Natalie Gibbs – Virginia Wedding Photographer » Modern documentary-style wedding and family photography for Roanoke, Charlottesville, Blacksburg, and the New River Valley

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Bridal portraits have long been one of my favorite things to shoot.  A beautiful girl, a beautiful dress, a beautiful location, and a couple hours to play?  What’s not to love?

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I highly recommend scheduling a pre-wedding bridal portrait to all brides, even those who can’t imagine hanging a large picture of themselves on their walls.  There are so many good reasons to do one: it’s a Southern tradition, your mom will love it, it’s an excuse to wear your dress more than once, it’s a great test run for your hair and makeup, we get more shots than we can on the wedding day, it’s good practice in front of the camera, and — quite simply — it’s fun.  I’ve done a lot of these sessions over the past six years, but I learn something new each time.  Here are my favorite bridal portrait tips to help you have the most magnificent session ever.

Best of 2010 - wedding photography - bridal portraits - christiansburg, roanoke, bristol, charlottesville, virginia

1. Book an indoor location.

Nothing sounds worse to me than asking a girl to put on an expensive, spotless white dress in a grungy park bathroom.  Yuck.  When possible, I try to book an indoor location like a B&B, a private home, or a wedding venue with a changing room so that my brides have a clean place to change, leave their bags, and use the restroom.  An added advantage is that this also gives us a built-in rain plan, a must when you work with a lot of out-of-town clients who might not be able to reschedule easily.

2. Bring walking shoes.

It’s actually not too hard to keep the dress clean, but your wedding shoes will last about 3 steps before they start to show dirt and wear.  For this reason, I recommend wearing flip flops or slip-ons of some sort for most of the shoot.  We’ll slip on your wedding shoes on just the shots where your feet will show, then take them off again when it’s time to move.

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3. Don’t forget the bouquet.

Flowers add a natural and traditional element to your photos and have the added bonus of giving you something to do with your hands.  Some florists are happy to make you a portrait bouquet to match your wedding flowers, but I’ve also had brides gather their own blossoms from the backyard, farmer’s market, Michael’s, or Kroger.  You can find tutorials online for how to assemble the bouquet, and since we probably won’t shoot it up close, it doesn’t have to be totally perfect.

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4. Bring along an assistant.

A must!  You’ll need your mom, bridesmaid, or another trusted person to help adjust the dress as you walk and pose.  They often see things I miss while I’m concentrating on the camera.  I love the photos below because Amanda brought her dad to the session, which is a bit unusual but was such a great experience for them.

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5. Bring layers and options.

Since it’s not the actual wedding, don’t be afraid to play!  Bring some different jewelry options, wraps, cardigans, headbands… this is a great chance to experiment with really styling your wedding attire and seeing what works.  Bold colors are especially fun.
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6. Aim for evening.

The prettiest light is usually in the very early morning or late evening.  Of course, hair and makeup artists don’t always like to begin at 5 am, so evening tends to be ideal for bridals.  For optimum light, plan your hair and makeup so that you’re ready to shoot a couple hours before sunset.

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7. Plan on cleaning your dress.

I try very hard to keep dresses clean.  I look for dry spots and, if we’re outside, often place a clear shower curtain or drop cloth under the dress so that it doesn’t actually touch the ground.  But even when we are very careful, it’s going to pick up a little bit of dirt.  If you definitely want to keep your gown sparkling white, better go ahead and schedule a post-portrait, pre-wedding cleaning.  It’s worth it for your peace of mind.

8. Go big.

If you’re planning to display a bridal portrait at your wedding reception as Southern tradition dictates, GO BIG.  Plan on getting at least an 11×14″ print, plus a nice thick mat and a substantial frame.  This is also a good time to go with a more classic canvas option.

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know how I feel about documentary photography and day in the life sessions: I love them. I’ve been fortunate to do several shoots now for the talented Laura (also a photographer) and her little family, but this one is my favorite. It rained on the day of our shoot, so we stayed inside for much of the time and Nolan helped his parents make blueberry muffins. I stayed about two hours and also captured them playing on the porch, digging thorugh old drawers, and (when the rain stopped) taking a little stroll outside, but I’ll focus for now on the most DELICIOUS part of the day.

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documentary makeup wedding prep

Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes my favorite wedding photos don’t include the bride or groom at all.  This shot of Meredith and Blake’s beautiful little flower girl with her mother just makes me smile every time I see it.  Another little secret?  I actually way underexposed this shot and took a second (with flash) so I could get the lighting right… but when I culled through the images, the original, darker version spoke to me much more strongly, especially in black and white.   (A great reason to never erase images in camera, even when you think you’ve messed up.)

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Tomorrow morning, I’ll sneak out early, grab a bite to eat, and drive out to the beautiful Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia for the wedding of Meredith and Blake, my first of the year.

Tonight I’ll be checking gear, organizing my bags, cleaning lenses, charging batteries, clearing cards, backing up new files, laying out two shooting outfits (I like to be over-prepared in case of disaster… tears, spills, changing weather), printing off contacts, schedules, maps, and venue information, packing the car, and perhaps even brainstorming a few new portrait ideas.  I’m excited to start the season and ready to work hard tomorrow.

p.s. The couple in the photo above, April and Clay, just had their first baby!

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