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The Running of the Brid(als)

February 9th, 2011  |  Published in Featured, Shoot  |  5 Comments

Five Ls of the Modern Bridal Portrait

In the classic wedding photography of yesteryear, the most important image that a photographer could create was the bridal portrait. You know the one…where your mom was aglow with a halo of softness, sporting the veiled headband and the puffy shoulder pads? In fact, before the photojournalism movement became the norm, brides would typically schedule a photo session that coincided with their last dress fitting and their hair and makeup trial so the bridal portrait could be proudly on display at the wedding itself.

With photojournalism being so highly regarded in today’s wedding photography market, the bridal portrait has fallen from the place that it once held. That kinda stinks for me, because my favorite part of the wedding is creating fun posed images! So I have built my business on creating posed images that make couples feel like supermodels. And a big part of that is creating a killer bridal portrait of every bride I photograph. Gone are the days when photographers would have a whole photo session to photograph the bride, so I have to do it during the hustle and bustle of the wedding day. This blog post is devoted to showing you how I capture the bridal images that my clients love. I call it the Five Ls of the Modern Bridal Portrait: Logistics, Lighting, Location, Lenses, Layer Masks.  All of the images in this article are of actual brides on their actual wedding day.

Let’s face it, in order to create a great bridal portrait, we need a little time during the wedding day devoted to the deed. So the very first step I take to create a great bridal portrait happens at the initial consultation. My website, blog, and physical gallery are devoted to showcasing the posed images I create. So during the initial discussion, I’ll point that out, at which point most clients that make it all the way into my gallery for a meeting, mention that the posed images are what drew them there. That is a perfect opening for me to mention that in order to create imagery like the photos that are displayed, we need to set aside time in the day for it. From the very first meeting, the expectation is set that we will need time to create the portraits.

For the bridal portrait, I like to take it as soon as the bride is dressed, when there are no wrinkles in the dress and her hair is perfectly in place. So when working out the schedule I will tell a bride that I will arrive at the bridal prep location an hour and a half before I have to leave for the church. The first hour is candid photography of the preparation. By the end of the hour, the bride is dressed and ready for bridal portraits. That gives us 20-30 minutes of time devoted to creating great images of the bride alone and with her bridesmaids.

When it comes time to actually take the photos, the first thing I am going to look for is great lighting. The classic old standby is window light, and when I walk into a room, I look for where the window light is most flattering. Since the bride typically gets dressed in a bedroom or a hotel room, one of the easiest and most flattering portraits to create is a photo of the bride on the bed. To make it a bit more playful, I will ask her to lay on her stomach facing the direction of the window light. I then ask her to kick her feet up, and take the photo.

When I’m in a room that isn’t very attractive, or is really small, I still look for the window light first. In this situation, I will move the bride closer to the window, and shoot a tighter portrait. Since the window light is much stronger closer to the window, I will often bounce my flash into the room to fill in the shadow side of a brides face.

After dark, or in a room without natural light, I’ll first look for a source of flattering artificial light. I’ve been known to ask bridesmaids hold desk lamps aimed at brides to get the cool directional light that I am looking for. Yes, I could always bounce my flash, but that tends to give a big, flat, light when I am looking to create a little more drama!


The next thing I look for is a great location. In fact, location often trumps lighting, since I bring the tools to create the lighting that I need quickly and easily. If the bride is getting ready in a family home, I look for items or locations that are unique to the home.

I often end up in bathrooms, as bathrooms tend to have great light and cool color schemes. When you are scouting out a location, don’t forget the WC!

If the time allows, after taking a few photos indoors, I like to venture outdoors to see what is lurking around the neighborhood. Since no one can say “no” to a bride on her wedding day, the possibilities are endless!


This one is probably obvious, but the when shooting flattering portraits the lens matters. Using cameras with a sensor the size of a frame of 35mm film, my favorite lens for portraits is an 85mm. The 85mm gives a flattering perspective, and using a prime lens with a fast aperture allows me to use it in situations where the light is extra low. When shooting a wider scene, I will go to my 35mm lens, but I never use it at head shot distances do to the distortion. When shooting portraits, you typically want a focal length that is greater than 50mm.

Layer Masks :)

Once the wedding day is done, and I have done my part to capture the image with great lighting in great locations, there is one more step that I need to take. I need to make the portrait zing in Photoshop! Now I don’t really like spending a lot of time behind the computer. Luckily there are a few tools that I have found that give portraits pop without hours of work.

My typical portrait recipe is a combination of the “Oh Snap” action from the “Totally Rad” action set and the “Portraiture” plugin from Imagenomic. I find both of these actions are a little strong when run at full strength, so I usually lower the opacity to 50% or so. If a little extra love is needed, I will use the “Totally Rad Pro Retouch” action on the desired areas.

Finally, a little trick I will do to help with the sleepless nights that brides often have before their weddings, is to create a new layer, then use the Healing Brush Tool on the shadows under the eyes. Since the bride would look like an alien without any shadows, I then lower the opacity of the layer to make it look more natural.


With a little planning, and some basic strategies it is possible to get great bridal portraits on the wedding day! But what about the groom? The groom’s portrait is just as important, so don’t forget it! While I ask for 20 minutes with the bride, I usually only take 30 seconds with the groom. One quick image, and I’m out.

About Jamison Wexler

Jamison Wexler has written 15 post in this blog.

Jamie is a Boston Wedding Photographer who believes every client is a rockstar.



  1. michelle brooks says:

    February 14th, 2011 at 1:18 pm (#)

    Great article! Appreciate the tips.

  2. Kylie Day says:

    February 15th, 2011 at 3:09 pm (#)

    Very helpful, thanks!

  3. Admin says:

    February 16th, 2011 at 7:43 am (#)

    Thanks Ladies! –JAMIE

  4. photomatte says:

    February 18th, 2011 at 1:59 pm (#)

    Nice article, Jamie. Any chance of posting a little of the EXIF data (mostly lens, aperture and ISO) on some of these?

  5. Admin says:

    February 18th, 2011 at 3:11 pm (#)

    Sure photomatte:

    I warn you, it’s pretty repetitive :). When I am shooting portraits I like to move fast and get as many possible locations as I can in the time allotted. It’s not unusual for me to get 15-20 different poses/locations in a 20 minute bridal session. So I shoot most of the time in AV mode and adjust my avcomp as necessary (thus the odd, in-between shutter speeds).

    With that in mind:

    Image 1: Canon 5D, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/200, ISO320

    Image 2: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/400, ISO1600

    Image 3: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f2, 1/400, ISO500

    Image 4: Canon 40D, Canon 28mm f1.8, f2, 1/125, ISO400

    Image 5: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/200, ISO400

    Image 6: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f2, 1/125, ISO800

    Image 7: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 35mm f1.4, f2, 1/80, ISO1600 (small video light to bride’s left held by bridesmaid)

    Image 8: Canon 5D, Canon 17-40 f4 @ 22mm, f4, 1/60, ISO1600 (Flash bounced behind)

    Image 9: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/500, ISO1600

    Image 10: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 35mm f1.4, f1.4, 1/500, ISO3200

    Image 11: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/8000, ISO400

    Image 12: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/800, ISO200

    Image 13: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/640, ISO400

    Image 14: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/320, ISO1600

    Image 15: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/160, ISO200

    Image 16: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/125, ISO1600 (Flash bounced with flip-it card)

    And here are a few more that I didn’t have room for in the article, but were in the folder I wrote the article from:

    Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f1.4, 1/800, ISO1600

    Canon 5D MkII, Canon 35mm f1.4, f1.4, 1/1000, ISO100

    Canon 5D MkII, Canon 85mm f1.2, f2, 1/160, ISO1600 (small video light to bride’s left held by bar patron)

    Canon 5D MkII, Canon 35mm f1.4, f2.2, 1/100, ISO1600 (flash bounced into room to brides left to fill window light on bride’s right)

    Hope this helps!


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