One of the common challenges many portrait photographers will face at some point during their careers is how to best pose their subjects to capture them in their best light during a photoshoot. When photographing couples, things get more difficult because now you’ve got to worry about not one, but two subjects. We recently had the opportunity to speak with New Jersey-based wedding photographer Vanessa Joy as well as Cincinnati-based wedding and portrait photographer Tracie Maglosky, and these seasoned veterans generously shared some valuable insight into photographing and posing couples. Vanessa is perhaps best known for her wedding photography education work on top of being one of Profoto’s Legend of Light, and Tracie is one of Olympus’s Visionaries and a Profoto Legend of Light as well.
Phoblographer: What are your top Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to photographing couples?
Vanessa Joy: Photographing couples can be tricky because it’s likely the first time they’ve ever been photographed professionally aside from school portraits. Knowing how to get your clients to open up to you can be the most difficult part, so with that in mind do look for a perfect expression over a perfect pose. Don’t get hung up on nit-picking their posture if you’re getting real emotion from them. Do keep talking to them the entire time to make them feel comfortable (silence is scary!). Don’t leave the session without telling them what to expect next in the process with you.
Tracie Maglosky: When I’m photographing couples and captured an image that I really like, I tend to show the couple right away during the shoot. This helps boost their confidence. I’ll also show my couples how to pose by demonstrating the poses with my own body and have them mimic what I’m doing. I generally avoid kicking off a couples session with super intimate poses such as kissing, etc. and ease them into it as the shoot progresses. Another thing to watch out for is to refrain from chimping constantly! Stay engaged with your couples so that they don’t feel like they’ve been left to their own devices!
Phoblographer: Describe your process when photographing a couples session (engagement, ceremony, or otherwise). Do you prep your couples ahead of time, work from a shot list, or do you tend to take a more informal, off the cuff approach?
Vanessa: Thankfully, I’ve trimmed down the number of weddings to about 20 per year. This gives me more time to get to know my couples and really invest in their wedding and who they are as people. Before I photograph them, I ask them to fill out a simple five question survey that tells me what they’re like and what they want their photos to portray. It’s a great way to go into the engagement session or wedding, knowing exactly what they’re looking for. This way, I don’t need to have a list of “poses” to put my couples in, I can just interact with them and go with what’s working in the moment knowing more about who they are.
“I’ll also show my couples how to pose by demonstrating the poses with my own body and have them mimic what I’m doing.”
For other parts of the wedding day, we’ll help them make a list of people they want in photos, especially family members. I don’t want them having to worry about the stress of remembering photos they want to take. Plus, if we discuss their needs ahead of time we can set realistic timing expectations for the various parts of the day. I think having a list (mentally or tangibly) and running it effectively is a sign of a true professional photographer.
Tracie: For engagement sessions, since there’s less of a time crunch, I tend to have the couple look away from the camera and be generally less intimate while we’re getting started. As the session progresses, once the couple has gotten used to me being there with my equipment, I’ll move in for more intimate poses like the “sweetheart” pose where the couples have their arms around one another with their foreheads are touching, etc. Remember to gauge your couple’s level of intimacy and proceed accordingly.
“Before I photograph them, I ask them to fill out a simple five question survey that tells me what they’re like and what they want their photos to portray. It’s a great way to go into the engagement session or wedding, knowing exactly what they’re looking for. “
During the reception, I’ll generally start by posing the bride. Once I’ve got the wedding dress, or what I’d like to call the “train,” laid out nicely, I’ll treat her like an anchor and do minimal adjustments to her posing while I position the groom around the bride and capture a variety of poses. I’ve developed a 20 Minute Wedding Portrait Session Guide that covers this in further detail.
Phoblographer: What are some of your go-to poses when working with couples, and are there any you try to avoid or find cliché?
Tracie: One of my favorite poses is to have the groom stand sideways while the bride wraps her arms around the groom from the back and have them both look towards the camera as the bride lays her head on the groom’s shoulders/back. One of my pet peeves is seeing the bride and the groom isolated from one another in completely different parts of the frame. I don’t think the unnecessary separation between the couple makes sense and always try to avoid it when photographing couples.
Vanessa: Because photographing weddings can leave the timing out of your control, I’ve developed a Speed Posing method that I do with all of my clients. It ensures that I get all of the “must have” photos, like the bride and groom together in the 6 different traditional pictures, that most people expect. After I run through those it’s play time for me and I can be as creative as I’d like. I do the same thing with bridal party photos as well as families. Being able to run through a crazy family photo list in 10 minutes or less frees up time for couple portraits and helps with everyone’s stress levels. For more about my Speed Posing method check out www.SpeedPosing.com.
Phoblographer: Do you prefer a highly stylized posing approach or a more “un-posed” style? What have you found success with in terms of helping your subjects to look and feel relaxed in front of the camera?
Tracie: During their consultation, I’ll ask my couples what type of images they want out of their session and they almost always tell me candids as they feel that candid photos make them look more authentic. What I’ll do is to get the couple into a pose, and then tell them to talk to one another and whisper fond memories or intimate/humorous triggers to spark real emotion between them.
One of the things that I try to keep in mind going into a shoot is whether or not there are height differences between the bride and groom. If either the bride or groom is taller, adjust the poses accordingly. Use steps or other available objects in the environment to minimize their differences in height. Having the taller partner separate their feet is a good trick to help them lower their height in an image. Another thing I try to keep in mind are the real people issues. Most of the couples I photograph are not models, and for couples that have different body types, I’ll adjust their posing accordingly. Avoid poses like having one partner lifting the other up or giving piggyback rides if either or both of the subjects have fuller figures. For “encircling” poses where the couples have their arms around each other, I’ll avoid having them wrap their arms fully around one another. Lifting the arms slightly away from the body and towards the camera and bending the knee closest to the camera are good ways to help the arms and legs appear slimmer.
Vanessa: I give both. I love the un-posed style and my clients love the candidness of images like that. Ultimately, however, they want those in addition to the traditional photos of themselves and their bridal party and family. After I do any traditional photos, I’m more or less just guiding my couples into different scenarios and seeing how they interact with each other versus trying to get them to interact with the camera. The result is giving them those must-have photos that mom and dad will undoubtedly love, but then giving the couple imagery that they’ll look at later and remember how they felt that day as opposed to how I posed them that day. Here’s a link to a free posing inspirational guide that you may find helpful to carry around and jog your creative brain if it gets stuck!
For more from Tracie and Vanessa, check out their websites and blogs, as well as their Instagram feeds.