My Favorite Part of Weddings: First Looks

My Favorite Part of Weddings: First Looks

Right before Christmas I got to shoot a wedding that allowed me to take some of my favorite types of photos…First Look Photos! I have much love for “First Looks” and I love to talk about them and share why they are so awesome. A first look is a moment staged and set up by a wedding photographer for the bride and groom to see each other before the ceremony. It is usually at a spot at the location of your ceremony. The groom would be looking while the bride starts walking down towards him. She will tap his shoulder, and he will turn around and see his beautiful bride for the first time.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE First Looks for many reason but I know not everyone is aware of how great they are. And in reality, they aren’t for everyone. We never will force or even try to convince a couple to do a first look. Most brides have always dreamed about walking down the aisle and the emotion that comes with her groom seeing her, at that moment, for the first time on their wedding day. I get it. That is a special moment. A first look is, however, just another version of that dreamed about special moment.

Couples can get caught up in how “un-traditional” it is and they immediately write it off. And I get that too. Everyone wants a REACTION. Brides want their grooms to be surprised and overcome with emotion when they down the aisle. And if they can get some tears from the guys, that is an added bonus! Those that are not interested in a First Look usually think that by seeing each other beforehand, they will lose part of that reaction. They also assume that it will not be as special or as intimate as it would be if the first time they saw each other was when the bride is coming down the aisle. What I have found during my years of shooting weddings is that a “First Look” can offer an even larger reaction from the groom and provide for an even more special and intimate experience than the tradition of seeing the bride the first time as she walks down the aisle. When a bride walks down the aisle, you have A LOT of people sitting there just watching you and waiting to see your reaction. This is hardly an intimate moment and can add even more stress to the situation because everyone is looking at you, waiting to see your expression and emotions. With a First Look, when the nerves start creeping up, instead of keeping the groom in a secluded space until his time to enter the ceremony…. what if you took him to a private place… no people, no on-lookers, no distractions…. and you let his beautiful bride, the love of his life, walk up to him and gently tap his shoulder. He would turn around and finally get his first look at his stunning bride and not only would he get to see her… he could embrace her… cry with her…. kiss her… and ENJOY that moment with her for as LONG as they wanted. As she shows him her dress, twirls a few times and then asks him what he thinks… his nerves start to diminish. After all, she’s the one that can make him most comfortable anyway.  

And there is no time crunch… they casually move into their romantic portraits. No one is around, the coordinator isn’t announcing “15 minutes left”, and there is no pressure. They can take their time, get all of the romantic and special pictures they have envisioned, and not miss any of the fun cocktail hour either! After their romantic portraits are done, they meet up with their bridal party because they still have plenty of time to spare. The bride can touch up her makeup if needed and the guys get to have a little more fun. After a few minutes the bridal party portraits begin and they are all able to have fun because they aren’t on a time crunch, and you don’t have to miss cocktail hour yourselves! (I know I mentioned that before but it’s such a great perk to First Looks…you get to party sooner!) An additional benefit to having a First Look is that you will get 30-40% MORE portraits of the two of you on your wedding day. Those are the photos that will mean the most to you and will be what you decorate your home with. Wedding Day Photography is a significant investment and with a First Look, you make the most out of this huge investment and will get all of the photos you dreamed of.

 I introduced the idea of a First Look to Brandon and Colleen, the couple whose wedding I photographed before Christmas, during their initial consultation. Since they were getting married in December, sunset was going to be really early, around 5:30pm. And their ceremony was set for 5pm. Which means all of their special bride and groom portraits would be done at night. They wouldn’t have any portraits of them as a couple with pretty natural light. Colleen and Brandon didn’t love the idea of all their portraits having to be set up in some way with artificial lighting. And I didn’t blame them one bit.  So since their timeline of events for the day was not set in stone and they were up for suggestions on how to best plan their day, I suggested we do a First Look. Neither of them had ever heard of doing a First Look before the wedding, but when I explained it to them they thought it sounded great and were up to try it. It worked out PERFECTLY for the couple the day of their wedding and they could not be any happier with how their experience and their photographs and video turned out! There was so much emotion during their First Look, we ALL shed some tears. I mean it with all my heart when I say I will NEVER forget the exact moment when Brandon turned around and saw Colleen, how he was sincerely speechless and overcome with emotion.  This was their moment, and since they didn’t need to share it with hundreds of people watching them, they felt comfortable expressing every emotion they were feeling. I know for a fact they will never forget this moment either. 

We were able to stage Colleen and Brandon’s First Look a couple hours before the ceremony was to start, and when we were done we had plenty of time to take all of their Wedding Portraits around the property. Brandon arranged to have a really cool vintage red truck available for their portraits and we got some great shots with all of the hustle and bustle of a Saturday afternoon in town as our backdrop. We were able to take our time and everybody was relaxed and had a lot of fun. When we were done with the Wedding Portraits and photos with the bridal party, the girls went to one room to refresh their makeup and touch up their hair, and the guys went to another room to hang out (and drink a couple more beers I’m sure.) Then after the ceremony was over, everybody was able to join the other guests immediately for cocktail hour and nobody was ever rushed. IT WAS PERFECT.

Now with saying all of that, every client is different and every wedding is different. While a First Look may be perfect for one couple, it might not fit another couple’s vision for their big day and that is perfectly OKAY. My goal is to give you the exact experience you have always dreamed of…and even better than your dreams if I can!

To see more of Colleen and Brandon’s First Look, check out their custom Wedding Day Video, filmed and produced by Southern Tide Photography, here:

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Engagement Photos Tips and Tricks Charleston Wedding Photography

Engagement Photos Tips and Tricks South Florida Wedding Photography


We have been shooting engagement sessions for years. I couldn’t even begin to count how many I have personally shot. I get so many questions from our couples when booking and preparing for their engagement sessions, I decided to create a short guide to serve as reference to the couples we work with as well as all other couples out there who may have some questions. Take a look at the tips below, and if you have any more questions please feel free to CONTACT US and ask!

Engagement Session Tips 1: Location

Location. Location. Location. I personally believe this is the most important thing to consider when planning your engagement session. The best location is somewhere that really symbolizes you as a couple. Somewhere that has meaning to you. It could be the place you met, where he proposed, where you had your first date, or even a spot you just like to hang out at on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

If you are having trouble picking a location for your session, I am always happy to help. I will just ask some questions, we’ll chat a bit about your relationship, and I should be able to give you some great options.

The best time of day for engagement sessions is either early morning around sunrise or at the end of the day at sunset. The starting time will depend on the time of the year, since sunset times are always changing. We will get the most attractive and romantic lighting at these two times.

If for whatever reason we have to shoot in the middle of the day (work restraints, location hours of availability, etc) we will just need a good shaded location, because of the bright sun. That could be a brewery, your home, a cool warehouse, in the woods, etc. Great lighting is extremely important to great photography.

Every couple is different and has a different story. We want to tell your story in your photos. We can start with photos of you playing a sport in the park, and end with a fancy dinner. We can shoot a football Sunday at your house, while you are barefoot and lounging on the couch. We can have your pets and kids join us. We can incorporate some beautiful architecture, which Charleston is famous for. Anything is fair game!

I do not limit the number of locations, but it does need to all fit within a two hour time frame. Engagement sessions typically take anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on how many locations you want to hit. Even without traveling, there are always great spots around every city that you can go to and after only one hour you can have a dozen different backdrops in your photos. Downtown Charleston is a great example of this. I have taken couples downtown for their engagement session, and withing 30 minutes we were able to get photos in front of the harbor, with the Ravennel bridge behind us, on the cobblestone alleys, in front of some beautiful iron fencing, along Rainbow Row, and on the steps of one of their favorite bistros. In 30 minutes! Imagine what are able to get in one hour downtown!

Engagement Session Tips 2:
What to wear

What you choose to wear is also a very important part of your engagement session. It really defines the style of your session. You can have one outfit change during your shoot, so that allows you to get creative.

Since every couple will have a different style for their engagement session, it is hard to give you a list of “things to wear”. It should be something you feel comfortable in and something that you would actually wear. Accessories are great too! Sunglasses, a cute hat, or some fancy jewelry all look great in photos.

There are some locations that you may choose that will cause you to have to be mindful of the colors and patterns for your outfits. If you chose a location that has a lot of texture, architecture, or colors, then you want to keep your outfit more simple. For example, if you chose an engagement session on Rainbow Row in Downtown Charleston, I would try to choose pieces that have more neutral colors, pastels, or jewel toned colors. Charleston is the city of pastel colored homes, so basic primary colors can look odd against them.

Engagement Session Tips 3:
Hair and make up

Some people opt for a natural look, while other brides have their hair and makeup done. Either is totally fine, but regardless of which way you go, take extra care to consider the environment you will be in. If it is a windy day on the water, you probably want to pull your hair back. If it is super muggy, like Charleston is know to be, curling your hair or wearing a lot of makeup may not work out well.

Bringing some makeup, hair ties, and a mirror to your shoot is always a good idea. Retouches will be your friend!

Engagement Session Tips 4:
Please feel free to share your ideas and vision with me

Send me those Pinterest pins! Email some sample photos that have caught your eye! Sharing with me what you like will help make sure you get the photos of your dreams. Do you enjoy the more airy and dreamy images? Or the more dramatic ones?

Engagement Session Tips 5:

It’s always fun to incorporate your favorite activities to the engagement session. It really helps to make the shoot mere personal and interesting. Playing your favorite sport can be really fun. You guys enjoy hiking? We can incorporate that on your shoot. From taking dance classes to picking flowers, activities always add that little special touch to an engagement session.

Engagement Session Tips 6:

Props can really help make your session more personalized and creative. The most popular prop that couples like to bring with them is a sign showing the wedding date. Those photos can later be used for “save the dates”, which I think is a great and easy idea.

Engagement Session Tips 7:
I will help you through the whole session,
so relax and trust me!

Your engagement session should be fun. It should be relaxed and enjoyable. Unlike your wedding day, we will not be in a hurry or be at a bunch of places in a short time.

It is my job to direct you, pose you, help you feel comfortable, and make sure we all have a good time! Engagement sessions are a once in a lifetime type of thing. My goal is to make it memorable and fun!

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