It’s Wedding Month at Nations Photo Lab! We’re celebrating all things wedding photography – all month long – with a four-part blog series from Chris & Allie Bartelski of The Reason Photography. Each week, they’ll be sharing some of the most important takeaways for photographers from the hundreds of weddings they’ve shot. This week, they’re sharing their secrets for capturing amazing pre-ceremony photos.
For photographers, most wedding days begin when you arrive wherever the bride (and sometimes the groom) is getting ready. These few hours are a great opportunity to get some candids and detail shots, aside from the obvious makeup and hair shots. After shooting hundreds of weddings, we’re sharing some of the mistakes that we’ve made, and how to avoid making them in the future:
1. When should you arrive? How long should you stay?
It really comes down to walking through the schedule of the day with your client a week or two before the wedding. It’s most common that the bride is one of the last to get her hair and makeup done, and that completely works in your favor.
You don’t want to arrive when the bride is getting her makeup done and then wait around for hours for the next thing to happen. I would say about 45 minutes to an hour is plenty of time to hang out with the bride while she’s finishing up. In my opinion, any longer than an hour can be awkward and possibly suck the energy right out of you.
You should arrive when the bride is almost done with hair and makeup – the last 30-45 minutes – and then use the other 15 minutes to get detail shots of shoes, dress, jewelry, etc. For “getting ready” photos with the groom, only 5-10 minutes is needed. I usually tell the groom to have his pants and shirt on before I show up. All I really want to shoot is him putting on his tie, buttoning his jacket, and putting on his shoes.
2) Did a bomb go off?
From what I’ve seen, a 1970’s drug-fueled rock star is nothing compared to what bridesmaids can do to a hotel room in a short amount of time! Shooting around the clutter left in the wake of 6+ girls getting ready is one of the regular challenges a wedding photographer faces.
Again, this is where talking with your client a week or two before the wedding can really help. You’d be surprised how many brides don’t realize that the clutter could be a problem. Remember, you take pictures of weddings almost every weekend. The bride hopefully only gets married once in their life. Simple things that seems obvious to us are truly surprising to them.
If you find the room in a state of disarray anyways, simply asking the bridesmaids if they can move their stuff can go a long way. Another trick to get around the mess in the room is to strategically place something in the foreground of the frame to hide whatever is messy. I often use a glass of water, flowers or even a door to act as a mask… you’ve got to hide that half eaten platter of Chick-fil-a somehow!
3. Find the light.
Luckily, most makeup artists will put the bride near a window as they need natural, flat light as much as we do. But for hairstylists, this usually isn’t the case. For this reason alone, I prefer a bride to get her hair done first so that we can show up when she’s doing her makeup.
If the bride is getting her makeup done in less than optimal light, asking her to move to a better spot shouldn’t be a problem. If you find the bride getting her hair done in the tiny yellowish hotel bathroom and your images don’t look good at a high ISO, the best option might be to bust out the flash.
One thing to remember with these shots is that no one in all 300+ weddings we have shot has ever ordered a print, let alone a large print, of hair and makeup shots. These photos, if used at all, will be a small arrangement of photos on one page of the album. So a little grain is no problem at all.
4. Breaking the ice.
One of the main reasons I find taking getting ready pictures essential has nothing to do with taking pictures. This last hour before the day really gets going is usually when the nerves start to become apparent. Is the mother of the groom giving away her baby boy? Is the bride nervous about walking in front of a lot of people?
You can step into the “getting ready” room, and if you just observe, you can get a feel for the cast of characters and their quirks. Who’s the loud bridesmaid? Who can you ask for help for finding family members? What’s the sense of humor for the people involved (will my dirty jokes work to make big groups laugh, or should I stick to the clean ones)?
It’s also a great time to simply check in with the parents of the bride and groom. You’d be surprised how receptive they are to you simply saying, “Hi, I’m so excited about today and I’m going to enjoy shooting this wedding so much, but is there a specific picture you are looking forward to seeing?”
I know it seems like a tiny gesture, but over the years, I’ve had people cry and open up to me about realities that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t start up a conversation with them.
Some of the answers I’ve gotten have been, “Thank you for asking. It’s been hard. My mom who’s here was just diagnosed with something terminal and I would really just love a picture with her.”
Or… “Can you take a picture of this tie clip my daughter bought for me on Father’s Day many years ago?”
Use this more relaxed time to win over the people involved with the wedding and ease into the shooting for the day. Even though the bride and groom have met you before, the rest of their friends and family have most likely not.
5) Details, details, details.
Over the last few years, the importance of great detail shots has only gotten more intense as blogs and magazines require them to publish a wedding. To help facilitate taking these images, ask the client during your pre-wedding meeting to make sure that all the little details are set aside for you in the “getting ready” suite. These items could include jewelry, shoes, the dress, the “something blue,” bridesmaid gifts, rings, parent gifts, letters to/from the groom, the invitation suite, etc.
Honestly, we hadn’t thought of asking the bride to do this for us until a bride once did it without asking. No more having to ask this person for the rings, that person for the shoes, and so on. Again, a simple thing that really benefits you and the client.
Having the details ready to go also gives you something to shoot if the bride isn’t quite ready yet. Think about it: You’re in the room and the bride really isn’t ready to be photographed. If you just stand there and don’t shoot, it could be kind of awkward.
With the details laid out, you can take all the time you need and you’ll seem like you’re busy and in control. Always ask the client first if you want to take any details out of the room or outside. Better yet, ask bridesmaid to help you carry the items, and you’ll both have something to do while the bride finishes her prep.
Finally, I suggest carrying a nice wooden hanger in your car in case you need to do a swap for dress photos. Too often a bride has a gorgeous dress and only a plastic coat hanger with what I assume to be tiny shoulder pads on them (spoiler alert: they look horrible in photos).
So, in case you are like me and you’re a fan of skimming over information, here are a few quick takeaways…
Bonus Tips for Capturing Amazing “Getting Ready” Photos:
- It’s better to be early than to be rushed.
- Break the ice before you start taking pictures. Your photos will be better and your clients will be happier.
- Asking anyone to move or to move stuff is okay. Invoking the “in-the-name-of-better-pictures” reasoning will motivate any bridesmaid.
- Remember: You do this every weekend. This is their first and mostly likely only time getting married.
- Yes, it’s okay to eat a piece of cheese from the cheese plate…just stay away from the chicken salad sandwiches. #oldmayoisnogood
Part 2 is coming next week! Chris & Allie are tackling the dos & don’ts of bridal portraits. \