If you read my previous post about seeing each other before the ceremony and have decided you want to get the majority of your photos out of the way before walking down the aisle, you might be wondering how to get the perfect first look. Well, have I got tips for you.
First, let me say that as a documentary photographer, I try hard to keep the first look (sometimes known a the ‘reveal’) as natural and non-posed as possible. I always want the look of surprise on the groom’s face when he sees his bride in her dress for the first time to be genuine. That said, there are certain things you can do to make sure that your first look photos go as well as possible.
Privacy. This is a special moment shared between the bride and groom, and you want as few people as possible to be present at the shoot. I suggest that it be only the bride, groom, and me, the photographer. Family members and the bridal party can join us for photos later, but this needs to be an intimate shoot where you two have a few moments for yourselves before the big day really begins. Trust me, you will thank me for this calm before the storm.
Location, location, location. There are two considerations here. First, you want to make sure you have selected a space where there is enough room for a) the bride to walk to the groom, and b) for me to give you enough breathing room. I want to leave you two with enough space so that you can forget about my camera and truly have some alone time. Ideally I will be shooting with a long lens to give you the space you need, and this requires distance between me and my subject. In addition, I will be moving around you and photographing you from all angles so that I can get both of your faces as you meet for the first time as ‘official’ bride and groom. A hotel room is fine, but make sure the floor is clear.
Also, think about the background. It’s not just what’s in the front of the frame that matters. You want as little clutter in the background as possible so that it doesn’t interfere with the story I am trying to tell through the lens. There is nothing worse than having signage or hanging laundry to distract the eye. Your best bets for first look locations include an empty yard or park area (no tourists wandering into the frame, please), a large hotel room or meeting room, or even a non-descript empty street with very few parked cars. The idea is that you want as blank a canvas as possible – with enough room for me to move around you – so that I can tell your story.
Position yourself towards the camera. Every movement you make should be made so that the photographer has everything within the frame. When the bride taps the groom on the shoulder, it should be the shoulder closest to the photographer. Likewise, the groom should turn towards the photographer when greeting the bride. Not that you should be looking into the camera, but you should know where the camera is at all times and subconsciously try to angle yourselves so that the photographer has the best view. If you are going to do a dramatic kiss, twirl, etc. then just make sure that you do it towards the camera, not away from the lens.
Move slowly. You won’t realize it, but you will actually be moving much faster than you think. As with your walk down the aisle, the entire experience will go by in a flash, so just slow down, and take your time. Brides, slow down your walk, and grooms, slow down your turn to see the bride. When you kiss, take your time and maybe kiss a few times. More is always better for photos. (By the way, the same rules apply for your ceremony. No harm in going in for a second kiss at the altar!)
The average first look takes fifteen minutes, and then you can proceed to your bride and groom portraits. Again, I always recommend that these portraits be taken alone. I don’t know about you, but I always take a better photo when I don’t have a huge audience watching me. With people watching I tend to clam up, and that fake smile immediately makes its way to my face. If you need someone to help with the dress, keep it to one person. And if possible, wear comfortable shoes. Save the high heels for the actual ceremony.
Enjoy the photos of Melanie and Jalani that are accompanying this article. I was thrilled to photograph these two in 2013, and they truly had the perfect first look in the front yard of their Jamaica, Queens apartment complex. By the way, Melanie’s chic jumpsuit was just profiled in an article in the New York Post. It’s a great piece on non-traditional wedding outfits – read all about it here.
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com