Traditional Weddings vs. a First Look

I’ve said it before and I think it deserves repeating – you just can’t beat a First Look on your wedding day.

In a Traditional type of wedding, the Bride and Groom (B&G) don’t see each other until she is walking down the isle. While this is the way that weddings have been done for thousands of years, many B&G’s I’ve spoken with don’t remember seeing each other at all during this moment (including my husband and I). I believe there are a plethora of reasons for this – jitters, so many people watching and catching the Bride or Groom’s attention during the procession, the moment is too fast and slips by too quickly, etc . Some people wait years for that one moment to come and then can’t remember it at all when it happens. I’ve even had B&G’s look at the pictures of the procession and say things like, “Oh, weird, we weren’t even looking at each other,” or, “You look like you’re a deer in headlights.” (Greaaaaat, just what a guy wants to hear his wife say about the first time he saw her in her wedding dress…)

To top it off, Traditional weddings don’t give the B&G much opportunity to mingle with their guests until it’s time for the reception. Once the ceremony is done, the entire wedding party and photographers are usually running from the crowd to allow for as much shooting time as possible. It’s hectic, exhausting because we try to pack a lot of shooting into a few short hours, and it leaves people pooped by the time dinner comes along.

A First Look, by comparison, is an amazing, deeply personal and intimate moment between the B&G – the two people who the day is supposed to be about. I usually pick a secluded spot with some fantastic light and enough room for me and my Second to stand on opposite sides of the happy couple. Then I position the Groom facing away from the spot where the Bride will come to him and instruct her to walk up to him and tell him to turn around when she gets close. The photos that come out of a First Look are always the most moving, most emotional, most amazeballs of the entire day. It is impossible to miss the love that shines between two people at such an important moment – a brief few minutes, amidst a day of chaos, where it’s just the two of them, standing there, together, remembering all of the reasons this day is happening and not having to worry about who sees them or how they react or what they do. I say it’s just them because, honestly, 99% of the time they completely forget that we photographers are even there. We stay quiet, use hand signals to let each other know what we’re doing and then, when we have grabbed a bunch of great shots of the moment, we fade away and let the B&G spend some more time in complete privacy until they are ready to come back! I can’t describe the feelings that always overtake me during a First Look. I walk away, every single time, with a giant lump in my throat and my chest feeling full and heavy and warm. Love can be breathtaking and seeing and feeling the love between others can have just as much an effect on a person as feeling love between myself and my husband.

I am super in love with love and the First Look is, hands down, my favorite part of the entire wedding day.

Aside from being kick ass, the First Look also frees the B&G up to mingle with their guests after the ceremony, instead of running off to do photos for hours until the reception. A typical First Look happens in the early afternoon and is followed by B&G portraits, wedding party portraits and any family portraits the B&G may want taken. Then they have a chance to chillax for a bit before the ceremony. After the ceremony, we usually take a giant group shot and the rest of the family photos with extended family (if they want them) and then they are free to hang out with their family and friends until well into the reception. The only other time demands from photographers is for a brief 15 to 20 minutes just before sunset where we will sneak out and grab some shots in the best light of the entire day! Doing a First Look breaks up the shooting time so nobody gets exhausted from all that crazy picture taking and the day feels relaxed and fun.

Here is feedback from some of my clients about their First Looks. I asked them to tell me why they chose the First Look, what they loved about it and if they would do it that way again, now that they have hindsight.

From Shelley and Mark:

We chose the First Look because of you! It sounded very special, unique, and non-traditional (which we were looking for) so we jumped in.  I instantly loved it because it was just my groom and I, seeing each other for the first time on our big day with no interruptions. I think one of the FL shots of Mark can illustrate his happiness in the moment.  It was a chance to catch our breath alone together before vowing our love and commitment to one another. The FL moment made the walking down the isle moment even more beautiful. I would highly recommend it to other couples getting married, it really is something special, and whoever first thought of the FL is genius 🙂

From Tara and Ryan:

I opted for a First Look after speaking with Jo in our initial consultation. She explained to me that when she got married, she couldn’t recall that look on her husband-to-be’s face when he first laid eyes on her walking down the aisle. She described it as having ‘tunnel vision’ – she couldn’t really recall any of it because of all the nerves, expectations, emotions – and she would never be able to recreate that moment when he saw her and she saw him, and that was a moment they also shared with a large group of people. After looking at some of her previous clients photos, I decided that there wasn’t an option, I wanted a first look! I was so thrilled to have had that opportunity for many reasons. Firstly being that my husband and I had that moment, with just ‘us’ – after all the planning and the nerves and the excitement – we got to have a moment to breathe. Also, because we did the First Look, we had a ton of extra time to take some of the bridal party group shots before the ceremony even began – so Jo wasn’t rushed, we were not rushed and we got some amazing pictures. Pre wedding jitters??? What jitters? When it came time for the ceremony I was so comfortable and relaxed – a far cry from most brides coming down the aisle! I would recommend a First Look to anyone planning a wedding because, while many people still try to be ‘Traditional’, for the most part, couples today are anything but! (Heck – we live together before marriage – and I even helped pick out my engagement ring!!) The day was amazing, the pictures are amazing and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

Here are some First Looks from 2011, just to give you an idea of what they’re all about!

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Ultimately, of course, it is up to you whether you choose a Traditional or First Look type of wedding and your photographer should respect that decision and work with your request. However, if your photographer doesn’t present the option to you in the first place, I believe he or she is doing you a huge disservice by removing the choice altogether and perhaps robbing you of the ten minutes in a completely chaotic day that you will be sure to remember for the rest of your life.

Have a good day, my friends. I wish you all enough…

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