How To Take Epic Portraits of the Bride

Bridal portraits are a key part of the wedding day. So let's make them epic. This article is part two of a series where I walk through a series of favorite images from a bridal session.

In the first part, I showed how to take epic bride prep images. But now that the bride is ready, it's time for some portraits. So to start things off, when it comes to the portrait time of the day, whether that be during the actual wedding or during a bridal session such as this, I prefer to go into the day not knowing exactly what the plan is. In the past, when I’d location scout, something would always go wrong or change, causing me to either have to give up on an idea I was really excited about, or I’d end up trying to make an image work that just was no longer possible or just not as good as when I initially scouted the location. So now, I simply try and have an idea of where we are going to start, and then I just allow myself to be inspired by the current light and compositions that I see.

It’s also worth mentioning that while I’m always taking images during the session and trying things out, not all the images I take are ones that I really love. Sometimes I'll take simple images I can do in my sleep in order to give myself time to think through what I really want to do next. And while I’ll still deliver these images, in this article I really only want to talk about the best images. The ones I’d share on social media, add to my website, or create content for such as this. 

Next up I want to talk about the gear. For this session I'll be shooting on the Sony a9 paired with either the 24mm f/1.4 GM lens, the Sony 35mm f/1.4 CZ lens, the Sony 85mm f/1.8 lens, or the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM II lens. For lighting, I'm using the Stella Pro Reflex S mounted on top of my C8 Auto Stand from Cheetah Stands. While this light can do a digital burst similar to a traditional fash, for this part of the day I’ll be using it primarily in constant mode. I really love the see-what-you-get ability of constant light and it saves me a bit of setup time since I don't need to take any test images just to fine-tune my light placement or power. 

Now for the first location, we are photographing in the lower level of a parking garage. I’d never actually been inside this garage before, but I drive by it all the time and have noticed it's usually empty and that the setting sun shines squarely on the side of the garage. Thankful when we first showed up, I was not disappointed in what we had to work with. And while I had my Reflex S at the ready, I’m a big believer that if the light is amazing, then there’s no need to overcomplicate things with extra lights. So working off this amazing light pattern on the ground, I wanted to backlight the bride and frame her within the dark space below the window. The problem is that even with the camera high above my head, I couldn't get her fully within that space. So parking garage trashcan to the rescue. I just moved the trashcan over to the area I wanted to be, carefully tried not to cause myself extreme bodily injury while standing on top of it, and was able to get the camera high enough for what I was after. 

From here, I saw that the areas of this garage window had some circular holes cut into them that were letting light through. So I knew if I got the bride nice and close, you would be able to see all those circles projected onto the bride. Now with her lit by the sun, the shadow side of the image sort of falls off into the darkness. So here I brought in my Reflex S to use as a rim light. This helps separate her from the background more, but the key with this light placement is to get the light up high enough. If the light were lower, you’d miss out on the lighting detail on the bride's collarbone and neckline. 


Now before we left for the next location, I wanted to use this amazing light on the floor one more time and I wanted to try and show the entire section of light. But I needed to be up taller than even the trashcan could get me. So I found an area on another wall where I could stand up on a higher ledge. This extra height, along with blindly shooting with the camera held up as high over my head as I could reach, and I was able to get the full section of light. 

Now for the next location, as I was pulling up to the getting ready area, I noticed a really cool cherry blossom tree in the parking lot. What I noticed was that this tree was slightly elevated from the parking lot, so if I got down low enough, I knew I could get a composition that was all sky with just the tree and the bride. So we arrived back at the parking lot right at sunset and I simply placed the bride next to the tree, shot from a low angle, and exposed the image so she and the tree would be a silhouette. And I had enough time to play with the composition a bit so I placed the sun directly behind her for one, and then I placed the sun just out of frame for another. I know which one I like better, But I'd be curious to know what you all think. Let me know in the comments which one you prefer.

Next up, I wanted to really show off the cherry blossoms, so I planned to have the bride down low while I took an image looking through the tree. And while I was getting things set up, the light was perfect. It was at just the angle that the sun was hitting the tree and cutting over the hill to light the bride. The problem is that by the time I got everything set, the sun dipped below the horizon and I lost all of my light. So Stella Pro Reflex S so the rescue. But this time, I needed two of them. One I have on the C8 Cheetah stand with the spot optic. This allows me to get just a little patch of light on the bride's face and then it falls off from there. For the second light, I used this one with no modifier attached at all. So just the bare LED gives me a maximum spread of the light as well as making the light more specular on the blossoms. 

So while taking images with my camera in one hand, I moved this reflex all around until I found just the right space where it could light up as many blossoms as possible. This is a perfect example of when constant light is really ideal. Had I needed to do this with flash, It would have taken me a ton of work and test images to really get the light placed perfectly, especially with holding the light in my hand. But with the LED, I can just move it around and visually see when things line up. 


From here, I was ready to move inside for the creative low-light image I had in mind, but I noticed a sign that had been blown down by a storm we had the night before. I thought it would make for an interesting way to frame the bride. So I posed the bride within that frame and then lit her with the Stella Pro Reflex S. And for this image, I’m using the spot lens so that I can have just that kiss of light across her face. I then got down super low so that all you could see is the broken sign and the bride. 


Ok, so that’s it. Hopefully you found this useful and if you missed part one where I walk through the getting ready part of this day, make sure to check that out. And if you have any questions, make sure to drop them in the comments.  


Jason Vinson's picture

Jason Vinson is a wedding and portrait photographer for Vinson Images based out of Bentonville, Arkansas. Ranked one of the Top 100 Wedding photographers in the World, he has a passion for educating and sharing his craft.

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