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Leap First or Look First?

The pros and cons of scheduling a portrait session prior to your ceremony.

Let’s get one thing settled: it’s not bad luck to see your fiancĂ© before the start of the wedding. That notion dates to the time of arranged marriages, when negotiating partners (read: the parents) worried the bride or groom might split if they caught a glimpse of each other with time to spare.

While the long-forgotten origins of that superstition may be unsavory, the resulting tradition of waiting to see your partner is still a beloved part of weddings. In fact, it remained virtually unchecked until recently, when pre-ceremony “first look” portrait sessions surged in popularity.

Today, the debate over whether to shoot first, marry later provokes strong opinions from either side. Those in favor of an aisle reveal say it is often a highlight of the wedding: the emotion in the room is palpable, and the photos are often unbeatable.

“I think there’s something special about seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony,” says photographer Jocelyn Filley. She also likes that it allows her to break up portrait sessions, with separate and small-group portraits prior to the ceremony and newlywed portraits after. “I really love the energy of portraits right after the ceremony,” says Filley.

Proponents of a first look session make similar claims. It allows you to take pictures when you look your best, just after you’ve finished getting ready; it creates an intimate moment between you and your partner away from prying eyes; and it allows you to spend more time with your guests at the cocktail hour, especially if you follow a first look with group portraits, says Mila Lowe.

Fellow photographer Larisa Stinga is even more enthusiastic. “Hell yes,” she says when asked if she encourages a first look. “It’s an intentional moment that you can have with your partner on your wedding day. You can share intimate vows, letters, tears, and it’s the most unique and beautiful moment, in my opinion.”
It’s a myth that walking down the aisle will be less special if you already see each other, she says. “[Couples] still get emotional and share tears when they realize ‘it’s happening.’”

Despite any personal opinions, most photographers say they will follow a couple’s lead and that the decision of whether to schedule a first look should be based on logistics and emotion.

“I don’t stress it either way because there are advantages and disadvantages to both,” says Tim Correira. For him, the decision comes down to whether you want to arrive at the ceremony together or delay that special moment. If the couple thinks they might be anxious prior to the ceremony, a first look could soothe their nerves. If not, it might not be necessary.

“It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and that’s okay,” says Correira. In other words, a photographer’s preference shouldn’t influence your plans. Neither should debunked superstitions.