Five or six years ago, I was given the following tips on photographing a bride by a Master Photographer that I know. These tips have helped me capturing images that have become lifelong memories for people.
I would like to share these tip with you.
These 20 details are the things I mentally look for as a professional in a formal bridal portrait. Every photograph should contain a majority, although it may not contain all points. The more points you have on this list, the better the chance you will end up with a winner portrait and a happy client.
1) Different parts of the body should point in different directions. If you don't understand counterpoint, study old painting masters from the Renaissance, and look at their body positioning.
2) Make sure the weight of the bride is on the rear leg, as defined by the position of the camera. This will help with creating a nice body curve and a solid relaxed stance.
3) Make sure the front leg is bent. This helps move the weight onto the rear leg, sets the hips into a curved line, and allows the shoulders to move.
4) Tilt the head and set the hands of the bride at the same time in order to get the bride to move into the pose in a natural way.
5) Keep hands on different levels in the portrait unless they are together.
6) Show hands from the side to make them look more graceful.
7) The wrist angle will give flow - above the waist palm is down, below the waist palm is up.
8) If the veins on the hands are showing, put their hands above their head for a moment to drain the veins down. (This trick also works on older people.) Again, if you don't understand any of this positioning, study Renaissance painting masters.
9) The body is turned away from the light
10) The head is turned back into the light.
This is classic female lighting in portraiture. Using these two points in any formally lit photograph of a female will greatly help out your work.
11) Set the eyes. The best way I have found to get your client to look in the right place is to tell them to focus on the top of your lens. When setting the eyes, also look at the position of the nose. Especially if your bride is short, they will be holding their head back too far. You will need to bring the nose down and the eyes back up in order to achieve a flattering look.
12) Set the front toe if possible. You may want to have the bride take her shoe off and put it in a position where the toe of the shoe is visible. This makes the legs of the bride look longer; its a pure photographic trick, but if the bride is wearing tennis shoes for comfort under her gown, skip this step.
13) Frame the photo so that the eyes are on the top third of the photo. On a close up, consider loosing the top of the head to achieve this as this position will result in a dynamic photograph with the focus on the brides face.
14) Clear the perimeter of the face.
15) The veil is either all or nothing, otherwise it complicates facial lines.
Do not allow the veil to intersect the facial line of the bride. Either bring the veil forward more, or move it back, but don't allow the edge line of the veil to follow the line of the face. Not watching this will create a very distracting element in your image. You may want to photograph your bride both ways.
16) Keep the joints bent.
17) NO 90 degree joints on a bride, the lines are too strong.
The lines will help the photograph read better and encourage eye movement throughout the portrait. Straight arms especially can take eyes right off the edge of the portrait.
18) In a front portrait, the train is behind the bride. If the dress has a lot of detail, also position the bride for a rear profile to show off the dress.
19) The train can be positioned to create a good base for the photograph.
20) Once the portrait is set, before taking the photograph double check the small details including jewelry, creases in fabric, bouquet, and stray hair.
As you are taking the photograph, engage the bride to create genuine emotion and enthusiasm. This is easiest if you have been creating a friendly rapport during the posing process. This technique sounds like a lot, but if it's a checklist you have memorized beforehand, its really easy to just look and check as you are moving, resulting in quick, beautiful formals that will delight your bride and set you apart from average snapshots.