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IT’S NOT EASY BEING BEAUTIFUL

The bride steps into her wedding gown. Her mother and a coterie of bridesmaids assist her with the final touches on her hair and makeup. They primp and preen at her gown, perhaps contributing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Today, the vast majority of brides invite their photographer to document the “getting ready” period, and for good reason.

Getting ready can be a monumental task for the bride and her entourage, and an event in itself. It’s a time not only during which the women share their excitement and happiness, but also one in which they can smooth out any bumps in the road that may arise, from mending an ill-fitting wedding gown to soothing an overwhelmed bride. The application of cosmetic agents, hair, skin, nail, and other treatments, final tuning of clothing and accessories; this seemingly endless array of beauty products and treatments makes for a very hectic and intense prep session.

Not until recent years has it become de rigueur for the wedding photographer to be present while the bride gets ready for the ceremony. Yet the outflow of elation, anxiety, nostalgia and hope that accompany these activities create an ideal time for your wedding photojournalist to capture those timeless moments.

Fortunately, WPJA members are veterans in skillfully observing and documenting what exactly happens behind the dressing room doors—from the trials and tribulations, to the triumphs. Their experience makes them uncommonly aware of and sensitive towards the rituals and emotions of bridal party preparation, and well-prepared to capture wonderful images without getting in the way.

THE RINGLEADER AND HER CREW

The time spent getting ready is filled with a wealth of emotions. Precisely what type of emotions, from good to bad to downright ugly, is entirely dependent on the bride. She sets the tone in the room. There are those brides who, as Massachusetts, USA-based wedding photographer David Tucker says, “are in the zone and it’s the perfect moment of their life. They’re sitting on a cloud enjoying everything.”

Based on our WPJA photographers’ insights, the majority of brides are in this “zone.” They’re in control and having a wonderful time as they prepare for their wedding. The photographer moves about the room capturing the bride talking and laughing with her bridesmaids and close relatives. She’s natural and jubilant, and that comes across in the pictures.

On the other hand, there are those brides who are overwhelmed by emotion and close to having a panic attack. Tucker is acquainted with them as well. He recently found himself stepping out of the photographer role, and into that of confidant, as he tried to comfort a nervous bride. “I let her know that I appreciated what she’s going through, that it was perfectly natural, and there’s nothing strange about it,” he says. At the time, only he and the make-up artist were in the room with her. Clearly, he is a special photographer who knows how to respond in an uncomfortable situation.

North Carolina, USA-based wedding photographer Sean Meyers observes that some bridesmaids also play an integral role in keeping everything running smoothly. Therefore, brides may prefer to have the bridesmaids present during the getting ready period. He recalls one wedding in which a trolley was to pick up the bridal party and take them to the ceremony, then on to the reception. The trolley never showed up. Not a problem. The bridesmaids were able to calm the bride down and keep her from becoming disheartened by the absentee trolley. Meyers says, in general, “The three or four of her closest friends are there to take care of the bride and that helps me.” The mood in the room stays positive and he’s able to get those emblematic photos.

THE DRESS

At another wedding Meyers photographed, the bride donned her dress, and many of its buttons promptly popped off. This could potentially be a disastrous situation, since for many, the dress is a focal point of the entire day and especially the getting ready period. As Meyers says, “It’s all about the gown…with the bridesmaids attending to her and helping her get the dress ready.” In this particular situation they had yet another job, which was to attach the buttons back to the gown. He notes that it turned out to be an easy remedy with the use of inconspicuously placed tape and pins.

Many brides spend months prior to the wedding focused on the solitary goal of losing weight. They want to look their best for their big day, and often that means fitting into a dress that may be smaller than what they typically wear. Of course, their fear is that they won’t be able to fit into the gown when the day arrives.

For some, that fear is fully realized. Photographer Matt Kim, based in California, USA, was a witness to one bride’s trying moments as she struggled to get her dress on. The results were an award-winning photograph. He says, “It’s all her. I just happened to capture her at that particular moment.” Once buttoned, the dress looked beautiful and no one seemed to notice it was a bit snug.

UNEXPECTED MOMENTS

Photograph by David Tucker, Massachusetts of the groom's mother and her friends at the beach

Photo by David Tucker

With so much going on during the getting ready period, many photographers, like Kim, simply need to be present in order to capture those wonderful timeless expressions. And when the photographer shows up unexpectedly, great pictures can also result. An excellent example of this is Tucker’s award-winning photograph of the groom’s mother and her friends at the beach with mud masks on their faces. He was sent there by the bride and groom and says, “They got a kick out of me coming there to document it.”

The number of people in the getting ready rooms also can have an impact on the dynamics of the moments captured by your wedding photojournalist. “An intimate group of four or five people is ideal,” Kim suggests. “If there are twenty people, it can get chaotic.” Conversely, if there are only a couple of people in the room, the scene could remain relatively uneventful.

Photograph by Sean Meyers, North Carolina of an upset flower girl

Photo by Sean Meyers

Children and spontaneity often go hand in hand. If a flower girl happens to be in the mix during the getting ready period, you’re likely to get some great pictures. Meyers found this to be true with his photo of a young flower girl who is clearly disgruntled by her mother’s attempt to fix her hair. He says that the little girl was not in the cheeriest of moods, something that can often happen when little ones are forced to dress up. Needless to say, it’s a superb image, and it adds to the breadth of emotion that comes out during the getting ready period.

A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE

It’s always important for the bride to stay relaxed and at ease during the final moments before she walks down the aisle. A good way to do so is to have people around who make you feel calm. Tucker suggests having helpers to do things you don’t necessarily need to do yourself in order to keep from feeling over-scheduled. He says, “It’s much more interesting to have that unscheduled time to focus in on what’s happening—on those feelings of anticipation, nervousness, ecstasy, panic, etc.”

As with much of the day, time is of the essence. Tucker also notes that there should be a “fair amount of time, ideally at least an hour” during this period. Too little time can create a stressed-out mood.

Ultimately, it’s about the bride enjoying herself. Kim notes, “It’s important for the brides to let her friends and loved ones take care of her. If she is good humored about whatever comes up, she can get through anything, save the groom running away!”

Indeed. A little perspective can go a long way during the early hours of the big day, as well as help complete the larger story. When the bridal march is blaring through the speakers and the bride is walking down the aisle, the gasps and wide smiles across the room will attest to her beauty. Thanks to the great wedding photojournalist backstage, everyone (including the groom, who may have been far from that scene) can have an idea as to what took place to bring her to that radiant moment.

—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association