Not long ago, I photographed the Fairmont Copley Plaza wedding of writer Whitney W. Wolf and her husband Ian. They married at Boston’s iconic Trinity Church and held their reception at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Because Whitney comes from a traditional family and holds certain family and religious traditions close to her heart, I knew she would be one of the best brides to share her ideas on the subject of the new trend of the first look. Whitney W. Wolf is a writer from Newport, RI and Boston, MA who has lived previously in Chicago and until recently, lived in a seaside village just outside of Naples, Italy.
To See or Not to See: A first look doesn’t have to mean the end of tradition.
After the “yes” has been said, the phone calls have been made, and the (many) celebratory cocktails have been consumed, It’s time to get down to the details, one of which includes a decision on to see, or not to see each other prior to the ceremony.
When it came to my wedding, I considered myself traditional – and superstitious – and so it was no surprise that my gut reaction to whether or not we would have a First Look was “No, of course not! Are you crazy?” End of discussion.
A few months later, I was in a wedding party, where the bride did choose to see the groom prior to the ceremony. Much to my surprise – their First Look seemed remarkably sacred, and even traditional, in its own modern way. The First Look didn’t detract from the anticipation and excitement of the day, nor did it seem to serve as an indicator of looming misfortune (as superstition would suggest).
On the contrary, the couple seemed even more relaxed, confident, and connected, by nature of the fact that they had shared this cherished moment prior to the commencement of jubilant chaos that was sure to ensue after “I do.”
The First Look seemed to free the bride and groom to embrace every moment thereafter with ease, unfettered by any angst that can grow while awaiting a moment that, though intended for two, is performed entirely in the “public” eye.
The bride later said that she felt like she and her groom felt an even stronger connection throughout the day by sharing that moment together first, and that doing so also allowed them to take in moments of the ceremony procession that they might not have had we been focused on had they been seeing each other for the first time
Having a First Look prior to the ceremony also created an opportunity for the bride and groom to get their formal wedding party photography done early and while everyone was looking their freshest – in the sweltering August heat. It also meant that they could partake in all the aforementioned jubilant chaos following the ceremony, without the added pressure of squeezing a full-on photo shoot into a short break before cocktail hour – or miss the cocktail hour altogether.
In contrary to a third option – a long break between ceremony and reception – photography beforehand enables a seamless flow from ceremony to cocktail hour – instead of the alternative where the bridal party races from vows at the alter to a shot list of local landmarks, leaving guests to kill time in an unfamiliar location, and uncomfortable shoes, when they’d rather be taking shots of their own… at the reception.
After seeing the astounding success of my friend’s decision I decided to reconsider my own. I played through both scenarios in my head as if strategically plotting a game of chess against two key opponents: emotions, and logistics.
How would I feel if I waited to see my groom for the first time at the end of the aisle – and in front of a hundred people? Would the day feel less special if I met the groom before the ceremony? Emotionally, which route left the most opportunity for anxiety and/or regret?
I had originally built an hour into the timeline between ceremony and reception for photography, and for guests to drop off their coats, freshen up, or take a quick breather at the hotel bar.
All our locations were within a block of each other, so an hour was plenty of time to capture the photos we wanted – there was no logistical necessity to cover photos beforehand; but, our wedding was in December and it would be dark by the time we finished the ceremony, so how important was it to us to have some moments captured before the sun went down?
Last but not least, with an eye toward superstition, how likely was it that the act of seeing my groom before the wedding would result in a tragic divorce years down the road?
In a moment of bridal clarity, I summed up all my thoughts, questions, and concerns, by asking myself this: Would I look back on my wedding day and say “Darn, I wish I hadn’t seen him before the ceremony. That was mistake.” Or would I be more likely to look back on the day and say, “It all went by so fast, I wish I could have had just a few more hours to enjoy it, and spent more time with my new husband.”
In my life, I’ve discovered that my deepest regrets stem from the things I haven’t done – not the things I have; after all, you can learn from, laugh at, and grow through mistakes, but you can’t recreate what you didn’t do in the first place.
From that moment on, my mind was made up. We would do a First Look and it wouldn’t be bad luck, nor would we let it detract from the purity and tradition we desired for our matrimonial event.
With timelines tweaked and the photographer consulted, we planned our First Look with the effort and attention we had dedicated to all other aspects of the day.
For location, we decided on a secluded arbor way in the back of the same church where our wedding would take place later that day. The structure of the location enabled my groom to stand there, without risk of seeing me walk over from the hotel, while allowing privacy from the bustling city around us. It was meaningful because it was the church where we would be married; and it was architectural interesting, allowing for the memorable photographic documentation of our moment.
To maintain anticipation and a sense of tradition, we did not stay together the night before the wedding, nor did we communicate with each other on the day of, prior to our First Look. Our goal was that the First Look be as honorable, and as honored, as if it were to happen at the ceremony – we were simply doing it a couple of hours, instead of a couple of minutes, prior to our vows.
We outlined a fail-safe method to arrive at our First Look location without risk of running into each other beforehand. He would leave for the location ten minutes before I did, and my bridesmaids would confirm with his groomsmen that he had left before I set out to meet him.
For those with cumbersome dresses, dirty cities, or fields filled with grass, leaves or anything else that could discolor or damage the dress prior to your ceremony, the reverse is also an option.
Another bride who did a First Look had the groom come to her, enabling the photographer to position the bride and the dress perfectly after which, the groom arrived and their authentic joy at seeing each other was captured flawlessly.
In viewing the photos, it would be impossible to deduce who came to whom, because the emotions and expressions are the same no matter who does the waiting or who does the walking; but if you’re worried about your dress getting dirty, you might be more relaxed if you have your groom come to you.
We did not get each other gifts. Instead, we opted to write letters, creating another opportunity to keep the moment as meaningful and ceremonial as possible. He and I both share a love of written word, and the letters we exchanged served as a special milestone, not only on our wedding day, but also in our relationship. They are keepsakes we will always cherish, and can reread again, and again.
We chose to exclude the bridal party from our meeting. For the First Look it was only my groom and me, with our photographer inconspicuously capturing us from the sidelines. We asked the bridal party to convene at the hotel, where we met them afterwards to take photographs in alternate locations, but our First Look moment and venue was for us alone. By secluding ourselves, it was every bit as intimate and sacred as we could have dreamed; a brief haven of peace in the midst of an overstimulated day.
Doing a First Look was one of the most impactful decisions I made with regard to the wedding day for a number of reasons. It not only enabled us to get incredible photographs – in daylight, in December, for an evening wedding, but it eliminated the potential angst caused by needing to capture dozens of photos in multiple locations during the time between ceremony and reception, thus creating an interval of space for us to regroup, catch our breath, and arrive relaxed and on time to greet our guests, and partake in all the merriment of our cocktail hour.
Most importantly however, the First Look blessed us with one more cherished moment on our wedding day, and enabled us to maximize the time we got to spend with each other, without compromising the anticipation, excitement, or tradition we desired.
The end result of debunking superstition and reconsidering tradition:
Two extra hours together.
Hundreds of incredible photos.
And zero regrets.