13 Wedding First Look Alternatives for Unconventional Couples

You don't have to always stick to tradition.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Aug 26, 2022

Looking for a happy medium between a traditional first look at the altar and a modern first look before the ceremony? Then we know just the right thing for you. Wedding first look alternatives are a creative way couples can share a private and emotional moment together before the ceremony. It doesn't involve seeing each other in full wedding attire and your wedding timeline without a first look will be the same as with one (since it's still a good photo opportunity). Check out these fun and touching first look alternatives that you can personalize for a first something that feels exactly like "you."

Three Reasons to Consider an Alternative First Look

If you're on the fence about whether or not you should do a first look on your big day, then we're here to help. Here are three pros of doing a first look alternative that you and your partner will enjoy.

You want your first look to be when you're walking down the aisle.

Instead of showing off your final wedding look to your partner before the ceremony, keep it a surprise. Jennifer Sulak, lead photographer of Weirdo Weddings, says there are other "first" ways that you and your partner can connect without seeing each other face to face. "You can still keep a bit of mystery to the final looks of your day by doing some alternatives like touch, letters and maybe even speaking through a closed door. Think about your senses overall and expound on that," Sulak says.

You don't want to stick to tradition.

Wedding first looks are very popular. According to The Knot 2021 Trends and Traditions Study, 52% of couples saw one another before the wedding ceremony. With that said, about half of the other to-be-weds decided to do something different, so don't feel like you have to do certain wedding traditions because of their popularity. John Campbell, owner of John Campbell Weddings, says by doing a wedding first look alternative, you're going the non-traditional route but not losing out on some of the benefits a first look provides. "Doing a first look alternative gives the couple a chance to quickly connect and get rid of some of the last-second jitters on the wedding day. A first look alternative will also give you a similar photo op as a traditional first look," Campbell says.

You want to share a uniquely intimate moment with your partner.

Just because you don't want to do a first look doesn't mean you have to miss out on some precious alone time with your partner. Halie Child, luxury wedding photographer and owner of By Halie, says doing a first look alternative allows you to spend quality time with your partner in a unique way. "[First look alternatives] allow you that special time together without compromising other values or viewpoints you might have about when to see one another," Child says. Remember, you'll be really busy on your wedding day greeting loved ones, listening to wedding speeches and maybe even making a costume change before your reception, so take advantage of adding a quiet moment with your partner into your wedding day timeline.

Unique First Look Alternative Ideas

Ready to get creative with your wedding day "first?" Here's how you can share a special moment before the ceremony with your future spouse.

First Touch

If first look vs. no first look is fighting for the top spot in your mind, a first touch is a good in-between option. Many couples choose to do a first touch instead of a first look because it still feels intimate and personal without taking away the surprise. You can hold hands while standing back to back or on different sides of a partition. "The [first] touch is a powerful expression of support, love and encouragement," Sulak says. Trust us, the photos will be beautiful, and you and your partner will love having this moment together.

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First Reading

Do you have quotes from your favorite romantic poem or lines from a religious text you would like to read to your significant other? Then a first reading could be the perfect fit for you. Write down your favorite readings from any text of your choosing that represents you and your partner's relationship––it can be as silly or heartfelt as you want. You can do a first reading while facing away from one another. Some couples prefer seeing each other's faces and reactions while doing the first reading. If you're going to do the last option, consider not wearing your completed wedding look, so there's still an element of surprise during the ceremony.

For anyone feeling shy about saying personalized vows in front of a crowd, a first reading is a perfect opportunity to recite private vows before the ceremony.

First Gifts

Giving and receiving gifts is always fun, sentimental and a great photo opportunity, so why not do it as a wedding first look alternative? First gifts, also known as the wedding day gift exchange, give you and your partner a chance to celebrate marriage and represent your love for each other with a sweet token. If you'd like, exchange wedding day gifts with each other at the same time. You can do this while hiding from one another but close enough to where you can still hear the happy reactions. Bonus: You get a wedding keepsake from your favorite person.

First Love Letter

Some couples send each other love notes to read while they're getting ready or waiting for the ceremony to begin. Take this heartwarming idea up a notch by reading your love notes to each other aloud or silently on either side of an open door or partition. Stand back to back while reading your love letters to combine two wedding first look alternatives, the first reading and first touch. We suggest writing your love letter down on paper rather than reading it off your phone because it'll make the occasion more special and look better in your wedding photos.

First Song

Expressing your love through music is never a bad idea. Whether it's something you wrote or a song that's significant to both of you, sing or play your partner something they'll always cherish. If you want to share your first song with your wedding guests, perform it during the ceremony or reception. Depending on how musically inclined you and your partner are, you can even perform the love song together for all of your loved ones. Just don't forget to have a few tissues on hand for this first look alternative.

First Prayer

Your religion should play as big of a role in your wedding day as you want it to. Campbell wants to remind couples that "the most important thing is to choose a method that is authentic to the two of you," so if you would like to do a quick prayer with your partner, you should do it. This wedding first look alternative is a beautiful way to share a private space of love, faith and gratitude before heading to the altar. Just like you might for a first touch or first reading, hold hands and say a prayer together for a meaningful preceremony "first."

First Look With Family Members

Just because it's a first look alternative doesn't mean it can't involve a first look. Instead of doing a first look with your partner, do a first look with any loved one you cherish––and remember there's no wrong way to choose. "First looks with parents and wedding party members are very popular! Grandparents, nieces or nephews and others with whom the couple is particularly close also make for very special first looks," Child says. So have your cake and eat it too by being non-traditional and capturing that quintessential "big reveal" moment with the help of your wedding photographer. And don't forget to have them get your and your partner's reactions when you see each other at the ceremony. This is a huge benefit to hiring a team of two or more shooters who can photograph both of you simultaneously.

The Knot Expert Tip: Depending on how you schedule your wedding day, you'll have limited time to take your first look alternative photos (many couples do it during the cocktail hour). So keep your list of loved ones for the first look shoot short. If your list is too long, you'll creep into your ceremony time and cause your other events to get pushed back.

First Look With Wedding Party

Bride standing in front of her bridesmaids for a first look alternative.
Mint Photography

Another wedding first look alternative is doing a first look with your wedding party. This is a fun and sweet way to connect with your VIPs before the wedding ceremony. You can walk in your wedding day outfit while your wedding party members close their eyes or have their backs turned towards you. Then, ask them to turn around and watch as they smile and cheer. The photos you'll get from this first look alternative will be something you will always treasure.

First Meal

Food is an important part of a lot of cultures because it brings people together and introduces new traditions. For example, this couple fed each other noodles as an homage to the bride's heritage since noodles represent longevity in Chinese culture. So why not incorporate your favorite foods into your first look? It's a cute photo op and ensures you have a quick snack, so you're not hungry while standing at the altar. Be careful while eating in your wedding attire while doing this first look alternative. We suggest choosing foods you know won't cause a mess.

Blindfolded First Look

For this playful wedding first look alternative, one or both of you are blindfolded. You can slowly take off each other's blindfolds for a cool reveal or stay blindfolded the entire time. The second option has the same feel as a first touch, but you can hug or kiss your partner without taking away the surprise. After the first look, take the blindfolds with you so you can put them in a wedding keepsake box later.

First Look With Dog

Include your furry friend in the first look alternative fun. If your dog does well with commands, ask the wedding photographer to tell the dog to sit facing away from where you're planning on standing. Then, get in position behind your pooch and call out their name. The cute look on the dog's face and rapid tail wags will be priceless. Want to turn the adorable factor up a notch? Put your pet in dog wedding attire, like a dog tuxedo or a dog flower crown.

First Drink

Get the party started with a first drink as your first look alternative. Take a shot of your preferred alcohol with your soon-to-be spouse and shake off those preceremony nerves. You can also opt for your favorite non-alcoholic beverage, like sweet tea or kombucha.

Prank First Look

For couples who want to infuse a little humor into their special day, consider pranking your other half for the first look. Instead of you standing there when your partner turns around, have your pet or a member of your wedding party in a replica of your wedding outfit. We guarantee that this hilarious wedding first look alternative will leave everyone doubled over in laughter.

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