9 reasons you must do a “first look”.

We have seen it all.  Us wedding photographers.  Literally.

You name it, we have seen and experienced it.  Over 100 weddings into my career, and I think I could actually do a dandy job at planning one myself.

But I will stick to shooting.

Fortunate enough, because we have seen everything, we know what it takes to make or break your wedding day.  Give us the freedom, and we will create the perfect timeline and schedule.  Yup, even better than many wedding-planners.  Every photographer and planner is different, so allowing the photographer to have a significant say in how things roll usually is a recipe for success.

From bridal portraits, getting ready, first look, the ever-adventurous family photos…  We know exactly how long you need to set aside for each to maximize your photo return and our creativity.  Whether you have a guest list of 3 or 300, each wedding and timeline is unique.  The weather, time of year, venue, available light, personalities, size of bridal party…  it ALL plays into how your day will flow.

So this lands us here, at a crossroads.

Pictures or tradition?

What is more important?  Each bride has their version of the “perfect” wedding.  What they have dreamed of for 20-30 years.  And then there is us, the creatives.  We really have one job.  To professionally, creatively, uniquely capture your wedding day with photos and motion picture to best resemble what the day truly was like.

And to maximize our creativity, we need TIME and plenty of it.  To present you with the best options and best story, we need to be set up for success.  Art doesn’t happen in 15 minutes.  We aren’t magicians that can make something out of nothing.  We capture what is present and real and nothing else.  We need the tools and a blank canvas and the room to run.

So here are my 9 REASONS why you should do a “FIRST LOOK” instead of waiting to see your groom at the alter for the first time.  This is my voice and only my voice.  I know many photographers who will agree with these points, and I know others who will disagree.  It is your duty to decide what is most important to YOU, and find a photographer that fulfills those desires.


#1  Spend more time on your wedding day with your spouse-to-be.

Couples that do a first look generally spend 4-5 more hours with their spouse-to-be on their wedding day.  I hate to even think of not spending all those hours with my wife on our wedding day.  Some of our best memories happened during those hours.  You can have lunch together, take a breather from photos, have some alone time…  There aren’t a ton of people vying for your attention.  The moments are relaxed, and you can take them all in together.  Spending 3/4 of your wedding day apart, in my mind, is a terrible mistake and a regret you will always have.

#2  The First-Look is almost ALWAYS more intimate and emotional than the “traditional” way.

I am not a super emotional guy, nor do I frequently cry.  We did a first look, and I still bawled my eyes out at the alter when my wife walked down after also crying at our first look.

We like to create an intimate setting for our couple’s first look so that it feels like you’d imagined it at the alter.  Only WAYYY better.  We keep friends and family and gawkers away so that it is just the two of you and a couple quiet cameras.  You get to give each other a big embrace, talk to each other, cry together, and spend so much time enjoying that moment.

The alternative is much different than most people realize.  With all those people watching, there is pressure to perform.  To cry or not to cry?  Nerves will get the best of anyone.  And instead of giving your groom a big hug, he will be too busy engaging the father of the bride in an awkward handshake back-slap high-five thing.  And then you have to get right into formalities, leaving no time to just enjoy the moment and look at each other.  I guarantee you will barely remember that moment.  With an audience and a schedule to keep, before you know it, the ceremony is over and the party begins and you have no time to remember.  Which leads me to my next point…

#3  The cocktail hour is meant for mingling, not scrambling.

Our photographer got kidney stones the morning of our wedding and our schedule got a bit behind.  We hadn’t done any bride/groom portraits by the time the ceremony was over, and those were MOST important to us.  So we shot some during our 45 minute cocktail “hour”.  We didn’t get one moment to mingle with guests.  We were busy doing photos that we originally planned to do before the ceremony.  And once the reception started, my wife was ready to sit and relax and eat her dinner.  Most couples wont have the opportunity to meet all of their guests if they dont have a moment to hang with their guests during the cocktail hour.  And several people will have left by the time the reception formalities end.  So your only chance to really catch people is during that cocktail hour.

If you chose the traditional route (waiting to see each other until the ceremony), then you will eat up every second of that cocktail hour, an even some of the dinner hour scrambling to get family photos and bridal party photos down.  And when will you have time to make the most important photographs that will still be hanging on your walls in 50 years?  In my experience, you wont.  Because family demands their photos, and its terribly rude to keep your guests waiting, you will be lucky to get 5-10 photos of just the two of you.

How do I know all this?  Well, this is just based off of my own experience (100 weddings, including my own).  And the 10% of couples that went the traditional route didn’t get the full story…

#4 Your wedding day is a story to be told, full of moments and memories.  Don’t let old tradition take that away.

We live in a society laced with broken tradition when it comes to weddings.  So why keep the one tradition that causes such a mess?

This tradition started thousands of years ago when “arranged” marriages were the “thing”.  You didn’t even know who your spouse was until you walked down the hot, sandy isle in the Egyptian dessert.  Why did that tradition die?  Well, because it’s dumb.  And they weren’t taking photographs.  We have been given the opportunity to chose who to spend the rest of our lives with.  And document it.  So why hold on to parts of that tradition?  Remember, it probably isn’t going to be as rememberable as you think (see #2).  And if photos are at all important to you, this isn’t the way to go.

#5  You can’t tell a full story with a half-day.

We are photojournalists.  A lot of people use that term, but what exactly does it mean?  Well, photographers that work for news and other publications are photo-journalists because they are capturing stories as they unfold, and often times writing about it too.  Most of their work is not staged.  It unfolds before their eyes and their job is to capture it.  The old-school photographers that wore all black and had a pony-tail were not photo-journalists.  They typically had a studio, and made their profits on print sales.  Which means they spend most of the day posing “sellable” prints.

We don’t do that.  You pay up front for us to tell your story.  But we want the opportunity to tell the entire story.  We can’t tell your wedding story completely if we only have half the story.  A wedding is between two people, and if they are apart for half the day, the story is confusing.  If photo-journalism and storytelling isn’t your thing.  No problem!  But that is how we roll, so we like to do things a certain way.  There are plenty of photographers that are just interested in making money and not so much the story part of things.

#6  Family photos look funny if the bride is missing.

We all have family photos.  We take them at birthdays and christmas time.  And of course, on wedding days.  But when the time gets cut, and the scramble starts, most traditional couples will opt to do family photos before the ceremony, except, the bride and groom won’t be in the photos together.  I wanted my wife to be in every photo with me.  It was our day.  Everyone was there to celebrate with us.  I wasn’t about to spend the afternoon shooting bridal party and family photos without my bride.  Some couples will try and do those photos after the ceremony, but again, you are trying to fit too much into not nearly enough.  There usually is only enough time for 6-7 different family photos in that time.  That isn’t many photos compared to the dozens that we have.

#7  For my First Look couples, I generally set aside 3-4 hours for all the needed photos.  

What does this mean for you?  It means a full afternoon of hanging with your bridal party and partner, grabbing lunch and a drink, going off location to a dream spot for some killer photos…

If that isn’t enough time, we can sneak a few last minute family photos with grandma during the cocktail hour.  Or slip out of the reception to catch a few golden hour photos with the bride and groom.  Trying to do all of that during the cocktail hour simply isn’t going to happen.  With those time constraints, I have seen the majority of my couples get stressed, anxious, frustrated during that time.  It isn’t fun, it’s simply hurry, smile, move on.  I had one groom literally throw a tantrum in near tears because he was mad he had to do family photos instead of enjoy the cocktail hour.  True story.

#8  The majority of wedding ceremonies start between 4pm-6pm.  It might be dark for when we shoot all of your photos.

I had a bride recently tell me that she wanted to wait until the ceremony to see her groom.  It was all she had ever dreamed of.  Like most brides, probably.  I said, “ok, that is not preferred but, no problem.  What time is your ceremony?”  The ceremony was at 630.  And the wedding was in October.  I checked the weather app on my phone and the sunset was scheduled for 645.  And in the fall, the sun sets in a hurry.  So I asked how they envisioned it all taking place.  Capturing all the bridal portraits, family photos, bridal party…  in the dark, while all the other guests waited.

It simply wasn’t going to happen.  It took some serious negotiating, but I was finally able to convince them of the harsh reality that they simply would not receive hardly any photos from their wedding day.  Not to mention the bride and groom would spend 3/4ths of the day apart.

You know what happened?  Some incredible memories were made that day.  They did a very intimate first look on a beautiful street in Seattle.  They spent 15 minutes just looking at each other, holding each other, smiling and kissing.  And then we went and shot some rad portraits.  We all walked down to the waterfront and captured the beautiful sunset.  And the Ride The Ducks tour bus even sang the couple a song.  For 4 minutes!  The bride and groom were laughing hysterically.  And none of this would have happened have I not stood up for their wedding photos.

#9  Art isn’t crafted in 15 minutes.

The last wedding I did in which the bride and groom waited to see each other until the ceremony, the portrait session was the most chaotic, mad-dash I’ve ever been involved in.  They literally got 2 portraits.  The sun was setting and was going to get very cold, and we hadn’t shot any bridal party or family photos either.   And when this is the case, the bride/groom portraits always take one for the team.  Family and bridal party photos always take longer because of the amount of people to herd.

Michelangelo didn’t craft the Statue of David under a time crunch.  He spend years on it.  Perfecting it.  The Cisteen Chapel didn’t happen over night.  Your favorite musical record?  I bet that took more than a few minutes to perfect.  I am an artist.  All of us photographers are artists.  We don’t thrive under deadlines.  And frantic, stressed out subjects don’t photo well.  It breaks my heart to deliver a package of wedding photos knowing that there are hardly any bride/groom portraits.  That is what the WHOLE DAY is about.  You 2.  No one else.

So please don’t hold to a silly tradition and expect us to deliver something that isn’t possible.  We aren’t magicians.  We can’t capture an hour of portraits in 10 minutes.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  You need to set us up for success, so that your photos can be all they can be.


I have never once had a couple that did a “first look” regret doing so.  Unfortunately, I have had many that went the alternate route and were bummed out.

Unless you are eloping, or have a wedding guest list smaller than 30, we are no longer shooting weddings in which the bride and groom are waiting to see each other.  It isn’t just about money for us.  We have a passion to creatively capture your wedding the best we can.   And if a long-lost tradition is more important to you than photos, we completely understand.  But we probably arent a good fit.

– Jeff



We leave you with a few images that we love, and wouldn’t have been captured had the bride and groom waited…



  1. jill wrote:

    yes, yes, yes. THANK YOU.

  2. Tabs wrote:

    Love. Love. Love. I loved seeing and spending time with my husband before the craziness of the wedding and ( until we left for reception) that was the most time we really spent together the whole day. Best. Decision. Ever.

    Great article and I hope many people read it and learn from it!

  3. Darel wrote:

    Very well expressed Jeff. As a seasoned professional photographer, with over 2000 weddings personally photographed, you are spot on. Wishing you a continued pleasurable career … capturing life one image at a time.

  4. Jessica wrote:

    This is perfect!!!! I love first looks!!! Thank you.

  5. Erin wrote:

    This is AWESOME!!! Thank you for writing this. What you said, so eloquently, is so important in making sure the bride and groom walk away with real, intense, amazing photos of the moments that mean the most. The moments they will think back to, relive, laugh about, cry over and above all – rejoice in the fact that they were able to experience those moments on one of the most important days of their life!

    Your work is beautiful – you are so talented! Please keep writing and sharing!

  6. Danny wrote:

    Brilliant photographer high 5 thanks for this.

  7. Emily Crall wrote:

    Love this!!!! SO so true.

  8. Kristina wrote:

    I had a guest list of 40, and even though I am a photographer myself and do love the first look, my husband and I chose to not see each other before the ceremony. It simply wasn’t necessary, because we had plenty of time to interact with all of our guests, and each of us appreciated the time earlier spent with our respective families for the last time as single people (daughter, son, sibling) It would have been a different story with a 200 guest list, which is why I still agree with your viewpoint 🙂

  9. Wow, perfectly written. I think Im going to send this link to every future bride or just slap it into the contract haha. Love it!

  10. Elyse wrote:

    One day, I will be you. With your stunnnnnning pictures. Fantastically written btw

  11. […] would NOT have happened if they had waited). My friend and phenomenal photographer, Jeff Marsh, wrote a great post about this very subject. I usually attempt to convince every single one of my brides to do a first look because of those […]

  12. Brian wrote:

    10-4. Spot on with the whole darn thing, Jeff.

  13. Kirsten wrote:

    Me and my aunt are having a debate…is the first look on a different day then the wedding or or before the wedding?

  14. […] buddy, Jeff Marsh, a wedding photographer, posted a blog about why couples should do a “first look” on their […]

  15. […]  Read the full post by Jeff Marsh here. […]

  16. Eric Albee wrote:

    I really love the last shot!

  17. […] done this song and dance before. Numerous times. So they know a great pace of the day. They’re chockfull of advice on first looks, getting ready, and bride-and-groom portraits. If your photographer is open to it, […]

  18. Priscilla wrote:

    awesome ty for sharing this…..

  19. […] until after. Totally just depends! For a more in depth article about first looks, check this out: “9 Reasons to do a First Look”! There are also a ton of people who are doing first looks with their dads! It’s adorable, but […]

  20. Good heavens this was a great read. THANK YOU!

  21. […] I really like this article and am personally a big fan of the first look. I always encourage my clients to consider them. Give it a read and take a look at the beautiful pictures at the bottom. Definitely worth thinking about Jeff Marsh Blog 9 Reasons To Do A First Look […]

  22. […] a fan of first looks! Yup, ya’ll know I am a BIG proponent of first looks.  Check out this link she shared with her Facebook followers. So without further ado, let’s welcome Connie to the blog. And […]

  23. Asia wrote:

    Thank you thank you thank you, Wise phtoographer. I just contacted my wedding photographer to ask his advice in planning a schedule and I am now on a quest to convince my fiance to do a first look.

  24. Name * wrote:

    Very informative!

  25. Sarah Bieker wrote:

    Thank you!! really appreciate your input a ton in planning our wedding day.