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How to Shoot a First Look

I love first looks. They’re such a lovely way for couples to see each other for the first time on their wedding day, have a private moment, and bask in each other’s love. So here’s a great guide on how to shoot a first look.

If you’re asking ourself, “Um, what’s a first look?” It’s when couples opt to see each other for the first time before the ceremony, and get all the formal photos out of the way prior to walking down the aisle. Also known as a “first reveal”. About 60 percent of my couples go this route, and more do ever year.

I could write a whole other post on why first looks are the best, but now let’s focus on how to properly capture this moment.

***Note: I’m using the terms “bride” and “groom” simply to denote the two different roles in a first look, not necessarily to refer to the man and the woman. The same strategy would apply to same sex marriages, regardless of gender.

Set it Up

We photographers see about a million weddings, but for our couples, it’s their first time! They have no idea how to set up a first look. So we do it for them. A couple things you should look for when picking a location and setting it up:

  • Privacy – most couples don’t want random strangers looking on during this emotional moment, or worse, their mother-in-law. So pick a spot that’s relatively private
  • Good lighting
  • Plan the route – make sure you’ve set it up in a way that the couple doesn’t accidentally get a glimpse of one another as they’re getting out of the limo or walking around


First look at Canoe restaurant in Toronto

Give Specific Instructions

Be very clear to both the bride and groom what they’re supposed to do.

  • Groom – this one’s easy, just don’t turn around before you’re supposed to!
  • Bride – she can do a number of things from tapping him on the shoulder to covering his eyes, just make sure you’re on the same page so you know what to expect

Your Positions

Having two shooters is great for any wedding day, but even more helpful when shooting a first look. Different angles are crucial to how to shoot a first look.

  • Shooter #1 – you want to follow the bride as she’s walking towards the groom. That way, you can be sure to capture the groom’s reaction as he turns around
  • Shooter #2 – you want to start facing the groom, capturing the anticipation as the bride is approaching. Then, when she’s a few feet away, you quickly move off to the side to get a wider shot of both of them and the scene


First look in the Distillery District

Lens Choice

  • Shooter #1 – 85mm or above to make sure you capture the expressions close up
  • Shooter #2 – 50mm or wide angle to make sure you get more atmospheric shots without being too far away to get the expression

View more tips on what lenses to use during different wedding situations here.


Leave them alone!

This is their moment. From the time the bride starts walking towards the groom, do NOT interfere. You are invisible. Their hearts are beating out of their chests and they just can’t wait to embrace one another, the last thing they need is a photographer barking, “no wait, stop, just need to get this quick shot. Okay, take a few steps more, now tap in on the shoulder, okay stop again.” You’re there to document a real moment, not to create a posed one.

Interjecting is the biggest mistake you can make. It’s not worth compromising one of the biggest moments of the day (if not their lives) to get the oh so perfect shot.

If you totally missed a shot that you’d like to get, simply wait until the couple is finished hugging and kissing, and stage it after.


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