Engagement portrait sessions can be awkward especially for couples who are expected to display their affection publicly and worse, in front of the camera. Often they feel uneasy and don’t know what to do, let alone how to pose. Left to their own devices, especially if they feel they are not naturals in front of the camera, the probability is that they won’t love their photos at the end of the session. They will look back at the session with regret.
Your job as the photographer is to avoid the above at all costs. Your main goal is for them up be thrilled with their photos, and delighted with the experience.
The benefits of engagement portraits are many. The couple able to practice in front if the camera before their big day, so they can throw off their inhibitions. But also, and more importantly, it builds trust with you, so that on the day if the wedding they won’t even have to think about how to look good in their photos. Instead they can concentrate on being with their guests and family, and enjoy their day.
Here are my top three tips in making your engagement session a breeze for your couples.
#1 Prepare them
Before the session, send them a guide offering tips on what to wear, what to bring, and how to decide on location. Assure them it’s going to be lighthearted and fun, and that it’s totally okay to laugh at themselves and be silly. Assure them that their photos will look natural, and that you have some secret tips for that to happen.
In the guide I give my couple I ask them to wear layers if it’s winter or autumn, then depending on the weather we can take a layer off and have another look. If there is a changing room nearby then they can bring extra outfits.
I encourage them to choose a couple of props that they both love, be that a picnic basket with a bottle of bubbly, balloons, bikes, books, etc. The aim is to make them feel at ease, using things that they already love and which come naturally to them. Some couples can’t easily think of props. I always suggest a bunch of flowers – they’re timeless and will suit any style.
Regarding locations, suggest choosing something meaningful to them. It could he their rendezvous spot when they were dating, where they got engaged, a spot they both have a great fondness for, or where something memorable happened.
Couples also appreciate if you ask them for their preferences to style, colors, and look. It makes them feel listened to and assures them you are open to their ideas.
#2 Direct them
This may seem opposite to the idea of candid shots and natural-looking photos, but let me tell you a secret. After having photographed numerous engagement sessions in eight years, I can tell you that natural shots are often posed. That’s right they are. Your job is to make the final image look natural, and to do whatever it takes to make that look happen.
Couples don’t know where to place their hands, where to put their weight and how to stand, what to do with their arms, where to look, what expressions to have on their faces, etc. Basically, compositions that look good and natural in front if the camera, even if that were to be a photo where they aren’t looking at the camera, and expressions that you elicit and draw out of them.
When I direct couples I give them 3 rules:
1. Connection – There always has to be a connection between them, be that a physical one where parts of their bodies are touching, or a non physical one such as gazing at each other, laughing at a shared joke, or thinking of a shared memory. Connections matter and show. The authenticity of your image rests on the depth and strength of the connection between the subjects.
2. Angles – Try to pose them at angles where you always see a bit of their faces instead of the back of their heads, unless your intention is to capture them from behind. Avoid straight lines, unless that again is your intention. I generally ask them to stand in a V position, at an angle instead of square on, with their weight on one leg so everything isn’t too even, or with a little body twist (for women) for some shape. Get men to not put their full hands in their pockets, just the thumbs instead, otherwise they look like cut off limbs up to their wrists.
Look for triangular and irregular compositions rather than straight and square. This adds interesting lines and dynamic to your images compared to a very flat and static look.
3. Laugh instead of talk – Two things to always avoid: taking photos mid-talk and mid-eat. Instead of talking to each other, ask them to laugh at each other’s silliness, and at how awkward they are feeling. That usually gets them laughing naturally. Getting them to think of special memories always puts a smile on their faces. This is not to say all the photos you take must be smiling ones, but this tip works every time. Laughter makes them warm up and shake off their inhibitions. Always a good trick!
#3 Encourage activity
This is where the props come in. An activity breaks the ice instantly, takes their focus off any awkwardness they may be feeling, creates an experience for them, and sets the scene for a memorable shoot.
Activities include having a picnic, popping a bottle of champagne, going on a bike ride, playing the guitar, reading books, having coffee at a favorite cafe or drinks in a favorite pub, going for a stroll by the sea, horse-riding, browsing flea markets, etc. If they can’t think of an activity, as mentioned above, having a bunch of flowers to hold always help. You can focus on posing them in ways that look natural, and making sure that they connect emotionally with lots of laughter and fun moments, like running and jumping, that don’t require props or any special preparation.
If you have a couple who are up for a shoot under any conditions – that’s awesome. You can capture unique photos in extraordinary weather conditions, like during a blizzard in the photos below, or perhaps freezing raindrops using flash, or in a downpour. The possibilities are endless!
I hope you find these tips helpful. Do share in the comments below if you have any more tips to add to the list.