How to capture the perfect first look


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Taking great first-look photographs often requires some careful planning. (Source: File Photo)

Daniel Bortz

The “first look” has become a special part of many weddings. This is when brides and grooms see each other just before the ceremony, typically in full, formal attire.

A recent survey by the Knot found that 44 per cent of American couples who married in 2017 did a first look, with a majority of them choosing to have a private reveal, between just the two of them (and usually a photographer).

“It’s a very intimate experience,” said Rylee Hitchner, a destination wedding photographer based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has captured many of these moments. “Personally, the first look is one of my favorite moments of a wedding.”

Lucy Cuneo, a wedding photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina, is also a big fan. “Most grooms haven’t seen the bride’s dress, emotions are heightened, and the first look evokes a more emotional response for a couple instead of seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony,” she said.

But taking great first-look photographs often requires some careful planning. Here are several tips from professional photographers for getting that perfect shot.

Carve Out Ample Time

Though the actual first look is short (typically less than a minute), couples should set aside around 15 to 20 minutes to get the photo, said Emilia Schobeiri, a wedding photographer based in Chicago and New York City. “I like to have a buffer in case there any issues, like the bride getting stuck in an elevator, which has happened.”

Another reason to allot extra time: “Couples should really savor the moment,” said Heather Jowett, a Detroit photographer, adding that couples may also exchange private vows or gifts like family heirlooms during that time.

And they may partake in their own celebration. “Sometimes couples pop a bottle of Champagne during the first look,” Schobeiri said, “which I think is fun for photos and helps the couple loosen up.”

Find the Right Setting

Many couples prefer taking wedding photos outdoors, weather permitting, and first-look pictures are no exception. Lighting, however, can sometimes be a challenge.

“If a wedding ceremony is taking place in the evening, first-look photos are typically done in the middle of the afternoon, which is when the sunlight is brightest,” Cuneo said. Her solution for preventing sun glare? “I’m always looking for a shaded area,” she said. “That way the couple isn’t squinting at each other, and the bright sunlight doesn’t make the photographs look washed-out.”

Hitchner says she looks for a setting “that frames the couple. That could be an archway in a garden or a beautiful canopy of trees.” Couples should also consider how far the bride will have to travel to reach the groom. “You don’t want the bride to have to walk a mile in her wedding dress,” Cuneo said.

Matt Lien, a wedding photographer based in Minneapolis, says privacy is another important factor. “You want to find a quiet space without any distractions, something that’s tucked away from all the chaos,” he said. “If there are people watching, it takes away from the experience.”

There are exceptions. If a couple wants to capture a particular backdrop, such as a city’s skyline, a crowded rooftop might be the best option. “I’ve had couples take first-look photos on a busy city street with pedestrians, where it still felt like a private moment,” Schobeiri said.

Of course, it’s crucial to scout for indoor spaces as a backup in case it rains. “When I have to shoot indoors, I look for a room that’s well-lit when all the lights are turned off, and the curtains are letting in natural light,” Jowett said. “You don’t want big light bulb flashes going off during a first look.”

Make It Private

Though some couples may want their parents or members of the wedding party present, many photographers recommend the first look be a private affair. “There will be plenty of opportunities to take photos with your close family and friends later on,” Cuneo said.

Besides, Schobeiri added, “I think couples are more likely to be open and emotional when their parents and friends aren’t there.” If the parents have their hearts set on being there, Jowett says she will try to accommodate their wishes — strategically. “If I can find a discreet window for the parents to spy from, I’ll try to make that happen,” she said, “but I really feel that the first look should be secluded and intimate for the couple.”


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