Should I Do a First Look? Yes⁠—and Here’s Why

July 10, 2020

If you’re wondering whether to do a first look or not, here are 8 reasons why having that magical first look before your ceremony is the way to go.

Kathryn Cooper Weddings | Creative wedding photographer in New York, California, and worldwide

Still undecided about a first look? My answer is YES, and here is a list of reasons why. And while it’s true that I’m a wedding and elopement photographer and thus have some strong opinions, I’ll explain why having a first look makes sense whether you’re having a microwedding, elopement, or full-on celebration!

Happy first look in New Jersey - bride tiara

The first look is a private moment when the couple sees each other for the first time. This can happen anywhere from two hours to five minutes before the ceremony. Traditionally, however, first looks didn’t exist. In fact, it was bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other before their [arranged] wedding for—get this—fear that the groom might think the bride ugly, and ask for the dowry back. How cruel! How nuts. What is this, Married at First Sight? But anyway.

It’s 2020. Every weekend and every day, couples of all types are tying the knot and debating whether or not to have a first look. So, should you see each other before the wedding?

Absolutely, and here’s why:

  1. You’ll be much more relaxed for your actual ceremony. People always insist they won’t be nervous for their wedding, but then—whether it’s due to actually getting married (nah), or saying your vows in front of lots of people you haven’t seen in ages (yeah)—people start to feel those flutters and can’t enjoy the moment as much as you’d hope. By seeing your partner first, you can relax much more and enjoy the moments. Even if you’re eloping or having an intimate ceremony, a first look will make it all feel so much more amazing. Two of my favorite first look photos I’ve taken in recent years were just featured on Fearless Photographers—and show the magic of the first look.
  • It WON’T ruin your moment. In fact, the moment couples save up for is often diminished with not just nerves, but cell phones in your face, people standing in between you and your hubby, etc. In fact, if you’re worried about your moment being ruined, you can add an accessory as you walk down—a boutonniere or jacket if you’re a guy, and a veil or shoulder slip if you’re a gal. The reality of the moment is that it will feel different even if you’ve already seen each other. It won’t make the moment any less magical! These two had a first look beforehand, and then I got in a kayak and paddled from an inlet to the ceremony with this bride and her father in a nearby canoe. The groom (in the pink shirt) met them at the ceremony site. What an entrance—and certainly no less special!
Unique first look in a canoe
  • It’s a magical moment to catch on film. It’s one of my favorite parts of the wedding to catch, whether I’m shooting a Punjabi wedding, an elopement, or a destination celebration. The reactions from both sides are awesome, adorable, full of tears and sometimes laughter, and amazingly beautiful candid moments. It’s also a good reason to get two photographers (to catch each other’s reactions). Hiring me + my second photographer allows this other viewpoint.
Funny first look moments - Kathryn Cooper Weddings NYC first looks
  • You can do all your photos with each other, and your bridal party and family, beforehand. This allows you to get your formal photos done before your wedding (dresses/suits not dirty nor wrinkled, makeup not smudged, sweat not yet smelled…), enjoy your guests, chat with people who have schlepped all the way to see you, and eat that great cocktail food. After all, you didn’t order a mac ‘n’ cheese bar to hear your guests talk about it, now did you?!
A bride and groom first look at a Napa Winery in California
A beautiful first look in Napa

(Would you ever guess that this greenery-surrounded bridge is in Napa? It’s Silverado Resort.)

  • No one I’ve ever spoken to regrets doing a first look, but a lot of couples regret NOT doing one. People always ask me for first look pros and cons. In my opinion, the cons of doing a first look are ONLY that when you see each other at the aisle, it won’t be the first time. When you see each other for the first time—even if the reactions aren’t over the top—it is just a beautiful moment that you can’t redo. I often tear up myself, and I’m not even a crier!
Tears during first look at Indian wedding
  • You get to see your partner before every Grandma Geraldine, Uncle Kumar, and cousin Sam smooches her or him. You didn’t date for all this time just to to be last! If you have no first look wedding moment, YOU are last to see your bride or groom if you skip the first look. Oy!
  • This is likely the only alone time you’ll get all day. Okay, it’s true that you’re not totally alone…your photographer and (if you have one) videographer are probably around catching the moment, but aside from the end of the night when you finally have peace in your hotel room or house, THIS is the only time when you’ll feel un-rushed. You’ll get to see each other, experience an amazing moment without a ton of people watching, and just revel in that giddiness. Okay, I KNOW it sounds so hokey, but it’s really quite a moment to take in. I always give my couples time instead of rushing them past an extraordinary moment.
Lesbian first look in the Caribbean - Haitian wedding
  • Finally, if you want to be together without actually seeing each other, there are alternatives. Look, not everyone wants to do one—and THAT’S OKAY. First look wedding ideas for alternatives include holding hands behind a door or corner, talking to each other, singing a song on a guitar (I don’t think I’d have the guts to do this, but I’d photograph it!), or reading something.
First touch holding hands behind door for wedding alternative

100% set on not seeing your significant other until your ceremony? I won’t sue you. In fact, here’s a ceremony shot I took in Upstate New York that still stands out. The groom didn’t see his bride until the ceremony, and he bawled when he saw her.

Groom's face when seeing bride for the first time

So no, I won’t sue you.

For first looks, couples traditionally will have the groom stand with his back to everything, and the bride will walk up and tap him on the shoulder or hug him. But with two brides, two grooms, and fewer couples waiting until the ceremony to see each other, I’ve seen a lot of other wedding first looks: walking towards each other, backs to each other and turning around, coming down opposite stairs, and more. Whatever way you do it, your first look photos will be irreplaceable.

Want to up the game? Get in a costume, or have a friend get in a costume, and play a hoax on each other like this couple in a T-Rex costume. There are no rules! Have fun with it and make sure that whatever you do, YOU are comfortable. Now go enjoy all your moments, and eat that mac ‘n’ cheese already!

Groom cries during first look in Idaho

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Yes!!! First looks are absolutely one of the best decisions I think a couple can make. Then, you get a second first look at the ceremony too! They’re two different feelings and the first look has so many positives!

You’re so right, Meaghan! A second first look is also great, and doesn’t negate the first look at all.

totally agree on every point! First looks are such an emotional part of every wedding day!

Love these tips! I decided to do a first look at my own intimate wedding, and it was one of my favorite moments of the day. 🙂

These are a lot of great reasons for having a first look! I agree that it totally doesn’t take away from the moment at all – if anything, it adds to it!

First looks are such an intimate and special event! I vote YES! Especially being able to have those emotions captured by your photographer!

So many great tips and insight here – thanks so much for this! Personally – I LOVE first looks, and you showcased some of their highlights for sure! ALSO the photos are beautiful!!!!

Thank you so much, Lauren. I adore first looks–and thank you for the kind words!

Awesome article to help couples understand whether or not a first look is going to fit their wedding or elopement. Any couples that find you in California, New York, or anywhere else will be stoked to have you!

Gracias, Samuel. I really appreciate that!

Awesome photographs! I also really like all your points in this, really helpful insightful info to think about when planning a first look or not!

oh my gosh!! Always and ever yes to the First Look!! It gives me everytime goosebumbs and i’m so excited when it happens! Love it

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