The Pros and Cons of First Look Photos

On the fence about the tradition? We’ll help you decide.
by Ivy Jacobson & Alyssa Longobucco

Among the myriad of wedding day traditions, first looks are popular-yet-polarizing. According to The Knot 2018 Real Weddings Study, nearly half of all couples who wed last year decided to go with a first look. But if you’re on the fence about taking first look photos, consider the pros and cons. While it can be a special moment on your wedding day, it can also cause unnecessary stress for some couples. Our take is there’s no right or wrong decision. It’s all about what works best for you and your partner, but something we always recommend is working with a professional photographer on your wedding day. After all, they’re experts and can help you make the most of your first look.

To help with your decision, we’ve rounded up a list of first look photo pros and cons, plus options in case you’ll need to compromise with your partner.

1. Pro: You save time by taking the bulk of your photos together before the ceremony.

If you’ve been looking forward to the light bites you selected for your cocktail hour, then first look photos might be the right decision for you. Taking pictures before the ceremony means you’ll have more time to enjoy, well, everything else (like those delicious mini tacos you picked out). Just make sure you designate a secluded spot for your first look photos, so that guests won’t see you before the ceremony. 

2. Con: You lose having your first look at the altar.

If you’re thinking of skipping the first look for a dramatic effect, you’re certainly not alone. Delaying the first moment you see each other builds suspense and adds emotion to your ceremony. "Plenty of couples forgo a first look," says Jana Williams, owner of Jana Williams Photography in California. "Just make sure there’s enough time after 'I do' to take portraits." 

The best way to do that is to work with your photographer to perfect your postceremony timeline. It may mean you need to skip out on part of your cocktail hour to score shots during that enviable golden hour or you’ll need to sneak in extra family portraits.  

3. Pro: A first look could ease any pre-ceremony nerves.

If you’re worried about being jittery or nervous on your wedding day, a pre-ceremony glimpse may be the way to go. "I always suggest a first look—it eases nerves, allows couples to focus during the ceremony and is a great way to capture an intimate moment," says Judy Pak, owner of Judy Pak Studio in New York City. Besides doing your first look photos, you can also maximize this time to sneak in a few moments alone with each other that you may not get later on. 

4. Con: Having other people around could add to your day-of nerves.

Communicate your vision to your photographer and videographer ahead of time so they can help you plan it out. If you and your partner are both on the introverted side, it may feel awkward if you think the expectation is to make a shocked face or cry. You could clam up and be more reserved than you thought in front of the camera. A good solution is to have photos and video taken from further away so you can still be in the moment with your partner and say what you want without worrying about anyone hearing. You can also tell your wedding party you're having a private first look in case they were hoping for a peek—in fact, we recommend it for shy to-be-weds.

5. Pro: You can get your tears out before the ceremony. 

Let’s face it—weddings can be super emotional. There may be a few (or many) tears during the ceremony. Doing your first look before the wedding could help get some of the waterworks out beforehand. Your first look photos will be that much more emotional and moving, and you'll have plenty of time for makeup touch-ups before the ceremony. 

6. Con: You have to get up earlier.

Taking photos earlier means you and your wedding party need to get up earlier to eat, have hair and makeup done, and get dressed. If you're having an 11 a.m. brunch wedding, that means you may have to get up at the crack of dawn to be able to do your first look. If you dread the idea of getting up any earlier than you have to, night owls should think twice about this tradition.

If you and your partner still can’t agree after going through these first look photo pros and cons, here are a couple of compromises worth considering. 

  • Do a first read and/or a first touch like the couple in the video below did, and like this couple did.
  • Or consider doing your first look without your veil or other accessories to not give away the whole look. Then add the finishing touches before your ceremony as a sweet surprise for your partner.
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