To young Southern girls they are known simply as “bridals” – the official portrait of a stiff, anxious bride all decked out for her big day, full hair, makeup and of course, the perfect gown. Taken a month or two prior to the wedding, the portrait is generally displayed on an easel during the reception and later holds a place of honor in her parent’s living room. It’s a coming of age tradition for many a Southern bride – her final solo portrait before taking on the role of wife, and later, mother.
Historians report that the traditional bridal portrait originated in Europe where parents in upper class and royal families would commission an artist to paint a portrait of their daughter to mark the occasion. When the New World was settled, the tradition followed along. In fact, it wasn’t until after World War II that it became commonplace for a photographer to attend and chronicle the wedding ceremony.
Those rigid studio shots have long since fallen to the wayside, however, the tradition of the bridal portrait is still very much alive in the South. Today, brides are opting for a more casual approach, especially in locations that provide as many scenic spots as the Crystal Coast.
“It’s definitely something that has changed a lot over time,” said photographer Casey Futrell. “But it’s also one of a photographers favorite times with the bride.”
Futrell said, not only does the bridal sitting give the bride the chance for a dry run with hair, makeup and gown, it also gives her a chance to bond with her chosen photographer, making them more comfortable when the day of the wedding arrives.
“It gives us a chance to get to know one another and the things I learn about the bride during the session can help with my approach on the big day. I already have a good idea of what she likes and doesn’t like. Anytime you work one on one with a single subject, you gain a lot of insight,” she said.
Plus, Futrell admits, it’s just plain fun. You have the opportunity to take photographs in more than one location and you have the time to be more creative and flexible without the stress of a ticking clock. The results, the gorgeous photos showing a woman on the verge of being married, make it well worth the effort and additional cost.
The extra sitting fee ranges from $200-$300, and the couple will pay about $150-$200 for the portrait. Some photographers offer discounts and some even include the bridal session in their packages. Not ready for the added expense? No worries, said Futrell, the portrait can always be shot after the ceremony.
“The most important thing to do is communicate with your photographer. If the bride explains her desire for a bridal portrait but has a concern about the additional fee, there is no reason why they can’t plan to set aside 10 minutes to catch a perfect shot of the bride,” she said.
The portrait won’t be available to show off at the reception, but an engagement photo can certainly fill its spot if an image seems necessary. The sentiment, however, will be the same – the family will still have a beautiful image of the bride for years to come.
“The one thing I never want is for a bride to feel like she has to forsake those portraits because of budget concerns,” added Futrell. “There are plenty of ways to coordinate a beautiful portrait without leaving guests waiting too long at the reception – that portrait that she can give to her parents or save for her daughter. It doesn’t have to be stressful or rushed. But it is important that the bride feel comfortable enough communicating with the photographer. Good communication goes a long way.”