May 11, 2015

Pancake Session: 3 Ways to Make Any Getting Ready Room Work!


I think at one point or another we’ve all found (or will find!) ourselves in a getting ready room that is really tough to shoot in. This is usually the case because it’s either really messy, cluttered, or the furniture is out date/not very nice. We’ve shot in church Sunday school rooms, basements, and rooms packed absolutely full of bridesmaids and all their stuff. And the challenge is making every getting ready look as elegant and as classic as the one before.

For Jenn & her getting ready, she was actually in a really NICE room! The Roundhouse at Beacon Falls has a really beautiful bridal suite. The problem was that the room is decorated in a super modern/minimalistic style, while the style of the wedding was more rustic elegance. So there was a mismatch there, and we want every wedding to flow seamlessly with one clear style & vision from beginning to end. In addition to that, there were also a few things in the background in the corner where we wanted to shoot (like a tv on the wall and the lunch spread in the corner) that we didn’t want to show. Our belief is that when you start to see things like that, it snaps you back to reality and the magic of the shot is gone.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in getting ready rooms that aren’t adding something to the shot? And how do we go about shooting them so that what isn’t working never shows up? We’ve actually learned to rely on one lighting principle & three little tricks that make a WORLD of difference!


1. Use Foreground/Background Contrast to Your Advantage. Contrast is one of those words that a lot of photographers have been trained to think of as a bad thing. As in “oh the light is too contrasty there.” But like we always teach in our workshops, contrast is neither a good or bad thing…it all depends on how you want to use it! In this case we actually wanted to use it two ways, independently. The first is that we wanted to use it to our advantage to make the background (and the minimalistic style/distracting elements) go dark. So to do that, we just brought Jenn closer to the window, exposed for the highlights and let that background go nice and dark with no fill on the background. This worked so great because it actually makes Jenn & that stunning veil look like they’re glowing in the image, and it brings your eye right in where we want it

2. Use Left to Right/Subject Contrast to Your Advantage. At the same time, I didn’t want the light on Jenn to be too contrasty and make the shadows on her cheek & dress block up. So while I was fine to have a high contrast ratio from Jenn to the background, I didn’t want it to be as high from the left side of her to the right. Here’s a funny story with that: Justin had actually gone to photograph the guys at this point, and had taken the reflector with him. So instead, I just brought a bridesmaid who was wearing a white robe in nice & close just outside of frame on the right to help fill in my shadows. It worked like a dream! And now I have beautiful lower contrast light on my subject, while still using high contrast to block out the background!


3. Finally, when in doubt go closer. If I can just eliminate what’s not working about the background by cropping in closer in camera, then I have the luxury of determining how high or low of a contrast I want to use, just purely from an artistic choice. Sometimes I like higher contrast for more drama & sometimes I prefer super low contrast for a more ethereal feel. And now I get to choose & you would never know that there was a platter of sandwiches in the background!

PS: Contrast is just one of the five Characteristics of Lighting that we go over extensively in our J&M Lighting Guide that is over 100 pages of content on all things lighting! If lighting is something you need help with & you want to be able to work on it from the comfort of home, definitely check it out!


  1. Yaneck

    thanks for the article and the tips!

  2. Rachel B.

    Mary, your posts are always SO helpful! Thanks for this post and always helping us grow!!! :)

  3. michelle gunton

    New fan here. I love the photo of the bride smiling, awesome job

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