Welcome to part four of our official Wedding Photography Guide, a series of weekly articles designed to teach you the fundamentals of wedding photography. In our previous article, we covered how to photograph bride prep, which includes everything from details and getting ready images to portraits of the bride and bridal party. This week, we present our official First Look Guide, an overview of how to best capture the first time the bride and groom see one another on their wedding day.

All of the education from the guides as well as our workshops is derived from our experience at Lin and Jirsa Photography, a Los Angeles Wedding Photography Studio with over 10 years of experience and over 2,000 weddings. For comprehensive wedding photography education, be sure to check out our full workshops in our store.

Introduction | Why We Are Here

Over the last ten years, the way brides and grooms first see each other on their wedding day has largely shifted from the traditional first look during the processional to a pre-ceremony photo session. This is great news for photographers, as it provides more opportunities to photograph the couple before they’re swept up in the whirlwind of the wedding day.

As a wedding photographer, you should respect your couple’s wishes and traditions, but if they are unsure of whether to do a first look or wait to see each other at the altar, you can communicate these additional benefits:

  • A first look prior to the ceremony will lead directly into their couple’s session.  Doing this earlier will ensure that they have fresh hair and makeup for these important photos.
  • Getting through the first look before the ceremony will open up more time to photograph family and bridal party portraits.
  • Without all of their guests present, pre-ceremony first-looks provide more privacy, which often results in producing the best emotional expressions from the day.

In this article, we’re going to share eight tips to help you successfully photograph the bride and groom’s pre-ceremony first look.

1. Scout locations Ahead Of Time

Although your options may be limited by the wedding day timeline, as well as the venue itself, scouting ahead of time is crucial to ensure that you find the best possible scene for each of your respective photo sessions (first look, couples session, bridal party portraits, etc.). Here is a glimpse at four possible scenarios regarding first look locations and some tips on what to look for in order to use each location to its full potential.

Ideal Outdoor First Look Scene
The term “ideal” is, of course, relative. Most first-look sequences take place during the middle of the day under harsh lighting conditions, but some locations lend themselves more to pleasing results, even under these circumstances. That said, ideal elements for an outdoor scene include the following:

  • Shaded, evenly lit spaces
  • Backlit spaces with natural reflectors such as bright walls for fill light on the bride and groom
  • Areas with clean and/or scenic backgrounds

Bad Outdoor First Look Scene
Sometimes, the location you’re limited to will leave plenty to be desired. The images above are examples of an unideal scene, as you can see from the spotty, top-down lighting.  If this happens to you, first: don’t panic. Next, follow these steps to conquer a bad outdoor scene:

  • Find the best possible light – Even in unideal scenes, there is likely a patch of shade in which you can position the groom.
  • Choose a longer focal length – Shoot tight  to limit how much of the environment is revealed
  • Shoot at wide apertures (f/1.2 to f/2.8) – the shallow depth of field will help draw less attention to the surroundings and keep the focus on the couple
  • Maximize dynamic range – Retain as much detail as possible despite the bright highlights and deep shadows present in the scene

Ideal Indoor First Look Scene
If you can find all of the following elements, chances are you will have found the ideal indoor scene:

  • Good natural light
  • Path/Stairs
  • Natural reflectors/fill light
  • Clean background

Bad Indoor First Look Scene
Follow these tips to conquer an unideal indoor first look scene:

  • Find the best possible light or modify with reflectors or flash
  • Shoot tight  to limit how much of the environment is revealed
  • Shoot wide apertures (f/1.2 to f/2.8)
  • Expose for skin/shadows

2. Communicate with the Team

In order to avoid having the bride and groom accidentally see each other before intended, the second shooter (who will likely be with the groom) should call the lead shooter prior to leaving the groom’s location.

Also, while walking to the predetermined spot for the first look, the second shooter should walk ahead of the groom in order to stop him if necessary in the event that the bride is nearby.

3. correctly Position the Groom

The responsibility of positioning the groom for the first look usually falls on the second shooter because the lead shooter typically stays with the bride. Regardless, the groom should face away from the bride’s expected point of entry and be positioned in such a way that all shooters will be able to capture clear views of the bride and groom interacting once the action unfolds.

4. Give Guidance to the Couple

This will likely be the bride and groom’s first ever first-look, so chances are they will need some guidance.

Decide ahead of time which of the groom’s shoulders the bride will tap in order to control the direction he’ll turn to see her. Ideally, the groom should turn toward the side on which the cameras are lined up (see the diagram below for tip #6).

Finally, remind the bride and groom that this is their moment to focus solely on one another and create a lasting memory. Besides the aforementioned tips you give them, they should do their best to ignore the cameras and be present in the moment. Although the first look is guided, the action should remain candid and personal.

5. Sync Cameras and Match Exposures

Syncing camera dates and timestamps should sit near the top of the to-do list on the morning of the wedding. But, just in case, double check to ensure you’ve synced them before photographing the first look. We recommend using time.gov (see the image above) or a similar app to accomplish this task. When multiple cameras are used to capture a sequence like a first look, you should be able to see the sequence unfold in exact order across all of the cameras after importing the images for post-production.

All shooters should also compare camera settings (white balance, shutter speed, etc.) to ensure consistent exposures, which will also help during post-production.

6. Avoid Capturing Other Shooters

Avoid crossing angles and getting into each other’s shots. When in doubt, and if time permits, test the angles before bringing out the bride to capture the real thing. Lead and second shooters will typically use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens while third shooters often stay on a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens to capture wider angles. See below for more details on the position each shooter should take.

  • Lead Shooter
    Lead shooters should shoot over the groom’s shoulder and focus their attention on the bride.
  • Second Shooter
    Second shooters should position themselves to shoot the opposite direction of the leads, shooting over the bride’s shoulder to get the groom’s reaction.
  • Third Shooter
    Third shooters should take a center position and capture wide-angle images of the bride and groom’s first look.

7. Communicate with the cinema Team

In the event that you are working alongside a cinema team, you will need to communicate your plans with them in order to avoid crossing angles and getting into each other’s shots.

Often, for first look sequences, the photo team will direct the initial first look and the cinema team will direct a re-enactment immediately after. This way, the cinema team can follow the bride using a gimbal to capture motion shots that would otherwise be impossible without getting in the way of the photos.

Working this out ahead of time should ease any tension between the two teams as each team knows they will have an opportunity to get their shots.

8. Continue Capturing Images After the Initial Reaction

Because you gave the bride and groom guidance before the first look, they know that this time has been carved out especially for them. After the initial reaction of seeing each other for the first time, they will likely talk to one another, embrace in a hug, and possibly kiss. The groom may even twirl his bride-to-be to admire her beauty. Therefore, it is important to continue shooting beyond the initial reaction and capture all of the emotions and expressions that accompany the first look.

Whatever you do, don’t interrupt the action to give more direction. Let the couple share this special moment.


Pre-ceremony first look photo sessions are unique in that while they basically serve a similar function to standard couples sessions, they also feature the once-in-a-lifetime moment of the bride and groom seeing each other for the first time on their wedding day. Also, they produce some of the most emotional wedding images. Considering the popularity of these sessions and the benefits that accompany them, wedding photographers should master the art of capturing them.

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You can find additional information on how to photograph first looks and more in Photographing the Couple, a comprehensive course in our Wedding Workshop series that covers everything you need to know about how to capture incredible wedding-day imagery, including how to create flattering couples’ portraits using creative angles as well as unique compositions and lighting techniques! Check out this course in the SLR Lounge Store or stream it as an SLR Lounge Premium Subscriber.