A Complete How-To Guide for Pulling Off a ‘Trash the Dress’ Photoshoot

If you’re a wedding photographer, there’s a very good chance your bride has asked you about doing a “Trash the Dress” photoshoot after her wedding. The popular trend of getting the wedding dress messy has been around for a while and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. 

What exactly are trash the dress photos? This guide explains all the details of the wildly popular post-wedding photo trend, including what gear you’ll need, what camera settings to use, and six creative trash the dress photoshoot ideas to get you started.

trash the dress
Photo by Владимир Васильев

What is trash the dress photography?

“Trash the dress” photos are a series of portraits taken after the wedding in which the bride gets her dress dirty, muddy, wet, or in some other way, “trashed.” Otherwise known as “fearless bridal” or “rock the frock” photography, trash the dress sessions are based on the premise that the bride only gets one opportunity to wear her dress, so this is one more creative and fun way to show off the gown. 

While some may gasp at the thought of soiling a dress that costs over $1,000 and holds sentimental value, no one can argue that trash the dress sessions can make for stunning photography. 

Reasons to do a trash the dress photoshoot

Trash the dress sessions are most commonly done as a supplement to a bride’s wedding photography. However, some women may also choose to do trash the dress sessions long after a wedding has ended. They use the photos instead to commemorate a divorce.

Trashed does not have to mean destroyed

Here’s the thing. Trashing the dress for photos does not mean your bride has to ruin her wedding gown (unless she wants to!). Dipping a dress in a pool, laying in the dirt, or getting it wet with seawater is not likely to destroy it. However, covering it with paint will probably mean her daughter can’t use the dress for her future nuptials.

It’s important to manage expectations ahead of time and plan for the amount of dress destruction you and your bride are comfortable with.

trash the dress photoshoot
Photo by Edward Eyer

What’s the best gear for a trash the dress photoshoot?

Assuming you’re already a working wedding photographer, the same gear you use for your wedding shoots will work perfectly well for a trash the dress session. Since you’ll be subjecting the bride and her dress to elements like water, mud, and dirt, be sure you’re using a camera that’s weather-sealed or protect it with a waterproof cover.  Most of today’s pro-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras and lenses are weather-sealed but check with your manufacturer if you aren’t sure.

An 85mm lens is a wonderful focal length for a trash the dress session. It lets you stay a safe distance away from the mess but lets you get close enough to communicate with your bride to tell her how to pose. Plus, 85mm is the gold standard for flattering portraits of people. After all, she may be trashing her dress, but she still wants to look great while doing it.

trash the dress beach
Photo by Jonathan Borba

Camera settings for trash the dress photography

Your camera settings will vary drastically depending on what, where, and when you shoot. However, here are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Aperture: Keep your aperture wide to create a shallow depth of field that separates your subject from the background. This also allows more light to enter your lens.
  • ISO: Keep ISO as low as possible to reduce noise. The lower the ISO, the lower the sensitivity to light.
  • Shutter Speed: Always keep shutter speed faster than the focal length of your lens to avoid blur from camera shake. For example, use a shutter speed faster than 1/100 if you are using a 100mm lens. The faster your shutter speed, the less light you’ll allow to reach your sensor.
  • Shoot in RAW: Save your images in RAW format, so you’ll have the most data to use for editing in post-processing.

6 trash the dress photoshoot ideas

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration for your next trash the dress photoshoot, check out these ideas to spark your creativity:

Soak it all in

trash dress 1
Photo by Alice AliNari

If you’ve got a bride willing to be fully submerged in water, jump at the opportunity! The contrast between nature and fashion combine here to create an absolutely exquisite image. Be sure to bring in a professional makeup artist to complete the look.

Include the Spouse

trash dress 2
Photo by Nghia Trinh

There’s no steadfast rule that says your bride has to fly solo for her trash the dress photoshoot. Plenty of newlywed couples team up to create couples photos that are worthy of a spot in the wedding album. And, since the high stress of the wedding day is over when these photos are taken, it’s easy to capture the genuine love of the couple.

Laying on the ground

trash dress 3
Photo by Suzana Duljic

The bridal gown is like a beautiful work of art, so treat it as such. Here we have the bride laying on the ground in her gown, with it fanned out all around her creating a lovely circular shape. The image is great how it is, or, depending on how “trashed” the bride is willing to let her dress get, this photoshoot could get a lot dirtier.

Abandoned and edgy

trash dress 4
Photo by cottonbro

The juxtaposition of the crisp, new bridal gown with the abandoned and decayed building makes for an interesting image and compelling story. This is definitely the kind of image that begs the viewer to stop and look.

She’s smokin’

trash dress 5
Photo by Sherise VD

If your bride doesn’t care if her dress gets totally trashed, then why not try a shoot with colorful smoke bombs? Don’t try this if she’s planning to save the dress, however. Smoke bomb powder can and will permanently stain the dress.

Into the woods

Photo by photo nic 

The vast majority of trash the dress shoots bring the bride (and sometimes her groom) to the beach to frolic in the waves in her dress. But, that leaves an entire environmental segment out of the equation that’s teeming with perfect dress-trashing opportunities! You’ll find a much moodier, dirtier, muddier vibe in the forest if that’s the look you’re into.

Final thoughts

One of the important things to remember is that trashing the dress doesn’t mean the bride actually has to ruin her dress. As with any client-photographer relationship, as long as you communicate and set expectations ahead of the shoot, you can make sure everyone is happy at the end of the day. Chances are, she will need to get her dress cleaned whether she does a trash the dress shoot or not!

Now that you know what a “trash the dress” shoot is — and why a bride might want to do one — you can start offering it as another part of your wedding photography services. And that will make you a more valuable photographer.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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