Pros and Cons of a First Look – and Alternative Ideas!

As an elopement photographer, I’m always so happy when I see couples put their own spin on old traditions. And one that many couples (whether they elope, have an intimate wedding, or throw a big party) have been forgoing is the tradition of not seeing each other until they walk down the aisle at the ceremony. In its place, an anti-tradition has emerged – the first look. The first look is the moment the couple sees each other for the first time on their wedding day, and it can create some really special memories. But it isn’t for everyone – so this guide will be about the pros and cons of a first look, and some alternative ideas to consider for your day!

A bride in a princess ball gown taps her groom on the shoulder as he starts to turn to face her, about to see her for the first time on their wedding day.
A groom smiles with his mouth agape seeing his bride for the first time at their first look

What is a Wedding First Look?

I’ve given you the definition – a first look is the moment a couple sees each other for the first time in their wedding attire. But how does it actually work?

Usually, a first look is coordinated by the photographer. We’ll set one of you up so you’re facing away, and have the other come up behind and tap their partner on the shoulder. The first partner turns around, and the two of you see each other all dressed up!

Pros of a First Look

Let’s start the list of pros and cons of a first look with the pros – these are my favorite things about first looks, and some reasons that couples choose to include one in their day.

Less Pressure During the Ceremony

Even if you have a small elopement with just a few guests, it can feel a little nerve wracking to have to see your partner for the first time in front of all those people – not to mention if you have a big wedding where guest counts are in the hundreds!

Many couples feel a lot of pressure, and they want to have a “good” reaction, which can take you out of the present moment and actually cause you to hold back the emotions, preventing you from fully experiencing that incredible moment.

If you have a first look, it gives you space away from your guests to see each other for the first time and experience it for yourselves, fully and authentically.

A First Look Calms Your Nerves

Wedding day jitters are so common – even with elopements. You’ve been looking forward to this, spending so much time planning the details, and it’s finally here! The excitement can sometimes feel like nerves, and you might even be a little anxious about things going according to plan – but so many couples say that their butterflies completely went away the moment they saw each other for the first time.

After building the anticipation to the moment you two see each other for the first time, the moment itself is great for stress relief, and allows you to relax and remember what’s really important – getting married!

A smiling bride holds the hands of her groom at their first look on their wedding day.
A bride covers her mouth, overcome with emotion, at their wedding first look.

First Look Photos

Being a photographer, of course I have to mention this on the list of pros and cons of a first look!! First look photos are often some of the most meaningful – because the best photos happen from authentic, emotional moments. So the real pro of a first look isn’t the photos, it’s the fact that this moment is so full of emotion, and it leads to photos that really tell a story. When you look back on your elopement photos, you’ll see those real moments unfold!

A More Relaxed Timeline

This is maybe the most practical reason for having a first look, purely from a logistic standpoint! Seeing your partner before your ceremony means that you also have time for more portraits beforehand, which is a relief if you’re hoping for a sunset ceremony or if there are any family photos to take– time for portraits before the ceremony means that you can jump right into celebrating once you’ve said your I Dos!

Cons of a First Look

While I do love first looks, what’s most important on the day you get married is doing what feels right for you! Every couple is different, so I want you to know all the pros and cons of a first look before you make your decision.

You’ll Have to Be Ready Earlier

Some couples plan their elopement for sunrise to ensure the best lighting, so the wake-up call coming even earlier in the morning might be a con of doing a first look. No matter what you have planned for the day, it’s possible that having to be ready earlier than you would otherwise could be a deal breaker.

No First Look at the Ceremony

This is a pro for many couples, but for some, it can be a con to lose that moment at the ceremony where you see each other for the first time. Trust your gut on this one – if you feel like you want to see each other for the first time right before you get married, doing a first look might not be right for you!

Can’t Get Ready Together

Some couples who elope feel that getting ready together makes more sense for them than being apart for the beginning of their wedding day. If you do a first look, you won’t be able to get ready together, so that can be a con as well.

A tall man in a suit zips up the wedding dress of his bride as they get ready together for their elopement.

Alternative Ideas for a First Look

If a first look doesn’t sound like your jam, but you still want to do something meaningful before the ceremony, here are some alternative ideas!

First Touch

A first touch is a unique twist on a first look – instead of seeing each other before the ceremony, the couple stands in a spot where they won’t be able to do so. This can be opposite sides of a door, two adjacent walls, or any other place where you can be close but not see each other. The couple then holds hands, exchanging a meaningful “first touch” before they get married! This also gives you an opportunity to talk to one another before the ceremony and connect over your nerves without taking away any sense of surprise.

Two hands grasp each other at the corner of a building on a couple's wedding day; the bride and groom are having a "first touch" instead of a first look.

Letter Reading

Writing a letter to your partner for them to read can be super meaningful, and there are a few different ways to do this one. You can have someone else deliver the letter, you can do something similar to the first touch and read the letters without seeing each other, or you can take some time to yourselves and read the letters together!

A blindfolded groom leans his forehead on his bride's shoulder as they sit next to each other, reading letters on their wedding day before the ceremony.

Exchange Vows in Private

For couples who are having guests, it can also be nice to do your vows in private, as doing something so intimate in front of everyone can be stressful for some folks. You can exchange vows before the actual ceremony, then do the standard “I dos” with your loved ones around!

Exchange Gifts

Another alternative to the first look, or something that you can add onto it, is a gift exchange. You can get your partner something meaningful to give them before the ceremony – anything from a sentimental trinket to a song you wrote!

A man in a gray, three-piece suit wipes a tear from his eye as he reads a letter from his bride on their wedding day.

Get Ready Together

If getting ready together feels like it fits the two of you better, you can do that too! If you want to spend time together before the activities begin, you can also have breakfast together, do a morning yoga sesh, or plan something for the morning of your elopement, so you get that quiet, peaceful time to hang out together before you split up to get ready – or don’t split up at all!

More First Look Ideas

Every couple is different, so part of my job as an elopement photographer is helping each one find what works for them – for every part of the day. If you’re ready to start planning your elopement or intimate wedding day, contact me! Let’s get to know each other, and make your dream day come to life!


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