Unveiling the mystery of the First Look

He was all dressed and ready to go – clothes freshly ironed, tie expertly done by his brother, shoes all shined up. Ben couldn’t remember the last time he was dressed so sharp. He stood nervously, playing with his cufflinks as we waited for Sarah, his bride. He occasionally glanced over at people nearby milling about.

Suddenly, a gentle pressure moved along both sides of his waist, and just as he looked down to see a pair of hands equipped with French manicures, he felt a gentle breeze rub his ear wrapped in Sarah’s voice.

“Hey”, she whispered gently.

Ben turned around, and a rush of gratitude and amazement filled his gut almost instantly. His eyes did a quick scan of Sarah in her wedding gown and they finally stopped at her green eyes. This was the best day of his life so far…

​The first look has become more and more popular over the last few years. I think it may have been borne out of a logistical need on the busy wedding day. And though it may have it’s functional property, it definitely fills an emotional need also. Note that I’m not proposing that the first look is a “better” option, but rather would like to explain it of those planning their wedding day as it could be a viable choice in scheduling.

“But Ryan, what is a first look?” To explain the first look, let’s look at the traditional structure of the western style North American wedding:

​1) Getting ready —> 2) ceremony —> 3) photo session (2 hours) —> 4) cocktail hour —> 5) reception

Limitations with the traditional structure

  1. In order to have enough time to get shots and clips of the family, the wedding party and the couple, the photo and video teams need at least 90 minutes – but 2 hours are ideal (especially with larger wedding parties or families). While this is happening, the rest of the guests at some point have nothing to do.
  2. If you have an evening start time to your wedding (typically 4pm onwards), you won’t have enough time to get those creative shots without feeling rushed, running out of time or starting the reception REALLY late.
  3. The bride and groom don’t get to mingle with their guests during cocktail hour (or at least during much of it).


The First Look – structured day

1) Getting ready —> 2) The First Look + photo session (2 hours) —> 3)  ceremony —> 4) cocktail hour —> 5) reception


“But he’s going to see me before the ceremony…”

Yes… but isn’t he going to see you at some point anyway? Why does it have to be at the ceremony? Let’s not let superstition govern the way we plan our weddings? I’m referring to the saying, “it’s bad luck to see the bride before the ceremony”.

“But Ryan, I want to see his face as I walk down the aisle and he sees me for the first time.”

Right, but with the first look you still get to see his face (and from much closer) and you get the feedback about how you look that you’ve been waiting months for. In addition to that, you get to just “be” with each other and catch your breathe together before the day goes into full swing.

​You might be reading this and are thinking to yourself, “There’s no way I’m giving up a chance to see him cry as I walk down the aisle.”

And to that I say, “Amen; if that’s what you want, do it.”

He may not get as emotional as you hope or he may still cry when you’re walking down the aisle even after doing a first look!


Here are a couple advantages to doing a first look, some of which I’ve already alluded to above:

  1. You get to have some time together before the roller coaster dips. The wedding day is very fast-paced and you don’t get many moments to appreciate one another during it.
  2. You get to do your creative pictures and video while you’re fresh. Let’s face it: there will be some crying and/or sweating during the ceremony.
  3. If the first look is at the ceremony venue, you can schedule your family pictures at the end of the 2-hour session, which will ensure that all your family is on time for the wedding. It’s not uncommon for segments of the day to start late because family from out-of-town is late.
  4. The bride and groom get to mingle during cocktail hour, which is great because it can be really hard to get time with your guests throughout the event.
  5. In the realm of capturing your story, this is one of the truest displays of your personalities. That being said, you can get some great photographs from a first look, but let’s be honest, it’s really a video moment. Video captures not just facial reactions, but also words, tones, expression and the full sequence of this super cute and special moment.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m for either day structure (traditional or first look) as long as the right time is allocated. Some more conservative couples might want to be “legal” before they get too comfortable with each other.


​If you’re considering a first look, it might be good for you if at least one of the situations below apply to you:

  1. You have a late-start wedding, especially on a Friday, when it’s common to start a wedding later because of the work day.
  2. You want to do a sunset ceremony. There is no daylight left after the ceremony to do creative and family pictures.
  3. Your reception is the day after the ceremony. On that second day, there is an outfit change and you’ve already had the epic “seeing-the-bride-walking-down-the-aisle” moment, and you’re going to the reception as a married couple anyway. This is more common in South Asian weddings (but not limited to them, of course).
  4. You have an outfit change on the wedding day. This can happen when there is a Chinese tea ceremony, for example, or other “ethnic” traditions.
  5. Your ceremony is in the same location as the reception and you don’t have enough time for pictures in between those segments of the day.
  6. You just want to see each other before the ceremony, but still want to have a special moment if he hasn’t already seen her dress.

With all that being said, my hope is to educate and help you have a smoother day so your story can be captured in the most natural, most enjoyable and classiest way possible. That starts with great planning.

If you know someone starting their wedding planning or someone who might benefit from a first look, please share this post with them. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

​As we narrate together!

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