Back to top

Creating an Heirlooom with Bridal Photography

Leila Kalmbach


A bride-to-be came to local photographer, Maria Bernal, a few years back with a special request: She brought her grandmother’s bridal portrait, which she wanted to re-create in her own bridal shoot. Now, along with her mother’s portrait, she has three generations of the treasured family heirlooms that she will one day get to pass on to her own children. Bridal portraits are portraits of the bride in her wedding dress and with hair and makeup done as they will look for the wedding. These portraits are typically taken six to eight weeks before the wedding, Bernal says, so that there’s time to get the one best shot printed and framed in time for the big event. This is because in Texas and other parts of the South, it’s customary to have a portrait of the bride hanging on the wall during the wedding reception. The portrait is only revealed after the ceremony is complete. “A lot of people like to do bridal portraits to have a beautiful memory of what they looked like and how they felt on that day,” said Bernal, “and it’s just such a cool reveal to be able to show ‘the’ portrait at the wedding.”

More importantly, though, bridal portraits are about the years to come. They’re about creating an heirloom that women can pass down to their children and their children’s children. “It signifies who they are,” Bernal said. “In my clients’ case, most of the bridals are very elegant, they’re classic, they’re timeless. In 200 years, they’re going to be just as beautiful as they are today.” Most brides choose to bring two bridal photos and two engagement photos to the wedding, Bernal says, to show both the close-up look and the whole dress. Some also choose to get a bridal book printed that contains a variety of portraits from the bridal shoot. However, they choose just one bridal portrait as “the” main photo, and get two copies printed and framed – one to hang in their home to remind them of their wedding day, and one for their parents. “It’s the last portrait their daughter does as a single woman,” Bernal explained.

Bridal portraits are formal, so they’re not the time for a bride to show her wild and crazy side. Instead, brides often choose to get photographed in a meaningful location or with an item they love. Bernal has done bridal portraits in Costa Rica and at the San Antonio missions, for instance, and has taken portraits of brides with their dogs. Recently, however, more and more brides have been forgoing destination shoots to get photos taken in the studio. In fact, Bernal says two years ago, almost all brides were doing destination shoots, but in the past year it’s been more like 30 percent in the studio. “I think it’s because a lot of photographers out there don’t have a studio,” she said, “so studio shots are now something special, and it’s a classic, timeless look.”

Regardless of whether brides choose to take their portraits in the studio or at a specific destination, the goal of creating a piece that will last their lifetime and beyond remains the same. For Bernal, this means getting portraits printed in an age when digital photos reign. “Everybody lately is talking about ‘let’s get digital this, let’s get digital that,’ but let’s be honest – had all the photographers been giving people things on floppy disks back in the day, how many of those photos would still be around?” she said. Bernal wants to help her brides create a beautiful piece to hang in their home that they can enjoy every day. For some clients, this means getting creative and reflecting the current trends at the time of the wedding, but Bernal prefers to stay away from this approach. “To me, the purpose of the bridal portrait is an heirloom piece,” she said. “It’s meant to show the bride at her best. Fads get dated very quickly.” By going into a bridal session with the goal of creating a piece that will stand the test of time, brides will wind up with portraits that are as beautiful 50 years in the future as they are today.

“I want my brides to feel beautiful when they see their bridal. I want them to go, ‘Wow, that’s exciting,’” Bernal said. By keeping a focus on creating a timeless piece, brides’ grandchildren may one day have the same reaction. Maria Bernal offers the following tips for making the most of your bridal portrait session:

• Hire a professional makeup artist. Know in advance what sort of lighting you’ll use in your shoot, and have the makeup artist use makeup that will have the right finish given the light.

• Get your hair done professionally. Try out the look you’ll go for on your wedding day. Make sure your looks have the final polish you’ll expect on the big day.

• The bouquet is optional. Some brides choose to buy a bouquet for the bridal portrait, while others forgo it – it’s up to your own personal taste.

• Leave the groom at home. The groom will get to see your bridal portrait at the wedding reception like everyone else. It’s a nice surprise for him, and you’ll be more relaxed without him there at the shoot.

• Know what you want the final product to look like. Think in advance about whether you want your one main bridal shot to be your full dress or just your face.

Think big picture. Remember that you’re not picking out a bridal shot for your wedding – you’re picking it out for your life.

Newsletter Subscribe