When I first started photographing engaged couples it went a lot like this: Client contacts me -> We pick a popular location for the session -> They ask about wardrobe colors and styles based on what “photographs well” -> I recommend MY favorites -> They show up -> I show up -> We take pictures.
During the session I would work hard to guide them into poses I’d recently seen online or we’d literally look at a Pinterest photo they loved and I’d try to recreate it for them. Insert complete disappointment in myself here.
Thankfully my approach has entirely changed since those days of being an incredibly shy and play it safe photographer. Here’s the set of realizations that have completely transformed how I photograph those in love.
My clients are UNIQUE. Their love is unique. Their personalities are unique. And their story is unique. So why would their photos be anything other than unique?
This idea, to try and turn my head away from thinking solely about what kinds of popular poses I can direct, and instead creating real, genuine movement and poses that truly reflect these two people and who they are together, has pushed me to improve at every session. The real challenge then became – How do I accomplish this more personal photo path when we’ve spoken only a handful of times?
Here’s a few steps I take to capture the true personalities of my clients…
THE INITIAL CALL
During the first call with the engaged couple, I have two main goals: Learn as much as I can about WHO they are and HOW they met.
What style wedding are they planning? What do they do for fun? What are they most excited about for their day? What are their hobbies? Do they seem laid back? Fun-loving? Funny? Are they more serious? I take notes about anything and everything that will give me more insight into their personal lives and their personalities.
CHOOSING A LOCATION
Let’s be real – I love me some beautiful photo locations. I don’t complain about mountain views, fabulous greenery or gorgeous architecture, unless the client is ONLY choosing those locations because they’re pretty. Instead of choosing a spot because of what it looks like, I now ask my clients to choose a location for what it feels like. What makes them feel most comfortable? Where do they love to be?
By encouraging clients to choose a location that they feel emotionally connected to, and learning the backstory of why they chose it, I’m much more likely to guide those clients into more natural, comfortable situations that will pull out their true selves.
We all get this question – “What colors and patterns photograph best?”. I can totally give my clients a list of styles that scream amazingness to me, but really, who am I to alter their personal style? My answer is now always this: “When you look back on these photos years and years from now, and want to feel this excitement all over again, don’t you also want to smile at that sweater you couldn’t go anywhere without? Or laugh because your young hunk of a fiance was wearing his favorite muscle shirt?”
Inspiring clients to prioritize their personal style when choosing a wardrobe is simply an other way of further celebrating who they actually are.
LEVERAGING THE NATURAL
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m rarely shy when it comes to giving direction. During styled shoots or more formal photos I’m an absolute bossy pants. However, I’ve learned that scaling direction back a little, especially during the beginning of an engagement session when I’m learning how my clients act as a couple, is key. Giving a general direction at first allows me to see what they do naturally, and then I tailor my next set of guidance accordingly.
For example, I will literally only say “walk together”. My clients then look at me as though I’m beyond awful at this, and then I watch as they take their best guess at what I’m asking them to do. What they don’t realize is that I’m watching very carefully. I’m looking at their hands, how close they are, what side they feel most comfortable on, how they are looking at each other, etc., so that when I have them do it again I can then give much more organized and creative direction, while playing off the natural movements they unknowingly just showed me.
UNDERSTAND COMFORT LEVELS
I find that some clients are simply more shy and reserved about their relationship. Nothing is wrong with this. It’s part of being in such a personal business. It simply means I need to work harder and smarter to decode what makes that engaged couple so special together. To tackle this, I usually will do a more thorough intro before we get started. I’ll give examples of poses and movements I might be trying with them, chat about life, and ultimately just focus more on creating a relationship right away in hopes that they relax a bit. Making a connection as early as possible in the session means less walls to run into throughout the remaining couple of hours.