Up to this point, I have been very unobtrusive, but I do insert myself into the situation a bit more when it comes time to put on the dress. I want to capture the moment in a timeless, beautiful way, and it helps to think about where the bride should stand and how exactly I intend to capture it. I plan it out in advance so that when the time comes to shoot, my focus is on capturing the genuine emotion that is expressed by the bride and by those around her as they see her in the gown for the first time.
Before the bride is ready to step into her dress, I determine where I would like her to be—indirect window light is best—and I quietly do any necessary tidying up. (Although I like the environment to look natural and authentic, I don’t want something like an ugly water bottle mucking up the background of my shots.) When the time comes for the bride to dress, I ask her to stand near the window, and—unless it’s really dark in the room—I turn off any overhead lights to avoid the unattractive color clashes that can come from mixed natural and tungsten lighting. I measure the exposure ahead of time and preset my cameras; I want to be completely prepared because, often, the actual moment of getting dressed happens very quickly!
I love the look of window light as backlighting while the bride is getting dressed, and I almost always shoot some version of this. There are, of course, many ways to do it. I can silhouette the subject (Figure 4.8), I can expose for the subject and allow the background to blow out (Figure 4.9), or I can shoot something in between. You’ll have your own personal vision of how to best capture the moment, but the important thing is to be in control of your tools and know how to use them to realize that vision. Happy accidents are wonderful things, but we can’t rely on them at a wedding! Know what you want to do, and how to do it.
For images of the bride getting dressed, I usually choose to expose for the subject and allow the background to blow out, and I almost always shoot it in black and white because I love the dreamy and timeless look that results. With that in mind, I have a trick for setting myself up to achieve the effect I want. From the angle where the bride will be backlit, I use my handheld light meter to measure exposure for the shadows. (If you don’t have a handheld light meter, you can measure it in-camera by pointing at someone who is standing in front of the window—just use spot metering, or move in close enough so that the subject fills the whole frame.) You don’t want the light streaming in from the window to interfere with the reading. Set your camera to Manual, and dial in that exposure. When shooting from that angle, I use the Manual setting, so that the backlighting doesn’t trick the camera into drastically underexposing the image. When I swing around to shoot from another angle, where the light is falling directly on the bride (rather than from behind her), I quickly switch to Aperture Priority and let the camera make the necessary adjustment to exposure (Figure 4.10). When I move back to my original position, I switch back to Manual and keep shooting. In this way, I can move very quickly and capture many different angles, while being assured of the proper exposure throughout.
Figure 4.8. I set my camera to matrix metering to meter for the whole scene and used Aperture Priority mode, knowing that the light from the window would cause the camera to underexpose the image and create a silhouette.
Figure 4.9. I manually set my camera to achieve my favorite backlit look: exposing for the subject while allowing the background to overexpose.
Figure 4.10. When I changed position, the lighting drastically changed from entirely backlit to this lovely side light from the window. I quickly switched from Manual to Aperture Priority so that I could shoot continuously and still be assured of the proper exposure.
The room is often fairly dark, so keep an eye on your shutter speed, making sure that it’s fast enough that you can hand-hold without motion blur (remember that you can increase your ISO to help achieve a faster shutter speed). I can hand-hold fairly well at a shutter speed of 1/8 sec., but the movement of the subject also will cause motion blur at such a slow speed. Sometimes, this results in a beautiful, dreamy image, and sometimes it results in a mushy mess. For me, 1/30 sec. or a little bit faster is ideal for this part of the day.
Once the dress is on, I use my 24–70mm lens on one camera and my 70–200mm lens on another camera to capture everything from wide shots of the whole scene to tight close-ups of the back of the dress being buttoned or the ribbon sash being tied. As with every part of the wedding day, capturing this variety of perspectives is key to creating a descriptive set of images that, taken together, truly tell the story.