5 Reasons When and Why You Need To Have a “First Look” on Your Wedding Day

On the fence about seeing each other before your wedding ceremony?

Here’s what you need to know to help make a decision about having a “First Look”.

There is a growing trend to have wedding ceremonies and receptions in the same location or very near each other. One right after the other. For the sake of the guests. Because the timing just makes more sense than having awkward gaps.

So if you’re planning a timeline that sounds like this, here are the top five reasons when and why you really do need a “first look”. Not familiar with what “first look” means? It’s when you see each other before your wedding day privately to make your wedding day so much more fun!

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

This groom cries as his bride walks down the aisle AFTER their first look.

Here are your 5 reasons to have a “First Look” before your wedding ceremony;

1. Everything is all in one location.

2. You want lots of photos around that location (or you want to go off location).

3. You are prone to anxiety.

4. You want your partner to cry when they see you.

5. You want to enjoy your cocktail hour.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

Bride cries during her “First Look” before the wedding ceremony at Stonebridge Golf Course in Ann Arbor.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

Bride cries during her ceremony, despite having a “First Look” before the wedding ceremony at Stonebridge Golf Course in Ann Arbor

So, let’s find out why people DON’T want to have a first look. Books, TV shows and movies have been telling couples forever that the biggest moment of their wedding (maybe even in their entire lives) is seeing each other at the end of the aisle. They will simultaneously burst into tears at the sight of each other and it will be the most romantic thing EVER! Right? Um, no, actually.

After over 1,000 weddings, I can tell you that has happened maybe a handful of times. More often than not, the couple has arranged their whole wedding day timeline around this moment only to have the person standing at the end of the aisle looking a bit perplexed (they’re wearing make up and have a big dress and that looks like their Dad, so I guess that’s the right person?) and have their view blocked by an overly anxious mother (always the mother or a grandparent) who leaps into the aisle with their iPad to get “the shot”.

I used to not care about couples having a “first look” before their wedding ceremony one way or the other. Whatever the couple wanted was fine. Except that as the trend changed from filling a bunch of time between the ceremony and the reception went away, it’s become really difficult to cram everything into that one hour between the two parts of the day.

So if you fall into one or more of the categories above, these are the reasons when you should absolutely have a “First Look” before your wedding ceremony.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

Both brides cried at their first look…

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

And during their wedding ceremony a few hours later!

1. You’re all in one location.

The maximum time you can ditch your guests is an hour. During this time they are usually in a cocktail hour. If you leave them longer than this, they will be too full, too drunk and will definitely notice their host’s absence.

During an hour this is typically what you have to do: exit, clear the hall of guests while you try to be nearby, but not so close that you can interact with them. Most people will try to sign the marriage license during this time. This takes about 15-20 minutes.

Rounding up the relatives and wedding party for photos. They’ve been told beforehand that they need to stay, but during your absence while signing the license, they have decided the plan has changed and they head to the bathroom, the bar or off to see people. This takes another 10 minutes to collect them back together.

Family photos are done super efficiently with a system that is tried and true by your knowledgable photographer. This takes 15 minutes because there is always a deviation from the pre planned script.

With 10-15 minutes to go, the entire wedding party (who really are patient and are waiting) must be photographed. Hopefully some photos have been taken beforehand of each side while you were separated from each other.

Guess what gets rushed at the end? The photos of the couple. Maybe it can be squeezed in after dinner before dancing, but maybe not. They are always on the losing end of this schedule.

So if you are all in one location and you want some breathing room and to be able to pretty much walk down the aisle after your ceremony and head into the party, a “First Look” will let you get 90-100% of the photos out of the way. Easy, peasy.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

Couple cries at first look where their wedding ceremony and their reception were both in the same location.

2. You want lots of photos around that location (or you want to go off location).

Let’s say you have a beautiful wedding setting (let’s take Addison Oaks Buhl Estate for an example). The grounds are beautiful and vast. So many possibilities. Each season presents different opportunities. Once the family photos are done, you have half an hour max to roam their grounds and get “tons” of photos.

You might be forgetting that you still have to walk from location to location. You will never be able to cover even a tenth of the great spots. Your time is up after you’ve gone to 2 of them (if you’re lucky). And that’s if you’re not signing the license right after the ceremony.

Now let’s say you’re not in a gorgeous location. You picked a great venue that has a pretty lobby, or maybe even a small courtyard out front. Maybe you love it. Maybe it’s the place you settled on, but you really wanted photos in Detroit. Can you get in a limo bus or cars and realistically get to Detroit and back within an hour? No, you cannot.

How about the park “just down the street” from the venue? Unless you wanted photos in that parking lot, it will involve a bit more moving around to get to those cool spots that aren’t the parking lot. Maybe you get two spots if everyone is really efficient and on board. More likely, it’s one.

So if you really want to take advantage of the great location your wedding and reception are in, you’ll have less stress, less time constraints and more fun doing them ahead of time. Ask your photographer for a realistic timeline for what they think might be needed to suit your needs and what you’re looking for.

If it’s in the summer plan on hydration/cooling breaks or if it’s winter, you’ll need to plan on warm up breaks. Another factor is that the sun sets around 5:00 in the winter. Lots of couples want photos in daylight (better lighting AND a lot warmer). So take sunset time into consideration too.

If you aren’t loving the look of your all-in-one wedding/reception venue, plan out where you want to go and don’t forget travel time. For some reason, couples always seem to think time travel works. I haven’t mastered it yet, so pad that bit. Also, if your wedding party is large (more that 8 people total), talk to the wedding photographer about timing. The more people moving around, the slower things move.

Those transition pieces between the carefully timed plan (from end of ceremony to signing the license, from the license to starting family photos, etc.) take SO much time… even moving from location spot to location spot and keeping all the ducklings following the mama photographer take a lot longer than you’d guess.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

Couple had a tearful first look at Shepherd’s Hollow in Clarkston before their wedding ceremony.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

This couple had their “First Look” so they could take full advantage of the beautiful grounds at Shepherd’s Hollow in Clarkston, Michigan.

3. You are prone to being anxious.

Wedding days cause anxiety. They cause PTSD (even happy days cause PTSD). You’ve spent a ton of time, energy and money planning this thing out. You have slaved over every detail. You’ve hired the best pros to execute your well thought out plans. You know you’re in great hands. BUT… you’ve also decided not to see each other.

You’ve exiled yourself from your better half; the one that calms you done, the one that would laugh with you that yeah, you totally should NOT have included that drama queen in your wedding party, the person who can read your worried expression and who will advocate for you without you even uttering a word.

You both decided that you’d rather sleep apart and be in separate places for most of your wedding day. And guess what? You’ve also chosen to notch those anxieties up a lot of levels.

If you’re trying to avoid each other and you happen to be in the same location (hotels, venues, airbnbs) you are super stressed that you’ll accidentally run into each other. Especially if you also decided to take photos separately beforehand and you’re terrified your partner will round the corner at any time. Especially if your wedding is later in the day.

I assure you you will both feel like you have the flu, your stomach will clench a lot and you’ll feel slightly nauseous. Guess when that goes away? Five seconds after you see your favorite person. It disappears like magic every time. So you can control whether you feel like crap for a few hours or most of the day.

If you are prone to anxiety, do yourself a huge favor and just have a first look so you can have your personal touchstone close by. The nerves will be cut down by 90%. Now you’re both in this together.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

The bride and groom had a tearful first look so they could explore their wedding venue in Pittsburgh, PA since they only had it for a limited time.

4. You want your partner to cry when they see you… for reals.

So many couples insist they don’t want a “First Look” because they want to see their partner’s “face at the end of the aisle the first time they see me”. I hear this every time a couple is super sure they don’t want a first look. They are 100% all the emotions will be so much more real if they wait. Right? WRONG!

Honest to God’s truth. There is rarely any emotion of the person standing at the altar’s face. Terror? Confusion? Yeah, those show up. Absolute stoicism? All the time. Guess what that looks like? No emotion. Really and truly. Like they could be watching a commercial on TV. Nobody home. Why? They are so overwhelmed. All those guests are staring.

There is such a big build up to this moment and it shuts most people down. Every once in a while I’ll see a tear shed, but it’s rare. You know who does cry during ceremonies? Couples who have seen each other beforehand. Not a lot of tears at the First Look (again, those nerves shut that down).

But once they get to the ceremony those tears just flow. Why? They are in THE moment. They are feeling the importance of the day, not the expectations. They’ve had an hour or two to process the day and be with each other so they can refocus on each other.

Couples cry, parents cry, bridal parties cry all the time during ceremonies where the couple have already gotten the bulk of their photos out of the way. Betcha didn’t know that! So if you’re looking for authenticity and tears and a lot of emotion, do the “First Look”.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

This groom cried during their first look AND the ceremony.

5. You want to enjoy your cocktail hour.

So this is a newer reason. I’m not saying a lot of my couples are chomping at the bit to get to the bar. Sure, some are, but instead, most clients realize that the whole “stay out of your reception until you’re announced in by the MC” is silly.

First of all, all your guests JUST saw you getting married. You didn’t change clothes, you didn’t change partners and you certainly haven’t had time to change your names (that takes about 3 months!). Why on earth would you opt out of hanging with your friends and family for pretty much the only casual, quieter, less structured time of the entire day.

This is the only time in the whole day you can have a time to connect and have anything close to a meaningful connection with all the people you love. It’s the only time there is nobody pulling you aside or pushing you to the next thing. This can serve as your receiving line since guests know they can approach you. The onus is on them to come see you rather than you needing to get to every guest.

Do you need to see your guests? Yes! They also invested a lot of time, effort and money into seeing you and you should at the very least thank them for coming (guests get super pissy about this and since I usually sit at tables on the fringe with them during dinner, I hear a lot of the grumblings). And yes, some couples are ready for a cocktail or four.

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

Entire wedding party react to witnessing the couple’s “First Look”. Usually it’s done in private, but you can do it however you’d like!

I had another client worried that their hair and makeup wouldn’t last long enough and they’d look all sweaty and disheveled by their wedding. If you’re worried, hire professionals who know how to do outdoor makeup in all weather. Prep and setting sprays work wonders. Truly professionally applied makeup and hair should last 14 hours and keep you looking super fresh.

If you are worried that having a “first look” will ruin the “big moment”, it won’t. It just means you get to do it in private and it can even very much have you walking down the aisle if you want. It just means that moment is not on display for anyone other than yourselves. If you can’t be moved to have a “first look” for the sake of your guests, do it for yourselves. You’ll be SO glad you did!

couples cry at first look AND at their wedding ceremonies all the time!

This couple incorporated their super cool artsy school bus transportation into their not so private “First Look”.

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