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March 23, 2023

first look reaction

First Look or No First Look

Remember when you couldn’t see your partner before your ceremony on your wedding day? That feels like AGES ago now that first looks have taken the wedding world by storm. This little trend has grown into a prominent one and for good reason. It’s one of the biggest decisions couples face when planning their wedding: first look or no first look?

first look at asbury hotel
Sarah + Andrew share a first look on the Baronet at The Asbury Hotel

What Is A First Look?

“What the heck is a first look anyway??” – Your grandparents, probably

A first look is a moment for just the two of you to see each other way before the ceremony. You get to freely soak in the moment together and have some coveted alone time. I remember when these first started popping up in the wedding world and I wasn’t too sure about them. It wasn’t until I photographed my first wedding with one that I really got it. Now, I’m a big believer in first looks and the benefits it has given SO many of my couples.

However, making the choice to have one or not on your wedding day doesn’t come easy. There are so many things you need to consider before making this decision, such as:

  • Do we want to attend cocktail hour?
  • Are we going traditional or alternative?
  • Do I want that “wow” moment coming down the aisle?

As a wedding photographer, I see dozens of different timelines and wedding days a year. I’m here to provide some insight on both options! However, this is simply here for informational purposes, please remember to always do what’s best for you and your partner on your wedding day! Ready? Let’s dive in!

Pros and Cons of a First Look

As I mentioned, I see weddings done a ton of different ways every year. After photographing over 200 weddings, I’ve picked up on pros and cons to each option. These are just a few, but these have shaped the decision for many of my wedding couples.

The Pros

  1. Relieves anxiety and nerves
    • This is the biggest day of your lives! Understandably, you’ll be feeling some nerves leading up to the ceremony. Seeing your partner beforehand helps settle your anxiety and makes you feel at peace. This is your best friend, so it’s natural to need their presence to get a natural calm!
  2. Extends Your Day by At Least 3 Hours
    • You’ve spent so much time planning your wedding day and you should be able to enjoy it to the fullest! By having a first look, you’re able to extend your day AND spend it all with your partner.
  3. You get to attend cocktail hour!
    • Usually when couples forgo a first look, they’re spending their cocktail hour taking pictures. That includes family, wedding party, and their own portraits. Accomplishing all that in an hour can be a little hectic, and we have to work quickly to get you into your reception when it begins. If you’re looking to enjoy your cocktail hour and have all your pictures done before the ceremony, this is absolutely the way to go.
  4. It doesn’t take away from the ceremony
    • This is one of my couples biggest concerns and I can guarantee you, a first look does not take away from the moment at the altar. In fact, most of my couples still have a reaction and love having both moments to look back on!
  5. You Can Have a Sunset Ceremony!
    • Without a first look, you need to account for the sunset time, which can be tricky depending on the time of year. When you have one, you can freely time your ceremony without concern. You don’t have to stress if there will be enough sunlight after the ceremony, because all your wedding photos will already be done!

The Cons

  1. Your Day Begins Earlier
    • If you’re having hair and make-up done, you’re definitely getting up earlier. In order to get everyone finished for the first look time, typically wedding parties are getting up around 6/7am to begin.
  2. You won’t actually be married in your portraits
    • Truthfully, this is a teeny tiny con. However, it has been brought to my attention before! If you want to wear both your wedding bands for portraits, please do!
  3. Breaking “tradition”
    • If you’re new here, I’m all about non-traditional wedding day aspects! However, not everyone wants to ruin tradition and I totally understand that! It comes down to your priorities on your wedding day.
  4. Reaction Expectations
    • Why is it that people look forward to that “wow” moment at the altar? Usually there’s some big reaction, whether that’s happy tears or a giggling, joyous smile. When you do a first look, there can be an expectation to react a certain way, and one partner may end up disappointed. It’s crucial to manage your expectations and know this doesn’t mean your partner loves you any less!

Remember, if your partner isn’t typically emotive, they might not be for the altar or first look! And that’s completely okay! Don’t let something like this sour your wedding day for you.

Sample Timelines

Next, we’re going to talk about photography timelines. Seeing a breakdown of each option can really help you decide on what to do. Here I’m going to list a sample timeline for each route, that way you can get a true feel for how a day is structured. These are all based on a 4:30pm ceremony and with 8 hours of coverage, which tends to be the average amount of hours for wedding photography!

Wedding Photography Timeline with a First Look

  • 12:00 PM – Getting Ready Coverage Begins
  • 1:00 PM – Partners Get Dressed in Separate Areas
  • 2:00 PM – First Look, Location Decided Based on Lighting
  • 2:30 PM – Family Portraits
  • 3:00 PM – Wedding Party Portraits
  • 3:30 PM – Any remaining couples portraits, etc., everyone hidden by 4pm
  • 4:30 PM – Ceremony
  • 5:00 PM – Ceremony Ends, Cocktail Hour Begins
  • 6:00 PM – Reception Begins, Introductions, Dances
  • 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – Any other wedding events and open dancing

In this situation, the breakdown comes to about 1.5 hours for getting ready coverage and 2 hours for first look and all portraits. I always schedule around 2 hours for all portriats before the ceremony, that way we have plenty of time to accomplish everything and have some buffer time.

Wedding Photography Timeline with No First Look

  • 1:30 PM – Getting Ready Coverage Begins
  • 2:30 PM – Everyone Finished Getting Ready
  • 3:00 PM – Pre-Ceremony Portraits
  • 4:00 PM – All wedding party hidden
  • 4:30 PM – Ceremony
  • 5:00 to 6:00 PM – Full Wedding Party, Family, and Couples Portraits
  • 6:00 PM – Reception Begins, Introductions, Dances
  • 7:00 to 9:30 PM – Any other wedding events and open dancing

In this case, I’m making sure we accomplish some of the portraits ahead of the ceremony. These include each wedding party side, portraits of just each partner, and some family portraits if those needed are present and ready. By doing so, we ensure less portraits need to be taken after the ceremony and a smoother experience overall. Whenever I have a no first look wedding, these are absolutely necessary to get done!

Overall, there is no right or wrong way to have your wedding day! There is only making sure you structure it the way that best serves you and your partner. My priority is always the happiness of my couples, so do what your heart tells you! I hope this was helpful and let me know if there’s anything you’d like added!

With love, Rebecca xo


Rebecca Renner Photography is a New Jersey based wedding photographer for quirky, best friends in love who love their pets, a good drink, and all things artsy. She captures joyful moments with unposed prompts with a moody, true-to-life flair. Rebecca Renner Photography also offers destination and elopement photography for those ready to ditch traditional wedding plans. Sound like a plan? Let’s do this! Get in touch here! Want to see more weddings by Rebecca? Check out the galleries + past blog posts!

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