When it comes to working out the flow of your wedding day, whether or not the couple decides to see one another before the wedding plays a big role in determining the timeline. It has long been a tradition that the couple should not see one another on the wedding day, and the first time they do see one another is when walking down the aisle. As a matter of fact, capturing the groom’s face while the bride is walking down the aisle is one of the most requested shots we get. I fully understand the desire to adhere to this tradition, and as a bride myself some 12 years ago, I completely remember not wanting to part from this tradition. Now that I am the photographer, on the other side of the lens, I can tell you that there are some very good reasons why you may want to consider doing a “first look.”
First things first, what is a first look?
The first look is literally where the couple sees one another for the first time on their wedding day, after they are dressed in their wedding clothes. Typically, one partner turns their back and the other approaches, taps the shoulder and they turn to see one another. The photographers are set up to capture the response, the emotion and any and all interaction between the couple. While usually set up as a private event, some couples will invite family, or their entire wedding party to be part of the first look. We will build about 15 minutes into the timeline for the actual first look. While definitely breaking the long time tradition of not seeing one another before the aisle walk, there are several reasons why building a first look into your timeline might be a good option for you.
1. Allows adequate time for a portrait session for the couple
By doing the first look ahead of time we can then build in time for couple portraits on the wedding day. If couples choose to not do a first look, the only time for them to have couples portraits made is between the wedding and reception. We often will get two or three images of them alone during this time, as we are also trying to take all of the family portraits, as well. The couple often tells us that they will take portraits alone during the reception after cake cutting, but once they start enjoying the reception, they do not want to leave the fun of the party. Therefore, scheduling at least a 30-minute or longer portrait session after the first look, but before the wedding, will ensure lots of couples portraits. And after all, how many times are you going to get dressed up like this?
2. Take advantage of the daylight
The majority of weddings we shoot take place in the evening, usually between 5 and 7 p.m. What this means is that if formal portraits are to be made right after the wedding, particularly in the months after daylight savings time has ended, the sun will have already set. Therefore, any full wedding party or family portraits to be made outdoors will not have the benefit of daylight. Of course a professional photographer will be able to light your portraits, however, beautiful, natural light is always desirable. By scheduling a first look during the daylight hours, the portraits and even the formals can take place while the sun is still up.
3. Family portraits to be done before the wedding
And while we are on the subject of family portraits, scheduling a first look will allow the couple to participate in family portraits before the wedding! Everyone wants posed family portraits (well, at least your parents do) but this is the least favorite part of the day because no one wants to actually stand still and pose for them. If there is no first look, the first opportunity we have to get the entire family together is immediately after the wedding. We allot 20 minutes for this, and can accomplish approximately 10 groupings in this time period. We have found that if we do not do these immediately after the wedding and try to wait until the reception, it is difficult to get the groupings together (we call it “cat herding”) and it cuts into your reception time. By scheduling a first look, then family portraits, we make the formal portraits while everyone is fresh and better yet, when the wedding has ended, the family can go straight into the reception and not have to worry about formals because they are done!!
4. Wedding party portraits to be completed before the wedding
The same logic that was discussed above for family portraits goes for wedding party portraits. The wedding party is generally a little more cooperative than the extended family, and often the wedding party is up for a little fun! Scheduling a first look will allow for a little extra time to make fun memories with your wedding party.
5. Fully enjoy your reception
As pointed out in No. 3 above, everyone wants the formal portraits but this is the least favorite part of anyone’s day. And it cuts into your reception time. A typical reception in the New Orleans area is 3 hours and does not include a sit down dinner. It’s a fun dance party that everyone wants to enjoy. The sooner the required activities are out of the way, the sooner the party can begin. By scheduling a first look and any subsequent portraits to take place before the wedding, ie., couples’ session, wedding party formals, family formals, the sooner the party can start after the wedding!
6. Are you doing a Second Line?
Many New Orleans weddings include a wonderful tradition, known as the second line! Not only is it fun, but it can be used as a way to move your guests from one event to the next. Often times the second line will be used to lead the guests out of the wedding venue so that the room can be turned for the reception, hence the second line takes place in between the wedding and reception. If you have already taken your formal portraits, having the second line band come in to lead the couple and their guests straight down the aisle and out into the streets is a seamless transition with no break in the momentum of the day. If the formals have to be taken immediately after the ceremony, the guests will be kept waiting and the band will be standing around waiting for the portraits to be finished. If you wait until you return from the second line to take formal portraits, there is the issue of gathering the necessary people to be in the portraits, not to mention they will be pretty hot and sweaty by this time.
7. The emotion is still there
In our experience, when couples have chosen to do the first look, all of the emotion and joy of seeing one another for the first time is still there; it has just been moved to a different part of the day.
These are just some of our observations of things to consider when working out the logistics of the wedding day timeline. Know that in the end, the decision to have a first look or not is a very personal choice and remains completely up to the couple. And finally, know that whether you’ve done a first look or not, when you step out to walk down the aisle, the first shot I take is your partner looking at you!