The bride’s portraits on the day of her wedding is one of the most important appointments of the day for a wedding photographer. It is often a mix of intensive planning, impromptu moments captured at the blink of an eye and a bit of a personal touch in the approach. In this tutorial we shall take a look at some essential techniques of photographing the bride. These would include tips on lighting, posing and of course preparation before the big day.
Look for a room that has lots of natural light. A lot of light will create a wraparound effect that is essential for a slightly high-key result. You would rarely see a bridal portrait that has been treated with a low key lighting set-up. Never.
Lots of light equals to a soft lighting scenario and that is just perfect for good wedding portraits. If you could have a say in this insist that the bride gets ready in a room where there are at least one large window with natural light flooding in. Prefer not to have direct sunlight, rather light that is indirect (you would get that in a north side facing window). If you cannot get one or get a window that has harsh light coming through you can draw in the curtains to diffuse the light.
Alternatively, you can carry with you some white sheets. White sheets are always handy, in almost every outdoor photography environment. Carry a few with some ‘A’ clamps to quickly diffuse the light coming through the windows.
Strobes with diffusers can be useful too. But carrying strobes, light stands, softboxes and battery power packs means you are talking about a serious amount of gear. A lot of things can go wrong when your list of gear is large. And they probably would if you believe in Murphy’s Law. Instead of becoming a ‘gearoholic’, pack a couple of speedlights / flash units with radio trigger and a good sharp wide lens. That should be enough for clean wedding portraits.
I was recently at an Indian wedding, and the wedding photographer rigged the entire venue with small flash units. Unfortunately, he couldn’t manage setting up the channels and that meant every time he fired his camera shutter all the flash units at the venue flashed. It was comical after a while. A classic case of packing too much gear for a job.
The day before
Many of the bridal portraits or couple portraits are best done at least a day before the wedding. That way you don’t have the pressures of a tight schedule to comply with. Keep a day in hand when you can and that can make a world of difference to your bridal portrait images.
Shooting the bridal portrait images before the wedding has both its advantages and disadvantages. The bride can try out her dress, put on her makeup and jewelry her shoes a day prior or a few days prior to the wedding. It ends up being a dress rehearsal of sorts before the big day. As a photographer you obviously have a lot more time in your hands to make those memorable images.
On the flip side, however, there is a serious risk of getting the dress or the accessories dirty. It’s a risk that some brides are hesitant to take. Carry some clean white sheets and use them whenever she steps on the grass, stepping on the sheets instead of the grass. This will prevent her dress from getting dirty.
Getting ready shots
The getting ready shots should preferably be done on the day of the wedding. It is a difficult time to shoot mainly because there are a lot of people moving in and about the wedding venue and finding some quiet time to photograph the bride getting ready can be difficult.
As a wedding photographer you have to keep in mind that this is a deeply private time for the bride. You shouldn’t be pushy and should always respect her privacy. This is a cherished moment especially when she is with her mother, or her sister or someone else in the inner circle of her family.
You should only ‘intrude’, if one can even use that word, when she is almost ready. She might have put on her dress and make up and someone’s helping her put on the jewelry. This is a good time to step in and shoot some quick photos. Use a long lens, something like the 70-200mm and shoot wide open at f/2.8 to f/4.
I am a big believer of candid shooting, especially when it comes to wedding. There are some images which do turn up good when shot candidly. But having said that a vast number of images need to be posed as well. When posing try to have a mental image of how you want your bride to appear in the final image. You have had the advantage of meeting the bride at least a couple of occasions before the marriage. That is where you should have noticed her built, her face and her hair and made a mental note of the general camera angles which can accentuate the best features of her face. These should be in written down in your notebook ready to be referenced.
Before the day of the wedding (or the pre-wedding photoshoot day as the case may be) flip out that notebook and revise the notes. The first few weddings would be difficult for you. As they say, ‘everyone falls the first time’. But as you gain experience and grow in confidence you will find that things ill start to come to you naturally.
You can certainly help yourself by going through a few wedding and bridal magazines which have a ton of posing ideas. Keep in mind your bride’s body type to select poses that would best accentuate her looks.
A key to shooting good bridal portraits and making sure that everything is over in the shortest time possible is to ensure that you maximize each pose by making multiple images. Take one image that showcases her face, a close-up portrait to be precise. Take another that showcases her dress and one more where the focus again would be her dress but she would be shot from waist up.
You can even ask her to look off-camera with the same pose for a fourth shot. This will give you enough shots to choose from as well as cover for the possible scenario some of your shots don’t turn out the way you might have expected.
Believe it or not the most awkward moment is when your bride poses for you and in her head she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do with her hands. That’s when the tension and the anxiety surrounding the wedding comes through. It’s always an awkward moment.
The best way to handle this is to give her a bouquet of flowers to hold. A bouquet is a wonderful accessory that naturally fills in anything in the image that might appear out of order. Let’s say that your bride is particularly conscious about her waist line and she isn’t too keen about your photoshopping skills either. What do you do in such a situation? Ask her to hold a bouquet around her midriff. That would hide her waist line. Having her pose with her body facing away from the camera while she looks at the camera is another way to pose when you have a curvy bride to photograph.
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