How to Pose and Direct for Natural Portraits: 10 Tips from Working Professionals
While all couples want to look natural, they have a hard time doing it without direction. In this collaboration piece, we give you 10 examples from award-winning photographers all over the nation, showing you what the image looked like before posing guidance and the end result, with the help of a bit of coaching.
Here are some ways you can help your clients elicit natural and authentic emotions on your next shoot:
“A lot of the prep work for shooting each and every wedding starts well before the wedding day. It starts well before the engagement shoot. I always push that my clients opt for an engagement shoot, but more for them to see what it is like to be photographed by me. More importantly, for me to see how they are in front of a camera. I have a good mix of clients that range from those who ask for a full photojournalistic approach to a very hands-on and posed/directed approach. No matter which type of client they are, I need to put the time in before the wedding in order for me to truly understand how to photograph them on that big day. There’s a lot of coaching. There’s a lot of time spent getting to know them, as well as the other key players in their story.”
Click the image below to enlarge.
“If you’re going to be a good storyteller you’re gonna need to know who the characters are and what it is that brought them together. With all of that said, the majority of my clients want their photos to look natural and with emotion whether I’m directing them or not. If I find that they are struggling to loosen up, one of my favorite techniques is to ask them to take a few minutes to themselves and practice their first dance. I also like to do this during the last hour of light to get a few silhouettes mixed in along the horizon. You’ll see my couple’s dancing in a lot of my photos, especially during the sunset.”
“Before I take a single picture, I like to tell my couples that I am going to put them in a general pose and location, and that I’ll do everything I can to create the best photograph, but that they too need to contribute to this effort by allowing their personalities, relationship, and love for one another to show through. In most cases, this gets the couple to start interacting with one another by kissing, making funny faces, laughing, etc. It’s important for me as the photographer to shoot between the shots and capture unexpected moments.”
“My couples love the epic sort of portraits that sometimes aren’t 100% “easy” for them to settle into posing for. But I make sure that I’m addressing that when they book, when we talk wardrobe (making sure they love their selection but not so much they won’t take risks with it), and when we talk location – I reiterate that if they’re up to it, I might ask them to do things that seem a little strange, but that it’ll be worth it! On the day of, I start with super easy stuff first. And then ease them into pushing a little more. This couple was prepped to take risks from day one, and on the day of, we started by them just sitting by this tree…and then I asked if they would be up to laying down. The key is first developing their trust before asking them to do so. Since they had already been prepped, seen images they would love they knew required a little “extra” from them, they were ALL in to give it a shot.”
Here’s the final top down image.
“For authentic posing of couples, instead of being very specific about the position and pose of their body, I like to give vague directives so the couples fill in the blanks themselves and settle into their positioning and posing naturally. Give your couples an objective to fulfill so there is a moment between them. In the following photo, I simply told the groom approach from behind and “get cozy”. Then I asked him to tell her why he loves her.”
“I like to start by giving the couples a lot of physical space. Letting them communicate with whispers to one another. I’ll start with gentle verbal cues, such as “tell her your favorite thing about her”, and work my way up to more personal and outgoing cues. While doing this, I’m taking mental notes of how they naturally communicate best, as well as identifying their personal boundaries. Using that I can modify my communication to be on their wavelength.”
“Once I’ve established that connection and the walls come down, it allows me to physically close the gap at the same time they are most comfortable being themselves.”
“We love to tell our couples to almost kiss. This is particularly useful after a first-look when the couple is so overcome with emotion that they don’t really know what to do next. If you tell your couple to kiss, you will likely end up with something that comes off as forced. But the “almost kiss” is always gold! It will result in solid emotion, that anticipation vibe that we so love.”
“The first step I take when composing a wedding portrait is to look for a clean (i.e. distraction-free) background for my clients. From there, I will work the angles moving high and low, close and far to find a creative composition. I typically ask the bride to stand in front of the groom and ask her to lean back into his chest which extends her body. Then I will gently move their arms away from their sides and ask them to bend their elbows to create angles (so their arms do not look elongated). I will then ask the bride to turn her head towards the groom and raise her chin up and ask the groom to rest the side of his face against his beautiful bride’s face. Finally, I ask them to close their eyes and think about the moment they saw each other for the first time on their wedding day. This will always bring a smile to their face. Click!”
“If they are holding hands have them walk backward rather than forwards.”
“One of my favorite games I play with my couples to garner authentic smiles is to have them walk in an embrace, and see who can bump the other off course. This always results in genuine laughter as the hip-bumping starts off flirty and unsure, and by the end, they’re usually full-on invested in trying to knock the other off their stride. It’s a fun way to lighten the mood, get those real smiles, and many times these become some of the couples’ favorite images, because of the authenticity of the moment!”
“Eye lines. Within our Complete Posing Workshop and Wedding Training System we talk a lot about the technical components of body language in an image. A dead giveaway for a posed versus authentic expression is in where the eyes lead when we are standing close to another person.”
“Generally, when in close proximity talking and laughing, we aren’t staring into each other’s eyes for long periods of time. During a moment of laughter, or a soft intimate moment, one person might look away for just a moment before they reconnect. Take a look at this image of my friends Vanessa Joy and Rob Woodcox on a recent trip to Alaska. I asked them to fake laugh, but when they did, they did something incredibly natural. Rob looked down while Vanessa was looking towards him.”
“Creating eyelines that lead into each other, but aren’t pointing directly at one another is a simple way to create an authentic portrait. Eye lines that go directly at one another from a close distance are known as a “lovers stare” and the expression must match to make the image look natural. It’s far simpler to lead one pair of eyes down.”
What are some of your favorite posing cues to get your clients to feel comfortable in front of the camera and have their personalities shine through? Let us know in the comments below!