What is a first look? Guest writer and wedding photographer, Susan Stripling shares exactly what a first look is, her personal opinion, why this trend is so popular, as well as the pros and the cons.
In the past few years a new wedding tradition has developed: the “First Look.” Generally speaking, the First Look is a fancy term for “ the bride and groom seeing each other before the wedding ceremony.” This can be for whatever reason: to calm your nerves, to take family portraits or images of you two together, to sign your Ketubah, to travel to the ceremony location together, or simply because you want to have a moment alone before exchanging vows in front of an audience.
From a timing perspective, the First Look has many pros and cons. As a wedding photographer, I feel that it is my job to educate the clients about their options and not interject my personal feelings into their decision — after all, their day is about them and not me! The pros of the First Look are many, the most popular being that you can go straight to cocktail hour after your ceremony instead of taking that time to pose for your portraits. The cons, however, are more emotional and much more personal: if you see your future spouse before the wedding, you won’t have that moment of seeing them for the first time at the start of the ceremony.
I see many photographers push their clients to do the First Look so that they can have more time to create portraits before the ceremony. I try very hard to keep my personal feelings about first looks out of my conversations with clients, but I am truly not a fan of this new trend. First of all, if your timeline for getting ready runs late, the portrait session will become more and more rushed and your photographer will lose out the time they need to create the family formals and the images of the bride and groom together.
Second of all, and most importantly, what started as a sweetly charming moment has turned into something different altogether. Brides are expecting their grooms to shake and cry when they see them for the first time — and this rarely happens in real life, no matter how deeply the groom loves his future wife. The entire scenario is becoming more staged and more contrived and now often results in stilted, unnatural interactions on a day when emotions should be natural and organic. For every gorgeous moment that I photograph there are dozens of very uncomfortable grooms left sweating in the midday sun waiting for that tap on their shoulder.
I was married myself less than four months ago and my husband and I opted to not see each other before the ceremony. We opted out even though it was winter, even though it was dark post-ceremony for portraits, and even though it would have made the day easier. The second I rounded the corner and saw him waiting for me under the chuppah, my heart was in my throat. The moment was so perfect, and it would have been diluted had we already seen each that day.
To each their own, but with most photographers advocating energetically for the First Look, I thought I’d share my feelings against this new tradition. Whatever my clients choose to do is always perfectly alright with me — and I am honored to photograph every single wedding regardless of timing and schedules — I just want you to encourage you to stop and think before deciding on a First Look. Your wedding day should be about celebrating and capturing the love between the bride and the groom, not bowing to fads that might interfere.
If you want to learn more about my experiences and wedding photography advice, check out my free online wedding photography course on creativeLIVE August 15-17.
Susan Stripling is a world-renowned wedding photographer. She has won some of the photography industry’s most prestigious honors including 1st place in WPPI’s Wedding Photojournalism category and the Grand Award for Photojournalism. Susan has photographed weddings all throughout the US, the Caribbean, South America, Finland, France, and the Bahamas.
Many of my clients are aware of this term, and they've seen images on wedding blogs, in wedding magazines and have heard about this trend through their married friends. For me, if they have stressed to me that it's very important they attend at least the last half of their cocktail hour, I almost always recommend they do a "first look." Either way, this new trend has created some conflicting opinions across the board. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this trend.