Oh hey! Thanks for joining us in our littler corner of the internet! We are so happy you found us and that you want to improve your photography skills and the photography experience you give to your couples. Because for us, experience is king. So if you’re just here for a list of poses and prompts you can memorize before your next session then this won’t be the blog post for you.
It’s actually quite easy to take a decent photo of a couple, you could save a bunch of poses to your phone show them to your couple and mold and finesse them until everything looks good and then snap the photo. You would walk away with photos that look good but they would be meaningless to your couple and lack that intangible infectious emotion we all strive for in our imagery. Our goal when creating a photo is to literally infect the viewer with whatever emotion is at play, we want them to feel the image not just see it. So, if you’re struggling with your couples getting awkward in front of your camera and each time you go out and shoot it feels forced and contrived or just flat out difficult and unenjoyable then you are in the right place. Believe us, you can leave your shoots feeling incredible about the experience you gave and the photographs you captured.
We are Emily and Ryan a Husband and Wife wedding photography duo and like you we’ve been deep in the posing struggle. We used to scour Pinterest for posing inspiration which we would save to our phones and show to our couples (*cringe*). How awkward is that? We knew it felt awkward but at the time just starting out we didn’t know a better way to direct, communicate and flatter our couples.
Four years in business, hundreds of weddings and engagement sessions later and with a lot of thought we have dramatically improved our posing game and more importantly the experience we provide to our couples. Now we get endless variety on a session, never get stuck because there is NOTHING WORSE than not knowing your next move on a session, and most importantly our couples leave saying what an amazing experience it was.
We always like to say no one has busted out laughing or crying over a posed photo but we bet you’ve cringed at a posed photo in your lifetime. That’s why this is going to be more than a list of poses you can try out on your photoshoots. We are going to try to give you a photography toolbox that you can bring with you mentally to every couples session, engagement session and wedding that you photograph. It’s up to you as the photographer to read the energy, get to know your couples and foster an environment that informs you on which tools you should bring out of the box and which tools stay in for any given moment.
It takes time, it takes practice and we are still learning each and every time we go out and shoot. It’s like exercising, you’ll feel better immediately once you start implementing it but you may not see those dramatic results right away. But after keeping it with it, you’ll get better and better at it and the dramatic before and after will be within sight. There’s a lot we cover here so let’s get into it shall we?
Get our most used prompts HERE.
We are in constant communication with our couples leading up to their engagement session. From the time they book with us they are sent an email in Honeybook that outlines scheduling their session, best locations, what to wear guide etc. Once they decide on a date and location we begin talking with them about timing. We will look up sunset time for that date and if it’s on the beach look up information about tides. From there we tell them the best time of day for lighting (we love the hour before sunset called golden hour). Providing your couples with all of the information up front establishes you as an authority on the topic and they’ll feel safe knowing you are experienced and they don’t have to worry about anything except showing up.
We also send them a blog post link about what to expect at their session. We feel like this really helps because it takes away that fear of the unknown. The blog post talks about creating a Spotify playlist of their favorite songs that will put them in the right mood or headspace for the session, it talks about how we will use prompts, give direction, and gives general tips to help them loosen up. We highly recommend creating all of these guides and content for your couples so they can go into the session feeling really confident.
We recently added a pre-session questionnaire for our couples to fill out. It allows us to get a peek into their relationship and gives us a few insights we can hopefully use during the session. Some examples of questions on the questionnaire are:
How do you and your partner feel about having photos done?
Have you ever had photos done before? What was your experience like? What did you like or not like about it?
What are your favorite ways to be held by your partner?
What is your favorite thing about your partner?
What is something your partner does that makes you laugh?
These are just a few example of the questions we ask on the questionnaire but as you can see it gives us a lot of information that we can use during the session to our advantage and to the couples advantage because it allows us to capture the “real” them more.
We whole heartedly believe that communication is the difference between being a good photographer and a great photographer. To communicate effectively is not something that comes naturally to all of us, it doesn’t happen overnight and it will take a bit of time but each time you get out and shoot with a couple or talk on the phone in a sales call with them it will get better and better. It’s hard to be yourself over the phone especially, but practice will make perfect. If you know you struggle to show your personality over the phone try to meet with them in person or over a Skype call. Personally we are phone first people and try to take things out of email as much as possible to build that relationship.
If you can, meet up with your couple about a half hour before their session, bonus if it’s over a drink. This has multiple benefits, it ensures they aren’t showing up late to their session frazzled from being in traffic and rushing over after work (in fact we always recommend our couples take the day off work and make it a connection day that way they show up extra lovey dovey and connected). Also it will allow you to just chat with them, ask lots of questions, show an interest in their story. It will help give you insight into the two of them as a couple. You may even pick up on little things they naturally do like her grabbing his arm when she laughs or one of them being really funny which you can use during the session. Plus cocktails always help people loosen up a little, like seriously.
If you don’t have time for a pre session hangout or they don’t have the time then we recommend not having your gear fully ready to go until they get there. Generally we will wave them over to where we parked and put our gear together at our car as we chat a little. Ask a lot of questions but be genuine and don’t over do it. Try to connect by finding common ground. If your location is a bit of a walk from where you parked then you can skip this and just chat as you walk along to your photo location.
A sales call or a call about the engagement session doesn’t have to be so “salesy” or so corporate. Show your personality each and every time you have an opportunity to interact with them, from the very first inquiry email to the sales call and then definitely after booking. There are a lot of photographers out there who can take great photographs, amazing photographs in fact. But there is only one you, and being photographed is a scary vulnerable thing. They are going to want to vibe with their photographer so show them your personality and build that relationship one brick at a time.
Can you imagine never having your photos taken professionally and then showing up for your session and having only the sound of the photographer’s shutter going off? We can, and it’s kind of terrifying. Music helps set a mood (calm, relaxed, romantic, energetic, fun, wild), it kills the sound of your cameras shutter and if you are giving them cues to talk about something more personal it can help them relax from the fear of your hearing something intimate or embarrassing. It’s truly a game changer. We let our couples know they can create a playlist or they can go with ours. I created one in Spotify that I love. Quick tip, make sure you download it to your phone in case you are shooting up in the mountains or somewhere without internet. Then get on Amazon and buy a little blue tooth speaker that can clip to your camera strap or camera bag and you’re set.
Bonus, another question we have in our questionnaire is to list a few songs that have special meaning to the couple and we will throw them into the playlist. If you plan on using the prompt “practice your first dance” then ask them if they’ve decided on a first dance song yet and you can play it for them to make it extra meaningful.
We are always trying to laugh off things that can be uncomfortable moments. For example if you are getting really close to their faces when they are going in for a kiss we will joke like “don’t mind us guys, we are just coming into your little love bubble for a minute”. Things like that, we just will try to throw in humor when we can to lighten thing up a bit. If we give them a silly or embarrassing prompt we won’t ask what was said but we will bring up our own experience with something like that and poke fun at ourselves or our relationship.
Advising your couples on engagement session locations is part of your job. We recommend asking them about their relationship, maybe there is a place of special significance to them. Guiding them to a location choice that will feel like them is of utmost importance. If they hate sand on their feet and never go to the ocean it would feel off to do a beach engagement session. We always tell them to choose a place that feels representative of them otherwise they may feel uncomfortable and it will show in the photos. If they’re shy about PDA but want romantic photos choosing a location that won’t be super crowded may be better so they feel like they can let their guard down and be romantic without doing it in front of a bunch of strangers. The more fore thought you can help your couples put into their session location and attire the more comfortable and happy they will be with their choices.
That brought us to our next point, outfit suggestions. We recommend creating a guide for them that feels on brand but if you aren’t there yet a Pinterest board is seriously just fine. We will even tell our couples that they can snap a picture of which outfits they were torn between and we can help them choose. Tell them to think in terms of contrast from the environment they’ll be in. They don’t want to show up to the desert in all beige and become chameleons in the background. Also having them think in terms of complementary colors between the two of them (i.e. if she’s wearing rust, he would look great in blue). You don’t want one person showing up in stripes and the other person a full floral print, it is too busy and will distract from what you really want viewers to focus on in the photos which is the emotion or the atmospheric beauty. We always tell them to wear something that feels comfortable and feels like them, again if she never wears heels and a dress then don’t feel like you need to bust that out on the session. Something that makes them feel like the most confident version of themselves is always a winning idea. Make sure they know what kind of outfit to wear based on the location they’ve chosen. Don’t show up in heels and dress shoes on the beach or if you’re hiking up a rocky incline etc. Make sure the attire is going to help you and your couple tell the story they want to tell. If she wants piggy back rides, getting up on his shoulders and a ton of snuggly sitting poses a mini dress or miniskirt may not be the best option, recommend a romper instead (ya feel us?).
Just be human. Don’t get in your head too much, that’s one real quick way to start feeling bad about a session (we can all be our own worst enemies in that respect). Treat them as you would a friend, they hired you for YOU so just be yourself darn it! If you need a minute to think about your next move, tell them. It’s as easy as saying hey guys I’m going to go scout the next spot, or I am going to go test the light over here you two just hang out a minute. We all feel like our couples are going to judge us for “getting our settings right” or “checking out the light” but they aren’t and in fact little breaks from shooting are a welcome moment for your couple they need a bit of time to decompress too. No shame friends, no shame. When they can sense that you are being yourself it will give them a safe place to feel like they can be themselves. We are all a little weird it’s what makes the world a fun and interesting place, let your freak flag fly and they’ll get their goofy side out too.
Ryan and I have a huge advantage here because there’s two of us and we happen to like each other a lot so showing them a pose is no problem. I even do this on the wedding day if I am creating a more artistic portrait with just the bride or groom. I will tell them to mirror me and move one body part at a time then hit them with a prompt or get their friends involved for an expression. You want them to run around flailing like some sort of maniac? Well chances are if you model it for them first they will feel more comfortable doing it for you. I don’t know about you guys but we are better visual learners than we are auditory so showing your couple what you want from them rather than trying to describe it to them often works better. And saves you from saying “no, not like that more like this” a million times until you get it right.
It’s kind of back to that music argument to eliminate silence. If you shot the session saying little to nothing I can almost guarantee they would feel uncomfortable. Give them a pep talk/ expectation talk before you start shooting. We always tell our couples at the beginning of the session that if we give them a direction we don’t want them to just do that thing and then look back at us like “what’s next?” Stay in the moment, keep touching each other and interacting with one another. We joke and tell them imagine there are mosquitos all over your parter so you just have to keep caressing them away. We also tell them that if at any point the direction feels awkward or unnatural to get out of the pose because if it feels unnatural it will probably look unnatural too. And let them know if we give a prompt or pose they are uncomfortable with just let us know, no offense taken because these photos aren’t for us they are for the two of them. Give them positive reinforcement when they are doing something you love. If you aren’t loving something don’t waste any more time with it and try something that works better.
Speak with confidence when asking them to do something. If you sound hesitant and unsure it will be hard for them to commit. But it’s also okay to let them know you’re just trying something new (we usually reserve this for the end of the session when they have warmed up to you and the camera). But sometimes if we want to try a new pose we will drop really nonchalantly like “hey <name> what if you run your hands through your hair and then <name> you position slightly behind and caress that arm she has in her hair and place the other on the hip and kiss from her shoulder to her ear, once you reach her ear tell her what attracted you to her the most when you first saw her.” We scan them from their toes to the hairs on their head and see how everything looks and then since we told them we are trying something kind of new here we can tweak if something looks awkward or uncomfortable or just flat out isn’t flattering to them.
We love this saying because it holds so true. It’s like Shrek with peeling back the layers of an onion, you need to break down all of their walls that will naturally be up to get to the emotional center. Peeling back the layers starts all the way at the beginning of this blog before the session begins so go back and read that in case you skipped it. People need to laugh with you before they can cry with you so start breaking down their jittery nerves with some movement and some laughter. That’s why we like to start with something as simple as the walk. We joke with them that we start nice and easy with the walk because they’ve been doing it for like 26 years now and should be pretty good at it. There are so many variations to the walk, him leading her, her leading him, side by side, arm around shoulders, have one look back, have the other look back, bump hips into one another, walk backwards, skip with arms around each other, you get the idea. We have found the fastest way to break down some of the initial nerves is by incorporating some movement. We also start by shooting a bit further away, we aren’t going to start the session by getting within 12 inches of their faces and asking them to make out and bite each others lips, makes sense right?
Then insert some laughter, get them into a base pose that they can whisper into each other’s ears. Or have them do something as simple as hold hands look at one another and go back and fourth giving each other the first nickname that comes to mind, or take turns making each other laugh using only their eyebrows. Crack your own jokes too and be ready to shoot, always be ready to shoot. That’s how you get those in between moments that feel so candid because they are. Sometimes the prompts we give are to get those moments after not necessarily whats occurring the moment we give the prompt so just be ready.
As explained above, if things are feeling tense or you can sense their nerves get them moving. This is where you will play the more fun energetic music and you’ll give them directives like re-enacting a romantic comedy airport scene where they haven’t seen each other in months and you have them run to one another, they can lift one another, spin one another, fall to the ground together if it goes south.
Don’t put anyone in a box. You may never leave the laugh together stage and enter the cry together stage. Some couples are just goofy and that’s how they show their affection to one another. Some don’t feel comfortable with all of the romantic poses and prompts and that’s okay. Don’t put them in a box, if you are giving them a super romantic prompt and they are just laughing their butts off every time they get close to each others faces then that is your signal to keep your other tools in the tool box because these two are silly and the romantic stuff just isn’t them.
Just as it sounds, circle them like a hawk.
Start with the couple tiny as ants in this huge landscape, then go in for that more documentary/cinematic frame that includes environment to give a sense of place but not as much as tiny as ants did. Then swing in for the full body, waist up, just hands, just feet, just faces, just lips giving prompts and cues as needed for expression. Change your angles and perspective, even switch lenses. Shoot at a high F stop then drop it lower you can provide your couples with so much variety with out having to put them in a ton of poses because that’s exhausting for both of you, lighten the weight on yourself friend, ahhh that’s nice isn’t it?
You can get a ton of different images just from having them look in different places. Example, her look down shoulder while he nuzzles her temple with eyes closed, then switch roles. Have them look at each other, have them look in opposite directions, the same direction off in the distance, directly into the lens etc.
Anything you have him do to her, switch roles and have her do the same to him, less cues you have to memorize. Also it makes it so the session doesn’t feel like it was just about her for example it’s about both of them.
This is one of your greatest tools for creating variety. Have them change hand and arm placement without ever taking them out of the base pose. You can get endless variety from each base pose using this method.
Help give them the guidance of getting into a pose and then get them interacting with one another, step back and let it evolve. Don’t cut them short after asking them to share their favorite adventure with one another, allow them to have that moment and let it play out. Don’t feel like you have to hit them with a cue or prompt every couple of minutes, they will feel like they got whiplashed and you will feel exhausted.
A lot of the prompts that we use are very vague. Before we throw out a vague prompt we will tell our couples that hey we are keeping it vague so it’s up for your own interpretation this helps draw out their personalities and how they would perceive things. Examples are hugs heads, hug backs, kiss teeth, make her feel drunk in love, kiss her in 5 places other than the lips (instead of saying kiss her forehead or temple).
Not all prompts are related to an action some are just there to get them feeling all of the feels. We love if our couples can leave their session feeling more connected and more in love. Bringing up cues that will get them talking about their early days together is a great way of doing this as studies have shown that it ignites that loving feeling. Things like:
tell <name> what your first impression of them was
tell <name> what three physical qualities first attracted you to them
tell <name> your favorite memory from your early days together
If they are just walking along, sometimes we will yell out “quick, boomerang her in for a kiss” or during a piggy back ride tell him to give her a rough ride “buck her off, twerk her off.” “Roll your back side to side.” for the lift we will yell out “Make her dizzy, spin her around until she feels drunk in love!” If they are walking along the beach “quick chase her into the waves.” (save that one for the end of the session so she isn’t mad about a wet outfit). These quick spontaneous moments are best for the more energetic interactions as you don’t want to intervene in an emotional one too much.
Obvious guys, but after your couple is comfortable with you throw it out there at the end of the shoot that you’d like to try something new if they are down (spoiler alert: they are always down).
Get low, get high, lay on the ground, shoot from the hip (we love doing this during reception open dancing). And of course our good old tip of circle, circle, circle.
Buy a prism, some chandelier gems, sea glass, a zip loc bag, nude panty hose, lace, or hold your phone up to the bottom of your lens to reflect whats above. These are all things you can bring with but you can also shoot through some tall wildflowers a space in the tree leaves, through a palm leaf etc. Just try it on one photo, obviously don’t do it for the entire shoot in case it doesn’t work out or in case they hate it and ask if something was wrong with your camera.
Do all your session on an 85mm try pulling out the 35mm. Play with lens choice and how that is going to affect the story you are telling. Do you want a sense of environment in the frame? Do you want the background really blurred and to focus only on the couples hands? We have a great blog post HERE all about storytelling and lens choice.
Try shooting at a higher F stop or a lower one for a portion of the shoot. Try underexposing a bit or over exposing a bit and see what happens, play with your metering mode, play with some motion blur. Play with having a slow shutter and your couple in motion or a slow shutter and wiggle your camera a bit. Play with bulb mode.
That’s why busting out the vague prompts is your friend they will always be interpreted differently giving you endless variety from the same prompt.
Play with lights, back light the area behind your couple with a gel. Create a silhouette with them. Create a faux light leak in the corner of your frame. Light them and expose properly for them and underexpose your background, off camera lighting can be great fun and open up a world of revived creativity. Buy some canned atmosphere and spray it in the air, a tip we learned at a photo workshop is to always light fog or smoke from the sides not backlit to get the most texture from it.
When your couples trust you, they will be down for your recommendation of this weird little mural wall or this graffiti area downtown with the best sliver of light. Offer up a location idea that is out of the ordinary and watch the magic unfold.
If you are always seeking back lit portraits flip it and shoot them front lit. If you steer away from harsh contrasting light normally then bring them over to some for a few photos next time you’re shooting it will help keep your eye and portfolio fresh and will allow you to give each couple a one off piece of art rather than them seeing your Instagram filled with the same light, same location, same pose and just a different couple inserted every time.
We all seek out inspiration. But it can be a double edged sword when looking at work from other photographers within the same industry. Rather than coming up with unique pieces of art we end up emulating or straight replicating what others have already done. One of my favorite images I ever took was before I even really knew a lot about photography, it was before I started looking at what others capture on a wedding day and it was an entirely different way of seeing the world. We all need to tap into that seeing things with fresh eyes a bit more. Over consumption of others imagery can taint your artistry. Some of our favorite artists have been featured on podcasts saying that they get the unique photos they do because they refrain from looking at peers and social media.
The first thing we ask ourselves when viewing a photo we really love is “what is it you really love about the photo inspiring you?” Is it the composition, the tones or editing style, the light, the pose, the emotion or expressions, the storytelling aspect, or is it just a flat out epic location that has all your senses tingling? After deciding what it is you’re drawn to in the frame you can brainstorm ways to bring that into your own work in your own way.
Really putting thought into how the photographer got that image, think about how the photographer got that image or how you would approach capturing an image like that. This is how we come up with our own prompts. Rather than saving the inspiration to your phone and showing a couple the pose you want them to do really sit and think how the photographer may have directed that moment. How can you communicate the pose and the prompt or cue to get something that may give a similar effect but would have your couples own spin on it?
Here is an example of how we perform that exercise to come up with new things inspired by another photographer’s work without copying it. The photographer in this case is the sensational Nirav Patel. We love this image he took during an in home couples session. To achieve something like this we would have them lay and snuggle up or sit and have one of them lean back into the other, just tell them to get snuggly and sink into it. Then we would try to attach that base pose to a prompt to create an action, add interest to the frame and connect it to a moment for the couple. I would tell him to put his hands out and tell her to rest the backs of her hands into his. I would tell them to look down at their partners hands and look at how small they are in yours, graze the backs of them and give your partner a palm reading tell them what their future will hold now that you’ve found one another.
Image Credit: This is an image by Nirav Patel a photographer we love.
This will bring out their own personalities and make it a memory for them. They could come up with something totally silly and goofy, or they could talk about the children and grandchildren they hope to have. Either way it threads a moment to an otherwise static pose.
It is much easier to synthesize poses if you understand body language. Especially the body language of love if you are a photographer of couples. There are a ton of books out there and we’ve even just Googled “the body language of love” and been able to read so many articles on the topic. It’s just another facet to creating a very holistic approach to your photography.
Searching psychology and relationship blogs has rewarded us with a treasure trove of ammunition to use on our sessions. Googling “couples intimacy exercises” and “connecting with your spouse” will be sure to populate results that can give you some diamonds in the rough. It’s a bit of a scavenger hunt, you may read an entire article and only find one thing you can turn into a prompt or get inspired for a pose but it’s well worth it because that is one more unique prompt that you found on your own that can make your work look unique because it isn’t being used by the masses.
We literally just watched “The Notebook” yesterday and I cried again, It gets me every time. But the point here is Romance movies are a great place to find inspiration to start directing instead of posing. A whole scene in a romance movie is sitting there being played out before your eyes now how can you pull from that and infuse that into your work. It is really kind of a fun exercise, but do it on a movie you’ve already seen otherwise you’ll be so busy examining it you won’t get to enjoy the flick. Romance books are another great one, not the raunchy novels with Fabio on the cover but inspiring ones like The Notebook that can get your imagination revved.
We love scouring Pinterest not only for recipes and interior design (guilty) but also for fashion editorials. We run searches like “outdoor vogue fashion photography” “couples fashion editorial” and “romantic couple editorial”. I love going down the rabbit hole of finding an image I love and then seeing which images are suggested as similar, you can find some really unique ideas here and from the inspiration sit down and perform the exercise we talked about for proper use of inspiration and voila, you’ve got something in your toolbox that’s all your own.
There are a few amazing instagram accounts to follow for architecture inspiration, we suggest googling “top instagram accounts to follow for architecture” we recommend also following @acolorstory on instagram it’s not only architecture but it’s loaded with all sorts of inspiration sans couples which is the point of this exercise. We like looking at the architecture alone and then seeing how we would incorporate putting a couple into the frame without tainting our creativity by seeing how someone else did it. Another account on instagram worth following is @wesandersonplanet a director that we get major inspiration from his use of color and compositions in his films.
That brought us to our next point, cinema outside of romance. I mean no one would ever say Quentin Tarantino’s films are exactly romantic but we have definitely gotten some major inspiration for posing the groom or compositions from watching his films. This is what it’s all about guys, being relentlessly curious will only aid you in your quest to come up with a signature style, to trail blaze and push the industry forward and to create work you are proud of. The more you can create a signature style for yourself that is different from others the more irreplaceable and valuable you are because there is no one else like you, so if someone wants you they are going to have to hire you not Kathy down the block.
We are so inspired just from hiking, going to the beach, visiting a new place or a new culture. Take off the blinders and look around you, you should experience wonder at least once a day. Look at the landscape the light, the plants inspect them could you shoot through them? How many different ways could you incorporate a couple into that scene? Is there some unique light happening somewhere? What could you do with that? Be relentlessly curious.
We are constantly inspired by our own love. We will be snuggly a certain way or do a certain gesture and it’s like a light bulb “hey this would look cool”. If you have a partner practice posing with them, what unique things can you come up with? Flying solo? No problem, sit by yourself think about an emotion and really think about how you could express that emotion. Get yourself into a pose, now think of you as the anchor to that pose, how could you get a person nestled into you in different way? Create work you love, find what it is you really love photographing and keep doing that thing you’ll find the clients who want to pay you for that.
We really hope this was helpful, and as always would LOVE your feedback. Tell us what you thought in the comments or drop us a line on Instagram and if you’re not already following along please do, we are always cultivating community and giving advice there as well. If you’re interested in diving in deep with us on posing/anti-posing/directing or any other photography related topic you can reach out to us here about a mentor session.
Get inspired. Get Weird. Try things. Make no apologies.
We are wedding photographers for those who believe in love, because Emry originated out of love. Love for each other, for imagery and for creating things that were made to last. We serve southern California & beyond. Outside of photography, our life revolves around our son, Jude and our families.