Engagement Session(s) Critique

Image by Taiyyib Choudhry

This time around, we’re critiquing two engagement session submissions photographed by SLR Lounge Community Members rather than reviewing the work of Lin and Jirsa Associate Photographers like we have in previous chapters. This round’s photographers include Taiyyib Choudhry and Zahidul Alam. The submissions include the final deliverable photos that the photographers culled and edited to deliver to their clients. If you didn’t get your entries reviewed and would like to have your photos critiqued by a community of photographers, submit your images to the free and easy-to-use Critique section on SLR Lounge, which you can find here (https://www.slrlounge.com/critique/).

Consistent lighting and editing for a cohesive set of images

Taiyyib does an incredible job of consistently lighting and editing all of the photos in this set, which can pay off when placing images alongside one another in an album or on a wall as part of a wall art cluster. You can check if you’re doing this by selecting a number of images from within a single scene and pressing “N” in Lightroom, which will isolate the selected images and allow you to see if they fit well together.

Match postproduction style with the wardrobe styling and the scene

Colors, editing style (grainy and filmic, for example), and the wardrobe choices should fit together to add to the cohesiveness of the set of images.

Expressions and Direction

Expressions are important, especially for close-up shots. Whatever the story is that you are trying to tell, it should be clearly reflected in the expressions that you’ve directed your subjects into. Expressions for whimsical, candid moments will look different than more stoic, editorial-style moments, and a subject’s expression should match his or her pose.

The subjects’ expressions should also match each other. If one subject is laughing and the other is wearing a serious expression, the image will feel off.

Also, make a clear choice when directing your subjects’ gaze; for example, if your subject is facing sideways and you’re capturing her profile, make sure it’s an actual profile shot. More often than not, you will not want to leave just a sliver of her eye or eyelashes from the side of her face that is away from the camera, and it could make your subject’s nose appear larger if it breaks the plane of her face.


The intended subject should be clear to the viewer. Sometimes, when both subjects (in a couples shot) are looking directly into the camera, it can be distracting if one of the subjects is softly focused while the other is tack sharp. It might look like you just misfocused the shot.

Shutter Speed

Try to keep your shutter speed at 1/200 or faster if possible to better freeze the action in case of any unexpected movements from your subjects. If you are trying to capture motion for any particular reason, then slower shutter speeds are fine, but otherwise, keep your shutter speed on the faster side.

Depth of Field in Busy Backgrounds

If the background is busy, bring your subjects closer to the camera and open up your aperture to create more separation between your subjects and the background with a shallower depth of field.

Also, try to make your environment work for you. Look for background/foreground objects that might frame your subjects so it doesn’t just look like you placed your subjects in a pretty environment and gave no further thought to the location.

Work Each Pose for Storytelling Purposes

Once your subjects are in a pose, be sure to capture wide, medium, and tight shots to maximize your storytelling potential in each scene. You can hold subjects in a particular pose longer and work around them to capture a variety of images rather than having to constantly switch it up. You can see more on this in the “S3: Shooting Stories That Sell” workshop, which is available to stream now in its entirety.


Be sure to leave enough room around the edge of the frame to capture your subject as you intended, compositionally, while knowing that you may lose some of the frame depending on the print size or application (such as cropping your images into a square for Instagram, or for banner ads, etc.).

Body Language

There’s a fine line between a romantic embrace and an uncomfortable encounter. The difference maker is body language and the distance between your subjects. If they are farther apart, a tilt of the head away from one another and an extended arm between them (as if to suggest that one is being pushed away or blocked) can change the message within an image from one of embrace to rejection. Watch for details like head angle, hand placement, and the distance between subjects (touchpoints).

Eye Direction

How you direct your subject’s gaze plays an important role in the authenticity and flow of an image. If a couple pulled close together is staring into one another’s eyes, it may feel unnatural because we don’t normally look directly into someone’s eyes when our faces are only inches apart. Also, in a candid or voyeuristic moment (especially when shooting through an object/foreground to frame the couple), if one of the subjects is making eye contact with the camera, it might look like you (the photographer) were caught while being a peeping Tom. One way to avoid this is directing your subjects’ gaze into a crisscrossing pattern (looking toward each other, perhaps at a downward angle so that their eyelines cross in an “X”).

Eye direction is also important in individual portraits. Just remember the cover to the movie “Step Brothers,” starring Will Ferrell, and ask yourself if your subject’s gaze is looking out of frame with no clear purpose.

Lens Choice

The lens you choose to use for capturing moments within a scene should be intentional. If you have only a limited range of lenses from which to choose, you should still shoot the scene in a way that works best for the lenses you have. Wide angles and telephoto lenses will produce different amounts of distortion and compression, and the look and feel of your images will vary based on which lens you’re using. Basically, know how your lenses will affect the shot and choose accordingly, with purpose and intent.

Remember, these critiques do not exist to get anybody down, but rather help build their skill set and ultimately their confidence as well, which will translate to even better images in future sessions. Again, be sure to submit your images to the SLR Lounge Critique community to get feedback on your images!