How to get amazing getting ready photos on your wedding day

The getting ready part of the day can end up producing some of your favorite wedding photos. You may think of the getting ready as just that - getting ready. The bride and her wedding party are putting on makeup and getting dressed. How interesting or important can that be?

A good photographer will capture more than a bride in curlers. This is when the bride and groom tend to be surrounded by family and friends, sharing candid moments. These are the last moments the bride and groom will have with their loved ones as a single woman or man. The excitement and anticipation in the air are magic. Here (after the curlers are out) is where the photographer captures beautiful bridal portraits - the bride in her dress, her lovely face, the bride and her mother, the bride and her best friends.

But... the getting ready part of the day also has the potential to be semi-disastrous, not just for the photography but for the wedding as a whole. Hair and makeup run behind. The bride throws on her dress and runs out the door, late to her own ceremony. No nice portraits with mom happen. No gorgeous photos of the bride in the dress she saved for months to buy. The bride is stressed out, and so is everybody else. Yes, photos of the bride and her dress can and will be taken later, but it's not the same. The bride and groom look different before and after they are married. Capturing both sides of the day makes for a much more complete wedding story for you to look back on when you receive your photos.

Also, a smooth getting ready can lead into a smooth wedding day overall. And who doesn't want less stress on their wedding day? Here are five tips for making it happen:

One: Allow enough time

You'll need at least two hours for your hair and makeup. Hair and makeup don't happen at the same time. There is hair and then there is makeup, or vice versa. Your makeup artist and your hairdresser each need their own time.

Ask your hairdresser and makeup artist how long they each need, add it together and then add another hour. (Hair dressers and makeup artists have been known to show up late. Things happen. Plan for it.)

You'll also need about a half an hour to get your dress on. Some dresses zip on in a minute. Many do not. This also includes time to have your mom or maid of honor help you with your jewelry and veil, which are great photo opportunities. But it does slightly slow down the process of getting dressed. Thus the need for 30 minutes.

If your bridesmaids will also be getting hair and makeup done, allow time for this.

Then allow at least a half an hour for portraits. This includes you in your fabulous dress, you and your mom, you and your bridesmaids.

Then allow a half an hour to get to your next location, either your ceremony or your first look.

Total time: at least 4.5 hours!

You may doubt me. But this is huge. There's no worse feeling than being handcuffed to a chair while a hairdresser removes one thousand curlers from your head while your groom is texting you in terror and your mom is pacing the floor.

If somehow everything runs ahead of schedule, then we have extra time for photos. And maybe a drive through Starbucks. Yay!

The bride handcuffed to the chair while the hairdresser finishes and everybody twiddles their thumbs

Two: Go first

Sometimes makeup artists and hairdressers like to do the whole bridal party first and the bride last. This is not good for your photos. We can only take so many photos of the bridesmaids without you. But we can take a lot of photos of you without your bridesmaids.

Be the first to be ready and have your mom be the next up. Then your bridesmaids, possibly starting with your maid of honor. As each lady is finished, she can be photographed. While the bridal party is getting ready, we can photograph you by yourself in your dress and then with your mother and then you with each bridesmaid as she gets ready.

And then you can EAT something.

Three: Consider your location from a visual point of view

Usually when deciding where to get ready, you're thinking about the basic most important part of that, which is getting yourself ready. You're thinking about where to do hair and makeup, get dressed and stash a bunch of stuff.

But if you want pretty pictures, you also need to think about what the place looks like. Think about the aesthetic implications of these two choices:

  1. I and my nine bridesmaids can get ready in my studio apartment, the one full of boxes because my fiance is moving in or;
  2. I could ask a friend with a four-bedroom house who also has an almost empty sun room with floor to ceiling windows if I could get ready there.


So, here's what to consider about a potential location. First, is there enough room that clutter can be moved out of sight? And second, is there a nice big window? If you want well-lit, natural light photos, then you need a window, one that actually has light coming in, not one that faces a brick wall.

A candid photo that happened due to preparation. We dragged furniture out of this sunroom and set up the bride to allow this photo to happen on its own

Four: Have a clean zone

This is an extension of the previous point. Regardless of where you choose to get ready, the place you have for getting ready is going to be a mess. It's full of women trying to get dressed. There are bags and hangers and suitcases and junk everywhere. None of this looks particularly sterling in photographs. So it's great if you can have another room or a tidy corner for photos. That corner or room should have a window.

This is less critical than the previous points because regardless of how bad your getting ready room looks, I can usually find some great window light and straighten up an area for you. Many of my weddings have been shot in tiny New York City apartments with the bride inches away from an exercise bike and a pile of shower gifts. On the other hand, I can't make your hairdresser move faster or create a window where there isn't one.

Five: Treat your bouquet like it's a person

If your bouquet is late to the getting ready, we don't get too many photos with it. It will cry.

Six: Have your details together

This also is less critical but helpful. It saves time if your shoes, rings, flowers, veil, jewelry, dress and any other details you want photographed are in the same general place. Gathering these up is something I can do for you. But if you have them all in one place, it allows time for more photos and it helps you to feel together.

Seven: Wear something cute

This is also optional but can make a difference. Your Hello Kitty t-shirt and sweats may be adorable and comfy to wear while your hair and makeup are being done. But they don't look that great in photos. A cute little robe or dress can be far more photogenic.

Eight: The people not the place

Here's my disclaimer to all of this. If your getting ready location is ugly and your makeup artist is an hour late, this will will not ruin your wedding day or even your wedding photos. If you are surrounded by the people you love, and you have tension and excitement and joy in the air, there will always be something to photograph. Plus you hired photojournalists. We aren't going to fall apart. If anything, your chaos provides more material for our cameras.

Below is a getting ready that went all wrong in one sense but I and the bride loved the results anyway. When I walked in, Claudia was supposed to be ready to put her dress on. Instead I saw this.

That's the bride. The one doing hair for the rest of the family. So not ready.

Yes, that's the bride in the white robe. She's a hairdresser and makeup artist herself, and she's rapid-fire putting extensions in her sister's hair. Her own hair and makeup aren't done.

Fortunately Claudia and her sister Debbie are wedding industry pros. Claudia got ready with enough time to make it to her ceremony but with no time for portraits. We used artificial light to shoot the action since there wasn't any pretty window light. But we still captured the emotions surrounding the day with her sisters, her many nieces and especially her mom.

Nothing went according to plan but we still got meaningful photos.

And, although there was no time for portraits, we took one minute and got some before we all literally ran down Central Park West to the ceremony.

Amazing Claudia and her two-second portrait

I hope these tips, especially tip number 1, will help brides have a fun and stress-free time getting ready for your wedding.

There are no tips for the guys because the guys will sit around and watch Animal Planet until just before I show up and then they will get dressed in five minutes.