Saving Your Wedding Dress' Details

How We Save The Details of Your Wedding Dress


Choosing your wedding dress is perhaps one of, if not the most important part of planning your wedding.  Hour after hour is spent searching the perfect one, looking at countless images online, in magazines, and at actual dresses in boutiques, contemplating the style, length, color, fabric type, silhouetted or shaped, type of train, neck-line, sleeveless or with sleeves and if so what type of sleeves, back-line, waist-line, details such as beading, floral, lace, ruffles, sashes, and . . . It’s enough to drive one mad.  That is, until your eyes fall upon The One and your heart confirms it, and your lips reveal it as they give way to a blissful smile.

Then there is the financial and emotional investment.  The average cost of a wedding dress in the United States is $1,100.00, according to a quick Google search, and can run tens of thousands of dollars.  The emotional value is not quantifiable.  To expend all of this energy, emotion, and treasure only to have your perfect wedding dress reduced to a semi-formless, bright, lacking all detail, white nebulae enveloping your body in your wedding photos, would be ashamed, to put it mildly.

To expend all of this energy, emotion, and treasure only to have your perfect wedding dress reduced to a semi-formless, bright, lacking all detail, white nebulae enveloping your body in your wedding photos would be quite unfortunate.

If you have come across pictures of wedding dresses lacking some or all detail while checking out websites of wedding planners and wedding photographers, we will explain why it happens and how we avoid it. 

Overexposure - What is it?

Exposure is how light or dark a photo is.  Between underexposed and overexposed there is a narrow range of exposures that are considered acceptable and correspond to specific photography styles.  Beyond these limits, a photo is overexposed (too light), or underexposed (too dark). In simplistic terms, overexposure occurs when too much light enters a camera.  Light can come from a direct source—the sun, interior lights, or flash, or from a reflective surface, such as white fabric and skin.  The more a photo is overexposed, the more the details in white objects and the highlights are lost and become unrecoverable. 

The image on the left is overexposed by +1.5 stops, and the details in the wedding dress are evident.  The picture on the right is overexposed by +3 stops and is overexposed, resulting in lost and unrecoverable details in the dress, skin, and hair.

Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera Limitations

Experienced wedding photographers expose for the brightest area of your wedding dress or the highlights on your face, not your facial skin.  It's not that your face is not important, because it really is.  It’s that as photographers we have to understand the limitations of Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras (DSLR) and how they can complicate photography in general, and wedding photography in particular. 

DSLR cameras are designed to render tones in an image to 50% grey, or middle grey, which is what a DSLR considers a correct exposure.  This is an issue for rendering white objects white.  Let’s look at the image below to see what this is and what it means for wedding photography. 


The numbers ranging from -3 to +3 is what you would see looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR.  Each number represents one stop or level of light.  Zero represents a correct exposure.  The numbers to the left of Zero represent 3 stops of underexposure, and the numbers to the right of Zero represent 3 stops of overexposure.  The further to the left or right of Zero, the more under- or overexposed a photo is.  According to DSLRs, a correct exposure is achieved when its settings are adjusted to bring the exposure to Zero.

These exposure of the pictures below corresponds to the numbers above the grey scale.  For DSLRs, Picture 0 is properly exposed.  We exposed each picture by metering the brigthest part of the wedding dress (red X).  Note: These photos are not edited. 

Below these numbers is a grey scale – a range of shads of grey, from black to white, organized into 10 zones.  Each zone represents one stop or level of light.  The Zero on the number line and area between Zone IV and IV correspond to 50% grey or middle grey, which is what a DSLR considers a correct exposure.

White wedding dresses correspond to Zone VII.  If we measure a white wedding dress using the built-in light meter in a DSLR, it will suggest we make adjustments to the camera to reach Zero.  As a result, the dress is moved from Zone 7 to between Zone IV and Zone V 50% grey, or middle grey.  This causes white wedding dresses to appear grayish in photos, not white, as in the photos below.  The photo on the right is exposed correctly as per the DSLR's suggestions, which leaves the dress greyish, whereas the dress in the picture on the right is is exposed 1.5 stops over the DSLR's recomendations, leaving the dress white. 

This also results in underexposed skin.  Average Caucasian skin generally corresponds to Zone 5.  There is a difference of 2 stops of light between a white wedding dress and average Caucasian skin.  When a DSLR moves a white wedding dress from Zone 7 to between Zone IV and IV, it also moves average Caucasian skin from Zone 5 to Zone 3.  This leads to underexposed skin and a color shift in skin color (an increase or decrease in exposure causes all colors in an image to change.  Incorrect exposure results in incorrect colors).  In the images below, the shift in color due to only -1 and +1 stop is quite noticeable. The more extreme the under- or overexposure, the more extreme the color shift and difficulty in correcting it. 

Knowing the limitations of DSLRs allows us to easily make sure your beautiful white wedding dress you spent so much time choosing is white in your wedding pictures.  First, we measure the brightest area of your wedding dress, the highlights, adjust the exposure settings to reach Zero, and then readjust them to 1.5 – 2.  This keeps your white wedding dress from being reduced to 50% grey, or middle grey, and keeps it in Zone 7, the Zone that corresponds to white wedding dresses.  If for some reason we cannot measure the brightest part of your dress, we measure the highlights on your face and overexpose only 1 stop.  Either method works and ensures: 1. the details of your wedding dress are not lost due to severe overexposure, 2. your wedding dress is white, not greyish, and 3. your skin is not underexposed and the correct color. 

Stylistic Choices and Loss of Wedding Dress Detail

As photographers, we make stylistic choices when shooting that affect how our final images look.  Taking into consideration the love and labor invested in your wedding dress, we consider delivering photos that show the details of your wedding dress of singular importance.  There are times, however, we intentionally create images in which highlights are quite overexposed resulting in lost detail, such as when there is a bright light source behind you or when we place one there and expose for your facial skin to create a halo effect.

These types of photos are the exception, not the norm for us.  When looking for your wedding photographer, first ask yourself if having photos that clearly show the details of your wedding dress and that render your dress white is important to you.  Then, thoroughly review the galleries of the photographers you are considering to see if their photography meets these expectations. 

We hope this article has given you a greater understanding of the nuances and complications involved in wedding photography, and that it helps you find a wedding photographer that provides you with beautiful images of your wedding and of your wedding dress.