For many brides-to-be, having a bridal portrait session while wearing the wedding dress is a tradition. I love these sessions because you often get to photograph the bride when they are feeling the most beautiful they’ve ever felt – but without all the stress of the actual wedding. You can take your time, thoughtfully determine lighting and posing, and choose the time of day and location. Plus, the bride is a lot more relaxed than she is on the big day, which makes for more natural poses.
But while bridal portrait sessions are often very rewarding, they can be difficult, especially for beginners. The pressure is still on to capture stunning portrait shots, and unless you take the right approach, you may end up with a lot of mediocre results.
I’ve conducted many a session with a beautiful bride, and I’ve learned a few things along the way that’ll help your session go much smoother (and ensure you capture some outstanding images!). So if you do bridal photography – or you hope to break into the market – I encourage you to read the following tips, starting with:
1. Try the white sheet trick
Most brides are extremely concerned about keeping their dresses pristine for the wedding. Lots of dresses have long trains and can very easily pick up dirt and debris, especially if you do your photoshoot outdoors – on a beach, by a river, on a lawn, etc.
And while it may not be possible to avoid dirt and debris completely, there is a handy trick that you can use:
Put a large white sheet down on the ground where you’d like the bride to pose. Have them hold their dress and carefully step onto the sheet. Then carefully arrange the dress before tucking the sheet right under the edges.
Before you take your first shot (or after you ask them to make a major pose shift), be sure to check to make sure the sheet isn’t extremely obvious. Fortunately, if a bit of the sheet happens to peek out, it usually isn’t detectable, since it matches the dress!
Pro tip: You could keep your own dedicated “bridal portrait sheet” for your outdoor portrait sessions, or you could ask the bride to bring one along with them. Just make sure that one of you remembers that sheet on the day of the photoshoot!
2. Avoid moving the bride
Choosing a nice location that features a beautiful backdrop can take a bit of time – but once you’ve picked the right spot and set up the bride (with the sheet discussed above!), try to get every shot you can without asking your subject to move.
Here are just a few image ideas, all of which can be captured in a single position:
- Photograph the whole dress from afar
- Capture a tighter shot with the entire dress
- Make sure to shoot both vertical and horizontal orientations
- Get a headshot
- Do a few close-ups of the bride’s face – smiling, serious, looking away, and looking down
- Do some shots with the bouquet and some without
- Shoot from lots of different angles
The more you move the bride, the greater the chances that you’ll get the dress dirty, tear it, or otherwise ruin it. I usually only set the bride up in three or four spots across an entire session, but because I know how to really work a location, I still have at least 30 different deliverable images.
3. Feature the dress
You might think that bridal portrait photography is all about the bride – after all, she’s the star! – but it’s also important that you capture some photos that show off the details of the dress.
It’s likely the most important dress your subject has ever worn (and ever will wear). Chances are that she’ll want those details documented! Ask the bride about her favorite part of the dress, and make sure you feature it in a few of your shots.
Get shots from behind, so you can see the intricate buttons or fancy train. Find ways to showcase the lace, bows, and any other unique details. Pay attention to what shoes she is wearing, too, and ask whether she might like them featured in a photo. If she has a beautiful veil or crown, get photos that show them off.
Note that you don’t need to focus solely on the dress; instead, capture a mix of shots that include her and the dress together.
4. Add a groom
Back in the day, it was a strict tradition that the groom could never see the bride before the wedding. But while some people still want to follow that rule, many are setting it aside; instead of just getting bridal portraits, they’re getting couple portraits that feature their wedding garb. (That said, I have no problem with a bride and groom waiting to reveal the dress until the wedding. I think it’s sweet! This is just another option and interest will vary depending on the bride/couple you’re photographing.)
So when you do your pre-session consultation (or when you first get hired), ask the bride what they’re looking for. If they’re open to capturing some couple photos, that’s great, and if not, that’s okay, too.
I will say that I love adding a groom to my photos because they help bring an extra level of emotion. With the groom involved, the photos become more than just a woman in a gorgeous dress; they become a record of the love and excitement that surrounds that time right before tying the knot.
Pro tip: You can also get great “first-look” shots of the groom’s face the first time he sees his beautiful bride in her dress, so consider orchestrating a “reveal” moment at the beginning of your session.
5. Bring an assistant
Most beginners don’t think to bring along a helper, but in my experience, bridal sessions are so much easier with an assistant!
If you have a thriving business, it might be a good idea to hire a professional who comes to each and every shoot, but if you’re just getting started, simply bring a friend or family member. Another option is to ask the bride if they can bring a mother, sister, or friend along, which often works great.
An assistant’s jobs aren’t difficult, but they are vital. If you have someone to hold the bouquet, carry the dress train, arrange the dress on the sheet, fix a bunched-up veil, and move stray hairs, you’ll be free to focus on the photography itself, and you’ll end up doing far less work in post-processing later on. There are so many things that can be bumped out of place during a bridal session, and if you have someone else on hand to notice these issues and fix them, it’ll make a huge difference.
6. Start with “the shot”
My favorite photos are always the ones with the bride and groom interacting, looking at each other, kissing, etc. However, I know that brides, grooms, and their moms always want a photo where they are both looking at the camera and smiling with everything in place.
At each location, whether you’re photographing only the bride or the couple together, start by capturing that traditional photo. Then have fun and be creative afterward! You don’t want to get to the editing process only to realize that you don’t have any good photos of your subjects looking at the camera and smiling.
7. Make your photos useful for the bride
I love it when my brides and grooms bring thank-you signs for a few quick snaps at the end of the session. These make perfect cards to send to all of the guests who attend the wedding!
So ask before the session if that is something your clients are interested in doing. You can technically bring your own signs, but in my experience, it’s better if the clients bring props that fit their style and personality.
I have also had many clients order small prints of their favorite photos and use them as part of their table centerpieces at the dinner or reception. This is a great way to make good use of all of those beautiful photos and to let the guests see more than just the very few that you print large.
Bridal portrait session tips: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to capture some amazing bridal portrait shots.
You know how to keep the dress clean, add extra emotion to your shots, make your photos useful, and more!
Most of all, have fun with the session and enjoy getting those perfect images for the married couple to treasure always.
Now over to you:
Which of these tips will you use first? Do you have any other advice that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- 7 Tips for Photographing a Bridal Portrait Session
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES