Every couple you will photograph is unique. The challenge is that "unique" doesn't always translate to "natural and relaxed posing". Some couple will struggle (greatly) with posing naturally in front of the camera.
Is There A Key?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all-easy-and-simple solution!I wish I could say that the key is to have a squeaky toy ready for action - but, if that was the case, all the photographers would already be doing it.
While there isn't any easy answer there are a few things that have helped me over the years - and, by all means - if you have some additional suggestions feel free to e-mail me!
Have Proper Expectations
Let's start off at the beginning: realize that some couples will be easier to work with and some harder. You are the professional - they aren't expected to be. You're job is to help them be the best they can be - but don't expect too much of them. And yes, it is OK to be silently grateful for when the "natural posers" show up!
Make a Good First Impression
Here is another VERY basic suggestion: greet the couple with a friendly smile and warm handshakes. You need to genuinely be happy to see them! People will subconsciously pick up on nervousness. If you are nervous they will be more nervous and tense during the photo session.
Social Skills 101
One more REALLY basic suggestion (which, you are probably already doing): carry on a pleasant conversation with them throughout the entire photo session. If the only time you talk to them is when you give them a terse instruction "Lean towards each other, rotate to the side a bit more, more, no, too far!" you'll end up with an uptight couple!
Most couples love to talk, and their favorite subject will likely be themselves. To be honest, I have never had to try and be interested in the couples I've worked with. I have genuinely enjoyed getting to know each and every couple. I've loved finding out their story: when and how they met, how long they've been engaged, how they became engaged, what day the wedding is planned for, etc.
Start With Warm Ups!
Without telling the couple, I always plan the first part of the photo session with the simple goal of relaxing the couple. I don't try for my best shots during those first 15~20 minutes. My goal is simply to put them at ease with me and the camera. I know that if they can become relaxed during the first 15 minutes, the remaining hour or two of photos will go much more smoothly!
During that first segment I try to use basic and simple poses. I spend more time talking and less time snapping photos. I encourage them in and reinforce their posing ideas. I'll usually let them know that it is good to simply forget about the camera.
This is a fun method and worth trying out! You'll find that it completely depends the couple and how they interact with each other when they aren't expecting you to be taking their pictures. I have found that some couples will talk between themselves while aimlessly starring off into space, while others will have an animated and happy conversation while looking into each other's eyes and occasionally laughing (those are the ones I try to capture with this technique!).
My goal: to take several photos while they are fully relaxed and are not expecting me to be taking their picture.
The method: I usually try this out while I'm changing memory cards. I'll let them know that I need to change cards -- so they can relax for a few minutes. I rummage around in my bag while looking for the new card; and while I am doing so I watch the couple out of the corner of my eye
The challenge: taking the photos drawing their attention back to the camera! Sometimes I have a wireless photo release already on the camera and will use that. Other times I have an assistant with me and will have them take a few of these shots while I'm rummaging in my camera bag. Sometimes the couple so completely forgets about the camera and me that I can simply go back to the camera and press the shutter release without them noticing!
Hopefully, these suggestions, when combined with your personality and experience, will help you take even better engagement photos of couples that appear relaxed and natural!
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