How To Look Gorgeous In Your Wedding Photos!

What every bride needs to know to look her best.

You probably won't be surprised when I tell you that most people don't particularly like having their photo taken. It kills me every time I hear someone say, "But I'm not photogenic," and looks at my camera with nervousness or suspicion. The truth is, everyone can be photogenic as it has nothing whatsoever to do with our physical looks or body shape. Few of us grew up with professional photographers as parents, so our experience with being photographed has been cheezy family photos by people who didn't know a thing about photography, using the cheap little cameras set on auto, and usually taken during chaotic, stressful situations. No wonder we never looked good. This article hopes to show you how EASY it is to look like a rock star!

Sunset engagement on Oahu's North Shore

Grandma couldn't be at the wedding, so she sent her ring...

The two reasons why people don't photograph well

The first reason, to put it bluntly, is because the person isn't relaxed right that moment. Instead, for whatever reason, they are stressed, tired, angry, bored, worried, distracted, uncomfortable or simply just not feeling like, "hey, life is good!" Imagine trying to take a bad photo of someone who is grinning ear to ear with happiness and can barely stand still! Impossible, right? That doesn't mean you have to be jumping with joy every moment a camera is pointed at you. What it means, however, is that stress, worry, fear, or exhaustion has never made anyone look good - not even a 105 lb 18 yo Victoria's Secret model. You need to be well rested, relaxed and generally happy in the moment to get a photo that lets the genuine you shine thru. The easiest way to do this? What you used to do naturally as a kid - have fun. Be happy, whatever it takes. Motion creates emotion. Literally, do something silly, funny, crazy, off beat, or just out of your comfort zone. like dancing without music. Even better, do it with someone you trust and love. The moment we feel even a little bit silly, we naturally start to smile. My next favorite technique: remember something special about the person you're with, like what it felt like the first time you held their hand. BOOM, right there your face just softened in love!

Now that is a happy man!

Relax and stop trying to look perfect - nothing kills your happy face faster than getting stressed out about everything being perfect! A beautiful photo of you is not when every single hair is perfectly in place. You could have hair blowing everywhere but a happy laugh lighting up your face and that would be a beautiful photo! A good photographer is there to help you relax and lighten up.  Life is supposed to be fun and not so serious. If you're not having fun and feeling happy or at least peaceful and relaxed, you won't get great photos, period. As I tell my clients all the time, I have all the skills, gear, experience and creativity... but I can't make you feel happy. You gotta show up. You are the other half of the equation. But if you'll reach out to me, I will definitely reach back! Let's make beautiful photos together!

The second reason people don't photograph well is that they haven't been photographed by someone who understood all of the above, plus all the little tricks and tips like camera angle, body positioning, lighting, perspective, lens choices that narrow vs widen, etc, etc. Some of this will be out of your hands, choices made by the photographer during the session, but there is quite a lot that YOU can do to make a big difference in your photos. However, before we get into the techniques like body positioning, always keep in mind that a glowing heart will trump technique every time. But when you combine genuine emotion with techniques... well, those are home runs!

Sunrise morning after wedding photos...definitely worth getting up early for!

The Joy of Posing

People and couples come in all different shapes, sizes and personalities and they can all look beautiful. A skilled photographer knows how to accentuate your positives, de-emphasize the less perfect bits and help you look stunning. Posing seems to have gotten a bad rap lately, with many clients telling me they don't want posed shots, but invariably they always like the posed images the most. Why? Because quite often how we move or stand when we know a camera is watching doesn't particularly photograph well. Case in point, most men if not directed during a grooms shot, will tend to hold their hands in front of them, covering their groin. Which doesn't make for a knock out photo. A great photographer can help "stage" you so you look natural while still allowing space for genuine emotion and connection, making it authentic. Posing or staging is the trick we use to get the pose we'd naturally use if we didn't know a photographer was around. 

Photo-journalistic wedding photography is excellent for capturing the story of your special day as it unfolds and I wholeheartedly endorse it, However if you want to get those epic, stunning, make-your-friends-swoon photos then some lightly directed posing is required because none of us just accidentally go stand in that one particular spot where that beam of light is falling, in such a way that our wedding dress drapes perfectly, our neck doesn't wrinkle, our hands aren't clenched, and our butt looks slim. Believe it or not, lightly directed moments can be a huge amount of fun with the right photographer and it's incredibly easy to bring genuine emotion to the moment so that suddenly the poses feel utterly natural.

Sunshine and flowers, just what a bride needs!

In short, posing shouldn't feel stiff, stifling or fake. A good pose lets you relax because you have something to do with your hands and feet. Once you learn to relax and have fun with it (and it will be fun with the right photographer) and once you see the amazing results you get, you'll actually be excited to get in front of the camera. A willing subject + skilled photographer = seriously cool images and fun times! 

Here is 12 yo NIcollette confidently demonstrating a perfect S curve pose (ideally she'd be turned slightly more to her right, however).

Tips To Flatter Your Figure

Celebrities and models know how to look their best in front of a camera. Watch the ladies on the red carpet and you'll see the classic S pose that creates beautiful curves and flatters any figure. It's important to try all the following in front of a full length mirror to see and understand what it's doing and so your body can learn the pose.

  • Stand with your hips & torso turned at 45 degrees away from the camera (or the mirror in this case)
  • Shift your weight to your back foot and have your back foot pointed in the same 45 degree direction as your body. Your hips should now be cocked back.
  • Let your front knee bend, point your front foot at the camera (mirror) and then slightly angle your knee toward that same 45 degree direction...you should now instantly see an hour glass shape and your back foot should be behind your front.
  • Put your hands on your hips. Bend the wrists. Then lift your arms just enough to see a gap between your waist and arms - this slims the waist and upper arms. 
  • Bend your upper body, from the waist, slightly toward the camera (mirror).
  • Last, try cocking your head slightly to one side or the other (like a dog). Notice what works and what doesn't.

Boom shaka laka! Look at you, gorgeous!

There are endless variations on this pose, but the bottom half of this pose (from the waist down) is always your base, your starting point. Putting the weight on the back foot slims the butt (if you're a super skinny, you can reverse this to emphasize the butt). This stance works when posing by yourself, as a couple, or in a group shot with family. Unless you want to emphasize your shoulders or project a strong presence (like a CEO headshot) or the rest of your pose is really strong and sassy (nice S curves), never face the camera straight on. As a general rule, men look good facing straight on to the camera, women not so much.

Another general rule to keep in mind: "If it bends, bend it." That means, knees, hips, arms, wrists, fingers and neck. A "stiff" pose is when someone is standing straight, weight on both feet, arms hanging straight at their sides, their head straight on their shoulders. It's the perfect pose for a military officer. However, it looks unnaturally stiff. Our bodies look better to our eyes when they curve and bend. Try it in the mirror and see for yourself. Notice in the photo above how Nicollette has nothing straight except her back leg.

Notice how confident and lovely Amy looks in this image...hands on hip, wrist bent, knee bent, head tilted toward her new husband...

Slim your arms. It's instinctual (particularly when we feel nervous) to pull our arms in against our body. This has the effect of making our arms look bigger and shoulders broader, which is a great technique for us guys wanting to make our muscles look better than they are. :-) However, if you're a woman and feeling a little self-conscious of your arms, try lifting your arms slightly out to the sides. Again, practice in front of a mirror so you can see what effect it has and how little it takes, so later when you're in front of a camera, you'll know exactly what to do. Other ways to lift your arms: Put your hands on your hips. Hold a bouquet waist high. Put your hands around your sweetheart's neck. Put your hand on a wall or table. 

Ultimately, the best pose of all comes when you are feeling relaxed, happy and beautiful. When you are in your happy place, you are naturally graceful without effort. Only stress and self consciousness makes posing necessary for us mere mortals. 

Tips To Flatter Your Face

A Million Ways To Smile
We are so conditioned to smile when facing a camera that all of us (photographers too) can so easily forget a smile is far more than just seeing your pearly whites. Plus, after a few hours of grinning, your face will cramp and get stuck that way for a week. One way to give your face a rest and get more variety in your images is by smiling lightly, with your lips closed. The trick with this is to start smiling first with your eyes. Remember how you looked at your fiancé when you first started flirting? That's the look.

Look at the camera like it's your sweetheart's face. Slightly – almost imperceptibly - let the edges of your lips curl. Turn your head slightly to one side and look back at the camera to make your eyes look bigger. With your eyes and face, flirt with the camera and you won't need a flashing grin to look stunning and happy.

These two love birds were so happy it showed thru in all their photos very clearly.

Reduce the double chin
Young or old, slender or large, nearly everybody gets a double chin if we look down and/or pull our head back like a turtle. Here is a simple way to significantly reduce the double chin effect. First, point with your chin, pushing your face forward - but make sure you don't lift up at the same time and get the looking-down-the-nose look. If you're doing this in front of a mirror, you'll instantly see the jawline tighten. Move your head back and forth on a level plane and notice the difference. (Ironically, when we are stressed or uncomfortable, we tend to pull back like a turtle, making our double chins worse!) Next, while pushing your chin slightly forward, put your tongue up against the roof of your mouth right behind your front teeth. You'll notice more tightening and lifting in the middle of the chin area.

Blinking Momma's
Don’t worry about or try not to blink. It just makes it worse. Your photographer should be giving you a quick countdown - "Ready, one...two...three... click!" -  so you're not left staring at the camera for endless moments while your eyes dry out and your face stiffens. (Fun fact: for some reason, mom's seem to blink more than anyone else. Go figure.) It's the photographer's job to watch for the blinks. Most photographers will handle this simply by taking multiple photos in a row (especially the larger the group) or by carefully checking the image afterwards to make sure everyone's eyes are open. And if it's a bright day and people are squinting, an easy trick to get relaxed faces is to have everyone close their eyes and on the photographers count of three to open them all at the same time.

The hands, the hands!
Along with your eyes and face, hands are arguably the most expressive part of your body. So it's important to keep them relaxed with a slight natural curl to your fingers. Avoid the dreaded crab hands (curled up) as well as a completely flat palm or straight fingers. Give your hands something to do if necessary, holding the side of your dress, touching your hair or a flower, or better yet, your sweetheart. If you pretend everything you touch is a newborn baby – whether your new husband’s face, or a champagne glass – your hands will naturally come across with softness and elegance.

Natural light, engagement session at sunset

Have An Engagement Session

Besides the obvious benefit of having engagement photos, the engagement session is the very best thing you can do to prepare for your wedding day photos. The engagement session will help you and your fiance' get comfortable in front of the camera. It's a practice run that lets you and your photographer get to know each other and explore what you like and don't like. Many wedding photographers will often bundle an engagement session included with your wedding photography or for a discount if they know they'll get your business.

Choose Your Venue Carefully

The right venue can make you look like a movie star, and the wrong one will...not. See, photography depends on light. Without it, you have nothing. This is literally the most crucial element. As a photographer, when I prepare for a wedding, my immediate first consideration is the light…how much is there, where is it coming from, is it hard or soft, warm or cold? Great lighting is the key to killer photos. While a good wedding photographer has the ability to make light as needed (flashes), you can make our job easier - and get far better photos - by planning your wedding like a photographer would and choosing a beautiful venue or location that has beautiful lighting. 

Then there's venue restrictions...
Some wedding venues require a photographer to remain at the far back throughout the ceremony. This is fine for wide angle, "down the aisle" shots, but it will significantly reduce any chance of close ups of your faces, putting on the rings, etc.  Plus, this means the wedding party will have their back to the photographer the entire ceremony. If high quality close-ups of faces and expressions during the ceremony are important to you, then seek out a more accommodating venue.

See my article "15 Tips For Perfect Wedding Photos" for more information on venues and other ways to improve your wedding photos!

Hire A Great Wedding Photographer!

This really should have come first, but then you might not have read this whole article. :-) Seriously tho, if you want to look your best in your wedding photos, a cheap wedding photographer isn't gonna be your ticket. There are three main aspects to being a great wedding photographer: people skills, wedding photography skills, and post production editing skills. After that great wedding photographer gets you in the spirit and takes some stunning photos of your beautiful self, he then needs to know how to edit the photos to make you look your best (like soft glowing skin, etc). Everyone one of those skill sets is needed for amazing wedding photos. 

I hope you have found this article helpful. If you still have questions, I'm here to help! Don't hesitate to reach out and contact me. Or leave a comment below and I'll respond. 

And if you happen to be in the market for a wedding photographer, I'd love to chat with you and answer any questions you have. I offer destination wedding photography throughout the Hawaiian Islands and all of  the United States. My camera is packed and ready to travel! :-)

hawaii wedding photographer headshot

Bodhi Hutton

Destination Wedding Photographer
Email: bodhi@lightnessphotography.com