The First Look or the Altar Moment?! {Hudson Valley Wedding Photographer Advice}

I’m so excited to be starting wedding season THIS WEEKEND already!! Ahh! I’m writing this post from Malibu, California – and loving every second out here. The hiking, the sun…SO good.

Anyway, before I start my first wedding of the season, I wanted to write a helpful post for brides and grooms :) Right now I’m planning wedding timelines with so many of my sweet couples, and a question that we always have to address in planning their day together is whether or not they’ll do a “First Look.” I thought this would be a great topic to post about, since it’s a decision most couples have to weigh during the wedding process!

Before we plan their timeline I tell all my couples that a first look is totally and 100% their decision. I want to give you information to help you make an informed decision, but ultimately, I completely respect how you feel and will do my VERY best to give you photographs you’ll love with the time that we have!

What do I mean when I say “first look”? I mean scheduling a time for the groom to see his bride BEFORE the ceremony begins. It’s a really popular thing in the wedding industry right now, but traditionally, scheduling time for a “first look” wasn’t a thing. Photographs were always taken after the wedding ceremony. And photographers were able to do this because the types of photographs their couples wanted were very traditional poses, and didn’t require a lot of time to get the shot. Now, with digital photography, most couples want natural images and posing, which takes more time to create. Hence, “first looks” were born.

But still, even with the movement towards the “first look,” many couples want to keep tradition and have their groom see them for the first time at the altar. Which I totally understand! But here are the why’s for each decision, and I hope that helps you!


before the ceremony

Emotional Response: Above all, my FAVORITE thing about the first look is that it allows the bride and groom to have time to express their emotions with each other. At the altar, there are so many people around; during a first look, it’s a private and intimate moment. And the intimacy of that moment allows so many couples to open up with each other, tear up, cry, and hold each other. I’m able to capture moments that we can’t create later. After the ceremony, they’ve seen each other, and although they’re still so happy, they don’t have that same emotional trigger as during a first look. It’s a moment that can’t be re-created or replaced, and it’s a sweet moment that couples can always treasure in their images.

Time: Even though the emotional response is so beautiful, the main reason couples actually decide to do first looks actually has more to do with the timeline of their wedding day, and the time they want to spend taking portraits.

I recommend first looks the most for weddings where the ceremony and reception take place on site, all at the same venue. After the ceremony, the cocktail hour begins immediately for the guests, and there would be only one hour before the reception begins to take photographs. Since I have to photograph the bride and groom (30 min), bridal party (30 min), family (30 min), and reception details (30 min), it’s really hard to get all of that done within the time frame of one hour. It can be done…but it’s hard to achieve all the natural images with a variety in posing, without the stress of the time constraint.

Also, many couples want to enjoy their cocktail hour and be present for their guests in a relaxed manner, so they will not only enjoy the food, but spending that time greeting their guests will also enable them to be more present at their reception (for all the eating and dancing!)

When I recommend the “First Look”: For weddings where the ceremony and reception take place on site, all at the same venue. Couples can enjoy their cocktail hour and have a minimal amount of photographs to take after their ceremony.

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during the ceremony

Guest Involvement: The main reason couples choose to schedule the traditional “altar moment” is so their families and guests can be a part of the moment. So others can see the groom’s face when he sees his bride. It’s a traditional moment that some couples really anticipate – the bride seeing her groom at the altar waiting for her. And all the butterflies in her stomach as she can’t wait to see him for the first time.

Tradition: Traditionally, it was known as “bad luck” for a groom to see his bride before the wedding.

Time: The first look will take more time than the traditional altar moment, and doing photographs afterwards. It will mean extending your photography coverage time, it will mean starting hair and makeup several hours earlier in the day. Some couples want to save on time and start everything later in the day.

When I recommend the “Altar Moment”: For weddings where the ceremony is at a church or another site, and there is enough time for travel and photographs before cocktail hour begins and guests arrive at the venue.

**However, for couples who choose the “Altar Moment” AND have their ceremony and reception at the same venue, I have a time saving recommendation. I LOVE to shoot all the bridesmaid portraits and all the groomsmen portraits before the ceremony, so after the ceremony there are only bridal party photos, couple photos, and family photos. That saves about 20 minutes of time which will be super helpful during cocktail hour!

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As a wedding photographer, I do my best work having ample time for photographs, which many times means that I recommend a first look! But I work with all of my couples and respect whichever decision they choose. It’s their day, their moments to anticipate, their dreams to live out. It’s my work to help them do that knowing all the information they can and give us as much time as we can have. So on the wedding day, that moment my brides have been waiting for their whole life…seeing him seeing her…will be just that sweet.

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Feel free to share this post if it helps!  Here’s to wedding season!!

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