Shooting couples is like portraiture with an extra dynamic – relationship. Having been trained in television I’ve seen many a director at work cajoling the very essence of a plot out of the actors. Passion to pain all come easily into shot with the right cast and a great director.
It all started with this wedding day shot of some great clients of ours taken by Julie. It has a magic quality because the bride and groom share each others personal space. They exude tenderness and love without even making eye contact. The shot was taken in Regents Park just to the East of Queen Mary’s Gardens. There was a water feature and a spectacular landscape behind them. Faced with such a beautiful area it would be easy to miss this moment and the opportunity to shoot at the minimum shooting distance of a Nikon 80-200mm zoom. Julie captured the shot on a Fujifilm FinePix S1. And at a mere 3.2 million pixels it was the perfect wedding shooters tool back in 2002 when this shot was taken. The couple in the picture are still our clients today regularly traveling to Somerset for family portrait sessions.
I spent the first part of my wedding career believing I could not get the same emotion in my pictures because my clients are not actors. I was wrong because of one fundamental difference. My couples are in love and as that is the principal emotion I want to capture and so there is no acting to be done. It is real heartfelt emotion and that comes naturally. Do the shots still need directing? Yes absolutely. The process is quite straightforward. I look after the lighting, exposure, backgrounds and the location before I start to direct the action.
This is hands on and it needs to be. The results may look reportage at times but believe me these shots don’t come without a modicum of direction and taking control. The system I use is fun to shoot and a great experience for my clients too.
With careful placement of the couple it is quite easy to take intimate portraits that exhibit a reportage feel. The out of focus foreground and background plus the magical lighting give this shot a classic feel. I took is using my 100mm macro lens on my Canon 5D mk2. I shot wide open at f/2.8 and at a focal distance of 77cm according to the EXIF data. Close enough to be right in there but far enough to keep a wonderful perspective.
The one thing most of these pictures have in common is my subjects heads are tipped towards each other. I use this head position as a visual clue to indicate approval and acceptance. I also love the use of an intimately close proximity. I then combine these two elements with an expression to illustrate anything from contentment, to amorous intent. That’s the fun bit – putting a narrative into a picture.
Very powerful pictures can be created with simple poses. Here I asked Lisa to reverse into her man Sean and to snuggle in. I asked Sean to dip his head and I then directed emotion. I’m not sure exactly what words I used but I had them both ‘feeling the love’. This is easier done with closed eyes by the way, not mine, theirs. We were fortunate enough to be in the back streets of Siena in Tuscany and the moment was perfect. I used a 70-200mm zoom lens on my Canon 5D mk2 at it’s minimum focal distance and zoomed right in to 200mm.
This uber stylish bride and groom were shot in much the same way. I asked the bride to snuggle in from the rear this time. Dipped heads, closed eyes and a passionate warm expression that comes from the heart was all we needed. The smiles of contentment are perfect for a wedding day. Anything more lustful or implying is best left for pre and post wedding shoots. I love attention to styling details like the brides neckless matching the wave in her hair parting line and the grooms open necked black shirt contrasting with his white suit.
It is really important to bring something else to the pre and post wedding shoots other than non wedding clothes. I like to shoot passion, excitement, intimacy and fun. The wide shots on pre wedding shoots are certainly straightforward. Almost all photographers take great wide shots, the figures in the landscape type shots. Like the couple walking away from camera in an idyllic setting, holding hands and looking at each other. But I have found that it is the close intimate shots that take a set of pictures to another level.
This ‘mid shot’ (from the waist up) of Lisa and Sean is a stepping stone from the scene setting shot showing the whole alleyway to the intimate close up shots that followed. It records a progression in the moment. I asked Lisa to hold the door knocker/ horse tie up ring and to tilt her head back into Sean. This is a typical submissive gesture. Sean’s firm grip on Lisa adds a bit of tension but his gentle kiss diffuses it. Often it is the story that an image can tell that makes it a success.
Next time you watch a romantic scene in a film or TV drama look carefully at how the scene is shot. Often there is an establishing wide shot followed by a string of over the shoulder close ups alternating between partners. Each pair of close ups getting tighter than the previous. The movie director is constructing a visual time line in much the same way that we lay out a wedding album plan. Telling the story chronologically is our goal and we have the freedom to do it how we wish. When Julie and I started to shoot weddings we used the same visual techniques that I had used at the BBC. We told the story of the day with a system and rhythm of pictures. This was our USP and set our products apart from the majority of our competitors. We captured all the emotions and moments of the day using a system: wide shot, followed by close up, close up, close up. And repeated it. Nowadays the way we shoot is slightly different but we know the power of the close up and the benefits of getting right in there amongst the action.
This shot is a simple progression in the story from the shot above. I found a pose that I liked on Google images in the results of a search on ‘passion’. It showed a couple intimately linked with the guys hands on the throat of the girl. It was verging on a picture of abduction but I knew it could be reconstructed into a far stronger and more positive picture. With my screen grab in hand in the streets of Siena I set about evolving the pose into this one. The light was fading and I had to shoot at ISO 1600 to achieve 1/60th of a second with my 70-200mm lens wide open. When I start cropping out eyes in my shots I know it is getting near the limit. Nothing in this shot is really sharp but it doesn’t matter, the emotion is everything.
This was one of my favourite images from a recent shooting couples workshop. The narrative in the picture could be; Stina the independent woman doesn’t really need her man Joel. He is depicted as far keener on her than she is on him. That’s not the case of course, but eye contact with the camera makes the photographer a powerful third person in the mix. By the way, Stina loved this shot so much she ordered it as a canvas for Christmas.
The pose for this simple over the shoulder glance was borrowed from a perfume advert. the original advert image is ‘saying’ to the consumer ‘if you wear this perfume you too can have a man like this’. In my image, Lisa is sharing a glance with me. She is saying ‘Ive got my man and I’m delighted with him’. Sean is not privy to this exchange. I shot this frame with a 135mm L lens that I borrowed for a test. A lack of an image stabiliser meant that I struggled to get sharp shots throughout the day. I eventually opted to go for the 100mm Macro L f/2.8 IS because I can use it right down to 1/15th second and nearly always get lucky. At 1/60th second it is like a rock.
This pose is similar to the previous one, but reversed. I shot it wider and from above to add to my vintage lighting. I used two Arri Fresnel spotlights to light Sarah using a key and kick technique. My 100mm lens at f/2.8 gave a sufficiently small depth of field to give the shot a classic movie look.
This is an over the shoulder close up. Stina has eyes only for Joel and her face is alight with fun and love. I shot this at a distance of 1.2m from Stina so there is a feeling of intimacy in the viewpoint. I much prefer shooting close ups with a 100mm lens rather than the 200mm I was used to in my zoom days. The closest focussing distance of the long zoom meant 200mm was needed to get a tight enough shot. ISO 400, 1/100th second at f/4
By bringing Lisa’s hands up onto Sean’s neck I depicted her desire and intentions. Her unbroken gaze says the rest. The viewer is in no doubt of an impending kiss. Shooting frames that anticipate an outcome is exciting story telling. I lit Lisa and Sean with a couple of Arri Fresnel spotlights and used ISO 800, 1/60th at f/4
Here is the same moment but on a wedding day from 2003. I lit the bride and groom with my Arri 300 Fresnel spotlight to give a classic movie feel to the shot. It is nothing new to say the moment just before the kiss is the one to shoot, not the kiss itself but it needs saying none the less. Eyes closed is another golden rule for the ‘just about to kiss’ shot. Fujifilm S2 with a 70-200mm lens at f/4. I used ISO 800 and 1/125th second exposure.
Flare is in right now. I’m not sure that it will be as fashionable for as long this time around as it was in the 70s and 80s. One thing to note with the ‘just about to kiss’ shot is you need to ensure there are no squashed noses. It is fun directing the detail for these shots and it can lead to a trust and long lasting friendship between you and your clients. This level of intervention is not for every photographer but if you have a go you might just love the results as much as I know your clients will. 100mm lens at a distance of 1.2m. ISO 400, 1/250th second wide open at f/2.8. Oh and I removed the lens hood and shot into the sun for the added flare effect.
I love this profile shot. It’s a pose that is part of my repertoire. The hand positions and eye lines create strong diagonals. I always resist the Dracula shot. That’s the one where the man is seemingly sucking the blood out of the neck of the girl. If you find yourself repeating the standard poses why not evolve them into a new personal set and shoot close ups to accompany them. Do some research, borrow from the past and borrow ideas from the interweb.
My shooting couples workshop information can be found here. You can also browse our range of upcoming photography training courses here.
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