Wedding Shoes – What I’ve Learned From Photographing 2,000+ Pairs
I have a confession to make: I’ve got a bit of a shoe fetish. From the beginning of my wedding photography career, I’ve been fascinated with wedding shoes. In fact, my very first business card (made sometime back in 2006) had a high-heeled shoe on it. I’ve learned many sartorial lessons over the years. When it comes to wedding shoes, there are several pro tips I’d like to share.
Disclaimer: I fully recognize that a shoe post is ripe for all kinds of puns. I promise I won’t be too much of a heel, and I’ll do my best to abstain.
Biggest Bang-for-the-Buck Accessory
If done right, wedding shoes are one of the biggest “bang-for-the-buck” accessories. No offense to other wedding accoutrements, but I’ve never heard of a “boutonniere fetish”, a “veil fetish”, or a “bouquet fetish”. IMHO, when it comes to WOW-factor, shoes give you the highest return on your investment. Every wedding has a budget, and that means couples must set priorities. I would argue that pairing a simple dress with killer shoes is a superior strategy, vs. focusing all your energy and resources on the dress, and making shoes an afterthought.
People may disagree with me. That’s because we are inundated with images these days, and the majority of wedding photos concentrate on the dress. I also think shoes don’t get enough credit because – let’s be honest – many photographers don’t know how to photograph wedding shoes. There’s just something magical about shoes. Something happens in our brains that connects shoes and sex (and yes, there’s a scientific explanation). People spend countless dollars, countless hours in the gym, to look their sexiest on a wedding day. I’m not shy about this topic. Let’s learn how to take advantage of wedding shoes’ natural sexiness!
Know Your Train and Your Terrain
There are many different types of wedding venues. It doesn’t take a professional wedding planner to figure out that stiletto heels won’t work too well at a farmhouse wedding. Conversely, while you can get away with wearing flip flops under a floor-length ball gown with a long train, it’d be a bit of a fashion faux pas to undermine your a short, sexy little dress with squishy wedges. Obviously you’re going to be smart and choose the right footwear for your wedding terrain. But just because you’re going to be walking the vineyards, or going through grass, doesn’t mean that you can’t have the stunning wedding shoes shots you’ve always craved.
I recommend buying (or borrowing) that sexy pair of pumps or stilettos, and just putting them on strategically for the creative shoe shots. Nobody will be the wiser, and if you take good care of the shoes you might even be able to return them.
Another pro tip: if your wedding is going to take place on rough or soft terrain, please do your female guests a favor and have a box of Solemates standing by. Many guests want to show off their stunning heels at your wedding, but not everyone has the foresight to think what it’ll be like to walk on soft grass in their stilettos.
Comfort is Key
I can tell you this from personal experience. For my own wedding, I found a pair of shoes I really loved. Men’s wedding shoes right? Should be straightforward? Well, I thought I had broken them in a bit walking around the house. Guess what: by the time my wife and I had our first dance, my lower back was really starting to ache. By the end of the night, those shoes were off in a corner.
If you ARE going to insist on actually wearing your wedding shoes all day long, PLEASE do yourself and everyone else a favor, and wear something comfortable. Even if a pair of shoes feels comfy at first, there’s no substitute for having them on your feet for a 10- or 12-hour long wedding day. Not to mention that at least a couple of hours of that day will most likely be spent on the dance floor. There’s nothing worse than suffering with painful or uncomfortable shoes on your wedding day. It will affect your mood, your stamina, and your enjoyment of your special day. Trust me – I’ve seen it more than once.
It’s never a bad idea to have a pair of flats, flip flops, or wedges on standby, especially for the dancing portion of the night. Not only are you going to save your FEET, you’re also going to save your nice shoes from getting worn out or ruined. Some venues offer the option to set up a “box-of-flip-flops” near the dance floor. An excellent idea. Talk to the venue, talk to your wedding planner, ask your bridesmaids – make it happen. Your guests will love you.
Ok there, I did it with the pun. Sorry about that. What I’m talking about, of course, is how wedding shoes can help or hurt couples with a significant height discrepancy. I’ve photographed couples where the groom is over a foot taller than the bride (common) and also couples where the bride is several inches taller than the groom (less common, but noticeable when it happens). I’ve also photographed same sex couples with pretty obvious height differences.
Of course, if the shorter partner has raised shoes, this helps even the playing field and gives the couple a more natural physical connection. There’s less strain involved in kissing, dancing, communicating. The taller partner’s back won’t hurt as much from leaning over, and the shorter partner won’t be craning her neck the whole day. This is the functional magic of shoes.
On the other hand, say a bride is already somewhat taller than her groom. Wearing heels will exacerbate that height difference even further. Now, some couples couldn’t care less about the optics, but I don’t recommend it. Our mental systems are used to perceiving larger men and slightly smaller women as normal. If that relationship is reversed, it can be made even more stark with raised shoes. So what if you’re a taller bride, paired with a shorter groom? Does that mean you can’t wear heels? Well, you can certainly wear heels in your creative wedding photos! With an experienced photographer, nobody will be the wiser.
Shoes are the perfect accessory to give some color to your wedding day. One of the dirty little secrets is that even cheap shoes look amazing when they have great color to them. From a bit farther away, it’s hard to tell the quality of a shoe. But the color, when paired with the right backdrop, will always be an enhancement. Especially for neutral wedding settings like San Francisco City Hall or the Legion of Honor, I highly recommend that you make shoes your colorful detail. For men, getting too crazy with colorful shoes it not advised. Better stick with a classic shoe and go wild with the socks.
We pay a premium for top brands – no matter what it is we’re buying. Most people intuitively understand that if they had to blind taste test a $60 Veuve Cliquot vs. a couple of $20 bottles, they may not be able to tell the difference. That generic Walgreens ibuprofen is going to do the same thing for your headache as the Advil. But when it comes to things that captivate us visually, there’s sometimes no substitute for an iconic brand. This is especially true about shoes, and brings me back again to the bang-for-the-buck question. Nobody’s going to see the designer’s tag on your wedding dress, but just about everyone (thanks, Cardi B) can recognize a pair of Louboutins when they see them.
I have an interesting shoe brand story. Last year I photographed a lovely couple, Julia and Emily. They told me that as they were planning their wedding, they kept walking by these gorgeous handmade brown leather shoes at Sutro Footwear. The girls had an intuitive sense of style, and they ultimately decided to make the Sutro shoes their wedding outfit splurge. Emily and Julia’s story, and Sutro’s iconic sole inspired me to make this shot. The girls were so glad they splurged on the shoes – it was totally worth it.
How to Photograph Wedding Shoes
I am not opposed to the occasional “disembodied” shoe shot, where a pair of shoes is just resting on a window sill. Nothing wrong with that. But that can’t be your ONLY shoe shot. The whole reason you got those shoes was… well, actually there were MANY reasons, eh? (See above). Shoes are meant to be seen on your feet, and photographed thusly. As you’ve been reviewing the photos on this page, no doubt you’ve noticed that I practice what I preach. You can see shoes juxtaposed against awesome color contrasts, and shoes that serve as a pop of color against a neutral backdrop. You’ve seen shoes held, caressed, adored in creative ways. Shoes interacting with the environment, shoes playing with the dress, even shoes dominating the groom.
Pro tip: Shoes can often get lost in large group shots. Whenever I capture large groups, I’ll usually seat the ladies with interesting shoes in the front row. If they stand in the back, most likely their shoes will be hidden behind someone else.
This post has been my ode to the beauty and versatility of wedding shoes. They’re not only a fashion statement, they’re also a source of endless photographic inspiration. So if you’re a photographer, don’t just settle for the silhouette shoe shot in the window. You can do so much more. And if you’re the couple getting married – insist that your shoes should be featured prominently in your wedding memories.
- Shoes can be one of the biggest bang-for-the-buck items in your wedding wardrobe; functional and decorative
- Everyone wants to look sexy at a wedding; sex and shoes are intertwined in the brain
- Pick appropriate shoes for your wedding terrain; heel protectors are a must at parks, wineries, farms, etc.
- Always have a comfy pair of flats / wedges / flip flops nearby
- Shoes on/off strategically throughout the day
- Colorful shoes go a long way; even a cheap pair with the right color can look amazing
- Sometimes brand name shoes have no substitute; take care of the shoes and you can potentially return or sell them
- Get a photographer that knows how to feature your shoes