The pendulum swings both ways. The world is ready for a return to good portraiture. It is obvious by the signs of the times….the demand, the sales! Fine portraiture has been around for a gazillion years. It will never disappear.

Formal studio portraiture is not dead. It has only had a slump. Why? Because so many photographers have been afraid to go there. What a lot of photographers do not realize is that formal portraiture does not have to be made in the studio. It can be done on location and/or outdoors. The whole idea is that photographers need to understand the basics of posing and lighting before they can hope to achieve success anywhere.

For that reason I have prepared a series of studio portraits to give you an idea of what you can do with a little study and a lot of practice. The main props that you will need are a couple of posing stools, possibly a posing table and the ability to control light. In the studio it is easy to direct light. Window light on location is easy to control also. Outdoors it is necessary to get under cover, so that the light can come from a specific direction. Other than that there is no reason why every photographer cannot take a little time and get big rewards.

Couples today are not against posed pictures. They simply want pictures that do not look posed. First and foremost, every bride wants a gorgeous picture of herself. She wants her bridal portraits to be the most beautiful pictures she has ever had taken. She wants to remember her wedding gown, her flowers and her excitement of the day. She also wants to do it with as little fuss and as little time spent as possible. It can be done. It can be done by photographers who have good portrait technique, who can communicate with their subjects and who can get the job done regardless of time, temperature and the weather.

My studio portraits are created with five lights. I have a main, a fill, a hair light, a background light and a veil light. Why do I use so many lights? Because I care enough to give each client the best that they can get. Can it be done with fewer lights? Of course. But which of the lights would YOU sacrifice. Does the hair light work for you? Does the veil light coming thru from behind help create a brighter veil? Does the background light add depth to the photograph? They do for me. When I educate brides what to look for in a good bridal portrait they, too, see the difference and the need to search out the photographer who can give them the greatest memories.

So, here is a typical series that I have in mind when I begin each bridal session. It might not be a bad idea to cut these out, laminate them and have them by your side each and every time you a do a bridal session.

3/4 Length Seated Bride

This is by far the most popular bridal portrait that I do. The bride is seated at a height that allows her knees to slope slightly downward. Her body is at a 45° angle to the camera. The height of the camera is around her chest level. The picture is cropped well below the knees. She leans her body forward at the waist towards her knees. Her back arm is extended, anchoring the top of her body to the base of the picture.

The body is turned away from the light. Her head is turned back towards the light. The main light reaches both eyes. A small shadow is created below and to the side of her nose. The arm holding her bouquet is slightly bent. The flowers are directed towards the lens. I am careful to have her hold the flowers at the top of the bouquet, so as not to cut her arm from view.

Exposure is for the main light. The fill light is two f/stops less. A light is turned towards the background. Another light is behind her back, directed towards her body and thru the veil. his light is just bright enough to light the veil without it losing detail. A hair light is highlighting the top of her head.

In almost all of my portraits I tone down the bottom and sides of the portraits by creating an extra layer in Photoshop, go to Curves, bring down the highlight side to the middle of the graph and then erase the head and shoulders 100%….the rest at a lower percentage to taste.

Same pose -2/3rd view of the face

With only a few minor/major changes the portrait changes to a 2/3rd view of her face. In order to turn her face that much the body must turn much more towards the camera – almost straight into the lens. Then, to retain the same light pattern on her face the light has to move with her head. Whereas in the first picture the light was approximately a 45° angle to the camera, the light now is at an approximate 90° angle. Notice that with her head turned towards the side I have allowed a little more space in front of her than behind her. Also, the background is lit a little brighter in front of her…slightly darker behind her.

Bride with Arms on Table

A good close up for showing great detail in the bodice of the gown and a good view of her engagement ring is a must-do. I bring a posing table up to the bride, placing it a height so that when her hands and arms are on the table they come just below the level of her bust line. The bottom of her dress is brought up to cover the table.

The lights do not have to move from the previous portrait. The camera raises to the height of her shoulders, midway between the top of her head and her hands.

To create a high/low shoulder the bride leans forward towards the table, while I bring her right elbow forward. This lowers her right shoulder. A slight tilt of the camera towards her higher, left shoulders adds even more of an angle to her body.

Her ring hand is placed over the wrist of her other hand. This brings out her elbows to form a pleasant base for the portrait.

Hands Up to Her Face

By raising the posing table up just a few inches I can bring her ring hand up to the side of her face, the wrist bent slightly inward. Her other hand is brought up to rest in the palm of her left hand. Notice that I am showing the sides of her hands, fingers going upwards, both wrists bent inward.


Once again her body turns to a 45° angle to the camera. The main light moves still further back towards the background and turns toward her. It is now actually approximately at a 135° angle from the camera. A gobo (Westcott’s Monte Illuminator – silver one side/black the other) needs to be placed between the light and the camera to prevent the light from flaring into the lens.

The camera lowers slightly to achieve a slight separation between her chin and her shoulder. Her eye is brought slightly towards the near corner, so that the camera sees the pupil of her eye.

The edge of her profile is just past the middle of the portrait. She needs plenty of space in front. I am also careful to bring out her left elbow, creating the base of the portrait all the way to the edge of the picture.

2/3rd View of Face – Lighting still in profile position

With the light still in profile position it is sometimes fun to bring the head back to the 2/3rd position, catch the edge of the nose with the direct light and then let the reflector (camera-right) help push that light around onto the shadowed side of the face.

Once in awhile I will have a woman’s face at the 2/3rd angle and have her eyes come back to the camera. It looks much better for women than it does for a man’s portrait.

The exposure has not changed since we began the series. The lights are always the same distance from the subject, so the exposure does not vary.

The height of the camera for head and shoulder portraits is slightly above her eye level. This emphasizes the face and lessens the body mass. Of course, you have to look thru the lens all the time and adjust the face up and down to look natural when viewed through the lens.

Full face – light in profile position still

This portrait of the bride smiling through her veil works well with the main light still in profile position. The light is less likely to pick up distracting folds in the veil when it is coming from this position. The reflector (camera-right) is still pushing the light around onto the right side of her face.

3/4 Length Bride and Groom Together

The couple is seated on two posing stools sufficiently apart from each other, so that they can both lean towards each other without crowding. Her head is straight up and down. His head tips towards her. It usually works out that she is in a full-face camera position, while his head is in a 2/3rd position.

His arm goes around her, but I place her inside hand on his left hand. Her left shoulder is under his arm. This allows her to keep her body at an angle to the camera to show the entire front of her gown. When she puts her arm around him she is too apt to turn her right shoulder too straight into the camera. We miss the front view of her body and gown.

The height of the camera is around their bust level. The picture is cropped well below their knees.

Couple Looking at Their Rings Together

The light is moved around to profile position to avoid lighting his left ear. It is split lighting on the bride’s 2/3rd and good profile lighting on the groom. His profile is directly over her face. There is no space between the two faces. Her body is turned more towards the camera, so that we can achieve the 2/3rd position of her face without straining.

He holds her hand just below the level of her bust.

Close up of Hands and Rings

All you have to do is come in closer for this picture of hands and rings. It does not get any easier than this. Notice carefully the positioning of the hands. The profile lighting has not changed from the previous picture. Just a touch of the bouquet is enough.

He touches his lips to her fingers

He brings her hand up to his lips. He does not pucker up his lips to kiss her fingers. She looks down and slightly out to the side, so that her eyes do not appear to be closed. He looks down to her fingers.

Again, the camera height comes up to above their eye level.

Fun Picture – Seemingly Totally Unposed!

A very popular picture from this series is this follow-thru from the previous picture. He lowers her hand slightly, they touch noses and you can get all kinds of fun, photojournalistic expressions. Nothing could be easier!

You do not have to do all of these portraits every time you photograph a bride and groom. I, personally, do take all of these pictures and sometimes more. A few of them are large in the albums for the couple and their parents, while some go two or three to a page.

These photographs can be made on location indoors or outdoors, whatever your preference or the couple’s. The thing to remember is that each and every bride and groom are entitled to nice portraits of themselves, regardless of what they think about formal portraiture.

For those interested in the equipment that I use I’m doing almost all my bridal portraits with a Canon 10D camera, 28-135mm IS lens. The memory cards I use are Delkin eFilmPRO 640mb.

My lighting is by Photogenic, using four heads. I use their 800ws PM08 Power supply with 4 light heads. I recently heard that Photogenic is coming out with a new lighting system. This old version has worked perfectly for me for umpteen years. The new system is called PhotoMasterII. You can adjust the light heads by ratio (I use 3 to 1 ratio usually) or by increments of partial f/stops. It is multi voltage. You can use them practically anywhere in the world. The top of the new pack is angled, so that you can see digitally how your lights are set from practically anywhere in the room! I like Photogenic’s light heads because they are lightweight and fit into small Mini Apollos by Westcott. I use two in the Mini Apollos and two behind the bride to light the background and her veil.

The two Apollos are both on Westcott boom arm stands, allowing me to place the lights where necessary without my having to worry about getting the light stands in the picture. Of course I use the Monte Illuminator. It is a Westcott silver/black reflector and/or gobo.

I would not think of shooting portraits without a tripod. The tripod that I have found most practical for moving around quickly is the Manfrotto Carbon One 443.

Camera cases are my passion. They must work for me and with me. I use two different styles. I love my Porter Case. It carries all my camera gear in a case that converts into a cart. As a cart it carries big loads thru the airports, etc. I also just found Tenba’s DB-17C backpack a fantastic way to carry all my camera gear, plus all my laptop gear. It’s a foolproof way of keeping everything packed and ready to work at a moment’s notice. Perfect for going out on location, whether a fancy hotel or a sandy beach!

Yes, the pendulum is swinging. For me portraiture at weddings was never an issue. They never went out of style. I made a lot of people happy with my bride and groom pictures. At the same time I also made a lot of parents happy…..not to mention the joy that future generations get by reliving the wedding day of their parents and grandparents thru pictures like these.

Yes, it takes practice. But it is definitely worth it!