While you’re sure to cherish every second of your celebration, nothing can match that moment when your eyes meet your intended's for the very first time on your wedding day. After all of the planning, the dreaming, and the anticipation, seeing your spouse beaming back at you—in the ensemble that was fretted over for months, in the venue where you two envisioned hosting this very moment—is nothing short of magical. Many modern couples, however, are ditching the tradition of keeping apart before the wedding, and instead are opting to reveal themselves in a pre-ceremony first look shoot. The first look shoot captures the romantic and intimate magic away from the prying eyes of guests.

While you’ll have the rest of the day to be surrounded by a horde of friends, family, and people who love you, this moment belongs to the two of you. It gives you both a chance to relish in the present, to prepare yourselves for the excitement ahead, and to take stock of the moments that have led you here—mere hours, or even minutes before you will forever be joined.

While you and your photographer’s creativity will dictate the format of the shoot, the general premise is almost always the same. You and your partner will start off not being able to see one another’s faces. You may be blindfolded. You may place an obstacle like a curtain or tree between you. Your photographer may stand facing you while your betrothed walks up from behind. There is a period of drama and anticipation, and then you’re finally revealed to one another.

Were you excited? A little nervous? Already welling up a little? Your photographers will have captured it all. And when the moment actually arrives, when you two see each other for the very first time, your photographers will be busy snapping away, capturing some of the most intimate exchanges that you’ll experience all day. With your expression ranging from delighted shock to pure happiness, with maybe even with a few tears of joy thrown in for good measure, your photographers will be there with you every step of the way.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your photographer about fun, quirky, or romantic ideas you might have. For example, you may want cover your hubby’s eyes from behind for a playful touch, or utilize dramatic architectural or natural elements like a circular staircase, half-wall, or rose bushes to hide you from immediate view.  Consider playing with angles—perhaps revealing yourself from under a footbridge—for personalized touches that will make the session your own.

Many couples worry that a first look shoot will diminish the effect of the walk down the aisle, but it doesn’t have to. These can be two very different experiences, and you’ll be able to see the distinction between the emotions of both celebrations in your final photos. While both instances involve the first exchange between the two of you on your big day, the intimacy of a first look—involving just yourselves and your photographers—can offer a safe, more comfortable environment than may be afforded in front of your guests. This can give some couples the chance to let down their guard and express themselves more openly. For example, while your fiancé would rather chew glass than shed a single tear in front of any, let alone all four, of his brothers, the privacy of a first look shoot may find him more relaxed and able to give in to his emotions.

After the excitement of the first look shoot has worn off a little, you can use its pre-ceremony timing to handle some of the other photos you’d like to incorporate. This is a perfect opportunity to get group shots with your family and wedding party. You may want to travel to other locales to incorporate more than one photo location. Taking care of these shots before the ceremony begins allows your guests—and you—to get to the cocktail hour, and more importantly, to the reception, all the sooner.

If you’re hosting a late afternoon affair, pre-ceremony photo shoots will also save you from feeling as though you have to rush around to take advantage of that beautiful dusk lighting, allowing you to relax and truly enjoy the experience.

A first look shoot isn’t for every couple, but if you’re thinking it may be right for your celebration, talk to photographers in your area to weigh their ideas and opinions. Whatever you decide, relish in the anticipation and the dawning of these very special moments, as you’ll likely want to remember them forever.

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