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Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason

Something that comes up during every wedding consultation with my awesome couples is discussing the of the timeline and more specifically, having a first look. Many couples want to maximize the time where photos are being taken and have seen how planning your wedding day affects this.

For those who may not be in the wedding world or need further explanation, here’s what a first look is:

A first look is a designated time in a wedding before the ceremony where both partners see each other and share a genuine and intimate moment.

See some of my favorite weddings with memorable first looks:
Kylee + Dan
Noah + Jacin
Deborah + Ben
Kevin + Zoe
Marc + Laura

Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason

Surprisingly, the first look can be somewhat controversial between family members and even the couple. It’s essentially based on the priorities of the wedding couple and their desired layout of the wedding day.

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to when the couple will see each other during a wedding day.

Traditional Wedding Timeline: No “First Look”

The no first look is the historically traditional view where one partner is hidden from view of the other partner & any early wedding guests, with the exception of their wedding party and maybe mother and/or father. The first time they see each other in this model when one partner is walking down an aisle or is presented in a celebratory manner.

Depending on the culture, this can be the bride & her father walking down the aisle, a bride riding into the ceremony on an animal such as a horse or an elephant. (If any couples could ride in on a Dinosaur, I would totally shoot that wedding!)

After the ceremony, photos are taken of the family, full wedding party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, ring bearers, etc.). These photos are commonly called “Formals” and what your mom & grandma mean when they say they want a photo of you and them.

Once the formal family and wedding party photos are complete, I usually take some time with the couple to create images of them in their freshly married state. It’s a super sweet time and I think great to capture the heightened emotion during these few moments.

Sample Wedding Timeline without First Look
Sample Wedding Timeline with First Look

Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason

Many times these photos are done while the majority of wedding guests who are not family or in the wedding party are at a designated location for “cocktail hour”. This isn’t necessarily an actual hour but that depends on the couples photo desires. To keep the guests occupied, many couples have snacks, games, or other unique activities set up around the location.

Obviously, depending on your family and wedding party size, these photos can take up to an hour, sometimes two. Photos with more people and not breaking into much smaller chunks is a great way to save time if you need it I.e. “Photo with all Aunts & Uncles” and then they’re dismissed rather than having a photo with the couple and one aunt & uncle at one time. You can also emphasize immediate family for formals, and maybe grab photos with extended family later on during the reception if you’d like.

Another thing to consider in any wedding timeline is the weather and location. During a winter wedding, the sun may go down very early. If any outdoor photos are desired, that could mean an earlier ceremony or taking photos inside (sometimes less desired or more difficult to fit larger groups in while making them look great).

Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason

When should you NOT do a traditional wedding timeline?

Well, for your wedding the first thing to remember is that it’s YOURS! You can plan however you’d like and customize it to suit your needs.

If I had to suggest when not to do a traditional wedding timeline, I’d say if you plan to have a later ceremony and want photos outside that aren’t specifically at night then do not wait until after the ceremony to do the family, wedding party, and couple photos. Also, if you have a large family and want formals of them I would probably suggest not using the traditional wedding timeline.

Here are some photos of incredible and emotional first looks at weddings. The first look reaction is amazing:

Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam MasonShould you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason

Wedding Timeline with a First Look: Incorporating a First Look into Your Wedding

With the couple seeing each other before the ceremony, there’s a lot of other options when it comes to planning the day. You can do the family, wedding party, and most couple photos all before the ceremony.

This can be useful in a wedding where the sun may go down early as mentioned previously, or if you’d like to maximize the time you spend with your wedding guests. Rather than being disconnected from your guests for an extended amount of time, you can usually engage with them right away with your new spouse. 🙂

With a first look, it’s generally more easy to keep the wedding party on track and maintain the timeline without feeling too rushed. Extra cushion time on the wedding day is major key.
Should you do a first look photos by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason

What time should you have the first look?

A good rule of thumb for when to have the first look is two hours before the ceremony if the getting ready, ceremony and reception are all at one venue. The first look itself may only last a few minutes but this leaves plenty of cushion time for wedding party & family photos. Of course, this depends on venue rules (some venues don’t let you come early) budget, schedules and ultimately, how much do you value photography.

Also, if you’re a person who loves super emotional moments or seeing grooms crying during weddings, the first look is a good idea. But you have to remember that you cannot force a reaction out of your partner. It’s very intimate (just you two, I’m usually in the distance after I’ve helped set up the first look) but not every person reacts in the way we think they will. There’s usually a ton of stress released during the first look. That said, you get to spend a few peaceful moments with your partner during the big day before you have to get back to the schedule.

One interesting fact about a wedding including a first look is that all of the situations in the traditional wedding timeline such as the bride being escorted by her father, or riding in on an animal, or any other idea can still happen! Many times, if a bride is wearing a veil I’ll suggest to only wear it for the ceremony. That way there’s still something special when the ceremony happens.

If you’ve read this and still don’t see how this works out, take a look at the First Look Timeline Example or the Traditional Wedding Timeline Example. Or, you’re welcome to email me: web@adammason.com
Hopefully, this helps give some clarification and insight to how to plan your wedding according to your goals, priorities, and wedding day. Just remember, it’s up to you! 🙂

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Interested booking your own Washington DC Wedding, Engagement, or storytelling session? Contact me via the Contact link in the menu, or email me directly at web@adammason.com

Adam is local to Washington, DC and is currently booking 2018 and 2019 wedding photography sessions at any destination. Really, any destination!

Adam Mason frequently travels for wedding, event, and non-profit portrait sessions and has clients from coastal Maui to Iceland. To find out details regarding his upcoming travel dates to a city near you or to book a custom travel session, please contact for more information or follow along on Instagram!

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