first look wedding photography tips

As a wedding photographer, every client you book will have unique timelines, ideas, and expectations for their big day. One of the differences your client may have in their timeline is whether or not they will take part in a first look wedding photography session. A wedding first look is when the bride and groom decide to see each other before the ceremony in their wedding attire. The main purpose of a first look is to allow the couple to experience this special time privately and more intimately.

Here at ShootDotEdit, we see plenty of first look wedding photos as a part of our color correction services for photographers. And since we know it can be one of the most important parts of the wedding day, we reached out to Ruth Terrero of Ruth Terrero Photography, a wedding photographer who is no stranger to mastering the first look, to gather her insights on the best ways to set up and shoot the first look for your clients.

Ruth Terrero Headshot

About Ruth Terrero

Ruth Terrero is a Jesus follower, sunset lover, guitar player, travel fanatic Wedding Photographer in Tampa Florida. She was born to Hispanic parents so she speaks Spanish fluently. Ruth loves the ability she has to capture life’s meaningful moments creatively and relive those. Every photo she takes tells a story. It is a frozen moment that has great meaning. She is available for weddings in Florida, all of the US, and her passport is up to date for international weddings.


First Look Wedding Photography

Whether you shoot first looks or not for your wedding clients, it is important to understand that there are several advantages and disadvantages. The more you know about first looks, and the advantages and disadvantages your clients may think of, the easier it will be to explain and discuss with them.

A wedding photography image of the front of the groom and his tux, with the bride's hands over his hands.
Image by Ruth Terrero Photography

Some of the advantages of a first look for your wedding clients are:

It’s an Intimate Moment for the Bride and Groom

As mentioned before, the main purpose of doing a first look is to make this a private, intimate, and more heartfelt time for the couple. A first look allows the couple to enjoy this time without the pressure of being in front of hundreds of guests. It allows for a more relaxed time in which the bride and groom can be themselves and really immerse each other in this special moment without the time constraints.

This is one of the biggest advantages of doing a first look and making sure your client understands this is crucial. When explaining this, I love to tell my clients something along the lines of, “Feel free to cry your eyes out! I will be the only one there and I promise I won’t judge, in fact, I might be crying my eyes out too!”

The Bride and Groom Spend More Time Together


If you think about a traditional wedding that you have photographed before and there was no first look, you will likely realize you spent more time with the bride than she did with her groom. In fact, the bride and groom probably spent less than half of the day together.

This is because, with a traditional wedding, the couple spends the first half of the day getting ready in different rooms. They finally get to see each other during the wedding ceremony grand entrance but right after the ceremony, a sea of family and friends come over to congratulate the couple. Then, the bridal party and family portraits take place. And after that, the cocktail hour and reception happen, leaving the couple with little time to themselves.

This seems odd considering that the whole purpose of a wedding is to unite the couple and celebrate their love. A great solution to suggest to your couple is to have a first look. The first look allows the bride and groom to spend most of their big day together. It also allows them to have time to take in the moment alone.

It Provides a More Effective Photography Timeline

Raise your hand if you are a photographer who love first looks? I am willing to bet that if you have done a first look before, you loved it! There is no doubt that a first look gives us photographers more flexibility when it comes to wedding photography timelines. Here are some of the timeline benefits of a first look:

Uninterrupted Moments

We get to capture the couple’s most important moment up close and uninterrupted. You know what I am talking about. It is very difficult to get a great composition and have full control during the ceremony when the guests are also trying to capture photos with their phones or are possibly standing on the way. Or, when you have to capture the very best shots during wedding time-crunches.

A photography image from the wedding day first look of the bride and groom together, as the smiling bride holds her bouquet and turns her head to face the camera.
Image by Ruth Terrero Photography

Traditional Couple Photos

After the first look, I like to capture traditional, posed bride and groom photos of the couple. These are normally the photos that Grandma will want to hang up. This is especially beneficial for weddings with a sunset ceremony because, by the time the ceremony is over, it will likely be too dark. Taking the bride and groom photos before the guests arrive makes sure the most important photos of the day are taken care of beforehand. It also eliminates the stress of having to capture these if the timeline gets shortened.

Bridal Party Shots

Right after the bride and groom photos, I like to take photos of the bride and groom with their bridal party. I have found that the bridal party loves this! Bridesmaids love taking the photos before the ceremony because their hair and makeup is fresh and they look their best! Groomsmen love it because they normally prefer to enjoy cocktail hour after the ceremony rather than going away to pose for photos.

Family Formals

If possible, I also like to do family formals after the bridal party photos. Having the family formals after the ceremony and gathering all the family members together, especially if the couple has big families, can be hectic. So, doing this beforehand is another important thing you can cross off your list, which allows the family to enjoy the cocktail hour.

Husband and Wife Portraits Time

This one is totally optional but even when having a first look, I like to offer my clients to get more Bride and Groom photos done after the ceremony, I like to call it “The Husband and Wife Portraits Time.” This is especially important if the ceremony is right before sunset as you will be able to capture their husband and wife portraits in beautiful golden light! And, the couple gets more photos!

An outdoor golden hour wedding photo of the bride and groom in an embrace, with the bride's veil flowing in the wind.
Image by Ruth Terrero Photography

The beauty of it is that, because you already captured the traditional photos after the first look, you can get really creative with these photos and not take up too much time, so the couple can too enjoy their cocktail hour.

Before we move on, it is also important to be aware of the disadvantages of a first look. This ensures you can inform your clients about each side of the first look. That way, they can make a decision that will work best for them. Here are a few of the disadvantages of a first look:

Certain Traditions are Broken

The famous tradition of a couple not seeing each other before the ceremony started with arranged marriages. The bride and groom were not allowed to see each other beforehand to prevent them from trying to break off the wedding if they didn’t like each other. Interesting, huh!

This tradition stuck and today, bride and grooms still opt to wait until the ceremony to see each other to build the excitement and honor this magical moment. For some of your couples, breaking this tradition may be one of the biggest disadvantages of a first look.

Need to Get Ready Earlier

Another disadvantage of having a first look is that the bridal party has to get up earlier to start getting ready for the first look. Many brides and grooms opt to have their bachelor and bachelorette parties the night before the wedding. Or, they are putting together last wedding details the night before and having to get up earlier because of the first look can be a big turn off to them.

How to Have “The First Look” Talk

Many couples have mixed feelings about first looks (if they even know about them), sometimes even without completely understanding the advantages and disadvantages. Because of this, I have found that the best time to have the “first look talk” is during the wedding photography initial consultation before they even bring it up.

A wedding photography image of the bride and groom as the groom dips the bride and there is a sunburst between their lips.
Image by Ruth Terrero Photography

What you want to do is mention that a first look is an option to consider for their big day and take the time to explain the pros and cons of doing one. If possible, avoid asking their thoughts on first looks before you get a chance to explain about it.

Share Your Personal Experiences

If you are married and had a first look, this is a great time to share your personal experience! Couples will appreciate you sharing from first-hand experience what you liked and did not like so much about having your own first look and why it could benefit them. If you are not married and have not had a first look but plan on having one at your wedding, you can share why you are opting to have one.

You can also share past experiences of first looks you have done before. If you had a couple, where for instance the bride wanted a first look but the groom was not on board, share their decision and how they felt about it afterward.

Once you finish explaining, let them know that they don’t have to make a decision right away. They can take the time to think about it and let you know their thoughts. The most important thing to keep in mind is to talk about first looks objectively, in a non-biased way, and ultimately respect what the couple decides.

How to Set up the First Look

Your couple will likely look to you to take the lead in setting up their first look. This is the most important moment of a couple’s big day. Knowing this and doing your part to make it a great experience is crucial.

A wedding picture of the bride and groom outdoors in front of a building in an embrace, with their sides facing the camera.
Image by Ruth Terrero


Communication and setting up expectations with your couple is the most important success tip for setting up first looks. You can start by having a chat with them and asking them what their first look expectations are. You want this moment to be how they envisioned it. Use their expectations and desires as your guide as you set up the first look. For example, a couple might mention that they want their family and bridal party to be present during the first look. Another couple might mention that they imagine just the 2 of them (plus the photographer, videographer, or both) present.


While you scout the location for the wedding day shoot, keep an eye out for where the wedding first look can take place. The location for the first look should be a private location, preferably close to the ceremony location and outdoors during the daytime. This makes it so you don’t have to bring in flash to the shoot, as it can be disturbing for the moment.


Explain how the first look photos will go ahead of time and try to give them as much privacy as possible even though you’re still present, capturing it. If you have a second shooter, have him/her use a long lens to get different angles and so it’s less invasive. After you get all your shots, leave and allow some time for the couple to be completely on their own.


Discuss beforehand whether your clients want you to talk them through the first look or if they want you to simply be there to capture it. If your bride and groom are okay with you guiding them through the first look, educate them on how they can make the most out of it.

How to Shoot the First Look

Encourage your wedding clients to build up the momentum and bring their personalities by doing things like starting with a first touch, having them close their eyes, or letting them share a love letter right before the first look. These actions encourage them to be in the moment. This is not the time for posed wedding photos.

A film-like wedding image of the couple standing with their backs to the camera on a beach filled with rocks.
Image by Ruth Terrero Photography

Camera Settings

For camera settings, make sure to use a fast enough shutter speed to account for movement. I like to use at least double my focal length to make sure my couple is in perfect focus.

Shooting Style

Keep in mind your shooting style when photographing the first look. I personally like to switch lenses to capture the moment in different ways, for instance, I’ll use the 24-70mm to get full-body and environmental shots of the moment and I’ll switch to my 50mm to get portraits and detail shots.

I also normally use a wide aperture to allow more light to come in and create depth of field.


The most important thing to keep in mind is to have even light on your couple. Avoid spots with harsh or changing light as it will create unflattering shadows on your couple. Instead, place your couple in open shade for the best light.

This should get you on your way to a fantastic first look experience for both you and your clients. If you’ve done first look wedding photography sessions before, what has been your experience photographing them? Comment below. I’d love to know!


When you learn how to set up and shoot first look wedding photography, you can create unforgettable images for your clients. You can capture genuine emotion in the first look wedding pictures your clients will look back on fondly for years to come. In addition to first look photography, what are other crucial images to capture on the wedding day?

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