Your fiance will see you now

wedding photography

The unrestrained romance of the First Look.

To see or not to see? Every couple getting married has to decide whether they want to see each other before the ceremony. Tradition says no: save it for when you’re walking down the aisle. I’m not especially traditional, but I understand this line of thinking. If you regard the wedding ceremony as the culmination of your sacred story, then seeing your partner beforehand is a kind of spiritual spoiler. So I don’t mind when couples decide to wait, if that’s what feels right to them.

Supposedly the tradition began with arranged marriages, when the young bride and groom might not have met before the wedding day at all. If you caught your first glimpse of your betrothed on the morning of the wedding and didn’t like what you saw, you’d be less inclined to show up at the altar. 

In these modern times, a great many couples meet first, then decide to get married. And many of these couples want amazing, creative photos of themselves and their loved ones on their wedding day. Why not? You went to the trouble to hand-pick a soul mate, so you might as well get photos that reflect what’s unique about the two of you. 

The problem is, if you wait until after the ceremony to take pictures together, you either have to cram the photo shoot into a few frantic minutes before the reception, or you have to make your guests wait an eternity for their meal.

(Note: the cocktail hour was invented to keep guests busy while photos are taken. But many wedding couples want to participate in their cocktail hour. By design, they can’t. This means that the whole time the couple is being photographed, they feel like they’re missing out. Even if they grab some bacon-wrapped shrimp to go, they grumble through the whole shoot. Nice try, cocktail hour.)

The First Look. What an ingenious idea. It lets couples see each other hours before the ceremony, yet it retains the excitement of the big reveal. The First Look comes complete with nervous energy and suspense. It also entertains the bridal party with the cloak-and-dagger game of hiding the couple from each other until the cameras are in place.

It can happen anywhere–a staircase, a vineyard, a bridge, an elevator–so long as the couple gets dressed up in their finery to dazzle each other before the ceremony starts.

One half of the couple waits out of sight of the other. They haven’t seen each other since getting dressed. Bridal party members stand nearby, often acting as human blinders to preserve the surprise. Photographers station themselves so they can see both fiances’ faces. Then the hidden member of the couple steps into view, and the two embrace in a quasi-private moment, admiring and enjoying each other. Cameras click.

Keep in mind, the First Look is about more than a photo op. Hearts pound. Adrenaline pumps. The air is thick with Here We Go!

First Looks tend to happen in three phases: anticipation, revelation, and… well, whatever happens next. Once the big reveal is complete, the couple’s euphoria can take infinite forms. Some people simply kiss and hold hands. Many couples parlay their elated energy into a moment of celebration. Smiles can’t be contained. Hugs are long and vigorous. People in dresses have been known to twirl.

This is the real opportunity of the First Look. The romance of the moment doesn’t have to be restrained. The couple can wholeheartedly express their affection.

Contrast this with the traditional reveal during the ceremony. The walk down the aisle must be dignified. If there’s a veil, it must be lifted with steady hands. Hearts may be pumping hard, but the couple maintains their outward poise. Be cool… All of our relatives are watching… There’s an ordained and/or government-licensed official standing right here…

A First Look isn’t exactly private, but it is completely free from ceremonious expectations. The couple can show how they feel. The formal ceremony is still hours away–they have time to dance like nobody’s watching.

I’ve shot dozens of First Looks on staircases. They start out with the same formula: one person waits on the stairs, and the other descends to meet them. What happens next depends on the couple. If they’re silly, they can get silly. If their dogs want to celebrate with them, then hey, send in the dogs. It’s a free-for-all.

This…
…becomes this.
This…
…becomes this.

Once the reveal and reaction are done, the remaining hours before the ceremony are bursting with potential, both photographic and romantic. Often the giddiness of the First Look carries over into the rest of the photos. The couple has time to play for the camera, and they can enjoy the relief of holding hands with their favorite person during the hours leading up to the big event.

Whether they’re walking through the park or posing on public transportation, at that moment the couple is unburdened. They’re beautiful, they’re well-dressed, and they’re free to feel excited and relaxed at the same time.

Yes, this couple and their bridal party took the train to their wedding.

I haven’t measured this scientifically, but I think couples who get pictures done beforehand tend to have a more enjoyable experience during the ceremony. They carry less tension with them from the outset. The affection is already flowing. By the time they start saying their vows, happiness has overpowered suspense.

First Looks are lovely, but they’re not for everyone. You may prefer to wait until one of you is walking up the aisle. You may not care for the big reveal at all. Whatever you decide, make it true to you. Not just for the photos. Do it for yourselves.

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