Shooting Wide Open: A Different Perspective on First Looks

Now that the 2017 season has officially begun, I am helping clients build timelines for their wedding/elopement left and right. I’ve got timeline ideas for dayyyys. I love it. Maybe it’s the control freak in me. Maybe it’s years of experience that makes it so easy that I can come up with a schedule that makes sense in about 10 minutes. To do this I ask my couples for a few important pieces of info, one being most critical is the “first look.”


Early on, many of my couples had no idea what I was talking about when I asked their feelings on including a first look. I gave the standard pitch: “oh you get photos out of the way! It’s great! The down the aisle thing is gonna be cool, too!” 

This was my rationale because at this point in my career, I was gobbling up about as much industry advice as I could and the idea seemed totally reasonable. Now a cursory search of the term will direct you to approximately one million redundant opinion pieces from wedding blogs and photographers alike. Of the many “for” pieces, they read like they are servicing the vendors more than the couple. What I mean to say is that schedules have been become about obliging vendors and maximizing the efficiency of a wedding day. That’s great and many of my couples have been persuaded. Many other folks however approach this topic with me fearfully with, “the first look is not something we want to do, but we want to make your job easier.” And that my friends is where I want to shift the conversation because that pressure has never sat right with me. I’ve since relaxed my pitch, listened to my couples, shot a variety of schedules, and oh, GOT MARRIED MYSELF. I’ve developed my own perspective on the first look. It boils down to these key points:

1. You do not have to do a first look.

2. You don’t have to do a damned thing the industry (or tradition for that matter) tells you to.

3. If you want a first look, we will adapt.

4. If you do not want a first look, we will adapt.

I will be upfront if I think the answer boils down to a very serious practical decision. Sometimes a first look makes no logistical sense (hello catholic ceremonies at noon with a 5 hour break until the reception). Sometimes a first look will be necessary if you have a late ceremony and want portraits afterward. I have no interest in being pushy here. I will inform you directly and kindly of your practical constraints. My larger point however is:

To first look (or not) is a personal decision you must reflect on and commit to as a couple.

Make this decision based on practicality, tradition, or what would make you most comfortable. These are considerations that I should not get to pressure you in or out of.


If you’ll indulge me, I’d love to share our experience. Ganer and I had a very non-typical, very DIY, chaotic,  magical little wedding in New Orleans. It’s important to know that we had already been cohabitating and with the number of times I tried it on I’m SHOCKED Ganer never saw the dress. We don’t care much for the traditions surrounding reveals. So when it came to this first look, there was no debate. Our schedule pretty much required it and we honestly couldn’t see ourselves avoiding each other (or any friends) for that long.

I also didn’t realize how much we needed that private time together before the ceremony. If you know us at all, you know that we are both pretty excitable and extroverted. I felt pretty Zen until I started getting dressed. Close friends and family helped put me together, each offering to do a task as if I had bridesmaids. My sweet mother-in-law who generously bought my dress helped zipped me in.My dad, in an effort to drop off some ice, stumbled across my room for an accidental first look. Once the wedding attire was on all that nervous energy (and the redbull) started to really kick in. My heart was racing, my head dizzy, and my mouth was dry as a desert. I started to wonder if we were really about to pull it all off.

Soon, I was trading my redbull for water and preparing for a first look. Moni (our amazing hero, friend, and photographer) set us up by the door just outside of my room. I am pretty sure Beyonce was playing over the speakers (thanks Jeremy!) and a couple of our friends watched from the sides. I approached. He turned. He stared at my boobs. And then wrapped me up. It was simple yet momentous.

We went back into my room to adjust each other and to share gifts. Before we knew it we were off taking portraits around Magazine Street in the Garden District. We talked. Admired each other. We waved to the locals and greeted our guests.

Minutes before the actual wedding, we went back into my room to kind of create a small sense of entrance and production. Suddenly those nervous vibes returned and not a moment later they were gone because I had Ganer. We kissed. I relaxed. We went confidently into our ceremony. I seriously can’t imagine the process happening any other way for the two of us. 


Our lived experience and values as a couple are unique to us. Those moments perfectly reflected who we are and addressed our needs. We realized that there is a sensitive nature to the first look that must be respected, and not forced.

So to further celebrate the range of possibilities here, I’ve asked three couples to share why they did or did not choose to do a first look:

“My fiancée and I decided that we wanted our wedding to a balance of traditional and modern trends in weddings. In the process of determining which traditions we wanted to keep and toss, we decided to make our first look when I was walking down the aisle. I am happy that we decided to keep this tradition because seeing my husband for the first time on our wedding day surrounded by the friends and family members that had been with us and supported us throughout our relationship was a truly joyous moment.  Carrie also had an amazing idea to steal-away from our reception for a few minutes to take private couples photos at sunset. That allowed us to have a traditional first look AND an intimate shoot where we were able to flirt, have fun, and spend our first quiet moments together as husband and wife.”

~Susan & Spencer


“Before trekking westward, we opted to forego a farewell party, so we knew our wedding would be a reunion of sorts. With that in mind, we made decisions that worked for us. When it came to photos, we included family in our first look. It seems weird, but believe it or not, they were like flies on the wall and joined the fun once we were ready for the important family shots. We also decided to turn up the crazy, by opting to stick around until the last guest left. We’re so glad we did! Our recommendation: do whatever the hell you want. It’s your day.”

~Jasmine and Ty


Seth and I chose to get ready together because it felt right to us – we shared our everyday lives with each other for three years before we married and  getting ready separately or hiding from each other before the ceremony didn’t feel like the right thing to do on the day we would celebrate our love for each other with our community. Having my favorite person there to joke with, to be excited with, to help me into my dress felt natural. Our wedding day was magical because it was pieces of our real life, amplified, and being together while we readied ourselves for our ceremony and party, like we’d been together preparing for so many boring days and big events before, spoke to that.

~Haley and Sethfirstlooknashvilleweddingphotographer_0007

The motivations vary, but the results are the same: a thoughtful couple honoring their values and each ending up happily married. That is the goal in all of this right? The first look is no different.

If you are engaged, I hope you feel a little more empowered to make a call on this. I hope your photographer (me or otherwise) is affirming, helpful, and eager no matter what you choose.

Cheers, and keep doing you. ????

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