If you've started planning your wedding day timeline, you are probably aware of how quickly time will pass once the processional music starts. Enter the first look. First looks started as way for photographers to create extra time for portraits during the wedding day. Couples often desire more relaxed, romantic, fun, storytelling portraits, but don’t want to make their guests wait over an hour for their arrival (and dinner!) at the reception.
When my husband Kevin and I got married, we decided to utilize a first look upon the suggestion of our own photographer. It was before the term was widespread and we felt like we were bucking tradition. But as I looked up the origin of the no-peek custom, I didn't feel so attached to the idea.
As you might know, the tradition stems from a precaution in arranged marriages where seeing a bride prior to the ceremony posed a flight risk to the groom. With the source of this ritual unveiled--pun intended--it was one we were more willing to abandon.
Having a first look was one of the best decisions we made in our wedding planning. Not only did we capture beautiful photos, but, more importantly, we were also afforded a moment of shared peace before the ceremony.
Even though I was outgoing and madly in love with Kevin, I was crazy-nervous about walking down the aisle. Like, my-sister-doing-breathing-exercises-with-me-in-the-confessional nervous.
Whether I'm scared, nervous, happy, sad, or excited, the person I run to is Kevin. The morning of our wedding was no different. Fortunately, we had planned a first look and I had the chance to calm my nerves with the man who knows me best. We smiled, laughed, embraced and talked--it was wonderful, and I will always cherish the time we reserved for the two of us.
Even after seeing each other before the wedding, walking down the aisle was an incredible moment. I remember being overcome with emotion as I walked arm-in-arm with my dad down the same aisle I used to walk down every morning for elementary school mass, noticing all the friends and family who had traveled to celebrate with us. My heart was overflowing as I was walked toward the person with whom I wanted to share everything.
The fact that we had already seen each other all dressed up didn't dampen our joy or anticipation to become husband and wife. In fact, I think it enhanced our ceremony because we had released some of our nerves and could be more present to the sacrament.
From my personal experience, and the ones I’ve witnessed as a photographer, I encourage my clients to have a first look. It provides time for the bride and groom to love on each other and breathe together. It is an opportunity to be still, separate from questions about where the corsages are or who has the tip envelope for the organist.
A few of my couples have prayed together during their first looks. While the blessings and prayers led by a priest are wonderful, there is something vulnerable and beautiful about uttering a prayer yourselves. Entering into a marriage and forging a new family is a heavy--albeit joyful--undertaking. Praying together before the ceremony offers a chance to abandon the tiny stresses that can bite away at your peace and to recenter your mind and soul on the significance of the day.
In 2019, I will get to photograph an Adoration first look! I cannot wait to capture this intensely beautiful way to prepare for vows before the Creator. Humbling oneself to ask for the Almighty's guidance, to surrender your union to his will, or to pour out your heart to God through song--without the pomp of the ceremony and away from the eyes of your guests--are some wonderful ways to prepare for this lifelong vocation.
Whether you choose a first look or not, I encourage you to make time to pray on your wedding day. Pray with your bridal party, with your parents, through the sacraments of confession or the Eucharist. Plan time for quiet Adoration or exchanging letters with your beloved that contain your prayers each other. Without a plan, the moment for quiet stillness in preparation for the sacrament of matrimony will undoubtedly slip away.
About the Author: This year, Claire Watson hung up her job as a business law attorney to focus on photographing weddings. In between emails and editing, she dances in the kitchen with her kids. She lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia with her smokin' hot (her words) husband, tenacious but awesome three-year-old, and snuggly ten-month old.