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First Look vs. Traditional Timeline?

February 3, 2022

It’s one of the biggest decisions that you’re going to make for your wedding day: do you sidestep tradition and do a first look, or do you go with the customary reveal at the end of the aisle? And anyway, why does it matter so much?

I know it seems like just a preference thing, but doing a first look or sticking with tradition actually means big things for your timeline, your stress level and in some cases, your photographs.

Every wedding is different, but I love it when my couples do a first look. Especially when your ceremony will end close to or after dark!  To help you make your decision, here are some of the things I’ve learned about first looks from my perspective as your wedding photographer.

If you are just starting to understand what a first look is, let’s define it:

A first look is a special time set aside, usually 10ish minutes, once you’re done getting ready. It’s the time when the bride and groom will first see each other in their wedding clothes, just like the moment the bride enters the church except much more private and intimate than it would be in front of all the guests.



Sounds sweet, right? It is! First looks are my very favorite part of the day and a lot of times my very favorite photos of the day. Here are some of the reasons I love first looks so much:

  1. A First Look means MORE photos for you! When we can do your portraits before the ceremony, most of the time it means I have more time to do more (and more creative!) photos of you as a couple and you with your wedding party, friends and families. If you decide to do a first look but also want some sunset pictures or just some more portraits after you’re officially husband and wife, don’t worry – I nearly always plan to pull you guys back out at sunset!
  2. First looks usually help stress levels immensely! It’s definitely one of the sweetest, most precious days of your relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be free of stress and nerves. But I’ve watched even my most nerve-addled brides and grooms relax and enjoy the day so much more after they’ve had a chance to see each other.
  3. Doing a first look streamlines your formal photos and! Your wedding party photos and family photos make up a pretty important part of your wedding photo gallery, and wrangling all the people who are supposed to be in them can be a bit of a task. When we do the first look, generally we go straight into doing some of your couples portraits and then the family and bridal party and are able to get every single formal photo out of the way before your ceremony even happens. We aren’t rushed to get you guys to the reception and your guests won’t have to wait on you!
  4. When you do a first look and most/all of your family & wedding party photos before the ceremony, that means that you can get to the reception much faster than if we need to do all those photos while cocktail hour is happening. Family, wedding party & couples portraits can take 1-1.5 hours, and most couples feel that if they can shorten that time that their guests are waiting, it’s better for the flow into the reception.
  5. The time spent at the first look is often the only time the bride and groom are alone all day! All day long you’ll be surrounded by your planner, wedding party, friends, and family. Being surrounded by the ones you love is a wonderful way to spend your wedding day for sure, but the first look is like a little respite in the middle of a day that can be a little bit overwhelming. Most of the time I will take you away from everyone else and the only people there will be you guys and me, and I always try to give you a little time alone if there’s time.



Think you want to stick with a Traditional timeline? Going Traditional and not seeing each other until you’re walking down the aisle is also a beautiful and meaningful way to do things. It can be done well and things can still flow smoothly! Here are some pro’s to aisle reveals:

  1. Tradition! Seriously, this is a totally legitimate reason if it’s important to you. If you know that moment at the back of the aisle on your wedding day is something you’ll cherish for the rest of your life, do it. It’s actually really special to share it with family and friends, and we can plan a great timeline that allows for your photos to be taken afterwards.
  2. Sticking with an aisle reveal instead of a first look means that there’s a lot fewer things for you to accomplish between the time your hair & makeup is done and the time that all eyes are on you for the ceremony. Simply put, you’ll feel fresher! If you do a First Look, you may also want to plan in a little time for hair/makeup touchups before the ceremony.

Since traditional timelines can have some logistical challenges, here are some ways to make sure this type of timeline goes as smoothly as it can:

  1. Decide if you want to do any of your photos before the ceremony or all of them after. To keep the photo time after the ceremony to a minimum, we can do as many groupings as possible before the ceremony while still keeping you guys separate (i.e. we wouldn’t do any family photos without you both together, but we could do bride + bridesmaids photos and groom + groomsmen). If there’s no time to do those groupings before the ceremony, that’s okay too. It does save us some time during cocktail hour, but since everyone will already be together during that time for the big group wedding party photos, it’s not a huge deal to do them all then.
  2. Plan a cocktail hour for your guests to enjoy while we’re taking photos. We can take up to 1.5 hours to get all the photos done before you and your party and family make it to the reception, and sometimes this can risk losing guests’ interest to the slow down of events. To combat this, plan a cocktail hour with music, drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and even think about including yard games or a slideshow to entertain them while they wait!
  3. Send everybody the information about portrait time via email before the wedding. To make sure everybody knows when they need to be there for photos, gather everyone’s email addresses and send the schedule and any instructions (i.e. “Uncle Jerry, you are responsible for making sure Great Grandma Smith gets to the right place at the right time” or “Aunt Peggy, please be sure to not wear your Transitions lens glasses!”). You can have the officiant announce where to go right after the ceremony. Or if you’re a planner, start a group text before your wedding day even arrives, so it’s as simple as going to that message and shooting out a “Meet on the East side of the chapel immediately following the ceremony” text.
  4. Get help with wrangling people! Appoint someone who knows names and faces (and has a pretty substantial voice) to be in charge of the groupings shot list and wrangling people. This will make the photos go so much faster than if I’m trying to remember who’s who and make sure we have everybody.


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