What is a first look and why should you ask your photographer to shoot one?

It started in the States is now slowly becoming an underground trend on this side of the Atlantic. The question is: would you spoil the big reveal?

Photo: Rooftop Mosaic

Whose wedding is it anyway? We don’t mean to go all glass-half-empty on you, but there will come a time when you find yourself asking this very question. In the face of so many egos and expectations, losing sight of the fact that the day is supposed to be about you and your beloved is almost inevitable. But what if there was a way to bring it all back to basics?

Our American friends might just have found the answer: the unconventional (but surprisingly romantic) first look. Photographer Michelle VanTine, who works in both Scotland and the US, has seen at first hand the trend cross over to our shores: “A first look is a planned pre-ceremony meeting of the couple when they see each other for the first time in their full wedding attire,” she says.

“Often the bride or groom is waiting somewhere picture-perfect – under a weeping willow or by an ornate castle door – and their partner approaches from behind and turns them around to reveal themselves.” The photographer, of course, is on hand to capture the moment.

“The trend started in the US for pragmatic reasons,” explains Michelle, “Couples often reported feeling that the shot list between the ceremony and the reception was long and a little tedious. It often left them feeling a bit drained going into the reception.”

Photo: The Gibsons

The traditionalist inside you might be having palpitations at the thought of what is, after all, a major break with protocol. But just look at what a practical idea it is. “We really recommend it as it helps with the schedule on the day and allows you to maximise the time you have for getting beautiful couple photographs and the amount of time you have available to share with guests during the drinks reception,” points out Gail Kelly of Rooftop Mosaic.

And there are other advantages: consider when and where your ceremony is being held, for instance. Could a first look help you logistically? “If you are having a ceremony later in the day, when the light is starting to fade, it’s good to do the photo­graphs beforehand and make the most of the daylight,” argues Audrey Russell at Tandem Photo.

When everyday events leave you anxious, the first person you turn to is your partner. Why should your wedding day be any different? “Yes, it is a bit unorthodox, but who says your day has to follow the rules?” challenges Chantal Gibson, one half of photography duo The Gibsons. “You can have that time between the two of you, which is really sweet and emotional.

Photo: Michelle VanTine Photography

It also relieves nerves if you are apprehensive about walking down the aisle. Ask yourself: would you rather your ‘time stands still’ moment was with your spouse alone or in front of 100 guests? For Struve Photography’s Kristin Mitchell, the former was an increasingly appealing prospect when she found herself on the other side of the lens planning her own wedding. “Before we were engaged I could see why people wouldn’t want a first look – I thought it took something away from the ceremony, that it ‘spoiled’ the surprise, that it was a bit of a gimmick, something for the purpose of the camera,” she admits.

“However, in practice, that wasn’t the case at all. It added something extra to our day. It was a unique and loving moment where we were able to be together without the gaze of all our guests, without the pressure of the ceremony. It remains one of my strongest and most vivid memories of the day.”

Of course, there is one potentially glaring disadvantage to having a first look. What if, your entire life, you’ve dreamt of making a grand entrance? Would you feel robbed? “Couples who choose not to have a first look are usually keen on having that first reveal down the aisle,” says Michelle. “Nonetheless, I’ve found that for those who do the first look, the walk down the aisle is still packed with emotion. With the music playing, guests rising to their feet as the doors are pushed open and your partner waiting at the end of the aisle – it’s a magical moment.”

Photographer Kirsten of Struve Photography entrusted The Gibsons to capture her first look

A first look can be a relatively straightforward addition to the itinerary but you should share your thoughts with your photographer as early as you can. “You need a few things,” outlines Kristin. “Firstly, hire two photographers to capture the moment. Make sure that your first and second shooters have different angles covered. Secondly, allocate a tidy area with no clutter.

And, thirdly, strategise your timeline. Work backwards to figure out when the first look should happen, starting with the ceremony and when you need to leave. Then consider what time you want to have your first look at, what time you need to be dressed by and when you need everyone to have had their hair and makeup done.”

During the shoot itself, concentrate only on your partner and let the photo­graphers worry about the rest. Chantal has this advice: “We pick out the perfect spot and, based on where we do it, we devise a plan where one of you will stand and the other will walk up,” she explains. “We are also at a distance to give you privacy for the moment you see each other – which is not something anyone gets during the ceremony.”