It’s a question that couples ask me all the time: “Should we see each other before the wedding?” My answer is always, “It’s up to you.”

      About half the couples that I photograph choose to have a private meeting before the ceremony. They arrange a time and location to see each other, and I photograph their reactions when they see each other for the first time that day. This meeting has become known as the “first look.” After they’ve had a few private minutes together, we begin the posed portrait session.

      Wedding of Kristen and Yaki

      Tradition states that the groom should not see the bride before the ceremony. The problem is that this tradition was established before wedding photography became part of the process. Now couples are faced with a choice: follow tradition, or devote more time to photos?  I truly want you to have the type of wedding that is important to you, so I don’t have a preference which option you take. My style is primarily photojournalistic, so my goal is to document real events as they happen, and I don’t require a lot of time for posing. I will work with whatever amount of time you give me, but the more time you schedule for posed photos, the more you will have when it’s all over.


      There are a few things to consider as you make this decision:

      Your schedule
      I tell my clients that I typically need a minimum of an hour for posed photos: 15 minutes for family, 15 minutes for wedding party, and 30 minutes for the couple. I encourage people to schedule more time than that whenever possible.If your dinner starts an hour after the ceremony begins, that won’t be enough time for an hour of photos. You also need to plan for time to sign the marriage license, greet people after the ceremony, travel to the reception site, bustle the gown, and freshen up before entering the reception. An hour and a half is usually a better choice for time between the ceremony and reception, and even more time is needed in certain cases.If your schedule won’t permit 1.5 hours before the start of the reception, I strongly encourage you to plan for some of your photos before the ceremony.

      The sunlight
      If your ceremony takes place near sunset, there will not be much light available for photos afterward. I can provide portrait lighting, but I won’t be able to illuminate mountain scenery or other aspects of the location that might be important to you. In this situation, I recommend that you take your portraits before the ceremony.If your ceremony takes place in the middle of the afternoon, though, the sunlight could be harsh and bright beforehand. In this situation, you could be better off scheduling portraits afterward, when the late afternoon sunlight is softer. If you would like to see each other before the ceremony, we could plan the group portraits before the wedding, and plan the couple portraits for afterward.

      Your family
      If you have family members who are older or handicapped, often it’s most appropriate to take the group portraits immediately after the ceremony. If we schedule family photos beforehand, they will have to arrive at least an hour early and spend a lot of time sitting and waiting.

      Your guests
      If you take your posed photos before the ceremony, you will have more time to spend with your guests during the cocktail hour. You will also have more photos of your guests, because I will be able to photograph them during this time instead of taking posed photos elsewhere.If you decide to schedule your posed photos during the cocktail hour, please don’t worry about neglecting your guests. It is a party for them as well as you, and they will be happy to spend this time chatting with friends and family that they haven’t seen in a while. Guests understand that the wedding party usually takes photos during the cocktail hour, and they don’t expect the bride and groom to entertain them during this time.

      Your nerves
      The hours before the wedding can be stressful for lots of people. If you know that you are calmer and happier in the arms of your bride- or groom-to-be, you will probably have more fun on your wedding day if you spend it together. On my own wedding day, I was a bundle of anxiety until I got to see Mike before the ceremony. He put his arms around me, and I was happy for the rest of the day.

      The types of photos that you want to have
      Several of my photos of brides and grooms are posed, even if they don’t look set up. If you want a variety of romantic, artistic photos of the two of you, you must plan sufficient time to take them. If you schedule the bare minimum of photo time, I won’t have an opportunity to create the same kinds of portraits for you that I have for other couples.Years down the road, you will love to look at beautiful portraits of the two of you. These are the photos that you will frame, and that your children and grandchildren will love to look at someday. Please make sure that you plan enough time to take the photos that will become family heirlooms.


      I think a lot of couples try so hard not to become emotional during the ceremony and its directly the opposite with pre-wedding reveals. Thanks for this post, incredibly informative for brides, grooms. Your website and it%u2019s absolutely amazing.

      I agree…first looks can be amazing moments!

      Very Pretty! Mike Pritchard’s shot with the tear in the eye is lovely

      Really useful information for brides here, thanks. I’m going to put a link to it on my blog.


      wow you have a gift for taking some truly romantic images.

      I really did not know where to reply :S

      But, seriously yours would be one of my favorite photographer blog / website ever !!!! after

      Scott Kelby, Bryan Peterson and Joe McNally, who books have really taught me soon and helped me where I am today in photography. Yours would be one of them. Other than the massive wonderful photograph portfolio your write ups, tutorials and tips are worth every bit. I am still a amateur with a canon 590IS but I really do hope I become a professional photographer soon.

      Thanks a ton !!!!

      Just had a look around your website and it’s absolutely amazing!!!
      You have such a great eye for detail!

      I just couldn’t resist saying something 🙂

      Just had a look around your website and it’s absolutely amazing!!!
      You have such a great eye for detail!

      I just couldn’t resist saying something 🙂

      Thanks for this post, incredibly informative for brides, grooms and everyone involved in the planning.

      I couldnt agree more with the way you said it, Charlotte. I will add that the reveals before a ceremony I have done are some of my favorite images. Couples are much more relaxed and the emotions are real. I think a lot of couples try so hard not to become emotional during the ceremony and its directly the opposite with pre-wedding reveals.


      great post – excellent info for brides!

      Fantastic perspective. Just the facts. You make it too easy!

      Fantastic advice, Charlotte. Your comments about lighting are spot-on.

      I love it, Christy! What a wonderful moment!

      I did not see my husband before the wedding ceremony…personal choice for tradition’s sake…but my photographer did capture this pre-wedding gem!

      I really hope as we move forward, this becomes more accepted and the tradition slips away. Like you said, it’s up to the couple but I really think first looks are great.

      Great post Charlotte.

      Charlotte Geary


      Lifestyle, event, and portrait photographer with a vibrant, joyful style and 17 years of professional experience.

      Located in Reston, Virginia near Washington, D.C. and available for travel.