How to pose couples ~ A photo guide by Damien Lovegrove

This is part of my guide to posing couples and groups available in full as a PDF for just £2.95 here.

Let’s first discuss couples in photographs. Working with more than one person at a time as your subject causes all sorts of complexities. Let me unravel them for you.

I used a flight of stone steps to form the base of this shot. The groom was sat on the step above the bride and she is sat within his legs leaning back into him. I like to ensure the cuff links and watch are visible on the groom when I’m shooting wedding couples. They are blissfully delighted and intimately unaware of those around them. ISO 400, 1/1500th second at f/4

1. I used a flight of stone steps to form the base of this shot. The groom was sat on the step above the bride and she is sat within his legs leaning back into him. I like to ensure the cuff links and watch are visible on the groom when I’m shooting wedding couples. They are blissfully delighted and intimately unaware of those around them. ISO 400, 1/1500th second at f/4

I find it’s worth planning a shoot, by asking what is the subject of my photographs? To say they are portraits is not enough. In the case of couples, is it the love between them, or the perceived lack of it in a humorous brother and sister shot? It could be the clothes that the couple are wearing in a fashion shot or even just the way the couple look in a traditional or environmental fine art portrait. My point is, ensure you start the shoot with the end image in mind.

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2. I used the same set up as in shot one but this time the motivation is a shared moment of delight and fun. Notice the strong diagonal in the eye line between them. ISO 800, 1/1500th second at f/4

When I started photographing people for a living I did plenty of research. I cut out pages from magazines and I read books on the subject, most of which were appalling. I’ve always found that the most inspiring people pictures could be used to illustrate a poem or even adorn the cover of a novel. They say a good picture is worth a thousands words and I agree. I ask myself this simple question before I take a portrait, What do I want the picture to say?

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3. I knew Troy Corser the former world Superbike champion would be up for something different so I asked him to hop up on the stone pillar. His eye line with Sam created a gorgeous diagonal line that extended down to the bottom of the dress. ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/4

Each of my couple shots starts with a location, background and lighting decision. The location decision can involve finding a doorway, a set of stairs perhaps or a single step that can be used to match the heights of the couple. Then comes the decision on what background to select. Some locations like doorways can be shot from many angles and getting the shooting position right at this stage is important.

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4. A simple cushioned bench provided the support for this classic pose. The eye contact and the placement of the grooms hand set the mood of the shot. The intersection of verticals and horizontals in the composition is broken up by the brides legs. Lit with natural light. ISO 200, 1/60th second at f/4

I then make a lighting decision and get any rigging and exposure testing out of the way before I set my couple into the shot. A typical scenario at a wedding would involve letting the bride and groom mingle with their guests while Julie and I plan and light two or three shots in the library.

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5. Another bench shot, this time using a more intimate pose. By letting the girls legs cross the mans I’ve created an interesting shape, and revealed those fantastic shoes. ISO 400, 1/250th second at f/4

Once we are ready, we will fetch the couple in for a few shots. The shooting part of the process will be over in about a minute or so for a sequence of three or four shots in the album. We then let the couple mingle again while we rig the bedroom etc. This gives us time to rig our Arri 300w Fresnel light, our Lowel 100w battery light or set up a Speedlight and practice the shots.

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6. When things get more intimate still it is easy to create simple emotive pictures. For this shot I reversed Lisa-Marie into Sean and set a simple head pose within their personal space.The eye line, cheek line and jaw line create the diagonal from top left to bottom right. When I see a painting or a photograph like this I always ask myself what are they thinking and feeling. ISO 800, 1/125th second at f/4

Posing our wedding couples is a mechanical process to some extent. We know what we are aiming to create so Julie and I often act out the pose to our couples to give then the information that they need. The fine tweaking is always done with direction. The whole process flows with captures being taken along the way.

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7. Just one eye and a strong top left to bottom right diagonal sets this shot up. I placed Lisa-Marie’s hand onto the side of Sean’s collar and directed the look of desire. I lit the scene with an Arri 300w Fresnel light and used the daylight from a distant window to provide the kick light on Lisa-Marie’s face. ISO 800, 1/50th second at f/4

We have a simple set of guidelines that we adhere to. We always ensure that the principal points that need to be in focus in the image are in the same focal plane. This will allow us to shoot at our beloved f/4. We use diagonal lines in our composition so that the pictures have style without the need to tilt the camera in that passe late 90s style and above all, we ensure that the couple are comfortable because this will show in the pictures.

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8. This kind of shot is a favourite of mine. The direction for this shot was an over the shoulder look back at me with the thought I’ve got my man. Including just part of Sean’s face is enough to frame the shot and support the motivation. ISO 1250, 1/80th at f/3.2

We often use solid objects, benches, door frames and walls to transfer the upper body weight into a surface other than the ground. This keeps our sitters still and ensures we have a fixed focus position to helps us to get the focus spot on.

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9. This is another picture lit with my Arri 300w Fresnel light that leaves me wondering what they are thinking and feeling. The eye contact to camera makes this shot a three way story with the viewer. We are looking at him looking at her looking at us. The touch of their heads and his mysterious unlit eyes add to the drama. ISO 800, 1/60th second at f/4

Before we direct the expression to create the soul in our images we look at our couple carefully adjusting the position of their arms and hands to ensure we have created a flattering pose. We then establish the eye lines. Each person can have eye contact with their partner, eye contact with us the photographers, eyes closed or two of the above. Finally we direct the expression using adjectives like; cool, relaxed, strong, powerful, confident, warm, excited, flirty, naive, and vulnerable. It really is no different from shooting a movie except the photographer takes on the roles of location manager, lighting designer, director of photography and camera operator.

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10. This delightful shot of Helen and Kevin, one of my favourite couples, was taken on their pre wedding shoot. I only used my Hasselblad 210mm f/4 lens at f/4 for the whole shoot. I placed Helen right in the centre of the frame and squeezed Kevin into the periphery behind her. Helens face just lights up the shot. ISO 400, 1/320th at f/4

Rhythm and timing is needed to capture the perfect moment because the couple are not static. There is a flow in the process from one pose to the other. Forget a shoot process that involves fumbling for focus then re-framing after directing the couple. I get those two bits out of the way, reengage with my couple, create a moment and capture my shot at the perfect moment.

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11. When I want to use open spaces at weddings I like to direct couples to practice their first dance. How gorgeous does this bride look and feel being admired by her man. ISO 800, 1/350th second at f/4

I use a monopod so that once I’ve got focus right I can swing the camera out of the way and without me moving my head I can fully engage with my couple to create the moment. I then swing the pre-focussed camera back in anticipation of the perfect frame capture time.

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12. I placed Sean against a wall and reversed Lisa-Marie into him. She rested her head back into his chest and I directed strong independent expressions. The diagonal from top left to bottom middle is met half way by the diagonal of the out of focus background lights and that of Lisa-Marie’s eyes. ISO 1250, 1/25th second at f/3.5

If you get the timing and energy creating bit right you can get away with less than perfect sharpness and the picture will still carry. Mario Testino’s pictures of Princess Diana taken in August 1977 is proof of this point. The subject movement caused by his use of a slow shutter speed doesn’t detract from his intimate and dynamic photographs at all.

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13. I asked Sean to be a ‘pillar of strength’ while Lisa-Marie embraced him from behind. She is standing on a wall that makes her higher than him and in turn this forces her into a softer more dynamic pose. It’s a modern take on the piggy back pose that was made popular by a Calvin Klein advert in the late 90’s. All four eyes are on the same focal plane and pin sharp. ISO 200, 1/200th at f/4

My advice is to build a repertoire of poses that work and select from them to suit your picture needs. Avoid stiff, ugly or ludicrous poses. There’s a pose I regularly see that I call the ‘vampire kiss’ shot where the man looks like he is sucking the blood out of the neck of his partner and there’s the ‘banana snap’ where the couple are standing together facing each other and then bent over each other in an awkward, painful and uncomfortable pose. Try to avoid shooting anything that looks unnatural or just wrong.

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14. The grip of the hands and the softness of his kiss provide an intriguing contrast. Another ‘reverse in’ pose is softened with a submissive over the shoulder look. The closed eyes complete the image. ISO 200, 1/200th at f/3.2

Practice makes perfect. Pre-wedding shoots are perfect opportunities to try out new ideas. Slip the odd new idea into each shoot to gradually expand on what works for you. I had to spend years perfecting my communication with my couples to get the looks and energy I wanted in my pictures. I’m often asked by emerging photographers ‘What do you say to your couples to get the looks’? My answer is that it’s not about one liners, it’s about creating genuine rapport, having fun, developing trust, and above all, a transfer of enthusiasm. A Lovegrove pre-wedding shoot may only last an hour or so but it is incredibly exhausting and exhilarating for the three of us.

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15. Again, it is the grip of Lisa-Marie’s hands combined with a furtive over the shoulder look that sets the mood of this shot. The open shirt adds to the story. I could see this shot on the cover of a popular novel. ISO 3200, 1/50th second at f/4 (Canon 5D mk2)

If you want to experience my techniques on posing couples at first hand join me on a Photographing Couples workshop, we are regularly adding a wide range of photography training courses online. In the mean time download my complete guide to posing portraits worth £10 for just £2.95. It has 20 pages of well laid out information an annotated photographs. It is a labour of love that unravels the secret systems I use to make my portrait, couple and group pictures.

Please feel free to comment below.

Looking for more inspiration? You may be interested in these posts.
Couples Photography
The pre-wedding shoot
Pictures with passion

Photography Portraits and Couples Posing Guide

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About Damien

Damien Lovegrove learned his trade as a cameraman and lighting director during 14 years at the BBC, working on programmes such as the Clothes Show, Top of the Pops and Casualty. Fifteen years on, Damien has become one of the foremost trainers of photography and entrepreneurial business strategies in our industry. A published writer and regular columnist, Damien has travelled the globe sharing his knowledge and expertise. “Photography fascinates me” declares Damien. "Much of my photography is inspired by a burning enthusiasm within me” explains Damien. “Picking up a camera gives me such a rush that I’m instantly driven to create pictures.”

52 thoughts on “How to pose couples ~ A photo guide by Damien Lovegrove

  1. Great tips and advice as ever Damien coupled with some lovely images. Troy Corser too, an old favourite superbike racer of mine and he’s now leading the charge for BMW. Great stuff.

    Darren.

  2. Fabulous advice as ever, thanks for this Damien. Wish I’d had this at my pre-wedding shoot on Saturday! :-) Lots of great ideas to try out, and beautiful images of course.

  3. A great article Damien. I particularly agree with your advice about making poses that are natural (I can’t abide the vampire bite either). Thanks as ever for your generosity to those of us who are just starting out in this business. I’m hoping to book onto one of your courses next year! Matt

  4. Hi Gemma,

    Keep practicing and adapting your photography to suit your client relationship. I get my best shots when I direct like a movie director, Cheers, Damien.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing these tips Damien! This post has been very helpful. I’m very limited in the vocabulary of posing, I’m glad you are describing each pose in such detail!

  6. You make it look so easy and these kind of tips with the great use of available light shows stunning portraiture which is what young photographers need to see in order to be up there with the pros in a few years time…..
    I do not use this kind of set up portraiture but its still good to see how it is done properly, the lighting though is spot on and that is what I take from these kind of forums…..
    Number 6 is a stunning shot

  7. Looking for help with couples business photos. My wife and I are Realtors in Sarasota FL, when ever I see couples photos of Realtors the shots look so lame. Any suggestions? I was looking at Helen and Kevin’s shot and thinking more along those lines, yet more business like.
    Can you send me any good samples to take to the photo shoot?

  8. Love this post – though it’s taken me ages to get back to it as I couldn’t help but look at so many of the newer posts – which I seem to have missed since Pulse on my Ipad reset and lost my rss feeds

    Great shots – Great Advice! Thanks

  9. I have just taken up photography and I bump into this site and found very useful tips. Will incorporate your guides in my future outings.
    Thank you very much for sharing.

  10. What a great article about something that is quite difficult to get right. I am looking forward to trying some of your suggestions this weekend on a pre-wedding shoot. Thanks for the article.

  11. Hi Damien,

    Do you have any examples of posing “Senior” couples? I’m shooting a “Dance Directory” of Couples in a retired community and would appreciate some “tips” on how I can pose the couples and cater to women who don’t always want their hands showing or “side views” which shows sagging neck skin.
    Any help or information you can (or will) provide is appreciated. Thank you.

  12. Hi Lindy,

    Unfortunately I dont have any tips for seniors. I always apply the same rules as I do for any age of person. I use my eyes to see how best to photograph each person and I seek out their assets to highlight. If someone has a great body shape I will shoot looser pictures and for great personality I will capture that spark in their eyes. I often get accused (rightly so) of just photographing young gorgeous models but I’ve had ten years of shooting regular weddings and capturing grandparents etc. I love people whatever their age. If the shots look good they are good.

    I’m sorry to not have been more help. Best regards, Damien.

  13. Hi Tony,

    Thank you for your kind words. Once you are acostomed to getting everyone looking fab it becomes a joy to do.

    Kindest regards, Damien.

  14. Hey damien, i am A budding photographer and your collection helped me a lot Thanks….

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