The Bridal Suite: Making the Most Out of Your Getting Ready Shots

As the female counterpart to this duo, I have the pleasure of joining the brides for anywhere from 1-4 hours prior to their big debut to capture the exquisite and often hilarious combination of joy, anxiety, nervousness, and general frenzied moments leading up to the ceremony. A lot of brides in almost singular focus of arranging for the big ticket items tend to let the small details that will, in the end, really capture the story of that day fall to the wayside. We will have a series of blog posts to address the different details you may have missed in the rush to get to your big day, but today I want to focus on the emotionally charged moments before your beautifully polished feet hit the aisle.

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We love to use surrounding features, especially outdoors at a venue whenever possible for the dress and ring shots.

First I’d like to go through what our general flow is for that time frame. If we are both photographing your wedding, I will be with the ladies while my husband, Ryan, takes care of the men. Now as you might (rightly) assume the men generally aren’t as interesting as the ladies. Depending on the group and atmosphere it could be anything from the groom and his side kicks taking shots while reminiscing, to them arriving already ready to go and looking bored. We really like to encourage both the bridal party and the grooms party to have their own rooms to get ready in either on site for the ceremony or in another location close by, but if push comes to shove the bridal party is always going to be the priority (but you already knew that, didn’t you?).

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The men usually spend about 5 minutes getting ready and the rest chilling out. Basically the opposite of the bride. 

Here is where the first big tip comes: TIME. Many brides aren’t really registering how long and how important the time leading up to when they head down the aisle is when they book their photographers. In an effort to save money, which is understandable, they shave off time at the beginning thinking getting ready shots take little to no time and in turn they also generally underestimate how long it takes to get into their dress and ready leading to a frazzled bride rather than a happy one. Budget is, of course, a big priority for you, but if you are making photography a priority as well then consider having at least 2 hours before the ceremony for us to really focus on the important details and for you to have enough time to breathe and celebrate with your bridesmaids without feeling rushed. If you aren’t sure about timing just ask us- we are happy to help guide you as should any photographer.

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Inevitably things will have to be adjusted or some last minute MacGyver-like moves will be made so more time is always better than less.

This brings me to where you are planning to get ready. This is so often overlooked and a last minute thought. Often you book a venue and, if they have a room available, you think, fantastic, another thing to check off the to-do list without really thinking about what that room will look like on your big day. Now in an ideal world your venue will have a beautiful room to get dressed in with an attached bathroom, lovely tall windows to allow for plenty of natural light, carpet that is a neutral color or better yet hard wood,  a full length mirror, beautiful furniture, and plenty of room for you and your bridesmaids various bags and champagne. Of course, it rarely comes together like this, but it is worth keeping in mind when you are scoping out venues or off-site locations. Natural light is always going to be a priority- having decent sized windows preferably that face the sun during the time you will be married is ideal especially for capturing close ups of you by said window. Fluorescent lights can certainly be worked around, but they are harsh, yellow, and generally not very forgiving even on the most expert of make-up jobs. Now the best thing to do if you end up with, say, the basement of a church with little to no windows and poor lighting is to let us or your photographer know so we can be prepared with additional lighting ahead of time. I cannot stress enough that lighting is a key aspect to creating beautiful photos and, in turn, memories, and we can truly work with most any situations but you will be doing yourself a huge favor by giving us a heads up.

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A room balcony, such as this one at the Raleigh Renaissance hotel, or a large window can create some breathtaking shots without going far. 

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Second would be a tie between nice furniture and a large space. I will typically do a lot of detail shots so I can work around Louis IV carpet and Rubbermaid folding tables, but to get the truly beautiful shots of you putting your dress on and your mother or bridesmaids lacing it up I need a clutter-free background. There is nothing like a beautiful shot of the back of the dress with a garish reusable shopping bag in the background because everyone is crammed into the room like sardines. I will usually enlist the help of any free hands to tidy up and create a space for us, but as you might imagine the closer we get to go time the more frazzled your nerves get and harder it is take extra time to clean when it is likely we are behind schedule because that is synonymous with weddings. Having a nice large space allows you to breathe and me to make sure I get you the best shots I can.

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While this is a good shot of Kelly’s dress, we needed to clean up the backdrop in order to clean up the shot which adds time and often stress.

Now having great furniture is a good bonus because I can get some truly gorgeous shots of you that just won’t shine the same if you are sitting on a brown metal folding chair although we will make it work! Ideally there is a nice couch or large chair and sometimes even if the room the venue provides doesn’t have this other rooms do that you can borrow from so it is worth asking about.

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Simple, classic furniture pieces create a fantastic backdrop for brides.

When we arrive, which is usually early to scope the venue out for good locations, I will gather the rings (your engagement and both your wedding bands), your invitation or save the date whichever you prefer, the dress, and your shoes for Ryan to photograph elsewhere while you get ready. Typically I will help Ryan with the dress then he will finish up with the other details while I capture the girls getting ready.

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Any photographer worth their salt should send a quick email, usually when confirming the date/time/location, to remind you to bring these but even if they don’t plan on it and worse if they don’t seem to be thinking about it remind them. Also think about anything else you may want to be photographed with while getting ready- the marriage license, a memento from your first date,  your mom’s veil, a family heirloom hair clip, etc.

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This brings me to what you will be wearing while you are getting ready. I remember at my own wedding this did not even remotely cross  my mind or my Pinterest  feed so I was caught in a basic black tank top that you could see my bra strap overlapping- my bad. Now that I have photographed enough weddings I can say that some of the best getting ready photos, especially with the whole bridal party, were those we came in with a plan for what they would all wear. Whether you choose robes- yours white while your bridesmaids have either black or their dress color, or a funny t-shirt you had printed to commemorate the event, having some kind of continuity in how you dress lends itself to some great captured moments not to mention you may actually want to share your hair curler photos on Facebook if you have on a nice ivory robe to accent it.

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Katie choose her family’s yearly vacation rental for her getting ready location in, you guessed it, Carolina Beach. The location meant a lot for her so she had her bridal party wear these shirts that also corresponded with her wedding colors.

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Here Sarah choose to wear a simple ivory robe while she had her make-up and hair done. It provided a clean, classic backdrop for her getting ready photos. 

The next thing to consider is if there is anyone you really want to be there before the ceremony. Usually a mother is a top choice, but it can be a favorite aunt, friend who isn’t in the wedding party, or even a furry friend like Katie below. This also goes hand in hand with knowing who not to invite into your getting ready room. If you know that someone may want to join you but they may have a negative impact on your mood and stress level then put someone who will be with you in charge of running interference so you don’t have to.

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My last topic I want to touch upon briefly, as I will be doing a segment entirely devoted to it, is deciding whether you want to do a first look. For the purpose of this post, I really want to touch upon the first look in terms of timing because often brides want one but then do not budget in enough time for it. A first look, if you do not know, is when you or we select a location for the two of you to see each other privately for the first time prior to the ceremony. Usually we position the groom with his back to where you will enter whether that be outside or in, and then you will walk in behind him and either by removing a blindfold or simply touching his shoulder you will get to see the look in his eyes the first time he sees you without anyone else (besides us) around. I will go into the details of different types of first looks, including ones that maintain the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony, but the most important takeaway here is that you realistically need 15 minutes at a minimum for this. By the time we get the groom into position, then cue you, then take your pictures seeing each other, then get everyone back to their starting places for the ceremony a good chunk of time has passed. The last thing you need during a first look is paranoia about being late streaming through your mind.

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At Sarah’s wedding we had a last minute location change, but the balcony of her getting ready suite worked perfectly in the end. 

Hopefully this post can give you a better idea of  how to manage your time the day of the wedding before you walk down the aisle. What I always remind brides about on the day of the wedding is to expect everything to run behind- and that it is OK, because everyone is on YOUR time, not theirs. However, being realistic about time management and budgeting in enough time for your getting ready period can really help us (the photographers) make the most out of these fun, candid moments.

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