Wedding Photography in Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill, NC

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February 27, 2024

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wedding planning: the pros & cons of doing a first look

Wedding Photography in Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill, NC

As a wedding photographer, one of the things I get asked about most often is to give my opinion on doing a first look. After more than 14 years in the business, I’m seeing more couples than ever opt for a first look and it’s easy to see why; doing so can definitely have its benefits, but it does have its potential downsides too. So it’s important for you to think through things and chat with your future spouse about the best plan of action for your wedding day. In this post, I’ll dive into the advantages and disadvantages of doing a first look and give you my honest opinion about each one.

wedding planning: the pros & cons of doing a first look
Luisa & Andrew’s first look at Duke Chapel.


  1. An Unforgettable Moment: For me, one of the biggest benefits of a first look is the intimacy it provides for the couple to see, and be with, each other in a private setting, away from all the hullabaloo of the wedding day. Seeing each other for the first time at the altar is great, but you aren’t really able to really interact or “be together”; you’re stuck to the formal format of the ceremony. With a first look, however, you’re able to actually hold each other, talk to each other, and basically “be” together in an intimate, private setting. A good wedding photographer or videographer will give you the space to allow this to happen and document it without intruding on your time together. This can make for some truly beautiful moments between you both, which will translate into some fantastic photos you will look back on and treasure for years to come.
  2. Easing Nerves: It’s amazing how much seeing each other before the ceremony can help you relax and enjoy the rest of the day. I can’t tell you how many brides and grooms I’ve done first looks with where I’ve literally watched the stress that’s been building up evaporate away in seconds. It really is like watching a weight being lifted from their chests and they can suddenly breathe again. If you find you tend to stress a bit, doing a first look might help you get the emotional support from your bride or groom-to-be in order to relax and enjoy the day as much as possible.
  3. Better Lighting: Depending on the time of year and location of your wedding, doing a first look can allow you to take advantage of the best lighting for photos. For example, if you’re getting married in the late fall or winter when the sun sets around 5pm in Eastern NC, doing a first look can ensure you have plenty of time for photos in natural light. Many couples getting married after the first weekend in November don’t necessarily realise that it’s going to be getting dark by the time their ceremony is going to end. If you’re planning a wedding from early November to mid-March, you should definitely chat with your photographer about how the timing of your ceremony might impact your photos and whether a first look makes sense for you. To work out the sunset time for your day, you can simply ask Alexa, Google it, or use this handy online tool.
  4. More Time for Photos: By doing a first look, you don’t have to worry about having a very limited amount of time to take photos of the two of you. This’ll translate into the photos in a couple of ways: firstly, you’ll be more relaxed (are you noticing a theme?) which will make more natural looking photographs; secondly, it’ll allow your photographer to provide you with a wider selection of photos using different locations and poses (for those couples that want help posing), thirdly, it’ll give your photographer more time to take more experimental photos using techniques and/or lighting setups that are maybe a bit more time-consuming, but can make for very special and unique imagery. It also means you can take your individual portraits and pictures with the bridal party together and, this is a big one:
  5. You Can Do Your Family Photos Too: Yes, you can knock out the family and other group photos in a relaxed manner ahead of the ceremony as well, which means, and this is another big one:
  6. You Get to Go to Cocktail Hour: As you have taken care of all the portraits before the ceremony, you can actually relax and join your guests and try all those amazing apps and cocktails you have been planning with your caterer. This also knocks on into the reception itself as there will be less need for you to feel you have to walk around and say hi to everyone; you’ll already have done so at cocktail hour. You can breathe and be with your family and friends and that’s really what it’s all about after all.
wedding planning: the pros & cons of doing a first look


  1. Tradition: Some couples may feel that doing a first look goes against tradition. If you or your partner feel strongly about following wedding traditions, a first look probably isn’t the way to go.
  2. Emotional Impact: Waiting to see each other at the ceremony can create a powerful and emotional moment for both the couple and their guests. Some people fear that doing a first look can take away from that moment and make it less impactful. I can safely say that anyone who is going to get emotional walking down the aisle, or watching their bride walking down the aisle, is probably going to do so irrespective of whether they have done a first look or not. It’s a pretty amazing moment in and of itself.
  3. Need to Start Earlier: Doing a first look means starting your day earlier to ensure you have enough time for photos before the ceremony. This may mean an early start for hair and makeup and could affect the rest of your wedding day timeline. However, working with your planner, your HMUA and your photographer normally means that any negative impacts can be minimised from this standpoint.
  4. Increased Cost: If you decide to do a first look, you may need to book your photographer and/or videographer for additional hours to cover both the first look and the ceremony. This can increase your photography costs, but I would always say any added expenditure is totally worth it given the positive impact doing a first look can have on your wedding day timeline and, consequently, your stress levels and ability to enjoy your wedding day.

So, basically, whether or not to do a first look is a personal decision that should be made by each couple. While a first look can provide some benefits such as an intimate moment, more time for photos, and the opportunity for better lighting, it’s important to also consider the impact it may have on tradition and your comfort level on the day, as well as the additional cost and earlier start time. As a wedding photographer, I’m happy to discuss the pros and cons of a first look with regard to your own wedding day plans and help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

wedding planning: the pros & cons of doing a first look

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