Camera-Ready | Bridal portraits make a comeback, especially for the theatrically minded

De rigueur in the Charleston wedding scene since the early 1900s, bridal portraits were first put on display during receptions of old, typically near guest books. Originally the tradition was seen as a rite of passage—a woman’s turn to join the ranks of married females in her family.  After the reception, the portrait was gifted to the groom as a way to remember his beautiful bride in all her glory. While the tradition waned in the 1990s, it recently resurfaced with a bang.

But today’s portrait has evolved. Brides tend toward themes, complete with props, evocative outdoor settings, and often pose with pets. Shoots are designed to bring out the bride’s personality—her sexy, fun sides—as well as show off her gown. To that end, Charleston’s Diana Deaver recently photographed a boot-wearing bride-to-be atop a wagon on a farm.

Beyond playing model, there are practical bonuses. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘I’m so glad we did the bridal portrait or I would never have known these shoes slip off or that hook-and-eye pokes me’,” says local photographer Heather Forsythe. Shutterbug Carmen Ash agrees. “I have seen so many brides decide to change their hairstyle or choose a different veil after a portrait shoot,” she says. “It’s easy to fix something after a bridal portrait, but there’s no changing your hair after 900 wedding images!”

As for displaying a portrait, receptions still rule, but afterward, Carmen says, many couples now gift the photo to the bride’s parents—often paired with a childhood portrait—while others hang them at home. To make the portraits extra special, Carmen offers antique framing to impart a historic look.  After all, “That’s what brings many brides to our city for their wedding in the first place,” she says. 

—Victoria Friedman

We pooled our best tips with those from Charleston wedding photographer Heather Forsythe to ensure

Tip One:
If you are prone to getting red bumps from bug-bites, apply bug-spray all over—the ones that get under your dress are the worst—20 minutes before you get into your dress. That gives the spray a chance to dry on your skin—not on the dress.

Tip Two:
Bring both your wedding shoes and a second pair of heels the same height so that you can keep your shoes as pristine as possible. Also, wear a pair of flip-flops for strolling around, too, as Charleston’s loaded with great streets and cool corners to snap shots on.  

Tip Three:
Have your hair and makeup person do a trial run the day of your portrait. Then bring powder for blotting—it gets hot walking around in a gown in this neck of the woods.

Tip Four:
Wear lipstick one shade darker than you are used to and your lips will get a little more definition in the photos.

Tip Five:
Speak with your florist about their offerings for bridal portrait bouquets. Some are willing to throw something together using the flowers they have in-store. Otherwise, ask if your photographer has a stand-in;  Heather has a beautiful silk bouquet for just this purpose.
Tip Six:
If it’s cold, bring a cover up so you don’t freeze—and look frozen—white shooting.

Tip Seven:
Try a trick we employ on tough terrain: cut a hole in the middle of a bed sheet, put on your gown, step in the hole, then gather the sheet up around you. As goofy as it looks, it protects the dress from dragging on the ground or grass and getting dirty, torn, or otherwise fouled.

Tip Eight:
Bring a friend! It really helps to have someone carry your train and pitch in with touch-ups. Plus, there’s no one like a BFF for getting you to laugh for a great candid shot.

Tip Nine:
Enjoy it! When else are you going to get to vamp and play dress up with a real gown and real photographer?