Collaborating with your Photographer, 104: Getting Great Getting Ready Photos

05 | 20 | 2009

The first wedding I photographed was my high school friend Kori’s.  In the weeks before the wedding, nobody was planning to or hired to take photographs, so I volunteered.  I was justifiably mortified that this momentous occasion might go undocumented—and was apparently (happily) undeterred by my lack of experience.¹  The wedding day was a whirl—so much happening—an emotional ceremony, the reception in her father’s barn, a pig roast (!), and Kori had made her own beautiful dress by hand, complete with a whole backful of real buttons.  Taking photographs was so exhilarating that I raced out to a one-hour photo developer as soon as I left the party.  I was completely impatient to see the photographs we’d made²— which (thank God!) turned out great—and wanted Kori to be able to bring the pictures on her honeymoon.

What surprised me most at that first wedding and what I could never have anticipated was the transformation Kori made from woman to bride.  I mean: Kori was really a very pretty girl, but as a bride, she absolutely shone.  Now I’ve documented well over a hundred weddings (maybe hundreds?), and though expected, the transformation of every woman to bride is no less dramatic.  This transformation, I believe, is why we all love the getting ready photographs.

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We know we are going to outdo ourselves.  And somewhere in that getting ready time is where it happens. Also, it’s one of the few parts of the day that our spouses don’t see.  So there’s a natural curiosity.  And for my part, I know I really had wanted to see evidence of my husband preparing for our wedding. Despite the obsession on all our parts, it’s easy to make design mistakes that adversely affect the getting ready photographs.  Fortunately, it’s just as easy to take some simple measures to ensure gorgeous getting ready photographs.

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1.  Choose a room with good light.  I love when brides and grooms get ready at their home or at their parents’ homes.  Obviously, this isn’t possible at destination weddings.  If you get ready in a hotel or other location, choose a room with bright indirect light (like with nice giant north facing windows, if we’re going to be picky!).


2. Make the space clean and tidy.  Or if you choose to get ready in chaos (think big family, big bridal party chaos), let it be beautiful chaos.  This is sometimes the hardest part to manage, but it is essential—and it really impacts the photographs.  The room, of course, is the backdrop for all your getting ready photographs.  Keep luggage neatly packed and out of the way.  If you’re in a hotel, call housekeeping service and have the beds made up and room cleaned.

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3. If at all possible, make it possible for your photographers to go back and forth between the bride’s getting ready location and the groom’s.  Two rooms in proximity are always a good choice.  You’ll get more photographs for your time.  No matter what, don’t forget about the groom.  Watching the groom figure out how to get dressed is sometimes the best part!  His exciting getting-ready photos only take about fifteen minutes (well, honestly sometimes about three minutes), so it won’t detract from your coverage.  Schedule his getting ready photographs while you’re getting your makeup started. Nobody really wants photographs before the foundation goes on anyway.   (A side note is that a lot of couples request a divide-and-conquer strategy for the getting ready photographs, but you should definitely check with your photographers to see if this works well with the way they shoot.  I dislike dividing cameras and resources, and my husband and I have developed a great way of shooting together.)

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4.  If intimate getting ready photographs are important to you, consider wearing lovely lingerie for the getting ready photographs (even if you plan to switch to Spanx for the rest of the day).  Let your modesty guide you, of course.  If you want to wear a lacy bra or corset while you’re getting your makeup done—or just while you’re getting ready to put on your dress—so be it.  But if you’d rather sneak into your dress in private, that’s totally up to you.

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5.  The details matter.  Most brides love photographs of all the little details they’ve spent months (or more) acquiring: the dress, the shoes, jewelry, bouquet, etc.  So keep these details easy to access.  I also suggest bringing your own pretty hanger to hang the dress on.  My favorite hangers are antique.

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6.  Schedule your preparation time properly—and pad your schedule.  Allow enough time to do everything you need to do—hair, makeup, dressing, driving between locations (all you LA brides)—and then some. If you have a complicated gown with lacing, real buttons, or lots of layers, allow extra time to dress.  More often than (I’m sure) your stylists would like to admit, hair and makeup run as much as an hour and a half behind.  The indecent measure of stress that adds to your wedding day shows in the photographs. The best case scenario involves you having time for a champagne toast with your attendants.

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7.  Save five minutes (or more!) after you’re all ready for a few portraits before you go out into the busy-ness of your wedding day.  Your hair and makeup are still perfect and the bridal transformation is complete.

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What do you think makes the biggest impact on getting ready photographs? I’d love to hear … Leave a comment and we may update this post or add another on that topic.

photo credit: Gia Canali


¹ I have this theory that the so-called beginner’s luck is formed by the blissful unawareness of what we are to fear, like an ingenue’s confidence.  It’s helpful.  We learn to fear things (like lost rolls of film, poor exposures, getting heckled during family photographs, etc.) only later on.

² This was in the all-film era, of course.  I grew up near Rochester, NY, Kodak’s headquarters.  So I’d seen digital cameras.  Several years before, one of my prom dates’ fathers had a prototype digital camera from work and had taken photos of all us kids dressed up for prom.  We were wowed when he showed them to us a moment later on his computer.


3 Notes on “Collaborating with your Photographer, 104: Getting Great Getting Ready Photos

  1. Molly

    I just came to your website via stylemepretty… and I’m from the Rochester area, too!! Small world 🙂

    And thank you SO much for all the help on this website… I’m having a friend photograph my wedding for me, and I’m sending a link to your site to her right now!

  2. Gia Post author

    What a tiny planet! Thanks for visiting, of course! You and your photographer are welcome any time! I’m actually in upstate New York now. When I’m back in LA next week, we will start having a lot more content … So check back soon!

  3. Jessie

    Hello! I vote for no cranky flower/ring kids in the bridal suite. I’ve seen screaming, hungry and nap-needing kids wreck a brides calm composure.

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