Hi there, I'm Manali! A wedding photographer & educator serving Charlottesville VA & DC. Click through for all my favorites from recent sessions, adventures and travels, as well as tips & tricks for clients! Grab a cup of coffee, relax, and feel free to connect with me elsewhere as well! Cheers to you!

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For Brides: To Do or Not To Do a First Look

May 19, 2020

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There has lately been a trend that has kind of grown within the wedding industry called the First Look. A First Look is when a bride and groom choose to see each other BEFORE their ceremony and spend some time together alone. Usually this will take place after both of them have gotten ready with their bridal party and the only other people there during this will be the photographer and videographer.

Your photographer will take the groom outside and face him one way and have the bride come up to him from behind and capture the groom’s expression as he turns around to see his bride in the very first time in her amazingly stunning dress, jewelry and shoes. It will be a moment from your day that you will remember forever. A time for just the two of you within your crazy wedding day, to really just simply be together.

To see each other for the first time and be able to hug, cry, laugh, and talk with each other before it all unfolds again in front of your family, friends and guests while you are at your ceremony. And the best thing is that you will have those real, authentic and completely candid moments of you two seeing each other from the very first second of it happening within ONE FRAME. Not just one picture of the bride walking down the aisle, and another shot of your groom’s face as he sees you, but you two together in one picture with both of your reactions!

After shooting weddings both where the bride and groom have opted to not see each other before their ceremony vs. sharing a first look, I am a HUGE advocate for doing a first look!! Choosing this seemingly untraditional tradition is actually one of the best decisions you can make to have a stress-free, relaxed, EMOTIONAL and beautiful wedding days.

I respect that there will always be clients who will want to stick with the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony and that is their choice but I have so many reasons that I strongly advocate you at least CONSIDER a first look for your wedding day. Every single time I’ve had a wedding with a first look both the bride AND groom have been so incredibly grateful that they did a first look together before their ceremony and here are a couple of more reasons why!

1. People have a misconception that doing a first look will make walking down the aisle less emotional

People seem to have a misconception that if they see their soon-to-be husband or wife before the ceremony, then it won’t be as impactful or emotional as watching them come down the aisle towards them right before the ceremony. Every single time I’ve photographed a first look, the groom was just as emotional when his bride was finally walking down the aisle towards him as he was during the first look. If not, sometimes even more emotional. It’s the biggest moment during the day, and nothing could ever take away from its importance! And as a bride, there’s so many friends and family you see as you walk down the aisle, people clapping and cheering you on that you may not necessarily be able to see your guy’s reaction right away as you first step into the aisle and start your journey down. For a first look, you have the time together and you are right next to him as he turns around and sees you for the first time!

2. First looks allow for more portraits of the two of you

Doing a first look will give you extra portraits since you’ll have more time of you as a couple in front of the camera. I’ll also be able to deliver more of a variety of portraits from your day since a lot of them from your first look will be more candid and not posed at all! As a photographer, I love being able to capture more candid moments rather than solely taking posed portraits throughout a day. I believe that these pictures more accurately depict who you are as a couple than any pose that I could photograph you in. Even for my posed pictures, I strive to give you actions and create those moments rather than put you in an exactly “engineered” pose. I truly believe that first looks help your photographer capture more of who you really are as a couple, your reactions and your true emotions on a wedding day! My couples will treasure their candid pictures over their posed ones and first looks help facilitate moments to be captured rather than designed.

3. It gives you more time alone of just the TWO of you within the wedding day craziness

A first look gives the two of you more time together & alone to share and enjoy your wedding day together. It also alleviates the pressure of being emotional in front of a crowd. I don’t know about you, but I tend not to show my emotions as much so in front of a crowd as I do around those that I really love. There’s a sense of comfort of being able to share such a private moment solely with your significant other without everyone surrounding you. Also, ceremonies typically won’t start until 4 or 5 PM which means that you spend half the day not being able to see each other on your actual wedding day! It’s YOUR collective day, you should be able to spend as much time together as possible on it!

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4. First looks allow for other sweet traditions

First looks also give you time for things such as reading notes/letters/vows to each other without the pressure of the ceremony. You have the time to talk to each other, tell each other how you’re feeling, how excited you are, how great you look, spend some time in each other’s arms, laugh, cry, joke around, and BE YOURSELVES together which is not quite possible during your ceremony. And after the ceremony, your family portraits, reception and cocktail hour don’t leave much time to enjoy these moments together alone. Even your first dance will be in front of everyone watching!

5. It eases the nerves

One of the biggest reasons people tend to be very happy they chose a first look is because it really helps ease your nerves!! It takes place right after you’ve gotten ready and in the time between then and waiting for your ceremony is right around the time that your nerves will start to kick in. Your parents and your best friends will be there to help calm your nerves, but nothing seems to help more than being able to spend some time with your person to ease both of your nerves!

6. Flexibility in your timeline

Photographers will advocate first looks because they provide breathing room and more flexibility in your timeline for your wedding day. Instead of having a very long stream of taking pictures which gets exhausting for not only you, but your bridal party as well, you’re able to knock out almost ALL of your pictures (besides a couple of “just married” pictures) BEFORE your ceremony even takes place!

No need to track people down AFTER your ceremony when they’ve accidentally already run over to cocktail hour plus it gives you a break before you start your reception and gives your bridal party time if they haven’t already planned out their entrances and more flexibility in your timeline in general. You’ll be able to actually enjoy some of your cocktail hour with guests instead of taking pictures for an hour and a half and your guests won’t have to wait after your first dances or toasts to be able to congratulate you as a new couple!

7. Simplifies wedding day logistics

They also help simplify logistics on the wedding day since you don’t have to worry about accidentally seeing each other during the getting ready portion of the day or while getting to your ceremony! It also allows more buffer time for traveling between locations during your wedding day as well as in the event that it starts to rain during portraits!

Building in buffers of time like this are KEY for your timeline since you never know when there will be a protest blocking off streets in D.C. or a torrential downpour on a day that was supposed to just be cloudy. We all know that Virginia weather has a mind of it’s own!

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8. Great options in the fall & winter

First looks are especially a great option for fall or winter weddings when the sun sets earlier in the day. Since most ceremonies typically start around 4 or 5 and the sun will set by that time in the winter, not building in time before your ceremony to take pictures outdoors makes it nearly impossible to get your portraits taken in natural light outdoors! Most photographers will prefer to take as many of the pictures outdoors as possible in natural light since it is most flattering for you, your bridal party and your family and it also allows them the space to photograph larger bridal parties and family portraits

9. Your makeup is fresh & can be touched up

My last point is something that I would probably overlook but is actually pretty important! When you opt to take your pictures before your ceremony, you will have just finished getting ready so your hair and makeup will actually be fresh and at it’s best!!! No need to be worried about retouching after you’ve cried a little during your vows or hugged your mom and dad! I know that my hair tends not to keep whatever shape I’ve molded it into for more than a couple of hours and so if you’re anything like me, you’d want to have your pictures taken while it’s fresh!

10. First looks don’t just have to be with your partner

A lot of people choose not only to do a first look with their soon to be spouse but also with their dearest friends or family that is there on their wedding day and it seriously is THE best thing to capture. One wedding I’ve photographed included a soon to be husband-wife first look, but before then they had a father-daughter first look, a bridesmaids-bride first look, AND a first look with the bride’s brother! It doesn’t have to be just a traditional husband-wife first look which is another thing to keep in mind 🙂

At the end of the day

At the end of the day, it is your decision AS A COUPLE to determine what is best for you. Although I will always advocate strongly for first looks to provide a more stress-free wedding day experience, no one knows you two better than you know yourselves. Above it all, I encourage you to sit down together and talk it out to figure out what you think will best suit you and make you happiest on your wedding day!

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If you enjoyed this post check these posts out as well:

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