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I capture the unspoken — the glances, the silences — drawing from New York's pulse and the richness of global cultures. Every wedding is its own intricate narrative. Rooted in theatre and life's everyday rhythms, I document moments both transient and timeless. 

Hey, I'm susan!

Should we do a first look on our wedding day?

A first look is a very personal decision, with should we do a first look on our wedding day being one of the biggest questions that clients ask me as they gently navigate putting together a day that feels personally tailored to them.

History and traditional views

Historically, the tradition of the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding had its roots in arranged marriages. In such unions, couples often did not meet until the actual ceremony, and the separation was maintained to prevent potential second thoughts based on appearances. 

Evolution of the first look

However, as societies evolved and became more inclusive, so did the concept of marriage. 

Today, not all weddings are between a bride and a groom; many celebrate the love between same-sex couples, non-binary individuals, and more. As the definition of marriage has expanded beyond traditional heterosexual norms, so too has the acceptance and reshaping of wedding traditions like the “first look.” The emphasis has shifted from old-world superstitions to highlighting genuine emotions, inclusivity, and the celebration of love in all its diverse forms.

The “first look” emerged as a special moment where the couple could see each other before the ceremony in a private, intimate setting, away from the eyes of the guests. This break from tradition provided several practical advantages, but it’s also important to weigh them against any personal disadvantages you feel (which we will discuss as well!)

first look wedding day long island city

Why would you want to do a first look?

  1. You’ll get to see each other before the ceremony. Any stress, fears, jitters, or nerves will be gone by the time the ceremony starts. You’ll be calmer and more present during your ceremony. Many clients even mention that the moment they see each other in the aisle is just as powerful as when they see each other for the first time before the actual ceremony.
  2. If you’re going to cry when you see each other for the first time, you’ll be able to freshen up before the ceremony!
  3. You won’t miss cocktail hour if we take your portraits and your family’s formal portraits before the ceremony.
  4. Privacy. Enough said! You won’t have anyone’s eyes on you, no guests will be taking pictures with their iPhones, no wedding party will be cheering or clapping. It will be a moment that is yours, and yours alone.
  5. You’ll have more time together to emote. If you wait until your ceremony, you have to get right into the ceremony itself. If you do a first look on the wedding day, you’ll be able to hold each other and be in the moment as long as you’d like.
  6. You will probably have more time for portraits of the two of you together. We can spend twenty minutes, an hour, two hours, or more together taking portraits at multiple locations if you desire. If you wait until the cocktail hour to take your portraits, we’ve got forty-five minutes to seventy minutes (depending on the length of your cocktail hour) to get all of your family formals done, as well as all photographs of you two together.
  7. You can choose the location for your first look. If you want to do it outside, on a pretty staircase, or in another cool location, you can. We can control the setting and the lighting. That’s not usually an option after the ceremony as much when time is crunched.
  8. If you’re having a winter wedding, and it’s going to get dark early, you can have your portraits taken during daylight.

first look wedding day emotional

Why might a first look not be the choice for you?

  1. If anything runs late before the first look, we’ll lose out on time. We’ll have less time for portraits, and everything will be pushed back or end up being cut out of the day. Hair and makeup might run late, flowers might be late to arrive. Even if you’re the most prompt person ever (and I love you if you are!), wedding days have a lot of moving parts, and not all of those parts arrive or end on time!
  2. If you do a first look on the wedding day, you’ll have to get up earlier, get ready earlier, and be in your wedding clothes longer.
  3. Your parents, wedding party, and guests won’t be a part of it when you see your spouse for the first time. That can be a very emotional, meaningful moment for them, especially for close family. If you’re not sure how they feel, just ask them. Will they be upset if they don’t see you seeing each other when you walk down the aisle? Will that factor into your decision?
  4. Your attire might get a wee bit dirty. If we go to a park, gardens, or let’s be honest, anywhere outdoors, it will be 100% impossible to keep your dress, suit, gown, veil, cape, or whatever fantastic thing you’re wearing pristine. I promise you that we are as incredibly careful as we can to keep you clean, but unless you’re on a polished floor or clean carpet all the time, you run the risk of picking up dust, dirt, or the occasional stray twig and leaf! If that bothers you, a first look on the wedding day might not be a good choice for you.
  5. Unless you hire hair and makeup to stay longer, you’ll have to touch yourself up between the portraits and the ceremony.
  6. If you do your portraits before the ceremony, you won’t actually be married in your portraits. That bothers some people, doesn’t bother others, but should be considered. Will it be less meaningful to look at those portraits later, knowing you weren’t actually married yet or wearing your wedding bands?
  7. If you feel strongly about not doing a first look on the wedding day, but you’re feeling pressure from a wedding party member, a family member, or another vendor, don’t make your decision based on what someone else wants you to do! (This could also be listed with “Why TO do a first look!”)
  8. If the tradition of waiting to see each other at your ceremony is important to you, stick to that feeling. A good photographer will find a way to make beautiful portraits for you in a limited time post-ceremony.
  9. Do you feel weird about the idea? Are you worried about how you’ll react? Or how your future spouse will react? Does it make you nervous at all? Some people are really freaked out about the idea of emoting on cue or being expected to react in a certain way.

first look wedding day timeline

How will adding a first look affect our timeline?

Incorporating a first look into your wedding day can have a notable impact on the overall timeline and flow of events. Firstly, it requires allocating a dedicated slot before the ceremony, which means the couple, photographers, and possibly videographers need to be ready earlier than they would be for a traditional ceremony start. This adjustment often leads to an earlier makeup and hair schedule for you two and your and wedding party.

However, the benefits can outweigh the early start. Only you can decide if this is worth it or not, and we can make your timeline work either way.

first look wedding day indoors

What does a timeline look like without a first look?

Here are a few sample timelines!  You can see more about creating the perfect wedding day timeline here.

Wedding Day Timeline with a 6 pm Ceremony and No Portraits Pre-Ceremony

  • 4:00 pm: Prep coverage begins
  • 6:00 pm: Ceremony begins
  • 7:00 pm: Ceremony ends
  • 7:00 pm: Cocktail hour begins
  • 7:00-7:30 pm: Family pictures and wedding party pictures
  • 7:30 pm: Wedding couple pictures
  • 7:50 pm: The couple takes a quick break, the photographer photographs the reception room
  • 8:00 pm: Cocktail hour ends, reception room opens
  • 12:00 am: Reception over

Wedding Day Timeline with a 3 pm Ceremony, a 6 pm Cocktail Hour, and No Portraits Before the Ceremony

  • 1:00 pm: Prep coverage begins
  • 3:00 pm: Ceremony begins
  • 4:00 pm: Ceremony ends
  • 4:00 pm-6:00 pm: Pictures with the family, wedding party, and wedding couple
  • 6:00 pm: Cocktail hour begins, the photographer photographs cocktail hour and the reception room
  • 7:00 pm: Cocktail hour ends, reception room opens
  • 11:00 pm: Reception over

first look wedding day best locations nyc

What about a timeline with a first look?

A timeline with a first look could look a bit like this:

Wedding Day Timeline with a 6 pm Ceremony and Portraits Before the Ceremony

  • 1:00 pm: Prep coverage begins
  • 3:00 pm: First look and pictures of the wedding couple
  • 4:00 pm: Family and wedding party pictures
  • 5:00 pm: All pictures end, clients hide away and guests begin arriving
  • 6:00 pm: Ceremony begins
  • 7:00 pm: Ceremony ends
  • 7:00 pm: Cocktail hour begins, the photographer photographs the cocktail hour and the reception room
  • 8:00 pm: Cocktail hour ends, reception room opens
  • 12:00 am: Reception over

first look wedding day creative

What other questions should we consider or should be asking you?

When considering a “first look” for your wedding day, it’s essential to get a clear understanding of how your photographer will handle this intimate moment. Here are some questions you might ask your wedding photographer regarding a first look:

  • Experience and Portfolio: Have you photographed many “first looks” before? Can we see some examples?
  • Logistics: What’s the best time and location for the “first look” considering the lighting and our wedding venue?
  • Duration: Approximately how long should we allocate for the “first look” and the subsequent portraits?
  • Privacy: How do you ensure this moment remains private and intimate, even with photography equipment and possibly a videography team around?
  • Recommendations: Based on our venue and the expected weather, do you have any specific recommendations or concerns regarding the “first look”?
  • Backup Plans: If we face unexpected challenges, like inclement weather, do you have backup ideas for the “first look” location?
  • Timeline Integration: How will the “first look” fit into the overall timeline, especially concerning other pre-ceremony or post-ceremony photo sessions?
  • Emotional Consideration: How do you approach capturing genuine emotions during the “first look” without making it feel staged?
  • Equipment: Will you be using any additional equipment or require any special setup for the “first look”?
  • Coordination with Other Vendors: How do you coordinate with videographers or planners to ensure the “first look” goes smoothly?
  • Client’s Vision: We have a specific vision or idea for our “first look.” How can you help bring this to life?
  • Backup Photos: If, for some reason, the “first look” photos don’t turn out as expected, do you have a plan for additional couple photos during the day?
  • Advice and Tips: Do you have any advice for us, as a couple, to make the most of our “first look” moment?

Engaging your photographer in this conversation will not only provide clarity but also ensure that your “first look” aligns with your vision and the logistics of your wedding day.

first look wedding day dramatic

What do you think we should do?

A photographer on Facebook once asked me, “How do you convince your clients that they NEED to do a first look to get good pictures?” My answer is that I don’t and they totally don’t. I can get “good pictures” in two hours, and I can also get “good pictures” in thirty seconds. The wedding day is not a photo shoot. It’s a wedding, a joining of a couple into a new family, a sacred event. It’s not my day. It’s your day. The decision to do a first look isn’t, and shouldn’t be, mine.

If you don’t want to see each other until you walk down the aisle, that is a decision for you two to decide on together!

Don’t let anyone pressure you into deciding for or against what you know in your heart is the best decision for your wedding day.

To be totally frank about it, when it comes to one of the most significant days of your life, your wedding day should be a reflection of your unique bond, desires, and vision. While tradition and external opinions can be influential, it’s crucial to remember that this day is about celebrating your love story. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to meet others’ expectations, but at the end of the day, what truly matters is that your wedding feels genuine to who you are as a couple. Prioritize your happiness and comfort over the worry of judgment or critique. After all, those who genuinely care for you will rejoice in seeing your joy, no matter how you choose to express it.

If you’re on the fence about a first look, please give me a call! I’d love to talk to you about the timing of your day and your feelings and help you determine if it’s a good idea for you or not. 

I promise to give you my honest opinions about your timeline, but ultimately the choice is up to you. I will support you in your choice and help you work your timeline to the best it can possibly be. Whether you see each other going down the aisle or sometime before, I will be there for you.


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