When I started photographing weddings, I wondered how those famous photographers got gorgeous pictures of their clients getting ready on their wedding day. The shots seemed so “in the moment,” but also beautifully lit. When I walked into a hotel room, church basement or (gasp!) grandma’s living room, I wasn’t achieving the same results. Was it the location? Or the subjects? Sometimes.
However, there were often a few little steps I could take to get similar results.
Here’s How to Get the Most out of Getting Ready pictures:
1. Show up early. Standard start time for us is about one hour before the bride is in her dress/groom is in his suit. “Start time” is when we tell clients we’ll arrive. We actually show up 30 minutes prior to start time to park and do a bit of scouting before we walk into the room. Then with any extra minutes, we get to know the people in the room. The trick is to leave your camera in the bag and introduce yourself. This clues you in to which people are super important when it’s time to document the emotional last moments of getting ready.
2. Let the light in. It’s no secret that lots of light makes beautiful photographs. Don’t just accept a dark room. Ask if anyone minds if you open the curtains/blinds/whatever else is blocking the light. In five years of shooting weddings, I’ve never had a bridal party say no. Another trick is to turn off any light sources you don’t want casting a weird color (i.e. room lights, lamps, mirror lights). Ask first, but usually no one cares. Natural light makes great pictures, so do whatever you can to introduce more natural light into a room without having to use a flash.
3. Wait until make-up for close-ups. Just because we get in the room an hour early doesn’t mean we’re shooting every moment of getting ready. We wait until the make-up artist starts working on the bride’s eyes before we do close-ups. Very few women like to have pictures taken without make-up. We stick to overall room shots and detail shots. I’ll only shoot close-ups before make-up if I think it’s an incredibly meaningful moment. As for the groom, we wait until he has pants on. Obviously, there are times you can break this rule – you’ll know when.
4. Clean up. After the bride finishes make-up, there’s usually a 10-20 minute break before the bride puts on her dress. This is the time to grab your assistant (or enlist the help of bridesmaids) to help tidy the room. We go as far as hiding hotel phones, putting away random objects on grandma’s dresser (with permission, of course). We make beds, throw towels in the bathroom, stash suitcases and remove anything that’s distracting. A distraction-free picture is always better!
5. You choose where the bride puts on her dress. When you go out to photograph client’s portraits you’re probably going to choose the spots with the best light. The same goes for putting on the bride’s dress. This is the spot you’ve already scouted and prepared (#4). We tell our brides they can get dressed wherever they are comfortable, but we want to finish the zipping/buttoning/tying up of the dress in the spot we have chosen. If it’s a hotel room, or home, it is usually the sitting area. If it’s at a church or other venue, you have to get more creative. When there aren’t any naturally-lit rooms, we choose the prettiest spot and crank up the ISO!
6. Encourage parents to be involved. I can’t even count how many times a Mom has been left out of the getting ready process because she didn’t want to be photographed before she had her hair/makeup done. We let our clients know in our final consult that if they want parents or family members involved in getting ready pictures, then they should be dressed beforehand. These are moments they want to remember and they’re worth getting dressed a little early for. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a Dad in his tux seeing his little girl in her white dress for the first time, then you know what I’m talking about.
These are the photographs that help your clients feel those important moments for the rest of their lives. By taking just a few extra steps, you can create Getting Ready photographs that enhance your portfolio, communicate emotion and most importantly, give your clients pictures they will cherish forever.
About Nathan Peel