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First Look: in a new light

A fresh break from tradition

Modern Southern brides often hold a wedding day tradition in which the groom is not to see the bride on the wedding day in her bridal gown prior to the wedding ceremony. If he does see her in the dress beforehand, the couple may have bad luck in their marriage, the superstition states.

While many brides hold true to this convention and forbid the groom to even so much as know the color of the dress, most do not know from where the tradition originated.

In the middle ages when marriages were arranged the bride and bridegroom could not see each other prior to the wedding and had often never met. Hence, if they were to have seen one another, they may realize the other is unattractive and would run from the idea of marriage. This tradition continues today and it adds unnecessary stress to an anxious bride.

Here’s how most traditional weddings occur in the South from the perspective of a photographer.

Wedding couples today spend tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum for their special day but all too often the couple is in a frenzied haste going from place to place without a chance to reflect on all that is happening. The newlyweds rush from the kiss at the alter/ceremony site down the aisle and then circle back up to the front to pose in place for 20-45 minutes all the while guests are beginning to enjoy the cocktail hour or reception food.

They arrive to the reception often hungry and tired of being photographed only to be greeted by the reception coordinator who instructs them they have three minutes before their first dance. One event after another of orchestrated dances, cake cuts and traditions leads to couple to finally have their “grand exit”. Before the couple knows it, their celebration with friends and family they’ve eagerly awaited is over, save their “first” night together.

After photographing some 250 plus weddings in the United States, most of which have been in the South, I have often thought there must be a better way, at least in regards to the photography. After a little research, I realized that many weddings throughout the U.S. as well as in Australia are nearly full day events in which the ceremony occurs in late morning or early afternoon followed by an extended break at which time the newlyweds and wedding party do fun, relaxed, romantic outdoor portraits filled with laughter, celebration, charisma, running, jumping, etc. During this extended break, everyone has a chance to cool down and refresh, especially the newlyweds. The break is followed by an evening reception.

While many couples may not opt for this extended wedding celebration, there is another way to do it. That method is the “first look”. While this is a break from tradition in the South, many couples nationwide prefer this method when compared to the hustle and bustle they’ve seen at their friends’ weddings.

Here’s the setup: I arrange to have the groom already on location in a secluded, photogenic setting with his back turned away from the area where the bride will enter. The bride will come up behind the groom and tap him on the shoulder, at which point I am off to the side photographing the look on his face, forever capturing that beautiful moment in which he first lays his eyes on the bride. It’s very much the same moment that would happen at a traditional ceremony, but the difference is, instead of doing it in front of a large audience who expects a certain outcome, you are in private and truly free to express your most intimate emotions.

The only one there besides you is me, off to the side with a telephoto lens capturing the unscripted moments which unfold naturally. After several minutes of the bride and groom talking, hugging and laughing together I then do some very relaxed formal portraits of the soon to-be-married couple.

1. Your day will flow much easier, thus being more enjoyable and memorable.
2. Photographer will get the most creative and artistic wedding pictures possible because there’s simply more time.
3. You still get to surprise your groom in a private, romantic setting — all captured in pictures. It can be in a church, field, park, lake or dark alley.
4. After your special moments together, everyone (the couple, wedding party and family) is photographed while they’re most relaxed and fresh.
5. You won’t miss any part of your cocktail hour nor reception. Just kiss and head out to party! There’s no mad rush to the reception.
6. The wedding events happen naturally after the ceremony instead of the photographer bothering you to get the formal photos.
7. You’ll be more relaxed during the formal photos and the ceremony. The key to good photos is to be relaxed. Bottom line, you’ll love your photos more.

Here’s a link to a wedding slideshow in which the couple opted to do the “first look”:
Anne & Mark wedding photo slideshow at Houmas House in Darrow, LA

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