A bridal portrait is a formal portrait of a bride, usually taken on her wedding day. In terms of the wedding photography timeline, the bridal portraits are often taken as part of the wedding preparation time frame, right after photos of the wedding details such as the wedding dress. In this article, we’ll focus on natural light wedding photography tips for bridal portraits, but you can apply these tips to other scenarios and shoots as well.
How to Take Better Bridal Portraits in 4 Steps
Before we jump into our natural light wedding photography tips, let’s talk about the C.A.M.P. Framework, developed by our friends over at SLR Lounge. I use it to work through pretty much all of my portrait sessions. It’s an easy-to-follow, four-step system, and I recommend that you use it as well. The framework consists of the following components:
- C – Composition: Consider what you want the scene to look like, where you want to place your camera and subjects, what angle you’ll take, and what your subjects might be doing
- A – Ambient Light: Determine your intended exposure for the scene and dial in your settings
- M – Modify or Add Light: Add (one light at a time) or modify lighting as needed for the shot
- P – Pose & Photograph: Direct your subject(s) into a pose and expression and capture the photo
This system draws on the artistic and technical aspects of photography and provides a clear path for capturing portraits. Bridal portraits represent some of the most important images from a wedding day, and using the C.A.M.P. Framework in a situation like this takes a lot of the stress out of the process.
Compose Your Bridal Portraits Frame
We often associate dramatic or contrasty portraits with flash photography, but we can use natural light as well for this style of portraiture. While flash definitely opens up numerous creative opportunities, we can use our understanding of lighting and the careful placement of our subjects to create dramatic natural light portraits like those featured below.
I’m sharing bridal portraits that I captured during bridal prep at Vibiana, one of my favorite venues in downtown Los Angeles. The designated room for prep at this particular location, with its deep blue walls and dark flooring, lends itself well to dark & moody portraits. I knew I wanted to take advantage of that setting for these bridal portraits. Moreover, the main room features a double-door entryway to the patio, which serves as an excellent lightsource with both doors swung wide open. I knew I could use this location to light both the bride and her bridal party using only ambient light, and the dark backdrop would serve my needs in creating moody bridal portraits. Armed with a Canon RF 28-70mm f/2, I had the range I’d need to fit everyone into the frame and a wide enough aperture to help separate them from the background.
For most of the shots, I faced the dark blue wall with the natural light entering the door on camera-left. I placed the bride (and her subjects, when included) around 5-10 feet away from the light source and directed them to look slightly toward the main lightsource. With my subjects in position, I was able to use the zoom lens to easily capture a range of wide, medium, and tight shots to capture everything from full body portraits to close up details. This variety of storytelling angles can be put to use later across album spreads or in wall art collections.
Finding Other Angles & Setups in the Same Location
I also used a couple other spots in this location. In one shot, I changed position to use the doorway as a backlight and create a silhouette. In another shot, I used the hallway just to the side of the main room. For this shot, I positioned the bride next to a window in the hallway to light her face, and I framed her head inside a window frame at the end of the hall.
It’s worth noting that I knew the bride liked and wanted dark & moody portraits through earlier talks. Make sure you’re aware of the style your clients want before going rogue and shooting however you please. Once you know what your clients are looking for, you can find a location that works in your favor to match that style and make that happen.
[Related Reading: The Canon RF 28 70 F/2 and Why It’s My Favorite Lens]
Tip #2. Dial in Ambient Exposure
All too often we add and manipulate light without truly mastering the natural light right in front of us. As I mentioned above, the room for these bridal portraits included a nice double door entryway and provided all the ambient light I needed to get the shot. Windows on the opposite wall from the doorway provided a kick of rim light back on the subjects as well.
I could’ve looked for a different location and set up an off-camera flash, but it wasn’t necessary. All I needed to do was stop down the exposure in-camera and let the light from the door and opposite window provide enough light to highlight my subjects. In addition to shooting for a darker style, using a fast lens with a wider aperture allowed me to keep the ISO relatively low and the shutter speed fast enough to freeze any action, which in this case was minimal.
Modify or Add Light
Because the ambient light in this particular scene proved sufficient (and because of the compositional choices I made earlier), the only modification I needed to make regarding the lighting was to move my subjects closer to or farther away from the light source to get the balance I wanted between the light and shadows.
Tip #4. Pose & Photograph Your Subject
The ultimate goal for both posed and candid portraits, in my opinion, besides making your clients look and feel great, is to make the poses and expressions look natural. For these shots, I went for a more editorial style with the bridal portraits and a candid style with looser poses and expressions for the group shots. Check out our posing guide that covers foundation posing for couples, as well as individual poses and cues to use to get flattering expressions from your subjects.
Edit for the Final Look
When we have a clear vision for what we want our final shots to look like, we can shoot for the edit and streamline our workflow. I meticulously position my subjects before I ever pick up the camera to help match my vision. From there, shooting and editing both become a breeze. All of these images were shot using natural light and edited with a couple clicks in Lightroom using the Mood Pack from Visual Flow Presets. None of these images were edited in Photoshop, nor did any edit take more than 15 seconds within Lightroom.
Our understanding of lighting greatly impacts both what and how we create photos. Much has been written (on this site as well) about light quality, lighting patterns, and how to use natural light or flash photography to great effect. Invest the necessary time now building up your photography education and save tons of time later when capturing and editing your photos. It’s the best way to train for real world success in photography.