Wedding-Day First Look, First Touch & More: A Comprehensive POV

First of all- what is a “First-Look”?

If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the term used by a wedding vendor at some point in your wedding planning process.

Let’s define it. A “First Look” is the moment that you and your significant other get to take each other in, and see each other for the first time on your wedding day. This moment typically makes for an amazing photo opportunity! 

Traditionally, the idea of a first look was the moment the couple sees each other as the bride walks down the aisle to the groom during the ceremony. But as time has passed, and couples want to personalize their day more, we’re seeing different takes on when and how a “first look” can occur, and oftentimes, couples find through the planning process that they want to spend more quality time together before ceremony!

To note- we’ve definitely driven through different lanes to support couples- because ultimately, it is a very personal decision. I’ve worked with couples who have gone on the arguably more progressive and arguably less conventional route, where they have getting ready together- I’ll also be sharing in this post why that’s been the go-to move for couples on their wedding day as well! I’ve worked with couples who have decided to keep the first look in front of an entire audience as their ceremony was beginning. All very different experiences, all impacting their days very differently! 

Is there a “right” way to do this?

My opinion? Regardless of what anyone tells you, you won’t know for sure until you’ve thought about this intentionally, and learned more directly from your partner how they’re also looking to spend the wedding day to make that personal decision together. I’m a big fan of what it means to consider your partner, and work together to blend the best of both of your wants to make the best decision!

What’s most important to know from a seasoned wedding vendor’s perspective? Full transparency- this really impacts how you get to spend your wedding day, however you decide. You’ll either get to unlock more time together, or you potentially become constrained to how you spend it until you get to see each other for the first time, and what happens immediately after. Regardless of when you decide to see each other for the first time on your wedding day, I will always encourage the couple to intentionally plan to carve out 1:1 time with each other throughout the day to take a moment to soak it all in.

You may discover where their priorities lie in celebrating right away at cocktail hour, wanting to get more photos captured with family and bridal party before the festivities, or depending on how important it is for your partner to share their personal vows more publicly or privately.

As you can begin to tell, a first look, and when and how it happens, it’s a very personal decision that can impact how you truly experience in your wedding day. You won’t know for sure until you’ve thought about this until you’ve learned more about it in depth as you consider different factors, learn about other’s past experiences, and more!

My intention with all of my couples is to be super transparent, offer options, and give pros and cons for you to take it all and make a very informed decision in any direction. As someone who has photographed hundreds of weddings, witnessed these experiences unfold, and received lots of wonderful feedback from couples after the big day, you deserve to know what’s possible.

Your Personal Vows & First Look

What you’re planning to say to your partner could impact how you’re going to say it – whether it’s privately, or in front of other people. It’s worth taking into consideration as you prepare them. How do you and your partner handle public attention? How do each of you feel in exciting circumstances with all eyes on you – does it give you anxiety, or leave you absolutely exhilarated and energized in the moment?

Additionally, if you or your partner have genuine nerves with speaking in public, or simply have a few things they want to mention to you that they may be hard for others to fully understand (like inside jokes, or situations you plan on mentioning in vows that others were not there to experience when it happened to understand your story), you may be able to go more in detail, or share more intimately better in a private setting. If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself – “I may want this, but to remain unseen by one another…” read further, because I may have a solution to marry these ideas in a way that ticks every single box.

You can always have two versions of your vows, where one is more personalized to both of you privately, and another is potentially more audience-facing, if you’d like, for ceremony!

Love Languages, Introversion vs Extroversion

Consider who you’re spending the rest of your life with- is their love language gift giving, words of affirmation, acts of service, or quality time? There are creative ways to incorate your unique love languages throughout your wedding day, and intentionally doing this during your first look could carry extra sentimental weight.

Do you foresee a wedding weekend filled with activities intended to spend lots of time with guests and other people, or are you both more introverted and envision spending time in smaller groups, or with each other when it’s appropriate from others as much as possible? Crafting the wedding experience around how much energy you gain or lose from different things could help you navigate how you want to spend it, and whether that impacts how you create your first look experience before or during ceremony.

How You Both Manage Stress

This is honestly one of the most overlooked, or one of the least understood aspects of planning your wedding-day experience, because understandably, people won’t know until the day unfolds. However, it is something worth thinking about- it’s understanding how you both respond to stressful situations in a fast-paced environment, possibly with other personalities around you. When you’re getting ready in a specific kind of space, when you’re navigating a room full of people that you want to socialize with during cocktail hour, when you have a speech or a toast to give in front of others. How have you responded to stressful situations in the past, and how have you and your partner both found comfort and happiness in each other as things are happening? This is worth considering as you decide on your first look opportunity.

The Importance of the “Big Reveal” & The Most Heartfelt Reaction

A wedding is an intimate, emotional experience, and a first look means a photographer can capture a couple together in that moment. As you’ve been envisioning your wedding day now, whether or not you’ve picked your dress, you’ve probably begun picturing how beautiful and stunning you’re hoping to look. It’s totally understandable that you’ll want to completely wow your partner with it all!

In fact, I tend to find that private first looks for a more reserved, introverted, or person who has a hard time sharing their emotions tends to allow for a more genuine reaction, because your partner isn’t put on the spot, with all eyes on him/ her/ them, in front of a huge audience, in such a stimulating moment! In this situation, you can capture something special and intimate on camera, in a private space, and still completely “wow” your future partner for life.

A first look before ceremony still has this momentous feeling to it- it’s set up and prepared, with your partner turned for you to approach them- and walking to them, tapping them on the shoulder if you’d like, and having them turn around is still a built-up reveal. I tend to find from past couples that really confident, extroverted, heart-on-your-sleeves kinds of partnerships thrive off of this during a first look at the beginning of ceremony, and it can carry them throughout the entire ceremony.

How to Incorporate Your Videographer

When you both see each other for the first time- you can amplify this even more for your future, when you look back on this incredible moment. With a videography team recording audio, you get to hear their full reaction, in addition to having it captured as it all happens in fleeting moments. If you want more privacy, you can always talk with your photo and video team about how we can capture the moment while making sure it still feels incredibly intimate, with physical space to avoid feeling like anyone else is hovering too close to you both. Often times, because it is so exciting simply getting to see each other, we melt out of existence and into the background, because couples are usually so thrilled to see each other done up and to have this moment together.

Slowing Down the Day, Easing Jitters

A wedding day can be jam-packed with activities- from a potential brunch or morning rituals, to officially getting ready, to experiencing your ceremony, experiencing a festive cocktail hour, and potential dancefloor shenanigans during reception- it goes by fast! It’s no joke in the industry- everyone can end up saying that about their day! But if you plan your day intentionally, you potentially become empowered to slow it down, be more present, and cherish unexpected moments that become incredibly sentimental to you when you reflect back on your wedding day.

It can start feeling like a whirlwind moving from one place to the next with folks all around you throughout the day. There’s a natural buildup of nerves, and with good intentions behind it – a big swell leading up to the ceremony. “Future you” will realize the big decision you’re making, bringing a lot of excitement! If you’re someone who gets overly stimulated, a bit anxious, or just simply impatient to see your fave person, you might want dedicate special time to be together before the ceremony. Even if it’s just for a few minutes to catch up from seeing each other the day before, as the wedding weekend continues to unfold! 

Between the hustle and bustle, a private first look before ceremony offers the opportunity to be truly be present with each other, and take each other in before everyone else. The day goes by fast, and I can confidently say this from documenting over hundreds of weddings now that if you are worried that the day will fly by, a first look is a great option to slow things down.

Past Couple Testimonials – No Regrets

“Wow, I could not believe how quickly the day flew by. Simply because I was having so much fun! Between it all, I realized that my ceremony was happening later in the day, which would have meant I would have spent the majority of it NOT with my now husband. We’re so grateful we went ahead and had a “first look,” before ceremony to hang out, take a beat, catch up, hold each other, and share how excited we were together. Plus, our families and friends from college are all so close, it seemed weird ot having everyone together to enjoy the day all together before the big thing. It was so fun and SO special! Probably the best part of our day together. “ -Tiffany & Ryan

“Biggest highlight of our day: hands down, reading our personal vows to each other. I was nervous I was going to ruin my makeup, but I had q-tips and tissues handy for the happy tears as I heard him read. Plus, he cleaned up so good and had the most genuine reaction to seeing me before we pulled our vows! It was easy to share my vows aloud just us because it was so intimate, so reading them again in front of an audience felt like a cake walk.” -Joanna & Walker

“Confession- we read our vows just us after ceremony, and then had our photo and video team stage the photos and audio later. It was kinda cool, that way! We discussed how it would go down, and what are options were as we were wedding planning with our photographer. Our vendor team was super flexible, and when we look back at the photos, it still looks, sounds, and feels exactly like the first time we read them when we were both together. It was easily the most meaningful part of our wedding day, and truly enhanced our entire experience instantly in those 5 minutes.” -Mariah & Justin

Consider How & When You Want To Be Taking Photos Throughout Your Wedding Day

Often times, I’ve worked with couples that have an idea for when they’d like to be done in front of the camera- I often step into the process planning a photography-focused timeline that aligns with the overall process of the day, and how you intend for it to unfold.

Typically, once the reception kicks off after cocktail hour, and the drinks are flowin’- it’s pretty difficult to wrangle & rally  everyone back together for any prompted photos. Any and all of the epic festivities you might envision- like your first dance, parents dances, and any toasts, speeches, or post-dinner games you’re excited to play- will want to be celebrated and experienced right away. Having to be held back for photos can be hard for some folks at that point in the unfolding of the wedding day.

Between cocktail hour ending and the DJ opening up the dancefloor, with dinner service at some point in there, a lot’s going to be happening. That, paired with everyone likely being a few drinks in and excited to mingle, you’ll want the photo and video team capturing everything as it’s happening live, right in front of you! 

Because the festivities will be kicking off right away after the formalities of ceremony, we’re aware that you’ll want that time to eat, drink, and be merry listening to hilarious and heartfelt speeches from your favorite people. That, and the photos are going to be captured with on and off-camera flash, which has a drastically different look from naturally daylit photos during the day.

We tend to work with couples to take any timeless photos with people that are nearest and dearest to them before reception, when we still have natural light to capture those cherished photos you’ll want in your keepsake albums, wall art, or to have for special events and milestones down the line as the last formal photos of everyone looking nice. With that, we’ll usually work to get family and potentially any bridal party photos captured by the end of cocktail hour.

With a first look at ceremony, we can’t begin capturing any photos of the two of you physically in a photo, and therefore any photos of both of you with family and friends both together, until after ceremony. During cocktail hour, you’ll be looking to sign your marriage license, and potentially want to spend time mingling with everyone there at some point.

How Much Do You Value Your Time During Cocktail Hour / How Quickly Will You Want to Start Fully Celebrating after Ceremony?

That leads us perfectly into what’s arguably one of the biggest parts of your experience. Cocktail hour is the best time to organically catch up and mingle with special guests that you haven’t had a chance to organically interact with until this point in the wedding day- this could be special relatives that have flown in from out of state or the country, old high school and college friends that you potentially haven’t had a chance to see all together in person yet since the last wedding or big event that you all went to. 

Whoever it may be, and however they may know you, you’re all in one place together for the first time, dressed looking nice, in potentially years. You may want to make sure you have enough time to dedicate to catching up with them before the big events go into the night, and the dancing begins.

If you’re someone who’s also intentionally invested your hard earned time and money into fun things like signature drinks, custom appetizers, and other personalized things that you’d like to experience only during this time, you may want to consider having a first look so that you’re able to take all of your family and bridal party photos, and therefore see each other to be able to be photographed together, before ceremony. 

We can partner together to make this happen, so that instantly after the formalities are over from ceremony, you can instantly head out to enjoy your time candidly and freely with guests without having to worry about taking prompted content from your photo and video teams- especially if you are heavily leaning towards having your day captured as authentically and candidly with anyone and everyone attending your wedding as much as possible throughout the biggest moments of the day and evening. 

Consider a “First Touch” Instead?

After reading all of this perspective, you may be thinking to yourself, “but hey, I still REALLY want the reveal, while finding a way to have a special moment before ceremony together. Is there a way to do it while preserving the first look at ceremony, in front of everyone?”

Short answer: YES, you guessed it, there is definitely a way to blend all of the coolest elements together into what’s called a “First Touch.”

A “First Touch” blends several concepts together- namely, it’s a way to physically and emotionally feel present with each other, spend a moment together taking pause, all while avoiding seeing each other until you’re walking the aisle. And yes- if you’re thinking you want to share personal vows before ceremony, you can do this too- there are hardly any rules trying to save the idea of taking each other in fully until ceremony. How do we pull this off?

There are a few different ways to set this up and truly execute on this, and a lot of it has to do with the constraints and potential limitations to where you’re getting married.

A first touch is usually a scenario where the wedding couple is positioned to be:
1) Physically together, holding hands, remaining back-to-back
2) Meeting at a wall corner and hold hands, or behind and around a door to stay separated
3) Any other arrangement in their space that allows the bride(s)/ each person in the couple to remain being unseen

Another plus is that it always leads to a unique, beautiful photo opportunity. this particular option takes into account some pre-planning to make sure this remains a secluded, special moment that remains private, so it’ll be important to communicate this to your wedding photo and video team before your wedding day, so they can make sure this moment remains secluded and beautiful.

If You Are Leaning Towards First Look At Ceremony, But Want to Be Efficient With Photos

To ensure things flow smoothly, everyone – the couple, family, and bridal party – gotta have their expectations set, give thorough and considered instructions, and be fully on board with a well-understood game plan for taking photos before and after the ceremony. Your vendors can team up with you to make this as seamless and effective as possible, while guaranteeing you capture special moments with the people you care about most.  Leading up to your wedding day, months in-advance, being open and ready to work through a photography-focused timeline that fits the flow of your wedding event is key.

If waiting to be together until ceremony, are you still wanting to increase the chances of having time with your guests before dinner service?
1) Considering a 90-minute cocktail hour could be a really great option to discuss with your event designer and catering teams as well.
2) Heavily encourage an earlier start time to your photo coverage, which would mean possibly beginning hair and makeup styling at an earlier time in the morning to accommodate this as well. We definitely want to make sure the beginning of the day, before ceremony, doesn’t feel rushed! This allow gives us cushioned time to move each person within the couple from one place to another, tucked away, to preserve the first look with each other at ceremony, beforehand.

Final Thoughts

After working with so many couples over the years, one thing is consistent- 100% of the time, all couples that have decided to do a first look before ceremony have always been relieved that they’ve done it! That moment has been personalized to be a time where they share their personal vows privately, even exchange gifts, pray together, or do something very, very thought out that feels true to their relationship together.

If you’re a couple realizing the importance of spending quality time together and with guests after the ceremony, consider opting for a first look on your wedding day. It can set the tone to begin celebrating after ceremony right away because more photos will have been taken before your couples portraits.

Otherwise, if you are more than comfortable with the idea of waiting to forego your cocktail hour experience and completely celebrate together until your reception, AND you are open to taking a big portion of your family and bridal party photos, along with your couples portraits for the first time during cocktail hour, then you can definitely still plan to have that big reveal to each other during ceremony. 

With this all being said, any couple I work with needs to think beyond just the practicality of timing. It’s a personal decision between you two to figure out how you want to spend your wedding day – together and separately, and for how long until you see each other. My philosophy- talk it out together, to decide what’s going to matter most to both of you, and your values and priorities for your wedding day experience. If you’re not sure how ideas could impact what you’re capable of experiencing, and how much time you can dedicate to different aspects of your wedding day, definitely reach out to your vendors and those who have been married before you.

Ultimately, I’m all about making sure my couples feel that they are making a super thorough, well-informed decision! If you felt this was super informative, and you’re excited to work together, let me know. We can make it happen!

April 9, 2024

Julianne Shearer



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