For Photographers: 5 Tips for More Authentic, Natural "Un-posing"

If you're anything like me you absolutely loathe seeing photos of those fake, stiff, prom-like poses and plastered smiles on couple's faces. Let's all just be real, those kind of photos look fake because they are fake. When you look at super posed images I think you can feel the photographer standing there telling them what to do, even if the photographer isn't in the photo. Because no couple actually stands awkwardly with the guy behind the girl with his hands on her stomach with cheesy smiles in one direction. Show me a couple who does that in real life, and I'll maybe reconsider my stance. But until then... my goal for my photography work is always to capture real, natural emotion, to tell love stories in the most authentic way possible, that is true to each and every couple that gets in front of my lens.

Over the years through lots of trial and error, I've figured out a way to capture my couples in a natural, candid way that isn't forced, posed, or stagnant. Because I believe in the power of education and elevating the photography industry as a whole, I want to share with you 5 tips I use for every one of my sessions to get more authentic, natural poses (or rather) un-poses out of my clients. Here we go!

pacific-northwest-elopement-photographer.jpg

1) Think like a director - not a photographer

The biggest tip I can give you to help create more natural, candid moments in your photo sessions is to change your mindset from being a photographer to being a director. The second I stopped thinking of a list of "poses" to give my clients, and switched to giving them different directions (or things to actively do), everything changed. Even pretend that you're videoing them instead of photographing them and see what happens. If you were really videoing someone and they stopped moving and froze in a pose... it would be awkward right? Here's a couple of directions I like to give my couples to facilitate natural emotion or reactions. (Sidenote: Some of them are ridiculous on purpose. Oftentimes these directions aren't the actual thing I want to photograph, but they lead to reactions that are priceless and candid - which BINGO! - is exactly what I'm after.) 

  • Run towards/away from me bumping hips and falling into each other.
  • Whisper your favorite sandwich ingredient into their ear in the sexiest voice possible.
  • Take turns leading each other by the hand parallel to me - and play tug of war with your arms. 
  • Ask if one of them is ticklish (the one who immediately says NO is the one who is...) and ask the other one to tickle them. Works every time for natural laughs.
  • Take any static pose and just add movement to it by having them rock back and forth.
  • Tell one of them to kiss up and down the other one's face, neck, and arm as fast as possible.
  • Trace each other's faces with your nose.
  • Walk around in the space like you're tipsy and flirting with each other. 
India-and-Jay-14.jpg

2) Put movement into everything

This one goes hand in hand with the first. Movement in photographs is always going to be more interesting than two people just standing there. So even if you pose your couple into more of a traditional pose, adding little things to facilitate movement in that pose can immediately bring life into your image. You can have them rock back and forth, hop, sway, whisper in each other's ear, or crack a joke yourself to get them laughing. The possibilities are endless. Whether it's big, crazy movement, or something as simple and intimate as asking the guy to run his fingers through her hair, keep them moving no matter what.

I'll use an example from a recent shoot of mine. For Kory and Elise's couple session we started off in this big field. In the first photo I just had them standing there holding hands smiling at the camera. It's very posed. Now it's not a bad photo, but with just a little tweaks of movement added, it became a much more natural photo. I told them not to focus on me at all, and for Elise to move her dress back and forth. I knew that the wind would blow her dress as she moved it back and forth. Even just that little tweak of adding movement to a static pose can bring it to life so much more. 

adventurous-destination-elopement-hawaii-photographer_0001.jpg

3) Get to know your couple before you ever click the first shutter

Something I've started doing recently that has made a world of difference is to treat my couples like my bffs. How can we as photographers expect our clients to be vulnerable enough to open up and let us in to capture their relationship if we are strangers to them? Right..?! I now start almost every session of mine by meeting up with my couples at a coffee shop or even bringing a 6 pack of beer to the shoot location and getting to know each other over drinks. Not only does this start the session off on a chill, relaxed note, but it gives me a chance to get to know who they are! I ask them how they met and fell in love. I ask him how he proposed. And I tell them my story too so they know who is photographing them. This step could so easily be overlooked or forgotten, but it's important to me to build that relationship and trust with my couples before I ever click the first shutter.

adventurous-destination-elopement-hawaii-photographer_0002.jpg

4) Don't tell them to do things two humans in love would never naturally do

The key to capturing natural photos that are authentic and candid, is to avoid telling your couple to do things that aren't natural for two people in love to do. That may seem like a no brainer, but here's a perfect example of a pose that a billion of us photographers do that if we really thought about why we're doing that pose we'd probably reconsider... I'm including myself in this don't worry.

"Okay, now can I have you both stand back to back."

Who else has done this pose? My hand is raised so high. But when was the last time you were on a date with your love and suddenly felt the need to stand back to back with your arms crossed? HA. Never. I think there's a lot of poses out there that we photographers do because we once saw someone else do them, and we blindly adopt those into our wheelhouse without actually taking time to think if they make sense. Posing people in ways that aren't something they would naturally do is a surefire way to make an image look more staged and fake. Cause you told them to do it, they didn't do that naturally. Amen?! Amen. 

seattle-intimate-elopement-photographer.jpg

5) Don't touch them

Wanna know what happens the second you go up to a couple and start molding their bodies into the pose you want? They shut down. Without doing it intentionally you're telling them that what they were naturally doing wasn't good enough, so much so that you had to physically put them in the form that you want. Going up and touching either of them also interrupts their bubble as a couple. We want them to feel comfortable and relaxed enough to let us into their intimacy. If we pop that bubble by posing them with our hands, it ruins their moment. An alternative way to show them that you want them to do something without actually touching them is to act it out yourself. You can show them exactly what you want while also being slightly ridiculous, which makes them feel more empowered to be just as silly. Win win for everyone.

new-york-city-wedding-photographer.jpg

And there you have it. These 5 tips are things I implement into every shoot or wedding I photograph, and it's made a world of difference in my work. I hope this empowers you with the skills to go out and capture those intimate, raw, authentic moments on your next photoshoot: the un-posed, the natural, the ones that make your clients weep when they see their photos. I promise, the second we stop putting our couples into static, uninteresting poses, that's where the true magic lies.

Now tell me, if you have a fun non-posing direction or trick you use on your sessions, leave it below in the comments so we can all learn from each other! 


Lindsey Roman is an adventurous, destination wedding and intimate elopement photographer based out of Oahu, Hawaii but travels worldwide. She lives for outdoor adventures, intimate moments, and candid images. Her style is raw, passionate, and authentic. She believes in chasing sunsets, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.