As photographers we all dread it. That awkward silence and sluggish pace during a session with a couple when you know you haven't connected very well, and you're struggling really hard to create something authentic. The couple becomes stiff, and all you're getting out of them is stagnant poses that seem to resemble more of a mannequin than a human being. Here's the thing: if your couple is acting stale and rigid, it's 100% on you as the photographer, not them. A huge part of a photographer's job is learning how to draw natural emotion out of your couple, so if that's not happening, you're likely missing a key element to your shoot.
Trust me, we've all been there before, but the good news is we don't have to be. There's a bunch of steps we as photographers can take to ensure our clients are feeling comfortable and having fun. You know what happens when our clients become comfortable enough to be themselves? Natural emotion. Candid, unposed photos. Pure awesomeness. That's what.
Below are a few tips photographers can take to ensure that your clients are feeling comfortable and relaxed during their session, which will lead to natural emotion in your images:
1) Treat Them Like Your Best Friend
I know right? A crazy concept. Treating your clients more like lifelong friends verses a vendor will go so far with helping draw out authentic emotion from them. I personally get to know my couples as much as I can before I ever stick a camera in their face. I ask them how they met and fell in love. I ask them how he proposed. I ask them what they love to do together. I even ask them what their favorite TV show is, so we can likely bond over our mutual love for all things Grey's Anatomy. When emailing couples who are inquiring about my work, I do maintain professionalism, but more importantly, I express myself to to them as a friend. I show my personality in emails, so when they meet me in person I am the same goofy, free-spirited girl who they were corresponding with online. The best part about this tip? When you treat your clients like they are your best friends, you actually begin a real friendship that will last long after you've photographed them. And that's awesome.
2) Spend a Few Minutes Getting To Know Each Other Before You Start the Shoot
So even after they've told me their story via email, when I finally meet a couple in person for their session, I still spend a few minutes getting to know them before I ever grab my camera. Even if I'm asking them the same questions I asked in the email, hearing their story in person is 100% better than through a screen. It allows me the opportunity to see them connect, to hear how they interact together, and see their personalities come to life. This also allows them to get to know YOU better. If you want to take natural, authentic photos of them being passionate and intimate, you better believe they don't want to open up and do that in front of someone they don't know. Tell them why you became a photographer, why you love shooting couples, what your favorite food is. They will feel so much more comfortable with you after you do this. Pro Tip: If you're able, start the session by meeting them for beers or coffee before heading to the shoot together. This will loosen everyone up, and allow you to interact first as friends.
3) Act Out What You Want Them To Do In a Ridiculous Way
I'm an extrovert so this comes easy to me; however, even if you're more shy, if you practice doing this I promise it will pay off. When giving your couples direction, show them exactly what you want them to do yourself. However, when you show them, be a little bit dramatic and silly about it. If I want them to run towards me laughing, I'll act that out super ridiculously by running toward them frolicking and laughing super loudly into the air. It makes them laugh, and it shows them that if I'm willing to act ridiculous, they can too. Getting your couples into the mind space to act ridiculous and silly may look super strange to someone passing by, but when a millisecond of that is captured in an image, it's natural and joyful looking.
4) Give Them Actions To Do Instead of Poses
When you tell a couple an exact pose, there's no movement in that. However, if you tell them to run away from the camera joyfully, or for him to pick her up and spin her around, or for them to pretend I'm not there and kiss passionately, THOSE things will produce action that is more emotional than a stagnant pose. When I switched my mindset from giving my couples poses to giving them actions, my work suddenly came to life. That said, I will from time to time give them a pose or a certain way to stand, but whenever I do that, I still try and give them something to do while in that pose. That way they are always moving and interacting with each other, producing more natural, authentic reactions.
5) Tone is Everything
The direction you're giving your couples is important, but even more important is the tone with which you're giving those instructions. If you are trying to get more energetic feelings out of your couple, but you direction them in a quiet, meek, or disinterested voice, they probably aren't going to get what you're trying to communicate. Likewise, if you want something more intimate from them, direct them in a more quiet, attentive way. Talk to them in the tone of the emotion you want them to evoke.
6) Play Music
Every time I've played music during a session, it's enhanced the mood so much. When I play music, I have complete control in how I craft the feeling and mood of the session. For upbeat, adventurous sessions I'll play a fun, energetic playlist. For intimate in home sessions I'll try and play more intimate, soft music to enhance the intimacy I'm trying to draw out of my couple. Not only does this loosen them up, but it oftentimes it lets them melt into each other and completely forget I'm there, which to me, is always the goal of every session.
7) Give Them Positive Affirmation
People love to be praised, so take time during your session to let your couple know how amazing they are doing. Most people are not naturally comfortable in front of the camera, so they will probably be self conscious of how they look and what they are doing. As you direct them and they respond, tell them how awesome they are doing. If they did something amazing without being prompted, tell them how much you loved that. Positive reinforcement will never fail.
Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your next couple session. I promise you, if you implement all of these things, your photos will turn out better. Your couple will be relaxed, comfortable, and ready to play. Not only will you have candid, authentic, and REAL photos, but you'll also have made two new friends. If you try any of these tips in your session, tell me below how it went! Did your results show the difference?! Did your couple seem comfortable? Did it show in the photos? I'd love to hear your feedback!
Lindsey Roman is an adventurous, destination wedding and intimate elopement photographer based out of Oahu, Hawaii and available 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.