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If you’re only planning one day of photos in your dream dress—the wedding day—you’re missing out. Bridal portraits are a dry-run for the big day; they’re a wedding-day stress reducer, a reassuring run-through, and an excuse to wear your gown more than once. That’s why many brides favor this wedding tradition.
What Are Bridal Portraits?
Bridal portraits are photos taken several months before the wedding where brides don their dresses for a solo photoshoot in a location of their choice. The bride can gift print portraits to her parents and/or spouse or even display them as décor at the reception.
“This time in your life is important to remember,” said wedding photographer Katie Fears. “These portraits are a snapshot of you the year you got married. You are a powerful, beautiful woman, and when you look back in five, 10, or 30 years, it will be wonderful to see who you were and who you have become.”
Meet the Expert
Katie Fears is the founder of Brio Art Photography based in Minneapolis and a bridal portrait advocate.
Why Take Bridal Portraits?
Sure, bridal portraits are yet another add-on, but brides and photographers swear by them for a number of reasons. Even the most perfectly planned wedding can get a bit chaotic; since wedding-day bridal portraits are often taken during those crunch-time moments—just before leaving for the ceremony or right ahead of the reception, during couple photos—relying solely on wedding-day bridal portraits may leave you feeling rushed and stressed out.
At the same time, separate bridal portraits give you the flexibility to have fun and be creative. One of Fears’ favorite bridal portrait sessions would’ve never worked on a formal wedding day. “I like to throw in something fun at the end—like my last bride who bought a bundle of helium balloons for some fun and silly shots,” Fears says.
While most brides in the south choose wedding-dress bridal portraits, Fears says many of her northern brides opt for boudoir photos instead. “I ask them to bring two outfits they feel comfortable yet sexy in, with the last one being something wedding-related,” she says. “For example, my last bride brought along her cathedral veil.”
Whether it’s wedding-dress bridal portraits or boudoir, you can get a lot out of your photo session. Try printing your photos on canvases or make a photo book for your groom-to-be. You can even go old-school and print out small, wallet-sized photos so your spouse can take a memento wherever they go.
Bridal Portrait Tips
Just like your engagement photos and wedding day, perfecting the bridal portrait starts with feeling comfortable. “As with any professional portraits, make sure you stay true to yourself,” Fears says. “Your portraits will mean that much more to you. Professional makeup and lashes are great, and they do make a difference for the camera. If you're a more natural girl, keep it simple. If you like to glam it up, I say go all out.”
Many brides coordinate their hair and makeup trials with their bridal portrait session. This is a great way to see how your styling will look in photos. In some cases, you may want a touch more eyeshadow come wedding day. Or, you may realize your dream hairstyle is a bit too tight. After seeing your bridal portraits, you can ask for changes like looser curls or enhanced makeup ahead of your big day.
Beyond hair and makeup, it’s best to coordinate bridal portraits with your seamstress well ahead of time. Let them know your portrait date as soon as you have it so they can plan your alterations and fittings accordingly. This will ensure your dress is as flattering in bridal portraits as it is on the big day, plus it gives you the chance to solve any issues ahead of time (such as a stubborn zipper or busted button).
Ask your mom or maid of honor to join you for the session. Just like your wedding day, these bridal VIPs will help you fluff your dress, fix your hair, and keep you looking your absolute best.
Where to Take Bridal Portraits
Wedding days are nothing if not jam-packed, which gives you limited time and location options for scheduling your family, couple, and bridal party photos. With bridal portraits, though, it’s entirely up to you. If there’s a location you’ve been dreaming of, choose it. If you and your parents have a special childhood spot, such as docks along the lake, try that. Some brides also choose to have their portraits at their venue for consistency and sentiment.
In the end, Fears says it comes down to following your heart. “It’s all based on your personality and the look you’re going for,” she says. “I’m accustomed to asking my brides what they love to do most, then suggesting locations that feature their personalities.”
When to Take Bridal Portraits
One thing to keep in mind is the time of day. Just like engagement photos, you’ll want early morning or evening photos to capitalize on that golden-hour light. Both sunrise and sunset have their own unique effects. “Depending on your setting, soft light is best in the early morning, but if you want rich color and sun flares, that hour right before sunset is golden!” says Fears.
The most common timeframe for bridal portraits is roughly one to two months before the wedding. This is around when hair and makeup trials happen anyway, plus you’ve likely selected those wedding-day accessories like shoes and jewelry by then as well.
Logistically, book the portrait date with your wedding photographer well in advance to avoid any conflicts—especially if your wedding is in peak spring or summer wedding season. Many photographers offer bridal portraits as part of their wedding packages, especially in the south.