After doing weddings for over 14 years I have definitely learned the do’s and don’ts to keeping the dress clean during a bridal portrait. I was prompted to write this blog after doing a bridal portrait recently only shortly after it had rained and was able to make sure not a spot got on the dress during the shoot. A point which has proved my opinion that shooting outdoors is much safer for the dress than shooting indoors.
The first thing that will shock most of you is that it is actually easier to keep you clean outside versus doing an indoor portrait. There are all types of hazards that come with indoor shooting rather than shooting in a garden. The first is small doorways. They seem very innocent but dirt hides in those cracks and here you come through with a dress that let’s face it is larger than the doorway itself. This point leads me to the floors. I love shooting in old homes with the beautiful staircases and gorgeous doors but when a house has been around for 80+ years it is pretty hard to get those floors really clean. Rather than shooting in these homes (with the exception of an always needed rain plan if you aren’t able to re-schedule) I prefer going downtown and shooting in those amazing old gates and arbors of the old historic government buildings which are so amazing and leave PLENTY of room to spread that dress out. But before I move on to how to keep your dress clean outdoors let me provide the first caution. Whether inside or out you will want to get dressed at the location you are shooting. There is nothing that can get a dress dirty faster than smashing that huge train into a tiny car. You never wash the cracks of your car between the door and the frame and trying to pull that dress in that tiny spot (or even a little larger SUV) is just an accident waiting to happen.
So if we shoot outside how on earth do you keep your dress clean?
#1 Putting on the dress:
Your first guess would be to get dressed in the bathroom but I actually do not recommend this for several reasons. First we have those small doorways I talked about earlier but even worse could be puddling water on the floors or counter tops that can cause water stains. So instead I recommend a sheet laid on the ground to stand on while putting on the dress. Then a 2nd sheet for your photographer and friend or mother to hold around you while you get dressed. Keep in mind you aren’t getting ‘naked’ while dressing. I always recommend a button down shirt and jogging shorts that slip easily off after you have on the dress. So with your shorts and shirt unbuttoned but still on and closed slowly step in to the dress without shoes. The photographer and your mom or one of your maids can hold the other sheet around you just in case maybe the shirt opens just a little or really more to make you feel a little more comfortable. Using the car as a shield is also easily used. Once in the dress have your friend hold the dress up while you slip off the shirt. And then a REALLY good friend or family member to dive under there and get those shorts! Now put on your sneakers. Yes, sneakers. I take my brides all through the gardens and not only do I not want to ruin her shoes, I don’t want her twist her ankle or be uncomfortable. For most shots you never see your shoes unless you have a an uncharacteristically short dress. We do bring the shoes with us for any sitting shots that we may see the shoes so we can put them on temporarily for the shot.
#2 Let ’em live!
Bugs LOVE white dresses. The white reflects the light and it much like the moth to the flame analogy. So small bugs will occasionally want to hitch a ride but whatever you do DON’T SWAT THEM AWAY. We don’t want disgusting bug guts smashed into the cloth of the dress. So shake the dress, blow him away or just don’t worry about him unless he seems to be crawling closely to your skin. Most of my little travelers are very small nats that are EASILY photoshopped away from any final portrait so it isn’t worth risking the dress to rid yourself of that little pest.
#3 Protect the dress:
As your are walking through the gardens or getting close to a beautiful flowering bush that will be the back drop for your portrait you will want to protect the dress from bushes and other obstacles. The first and most important way to protect the dress is to take the sides of the dress and pull them up and around you so that only the underside of the train and dress are exposed to the nearby offenders. You should always walk this way throughout the shoot except when you stop at your next shoot location. And never drop the dress until the photographer and friend are ready to help you and ensure that it does not touch any close by bushes or flowers. It will probably take you and a friend to do this as your friend more than likely will carry the dress from behind wrapping it around you will you take the front and pull it up your front to keep it clean. We don’t really worry about the crinoline as that is easily cleaned and no one will ever see it anyway.
#4 Setting the dress for the shot:
This one is a little delicate and requires practice from a photographer who knows what they are doing but a skilled photographer knows how to fluff the dress so that it floats down where only the underside is touching the ground. Again no one is going to see the underside of your dress and unless it is wet most dirt will not stick to the dress without motion to create friction to grind that dirt into the dress. So you should not move while your photographer is setting the dress. Depending on the material of the dress I may be able to float the dress myself or in other cases I will use our lovely handmaids (mom or friend) to help me float the dress. We always count to three and float up and hold it all the way down.
#5 What about the rain?
The few reasons we will reschedule a bridal portrait is for either rain, high winds or if it has rained earlier in the day or heavily the days before where the soil is still very damp. Although I do not recommend shooting after it rains there are times such as my last portrait where the bride had flown in special for the portrait and really wanted some outdoor shots. We were very very careful. First rather than laying the dress directly on the ground we laid out the sheet first then tucked it under the dress slowly so it would not show in the shot. If you have a thin material this may not work leaving the dress bumpy and not practical for shooting in which case I would re-schedule or go ahead move it indoors with caution. But if possible re-schedule for a better day. You spent a lot of money for the portrait and you want it to be the portrait you dreamed of and moving it indoors may seem like a good idea at the time but may leave you feeling a little unsatisfied later. With that said, if the make up and hair have been paid for and there isn’t another option you can use one from the indoor shoot for the reception then just ask your photographer to take some more the day of the wedding so you can still get some of you in that great dress outdoors.
#6 Watch out for the flowers:
This can be applied to both the bridal portrait and the wedding day as well. There are two hazards with that beautiful bouquet of yours. The first is water. You will probably have it in a vase of water so it stays fresh. Don’t forget to dry the stems before holding the bouquet over that $xxx investment you just made. And second, watch out for the stamens. Most florists remember to remove them but once I had a florist who forgot leaving a small stain on her dress when she held it close to the dress. Good news, the cleaners got it out and it was SILK! A testament to what a good cleaner can do and a good learning lesson for me as a photographer. I have many brides who make their own bouquets for the portrait so if you are one of those you won’t want to forget to remove them.
In the 14 years I think I have had maybe 3 people get something on their dresses and in all cases but one they were cleaned and perfect for the big day. The other bride opted not to clean it so I will never know if the stain could have been removed. If for some reason you do get something on your dress DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN IT YOURSELF. Don’t touch it. Most stains occur because the dirt gets rubbed into the material. Most things can easily be blown off before they have time to set and if it does get into the material you can make it worse by adding water or rubbing it. So use a professional wedding dress cleaner in the event you have a little accident. Most bridal shops have a cleaners they can refer to you if they don’t do it themselves.
I hope you found this helpful and will take a little of the stress off of you about getting your dress dirty during the portrait!