Should I Do A First Look?

April 24, 2019

Decisions, Decisions

One of the many decisions you’ll make when planning your wedding is whether or not to do a first look. I always ask my couples this early in the planning process, because it makes a big difference on how your day will flow.

What Is A First Look?

A first look is when you and your soon-to-be spouse see each other before the wedding ceremony. This is a typically private moment between you and your partner. With only your photographers & videographers looking on. It’s an opportunity for the two of you to see each other for the first time in private. Some couples also choose to pray together, exchange letters, or exchange private vows.

bride and groom see each other for the first time at hotel juien wedding, catherine furlin photography

When NOT To Do A First Look

Sometimes when I ask couples this they immediately say, “Nope, definitely not. It’s really important to me not to see them until I walk down the aisle”, or “It’s really important for them not to see me until I walk down the aisle.” When one or both partners feels strongly against a first look I do NOT push it. If you or your partner are 100% sure you don’t want a first look, it is not my place to convince you otherwise.

I have actually had a couple tell me that a photographer refused to take them on as a client unless they did a first look. This is a big red flag for me, personally. It’s important for wedding vendors to offer their expertise and opinions to help you through the planning process. Yet it is equally or even more important for wedding vendors to respect your wishes when you feel strongly about something on your big day. So if you are resonating with that feeling of “No, definitely not.” when I mention a first look, no problem! We can work together to craft a timeline that works perfectly for you and respects your wishes. I always tell my clients that if they have a gut feeling about something, it’s probably right. I believe this in wedding planning and in life. So if this is you, you can stop reading, or maybe take a little scroll down through some pretty pictures anyway. 😉

first look at dubuque wedding, catherine furlin photography

The Benefits of Having A First Look

On the other hand, sometimes when I ask my couples this, they reply, “I don’t know.” or “I guess we haven’t really thought about it.” This post is for you! Let’s talk through it, hopefully by the end of this post you’ll feel better equipped to make that decision.

1. A Private Moment

A first look allows some time for you & your soon-to-be-spouse to be alone. You may be thinking, “We’ll be together all day, it’s our wedding!” True, but you are kind of famous on your wedding day. Tons of people want to talk with you, selfie it up with you, hug you, congratulate you, all the things. So time spent one-on-one with your love can be hard to come by.

A first look allows you to have an intimate moment with your partner, that just wouldn’t be possible in the confines of a ceremony with 100 of your closest friends and family looking on.

I always recommend that a first look be private, meaning I love you so much wedding party, but I also want you to give us a minute. 😉 And yes I also realize that I’ll be there along with my second shooter and maybe a videographer or two. But I promise to use my long lens and keep any “awww”s very quiet. I want you to take in this moment, feel it, remember it.

first look at convivium urban farmstead wedding, catherine furlin photography

2. More Emotional Photos

If it’s possible as we build the wedding day timeline I like to allow a 30 minute time slot for first look, which allows us to move right into photos of the two of you. Let’s capitalize on this time together, and get some great photos while we’re at it. First look photos are often some of the most emotive photos of the day with your spouse. It’s that moment where you look at each other and say, “I am marrying you today!” It’s a time to snuggle your spouse and share the excitement of what’s to come.

3. More Flexible Timeline

As I mentioned earlier, we can absolutely do a solid timeline with our without a first look. The benefit in doing a first look is really more options for your day. You can choose whether you want to do family formals right before or right after the ceremony. You can get photos of you and your partner at an extra location in the morning, you can decide when to start wedding party photos depending on preferred location. Once we have the first look, the sky is the limit with how we can structure your day from there.

emotional moment between a bride and groom at iowa outdoor wedding wedding, catherine furlin photography

4. More Options for Ceremony Time

This is especially applicable if you’re having an outdoor wedding or a winter wedding. If you are having an outdoor wedding, and dreaming of that soft golden light surrounding you as you say “I do”, you’re going to want a first look. A sunset ceremony can be such a dream, and it’s important that we are able to get the portraits done earlier in the day to achieve that. Of course I’m only speaking for myself with this, if you’re working with a photographer who utilizes lots of artificial lights, this won’t be an issue. For portraits I am working with natural light almost exclusively.

If you are an Iowa resident you know that winter days are SHORT. If you are planning a Winter wedding, a first look is a great option for you. This will allow you to utilize natural light for wedding party photos and also take advantage of that beautiful golden hour light for portraits with your spouse. When the sun is saying sianara at 4:30pm, we want to be prepared with the best plan to capture all of the photos you’ve been envisioning.

5. Helps You Relax

The walk down the aisle can feel a little intimidating for some people. I’ve found that a first look really helps you to take that sigh of relief. It’s less pressure in a way, and it allows your love to calm you down a bit if you need it. More often than not, I can see the tension being relieved in my nervous couples after the first look.

first look at bellevue iowa wedding, catherine furlin photography

Common First Look Concerns

1. I’m Worried My Walk Down the Aisle Won’t Be as Special

I’ve heard this concern from many couples. From my personal & professional experience I can say I don’t believe this to be true. When I got married we had a first look. It was a really special time and one of my favorite memories from the wedding day. My soon-to-be-husband told me I looked beautiful and we shared our excitement that this moment had finally arrived.

When I walked down the aisle though, he actually cried. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband cry in the 10 years we’ve been together. I’ll give you a hint: wedding, kid 1, kid 2. So it was definitely a whole different experience. Walking down the aisle is a feeling that is totally different from the first look. It’s that feeling of, “Wow, this is really happening.”

I’ve never had a couple tell me they’ve regretted having a first look after they walked down the aisle. Now, as I’ve said before, I’ve never pushed a couple into a first look that was sure they didn’t want one. That’s an important distinction to make.

first look at loras college wedding, catherine furlin photography

2. I Don’t Want to Go Against Tradition

OK I am all about traditions. So if you and your partner, personally, don’t want to go against tradition, than I agree with you. Don’t ever do anything in your wedding & planning that doesn’t feel good to you. If it’s a parent or another family member that has concerns I would encourage you to sit down and have a conversation with them. Really talk it over & come to a place where you both feel good about the end decision.

first look at clarke university wedding, catherine furlin photography

3. It’s Bad Luck

This superstition stems from a time when arranged marriages were commonplace, and the bride wasn’t allowed to show her face to her husband at all before the wedding. I don’t believe it, but again, this all comes down to you & your fiancé. Do what feel right for you. Don’t ever make a decision based on another person’s point of view.

first look at outdoor dubuque wedding, catherine furlin photography

If you were on the fence about a first look, I hope this post helped you to get some clarity. If you already knew you did or did not want a first look, thanks for sticking around anyway. I hope you enjoyed some pretty pictures.

I would LOVE to hear about your experience with either doing or not doing a first look, please leave a comment and tell me about it. If you have a friend planning their wedding, please share this with them. Happy wedding planning, friends!

bride and groom see each other for the first time at dubuque wedding, catherine furlin photographyAnswering questions like this, and building wedding day timelines are some of the many things I love to help my couples with. If you’re looking for a wedding photographer to document the story of your day honestly, with a focus on your experience, please reach out! Drop me a line at or use the handy inquiry form. I’d love to chat with you!



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  1. Jenni says:

    All of these gorgeous brides!… and then me in a pancake shirt 😉

    • admin says:

      All of those gorgeous brides, and then one more gorgeous bride in a pancake shirt! Yes! No way I was going to leave out one of the most epic first looks of my career. 😀

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Located in Bellevue, Iowa
Serving Eastern Iowa +
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Modern wedding photography & family documentary sessions in Dubuque Iowa, the Quad Cities, and beyond. Located in Bellevue. Documenting love stories in the everyday moments & the life changing ones. Focused on creating honest images.