How Do I Photograph a First Look?

Hi Kayla!
I booked a wedding recently, and the couple has said that they'd like a first look.  I'm not sure what to do + where to go.  Can you give me any guidance you have regarding first looks, and how to plan ahead so things so smoothly?
First Time First-Looker...

Dear First Time First-Looker,

I'm so excited for you and your couple - first looks are AWESOME!  I love them so much, from a personal perspective and a photographers perspective.  I truly believe it is such a special moment for the couple, and allows them to really soak each other in and have a moment before the rest of the day unfolds.  They also give the opportunity for more portraits, and often, in a less stressful time-gap of the day.  With that said, here are my main points of advice to help your clients first look go smoothly + sweetly:

Prior to Wedding Day:

  1. First things first: Put adequate time for the first look into the timeline. Generally, I suggest to my clients to allot 20 minutes for the first look, plus 10 minutes for "set-up". Depending on details, and the size of the venue, sometimes it can take a few minutes to get everyone in place and ready. It's important to allot this time into the schedule of the day because this time is meant to be calm, comforting, romantic, and wonderful. The last thing you want is for your clients to feel like they're late or causing the day to run behind --- this is a time for them to enjoy.

On wedding day:

  1. Find a location. Just like anything on wedding day - you'll have to find a location that works best for what you need. Putting light, surroundings, and possible guest invasions into consideration. You'll want to find a location that has the best light possible, a beautiful background, and somewhere that is somewhat discrete and private. Again, this time is for the couple to have a special moment before the rest of the day kicks off and they're surrounded by guests and being pulled in every direction. Selecting a spot where they will have privacy will help them be able to be themselves, and help you be able to get the shots you want -- full of emotion and not distractions.

  2. Set Expectations. AKA, let them know there are none. As I prep each of my clients, I let them know that this is a time for THEM. A time where they can do whatever they'd like - snuggle, chat, laugh, cry, check each other out, anything they want. I let them know not to worry about me, or the camera, or the time - and to just soak in the magic of the moment, and each other.

  3. Let them know what you do need. I do let them know where to stand, what path to follow, which shoulder to tap, and which direction to turn, so that I can see them best. This helps tremendously with getting them in the position you'd like, while staying out of their moment so that it can unfold organically.

  4. Pump them up! They're NERVOUS! This is a huge moment in their lives, in their day, and in their love story. Let them know that they look incredible (because they do!), and that their future spouse is going to DIE when they see them (because they are!). Walk with them, hold things if they need you to, hug them if they want it, encourage them to take a deep breath and then send them in with a huge smile!

  5. Let them let you know when they're "done". Let them interact. Let them have their moments. Let them let their emotions flow. This will create those candid photos that you + they are hoping for. Then, when things start to cool down, and they start to look at you like "whats next", guide them into taking a few portraits.

  6. Watch the timeline. Most likely, the first look is immediately prior to the ceremony, and if everything is at one venue - it's likely that guests will start to arrive. Make sure that you're keeping an eye on the time, and tucking the Bride away with enough time that she won't get caught in the entrance of guests. This will also give her some time to go make touch-ups if she'd like, and take another deep breath before the ceremony begins.

That's it!  With those seven tips, your clients first look should go off without a hitch!  Although it can feel overwhelming, it really is just a time to let your clients be themselves, and you capture the organic emotions that follow.  My last piece of advice:  you take a deep breath as well. :)  You can do it!