"The First Look" Explained:

What it is and why you should seriously consider it for your wedding day.


Traditionally, or at least as far back in recent memory, brides have "hidden away" from their husbands-to-be prior to the ceremony. We've all heard, from somewhere or another, that it's bad luck if the groom sees you in your dress before you walk down the aisle.

We also, time and again, have heard the phrase, "we really want to try to get as many group photos done as possible before the ceremony." Because, while I know our couples come to us because they love our photography and want beautiful images to remember their wedding day by, there are just not that many people who particularly look forward to posing for formal photographs after the ceremony when there are cocktails circulating and trays of yummy food being passed around. Sometimes we're even told that a couple isn't interested/doesn't like posed photographs, they much prefer candids.

When the wedding galleries are sent and clients and their family members start placing print orders, overwhelmingly it is exactly the posed photographs that people end up wanting.

So what we have concluded is that, actually, everyone loves posed photographs (we see you with your iPhones taking all kinds of posed photographs with your friends for Instagram). What no one loves is feeling as though they are being kept from the party.


This is where the "first look" comes in. A traditional timeline does not, unfortunately, work well with the modern couple who wants to get to their festivities and enjoy their wedding reception without delay. In recent years, wedding photographers and couples developed the "first look" timeline as an answer to this issue.

How it Works

Before the wedding day, we'll discuss with you what time we need to arrive to ensure we can photograph your moments of preparation with close family and wedding party. This means we usually need to start 3-3.5 hours before the ceremony start time. Once we've spent about an hour taking your getting ready photos, we will find a pretty, private spot at your venue where you will have a chance to see your fiance for the first time on your wedding day. There are a handful of ways we can do this, but often we will have the bride walk up and tap the groom on the shoulder, at which point he'll turn around to see his bride for the first time. Victor and I will stay back with telephoto lenses for 3-4 minutes while you absorb the moment together. We will then take about 15 minutes for bride & groom portraits.


At this point, we will have worked into the timeline the opportunity to take your posed photographs with your wedding party and family, getting as many requested photos wrapped up before the start of the ceremony as possible. We are even sure to work in a few moments of "freshening up" for the bride and her ladies, one last touch-up of lipstick and a little more hairspray before the walk down the aisle.

Free to Party

The beauty of the "first look" timeline is that once the ceremony is over, the wedding party is free to be released to cocktail hour. Depending on the venue and photo spots requested by the couple, we may sometimes take just a few more photos of the bride and groom at sunset, but these are quick and painless by comparison.

Other Benefits

Not only does the "first look" free you up to enjoy some, if not all, of your cocktail hour with your guests, but it also means you get to take the most important posed portraits when your hair and makeup is still fresh. We will often photograph outdoor weddings in southern heat and humidity (and at the beach, often in the wind!), and by the end of the ceremony, you won't necessarily look or feel as fresh.

Plus, the "first look" isn't just practical! It can be incredibly romantic and stress-relieving. We have also seen how a "first look" can have a calming effect on a couple. Wedding days can be really stressful and there are a lot of frazzled nerves and heightened emotion. It is always incredibly sweet when we've watched a couple visibly relax once they've had a chance to see each other and be alone for a few minutes before the day gets even more hectic.

Winter Weddings

In the late Fall and Winter months, a "first look" becomes a necessity more than a preference. With sunset happening as early as 4 pm, and ceremonies often starting at that time or even later, it will be important to consider whether you're okay with all of your portraits being taken indoors or in very low-light conditions should you opt not to see one another before the ceremony. We know you've gone out of your way to book a beautiful wedding venue, which is why it is worth considering a "first look" to ensure your posed and group photos may be taken outside before the sun goes down.


If a "first look" just isn't for you...

If you are a strong follower of tradition and just don't see yourself being able to do a "first look," we completely understand that! What we do strongly recommend is crafting your timeline in such a way as to allow for up to an hour and a half of photo time following the ceremony. This will account for - rounding up and posing family members, rounding up and posing wedding party, and bride & groom portraits. If your ceremony will be held in a different venue than your reception, you will also need to allow for travel time (with cushion, since you'll be traveling in a large group who will want to gather their belongings, go to the restroom, and a myriad of other things during this time). If you do plan on a traditional timeline, or you're still on the fence about it, please keep reading.

Wrangling Family

You have extended family attending the wedding and most of these people have not been together in one place in years (probably since the last family wedding!). It's understandable you may be considering including aunts, uncles and cousins as part of your formal photographs. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Large groups can take anywhere from 5-7 minutes each to pose and photograph.

  • Aunts, uncles and cousins will not necessarily assume they are to be included in photographs. If the plan is to include them, they must be told ahead of time.

  • We photograph the largest groups first, making our way down to the smallest groups. This is so we can release extended family members to enjoy cocktail hour after their photograph has been taken.

  • Plan for moving the crowd of wedding guests away from the ceremony site so family photos can get started. Guests can sometimes linger, causing a delay and a distraction from posed family photos. It often helps to have your officiant invite everyone to cocktail hour at your reception venue or have your wedding coordinator begin moving everyone toward the cocktail hour area at your venue.

  • During the recessional, your wedding party, including parents and grandparents, will be escorted back up the aisle. At this point, wedding guests may be released row by row OR all released at once by your officiant. To help keep extended family members like aunts, uncles and cousins from wandering away from the area, seat them in the rows following parents and grandparents, and do not allow them to be released. Keep them seated. Time spent searching for a cousin at the bar or an aunt who's wandered to the bathroom is going to eat up your portrait time.

  • Your officiant will likely want to have your witnesses sign the marriage license immediately following the ceremony. If you've never been a witness for someone getting married in North Carolina before, this involves not only signing your name, but printing your name and filling out your home address on two copies of the license. This can take several minutes as both witnesses are asked to do this. If you're anticipating a tight timeline for photos following your ceremony, it may be wise to ask your officiant if this (albeit, very important) task can be completed prior to the ceremony or after the wedding party has been released from taking photos.

  • Chat with your fiance and your family to ensure everyone's on the same page. You may not be able to sit down and have a full conversation with all of your bridesmaids and groomsmen about the photo plan for the day, but it's so important to make sure your fiance and family are aware and on board. When everyone knows what to expect, things tend to go a lot smoother!

Why it's Important

It may seem as though we're putting just a little too much emphasis on this, or maybe you anticipate things not being so chaotic at your wedding. In the 10 years and over 275 weddings we've photographed, the formal portrait part of the day is almost always barely restrained chaos. However, we have watched the "first look" timeline work beautifully and keep couples and their wedding parties very happy. We have also seen our other suggestions and methods work effectively as well. Our biggest goal is to eliminate the potential for you to ever feel bogged down by photo-taking on your wedding day, while still achieving all of the photos most important to you. We know we are no modest investment, and we want you to make full use of our experience with photographing weddings and what we've seen work best.