Should You Do a First Look at Your Wedding? Advice from a Pro

Hi there! Thanks for visiting. I’m McKenzi, a seasoned wedding photographer based in Southern Utah. I’ve been in the business for over 8 years so I’ve seen my fair share of all kinds of weddings! My experience in the industry has given me a good amount of knowledge and expertise that I love to share with my clients. I hope you find this advice helpful and please feel free to reach out to me directly if you’d like more info!


One of the most common questions I get asked by my clients is if I recommend a first look on the wedding day.

I’m sharing my thoughts on first looks from the perspective of a professional photographer who has been in the business for a lot of good years. I thought it would be helpful for you to read about the pros and cons of having a first look and then decide that if that something you would like to do for your day! I also included a section about opting for a Day After/Bridal Session if you choose not to do a first look and still want plenty of time for gorgeous portraits. 

First look Southern Utah Wedding Photographer

Pros to a First Look

Time to Connect Before the Ceremony and Take a Breath. 

Let me tell you what I love about first looks. It’s one of the few times in your day that you will have a quiet moment together to soak it all in. From my perspective, I love that I get to spend time with the bride and groom separately before this moment. They’re getting ready, making the final touches before it’s time to go, feeling all of those excited and jittery vibes. If I haven’t met them before, it’s extra special because I don’t yet know how they are when they’re together. I just know them as individuals. Nerves are high, everyone is anxiously awaiting this moment. And then after what I’m sure feels like forever, it happens. They see each other and I can actually feel the emotional exhale. It’s so beautiful and sweet. It’s like these two people are finally complete and I can see how they just fit perfectly. If the day was stressful before this moment, it always seems to calm down after the first look. It’s a time to connect before the ceremony and just be together.

Now I understand that it’s obviously not just the two of you during this moment and you might be like “But I don’t want to spend this time being interrupted for photos!” This is the part where I’m awesome- ha! I know that this is your time to connect and share this special moment together, and it’s my job to quietly and unobtrusively document and give you a little space. I’m usually quite aware of what you need and I know when it’s time to start taking the posey photos. It also helps if we have a good amount of time for the first look session so we’re not rushed.

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No Distractions.

As I mentioned previously, this is the first time you will see each other before you exchange your vows and it allows you plenty of alone time to soak in that moment without any distractions. This will also help you soak in the ceremony a little more because you’ll be able to focus more on that moment.

More Time Hanging with Your People After the Ceremony.

This is probably the number one reason why couples choose to do a first look. If you take the majority of your photos before the ceremony, you will have plenty of time to hang out with your friends and family after the ceremony. If you wish, you can take your couple wedding portraits, wedding party, and family portraits before the ceremony. Making it entirely possible for you to actually attend your own cocktail hour. Imagine that!

First Look in Zion National Park

Cons to a First Look

Earlier start time to the Day.

I recommend setting aside at least an hour for a first look and wedding portraits, and another 30 minutes to an hour if you’re going to do wedding party and family photos at that time too. This means that you will need start everything earlier in the day so you can be ready in time! I also recommend setting aside about 20 minutes before the ceremony so you can chill out, freshen up, and have a quiet moment before everything starts.

Lighting Isn’t Always Ideal.

Since the first look usually happens early-to-mid-afternoon, the lighting isn’t as nice as it is before sunset. However, we always make it work! Depending on where you are getting married I’ll find a good spot to do the first look. I have a lot of couples who get married in or near Zion National Park and they usually like to set aside some time to drive into the park for the first look session. This is always beautiful! But keep in mind that most of the photos you see of a couple in Zion are taken at golden hour or right at sunset. See my next section about a Day After/Bridal Session if you want lots of killer sunset images. Even with this, I always recommend setting aside at least 15-20 minutes during your reception for sunset portraits if that is important to you.

Pressure to Have the Perfect Reaction.

This is just my opinion but I’ve noticed lately that a lot of grooms feel pressure to have the “perfect” reaction at the first look. I think especially with the rise of Instagram and the desire for those epic picture perfect moments, it feels a little bit like our desire for first looks as the purpose of making your day more seamless and relaxed has turned in to another thing you “must” have. 

I always tell my grooms to not worry about what their reaction “should” be or what it’s supposed to look like. That’s not what it’s about. You don’t need to cry and freak out if that’s not you! Just focus on the moment. Hug one another. Kiss. Jump up and down. Whatever you want! I’m not going to interrupt and make you do something that isn’t authentic to how you feel. I’ll let that moment unfold as it does and be there to document along the way.

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The Tradition.

The tradition of the look on the grooms face when you walk down aisle is no joke. It’s a real thing that is super special. The energy between you radiates throughout the entire place. It can be truly amazing. So all things aside, I totally get wanting that moment. Heck, that’s what we did at our own wedding, so I can definitely relate!

On that note, if this moment is super important to you, I most definitely 100% recommend hiring a second photographer as well. Joey (my awesome husband a.k.a kick ass second shooter) is a total pro at capturing the look on your groom’s face as you walk down the aisle, which allows me to fully focus on the bride as she makes her grand entrance!

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Additional Advice

I do my best to be unobtrusive during the first look, but there is a lot of coordinating to make it happen! First looks work best if you hire two photographers.

Joey and I are pros at coordinating the first look to make sure the bride and groom don’t see each other, and also capturing the reaction on both of your faces when you see each other. 

There is a lot of guidance at the beginning of the first look, but once it’s time I stay quiet and totally out of the way and let you have your moment! I always encourage my couples to stay connected to each other after the initial reveal and that I will let you know when it’s time to “look at me and smile”. My goal is capture that sweet moment between the two of you and that works best when you’re not worried about what the camera is doing .

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What About a Day After/Bridal Session?

A day after session is often called “Bridals” here in Utah (yeah, Utah is weird sometimes). I have a lot of destination wedding clients that always ask about this so I thought I’d include it in this post! The portrait session can also take place before the wedding- which negates the first look at the ceremony thing- but it allows you time to get amazing portraits at an awesome location with great light.

A day after or bridal session is great for wedding couples who may want to venture out the beautiful area where they’re getting married but don’t want to ditch their wedding guests for two hours- lookin’ at you, Zion weddings.

You can opt for this session after the wedding if the walking down the aisle moment is important to you. You can also do a bridal session before the wedding. We can coordinate a first look at this time so you can still have those photos of that special moment. If gorgeous sunsets, not being rushed for time, and having lots of beautiful images are your thing, I most definitely recommend a day after/bridal session.

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Thanks for reading! Interested in having wedding photos that capture the feeling and love? You can reach out to me here. I’d love to hear from you!

Colorful Desert Bridal Inspiration Southern Utah Wedding Photographer

The desert in Southern Utah is beautiful in the spring. The cacti is in bloom, the moss on the rocks is bright and colorful, and everything is so green! I had been wanting to shoot at this location for awhile so I asked my talented friends if they would like to do a small creative shoot and this is the result! I wanted a bold, almost retro look for the bride’s hair and makeup, so we went with a messy, textured updo that felt like a twist on a French twist! The bold eye makeup paired perfectly with the bright red earrings and I just love that pop of color it gives. The bouquet is just dreamy, with the bright yellow flowers and velvet ribbon. It’s so bright and cheerful. I shot mostly film during this session, all Portra 400, developed and scanned by The Find Lab. Thanks to all of the vendors who contributed!

This bridal inspiration shoot was featured on Utah Valley Bride. You can check out that feature here: http://utahvalleybride.com/bright-spot/

Floral: Bloomers
Hair: Evan Stowers, The Desert Lounge Salon
Makeup: Chantel Petersen
Dress: Rent the Runway
Ribbon: Emmalinh
Film Lab: The Find Lab



Romantic Spring Wedding at Draper Temple Utah Wedding Photographer

We’re coming up on the anniversary of this beautiful and fun couple, so I thought it was timely to finally blog their wedding day! The details from this wedding were so perfect! The whole wedding was designed and planned by my talented friend Forevermore Events, and the floral creations are by the amazing Bloomers Flowers. I’ll never get over how fresh and springy this wedding feels. It was a beautiful day at the LDS Draper Temple (my first time shooting here and I gotta say, I would love to go back!) The florals and blossoms were all out in full force on this lovely April day. We had a wonderful time taking their wedding party and bridal portraits on the temple grounds. Ashley and Devin opted for a bridal session on a separate day so we were able to take those portraits at the Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake. The wedding dinner and reception was held at Copper Creek Event Center and it was a blast! Forevermore Events and Bloomers did incredible work decorating the venue and I’m in love with all of the floral details in this one.

Venue: Draper LDS Temple and Copper Creek Event Center

Design and Coordination: Forevermore Events

Floral: Bloomers

Catering: Marvellous Catering

Cake: The Pink Icing

Rentals: St. George Party Rentals

DJ: Festival Sounds

Classic and Modern Spring Wedding St. George Wedding Photographer

I photographed McCall and Aaron’s wedding at the St. George LDS Temple in early March a few years ago. It was such a beautiful wedding! I’ve been updating my blog lately and realized that I hadn’t shared this one with you yet so here you go! I loved the classic and modern feel of their wedding day. I absolutely loved McCall’s sleek and modern two-piece wedding dress by Illume Gowns. She was such a gorgeous bride! The bride and groom were married in the LDS Temple and held their reception luncheon at the Cliffside Restaurant overlooking downtown St. George. It was a sweet and intimate wedding celebration. They chose just to have an intimate gathering with wedding toasts so they could just relax and visit with their family and friends. I was thrilled that we were able to get the last of the spring blooms at the temple for their portraits as well.

Boho Rustic Wedding at Holmstead Ranch in Utah

I was pretty excited to get to photograph a wedding at the beautiful Holmstead Ranch in the mountains of Southern Utah. It was a beautiful venue for a fall wedding! The venue has cabins all surrounding a beautiful little lake, so the wedding party stayed there for the weekend. Kelcie and Ryan were an awesome couple to work with. Joey and I both photographed their wedding together, which always results in some of my favorite work! It was important to the bride and groom that they have photos of each of them getting ready with their friends, so Joey went with the groom and I went with the bride. Kelcie also told me during our consults that it was really important to them to capture the moment when they first see each other. They opted out of the first look because they wanted that special moment as Kelcie walked down the aisle. I’m so glad they hired a second photographer because the look on Ryan’s face is priceless and so sweet! After the ceremony we hopped in some golf carts and took photos in a lovely alfalfa field and then they joined the wedding guests for an awesome dance party! Overall, this wedding was a dream to photograph. Thanks for having us, friends! I will always dream about that amazing lemon bundt cake.

Mountain Bike Babe Southern Utah Senior Portraits

Camryn is a high school senior this year and she will be graduating in May so we met up for a fun senior portrait session in a place where she spends a lot of time. She is an avid mountain biker, part of the high school mountain bike team in Southern Utah, so we thought it would be fun to include some photos of her riding her bike on her favorite trail. We packed into the Jeep and adventured out to desert for these lovely photos! The desert is so green and beautiful right now so I was pretty happy about that. Senior portrait sessions are always so fun. I love the idea of incorporating something you love to do in the photos, whether it’s a sport you play, an activity you enjoy, or just at a location that you feel suits your personality. Congrats to Camryn on graduating high school in just a few weeks!

Winter Elopement in Zion National Park

 

I’m always thrilled when I get to photograph couples in Zion National Park. I’ve been doing photoshoots and weddings in the park for about 7 years of my professional career and elopements are quickly becoming some of my favorite shoots there. Musetta and Jurg contacted me about photographing their elopement in Zion National Park on Christmas Eve. That’s not normally a date I would schedule a wedding, but they had the coolest story and Musetta and I really connected over the phone so I said yes! They are both from South Africa and knew they wanted to get married in Zion because it was such a special place to them. The story of how they met is pretty cool too. They went to school together when they were young teenagers but didn’t keep in touch as they grew up and went their separate ways. Years later, their paths crossed again when Musetta was living in the states and Jurg was in South Africa. A year and half later and lots of traveling back and forth, here they are exchanging vows on a cliff in Zion!

We trekked up Canyon Overlook Trail for their bridal photos on Christmas Eve, and waved to the tourists who shared well wishes and exclamations of wonder as the bride hiked around in her wedding dress. Turns out this is one of my favorite things about weddings in national parks- it’s so fun to see how delighted other people are for the bride and groom. It’s a wonderful way to feel connected as humans. We spent some time after the ceremony taking portraits at various locations in the park until the sun set. It was a beautiful evening. Congratulations to the bride and groom!

 

Moab Elopement: Wild with Love & Crazy for Adventure

“Say the most important day of your life is quickly approaching. And you’ve got two paths ahead of you. You can do what’s expected, or do something that truly represents who you are: Wild with love and crazy for adventure. To Ariel and Andrew, their path was clear: Take off and elope! To the canyon lands of Utah.”

Ariel and Andrew had the most epic adventure elopement in Moab back in 2015 before it was even a thing. When Ariel first contacted me about photographing their wedding in Moab she mentioned that her father is a backcountry pilot and that they fly together a lot, and that she was thinking about flying one of these planes to her wedding ceremony. As you can imagine I was pretty excited (and also terrified that I would have to ride in the plane, which thankfully, I did not). Joey and I photographed this wedding together and we truly loved it! Andrew and his production team/best friends were awesome to work with and the whole two days was like a big party. We started our day bright and early and followed the Jeeps into this beautiful landing strip at the base of a canyon, right near the river. The road getting there was a bit sketchy but Joey had a blast navigating it! We were on standby while the guys scouted the location to make sure it was still safe to land after the rain that week, but all looked good and clear, so we started our pilgrimage to this epic spot.

Ariel and Andrew built their wedding around their own ideas and relationship and said adieu to any traditions that didn’t felt authentic to them. I loved this. They made a pretty amazing film about it too. Andrew owns a film production company so the whole thing was incredible. Their film made its rounds on the internet when it was first featured on Style Me Pretty. I highly recommend watching it! The reason I say that they are the ones who made adventure elopements a things, is because, well they are! I can’t say I’ve a single bride after this who has flown a plane to her own wedding, or any groom who built his own chuppa the day before the wedding by foraging sticks from the desert where they would exchange vows.

The night before the wedding, we joined Ariel and Andrew and their families to photograph their lovely rehearsal dinner at Sorrell River Ranch. We met up with the couple before the dinner for a fun portrait shoot near Fisher Tower. The Moab desert is incredible. The day after the wedding we hiked Arches National Park and I got to see Delicate Arch for the first time. It was an incredible experience.

Thanks again to this wonderful couple, their production crew, and families! You can see the feature over at Style Me Pretty here.

And watch their wedding film below!