When I hear the word “romantic,” I immediately think of a dreamy, poetic, passionate image, one full of unspoken affection and even a touch of mystery. Yet romantic photography with couples shouldn’t look cheesy or cliche; instead, it’s important to create images that are a bit more artistic but still relatively natural.
So how do you do it? How do you toe the line between corny and boring? That’s what I explain in this article. In particular, I share:
- How to choose the right light for natural-looking romantic photos
- An easy method to help the couple relax
- How to create a sense of intimacy between the partners
- Much more!
So if you’re ready to capture couples photos that look wonderfully romantic and are pain-free (both for you and your clients!), then keep reading.
1. Start with a warm-up
If you want to create romantic couples photos, you must first ensure that the couple relaxes. Stiff images won’t look romantic, just awkward.
So how do you get the couple to relax? With a warm-up! Therefore, the first 15-20 minutes of each and every one of my shoots is all practice. I do give my clients some tips, but I then tell them I’m going to start taking photos and that there’s no pressure for anything to look perfect. I explain that the first few minutes of the session are just about getting used to the camera, that the posing may feel strange at first but that it’s okay to laugh.
In other words, I give permission for the couple to feel awkward. I even encourage them to be silly. I want them to throw off any self-conscious feelings, to laugh it all off, to ignore passersby, and to ignore any stares. (After all, they’ll never see those people again!)
I take plenty of shots during the warm-up. My main goal is to get my clients used to my presence, but I’m also looking to photograph key interactions: fleeting glances they give one another, the warm squeezes and cuddles they allow themselves to have. Because while the couple may feel awkward at first, they’ll still have those occasional photo-worthy moments when they start to relax in each other’s arms.
Then, by the time the warm-up is over, I may already have a few good images, and I’m ready to photograph and pose the couple more carefully.
2. Find or make the perfect light
The best poetic light evokes a cocooning feeling. I’m a huge fan of early morning and late afternoon light, which is soft, dreamy, and all-around beautiful, so if possible, schedule your shoot during those windows. I try and avoid flat light and harsh overhead light; these tend to kill any romantic ambiance, plus it’s not very flattering.
(By flat light, I’m referring to light sources that are directly in front of the subjects. This light eliminates gradations of shadows and tones of light falloff.)
Look for directional light instead, ideally coming from the side or at an angle. You can always identify the position of the sun, then move yourself or your clients until you have a romantically lit scene.
If you can’t find nice light (especially if the location is quite dark or the light comes from overhead), try bringing out your flash. Remember to bounce it so that directional light hits the couple from the side. What’s important is to avoid flatness and create an atmosphere of light and shadow.
By the way: If you’re working indoors, window light is one of the best directional light sources available. But don’t make your couple face the window – remember, you want to avoid flattening the subjects – and instead position them at an angle so there is some light on one side and shadow on the other.
3. Consider the location, background, and scenery
The location or setting can dramatically affect the feeling of romanticism (or the lack thereof). Sunsets may seem cliche, but they produce striking images, especially when combined with a silhouette approach.
Don’t forget that you can leverage the setting to produce a romantic feeling; you don’t need to rely on light alone. For example, what season is it? If it’s autumn, take advantage of the changing colors of the leaves. Use the outfits of the season that make your couple feel warm and cozy, such as long boots, scarves, and hats.
In winter, you can always use the whiteness of the snow or the bleak bare branches of the trees to create a romantic story for your couple. You can also go to a cafe and take pictures of your couple having a nice hot chocolate by a crackling fire. If it’s summer, shoot early and late to avoid the harshness of the midday sun and/or use props such as parasols, flowers, balloons, and kites to celebrate the warmth of the sunshine.
If you’re shooting in the spring, look for cherry blossoms, maybe the first bud of the season, the first crack of the ice, or the last of the frost.
The goal is to put the couple in context and leverage the result to create a romantic story!
4. Use foreground layering in your shots
Layering is an incredible tool for images, and it’s simple to use, too. The idea is to “hide” behind a foreground object that you then incorporate into your compositions. Here, for instance, I hid behind the corner of a wall:
And here, I hid behind a window:
What makes layering so great is that it makes the couple seem separate from the viewer – like they’re in their own happy place. That’s why layering is one of my favorite tricks!
Note that you can shoot in open spaces and still use layering. Just grab something, put it in front of your lens, and pretend that the camera is peeking through the gap. You can use leaves, rocks, a bit of fabric…the possibilities are endless, and you can even bring various items with you to create interesting effects. For instance, you can wrap cellophane around the lens for a hazier look, or you can dangle a prism to create a sun flare.
Pro tip: Experiment with foreground objects placed at different distances while using different apertures. The closer the object is to your camera and the wider the aperture, the blurrier the object will appear.
5. Encourage eye contact between the couple
To me, the most romantic couple photography evokes total privacy – the sense that no one is present except for the couple. In normal portrait situations, I want a connection between the viewer and the subject, which is generally facilitated through eye contact. However, for romantic portraits, I prefer to avoid eye contact and instead ask the partners to look at one another.
If you direct the couple correctly and you carefully compose your shots, the viewer will feel like the couple is alone. No one is there sharing their moment; it’s their own private time.
Of course, you’ll need to guide the couple, but the goal is to capture the scene as if it were true and real. The connection should be clear, and if you don’t have eye contact between the couple, make sure they’re touching hands or whispering into each other’s ears.
6. Tell a story with your photos
A picture that tells no story has no soul. And given the practically limitless number of photos you can take with a digital camera, you can write a novel! Go into each romantic photography session with a story in mind – a beginning, a middle, and an end. (That’s how I approach every engagement and wedding shoot that I conduct!)
Your story doesn’t need to involve specific photos. Rather, it’s more of a mindset. As you begin a couples session, think about the opening scenes. Would you have your couple walking hand in hand? Having a coffee? Whispering in one another’s ears? Reading a book together?
Then start to think about the middle of the story. Would they shop in a market? Admire some landmarks? Do an activity they both love?
Finally, how does the story end? Does the couple walk away from the viewer? Or do they sit and relax? Do they put their feet up on a bench after a long day? Do they kiss? Or do they have a dramatic ending, such as a stunning silhouette as the sun fades?
Each couple has its own unique story. When you meet your subjects, you’ll get a feel for their personalities, their likes, and their dislikes. Aim to quickly piece together the right story, then tell it using your camera!
Romantic couples photography tips: final words
I hope you found these tips helpful! Capturing romantic portraits doesn’t have to be hard, but you do need to approach each session carefully and deliberately. And the more you tell a story, the better the photos will turn out!
Now over to you:
Which of these tips do you plan to use during your next photoshoot? How will you create romantic images? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- 5 Tips for Creating Romantic Portraits of Couples
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES