Sometimes when I meet with a client before their wedding or when I arrive and talk to their coordinator they’ll let me know that they’d like the first look location to be at XYZ spot. Maybe it’s some gorgeous wooden doors on the back of a barn or the grand hotel lobby steps. They’re usually spaces that look absolutely exquisite in person (to an untrained eye).
Unfortunately, it is really common for those incredibly breathtaking spaces to be the worst spots for a first look.
What makes a good first look location?
The most important thing that I consider when choosing a first look location is the lighting. It’s absolutely key that we capture these reactions and emotions in the most flattering, even, beautiful light. This means we’re saying no to spots with dappled and uneven lighting, tungsten or orange lighting, a total lack of natural light, any kind of fluorescent lighting, any direct overhead artificial lighting or harsh backlighting that creates haze.
If you just read that and thought… huh?? Let me provide some examples!
Dappled lighting: most common in the shade under trees - the light will move with the slight breeze or any time the subject moves creating hot spots or bright, overexposed on the face and body
Uneven lighting: one partner is in the sun and the other in full shade or one is inside under artificial lighting and the other is outside in natural light
Tungsten or orange lighting: any kind of artificial light from bulbs, lamps, candles, etc.
A total lack of natural light: a space with no windows or access to the sunlight at all
Direct, overhead artificial lighting: recessed lighting, chandeliers, fluorescent tube lights
Harsh backlighting: the sun directly behind the couple coming straight at the camera
It’s a personal policy that I do not allow family members or the bridal party to watch or participate in a first look. I know some photographers will encourage parents to look on or the wedding party to stand behind the couple to cheer but personally, I find it extremely distracting for the couple. They will only spend a few precious uninterrupted moments together on their wedding day, the first look is filled with joyful anxiety and most importantly, it’s just a private moment to begin with. I want my clients to be able to focus solely on being in each other’s presence and feel free to express whatever emotions they wish without onlookers. Finding a first look location that is private is very important to my couples.
In all honesty, this comes last for a reason. For most non-photographers, finding a beautiful location for the first look would come first but that’s what this whole blog post is about, right?! The scenery or decor of a location is something I take into consideration but only after I’ve secured a private spot with good light. I’ll always choose locations with backgrounds that are lighter and brighter when I can but sometimes, simplicity is best! It’s all about the reaction, right? We want the focus to be on the couple and the emotions that they are experiencing - not the grandeur of the landscaping or architecture.
When I arrive on a wedding day, I take some time to scout out potential first look locations and connect with the couple or their coordinator about this. Sometimes the venues will have a designated “first look location” that they advertise to their clients. If my couple, the venue or the coordinator have a very specific spot where they anticipate the first look taking place, I will check it out and then explain the problems and outcomes to whoever is involved in the decision making.
If my couples are absolutely firm on a particular spot, I will share my thoughts with them and just make sure they understand some of the potential outcomes. If they express to me that they’re aware of what I’m saying but still want to stick with their plan, then yes… in that case, I would shoot in their desired location. It’s their day.
But, admittedly, it’s rare that I share my concerns with a couple and they still protest and stick with their original idea. Luckily, I work hard to build trust with my couples so that they know their best interests are on my heart when I make requests.
As an engaged couple, I encourage you to put your full trust into your photographer and allow them to choose your first look location based first on light.
As a photographer, I encourage you to educate your clients and feel empowered when you choose the spot where they’ll see each other for the first time on their wedding day!
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