| May 19, 2021

Elopement and Wedding First Looks | Tips & How

Table of Contents

Why You Need a “First Look” at Your Wedding or Elopement

If you follow any wedding accounts on IG, you’ve definitely seen a first look before! We post them all the time over at @adventureinstead and you might have seen some go viral for being funny/emotional/unique. Basically, these are images where you witness the progression of one half of a couple getting married, walking up to their partner, and sharing a private moment together before beginning their wedding day.

You may want to have a wedding first look for a few reasons—perhaps you’re having guests and you want to plan a specific time to be with only your partner, or maybe you just want that climactic moment where you see each other for the first time. No matter your reason, a first look is always a super special experience.

What is a Wedding First Look?

It’s exactly what the name implies—the first moment you see someone or they see you on your wedding day! It is a newer wedding day tradition, often replacing the moment when seeing your partner for the first time as they walk down the aisle. 

A first look gives a couple the opportunity to enjoy a private moment away from the eyes of friends and family. It most commonly occurs after the “getting ready” part of the day, and before the ceremony. The technicalities of a first look can look different depending on your location, your relationship, and what your photographer is most familiar with. 

To begin, one partner is often staged in a place with their back turned to their partner. Alternatively, both couples can stand with their backs to each other. If one is turned around, the other will often walk up and tap their partner on the shoulder, or call out their name when they are ready to see each other. If both couples have their backs turned, the photographer can ask if they are both ready, and then ask them to turn together. 

This moment can be tricky, because it’s important to capture the reactions of both people—photographers will often have a second photographer present for this purpose. I also always tell couples to go slowly—take time looking at each other before going in for a hug, hold that hug for a while, and enjoy stretching out this moment as long as you can. Then, even when working with a single photographer you’ll get images from all sides of this emotional moment.

How to Have a First Look at Your Elopement

First looks can take place at elopements too—it’s not just a traditional wedding day activity! We photograph elopements with guests, so a first look can be used as a moment to spend time being totally present with just your partner, which is similar to how it works at a wedding too. Even if you’re eloping just the two of you, you can get ready separately and enjoy all the emotion of a first look experience!

If you want to have a first look, I recommend getting ready separately—this way you can come together for a truly momentous reveal! For practical reasons, I often build the first look into elopement timelines to occur near the getting ready location. Otherwise, you’ll have to find a way to travel separately to your spot without getting a glimpse of your partner. However, there are also ways to work around this! You can either wear street clothes to your destination and change once you’ve arrived, like at the viewpoint of a hike. Or you can blindfold yourself and/or your partner, but then you need to ensure you’ve got a really good guide! I even fashioned a sheet divider in the back of my car one time so that a couple could sit in the back without seeing each other—THAT was unique!

First Look Inspiration

Below, we’ve added some photos from previous first looks our couples have done. These images are from a mixture of two-person elopements, and elopements with family members. Some took place at the getting ready location, and others at the end of a long hike through the mountains. Whatever kind of experience you’re envisioning for your wedding day, a first look can be an incredible way to be present, enjoy the grandeur of your moment, and truly ground yourselves in the gravity of this decision you’re making—together.

How to Plan An Emotional First Look

I don’t have a secret sure-fire way to get your partner to cry during the first look—sorry! However there are quite a few tricks to ensuring that the first look is a stress-free experience where you can both be present. Avoiding distractions and truly enjoying this moment depend a lot on your mindset, so let me give you my Top 3 bits of advice for getting the most out of your wedding first look experience:

  1. Don’t rush into it

Don’t rush into your first look, or through it. Savor the moments before as you stand there in anticipation, and spend your hours before in a way that gets you thinking about everything you love about this person you’re about to marry! Wedding days can sometimes feel so rushed, which is why I specialize in elopement celebrations for couples—the most important thing for me is that your time is spent collecting memories, not rushing through experiences.

  1. Listen to your favorite songs or read letters

Whether you spend the morning together or separate, enjoy the things you love doing together—listening to a playlist your partner curated for you, drinking your favorite coffee or cooking your favorite breakfast. To really get in the mood before your first look, it can also be sweet to read a letter from your partner—this is different from your private vows or ceremony vows—it can be an opportunity to share exactly how you’re feeling and how excited you are to step forward into this new chapter of your lives.

  1. Visualize the moment

As you’re going through your rituals leading up to the wedding, whatever they may be, visualize how you want experiences to go. Imagine seeing your partner in their wedding attire for the first time—I bet that just put a smile on your face!  Visualizing an experience and experiencing the growing anticipation of a moment can help the real thing feel that much more real. You’re here, finally, and this is what you’ve been waiting for. Visualization can also help you make choices about your wedding day—what you want it to look like when you first start planning is probably different from what your wedding day will be in reality, and that’s OK! You’ll probably change your mind about certain things, and set in stone other plans, but taking the time to really imagine going through the motions will help you be certain you’re making all the right choices.

Fun Ideas for a Wedding Day First Look

A first look doesn’t have to be super formal—if you’re the kind of person that loves to make others laugh, then these are ideas to turn your first look into something FUN! Or maybe you just have a good reason for wanting to break tradition and do something a little different. Whatever kind of first look fits your wedding day vibes, we support you!

  1. Have the first look with a parent, not your partner

Maybe it’s not important to you that the first look took place with your partner—maybe you went shopping together, got ready together, or plan to spend the whole day together. I’ve seen first looks done between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and even with siblings or best friends. It can be equally emotional/exciting for your loved ones to see you all dressed up and ready to marry the love of your life!

  1. Dress up in a costume instead of your wedding attire

I’m sure you’ve seen these passed around social media—usually it is a groom who turns around expecting to see their partner in a wedding gown, but instead they’re in a costume! I’ve seen this done in those epic blow-up T-Rex costumes, a hippo, bigfoot, and even a banana!

  1. Sneak in your partner’s best friend to surprise them

Google search “Best man pranks groom by wearing wedding dress for the first look” and you’ll see what I’m getting at here! I don’t know whose brilliant idea this was, but I’ve seen a few of these first look pranks and they always make me laugh. I’m sure this isn’t the kind of prank everyone would appreciate, but some might consider it the best way to start the day—laughing at the ridiculousness of your loved one’s surprise!

Why We Love First Looks & Elopements

We LOVE first looks! I mean, how often are you told to dedicate a moment to look like your best self and only focus on your partner? Not often enough in my opinion! It is so incredibly special to dedicate a moment to come together, celebrate this beautiful human you’re pledging to marry, and put a “pause” on everything else. During a first look, nothing matters except this person standing right in front of you—everything you’ve done to plan, and all the hours spent pulling your vision together, have led you to this moment of zero distractions from the most important thing of all. 

Elopement days are so often structured differently than weddings—the couple spends most of their time together, rather than the first look often being the only minutes a couple is alone until their guests leave. Instead of it being a first look that leads into a party hosted by the couple getting married, it’s a moment to say “heck yeah, let’s do this!” From this moment on, you get to spend the rest of your elopement day standing beside this incredible human you can’t take your eyes off of—it’s so romantic!

Part of my process with couples is to craft a custom timeline, which can include a first look. If you’re ready to begin planning your own elopement, send me a message!

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Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

Three photographers

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Adventure Instead

Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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