Hey, I'm Chelsea.

I'm a Chicago wedding photographer and videographer who's on a mission to take the stress out of wedding planning, one anecdote, gif, and movie
quote at a time.

If you’re the first in your friend group to get married, you might be wondering:

  • What the heck is a first look?
  • Why is everyone talking about it?
  • Do I need one for my wedding?

Simply put, a first look is when a couple sees each other for the first time on their wedding day. More specifically, it’s when they see each other before walking down the aisle.

Do You Need To Have a First Look?

It’s your wedding day—other than get married, there’s nothing you have to do.

I’ll admit that I’m a huge fan of first looks, but I also respect couples who want to stick with tradition. Because, when it comes to weddings, there’s no right or wrong way to get married.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your wedding reflects who you are as a couple. Sometimes that means waiting to see each other at the altar. Other times, it means grabbing your partners’ butt on a Michigan Ave median.

To help you make the best choice for your big day, here are the pros and cons of having a first look.

The Pros

  • You get to spend more time together. If your ceremony doesn’t start until 5 or 6 PM, you could wind up spending most of your wedding day apart. A first look gives you the chance to spend as much of the day together as possible.

  • It eases your anxiety. You are probably going to be anxious and seeing your best friend is the cure for that anxiety. Every couple of mine who’s done a first look has said their wedding day jitters melted away as soon as they had their first look.

  • You’ll be able to act on your emotions. If you don’t see each other until you’re walking down the aisle, you’re pretty limited in how you can react at the alter. At best, you can wipe away a tear, grab each other’s hand, and whisper, “you look great”.

    But when you have a first look, you can react in any way that feels right. You can hug, make out, ugly cry, check each other out, do a twirl, and just talk to each other. This quiet, uninterrupted time together is something you will really cherish as the day flies by.

    You can also sneak in a few laughs/remind your husband who he’s about to marry by stuffing your dress into a Pikachu onesie—okay, maybe that’s just Sam.

  • You get some alone time. Okay, your photo and video team will be third-wheeling nearby. But I always like to put down the camera and stand back for a few minutes to give you some space. Trust me, you’ll appreciate having the time to yourselves before you put your host(ess) hat on.

Our first look was one of my favorite parts of the day. We were in the middle of a massive city and it still felt like we were the only two there.

I got to talk to him and see him and hold his hand and hug him without interruption. It was so intimate and such a special moment for us. For the rest of the day, you’re surrounded by people, but for those moments, you’re not. It’s so perfect.

Amanda, Past White Quill Bride
  • You’re able to take photos at multiple locations. Sometimes wedding venues are gorgeous and have a bunch of photo spots. But, most of the time, you’re going to want to travel around town for wedding photos. When you have a first look, you’re able to pad in as much time as you need before the ceremony to get the photos you want.

    This means you can go wherever you want (within reason) for photos. At our pre-wedding timeline meeting, I’ll factor in travel time to make sure you can have your west loop wedding and your lakefront photos, too.

    As an added bonus, you get to ride around town in a trolley pretending you’re in a White Claw commercial.

  • You’re able to build in as much photo time as you need. Sometimes wedding venues are gorgeous and have a bunch of photo spots. But, most of the time, you’re going to want to travel around town for wedding photos. When you have a first look, you’re able to pad in as much time as you need before the ceremony to get the photos you want.

  • You get to enjoy cocktail hour. If you decide not to do a first look, most of your portraits will happen during cocktail hour. Since this happens right after your ceremony, loved ones are going to come rushing up to congratulate you two. And the last thing you want to do is shoo them away to take pictures for the next hour!

    If you do a first look, you can enjoy cocktail hour however you want, whether you’re mingling or chowing down on apps in the bridal suite. After you say ‘I Do’ and snap some family photos, it’s time for you to enjoy the celebration! A first look gives you the freedom to do whatever you want before dinner.

If you’re wondering how the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony came to be, check out Bride’s history lesson on the not-so-romantic origin. 😬

Why you should do a First Look - White Quill Creative
Taken by Chelsea for Ed and Aileen Photography

The Cons

  • Everything will start earlier. If you’ve got a lot of bridesmaids who need hair and makeup done (or if you’re just not a morning person) you may want to opt out of a first look for the sake of timing.

  • It requires some extra planning. For some couples, it can seem like too much effort to decide on a first look location and “orchestrate” a first look.

  • You’ll break tradition. If you’re someone who’s always dreamed of seeing their spouse at the other end of the aisle for the first time, a first look isn’t for you.

  • You won’t be legally married during photos. If you’re a stickler for the details, you might notice that you don’t have wedding bands in any of the portraits done before the ceremony.

  • You’ll probably need a hair and makeup touchup before the ceremony. During portraits, your hair is going to get blown around, your makeup might get smudged, and your dress hem might get a little dirty. If you do a first look, you’ll want to make sure to pad time in before the ceremony to do any hair and makeup touchups (especially if you’re going to be outside in the dead of summer).

Should You Do a First Look?

If you do a first look, consider…

  • Where you want it to happen. Do you want a first look that’s quick and easy, or one that has an epic backdrop? You’ll want to consider all the different possible locations.

  • Who will be there? Usually, first looks are semi-private moments between a couple (and photo/video). But you can add your personal spin to it by asking if you want your first look in a quiet space or in public (like a crowded street or hotel lobby). Go one step forward and decide if you want it to be just you two or if you want friends + family to watch.

  • If you want to use the rare alone time for anything else. I’ve had couples grab drinks at their favorite bar, exchange private vows, and swap gifts face-to-face.

If you don’t do a first look, consider…

  • If you want to do separate photos before the ceremony. In order to cut down on portrait time during cocktail hour, I recommend taking separate photos before the ceremony. For example:
    • You + your half of the wedding party
    • You and each person on your side of the wedding party (I call these “1:1s”).
    • You, your parents, and your siblings (AKA the ‘OG’ family photo)
    • You with your parents and siblings 1:1
  • Extending cocktail hour. This gives you extra time to take family photos, combined wedding party photos, and newlywed photos without feeling rushed. Depending on the logistics of your day, you might even get to enjoy a bit of cocktail hour.

On the fence? Make sure to consider…

  • Sunset. If you’re getting married in the winter (when the sun sets between 4-4:30 PM in Chicago), having a first look gives you the chance to have some natural light wedding photos taken.

  • Accessories. Adding or switching accessories is an easy way to make your walk down the aisle feel special, even if you’ve done a first look. You can save your veil for the ceremony, put on an overskirt, or swap out your shoes for a subtle new look that’ll make the moment unique.

  • First Look Alternatives. Of course, if you aren’t sure a first look is for you, you can opt for a different way to feel close. Ideas include a first touch, swapping letters, or even sneaking in a phone call to feel connected.

Ultimately, if you’re not sure which option is best for you, write out your priorities and let your wedding photographer know. They’ll help guide you toward the best decision for your wedding.

Downtown Chicago First Look by White Quill Creative

Still worried that a first look will take away from your ceremony?

The biggest hesitation I hear as a photographer is this: Walking down the aisle won’t feel special if we’ve already seen each other.

And I get that hesitation! Chances are, the whole “getting married” thing is pretty new, so you want to make sure that you don’t have any regrets and soak up every moment to its fullest. 

Real Thoughts From a Real Bride

I asked my past bride, Amanda, for her take on doing a first look:

“I was actually worried having a first look would take away from the ceremony but NO it absolutely did not. The moment you walk down the aisle is different. You’re there. It’s really happening. It’s so overwhelming in the best possible way; you’ve been surrounded by basically everyone you love, you’re walking toward your forever partner moments before you vow to love one another and make it official.

It’s such a different emotion from a first look. I cried from the moment the processional music started playing, for my entire walk down the aisle, and basically the entire ceremony. He cried when I walked down and for the entire ceremony. Literally. It’s a different energy and it’s special in its own way.

No matter what you pick, the day is about the two of you.

Seeing your partner before does NOT take away from the fact that you are about to commit to one another while all of your loved ones watch. If anything, the first look added to the excitement and helped me calm down.”

At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to first looks. It’s my job to load you up with 175+ weddings worth of knowledge, but only you can decide which option feels most like you.

Want to see what your wedding timeline might look like with and without a first look? Grab my FREE resource, “How to Create Your Wedding Timeline”, below! ⬇️