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The wedding timeline can be different for every couple. That’s why you need to learn to ask important questions, such as whether they’ve considered a ‘First Look’ or would rather keep it traditional. This simple decision can change the entire course of the day in terms of taking portraits.
Let’s dive in and look at the pros and cons of having the couple see each other before the wedding ceremony.
Traditionally, the bride and groom don’t see each other until the bride walks down the aisle. It’s thought to be good luck, and keeps in line with centuries of tradition.
A ‘First Look’ is where a couple decides to see each other either before the wedding ceremony or before the important events begin. This new concept is growing in popularity, with many couples opting to go for the first look rather than keeping the ceremony traditional.
Sometimes, as is normal with weddings, other factors will determine whether keeping it traditional or doing a first look is best in terms of both the photography and the day’s timeline.
One pro of having a first look is when the wedding day timeline calls for it due to a schedule that might interfere with the bride and groom portraits. For example, if there isn’t enough time to take portraits after the ceremony because the couple would rather attend their cocktail hour, doing a first look earlier in the day will give you enough time to capture the couple. (Click here for other tips on overcoming common wedding day setbacks).
Another example is if the sun sets early on the wedding day and you’re not sure you’ll have enough light to take the couple’s portraits. This is where a first look can let you choose the best time during the day for the portraits.
Another pro of the first look is that when a couple sees each other before the ceremony it can calm their nerves and help them relax for the portraits. A first look can also act as a seamless transition into the bridal portraits without anyone else being present or having to wait for guests to move to the next event.
The first look will usually give you more time for bridal portraits. After the ceremony, many of the guests will want to congratulate the couple, which can eat up your precious time. They may also want photos taken of them with the couple, cutting further into your bridal portrait time.
I tell couples that the first look is usually the only time during the entire day they’ll be completely alone. This helps them savor each moment and really lean into each other during the photos. Since the first look typically lasts about ten minutes, it’s easy to transition into portraits of the couple. This works in your favor, as you get to spend more time with the bride and groom capturing real emotions before you seamlessly transition into the couple’s portraits.
One major con of doing a first look is it usually happens in the hottest part of the day or when the sun is at its brightest. First looks are typically done between 11am and 3pm. Photographing in the midday sun has its challenges, and the harsh direct light can sometimes mean changing locations for the bride and groom portraits.
Try to find a covered walkway, or somewhere that keeps the couple out of the sun. Look for large trees with lots of shade, but be aware of spotted light. In direct sunlight it may be easier to find big natural reflectors that bounce light back onto your subject. You can also help fill the shadows with flash or a photo reflector.
Another con to the first look can be the couple needing to get ready much earlier than anticipated just to fit it into the day’s schedule. Be sure to communicate with the couple so everyone knows the best time to photograph the first look and how long it will take.
You can set up the first look in many different ways. A common way is to place the groom in a position where the bride comes come from behind and taps the groom on the shoulder. The groom then turns around and faces the bride. This is where emotions run high, and you can photograph from all angles so they can enjoy the moment.
The best angle is to photograph the groom facing away from the bride as she comes behind him. Then switch to the other side to get the groom’s reaction of seeing his soon-to-be bride in her dress. If you have an assistant photographer, place them at the opposite end of where you are so you can cover it from all angles.
Another way to do the first look is to have the groom facing the same direction the bride will be walking from. This will give you an instant reaction to them seeing the bride in her dress, so be ready to photograph all of those real emotions.
When you place the groom, take some solid portraits of him to help him relax before the bride walks into the scene. Talk to him, making sure your tone is soft, positive and excited.
Tell the couple that it’s their time, you don’t exist, and that they should just enjoy the moment. Let them know that kissing, hugging and looking into each other’s eyes is what the first look is all about.
Once the couple has relaxed and finished with the first look, move right into the portraits by taking them to the location you’ve scouted (if it’s different from the first look location).
A first look helps you get the most out of your wedding timeline for bride and groom portraits. It also helps the couple relax and feel even more excited about walking down the aisle. Having this beautiful and emotive experience will create more authentic photos, and give you more time to create them.
Ask your next client if they’d like a first look, and refer to these tips when answering their questions. You may be able to help make their special day even more special.
Have you ever photographed a first look? Let us know in the comments.
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