The thing about wedding dresses is that they are made to be worn. They’re not made to be hung. It’s not how they look their best by any means because it’s not what they were made for. I expect that’s a large part of the reason why there’s a whole experience made of going wedding dress shopping- so you can actually try something on and see how it really looks. Often you’ll hear brides saying that a wedding dress looks totally different to how it did on the hanger. Sometimes they even say that they didn’t like it on the hanger, but love it on.
Wedding dress expectations
There’s a culture within the wedding photography world though of photographing dresses. And as such, most brides have come to expect a glorious photograph of their wedding dress hung and looking beautiful. Displayed in all it’s glory.
The sad truth is though that not all dresses are created equal! It takes a very specific type of dress to actually look good on a hanger. Sometimes the most magnificent, beautiful dresses just look lifeless hung up. No matter what you do, some dresses will just never look great in a photo. Heavy dresses can make the hangers bend for example, so they can look sloppy. Even replacing the hanger isn’t a remedy for a dress which is top heavy. They sag and crumple as there’s nothing to support them. Dresses with padding or cups sewn in rarely sit straight, or the cups bend out of shape- again there’s nothing to support them.
Complications when photographing a wedding dress
As a wedding photographer you also have to be considerate of many things. Firstly, you cannot harm the dress in any way. Not that you would wish to, but with moving and hanging dresses that sometimes weight a tonne comes some element of risk. It only takes a small trip, or for someone to have spilt some make up near by for a mishap to occur with the wedding dress.
Additionally, a wedding dress with a train will sit much longer than normal. It may have 2 ft or more of additional skirting which will hang below the front hem of the dress. So you also contend with needing somewhere high to hang the dress so there is no risk of dragging or staining. Adding further risk. Light, sheer dresses can be fly away and catch the wind easily. And whilst they hang nicely and tend to sit relatively straight, unless you have good conditions outside you risk a dress blowing around quite a bit!
Availability of suitable space
Bridal preparation areas can also be tight and cramped. Small hotel rooms or family homes are rarely an ideal place to photograph a wedding dress. In order to photograph a wedding dress well, you need space. Because of this, where possible, we will take a dress outside if it is suitable to do so. This gets it away from all of the hustle and bustle of the preparations themselves. Away from “hazards” such as make up and red wine. If you are fortunate enough to have an established tree or structure to hang a wedding dress from, this is a blessing in disguise! However, the challenge here now lies with the bride herself who in many cases can quite rightly be worried about her dress being taken away and into a garden or wedding venue grounds. There will always be challenges for a wedding photographer when it comes to photographing wedding dresses.
Managing expectations for wedding dress photos
That’s not to say that it cannot be done well without these elements, but expectations do need to be managed when it comes to what is expected with photos of the wedding dress. Often it is the idea and the fantasy of having the photo that is greater than the actual desire for it. If you do wish to have a nice wedding dress photo as a memento there are several things you can do to ensure you have the best possible chance of this.
Firstly, you need to have a good and experienced wedding photographer who has a variety of suitable kit. Flashes, different lenses and so on. You should also ensure that you have a good, sturdy hanger. Wedding dress shops often give you unattractive plastic hangers which can bend if your dress has any weight to it. Invest in a strong decorative hanger. Etsy is a great place to find things like this. There also needs to be a suitable location for the photo. You can’t just hang a large dress on the back of a wardrobe door in a room where you are all getting ready and hope for the best. You need a clear space free from clutter and chaos. If no suitable space is available, perhaps close up photographs of the dress details could be taken instead and full length ones when the dress is actually on.