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Chapter 2

Ultimate Guide to

Wedding Preparations Photography

 Photographing The Wedding Preparations & the Start of the Day


Bride's sister applies make-up to her at home wedding preparations

This is a standard wedding preparations photo, but it’s made more special as it’s bride Emma’s sister applying her make-up.

Wedding Day Nerves

Many brides (and sometimes grooms) wish to have their preparations documented. This can be a very nerve-wracking time for the bride as she anticipates any last-minute problems, and the special day at last becomes real to her. I photographed one wedding in London where the bride was so nervous that she only allowed me to take one picture of her having her make-up done – and that was in the kitchen with pots and pans behind her. Thankfully, she relaxed as the day went on.

Bride in dressing gown having make up done in large wardrobe mirror

Mirrors can be a wedding photographer’s best friend at the preparations. Here, the expansive wardrobe mirrors not only provide better reflected light, but also enable me to photograph the same scene from two angles.

Wedding Photography Flexibility

Until the morning of her wedding, no bride will know how she will feel, and it is important for the photographer to adapt to any changes and respect last-minute bridal requirements. This is a very important time, as the photographs taken here set the tone for the day ahead. If I design a photo storybook as part of the couple’s wedding photography package, I devote a whole section to the preparations.

Bridesmaids holding dresses and looking through doorway

Two bridesmaids looking in on the bride: I love the fact that one notices me and the other doesn’t, as both look so natural and happy.

Many Photographic Opportunities

There is always something going on as the day begins: The bridesmaids/best friend/parents arrive, make-up is applied, champagne is opened, a proud dad sees his daughter in her dress for the first time (below) and so on.  Your photographer must be prepared for anything, as surprises can (and often do) happen.

Father of bride sees her in her dress for the first time

The priceless moment when a father sees his daughter in her dress for the first time: It’s a privilege to be privy to moments such as this. However, it’s one of the few moments that’s more manufactured than it looks.

Groom sitting on floor lifting friend in the air by leg

At Harry’s Chinese wedding, his bride had set him several tasks to complete before she considered him worthy to marry her. It was such good fun, and I came away with many unexpected photos, such as this one.

Chinese wedding acceptance with groom presenting bride a bunch of red roses

A short while later and happily, he passed his tests as Jess invited her into her boudoir and accepted his intent to marry her. This was quite a relief, as I had shot an engagement shoot in London with them a few days before!

Bride kissing smiling father on cheek at preparations

This was the first photo I took at Jenny’s preparations. It’s nice when people relax enough to allow me to take naturally emotive photos, such as when her father gave her a heartfelt hug.

A bearded grandfather hugs the bride and smiles at wedding preparations

There are often plenty of comings and goings in the preparations. Emma greets her grandfather as he arrives at the family home.

Must-Have Preparations Shots

There are certain things from the wedding preparations that I always try to photograph:

Hair: The bride’s hair is often done early in the morning or at a hairdresser. This could make it impractical for the photographer to document this part of the preparations. If this is the case, don’t worry. A good photographer will ensure that there are plenty of shots of other goings on to more than compensate.

Bride with eyes shut having eyeliner applied by the make up artist

When the make-up artist applies the bride’s makeup, getting some close-up shots is good. Here, I focussed on Sarah’s near eye and threw everything else out of focus to highlight what was going on.

Bride smiling whilst have her hair straightened at wedding preparations

The preparations are a time for lots of smiles and excitement. That really shows here in Jenny’s face as a friend does her hair.

Make-up: Positioning is very important here. If possible, ensure you position your make-up table in front of a bright window.  Leave space around it to let the photographer move freely.  Delicate and directional window light is extremely flattering.  It should be used to good effect. Your photographer should be discreet and not get in the way of the makeup artist. Often, the MUA apologises, but she does not need to.

Bridal Preparations at Wedding - Bride Holding Mirror in Cardiff

The bright window light illuminates bride Helen’s face, and I photograph a pensive shot from behind as she checks her make-up in the mirror.

Details: There are plenty of wedding details to photograph during the preparations.  The flowers and buttonholes are delivered.  If this tradition is upheld, something old, new, borrowed and blue items may be there. Then there are the dress, shoes, good luck cards, and maybe even the rings. Your wedding photographer should look for these things.  Let him or her know if there is anything important to you or less obvious that you’d like to photograph.

Henna Tattoos on Bride's Arm at Indian Wedding

The details and colour in the henna tattoo and bracelet at this Indian wedding were too amazing to ignore. Your wedding photographer should observe and record details such as this.

Bride with mother sitting in bath under portrait of deer

The preparations held in hotel rooms can hold all sorts of potential.  Attractive baths present a fun photo opportunity as Kim gets in with her mum here.

5 wedding bouquets in bags in hotel room vintage bath

Another bath with a different use:  The wedding preparations often include unexpected details.  Here, the bridal bouquets sit in an attractive hotel room vintage bath.

Possible Locations for the Bride to Get Ready

The couple’s home or parents’ house can be the most personal place to be as there may be relics of the past – photos of the bride as a little girl or the groom’s Certificate of Achievement from Secondary School still hanging on the wall.  There will no doubt be Good Luck cards and wishes about and various objects of sentimental value.  Your photographer can either photograph these on their own or include them as part of a bigger picture.

Couple getting ready for their wedding at home

Vivienne & David got ready together at home. I turned up for the last 20 minutes to photograph them, finishing off and leaving.

Couple holding up card saying, "Shit Got Real!" before lesaving for their wedding ceremony

I saw the card and couldn’t resist asking them for a pose.  Wedding preparations present all sorts of fun opportunities for daft photos if you are up for it!

Photography Timings

Sometimes, the bride may not be ready for the photographer when he or she arrives. Don’t worry about this at all – they can wait. I need about 45 minutes for the preparations, but I prefer at least an hour just to be safe. Other photographers will vary. Sometimes, the bride and her party will be ready ahead of schedule. In this case, the extra time is useful to take portraits (see below).  However, it is more often the case where the morning slips away, and last-minute tweaks and dress adjustments are a bit of a rush.

I’ve also photographed wedding preps for a very short time – 10 minutes in a couple of cases.  The brides just wanted photos as they left the house (or shortly before), and I then travelled to the ceremony venue with the bridal party.

Black and white portrait of bride in room with clothes behind her and on bed

Lindsay looked pretty as a picture as she was ready to leave for the venue. In this environmental portrait, I deliberately went wide to include the room where the preparations had gone on a while before.

The calm before the storm:  Okay, so weddings aren’t usually stormy (fortunately, I’ve never been involved in a stormy one!)…  There is often a time during the preparations when the bride is alone with time to breathe and think about the day to come.  I feel an immense sense of gratitude and privilege for what I do when she feels comfortable enough to have me photograph this moment as with Lindsay in the above and below photos.

Bride at preparations crouching down to buckle shoe by window

A few minutes after the last image, I take this atmospheric window-lit shot of Lindsay putting her shoes on before she leaves for her Old Marylebone Town Hall wedding ceremony.

Bridal Portraits

The location of the preparations can vary from hired apartments to hotels to the childhood home…  All give different opportunities and scope for some good photography of this early part of the wedding day.  When time permits, I like to take the Bride and various party members away for a few personal shots.  This could be a group shot at home with the Bride and Bridesmaids in the garden or with her Dad outside the front door.

Bride seated with six bridesmaids in matching purple dressing gowns on couch

As well as the bride alone, it’s also nice to photograph her bridal party. The long settee and superb window light here just screamed out to have me set up this one.  Rebecca with her bridesmaids in matching purple gowns.

Hotels have a wealth of attractive backdrops.  Wandering about the corridors and looking for attractive photo spots is fun and worthwhile.  Shortly after the hair and make-up are finished and she puts on her dress, the Bride looks her best.  This is the perfect time for some shots of her alone, full of hopes and anticipation for the day ahead.

Four women and baby in hotel garden with picnic table in sun

I took this wide-angle environmental shot during the preparations at a Cardiff hotel. There was plenty of time, so the bridal party put on their wellies for sunny outdoor portraits.

The Groom’s Preparations

If the bride and groom are getting ready at the same venue, your photographer should be quite happy to float between the rooms to take shots of them both at various stages of their preparations. The bride should take priority here, but if I can get shots of both, I’m happy to do this.

Groom dressing son at wedding near Cardiff

Groom David’s little boy was important to the wedding day celebrations. It was great to photograph them together and capture the essence of their relationship so early in the day. David had the perfect physique for getting his top off, too!

Gay Wedding Preparations

It’s not often that I’m asked to attend and photograph the preparations for an LGBT wedding, but on the odd occasion that I am, it’s always good fun and high camp!  The grooms or brides generally prepare together, and it’s lovely to capture them both enjoying these precious moments at the start of their wedding day.

Groom pointing at groom whilst having his cuffs buttoned at gay wedding preparations

Marc and Stewart invited me to photograph the latter part of their same-sex wedding preparations. It was fun, and they took little seriously – a great start to an eventful day.

Leaving for the Wedding Venue

At last, the bridal party are ready to leave for the venue and marriage ceremony.  Your photographer may often have to leave a while before the bride to get establishing shots of the groom and guests at the wedding venue.  I find this to be the case more at religious venues.  In register offices, the bride must attend a legal meeting with the registrar to check the details and marriage eligibility.  This leaves me with time to photograph events from the groom’s side before the bride makes her grand entrance…

Bride with fiends taking selfie at preparations

Selfies are a modern phenomenon.  I love to photograph people photographing themselves, as in this shot of Melissa with her closest friends before she leaves the house.

Bride with siblings laughing at pulling faces at wedding preparations

Bride Emma was with her brother and sister when I pointed the camera at them and took this fun and fairly natural portrait at the start of her wedding day.

Why Should We Have Our Wedding Preparations Photographed?

I’ve included as many examples of wedding preparation photo opportunities here as possible. Lots of couples don’t want this part of the day photographing.  I think it’s the most unpredictable part of the day and very good fun.  It’s a chance to get a diverse and memorable set of images.  With the nerves, fun, anticipation and emotion, the preparations remain a key part of a wedding day.

If you’re unsure, I advise you to book your photographer to cover at least some of your preparations, too.  The scene will be well and truly set for your day to unfold…

bride in wedding dress leaving terraced house in London

The bride leaves the family home for the last time as a single woman. It’s the start of a fantastic day of celebrations…

Chapter 3: Arrivals & Greetings: All About Discretion – Next>>>>

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Wedding Photographer in London, Bristol & Cardiff

Guy Milnes Photography is based between London and Cardiff, covering South Wales, Bristol, London and the home counties.
He has been a professional photographer since 2008 and loves to capture the wedding day's atmosphere as it unfolds naturally.


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