1. Start slow. Don’t come right in with guns blazing and start firing off a bunch of shots right away. Usually the bride & bridesmaids don’t have their hair or makeup done yet, so they aren’t going to be a huge fan of having a camera in their face yet. Instead, Justin & I will usually come in first without our gear. I’ll hug the bride, meet and hug her mom (who is usually already a fan from the engagement shoot) and get introduced to the bridesmaids (whose names I will already start to try to memorize for the bridal party pictures later). Only then will we go get our gear, and even then we start with shooting the details (dress, shoes, jewelry, a grandmother’s something, bouquet, etc).
2. Use that time shooting the details to warm up. By getting there early, we can be calm (and bring a calming presence to the bride) as well as take our time warming up shooting the details. We can get a handle on the lighting in the room, our settings, and just get those creative juices flowing before we start taking pictures of our bride.
3. Use directional light to create dimension in the details. Typically for us this means shooting next to some good window light and positioning our subject (the shoes, jewelry, etc) so the light is coming in at about a 90 degree angle. If that’s too contrasty, just open up the angle a little bit to create more even light. But by using the light directionally, as opposed to straight on or blasting it with flash, you are able to create a pattern of shadow & highlight that brings real dimension to the image. And that’s what gives it that “I could just reach in and grab it” effect.
4. But don’t forget the fill! While that directional window light is going to be the main source of light, you don’t want to forget to bounce a little light back in to your shadow side so that you keep detail there as well. In a pinch, a white pillow case works wonders!
5. Shoot the details in places where they feel natural. This may just be a personal preference for us, but part of the vibe of our images is shooting things where they feel natural. So we try to shoot the dress in a place where it might naturally have been hung up anyway and the shoes on a spot where someone might have actually set them down.
6. Choose the place where the bride gets dressed. Now that you’ve had a chance to scope out the landscape and know where the best light is, you can have your bride get ready there. A lot of this comes down to building a trust relationship with the bride leading up to the wedding, so that when you say that’s the best spot she’ll trust you and go with it.
7. Now clean, clean, clean. Now that you’ve picked the best spot for light, you want to make it the best spot for pictures. Get rid of: suitcases, water bottles, plastic bags, food, garbage, etc. You name it, we’ve seen it (and cleaned it up) in a spot where we wanted the bride to get dressed. And that clean, simple image was always worth the extra work.
8. You’ve created the best possible scenario, now just be quiet. Once we put our bride in an ideal situation for light and landscape, we just let things unfold naturally. Because the minute we speak we bring ourselves back into the situation and make everyone else camera aware again.
9. Window Lit Bridal Portraits. Now that the bride is dressed and right by that great window light anyway, announce that you get 5 minutes with the bride all to yourself to grab some bridal portraits. The having no one else around part is so important so that she doesn’t feel self-conscious with a bunch of people staring at her, and she can let her inner RAWR out! 🙂
10. Be a Calming Influence. I know I said it before, but it bears repeating. There’s a lot going on in the morning. This is a day she has waited for her whole life. Maybe her mom is driving her crazy. A lot of times I will use that 5-10 minutes with my bride just to breathe with them, bring the tone down, and reset for a happy day. And if you can be that kind of influence for your bride, she will love you forever!
Justin & Mary are internationally traveled destination photographers, who call New England home. Justin is a 2003 graduate of the highly-acclaimed Rochester Institute of Technology, and Mary is a 2006 graduate of the Yale Law School.
Justin & Mary have been traveling around the nation on their Spread the Love Workshop Tour teaching photographers and other business professionals about marketing, branding, building relationships, business 101, financial health, balancing life & business, creating systems that stick, and so much more.