Bridal Portraits: Thinking Outside the Box

Bridal Portraits: Thinking Outside the Box

Although I've been shooting weddings for years, I've always done bridal portraits as a "day of" service. In Colorado, there wasn't much of a market for bridal portraits before the big day. Now that I've moved to North Carolina, it's an entirely different ballgame! Pre-wedding portraits are big business down South. So, how can you separate yourself from the pack? Well for starters, take advantage of the fact that you now have one resource that isn't on your side on the actual wedding day: time.

On wedding days, you're frequently bouncing around between places, shooting candids here, details there, bridal parties, formals, etc. Frequently, you just don't have as much time as you'd like to do a well thought-out and lit bridal portrait. When you have the ability to shoot the bride beforehand, it's much easier to think about lighting, location, and even having a styling team there to make your job easier! Having hair and makeup on set with you can be a Godsend when it comes to making sure all the little details are just right. When your bride has been running around half the day, you can almost guarantee that her makeup and hair aren't going to be looking fresh.

Mamiya RZ67 with Portra 400, mixed strobe, window, and continuous tungsten light.

Styling Your Shoot

First things first, unless you're really good at styling, get some help. For the styled shoot in these photos, I had a great team of professionals helping that made my job as a photographer much, much easier. Don't take on more work than you need to. Also, don't assume that your bride will balk at paying for the services. Either that or roll the stylists into your bridal portrait costs. Your retouching time goes down as well as your stress. It's worth the extra cost. Trust me.

Because you're not attached to the day-of venue, you're free to get more creative with the theme of the portrait. It doesn't have to be: "find a pretty, out of the way place and take a nice portrait." For this shoot, we found an events venue, Durham Fruit, that had a lot of amazing rooms and art installations. Try to shy away from a plain white or gray backdrop if you can. For this shoot, we went for a speakeasy feel with vintage jewelry, hairstyle, and dress. Of course, your bride may already have a dress picked out, so adjust your theme and locale accordingly.

Shan Hao 4x5, Ilford HP5 Plus. Mixed window and strobe fill.


On the day of, the last thing you have time for is setting up multi-light sets, but separate shoots afford you more flexibility in the lighting department. You can make multi-light setups to your heart's content if that's your thing! Now's the time to flex those lighting muscles. If you're a natural light shooter, that's fine too! You no longer have to shoot when it's convenient for the schedule. You can schedule magic hour shoots, postpone for rain, and otherwise adjust your timing to when it's most beneficial for the conditions to make your light great.

Bridal Shoots? What Are Those?

Alright, so all that's fine and good, but what about those of you that don't live in locales where bridal shoots are a thing? You can definitely still think outside the box with your bride on the day of. First off, try to schedule your bridal portrait towards the beginning of the day so that her makeup and hair will still be close to fresh. Coordinate with her stylists and or/planner to schedule out some time to do something on location and away from the guests, groom, bride, mom, etc. If you schedule it early enough, your stylists still have time to touch up the makeup post-shoot. Communication with the stylists is key here so that they know what you're up to and don't leave. Work with the team and not against them.

Location-wise, get to your venue early enough to scout out a portrait site. Get the lay of the land so that you know when everyone is arriving and how much time you'll have and when. Don't be that clueless photographer who shows up right when they're supposed to be shooting and has to fly by the seat of their pants the whole day. 

Be Positive and Preemptive

Don't spring the idea of a portrait on your team at the last minute. Whether day of or pre-wedding, planning, no matter how much, goes a long way toward keeping everyone happy. If your bride has it in her timeline, she's much more likely to be happy about the idea of getting her portrait taken. She will also take greater care with her appearance the day of and be more likely to show up camera-ready. Make the shoot all about making sure she gets photos of her looking her best before the day gets stressful. Trust me, she and her team put a lot of effort into getting her appearance just right. Helping her to document it at its full glory is a good thing.

Shen Hao 4x5, Ilford HP5 Plus, mixed strobe and hanging lamp.

I'd also like to give a big thanks to my team for this shoot:

Venue: Durham Fruit

Model: @roarie_yum

Florals: Blissful Celebrations

Jewelry: Styled By Markie

Attire: Fifi's

Hair: Christy_Callaghan

Makeup: Theresa Burden Makeup Artistry

What other ideas do you all have for keeping bridal portraits fresh and interesting, either beforehand or not?

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DJ Toman's picture

Nice tips, and especially appreciate the emphasis on working with a team. Also, knowing what's popular and what the market will bear in your area.

Also love that you did some (all?) of these on film. The bride must feel pretty special being photographed with a large format camera like the Shen Hao.

I sold my RB67 two years ago and missed it too much, so I just bought an RZ67 and can't wait to incorporate it with my off-camera flash work.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Thank you! These are all film, although I did shoot some digital as well. You'll love the RZ. It's the soul of the RB without a lot of the hassle. This was a styled shoot, although the novelty of the 4x5 is present regardless. I do break out the 4x5 for weddings, though!

Dulari Digital's picture

I feel that passionate substance is a picture's most essential component, paying little heed to the photographic system. A significant part of the work I see nowadays does not have the passionate effect to draw a response from watchers, or stay in their souls.

Kirk Kinnell's picture

This is actually.... Genius.....Ha good idea!!

Deleted Account's picture

And, of course, don't forget to shoot a professional model as your bride, it makes things easier.

Like all the wedding photographers who have wedding portfolios full of full-time models in rented places. It gives a pretty good idea of their abilities to work with big fat bridezillas.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I make it pretty clear in the article that these images are from a styled shoot. These types of shoots are pretty common and have their place in portfolio building and networking with vendors. If you honestly believe that quality styled shoots and real bridal portraits are mutually exclusive, you haven’t done much research.

Deleted Account's picture

Shooting pro models is Business to Business service : everyone is educated, knows his place, it's productive and efficient. Shooting civilians (lol) is Business to Consumer : the consumer has no idea what to do, needs to be guided, directed, reassured, entertained. It's not the same job, not the same skills set, not the same tiredness at the end of the day. And, as a matter of fact, usually not the same result.

Don't play the more educated with me. Advertising B2C services with B2B results is plain and simple misleading advertising. If I was to hire you as my wedding photographer, I would want to see what pictures you can get from an average insecure bride. I know that even a bad photographer can get good pictures with a full team of professionals, including the model, and I don't care.

I don't know where the research fits here. It's a simple matter of advertising ethics.

As a matter of fact, I recognized Roarie on the first picture, and I was like "is he really trying to explain bridal shoots with a pro model ?" all the post. That's when you lost every bit of credibility.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Except for the fact that both in the blog post on my website and this article i make it clear that this is, indeed, a styled shoot. I do know that it’s a completely different gig on a day of shoot, which is why I differentiate between the two in this post. You can have a team of stylists that work with you on a separate bridal shoot, which is the main focus of this article. I can and do deliver beautiful portraits the day of as well, though not with the large team...also acknowledged in the article. You seem to want to be angry about something that is an industry standard practice. Just because there are a lot of people out there who do styled shoots that can’t hang on a day of bridal shoot doesn’t mean that it’s everyone, even a majority.
If you want to be angry about the industry, that’s fine. But attempting to disparage my character when I’ve been open an honest the whole time is not necessary. To each their own.

Roy Barnett's picture

Solid. Glad they're a thing somewhere.