12 Tips to Photograph a First Look at a Wedding
If you are new to the wedding world, you may not have heard of the term the First Look. This is a relatively contemporary concept, & occurs when the bride & groom opt to see each other in their wedding clothes before the ceremony.
As a photographer, I can give you many reasons why you should consider doing a First Look. As a former bride, I can tell you why you simply must do a First Look.
But, if you are traditional person & don’t want to stray from that, I completely understand! I am by no means discrediting this wonderful notion.
Fellow photographers, I’ll be giving you some pointers at the end, so stick around!
FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHER
When I’m doing a First Look, I pick out a location that is far enough away from the hustle & bustle of staff, early arriving guests, & family members. I want this moment to be just between the bride & the groom. Yes, I will be there, so that’s when I stick on my zoom lens & back away as far as possible while still able to clearly see faces.
2- Prep the Groom
Once the groom is in his spot, I tell him that his beautiful bride will be walking up behind him. I tell him that the bride will either be tapping him on the shoulder, hugging him from behind, or something else. I let her decide. I then tell him to either turn to the left or right, depending on where I’m standing. If I’m off to his right, I want him turning to his right so I can see his full expression. (I also tell the bride which direction I want the groom to turn.)
I then tell the groom to forget everything I said, & to focus purely on his bride. I tell him it’s ok if he turns to the left, when I said right. This is their moment. I want them to be focused only on each other & not on me.
3- Pick MY Spot
Because I usually shoot by myself, I have to pick a spot that will enable me to see both the bride & the groom well. My goal is to be at a 90° angle when the groom has turned around. Sometimes this requires me running to a different spot if the groom didn’t turn as I anticipated.
4- Let go of the moment
I then let go of the moment & put the action entirely in their hands. I let her walk up to him. I let him turn on his own. I let them hug, kiss, laugh, admire each other for however long they take. Then, when they are ready, one of them turns to acknowledge that I am there, & we proceed with their portraits. All in all, the whole process takes about five minutes.
5- Don’t Ruin their moment
At one wedding, I had no choice but to stand about five feet away from the groom during their First Look. I had given each of them their instructions, but because I wasn’t able to back way out of the picture (pun!) they couldn’t forget that I was there. So, instead of focusing on each other, the bride said several times as she walked up behind him, to make sure he turned to his left. While I really appreciated her dedicated-ness to my instructions, I felt like I ruined their moment.
6- Learn from others
If you’re like me, you’ve probably second shot for other photographers a time or two. It’s always fun to see how others work firsthand & to learn from how they do things.
One photographer I’ve worked with in the past had a tendency to give her instructions to the bride & groom during the First Look. It was almost like she was directing a magazine photo shoot. Ok, she’s walking up behind you. Ok, Bride, tap him on his right shoulder. Groom, turn to your right. Now kiss! Great!
I’ll be honest. This kind of bothered me. To me, she was taking away from the moment. It was no longer natural but very, very scripted. It was purely about the photographs & not the couple.
On the other hand, some photographers like to stand so far away from the couple that you can’t even see expressions at all. I believe in happy mediums.
7- Find your Rhythm to work quickly
To wrap this not so short article up, photographers, these moments are so fun, but sometimes difficult to capture because they do happen so incredibly quickly & you can’t replicate them. Figure out your rhythm & come up with a plan of attack that works for both you & the couple.
These next tips are more for you as a photographer to GIVE to your bride! Educate her!!!
FOR THE BRIDE
8 More photos with your spouse
I’ve seen it happen so many times. The ceremony is over, we’ve made it through the family photos, we’ve done the group photos with the entire bridal party, & we are just now starting photos of you & your new spouse. It is usually around this time when your adrenaline quits running & you realize how tired you are. Your shoes are hurting your feet. You haven’t had any real food today & you are beginning to shake. You think about your 200 guests sitting at the reception waiting for you to arrive so dinner can be served. All of these thoughts just take over & you want to hurry through your photos.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking about your guests, remember that this is a once in a lifetime event. You are going to want photos of you & your new spouse. If you suddenly decide to cut your photo time in half from fifteen minutes to seven, you may end up with only a handful of photos to choose from.
However, when we take your photos before the ceremony, you know that we still have a full hour before you have to be in place. None of your guests are even here yet!
In the weeks leading up to a wedding, I work closely with the bride to make sure we have a schedule that will maximize our few precious hours together. Because the ceremony start time & the reception end time are usually fixed, we end up trying to squeeze all of the photos (family, full bridal party, & the bride & groom portraits) into a one-hour slot after the ceremony for those who don’t want to do a First Look. Sometimes we end up with less than ten minutes for just the bride & groom. Alternatively, First Looks offer so much more breathing room.
If you’re a numbers person, try this on for size. On average this year, my couples that chose to do First Looks walked away with 64 photos, while those who didn’t only had 19.
9- Great expressions
This is one of the harder points to argue, so I’ll just approach it as an observation. The bride & groom’s expressions are great either way you choose to go, whether it be a private moment before the ceremony or when the sanctuary doors open. But, I will say that the expressions are different.
Going the traditional route, the bride & groom’s expressions are sometimes more subdued. This could be due to the fact that an audience is present, ceremonies should be treated with reverence, or the ceremony is in a church. The expressions & reactions are very sweet & soft.
But, there’s something about First Looks that almost feels like we’re doing something we shouldn’t, like we’re caught with our hand in the cookie jar. When the bride sneaks up behind the groom who then turns around to suddenly see his bride close up, you can bet that one or both will start laughing with a few tears mixed in. These photos are just so full of emotion that no words can describe them.
I remember after one wedding was over, I was transferring all of the photos to my computer before I drove home. I scrolled through their First Look photos & started tearing up. Just then, the groom’s mom walked in & I called her over to look. She started crying. She then turned & ran out into the hallway to get more people. The next thing I know, there are at least fifteen people looking over my shoulder, & we are all crying. Someone kept saying, “That’s such a Chelsea expression!”
10- Can get family photos done before the ceremony
At that same wedding, we were able to get every single photo taken before the ceremony even started, including the family photos! About an hour before the ceremony started, everyone headed into the chapel for all of the formal family photos. No one was tired yet. No one’s makeup had sweated off yet. No one was itching to go find the AC yet. Everyone was very calm, yet still giddy with excitement for what was about to take place. (It did help that everyone was on time!) When the ceremony was over, I took the bride & groom outside for a few more sunset photos, & then we headed straight to the party. It was magical.
11- Daylight savings time
One of the biggest details that can get overlooked when picking a ceremony time is what time the sun sets, especially if your wedding is during the winter months. In the summer, we can usually keep taking photos outside until 7:00, 7:30 if you don’t have any tall buildings or trees blocking the light. However, in the winter, it gets dark so incredibly early. And when that suns starts to go, it goes fast.
If your wedding is in the winter or late in the evening & you choose NOT to do a First Look, make sure you are ok with having very few or zero outdoor sunlit photos of just you & your spouse. You may have hired your photographer based on his or her beautiful outdoor photos full of sun flares, but if it’s dark, we can’t make those happen.
Yes, your photographer should have flashes or lighting equipment enabling you to still take outdoor photos, but that’s a different blog post entirely.
12- You’ll be relaxed
Because I am a photographer & I wholeheartedly agree with all of my own points above (haha), I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do a First Look at my own wedding. But, what I hadn’t really considered was how much more relaxed I would be once that was over. Yes, I was still excited afterwards, but I was able to be more focused & take in the moments of the friends & family around me. There was no more tiptoeing around the venue trying to avoid my future husband.
But don’t get me wrong! I still had that Oh my goodness, this is really happening moment when my dad & I turned the corner to walk down the aisle.
In the end, your wedding is about you & your future spouse. If you are absolutely positive about keeping things traditional, that is perfectly fine. However, I do encourage you to consider some of these points if you are still on the fence.
Nadeen White says
Great advice and beautiful wedding pics!
Jenna @ A Savory Feast says
These are great suggestions! I loved the idea of doing a first look, but my fiancé doesn’t want to see me until I walk down the aisle. But I’m sure we will still get a great picture of his expression because he is always 100% himself no matter who he is with.
April at My Captivating Life says
Breath taking photos! Great tips!
Thank you for this post! Lots of great advice!
Awesome blog!!!!!!! Excellent suggestions! I have a wedding to do today so this will help so much!! WISH YOU COULD COME WITH ME!!
Sam Figueroa says
Nice post Erin. Some very nice nuggets of knowledge there. And definitely a lot of good points to pass on to my future brides.
Thank you for rising the tide.
James W. says
A picture is worth a thousand words but I think wedding photos are more than that, it consists of love, promise, memory, passion, and joy. That is why I always make it a point that I always do the right thing when it comes to wedding photos.
Dan Thurgood says
This is a really helpful post for me! I’m in the UK (super funky city of Liverpool!) where the first look happens in the ceremony, 99% of the time. But thanks to covid screwing everything up, I’m doing my first pre-ceremony 1st-look this coming month. Your advice was spot on – I’m well excited about it. Thanks!