Gifted photographers approach making beautiful bridal portraits on the wedding day in myriad ways. Drawing on a long tradition of wedding imagery from the past, some are classical in style; some are fashion-oriented, creating images that are grandiose, theatrical and sexy; still others focus on an unobtrusive, authentic documentation of events and wait for impromptu portraits that do not require any staging.
For every approach, there is an optimal client who resonates with and appreciates the style of work that is made. Our diversity in approach is what creates connection with specific clients. Regardless of what approach you take when making bridal portraits on the wedding day, there are several simple ways to improve your work.
As I thought about the specific strategies I have developed over the past decade to facilitate a creative and efficient portrait process, I arrived at a list of ten. Thus, I humbly present to you 10 tips for making beautiful bridal portraits on the wedding day – portraits that have heart.
Quit Shooting and Capturing. In the wedding business, we sometimes get a bit lost in the idea of what we “make,” the pictures we “take,” and the images we “capture.” Much of the terminology in photography is rather aggressive and a bit pompous (and dare I say it, a bit too Male). We have too much ego, and sometimes it hinders the creation of truly great images. Instead of directing your energy to “taking” and “capturing,” focus on Observing and Receiving. Every person interacts with you and the camera differently. Everyone has a unique preference in how they are seen and viewed. If you are open to what the subject will “give” you, the results will generally be much more honest and interesting than those from contrived poses. Every image you make reflects your relationship with the person being photographed. Care about who your subjects are. Care about all of the intricate details that make that person beautiful and unique. Look for the moments where the person is more “open” – moments that truly feel like them. On many occasions, it is the in-between times where you find what you are you looking for. Don’t give up if she is self-conscious or awkward. Move through the experience with the subject as a companion. Eventually you will find a genuine laugh or a second where she lets her guard down.
Location and Light. Find great light. In my opinion, light is the most important element for a portrait. Location is secondary. Wonderful light (rim light, Rembrandt light, window light, butterfly light, backlight, delicious light!) can be found in the most unusual places. Do not discount any light source available. Sometimes the most unassuming lights make amazing images. Be bold, move your subject around in the light. The smallest adjustments in positioning can alter the look of the light in a big way. Also be sure to look at the bride from every angle (literally walk all the way around them) to ensure that you have chosen the best version of the light for the images. In the event that you have no viable light, consider using video light. Video light can be a lifesaver if you are making an image indoors or outside at night when all other light sources are too dim or unflattering. Do not choose a location just because it is there or because someone has requested it. A dingy little bridge might be sitting in the middle of the golf course. Ignore that heinous little bridge! Forget the ugly gazebo. You are better than that! Interesting imagery is created when the artist thinks beyond the obvious. Be creative! If you found wonderful light, the next step is to be intentional about what you will put in the frame with the subject. I try to always shoot with the words “clean,” “colorful,” and “dramatic” in mind. Do not include the window AC unit in your portrait (unless you are aiming at humor)! Do not have a tree growing out of the bride’s head! Do not shoot a portrait on the beach if the light is horrid! Choose a different location with GOOD light.
Make It Work. In this same vein, there will be times when you will not have golden evening light for portraits. Your bride will not be dancing amongst deer, glowing angelically with rim light in a forest. She will be expectantly waiting for you to make her look like a goddess whilst standing amongst piles of bridesmaids’ underpants and hairspray in the ugliest Holiday Inn you have ever seen on a rainy day. However, despite all of this, as Tim Gunn would say, you must “Make it work!” I have made lovely portraits in bathrooms, elevators, and messy hotel rooms. Become a master of the unassuming. You create the frame. Seek out simplicity, shoot with a very shallow depth of field and compose carefully, including only elements that compliment. In these situations, instead of shooting full-length images, it is advantageous to focus instead on closely cropped portraits.
Give Onlookers “The Boot.” Some of the most difficult people to work with during a wedding day are overly “helpful” wedding party, coordinators, and guests. If you fail to excuse onlookers from the room while making portraits, you run the risk of causing the bride to feel more self-conscious during the image-making process, not to mention the inevitable (and obnoxious) advice from all who are watching. By removing extraneous people from the space, you craft a more natural and relaxed environment for the bride.
Be Detail-Oriented. A great image can be ruined by overlooking details. Keep a watchful eye on stray hair, lipstick lines, clothing, or jewelry that is askew. Also pay attention to the subject’s body positioning, posture, and hands. While framing, be aware of awkward cropping. Generally speaking, cropping at the ankle or wrist does not have a flattering effect.
Contrary to Popular Belief, the World Does Not Revolve Around You. Do not be the jerk who makes the bride late to her own ceremony. Wear a watch, start a timer, or have your assistant keep track of time. Don’t succumb to feeling nervous or rushed, but be aware of your client’s valuable time. Respect their schedule and do not cause them to run behind.
No Negativity! Many people become self-conscious in front of the camera. Impress upon your subject that she cannot ever do anything “wrong” during the shoot. Do not EVER modify behavior with negative direction. Instead of saying “Please don’t hold your hand in a horrid claw fist,” try something like, “Your hands look beautiful when you clasp them gently in front of you.” Negative direction amplifies awkwardness. Focus on the positive. Tell her how stunning she looks. If she does something graceful, compliment her! Endow her with confidence and calm.
Be Confident. Taking time for the creative process with your subject (who will be waiting and watching) can be intimidating. Take heart, though! Even if you have no idea what you are doing, the client assumes otherwise. That is why they hired you! They have confidence in your ability to capture the beauty and nuance of their wedding day. Do not be afraid to take the time to truly look at everything around you and make the wisest choices for light, location and angle (without holding her hostage until her next birthday, of course). Act confident- even when you feel like a doofus inside. Eventually, that nervous feeling disappears and the practice you invested in making images in different situations will pay dividends.
Find Her Best Angles. If you treat the bride like she is a professional model, the results will be comical at best. Most subjects do not know their strongest angles for the camera. You must find them. Observe her features from all positions and find what flatters her most. Literally walk all the way around her, looking for her most graceful elements. Try moving to a position that is slightly higher or lower than her. Move farther away and closer in. Search for what looks most beautiful for her build and facial features.
Be Prepared and Think Outside the Box. There will be times when you must rely on “tried and true.” Sometimes the bride is running an hour behind schedule and you have 2 minutes to make photographs of her before she races to the church. This is not the time to reinvent the wheel. However, with a little foresight and planning, you can make great images even in a small amount of time. Scout your location and have viable ideas in mind ahead of time. In relaxed situations, don’t be afraid to experiment! Avoid formulas that result in clichéd imagery. Be brave!
About Connie Miller
People frequently ask me why I chose the name Studio Atticus for my business. The truth is, the impetus for the name originated in 1990 when my father died suddenly. I was ten years old. There was no time of sickness, no terminal diagnosis, no period to prepare for the loss. He just disappeared abruptly one day, and I never saw him again. I wanted more than anything to hold on to a part of my father. I wanted to find a way to honor him with my life. Although he had been a geologist by trade, he was a photographer at heart. A great deal of his free time was spent documenting landscapes, trains, and our family with his Minolta SRT 101.
At fourteen, I found his old camera and began learning how to use it. My epiphany, however, came later. I enrolled in a photo 101 class my sophomore year of college, and I knew without a doubt that I was a photographer. It was the first time I had ever been sure of anything in my life. Destiny and Fate are daunting words. What exactly makes you who you are? How much of who you become depends on what happens to you when you are small? Many people have a career, but their job is distinctly separate from their life and persona. I have no differentiation. Photography is my life. “Atticus” is an English name. It means, “In the likeness of the father.”