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A while ago, I went to the funeral for my husband’s dear Grandpa Wes, and I looked through old photos of him and his beautiful sweetheart, Daphene, who passed away just 6 months before (they couldn’t live without each other for very long). They had photos when they were young snuggled up together, holding hands, and even kissing, and it struck me how rare that was. Old photos usually are much more formal, and don’t show a lot of emotion or candid feelings. They also had more recent photos that showed the same affection, and that’s rare as well, to be married for decades and still have that connection. It made me realize even more how much I love what I do, and how much I especially love capturing those real moments, the ones that the grandkids will look back on later and say, wow, Grandpa and Grandma REALLY loved each other!
I’ve found some great ways to get couples to really connect for me, and hopefully these tips will help you capture a love story for every couple you photograph too.
I tell couples many times during a session to pretend that I am not there. It usually works to bring their focus on each other, and some of the focus off of me. You want your subjects to act naturally towards each other, and interact how they normally would on a daily basis. You don’t want them to be so worried about you taking their photo, that they forget that they even love each other.
I like to tell them to look at each other, and say everything they feel about the other person with their eyes only. Some couples actually have deep, meaningful connections when I ask them to do this. Others laugh at the corniness, but it doesn’t matter. They are laughing with each other, and the connection is there. Either way, have your camera ready, and capture it.
Another good interaction builder is to ask them to whisper something in the other’s ear. I tell them that I do not want to know what they said to each other under any circumstances! This usually helps them to relax, and gives them permission to whisper all sorts of things to each other that will either ignite sparks, or laughter. It doesn’t matter, as long as they are pretending I’m not there, pretending the camera isn’t there, and making a connection.
Most of us have a distance comfort zone that we like to keep around ourselves. We don’t usually like people to be too close, especially when a photographer is watching us. Your job is to get them closer to each other. It may feel a little uncomfortable to them at first, but remind them that in a photo it doesn’t look as close as it feels, it just looks like they love each other.
You want to have a physical connection somewhere. Ask them to bring their foreheads or noses together (depending on height difference). Ask him to put his hand on her cheek, or on her back. She could put her hands on his chest, or on the back of his head. A good old fashioned kiss can work great too. A physical connection could be as simple as a hand hold, but just make sure they are connected. You don’t have to direct every hand placement, and pose them into uncomfortableness. Sometimes it’s enough just to ask them to hug lightly. Little cues go a long way – you want them to be natural with each other, and connect in a way that feels comfortable to them.
People that aren’t particularly comfortable with the camera can get even more uncomfortable if there isn’t anything for them to do. Couples sessions can be easier than a solo session in that regard, because at least they have someone to hold on to, but sometimes that isn’t enough to get them comfortable with the situation. If you just expect them to stand there and make beautiful images for you, you might be disappointed.
Tell them to take a walk together, or look at each other and laugh. Corny? Yes. Effective? Most of the time. Use vehicles to sit on, sit in, or lean on. Let him push her gently on a swing. Have them bring a puppy to interact with together, or a horse to hold onto, or a blanket to sit on. Even a wall or tree to lean on can help them feel a little more comfortable.
It’s great to get a few photos of the couple looking at you, although I still try to get them to have that physical connection with each other (cheeks together, but facing you; her head on his chest, both facing you, arms around each other, etc.). However, you can show even more connection sometimes without showing their faces at all. Intertwined fingers are a favorite thing of mine to photograph. A head on a shoulder, their backs as they walk away, or holding hands can show a lot too. Find those little details that can tell their love story in a subtle way.
You’ve already told them to pretend you aren’t there, but you can really remove yourself by peeking your camera through branches, leaves, or curtains. Not only does it kind of remove you and the camera from the sight of your subjects, but it gives you a great perspective for your photo. It lets the viewer feel like they are peeking into something that they shouldn’t be seeing, and makes the emotions feel even more genuine.
Who doesn’t like a good love story? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a whole photo session with a loving couple is a romance novel. Your job as the photographer is to make it a good one.