zion elopement

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.


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.


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!


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 .

Southern Utah wedding photographer first look
Southern Utah wedding photographer first look

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.

Zion Wedding Photographer

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!

Zion National Park Wedding Photographer

I’ve been photographing weddings and couples in Zion National Park for the past eight years, and before that, I grew up exploring the mountains and trails in Zion. I was born and raised in St. George, Utah, a lovely town in the southwest corner of the state that is within driving distance to some incredible national and state parks, including Zion. It wasn’t until I moved to Southern California for college that I realized how much I need the mountains and desert landscape in my life! The desert is my home, it’s in my heart and soul, and it’s a place that I’ll always return to.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched Zion grow in popularity for weddings, elopements, and engagements. Even family photos. It’s become one of the top destinations for weddings and elopement in the region, and I can certainly understand why! The beauty of Zion is unparalleled and there really is a magical energy to the place. I grew up surrounded by the backdrop of these red mountains and it’s not something I take for granted. I think the experience of being with couples and families as they explore Zion taking photos helps me fall a little more in love with it every time.

Here’s the different thing about me as a wedding photographer: My goal isn’t just to capture the beauty of the landscape in Zion, which of course I will do, but rather to capture you within that space. Your joy, your love, and the special thing about your relationship that makes you choose this place to be the place where you exchange vows and make that lasting commitment to one another. Think of me like the perfect combination of beautiful scenic photos of your day but also those images that capture how it felt.

In addition to basically being obsessed with this place, I have a lot of experience with the process of having your wedding in Zion National Park. I greatly respect the National Park Service and so I’m familiar with their regulations when it comes to having your wedding in the park. They actually make it pretty easy to apply and it’s only $100 for a permit. You can find out more about that process here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/weddings-in-zion-national-park.htm

I often tell my couples that if it’s not feasible to have their ceremony in the park, I know a lot of beautiful spots outside that the park that still offer those beautiful views! And we can always go into the park for some gorgeous photos either before or after the wedding ceremony. I know some good spots for that too, especially with the crowds.

And speaking of the crowds… Zion National Park is the third busiest park in the nation and it continues to grow each season. Zion saw more than 4.5 million visitors in 2017, a 5 percent from the year before. The busiest season is June through August, although April through September can be pretty packed too. But don’t worry! I am quite used to the crowds and I know the best ways to avoid them when possible and work around them when it’s not! It’s totally worth it :)

If you want to learn more, I wrote a whole blog post in my ProTips series about planning your wedding in Zion National Park so you can check that out here!

You can also read this super helpful blog post from one of my lovely brides.

Destination Wedding in East Zion

It’s a snow day in Southern Utah today, which is both beautiful and strange. So I’m staying indoors and catching up on some blog posts! This lovely Zion wedding took place over the summer. I loved every moment of it! These two are the most wonderful people and I enjoyed being part of their day so much.

Josh and Claudia held their wedding at Zion Mountain Villa in East Zion and they really wanted some time for portraits in Zion National Park. In order to make their wedding day less jam-packed and allow more time for hanging with their guests and enjoying the party, we met up the day before the wedding for a bridal session. Claudia and Josh hiked a few miles in their wedding attire and we caught the most beautiful sunset overlooking Zion. The wedding day was full of fun events, surrounding by beautiful decor put together by Forevermore Events, and the floral arrangements by Bloomers were absolutely beautiful. It was a perfect day and I felt truly honored to be part of it. You should also take some time to check out the awesome videos at the end by the videographer Last Light Pictures, and the combination video of photos and video that Josh put together himself. He’s the genius behind Applified Marketing Group so maybe check that out too :)

Planning and Design: Forevermore Events

Floral: Bloomers

Hair and Makeup: Tracy Sotirakis

Cake: Cupcakes by Julie

Venue: Zion Mountain Villa

DJ: Festival Sounds

Videographer: Last Light Pictures

Moonrise Kingdom Wedding Inspiration Shoot

For this editorial shoot in the 2017 issue of Southern Utah Bride magazine, I really wanted to do something fun and different. The idea was inspired by the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom and the vintage Scout camp sketches from the 1950s and 60s. I teamed up with my favorite gals Forvermore Events and Bloomers to make the vision come to like! I’m so happy with how it all turned out. It was the most relaxed and fun styled shoot to date, even with our little adventure with the canoe. Thank you to all of the talented people who contributed!


Design: Forevermore Events
Floral: Bloomers
Videography: A. Green Films
Hair and Makeup: Sarah Boling at Lunatic Fringe
Catering: Kitchen 435
Dress: Illume Gowns
Paper Goods: Hey Hay Designs
Cake: Mary Lou Timpson
Film Lab: The Find Lab