Should You See Each Other Before the Ceremony?

ge masana wedding photographerGuest Blogger: G.E. Masana
G.E. Masana's roster of wedding clients have included magazine editors, models, art directors, actors, opera singers, cinematographers, fashion designers, graphic artists and photographers. He's been seen in Bridal Guide, Town & Country, New York Magazine, among many more. He currently writes about weddings for Huffington Post. A sought-after documentary wedding photographer, he's been interviewed by the two leading international professional wedding photography journals and was awarded by the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers. 

first look

Sure, it was an ancient superstition that bad luck would soon follow if the groom saw the bride in her gown before the wedding. In today’s modern world, though, even non-superstitious couples still wrangle over the question whether to see each other prior to the ceremony. The main reason couples today seem to keep the tradition alive is because they believe it builds up the mystique before the walk down the aisle. However, other couples recognize the time manage benefits of seeing each other before the ceremony — meeting earlier for photos gets you to your party sooner.

You may not realize that in some cultures and religions around the world, couples see each other before the ceremony as a part of the wedding-day process, meeting for rituals such as tea ceremonies, ketubah signings, and garland ceremonies... and bad luck doesn’t necessarily follow (upon further investigation, it turns out if bad luck does follow, it’s always because of something that happened when the bride and groom saw each other after the wedding, not before. But I digress).

first look

But there’s one even bigger aspect of a first look that makes the biggest difference to the couple. And it’s not about making more time for a cocktail hour or having “that moment" when she walks down the aisle. No, it’s about something bigger than all that — something far more meaningful to the couple. Even though I’ve photographed hundreds of weddings (I stopped counting at about 1,000), I’ve seen this over and over again. At one particular wedding, the bride and groom weren’t going to see each other prior to the ceremony because they wanted to "keep to tradition” and they wanted to make that moment when they first saw each other special.

But at the very last minute, they had a change of heart. They decided the time scheduled for photos after the ceremony was too restrictive — they wanted to have sufficient time to capture great images, but they also wanted to enjoy their cocktail hour. So they went ahead (somewhat reluctantly) with a "first look." 

[Sidenote: I’ve often noticed that while couples schedule the portrait session at the same time as the cocktail hour, no other two events of the wedding day are ever simultaneously scheduled. So let me propose we start a new trend where the ceremony and the cocktail hour are scheduled for the same time. I believe guests would enjoy a beverage or two and an appetizer while watching you two get married, don’t you? Let’s get this thing going! Be the first one on your block. Be a trendsetter.]

Anyway, when this couple met up earlier on their wedding day for their first look, they were immersed in that "OMG moment" in a way that they couldn't have experienced if the ceremony was happening at the same time. They enjoyed this time privately, away from the crowd, where they felt free to enjoy sweet sentimental moments together — which, by the way, makes for some great photo opportunities.

See how high their emotions ran right here in the seconds before their first look?

bride and groom before first look

Meeting before the ceremony, when you're free from the often-strict needs of the ceremony itself, gives you more personal moments and experiences together, which adds wonderful memories to your day. Everything that happens during the first look is a unique experience you wouldn’t have had if you didn’t take that opportunity to be with each other. 

But even couples who favor the first look worry that, since you already saw each other, you lose some of the shine and magic from your walk down the aisle. I can assure you that that's simply not true. Though this groom had spent an hour with his bride already, here’s the photo I took when she made her appearance at the top of the aisle. Check out the expression on his face:

groom waiting for bride at wedding ceremony

His eyes are tearing up. His lip is quivering. He’s feeling it. And since I was there taking that photo, I can tell you when she turned the corner and came into view, these two immediately locked eyes on each other. They were beyond riveted with each other. 

bride walking down the aisle

Now, you may think that the moral of my little story is, “And so, Dear Reader, having a first look doesn’t take away the magic later." But it isn’t. This is:

Through my experience, I realized that spending that quality, personal time together earlier on the wedding day ramps up and fuels the emotions for when the magic moment finally comes and you see each other at your ceremony. It can add more anticipation, electricity, and passion to your ceremony, because it adds it to your heart. The first look doesn't take away the magic; it simply gives you many more unique moments of your day to experience, more emotions for you to bask in, and many more memories for you to cherish.

Tell us: Will you have a first look?

—G.E. Masana


First Look credited below Wedding days should be full of emotion. Wedding days should not be stressful. But let’s face reality, they are. This is why I ask all my clients if they are interested in doing a first look. The first look adds so much beautiful emotion and happiness to a wedding day and alleviates SO much stress, it’s hard to know where to start raving about it! Well let’s start from the beginning…from the ancient tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the ceremony. Many people don’t realize the reason for this was because the bride and groom had NEVER seen each other before the ceremony! It was so the groom, quite frankly, wouldn’t split! Luckily we’ve progressed and in our modern society, marriages (for the most part) aren’t arranged. We CHOOSE to marry the one we love. And we can choose to see them before the ceremony! Whenever I photograph a couple that chooses not to see each other before the ceremony I try to put myself in their shoes. The bride walks down the aisle to her soon to be husband. They are both completely nervous with all these guests staring at them. The bride reaches the front of the church. Her father is standing between her and her future husband. Her father gives her away and she moves to stand next to her husband. They don’t touch. They don’t talk. They can’t tell each other how amazingly beautiful the other looks. They can’t tell the other how incredibly excited they are to be getting married. They can’t hug, they can’t kiss, they can’t embrace. They can’t have a moment to themselves. After the ceremony is over they are immediately approached by all their loving relatives to be congratulated. This continues into the reception and throughout the night. They never have a moment just to themselves. I’ve been told by many people that your wedding day goes by in such a big blur, that sometimes it’s hard to remember everything. If you do a first look you have time scheduled to slow down and appreciate what this day is all about…being madly in love with the person you’re about to marry! Some people are concerned that a first look takes away from the emotion of the bride walking down the aisle and being given away by her father. It doesn’t. The bride being escorted by her father creates a completely different kind of emotion. I see grooms choked up in a totally different way than they were when they saw their bride for the first time. Your groom is also prone to have a more natural reaction as you approach him – he’s calm because he has already seen you…instead of being nervous while seeing you for the first time with the stress of 200 guests staring at him! So how does the first look work? After you are both all done up and dressed for the wedding, we position the groom facing away from where the bride will appear behind him. She approaches him while we capture the happy anticipation on his face. She usually touches (or grabs!) his arm and turns him around. And we the photographers capture, from a distance, all the emotion! You two get to hug, embrace, and savor this moment as long as you want…without the pressure of your guests watching you. You get to talk, laugh, cry (and reapply your makeup before the ceremony!) and we’re there to capture it all! Another reason to do the first look is that it reduces stress so much! Not only will you be less nervous walking down the aisle, it makes the day run much more smoothly. After we do a first look we do portraits of the bride and groom together. We have plenty of time for creative portraits that you will treasure forever! Then we get the whole bridal party together and do all of the formal photos with them, and then formal photos with your immediate family. We stop taking photos at least 30 minuets before the ceremony starts so you can tuck yourselves away, usually separately, without being seen by guests. The only formal photos we have left after the ceremony are any large family photos, which take about 30 minutes. When you do a first look everyone gets to the reception quickly and your guests aren’t sitting there waiting for two hours because guess what, we did all the photos before the ceremony! Of course it is possible to do all the photos after the ceremony but they are always rushed, which means as a photographer I’m not as creative as I could be, and you’re not getting the photos you could be! You’d also be getting photos taken when you’d rather be celebrating with your guests, which stresses you out! “Rights to EricaM” Read more: from the post and comments others talking about it