For many people, the wedding day starts at a hotel. Outside of a parent’s house or a venues preparation suites (if they even have one), it really is one of the more logical places to start off. With so many people needing to get ready, having everything centralized in a room you ultimately don’t need to clean up fully is a convenient thing. For photographers? It can seem like a daunting challenge.
The normal situations we encounter with getting ready photos at a hotel is limited space, a lot of clutter, and too many people. We’ve worked with couples that have had large bridal parties, and squeezing everyone into a single room tends to make things pretty claustrophobic real quick.
Fortunately, the good news is that with so many people and so much going on, there is often a lot of lively energy that translates well into photography.
We are going to walk you through how to capture some great “getting ready” photos in hotels the way we do, with a number of tips for you to plant in your mind for the next time you find yourself at a Hampton Inn. :)
Tip #1: step back and evaluate the space
A day or two before we even have to photograph the wedding day for our clients, we do a lot of research to try and get an idea of what the spaces will look like. While we’ve become familiar with a number of chain hotels over the years, it’s still useful to get a glimpse at what the rooms are expected to look like. Simple things like the color of the walls help us better gauge what we should plan for. White walls are always ideal, as it disperses natural light better and enables flash to easily be used to a beautiful effect.
Of course, the day of is “decision day” in this process. Once you are greeted at the door by the bride or groom, and say a round of hello’s, it’s time to get to work. For us, this begins by actually taking in the environment.
Simple questions we ask ourselves include:
How is this space lit?
What lens do I need to work with?
Where should I stand?
Based on our experiences, especially at pretty “standard” hotel rooms like you might find at a Courtyard Marriott, normally lighting is best by the window - and pretty poor elsewhere in the room. Often, things can get pretty cramped, especially if there is a big bridal party. As such, moving around will be required to constantly find different and flattering angles that minimize the unattractive parts of the space. As for lenses, we consistently return to our Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens because of the flexibility it provides. 35mm is preferred as there is minimal distortion, but sometimes the wider angle of 16mm can have an interesting impact on the images.
Once you’ve thought over your approach to the space, you can move on to the next tip.
Tip #2: know how to light the scene
As photographers, it’s critical that we know how to light the room - or use the available light to our advantage. If you’re not sure where to start with this, take a pause and check out two of our articles introducing you to how to do this: What is the Best Camera for Low Light Shooting? AND How to Take Better Portraits in Low Light
Once you’re confident in having the technical skills to shoot in this sort of environment, the key is to know when to add flash & when to move people as required to get the shots you need. Normally, we will throw on our flash (on low power or TTL mode) and bounce the light off the walls or ceiling to fill in the environment with clean light. If everyone is gathered by a window, normally we can shoot there without the flash required.
While some photographers do opt to not use flash at all, we’d suggest at least knowing how to use it in case you would find it necessary to get the shots you need. You can read more of our thoughts in our post Is It Possible to Shoot a Wedding Without Flash?
Tip #3: capture candid moments
Candid shots are one of the cornerstones of our approach to photography.
While we do stage things and get formal photos as would be expected, the candid things that happen are almost always the most memorable.
When it comes to getting ready photos, these are the shots that can really make things more interesting and help tell a story that is uniquely your clients. Look for moments of genuine emotion, and capture the silliness that will probably be going on by that one groomsman. While the girls get ready, capture all of the hair and makeup preparations, and mom’s reaction to all of this happening.
Tip #4: stage moments that need staging
Okay, so this is an area where we’ve come to expand in our own wedding day photography approach.
To get shots consistent with our portfolio (ie: what is expected when our clients book with us a year in advance of their wedding), we sometimes have to move people to make for a more pleasing shot. This is most heavily found with some portraits that might be captured early in the day while people are finishing up getting ready. Again, take your client and move them by a window to get some natural light on them.
In other cases, moving all of the guys into a more pleasing part of the room to capture them all taking a shot together is another simple way to “stage” things.
As you can see, staging people doesn’t have to feel inauthentic or forced, but can be necessary.
Tip #5: get the details
Finally, during this part of the wedding day - this is when we most commonly will capture all of the essential detail items. This normally includes the wedding dress, wedding rings, stationary, and other items of importance.
While on the surface, to pretty much anyone who isn’t a photographer, detail shots can sort of be cheesy or even feel pointless - they actually are an important element of photographic storytelling and documentation of the wedding day. While maybe not everyone is super sentimental, it helps to highlight some of the key elements that go into what a person is wearing or otherwise associating with one this special day - and in 10 years when your couple looks back on their gallery, seeing these items in isolation can help bring back unique feelings that might not otherwise be felt if just observing them in passing in other photos.
As wedding photographers, we’ve seen a lot in the getting ready portion of the day. Sometimes things are really laid back (maybe even too laid back at times), while for others it is really high energy and even a little stressful.
Approaching this part of the day in a smart way is the best approach. Once you enter into the room, really think about the space you have to work with - and define what you need to do to get the best shots possible. Move people if you need to, or just be a fly on the wall - or most likely: a combination of both.
Do you have any other burning questions about how to nail great getting ready shots yourself? Leave your question in the comments!