party and immediate family photos and even some of your couples photos done prior to the ceremony can free up time for you to be able to attend this part of your day and enjoy some of those delicious appetizers.
San Luis Obispo wedding Caterer’s are some of the best in the state- their appetizers are too die for- some of my personal favorites are Chef’s Table and Popolo Catering. Venues like Cali Paso Winery even have their own in house caterers.
3. The sun sets early on your wedding day and you are worried about running out of light. Sunset is one of the most important times to know on your wedding day. This is the time we call “golden hour” and universally known to be the best time for taking your romantic photos. As the sun moves towards the horizon the light gets warmer and softer and more flattering because it comes from the side rather then overhead.
Photographers want to take most of our photos during this time- but we also have a lot of photos to take in a limited amount of time and during the winter months the shadows grow long and the lights fades much faster than in the summer. I always want some time- 20-30 minutes, to take you up into the vineyards, or down to a pond, or for a walk through the gardens at your wedding venue.
San Luis Obispo is full of wedding venues like Ella’s Vineyard or Oyster Ridge Winery with gorgeous scenery and our sunsets are like nothing else- so it’s very important to have enough time that we can fully capture the moment of your day. A first look can be so important for these later fall and winter weddings so that we can get most of your family and wedding party photos done ahead of the ceremony, and all we have left to do after this is your romantic photos together.
This is especially true if your ceremony for some unforeseen reason starts late, or goes long- the chance of running out of sunlight is very real at this time of year, and so I will usually advise a first look as a safety precaution if nothing else. With these photos being some of the most important of your day, you don’t want to risk losing the chance to take them. Of course there are always ways around this, you don’t have to do a first look in the winter. You can always have an early ceremony- but it’s definitely something to think about.
Keep reading for more “first look” tips…
I can’t write this article without mentioning two of my favorite types of first looks besides the one for the couple.
Lately I have been loving doing a first look with bridesmaids! I send them all to get ready while my brides get dressed and then I stage them for a grand reveal. It’s such a cute moment to do a bridesmaids reveal, and the photos are so much fun. I just love capturing their sweet reactions. So if you have a tribe of bridesmaids that you think would enjoy this, by all means let’s make it happen.
Many brides like to do a first look with their father, letting him be the first to see them in their dress- and let me tell you the tears are going to flow. This can be done with a Father of the Bride, Father of the Groom, or another special person in your life. I’ve had brides ask to do this with the Mother of the Groom as well. Every wedding is unique and entirely up to you what you want to do.
Wether or not you do a first look will definitely change the way your wedding day timeline is laid out. If you decide to do one its always going to add a couple of extra hours onto the front part of your day and you will probably need some extra hours in your photography package.
Thankfully you don’t have to decide this alone- I am here to help you run over different options and scenarios and figure out what will be best for your wedding. I will help you set up a timeline that works perfectly for your time of year and family logistics, and make sure that either way you get the wedding day of your dreams.
If you are planning a San Luis Obispo wedding or looking for a photographer for your California wedding, reach out and I am happy to walk you through options for how I can help you get the best wedding photos ever.