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The "First Look": To Do or Not To Do?

The "First Look": To Do or Not To Do?

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.

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YES. I've seen too many photographers push their brides to have first looks for their own personal convenience. In general, I ask my clients if they're doing a first-look in order to schedule my day appropriately. Advocating the first-look is not appropriate.

One thing to also consider is that if the bride and groom decide to do a first look - and then have their portraits made, they most likely won't have their wedding bands on. I for one would not like the idea of some of the most important pictures made be missing that very important piece of authenticity.

That's probably the best argument.

i obviously prefer the first look, especially when we shoot some smaller chapels that make it difficult to get good images of both bride and groom seeing each other for the first time. the first look allows us to pick better locations and such... saying that, we never push a client toward one or the other. simply lay out the pros and cons and let them decide from there. I'm a strong believer in the fact that its "their day" and i do what i can to work around what they want and simply make suggestions along the way.

good point

This is a shot of my son, seeing his bride for the first time - at the ceremony. They insisted on no "first look" prior.....and I'm so glad they did!

Sorry, can't seem to upload the photo...........

I had to photograph a first look that was very awkward last month. Just make sure the couple makes the decision on their own.

I was helping shoot a wedding, and the bride - through the entire ceremony, was more focused on getting good shots of herself, then on her hubby-to-be. I think for some, a first look is necessary, so the couple can focus on each other during the ceremony, and not so much on being photographed. I have liked every first look wedding I have worked at or attended. But I completely agree that it needs to be the b & g's decision. I think it is very romantic and extremely personal. (sometimes they opt to have the wedding bands on, or get them later)

This doesn't really have anything with the "first look" topic, I just think people should have their wedding real and spontaneous.. not staged for the sake of some photographs. Sick of staged 'emotion' photos, fake laughs and smiles just for the sake of the photograph..... which is, well, fake.. Main reason I finally quit wedding photography. At least in my new career people know and expect fakery, advertising photography!

It's up to the couple. I do love it and never experienced 'fake' emotions.

In my own wedding I rang the doorbell to pick up my wife.

I can imagine that it's romantic to have the first look when she walks into church.

How come all my brides that want first looks show up too late to make it happen? Maybe one day I will get to do it! But I am still fairly new

Do one or don't do one, it's more about your timeline. As a photographer I don't care - but this information that they are contrived moments is utterly ridiculous. If I were to tally the emotional moments when a bride and groom see each other for the first time the first look is going to win over the aisle every single time.

After reading this i think we are going to do the First Look and here is why...
Wedding days should be full of emotion. Wedding days should not be stressful. But let’s face reality, they are. This is why I ask all my clients if they are interested in doing a first look. The first look adds so much beautiful emotion and happiness to a wedding day and alleviates SO much stress, it’s hard to know where to start raving about it!

Well let’s start from the beginning…from the ancient tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the ceremony. Many people don’t realize the reason for this was because the bride and groom had NEVER seen each other before the ceremony! It was so the groom, quite frankly, wouldn’t split! Luckily we’ve progressed and in our modern society, marriages (for the most part) aren’t arranged. We CHOOSE to marry the one we love. And we can choose to see them before the ceremony!

Whenever I photograph a couple that chooses not to see each other before the ceremony I try to put myself in their shoes. The bride walks down the aisle to her soon to be husband. They are both completely nervous with all these guests staring at them. The bride reaches the front of the church. Her father is standing between her and her future husband. Her father gives her away and she moves to stand next to her husband. They don’t touch. They don’t talk. They can’t tell each other how amazingly beautiful the other looks. They can’t tell the other how incredibly excited they are to be getting married. They can’t hug, they can’t kiss, they can’t embrace. They can’t have a moment to themselves. After the ceremony is over they are immediately approached by all their loving relatives to be congratulated. This continues into the reception and throughout the night. They never have a moment just to themselves. I’ve been told by many people that your wedding day goes by in such a big blur, that sometimes it’s hard to remember everything. If you do a first look you have time scheduled to slow down and appreciate what this day is all about…being madly in love with the person you’re about to marry!

Some people are concerned that a first look takes away from the emotion of the bride walking down the aisle and being given away by her father. It doesn’t. The bride being escorted by her father creates a completely different kind of emotion. I see grooms choked up in a totally different way than they were when they saw their bride for the first time. Your groom is also prone to have a more natural reaction as you approach him – he’s calm because he has already seen you…instead of being nervous while seeing you for the first time with the stress of 200 guests staring at him!

So how does the first look work? After you are both all done up and dressed for the wedding, we position the groom facing away from where the bride will appear behind him. She approaches him while we capture the happy anticipation on his face. She usually touches (or grabs!) his arm and turns him around. And we the photographers capture, from a distance, all the emotion! You two get to hug, embrace, and savor this moment as long as you want…without the pressure of your guests watching you. You get to talk, laugh, cry (and reapply your makeup before the ceremony!) and we’re there to capture it all!

Another reason to do the first look is that it reduces stress so much! Not only will you be less nervous walking down the aisle, it makes the day run much more smoothly. After we do a first look we do portraits of the bride and groom together. We have plenty of time for creative portraits that you will treasure forever! Then we get the whole bridal party together and do all of the formal photos with them, and then formal photos with your immediate family. We stop taking photos at least 30 minuets before the ceremony starts so you can tuck yourselves away, usually separately, without being seen by guests. The only formal photos we have left after the ceremony are any large family photos, which take about 30 minutes. When you do a first look everyone gets to the reception quickly and your guests aren’t sitting there waiting for two hours because guess what, we did all the photos before the ceremony! Of course it is possible to do all the photos after the ceremony but they are always rushed, which means as a photographer I’m not as creative as I could be, and you’re not getting the photos you could be! You’d also be getting photos taken when you’d rather be celebrating with your guests, which stresses you out!

“Rights to EricaM”
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