What are Bridal Portraits (and Do You Need Them?)

May 26, 2021
Kathryn Cooper Weddings | What are Bridal Portraits? | Adventure Wedding Photographer | Bridal Portrait Photographer

You’ve probably heard the term “bridal portraits” thrown around at some point in time, and now that you’re getting married, you’re asking…what the heck ARE bridal portraits, and do I actually need to do them?

Well, this article is here to answer exactly that (and perhaps save you time, money, and stress in the long term!)

Salvation Mountain California bride by creative wedding photographer Kathryn Cooper

Let’s get straight to the point!

Q: What are bridal portraits?

A: Taken a few days, weeks, or months before the big day, bridal portraits are a way to feel comfortable in your outfit, and in front of the camera, without the wedding-day time restraints or nerves.

In fact, bridal portraits are an age-old tradition that’s made a comeback in recent years. It’s said that bridal portraits (in America) originated in the South, and to this day they are far more common in states such as Georgia and Alabama. While a wedding day is often hectic, a bridal portraits session is calm, planned, and perfectly lit by your photographer—all meant to end up as the ultimate keepsake framed photo for generations to come.

While I am posting dozens of beautiful bridal portraits here and at the end of this article, you’re probably wondering: Are they really necessary? My answer will probably surprise you.

To be fair, I’ll type out a list of bridal portraits pros and cons:

-Saves times on your wedding day for other things-Costs extra money, time, and effort
-You can surprise your spouse with a framed print-You may not like how you look months before you wedding
-Bridal portraits give you a chance to get used to being in front of the camera-If you make time on your wedding day, you will get plenty of solo portraits from your wedding photographer
-You can do a trial run for your hair and makeup, all while getting used to wearing your dress-If doing an adventure session, you can get awesome photos WITH your partner vs. alone
-If you love getting dressed up, what better excuse is there than wedding photos?!-There aren’t as many poses or activities you do alone vs. what you can do with your partner
-If you gift your spouse with a photo just for him, it’s a whole lot better than a typical watch-You dress will need to be ordered quite a ways in advance
-You can get creative with something you love and your partner doesn’t, be it horses, a garden you love, In ‘n’ Out Burger, etc.-You’ll need to make sure to keep your dress uber-clean during your bridal portraits, which is limiting

As you can see, there are quite a few pros AND cons to help you decide. If you do indeed decide to do bridal portraits before your wedding, you’ll probably need to arrange for hair and makeup, and possibly even flowers. Then, If you’re wearing a dress on the larger side, you may need someone to drive you to your photoshoot location. There are location permits, time, money, ordering your dress early to make sure it arrives on time, and printing out the gift for your soon-to-be-spouse.

adventure bride new york state wedding photographer
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But…despite the fact that I’m a professional wedding photographer, I’m not here to sell you on bridal portraits. In fact, I rarely do them! I would, however, suggest an alternative, which is couples’ photos before or after the wedding—otherwise known as an adventure session (which you can read about in detail here).

What are bridal portraits like in other countries?

Bridal portraits really vary quite a bit from location to location. In Asia, bridal portraits are a huge deal, and you’ll often see elaborate setups for Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, and Indonesian brides (just to name a few) In many countries (including the USA), bridal portraits can also include your future spouse—they don’t have to be JUST the bride. This is definitely more of a formal adventure session.

Diversity and Inclusiveness in Bridal Portraits – LGBTQ Wedding Photographer

It’s important to note that not all bridal portraits are, well, of the bride. Or that there’s just one bride! As an LGBTQ+ inclusive wedding photographer, I always look at my wording to make sure it’s inclusive. I’m a same-sex wedding photographer, which means I often have two brides or two grooms, or even non-binary couples or triads!

Even with one bride and one groom, the bride won’t always be wearing a dress. With all this in mind, it’s important that my couples always feel comfortable and welcome.

(Want to know more about being an inclusive, LGBT wedding photographer? See the Rangefinder and Love Inc. Magazine articles I was involved with here and here!)

All this is to say: If doing solo wedding portraits/bridal portraits aren’t something you want to do before your actual wedding day, you have some more options that I mentioned earlier:

  1. Make extra time on your wedding day for portraits. We’re not talking 10 minutes. 45 minutes to an hour is great, and 2 hours spread over afternoon and night is even better! When making up your wedding day timeline, ask your photographer how much time they need. These portraits will be incredibly important to you for the rest of your married life.
  2. If you don’t have much time on your wedding day, or you really want photos in a different location, do an adventure session or a destination adventure session. Taken before, the day after, or even months after you wedding, an adventure session allows you to have fun photos for a half day or several days, anywhere you want. You can go to Yosemite. You can go on vacation to Italy and do them there. You can scuba dive in the Bahamas. Whatever you do, it will be fun—you just bring your wedding outfits…or buy some at Salvation Army if you’re going to get dirty!

Every photographer and every individual will have different opinions on whether or not to do bridal portraits, but here’s something we can agree on: wedding portraits are beautiful and are always fun for me as a photographer. And if you don’t feel they’re your cup of tea, you can still get beautiful portraits your wedding day or in the time after. What’s important is that you DO get them at some point, and have those images for decades to come.

Kathryn Cooper Weddings | Bridal Portraits Wedding Photographer | Lesbian Wedding Photographer | Inclusive Photographer

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This is such an informative guide for bridals! I love the cultural component of how they are done elsewhere

Yes to bridal portraits!!! I need to write something like this. No one ever doe them!! I so wish they would!!!

What a great resource! I feel like there are so many things that we need to educate our couples on and you completely rocked the topic of Bridals! Nice post!

So helpful for brides! Thank you!

Great idea helping people learn more about bridal portraits and whether or not it’s the best fit for their wedding day. Beautiful work!

I love how informative and inspiring this post is–really guides couples in the direction that feels best for them! The pros and cons are also super helpful! Happy to see inclusivity promoted as well. Great work!

LOVED this pro’s and con’s list. I think bridal sessions can be great for couples who really want more time with guests or to themselves on their wedding day. Awesome tips!

Great point. Many want to spend their time at cocktail hour and having fun with everyone, and in that case portraits are for sure
a good idea!

i never heard of bridal portraits until this past february. i think they’re more popular in the south? great blog! very informative.

This is so awesome! So many couples don’t know the logistics or the importance and this is very informative. In reality it’s so easy with just a bit of forethought!