For Photographers: How To Deal With “Tough” Getting Ready Rooms
We’ve all been there. You have all of your gear together, you’re pumped up and ready to go, you have visions of big windows and gorgeous natural-light filled photos of your couple getting ready racing through your head….and then boom! You arrive to their location and find yourself faced with a cluttered basement window-less room filled with drab curtains, an explosion of bags and makeup and clothes on every flat surface, kids artwork on the walls, and overpowering fluorescent lights – and your stomach drops. And the thing is, it’s our responsibility to take AMAZING images of our clients getting ready no matter what circumstances we walk into! We recently were chatting with another photographer who complained to us “But your brides seem to always have beautiful hotel rooms to get ready in, I just don’t think you have to deal with the same windowless church basements that I do!” And when we heard that we laughed for a moment, and then realized that it was actually a huge compliment, because it’s honestly VERY rare that we walk into the perfectly uncluttered hotel room – but you will never ever see our photos reflect that. We shoot in cluttered apartments, crazy packed hotel rooms, track homes, church basements with no natural light…wherever our couple is getting ready! And at the end of the day we want our clients to remember the day timelessly for how it felt. And let me tell you, a wedding day always feels like magic to us. The bride and groom are surrounded by the friends and family that they love most, they look beautiful in their wedding hair/makeup, the gown that they shed tears over when they first tried it on is hanging in the corner perfectly altered, laughter fills the air…but as photographers it’s easy to walk into a getting ready room situation and to overlook all of that beauty. Instead we often see nothing but the piles of luggage and dirty clothes on the floor, or the tungsten lights that are scattered throughout the room casting bad shadows, or the unsightly bags of Doritos lined up on the windowsill cluttering your background. After all it’s our job to see those things! But there is simply no excuse to not take the same amazing quality detail shots and getting ready shots regardless of your situation, no matter how difficult it might seem at the time – and that’s one of the things that we love most about shooting weddings! We often aren’t sure what we’re walking into in the morning, and we love working through new situations and getting creative to get some awesome shots. So when we walk into a difficult getting ready room – we always take a step back, take a deep breath, and think for a minute about how the room and environment feels before we start shooting. Because, truly, that’s what we want to capture….not those Doritos in the windowsill. And in order to capture the essence and emotion of the day, we have a few go-to “rules” that we always follow to ensure consistency in our getting ready shots that we want to share with you today…
1 – Turn off all the mixed lighting. When we’re getting ready to shoot, you will almost always find us walking around the room turning off lights…and oftentimes our clients and/or their family and friends think we’re a bit crazy – but we give a quick explanation and we’re so lucky to have clients that put all of their trust in us! Before we make the room super dark we are sure to ask everyone if it’s ok if we turn off some more of the lights, and if they are using the lights for the makeup, etc, we definitely leave them on…but when it’s time for us to get our shots the mixed lighting comes off, and we’ve never had a problem with this! If we have a window in the room than most of the time we literally turn off every single other light, even if it feels super dark, which gives us beautiful natural directional light to work with.
When we were ready to have Nicole get into her dress at their recent wedding, the room at Sodo Park was overpowered with bright, unflattering, florescent lighting and when I turned them all off it was nearly completely pitch black in the room! I found a small sliver of light from a window across the building by pulling some curtains back and then bumped up my ISO to capture these images, which I love, rather than battling the artificial light in the room. Even though it was VERY dark and we were far away from the window I’m very happy with these and the light is much more flattering!
2 – If you have a window, use it! Before the wedding day when we meet with our couples we always ask if their getting ready rooms have at least one window. If we know they’re getting ready in a suite at a downtown hotel we don’t have to worry about this, but if they’re getting ready in a barn venue or a church basement we always ask if there is at least one window. And even if there is only one teeny tiny window in the room we embrace that window and use it for all it’s worth – often turning off all other lights and just using a little sliver of window light for our photos. It’s important for us to know this fact up front, because if there’s no window we will “bring our own” in the form of off camera lighting!
Rick took this shot of David shortly before their first look, and it’s one of our all time favorite groom portraits. When we were first starting out in weddings we often felt like we needed to ensure that the rooms we were shooting in were bright enough, but as we’ve gained experience we’ve found that we actually love darker and moodier locations so we can use the light in interesting ways, and if we have a darker room with a window we are pretty much in heaven! Obviously this room was nearly pitch black, but by placing David right across from a window Rick was able to get this awesome shot that we feel really captures the feeling of the day…
3 – Watch your background. Take your time. Take a shot, look at it and reflect on it for moment, and give yourself a chance to think about what you can do to make it better. There’s nothing more frustrating than going through your images later and kicking yourself for not moving a few inches to the right to avoid something distracting in the background, or for not noticing that the necklace you were photographing is on backwards. So give yourself permission to slow down a bit and to be deliberate about your composition, lighting, and camera settings. No matter what the room or situation is like, we want to ensure a clean and timeless background, and if you take the time to pay attention to the details and background it’s possible to achieve beautiful images regardless of your setting.
Alyssa+Alex had a backyard wedding and she got ready in her parent’s bedroom…I had her stand by the window while her sister helped her into her dress, and after snapping the first few frames I realized that the cluttered bathroom in the frame was super distracting, so I went around and closed the white door behind them to create a clean background that draws the viewers eye to my subjects, rather than the curling irons and makeup scattered on the counters behind them.
4 – Don’t be afraid to ask if you can move EVERYTHING. One of the first things that we always ask before we get started is if they mind if we move a few things for our shots. Sometimes this means just clearing a table of a few dirty plates, but oftentimes it means clearing an entire section of the room that has become cluttered…and it’s never a big deal – and normally the bridal party is more than happy to help us out if we need to move their things – because ultimately everyone wants the couple to have beautiful photos. If there’s a distracting picture or painting on the wall we just pull it down while we shoot and hide it around the corner. It is totally normal for a getting ready room to quickly become an explosion of clothes, luggage, and makeup, and we want to ensure that those items are not prevalent in the photos because we love a very classic and clean style. However, if we do move anything permanent (such as a picture on the wall or furniture) we always always always make sure to put it back in its place before we leave.
Before Sara got in her dress I took the time to clear out this entire front room by the window…her bridesmaids helped me put everything in the back room so we would have a beautiful space for the photos…but when I arrived to the room it definitely did not look this neat and clean! You can see even on the lamp table I removed the phone, tv remote, and some trash and put them underneath so they would not show in the images…
5 – Shoot the details first. When we first arrive and greet our couple, they are normally just hanging out and haven’t quite started getting ready yet – or maybe the bride has just started getting her hair and makeup done! And one thing that we don’t want to do is go in with our cameras blazing and make everyone feel nervous about having these huge lenses in their faces before they feel presentable…so we always start by hugging our clients and meeting their family and friends before we even pull our cameras out. Once we’ve met everyone we ask for all of the details (and we go over this with our brides in advance so they are always prepared) such as their jewelry, dress, shoes, etc. and then we spend about 30 minutes just shooting those items. It’s so important to us to capture all of those details, so by coming in and getting them done right away we know that we can spend the rest of the time focusing on our clients and their bridal party.
6 – Capture the finishing touches of the hair/makeup. It’s a good idea to wait until your clients hair and makeup is just about completely done before you begin photographing close-ups of them, so we always coordinate with the hair and makeup artist to get shots of their final touches. This ensures that everyone looks great in their photos because they are almost ready, and allows us to focus on capturing all of the details and the emotion in the room before we take those up close and personal shots of their hair/makeup. Another consideration while shooting hair/makeup is that I will sometimes ask the hair and makeup artist if they don’t mind moving next to a window – because it’s definitely not optimal to take these shots in a small bathroom with mixed lighting. Even if they don’t do everything next to a window, they will almost always be happy to do the finishing touches by a window so we can get some beautifully lit photos of them working.
7 – Get creative with your angles. Is the floor completely cluttered in a tiny room, with no way to really clean it up? Get low and shoot up, using angles to keep the clutter out of your shots. Shoot through a plant or other interesting visual item to blur out the rest of the room and keep the focus on your subject. Get high if needed. Shoot along the wall. Just take a look at the overall scene and figure out how you can maximize the space and get really creative with your angles to ensure that everything looks crisp and clean. Another trick for a room that you don’t necessarily want to showcase is to throw on a longer lens and to shoot really tight and with a wide open aperature- so that you’re showing the bride getting her makeup done but aren’t showing everything surrounding her because your background is blurred and you’re focusing just on her. Rick often shoots the getting ready shots of the guys with a 70-200mm and I often keep my 100mm macro on my camera for the majority of that portion of the day. We’ll still grab some wide shots because we want to tell the story of the full day, but we’ll shoot the majority tight.
Here’s an example of a tight shot in a busy room:
As Martina was getting ready, she was surrounded by clothes, tables, and tons of clutter in the room at the Four Seasons (as you can kind of see in the photo on the left of me taking her bridal portraits), so I used angles to keep all of the clutter out of my frame during this makeup shot by getting super low and shooting up at her to incorporate some of the cool lamps and architecture on the ceiling of the room, rather than the clutter around her – and the result is a super clean and interesting image that looks beautiful and uncluttered and takes advantage of the window light.
8 – Set aside 5 minutes for bridal portraits. Without a doubt this is one of our favorite things to photograph on a wedding day. Before the wedding, we always go through the plan for the day with our couples, and one of the things that we discuss is bridal and groom portraits…and just after they are each finished getting ready we always ask everyone else to clear the room for a moment so that we can photograph them. Our normal style for bridal and groom portraits is to use just one window as a light source, and we love to get just a few very traditional and classic images of them before we head out to tackle the rest of the wedding day. It’s such a special moment as our clients get a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy a moment of quiet reflection as we photograph them before we head to their first look or ceremony. Although wedding day timelines can be crazy at times, it’s easy to always set aside 5 minutes (or less) to take these shots of them.
These bridal portraits of the beautiful Kimi were taken in a small room off the side of a barn. There was a huge conference table in the middle of the room just behind her chair, and the table (and the rest of the room!) were covered in luggage and clothes and makeup and yucky mixed lighting. I turned out every single light in the room and used the one small window to capture a few bridal portraits before we went out to the first look…
These shots of Rob+Thomas putting the finishing touches on their tuxes before we went out to do their portraits were taken next to a huge window in their hotel room…
9 – Bring in lighting if needed. This goes back to the window light idea! If you have a window, use it! And we always say that if you don’t have a window, make one! No matter the situation, we always have our lighting with us, and we will use speedlights/strobes with various modifiers to simply create window light if we need to. Before we were truly comfortable with off camera lighting the idea of bringing a light into the getting ready room was intimidating, but we find that if we just bring a big softbox in and think of it as our “window” it’s actually a pretty simple concept that can yield beautiful results. We would MUCH rather bring in a softbox and get some gorgeous shots that reflect our style than try to battle mixed lighting and bad shadows and long hours making adjustments in front of computer screen later.
10 – Remember what it’s all about. After all this talk about flattering angles and beautiful clean backgrounds it’s easy to get caught up in ensuring every image is perfect. But you had better believe that if we’re shooting details and the bride and her father are sharing a moment across the room we are going to swing around and capture that moment, regardless of a distracting background or dirty clothes on the floor around them…and, honestly, that image will most likely be one of our favorites of the day. It’s so easy to get caught up in the perfection and beauty of it all, so don’t ever forget that your clients are living out one of their most special days, and that we have the incredible responsibility to capture their connection with the people they love most…
Questions? Shoot us an email or leave a comment below! Love, A