First Look: To Look or Not to Look?

PART III of an essay series by Sabin Gratz Photography

This is one of the most common questions we get when meeting with our couples to plan their day. Here is what we tell them: There are pros and cons to both seeing each other before the ceremony with a “First Look” and waiting until the ceremony. Typically, if a couple is asking us about doing a First Look, it means they are already open to the idea. But we always like to make sure a couple hasn’t just been sold on it by a friend or an article on the Internet touting that it’s the greatest way to do it. We don’t necessarily feel that it is.

For us, more often than not the choice is more of a logistical decision. We have done it all different ways over the years and are happy to accommodate any request without hesitation. If a couple feels strongly about not seeing each other before the ceremony, there is no way we are going to advise a First Look for them. This has most likely been a part of their wedding vision for years, and we are certainly not going to step in and advise they change that. Either way, we will explain the timing differences and plan the photography schedule with our couple accordingly.

So, here are the pros and cons of doing a First Look vs. a traditional Ceremony Look:


Doing a First Look will allow couples to complete most or all of the formal photography before the ceremony, leaving much of the cocktail hour for the couple to enjoy with their guests. This is the number one reason couples tell us they want to do a First Look.

Doing a First Look will get a lot of the nerves around seeing each other for the first time in public out of the way, and they can take on the ceremony as partners. We really like this “pro.” We have had a few couples do a First Look for this reason alone and still do portraits after the ceremony.

Doing a First Look will allow for more extensive portrait sessions since you are not having to work within the timeframe of the cocktail hour.

Doing family portraits before the ceremony will avoid the chaos of trying to gather family members directly after the ceremony, which can sometimes be quite a task.

Sounds good right? Well, there are some cons too, so read on.


In order to do a First Look, all hair and makeup start times (including any wedding party members and moms if they are getting done) need to be much earlier. Remember, you will want to be finished with any formal photography 30 minutes before the ceremony starts in order to not be seen by arriving guests. Making the start time earlier means very early makeup and hair calls, which is not always ideal after the rehearsal dinner party.

If you want to do a First Look in order to do family photos before the ceremony, it will mean that all photo participants will need to arrive to the ceremony location at least an hour early – sometimes earlier – and then also wait at least 30 minutes after the photos until the ceremony starts. This can sometimes be a hardship for family members, especially young children (See “Kids and Weddings”) and older relatives who might not have great mobility and are at a venue that might not have great accommodations for resting.

Doing formal portraits before the ceremony often means shooting in less than ideal light. Ceremonies are typically scheduled for 3-4pm, meaning that pre-ceremony portraits often get pushed back into the 1-2ish timeframe. Noon is the worst time to photograph people and close to sunset is the best. So the lighting conditions for photography are almost always favorable after the ceremony.

Couple portraits, in our opinion, are better when taken after the ceremony. We are convinced that there is really no better time to photograph a couple than immediately after their ceremony. The energy of a freshly married couple is unlike any other. All the stress has been relieved, the most important deadline has been met, and the nerves and stress from all the preparation are gone. Best of all, you’re married.

In Summary:

Our best policy with First Looks is to take all the factors specific to our couple’s wedding into account when making this decision. Is it going to be a pain for family members to get there early? Are you going to be a nervous wreck before the ceremony and not be the best subject for photography with your future spouse? Do you want to enjoy a large part of your cocktail hour? Honestly, we have done it all different ways for couples and really customize this part of the day to whatever makes the most sense.

In most cases, though, we end up with a sort of hybrid of the First Look and the Ceremony Look. It usually goes like this: We will do a First Look with our couple and have the wedding party come to greet them, dressed and ready for photos directly after. We then shoot wedding party photos, and possibly the family photos, depending on the situation. If we can have it our way, we shoot the couple’s portraits after the ceremony. These really are some of the most important shots, so taking advantage of all the pros of doing them after the ceremony is ideal. And since we have already accomplished the wedding party and family photos, the couple now gets to enjoy the cocktail hour too.

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