Here's Everything You Need to Know About Bridal Portraits

You deserve an excuse to break out your wedding 'fit twice.
cathryn haight the knot
Cathryn Haight
  • Cathryn is an editor at The Knot, where she focuses on all things planning—from inspiration and design, to traditions, to invitations.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Cathryn spent years as a food editor
  • Cathryn holds a bachelor's degree from Trinity College and a certificate in publishing from Columbia University
Updated Jun 13, 2024

You want to be in the moment on your wedding day—and it's your photographer's job to capture the occasion candidly. So it can be tough (and even feel a little funny) to squeeze in time for solo snapshots on a day that's about you and your partner. This is where bridal portraits come in handy. What's a bridal portrait session? It's a photoshoot that traditionally takes place ahead of the wedding, capturing images of the bride, usually seated, in her wedding attire, but has evolved to be much more personalized. Now, these photos can be shot in a meaningful location before or after your nuptials (or even squeezed into your wedding weekend timeline, if the schedule allows). Wondering if bridal portrait photography is right for you? And where, when and how to take them? We chatted with Kim Blair, the creative eye behind the lens of Kim-Trang Photography in New York's Hudson Valley, to take us through the ins and outs of this special shoot.

In this article: Definition | Purpose | Timeline | Location | Finding a Photographer | Ideas | Captions

What Are Bridal Portraits?

In short, bridal portraits are portrait-style photos taken of just the bride in her wedding attire, full hair and makeup and often with a bouquet ahead of the nuptials to capture this special moment in her life. "A bridal portrait session is usually scheduled before a bride's wedding day," says Blair. "It's a great opportunity for brides to test out the look that they're hoping to achieve for their wedding day, or do the exact opposite and provide a completely different look to create a keepsake."

History and Tradition of Bridal Portraits

Now considered a southern wedding tradition, the bridal portrait session tradition arose from a practice in historic Europe. Before the camera was invented, royal brides were captured in their wedding threads via oil painting to commemorate the meaningful milestone. The tradition made its way over to the US much later on, but picked up steam in the southern states just ahead of World War II. It was less common to have a photographer at your actual wedding at the time, so a separate photo session made perfect sense to create a wedding keepsake. These soon-to-be heirlooms were also typically displayed at the wedding reception and later in the bride's parents' home.

Bridal Portraits Today

Much of the formality and by-the-book rules have been removed from today's bridal portrait sessions. The result: a personalized experience to celebrate a special time, the bride's way. "Many brides are looking to capture portraits that evoke more emotion and more of a sense of movement," says Blair. "There was a point where a 'trash the dress' bridal portrait session was a wedding photography trend. While I haven't heard it happening as frequently these days, I think that's the best example of saying there are no rules." The expert also notes that brides can make their portraits more personalized by donning a bridal gown that's tied to their cultural heritage, taking snaps in a meaningful destination and bringing in props that are significant to them—even a pet.

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"The majority of my couples (who are located in the Northeast) opt for bridal portraits to be taken on their wedding day, usually during getting ready or when we're taking couple portraits later on in the day," says Blair. "I'm not often asked for a separate bridal portrait session outside of a couple's wedding day, however, when I do get an inquiry, they're often looking to do a bridal session after their wedding as a classy, chic bridal boudoir type of session…I've also found that couples who have a destination wedding may add on a separate bridal portrait session after their wedding day, so they can take advantage of the beautiful landscape that surrounds them."

What's the Purpose of Bridal Portraits?

The prime purpose of bridal portraits is to shoot photos of the bride in her wedding attire to use as keepsakes, typically at a time where the focus is on her alone and there's no other wedding hustle and bustle. A separate session for bridal portraits can definitely be worth it, especially if your wedding-weekend itinerary is packed, but are by no means necessary. Though, it can be a way to put a hair and makeup trial to good use, an opportunity to get comfortable in front of the lens for camera-shy brides and a means to celebrate a location that's special to you, but not nearby your wedding venue (a great option for destination-wedding couples). It also allows brides to get as many snaps as they'd like without worrying about being late to their reception entrance or having to squeeze them in before the ceremony.

"On a wedding day, I do believe it's part of the photographer's duty to capture the bride in a way that best encapsulates her personality, her look and her interaction with and reaction to others that's also best reflective of the photographer's style. When it comes to a separate portrait session, brides should take bridal portraits if they want to, but by no means should they," says Blair. "What brides choose to do should be reflective of what they're comfortable with, not necessarily what tradition dictates for them."

When Do You Take Bridal Portraits?

Traditionally, bridal portraits are shot before the wedding day—a month or so out, give or take—but snapping the photos after the wedding or on the day itself are both options to explore. It all depends on your preferences. If you love the idea of displaying a bridal shot at your reception, schedule your session ahead of your wedding. If you know you'll be itching to relive your special day (while simultaneously being free from the packed itinerary), portraits after the "I do"s might be your best bet. And if you'd rather capture the moment in the moment, carve out a chunk of time prior to the ceremony to strike a pose or two.

Where Do You Take Bridal Portraits?

The best bridal portrait locations are spots that are meaningful to you or your relationship. Think: the living room of your childhood home, the beach where you got engaged or the gardens of an estate in your home city. If you're stumped, a quick Google search of the term "bridal portrait locations near me" can help get the gears turning. While these photos were traditionally heavily posed and taken indoors at a photo studio, outdoor bridal portraits are super popular and something your pro photographer can surely accommodate.

How to Find a Bridal Portrait Photographer

Chances are, your wedding photographer may have some experience shooting this imagery, but The Knot Vendor Marketplace is your go-to source when it comes to finding specialty bridal portrait photographers. Simply enter your location, head to the "Wedding Photographers" section and click the "+ More Filters" button to see the full menu. Under "Photo Shoot Types," check the "Bridal Portraits" box to see refined results.

A good photographer is essential to avoid any simple wedding photography mistakes and achieve a result that's personal and authentic. "I highly recommend the bride collaborating with a photographer to bounce ideas off each other on how to capture their bridal session to best reflect their vision," says Blair. "They should also ensure that the photographer they chose to capture their bridal portrait session matches stylistically with their vision."

Bridal Portrait Ideas

When it comes to how to look natural and not like a stiff statue during your session, Blair has this advice: "If you're feeling nervous, bring a friend, your spouse or anyone who you know will bring out the best in you to calm your nerves. Some brides may bring a bottle of champagne or tequila to make it fun, but others may prefer a meditation session beforehand and some sage burning. Choose things that you connect with and set yourself up for success the best way you know how." Ready for your close up? Check out these bridal portrait poses for some photo suggestions.

1. Look Back at It

Looking over your shoulder at the camera is a great way to capture the details adorning the back of your dress or wedding outfit. A soft facial expression will keep the shot looking candid and natural.

2. A Little Movement

If you're shooting outside, let the wind float your dress or veil to create cool shapes. If it's not a breezy day, you can mimic this look by tossing the end of your veil in the air yourself or having someone out of frame do it for you and run away before the shutter clicks.

3. Smile Outside the Frame

"I often love to capture when brides are reacting to someone that's standing out of view of the camera," says Blair, who shot this gorgeous, giggly bride. "I've found that the bride is able to fully express herself in the most authentic way."

4. Field Frolic

Run! Skip! Hop! Whatever your preferred method, embracing big movement (like hitching up your gown to frolic in a vineyard) creates dynamic shots that are totally unique.

5. Bashful Bouquet

If you're holding a bouquet for your bridal portraits, make good use of it. Raising it up just below your nose and slightly off center results in a coquettish look.

6. Bring in a Furry Friend

A bouquet is great, but a bouquet and a sweet pup is better. Use your bridal portrait session to show off the other most meaningful being in your life besides your partner: your pet.

7. Straight On and Striking

Looking straight into the camera with your shoulders squared off gives your photos a regal, traditional look.

8. Soft and Seated

A seated pose is another position that recalls the bridal portrait's traditional roots. Letting the photographer capture you at an angle that's a little above your sightline lets the light shine on your face and feels a touch more modern.

9. Ethereal Beauty Shot

Let that face card shine with a close-up beauty shot. We love how this bride used her veil as a means to add movement in what would otherwise be a fairly static image.

10. Artistic Collage

This one's for the artsy brides: Let your photographer play with aperture (focus) levels and try layering different shots from the session together during the editing process to create an image that feels museum worthy.

Bridal Portraits Captions

Once you've settled on a shot (or two or 10) that you love, you might want to do everyone the honor of posting it to your socials for them to admire. Here's a handful of wedding captions you could use if the right words don't come as easily to you as being a bonafide model (someone get Tyra Banks on the line).

  • Here comes the bride.
  • Laughing bride > blushing bride.
  • Never taking this dress off…catch me wearing it in the Trader Joe's line.
  • All hail the veil.
  • So this is love.
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