Northern Virginia wedding photographers like us get a lot of questions from couples like you about having a first look. Because it does not come from a particular religious or cultural tradition, the first look is very much optional. You can make it a part of your wedding day or you can decide to leave it out. Neither choice greatly affects the most important part of your marriage celebrations. We are talking, of course, about the moment you and your future spouse pledge your lives to one another. That is, after all, what you and all your wedding guests are doing there in the first place!
A lot of that decision hinges on the logistics of your day. In our time as Northern Virginia wedding photographers, we have documented a lot of marriage celebrations in which first looks were not possible. For example, if there is not a lot of time between the getting-ready portion and the ceremony, a first look is not a viable option. Even if there is sufficient time, many couples choose to use it for other things. They do their couples portraits or family formals before heading to the ceremony to tie the knot. They obviously see one another during the taking of those portraits, making a first look pointless. Other couples get ready in the same place (often in their own house), meaning they see one another in their wedding clothes long before the ceremony.
A first look might not only be logistically infeasible for you. It might be more than just an unnecessary addition. The practice might specifically not fit with the aforementioned cultural and religious traditions of your marriage celebrations. In some Jewish weddings, for example, the bedeken serves as something of an official first look prior to the ceremony. That makes a more informal one inappropriate or redundant. Many couples marrying in accordance with Catholic traditions save the first look for the moment the bride enters the church.
You should also think about whether you like the idea of a staged scene being the first time you see each other in your wedding attire. Some couples find that to be too artificial and think the whole scene will be too awkward. Setting up a first look robs the moment of its spontaneity and genuineness, in their opinions. They prefer to see their future spouse for the first time at the “moment of truth,” so to speak. Others like the idea of being able to have that reaction in private.
There is no right answer to this question, of course. Whatever works for you and your future spouse is certainly the best choice. As professional photographers, we understand both sides of the issue. It is true that a first look is somewhat artificial. It is not a spontaneous wedding-day moment. At the same time, the emotional reactions we have witnessed during first looks are entirely real. You cannot look at this picture and say that this bride’s reaction to seeing her future wife in a wedding dress is not genuine. Those tears of joy are entirely real! And in our experience, sometimes those do not come out during a ceremony. Being able to have that moment in private often makes it easier for people to let their true feelings show. Sometimes the pressure of being up in front of a crowd during a reception makes it harder for couples to express their emotions freely.
We took this award-winning shot on a footbridge in Oronoco Bay Park in Alexandria, Virginia. That lovely green space overlooks the Potomac River, which is one of the criteria these two brides had for a location choice. As you can see, their first look was a beautifully touching scene. They enjoyed in the presence of their wedding party before heading to The City Club of Washington for their ceremony.
© 2020 Potok's World Photography -- Husband & Wife Washington, DC, Wedding Photographers