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To Look or Not To Look

To Look or Not To Look

📷: Sara Drew Photography

In recent years, more and more people have dismissed the nonsensical repercussions of the longstanding “no-seeing-each-other-on-the-morning-of-your-wedding-day” practice in favor of partaking in a sweet rendezvous prior to their ceremony. Many traditionalists, however, fear that it takes away from that singular surge of emotion so often associated with walking down the aisle. To settle the debate, we decided to turn to an expert: Sara Drew, local talent behind the lens of Sara Drew Photography, has shot her fair share of weddings and thus has a clear stance on the subject. Here’s why she (and now we!) believe you should definitely look. 

Fewer Nerves

Let’s face it, everyone gets pre-wedding jitters. Not so much in a Runaway Bride sense, but more so of an “oh-boy-this-sure-is-a-lot-of-attention” or a “please-God-let-everything-go-smoothly” sense. And when the festivities aren’t set to kick off until mid-afternoon, the long wait can often transform any seemingly innocent, little butterflies into a vicious, Mothra-like creature. Luckily, there just may be a solution. “A majority of the couples I’ve done a first look with have turned to me after and said some variation of, ‘Oh wow, I’m so glad we did that. I don’t have to throw up anymore,’” Sara says with a laugh. “Seeing your person earlier in the day helps take the edge off the enormity of the occasion. You can calm each other down and take a minute to appreciate that you’re both in this together.” 

More Alone Time 

It’s true: A first look necessitates about twenty to thirty minutes of uninterrupted time with your soon-to-be spouse — something that’s hard to come by as the wedding day unfolds. That means no intrusions by well-intentioned guests, family members or, essentially, vendors. “A lot of times we, the photographers, like to retreat really far back during a first look; we will use zoom lenses to take us out of the picture, so to speak,” Sara explains. “We want to give them a sense of privacy, to feel like they’re in their own little bubble for a bit, and to focus solely on each other because the rest of the day is essentially going to be filled with other people.” She also encourages her clients to really take advantage of the moment: “Make it count. Turn the other person around, check them out, show off your own look and let the emotions in.” Which brings us to… 

Double the Feels

Those on the fence, take heed: this new addition to the wedding day schedule will not detract from the magic of your ceremony. Sara has witnessed plenty of first-look couples get just as weepy during the procession as they did when they first saw each other earlier on in the day. In fact, she thinks a first look only enhances the time spent at the altar by letting you get all of your thoughts and feelings off your chest in the hours prior. “Sure, the walk down the aisle is emotional and special, but once you’ve met your partner at the front, you can’t really say much other than a quick, ‘Hi, you look nice!’ And that’s it,” she points out. “You can’t kiss hello because that’s something traditionally reserved for the end of the ceremony, and you don’t really get the chance to process that you’re actually getting married before the rings are being exchanged.” A first look lets you unabashedly touch, hug, kiss and say whatever sentiments are on your mind at the time rather than having to keep it all to yourself for another twenty minutes (or longer!) while you wait for the officiant to say, “I now pronounce you…”  “Also, sometimes when you’re in front of a large group of people like that, you’re so afraid of messing up, or — with grooms, especially — of appearing vulnerable, that you don’t let yourself fully feel the moment,” Sara adds. “But, you’re essentially alone during a first look, so you don’t have to hold yourself back. And believe me, the photographers definitely aren’t judging. We’ve witnessed every reaction under the sun.” 

Additional Photos Ops 

Much like with a traditional procession, your photographer can easily capture the anticipation and the joy as you see each other for the first time during your first look. However, with the latter, you can have a bit more fun with how you approach the reveal. Maybe one person has their back turned and awaits a tap on the shoulder; maybe you’re both blindfolded; maybe you go for a She’s All That moment and execute a slow descent down some stairs; or maybe you reenact another cinematic scene by starting on opposite ends of a field only to eventually meet in the middle. No matter how it goes down, a picture is worth a thousand words, so why wouldn’t you want a wedding album sequence that tells an entire story? “You can really get creative,” Sara says. “I’ve also had brides and grooms stand back to back and read their vows to one another before they ‘looked.’ I loved it.”  

All of the Party 

Conventionally, newlyweds take all of their posed photos in the time between their ceremony and reception, a.k.a. cocktail hour. But, should the betrothed decide to meet up before the ceremony, they can get a majority of their formals out of the way along with a great deal of their bridal party pics and even some family portraits (depending on who has already arrived). Sara says this is a huge help for not only the couple’s timeline, but the photographers’, as well. “That way, we’re not under as much of a time crunch; one hour is really not a lot of time, if you think about it,” she reveals. “Especially because there are so many variables at play: the ceremony runs longer than expected, or you have bridal party members or relatives that go MIA right when you need them for a picture. It’s a lot of wrangling, and if you’re only given cocktail hour to get it all done, you might either skip some important photos to get to the reception on time, or delay dinner all together.” But, if the formals were already completed before the ceremony, the couple is then free to enjoy their cocktail hour (and the photographers are free to capture more fun candids). “As soon as I mention that they won’t have to miss cocktail hour, couples are sold. It’s really the only unstructured time you’ll have with guests; you’re obviously tied up during the ceremony and then during the reception you’re either eating, listening to toasts or making the rounds from table to table,” Sara explains. “When you do a first look, instead of being whisked away to take photos after the ceremony, you can just hang out with everyone. Who doesn’t want to spend more time at their own party?” 


Now, if you’ve done the math, that’s a whole lot of pros for doing a first look. Still have questions? Here are some additional pro tips: 

Trust your photographer. “Most people have never done this before, so they have no point of reference,” Sara explains. “But we do this all the time and we’ve seen what works best not only for us, but for couples, as well.”

Err on the side of time. If you’re on board for a first look but don’t know when to tell your photographer to show up, Sara says she likes to be on-site about two to two-and-a-half hours ahead of the ceremony start time. “That gives me enough time to also capture some of the getting-ready process, get some detail shots and then travel to the ceremony location, if needed.”

Two is better than one (as long as it doesn’t break the bank, of course!). “Having a second shooter around allows us to get a variety of angles — like if one of us goes wide, the other will shoot tight — and get both people’s perspectives and reactions,” she says. “You always get a more consistent flow of the story with two photographers.”  

Think outside of the box. If you can’t make up your mind whether you want to go contemporary or old-fashioned, meet somewhere in the middle. First, find an isolated space at your ceremony location where two walls intersect (or some other type of partition — even a tree will do!) Then, when you and your fiancé(e) are ready for the day, keep your heads down and have your photographers or bridal party lead each of you to opposite sides of said barrier. Without looking, reach your hand around the corner to find your partner’s. Now, you haven’t technically looked, but you can still take the opportunity to say a prayer, read some private affirmations or just find comfort in each other’s presence.  

Do you, boo. If you don’t think you’ll be nervous, don’t mind attention, don’t care about missing a bit of cocktail hour or just plain have always dreamt of a more classic wedding day entrance, then don’t let us sway you! Plenty of people are still opting for the runway debut. It’s your day, so the only opinion that matters on such matters is yours.

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