May 17th, 2010
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.