If you’ve ever looked at a wedding timeline, then you know that wedding photographers have a lot on their plate. From early morning bridal prep and wardrobe details to the ceremony, couples portraits, and late night ballroom dancing, wedding photographers leave few genres untouched. While each part of the day is significant, some of the most important photos wedding photographers capture include bridal portraits. The bride remains the undisputed star of the show, and it’s imperative that wedding photographers capture her look her best while collecting the moments she’ll want to remember for a lifetime. For this reason, we’ve put together a collection of bridal portraits tips, ideas, and inspiration you can put to use for your next (or possibly first) wedding shoot.
Bridal Portraits Tips, Ideas, and Inspiration
- Must-Have Bridal Portraits
- Additional Bridal Portraits to Consider
- Quick Lighting Tips for Bridal Portraits
- Shooting for the Edit
Must-Have Bridal Portraits
Let’s start things off with the must-haves! Although having a set list of shots can potentially strip away a photographer’s creativity, wedding photography calls for a soft guideline to follow in order to get shots your clients want. Typically, bridal portraits consist of the following shots:
- 3/4 Standard Portrait | Front & Back
- Standard Full Length | Front & Back
- Creative Veil Portraits
During bridal prep, which usually kicks off the day, wedding photographers typically take photos of the bride details. This often includes the dress, shoes, rings, bouquet, and more. One way to do this is to set each item up they way you would for a product photography session. However, if possible, try capturing the details on the bride. It gives the details more context and allows the bride another opportunity to shine.
The more details you capture, and the better they are, the better chance you’ll have of being able to include them in an album spread. Some additional details include earrings and any other jewelry, any beading or other embellishments on the bridal gown, an eyelash shot (have the bride look down to accentuate her lashes,) the bouquet, anything that catches your eye or looks like it is important to the bride. Did she try on 50 dresses to find the one with that perfect little ‘something?’ Are the flowers meticulously and artfully arranged? If care was taken to make it look the way it does on a wedding day, photograph it.
3/4 Standard Bridal Portraits
One of the bridal portrait poses you’ll need to include in your session is the 3/4 standard pose. If you’ve never heard this term, it means you’ll capture the bride to just below her knees. Be sure to avoid cropping your shot where the subject’s limbs bend (knees, ankles, wrists, etc.).
Get a Variety of 3/4 Bridal Portraits from a Single Pose
Many times, photographers work into a pose and then rather than switching angles or lenses, they switch the pose too quickly. We tend to get so wrapped up in shooting that we forget that little variations in posing can change the entire dynamic of an image.
Give Cues to Inspire Flattering Expressions
Capturing different emotions will also provide a variety of shots in a single pose. Sticking your subject in a pose and then not offering enough guidance could end up coming across as stiff and limit your results. As mentioned earlier, wedding photographers tend to have to wear many hats throughout the day. Being a director is just one of many roles we must take on. We cover an idea called “assisted photojournalism” in this webinar, which we designed to help photographers direct a scene and let the action play out naturally, with just enough guidance to capture candid reactions.
Full Length Bridal Portraits
No matter what, every bride is going to want a full length shot of their dress, both with them in it and on its own. We are going to pose our model from head to toe to accentuate her features and show off the dress.
Pull the Dress and Mind the Details
All it takes are tiny adjustments that help give our bride a more flattering figure. We do not pose and instruct while looking through the viewfinder. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate a pose to get the results you’re after. Our instructions should be interactive and visual so that our bride can mimic what we want.
For a full length shot, here are some instructions you can give the bride:
- Kick the hip to one side
- Place feet together and then drag one behind the other, lifting the heel slightly
- Bring the knees together to create an hourglass shape
- Slightly bend the elbows to create space between the arm and body and prevent the arm from pressing flat against the body, which could render an unflattering look
- Place a bouquet in one hand (if available) to give the hand something to do
- Try a number of variations (from different angles, closeup or wide, etc.) to maximize the usefulness of this pose
Sitting Bridal Portraits
You always want to be aware of how the female figure looks while your bride is sitting. The key to flattering female posing is posture. A female’s form can easily be lost when she is hunched over and losing length in her spine and neck. Pay attention to this and you’ll be amazed at the difference that a simple shift in posture can make.
It can be easy to overlook these details when you are in a rush, but taking the time to properly pose her body so that it looks flattering and natural will give you imagery she is sure to love and a higher production value overall. Choose an angle where you are shooting onto her, making sure your camera is aligned with her spine as to not make the body appear larger relative to where you are.
Creative Veil Portraits
We’re always looking for creative ways to incorporate our surroundings (which sometimes includes parts of our brides’ wardrobes) into our shots. The bride’s veil, if she has one, makes for an incredible creative photography tool. This shoot-through technique (featured in the images above) is just one of several options you have for using the veil in your bridal portraits. Here’s how to do it.
Either you or your assistant, if you have one, will hold the end of the veil near the front of your lens. The purpose here is to create texture in the shot. Your subject will remain visible, and should be tack sharp, despite the haze caused from the texture of the veil being placed so close to the lens. While it’s okay to obscure the dress and other areas of the frame when using this technique, be sure to not conceal the bride’s face. Also, keep a careful eye on the focus as the closeup fabric may cause the focus to shift.
Other Creative Accessories to Use for Bridal Portraits
Check out this list of some of our favorite creative accessories that you can add to your arsenal for bridal portraits. You can actually use these versatile items throughout the wedding day whenever you need a creative boost, or even if it’s just to conceal unwanted elements in the scene.
- Veil (background, leading lines, soft imagery, flares)
- LED Light String (bokeh, enhance flares)
- Prism (block distracting elements in room, add interest)
- Crystal Stem (sun flare streaks)
- Free Lens (soft imagery)
- Putty/Glue Dots (stabilize rings and other small details)
- LED Pen Light (create sparkles for jewelry)
Additional Bridal Portraits to Consider
In addition to the must-have shots above, there are other important and/or worthwhile shots you can get while capturing bridal portraits.
Post-Bridal Makeup Photos – Robe Portraits
Although this isn’t a necessity, brides often request shots in their robes and it is our job to focus on the details of the hair & makeup during this portrait session. Once the bride steps into her dress, getting full length portraits and close up portraits become more of a priority, but this is the perfect moment to show off the hard work of the makeup & hair artists.
Journalistic, Environmental Bridal Portraits
After getting your standard portraits, step back and assess your scene. Are there areas in your room where you can see unique reflections or shoot through objects? These creative shots are what will help you get noticed because of the diversity they provide in your portfolio.
Getting wide with a 35mm or 24mm prime allows you to get journalistic images and environmental portraits. To create a nice story-telling format, start close, then back up with a wider lens, then go onto your widest lens and capture the scene as a whole.
Outdoor Golden Hour Bridal Portraits
Take advantage of the outdoor scene and grab a couple of bridal portraits as well as individual portraits of the bride with her bridesmaids. Make sure to get a variety of compositions both wide showcasing the dresses and tight to focus on expressions.
Be sure to check out these additional tips for bridal poses here.
Quick Lighting Tips for Bridal Portraits
This is not an exhaustive list of lighting tips for bridal portraits, by any means, but you can refer to the info included below for ideas on how to use natural light during your session.
Lead shooters typically photograph bridal portraits, and these are some general pieces of lighting gear a lead shooter might use for the occasion either for creative purposes or if the natural, ambient light is inadequate. Again, all of this gear will not be needed for every bridal portrait session.
- 5-in-1 Reflector
- 5-in-1 Shoot Through (Requires Cutting a Hole Through the Reflector)
- On-Camera Flash + (2) Off Camera Flash with Built In Radios
- White Satin Umbrella
- (2) Flash Grid/Snoot
- (2) Flash Gels/CTO/CTB
- (2) Flash Stands
Creative Lighting Techniques for Bridal Portraits
More often than not, you’ll be able to find adequate natural light near windows indoors or in open shade outdoors, but there may be occasions when you want to use flash to capture creative bridal portraits, or to darken a “bad” scene with low ambient exposure and light the bride with flash.
Here’s a simple backlit hairspray shot that brides (and vendors, such as hair & makeup teams) love to include in their bridal prep session. To pull off this shot, do the following:
- Lower your ambient exposure enough to see hairspray particles in the air once the flash is fired. If the background is too bright, you won’t be able to see the particles.
- Place a single flash on a nightstand directly behind the bride, about 2-3 feet away. Position the flash unit so that it sits around the same level as the bride’s head (in relation to the camera’s position), and make sure it’s at a slight top-down angle.
- If any lights are on in the room, you’ll need to add a CTO gel to the flash and adjust your in-camera white balance (typically to 3200K) to match the ambient light.
- Adjust your flash power, cue the hairstylist to apply the hairspray, and capture the shot.
You can take this concept a step further into the creative realm and use the backlit hairspray shot to capture a shadow photography portrait (see the image below).
To create the image above, we used a framed picture on the wall as a reflective element to create the basic type of hairspray image. The flash created this shadow on the opposite wall (behind where we stood for the previous backlit image).
Some retouching was required to remove some unwanted elements on the wall and in the reflection (as illustrated in the before shot above), but the final result was worth it.
Natural Light Portraits Using a Window and 5-in-1 Reflector
Let’s look at how we can move through a bridal beauty portrait session with diffused window light from a large window.
Modify a Reflector
Window light is generally abundant, and can even be used as a clean backdrop should you be faced with an otherwise unattractive space. Or, even if the space itself is gorgeous, you can use a window backdrop for variety.
One simple way to do this that can have some really nice, high-key results is to cut a rectangle out of the center of a collapsible silver reflector, pose the bride in front of the window facing away from it, and shoot through that rectangle. You’ll need to be mindful of catchlights when you do this – watch the subject’s eyes as you position the reflector to make sure the catchlights look good. The window light will wrap around the subject, adding lovely, sculpting accents on their face and body.
We recommend a telephoto lens for this – 85mm or more.
Use Side Lighting
A lot of the details look good with a little more dimension, and though flat light can look lovely on a subject, side lighting can be more dynamic and in having more shadow area it sculpts more shape. We can achieve this by changing the subject’s orientation to the light source, in this case, the window.
In our first shot, the subject had her back against the window, but if we have her turn about 90 degrees, the light will have a different look and feel. This lighting is excellent for bouquets and all the little bits that benefit from shadow to enhance details.
Shooting for the Edit: Plan Ahead and Shoot for the Finished Product
You will likely be working with tight time constraints, so going into your bridal portrait session with a game plan will take you a long way. Scope out the room beforehand and see what light you’re working with and if you’ll need to add any light of your own. Think of the shots you want to capture beforehand so you can be ready to make something beautiful happen in front of your lens, fast.
As you plan and shoot, remember to keep a cohesive look that will look good when you place the photos into the album together (plan for print). They don’t have to all look homogenous, but the photos should be able to be broken into groups that work together and the groups should be able to flow and look like the belong together. As you group photos, consider the lighting, contrast, and color palette to keep images in groups that make sense.
Of all the events that photographers cover, few are simultaneously as challenging and rewarding as weddings. Wedding photographers carry a lot of pressure to capture incredible shots of important moments, regardless of the conditions. Some of the most important wedding pictures taken are the bridal portraits. If you go into the wedding prepared with the tips above, however, you can look forward to experiencing the rewarding side of the business when the bride loves the way you’ve captured her on one of the most important days of her life.
For more tips like this and in more detail with video demonstration, be sure to check out our Wedding Photography Training System, and if you’d like access to our full collection of Premium workshops, become a subscriber!