I’m a Lake Tahoe based wedding and portrait photographer, and fan of unposed, giddy-in-love, melt-my-lenses-editorial-style moments … oh, and a t-shirts and jeans. 

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Courtney Aaron

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Thirteen years ago I slung a camera strap around my neck, and I’ve been capturing moments and memories that will be cherished for generations to come ever since. My goal? Put you at ease in front of the camera and document what matters and giving you something timeless in a fleeting world.

Hi, I'm Courtney


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To see or not to see?

(Ashley & Colby, a classic “first look” moment)

A topic that comes up with every wedding is seeing each other before the ceremony.

Many couples are torn between the traditional first glance down the aisle or seeing each other pre-ceremony. Ultimately, it is up to the couple. Regardless of how you plan it, it will be your own special memory and no one should plan it but you. There is no right or wrong way, as it is your day. About 75% of my wedding opt for the ‘first look,’ while 25% keep it traditional. Here, I am simply offering my experience as a past bride and a photographer who witnesses every possible variation of wedding day logistics.

To see…

Given the choice, I absolutely recommend a first look. I chose a first look for my own wedding and wouldn’t have done it any other way. Photography was naturally a top priority for us, so maximizing the potential for incredible photography was first on our list. The best way I can describe it is from my experience. The time you have with your husband before the ceremony is pretty surreal. It calms your nerves and gives you a private moment together before you are about to join hands in front of all your guests. No one can take away the memory I have of the look on my husband’s face when he first saw me in my gown. He could hug me, kiss me, and tell me what he thought without any inhibitions from being on stage at the altar. When I saw him, the anxiety and nerves I had about the whole event were lifted because I was no longer the solo bride, I was a bride with my groom and we were in it together. Sean says that time we had with each other and our family and wedding party wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t see each other before the ceremony. He’s right. Cocktail hour flew by, dinner, speeches, dancing consumed what we thought was a long reception and we cherish being able to have the pre-ceremony quality time together.

It gives you not one, but two moments of first seeing each other. When I walked down the aisle, my head was much more clear and I was able to take in the entire moment because my nerves were calmer. I was able to stare at him as I approached him and not completely lose it and cry the whole walk. Well, I still lost it, but the pictures show me smiling more than my ugly cry- thank goodness! If you are a crier like me, do the first look! I was also able to remember everyone’s face as I walked down the aisle. I was in the moment, not scatter brained or so excited I rushed through it. It was a memory I’ll never forget.

Oh, and that window of time where we seperated as he greeted guests and I hid while watched anxiously while they were seated? It gave me time to think of how incrediblly handsome he looked, how I couldn’t wait to walk down the aisle and see him again, and sip some champagne. I always aim to finish pre-ceremony portraits at least 45 minutes ahead of your ceremony start time. Your groom and wedding party may get to see you, but I still honor the surprise of your guests seeing you. I think that’s pretty special.

As for photography potential, logistically, this option offers many advantages. After the ceremony, you’ll go straight to enjoying your guests and maybe just sneak away for a quick few sunset portraits. When you think about the time you invested to show your guests a good time, and just how much time you actually get with each guest, that time is so limited. To maximize it, getting all (or most) of your important portraits done ahead of time is such a relief. Plus, as your photographer, I am able to get many more shots of you having a good time with your guests. During dinner and dancing, great shots happen too. But cocktail hour offers great mingling and captures of your connection with your guests. Some of my favoite shots come from cocktail hour and the excited congratulatory conversation!

Some couples want to break it up and just shoot their portraits with their wedding party and shoot all the family portraits post-ceremony. That’s a great option, too!

A few extra advantages:

  • Makeup and hair is totally fresh for portraits (and time to spare for freshening up right before the ceremony)
  • There is no rush to get to your guests because no one is there yet, making for totally relaxed portraits
  • Potential to travel to a nearby location for portraits is much more feasible
  • Bonus pre-party time spent with your VIP’s (wedding party and family)
  • Family/wedding party is all in one place; no one is late for the ceremony
  • Much more variety in your portraits since we’re not rushed to squeeze every combination of wedding party, family and bride and groom portraits into one hour.
  • If something doesn’t go according to plan pre-ceremony, (groomsman is late, dress malfunction, etc.) we always have the safety net of getting that certain shot post-ceremony.


(Ashley & Colby, the second, and equally as enchanting, look down the aisle)

Not to see…

By now, it’s obvious I prefer the advantages the previous option offers but this isn’t to say if you choose not to see each other that your day won’t be filled with magic as well. If you choose to wait until the ceremony, I always aim to take all the portrait varieties I can of you both separately (bride with her side, groom with his side). Some couples have chosen to have an hour gap between their ceremony and cocktail hour start time or extending their cocktail hour a half hour just so they can insure they are able to join in most of the cocktail hour.  Some couples are content with missing their cocktail hour for portraits. My best advice to get the pictures you are hiring me to get, is to allow ample time for relaxed, creative portraits. I will work with whatever time you give me and coordinate with your other vendors to make sure we’re all on the same page.  I recommend guests to be seated for dinner an hour and a half after the ceremony ends. I’m a stickler for making sure you arrive to your reception on time. For caterers to give you their best service, this is vital since timing is everything for your food preparation.

I typically allow 20 minutes for family portraits (more if you have a large family or want many combinations), 15 minutes with the whole wedding party and 45 minutes with the bride and groom alone. Figure in a few minute buffer if Uncle Larry is missing or Grandma went to the bar instead of following us for portraits.

Your post ceremony portait time with your new spouse is your only real time alone before the craziness of being received by your guests. Maximizing this portrait time is invaluable so that you can have time together and I can make sure I work my magic for you. My goal is go above and beyond your expectations and more time allows for that.

A few extra tips:

  • Your hair/makeup artist will typically offer a touch-up service. This is highly recommended, with both timing options, so that you’re fresh for your portraits together and as you enter the party.
  • Each minute your ceremony runs late takes time away from all of your formal portraits. On-time start is so very important.
  • Consider extending your cocktail hour so that you can still enjoy that time with your guests.

Whichever you decide….

The timeline I design for you will reflect your wishes. Sometimes couples see the timeline for both options and that helps them decide easier.

Whichever way you choose, it is your day and the pictures will be emotional and beautiful!



comments +

  1. Colleen Brink says:

    Wow! After reading what you wrote…it makes me wonder if we should have seen one another ahead of time. But, then again…as soon as my husband-to-be saw me he started weeping at the sight of me. He’s told me a million times how overwhelmed he was seeing me in my dress and how beautiful he thought I looked. I didn’t and couldn’t cry because HE was!!! I think if we had been alone, I would have lost it totally and started the floodgates opening.The guests at our (2nd) wedding were captivated by the emotions that ran so deep during the whole ceremony. I’m not going to complain to the powers that be that provided us with perfect weather, a perfect site, gorgeous flowers, and a ceremony that intertwined all of what our lives had been through up to that moment. It was perfect! You captured everything Courtney, even his tears, smiles and tons of kisses!!!

  2. Hope says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My husband and I did a first look and I’m so glad we did. The photos came out amazing and it really did calm our nerves before walking down the aisle. Plus, because the night really does fly by and photos were very important to us, it really helped us maximize our time and get the most out of our photographer and images from the day.
    Originally I kept flip flopping about whether to do a first look or not, but what sold me was going through my photographer’s blog and I saw some images of a first look he had recently done with another couple. I literally started crying they were so beautiful and you could totally see how powerful that moment was between them.

    So, I would absolutely stick with my decision. Granted, my parents didn’t 100% agree with the first look idea, but at the end of the day, this was our day and they respected our decision. But for any bride and groom making this decision, just remember that it’s your decision and yours alone -people will give their opinions, but just do what you feel is right for you!

  3. Ashley Frey says:

    “To See” all the way!!! Honestly, Courtney, you could not have said it better! There are so many benefits to taking your portraits before the ceremony, most importantly, it calmed my nerves before we said our vows!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all my wedding photos, wouldn’t have done it any other way!!!

  4. Krisstin says:

    I agree! My husband and I saw each other first. We didn’t do a creative “first look” shot, which I wish we would have done. But we chose to do wedding party photos before the ceremony to get extra coverage. Photos were important to us too. I also agree with the calmed nerves. Seeing him first completely calmed me. I thought, “Okay, we’re doing this.” Then we started. It was a great experience.

  5. cindy says:

    I’m definitely a big fan of a first look…being the mess of nerves that I am, I don’t think I would have been able to keep it together for the ceremony without one. Aside from giving us extra time to get some stellar wedding party photos, it was the perfect opportunity to seize a moment of calm and sheer, unadulterated joy before the whirlwind that is a wedding ceremony and reception.

  6. Lauren Rotter says:

    I would absolutely without a doubt SEE! I agree with Courtney on all levels and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Your hair and makeup are fresh. When you first see each other, you don’t have to hold back your emotions as you would at the alter. You can say whatever you want (and you don’t have to wait for a kiss!!) I know it definitely calmed my nerves knowing I would be able to let loose with him before all the craziness. Another BIG thing for me was having most of the family/ wedding party pictures done. I HATE going to a wedding and having to wait an hour after to ceremony while they all get pictures taken. It’s so nice to go straight to your guests and celebrate! I would also recommend (if the timing is right) to sneak away during sunset. Courtney got some AMAZING shots for us at this time and it was also a time for us to take a breather from the reception. We weren’t gone long, which was perfect. You’re in good hands with Courtney! 🙂

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