Friday, August 26, 2011

Bridal Portraits Explained

There are a few things that are native to Southern culture that, when taken out of their natural environment, may seem odd to anyone who didn't grow up drinking sweet tea with dinner every night.  Hush puppies, calabash restaurants and Sunday hats surely seem a wee bit peculiar to the uninitiated.  With regards to weddings, there's one uniquely Southern tradition that my friends in New York find, well, weird and vaguely "Toddlers in Tiaras" - ish, and that tradition is the bridal portrait, or "bridals" for short.

What's a bridal?  It's a photo session done before the wedding, where the bride gets done up in full wedding regalia - dress, veil, hair, makeup and even a "practice" bouquet - and has solo photos taken of her in full nuptial glory.  The setting is often formal, and typically a staircase or chaise lounge is involved.  (If I had a copy, I would have totally included a photo of my senior portrait here, another tradition in which you have a professional photo session done the summer before your senior year of high school.  I'm wearing a floor length, formal black and white gown and am semi-reclined on a chaise lounge.  It's one of those "what were you thinking" photos that my husband makes fun of every time he sees it at my mom's house.) 

The purpose of the bridal is twofold - one, you get a complete practice run through of your look before the big day, and two, your bridal photo accompanies your wedding or engagement announcement in the paper.  At the wedding, the bridal portrait (which is poster sized, mind you) is usually displayed on an easel next to the guest book.  After the festivities end, it's usually the mother of the bride who hangs said portrait in their house, along with their own portrait, their mother's portrait, and so forth and so on.  Maybe I was scarred by my previous formal portrait sessions (you should see the billboard proportioned portrait of me at age four, wearing the slightest hint of blush and lipstick), but I went rogue and opted out of the bridal portrait.  Needless to say my mom was pee-oh'ed.  You must keep in mind that this is a land where some girls have their photos taken in poofy white dresses their entire lives - cotillion, debutante balls, weddings, so portraits are par for the course.

In the past few years, engagement sessions have really cemented their place in the wedding experience.  Browse any of the wedding sites and you'll see nearly as many editorial photos of the engagement shoots as you will of the actual weddings.  (We've talked a bit about engagement shoots here).  It will be interesting to see if bridal portraits eventually die out, being replaced with the more casual (and co-ed) engagement sessions.  What do you think - are bridals here to stay, or will engagement sessions take over?  Did you do a bridal portrait? 

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