April 26, 2016

5 Steps to Your Best Bridal Detail Shots Ever!

One of my favorite parts of the day is shooting the getting ready. I love all of the anticipation, I love when things get emotional, I love that we’re photographing a part of the day when the bride & groom aren’t together so that through our pictures they can still see what the other was doing as they were getting ready to promise forever.

And I also love it because I really do just love shooting all of the pretty details that a girl will put on as she gets ready to become a bride. Her grandma’s locket, that beaded belt she spent months searching for the perfect one, her perfume that will remind her of the day every time she smells it, that amazing pair of shoes.


As anyone who has ever heard Justin & I teach on pretty much anything can tell you….we’re big on starting with Why. On doing everything with purpose. And letting every choice you make as a photographer flow from that place

And for me, getting amazing shots of the shoes, the jewelry, the dress….this all fits with our own Why because we believe that the fashions of the day can be as much a part of the nostalgia of images as what’s happening in them. Think about Jackie Kennedy in a pink Chanel suit or Grace Kelly in long lace sleeves, I think about my own parents on their wedding day with my mom’s lace flower child dress and my dad’s powder blue suit. Or my grandparents at City Hall, and my grandma’s suit and pillbox hat. When I see those pictures, when I see what they were wearing…it makes me feel like I was there. We love giving that gift to the future kids and grandkids yet to be.

And, over time, we’ve figured out a few things to make those shots even better.

1. Shoot the details where they feel natural. In keeping with part of our Why which includes the phrase “exercise the restraint to tell those stories through the veil of authenticity,” it is very important for us that, even if we are styling the details and changing where we found them, they should still be placed somewhere that it’s reasonable that they might have actually been found. So for example, shooting the shoes on a chair or side table, which is normally where we find them anyway…we just move them to some good light. Or hanging the dress on an armoire or on a door, where a bride would most likely hang her dress. So in keeping with our own Why (and we know that our Why is not the same as everybody’s out there! and if it’s not yours that’s ok!), for us we would never want to hang the dress in a tree or put it in the bath tub or do anything with it that a bride might not actually herself do. Because when she gets those pictures we want her to remember how excited she was to put on the dress…..not wonder “hmm…when did my dress go outside!” :)

2. Create simplicity of background. If you’re shooting something like the dress full length, remove as many distracting elements as you can out of frame. Either crop them out or actually move them. Simple is beautiful. And nothing will ruin a beautiful shot like having a plant in the corner of the frame or random things sitting on top of the armoire. In the same vein, when you are shooting the small details, try going closer. For example, when I’m shooting the shoes on a chair, I almost always try to have the background of the chair fill the frame. It gives me a nice clean background and makes the eye focus in on the subject!

3. Try to shoot across the subject rather slightly down at it. When I’m shooting those smaller details like the shoes & jewelry, I’ll sit down right on the floor so that I can bring my lens to be able to shoot right straight across it at an even height as the subject. What happens when I do that, is that by shooting at a wider aperture I am able to keep the subject tack sharp but then use that shallow depth of field to make the background fall off really quickly which makes it soft & pretty. I’ll even make sure I enhance that effect by moving the subject toward the front of the chair & even further off the background. If I were instead shooting slightly down on the subject then the subject would be in focus, but so would a good bit of the “seat” of the chair because it’s not that far from the subject and the planes of focus wouldn’t fall off fast enough. The result is that it looks like I’m shooting at much more stopped down aperture, which tends to have more of a point & shoot look. Also, because we now see so much more of the detail & fabric of the chair, it becomes a lot busier (i.e. not as simple) of a background! I will say though that sometimes shooting straight down on the subjects can make for a really interesting shot…just stay aware of your background!

4. Keep your lens parallel. In addition to shooting straight across the subject, we also take care to make sure we’re holding our lens in a way that it is staying parallel to the subject. What I mean by that is that even if you are low enough to shoot across the subject but you are tilting your lens up or down, then it will distort the parallels in the background of the image (like the lines or edges of the chair). Our eye is really attracted to images with very little distortion because we understand them more. They make more sense/look how they should look in real life. So just that simple change can create a much more simple, beautiful image.

5. Try to make it feel like they were found that way. Now obviously this rule has kind of a gray area, because the truth is that we often find the shoes still in the box or the dress still wrapped in plastic. But I guess what I mean is to try to shy away from setting up the details in an overly staged/too perfect/shot in every combination possible way that makes the viewer feels like “oh look what photographer did” and instead feels more like someone is just getting a behind the scenes glimpse into what that morning really felt like. What the dress looked like hanging there waiting to be put on. What the perfume bottle looked like that she was about to spray on. Which is really what we’re trying to capture! So allow in some of what we call “benign neglect” where it’s pretty but not necessarily perfect, to make it feel more like real life. And so sometimes, the best way to get details shots is to simply shoot them as the bride is actually about to put them on!

As always, we hope that helped!! Feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments below!


**And if you want to make sure you can rock your bridal detail shots in ANY room- no matter¬†what the light is doing- be sure to grab your copy of our brand new “Lighting the Bridal Details Guide” that includes a 50 page ebook & 50 minute video that will walk you step by step through how we get the “black box” to cut out bad ambient light and then everything we do to make our flash feel just like soft, natural window light! You can grab your copy & get started TODAY by going HERE!¬†

The Lighting Guide - Bridal Detailsf copy

  1. Abby Grace

    These are AWESOME tips, Mary! I love the idea of "benign neglect-" I feel like that’s the grace I need to hear when I’m trying too hard to make something look "perfect." Love this post!

  2. Morgan Leigh

    Thank you for sharing!! This is my weakest area right now, so these tips really helped change my perspective. Like Abby said, I’m always trying to make things look too perfect. I love the idea of just photographing them the way they are. Thanks again!

  3. ashley mitchell

    Love this!! The getting ready stuff is one of my favorite parts of the day too! :) And YAY for my shoes making an appearance in this post!

  4. Catherine

    Love these tips, especially shooting where it feels natural (-: I’ve always felt a little weird asking if I can take the dress outside because it didn’t feel logical to do so.

  5. Christa

    SO helpful as I am trying to best capture the getting ready shots. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  6. spring

    great reminders!!! i need to print this and bring it as a checklist while i’m shooting- i seem to always forget one and then when i’m culling i think "man why did i shoot down on this!"

  7. Christina

    Well done. Great reminders of the beauty in simplicity and authentic moments. Love this!

  8. Jenny Lee

    Great Reminders! Thank you!

  9. Tre Cavil

    Beautiful portraits and tips!

  10. Meredith Sledge

    This is awesome!! I just shot a wedding the other day and the hotel where the bride was getting ready was LITERALLY all red and a million different patterns. It was SO tricky and probably the hardest situation I’ve ever worked in. I wish I had seen this before but you live and you learn, right?!

  11. Michael and Carina

    Great content! Thank you for sharing these tips.

  12. Elizabeth

    Love this!! So so helpful, thank you!!

  13. Elizabeth

    Love this!! So so helpful, thank you!!

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