What's a First Look at a Wedding? (and Should You Do One?)

Bride and groom having wedding first look on pier in cityPhoto: Bella Bridesmaids Kansas City / Alyssa Barletter

The white wedding dress, the first kiss, the first dance, the cake cutting — some wedding traditions will never go out of style.

But the idea of not seeing each other before the wedding ceremony?

Well, a lot of brides and grooms are tossing that tradition away in favor of a new one:

The first look.

The first look isn’t for everyone, but a lot of couples love the concept… and for several different reasons.

If you’re thinking about having a first look or aren’t quite sure what it’s all about, keep reading. Here’s everything you need to know about the first look, including what it is, when to do it, and why you should have one!

What Is a First Look?

Some still think seeing each other before the wedding ceremony will bring bad luck. But many beautiful brides and gorgeous grooms are breaking that long-standing wedding tradition and saying, “We want a first look!”

The first look is an intimate moment between spouses-to-be before the walk down the aisle at the wedding ceremony. It’s a chance to see each other for the first time on the big day, take candid photos, and alter the timeline of wedding party photo shoots.

Scheduling a first look at your wedding venue affects how you’ll spend the rest of your wedding day and night — in a good way!

The first look is a rather new tradition, but it has some traditional elements, mostly in how the couple meets in the moment.

One option is that the groom has his back turned as the bride walks to him. She taps him on the shoulder, and he turns around to see her in THE DRESS for the first time. 

Another option is that the couple enters from different points and meets at the same spot to lay eyes on each other at the exact same moment.

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The First Look Is Just for the Two of You to Enjoy

Bride and groom having a first look at their wedding surrounded by their bridal partyPhoto: Bella Bridesmaids Columbia / Haley Foster

Even if you’re having a small, intimate wedding, there will be few (if any) moments where just the two of you get some alone time. The first look gives you exactly that.

It’s a special moment for the two of you where you don’t have to be the center of attention of your parents, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and wedding guests.

It’s also an opportunity to work out some nerves and jitters! Seeing your beloved before the ceremony starts can help put your mind at ease. That way, you can get excited about the ceremony rather than feel nervous or anxious waiting for it to start.

The First Look Makes for Incredible Wedding Photos!

Bride smiling to an unseen person outside of the picture's framePhoto: Bella Bridesmaids Memphis / Kevin Barre

In addition to being a private moment for the two of you to share, the first look is often a sweet, tender, emotional moment

And you know what that means:

It’s an opportunity for your wedding photographer to capture some of the best, most candid shots of the entire day! Many couples agree that their first-look wedding photos are some of their absolute faves.

Your photographer will take first-look photos of the two of you. Then, they’ll welcome your wedding party, parents, family members, and other VIP guests to join in for the wedding party and family photo shoots.

And there’s a big bonus to doing so — this is the point in the day when everyone will look their best. 

They’ll be freshly dressed and excited for all the big moments to come! Plus, no one will have makeup running down their cheeks from crying during the ceremony.

Even if you do a pre-ceremony photo shoot, you can still do wedding photos after the ceremony. That’s especially true if there’s a large gap between the ceremony and reception or if you want photos in certain lighting, such as at sunset.

The First Look Gives You More Time to Spend With Guests

It’s traditional for couples to take wedding photos with their wedding party after the ceremony and before the reception. As a result, the couple and the wedding party often miss out on the amazing cocktail hour.

With a photo shoot before the ceremony, you can actually get to enjoy your cocktail hour. Or, you can spend some time alone, just the two of you, celebrating that you just made it official!

The first look alters and extends the entire timeline of the day. It lets you enjoy more time with guests and carve out some hard-to-come-by moments alone.

The First Look Helps Ensure a Seamless Wedding Day Timeline

Two women holding hands walking down church steps surrounded by bridesmaidsPhoto: Ashley Rae

Unexpected circumstances can affect your wedding day timeline.

We’ve been to more than a few weddings where the officiant was late due to traffic. Or where bad weather made all the wedding guests run late, causing a delay in the ceremony.

If, for some reason, your ceremony does not start on time, having a first look scheduled ahead of time can help keep your cocktail hour and reception on track and make the day more stress-free.

Related: How To Plan Your Wedding Day Timeline

When Should You Do Your First Look?

Most couples schedule their first look for about two hours before the ceremony. That’s usually more than enough time to have a special 15-30 minutes for the two of you. 

Then, you can do the wedding party and family portraits, touch up your makeup, and freshen up in time for the ceremony to start.

The only downside to doing a first look is doing your hair and makeup earlier in the day. Ensure your hair stylist and glam squad arrive early enough to complete everyone’s looks on time.

A first look isn’t just a great photo opportunity. It’s also a way to calm your nerves, enjoy some time alone, and extend your timeline to have more time to spend with guests.

So, talk it over with your partner. Decide as a couple if you want to stick with the tradition of not seeing each other before you say “I do” or if you want to enjoy that intimate first-look moment. 

It’s just one more way to make your wedding the most incredible, memorable, special day of your lives!  

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