creating an atmosphere first

It’s important to note that while you are the one giving instruction, you need to leave plenty of room for interpretation. Your couple expects you to be the one directing the shoot, and you should be, but directing and manipulating are two very different things.

This is a field guide that will hopefully help you, as the photographer and director, facilitate comfort and confidence in your couple. 

By creating a relaxed and trusting atmosphere, you’re allowing your couples to open up and be vulnerable with you. This is incredibly important and will make or break your ability to photograph the couple in an authentic and organic way.

 

Before I start shooting I want to make sure expectations have been set. This means they should know exactly what I’m looking for as I’m shooting them. This communication will 100% make or break your shoot. If they don’t know what you’re wanting from them then they will become self conscious and and uncomfortable - it’s a downward spiral from there.

I tell my couples that I’m just an invisible 3rd wheel barking suggestions and dad jokes from behind a bush (usually this is literally true). I tell them their focus should ALWAYS be on each other, not me, using their hands on each other and always be cuddly! Use words like “melt” and “lounge” to describe how you want them to be with each other.

The bag of tricks

It's almost time to dive into the bag of tricks! All of these games are meant to be used at your own discretion. There is no magic recipe that suits all couples/shoots. Not all of these ideas will work on just anyone. For example, some people will HATE you for asking them to dance in front of the camera. Get to know your couple and just pull from this list as you see fit, based on the mood and the couple's personalities.  

It’s also more than just throwing out prompts… there is a psychology to everything. You have to be observant of your couple’s comfort and energy, and constantly adapting and catering your direction to those needs.

I’m throwing in some “tips” here and there between the prompts and these are just as, if not more important, than the prompts themselves! Don’t skip them!

 
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TIP ONE

Don’t start your shoot the second you step out of the car. Instead of just jumping right into photos take 5-10 minutes to talk to your couple. Get them comfortable with you and help them realize this doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. Sometimes I intentionally park a couple minutes away from where I want to be shooting so I have an excuse to chat them up before we even arrive at the location. Do your homework and read up on notes and old emails so you have topics to talk about!

TIP TWO

I really encourage bringing music. This is a tip I picked up from Ben Sasso. Music fills in any awkward silences but the type of music you play also helps you achieve the mood you’re wanting your shoot to have. Sometimes your couple might even break out into dance which is always a win! Check out my Spotify playlists for some help, or feel free to use this very collection! I tend to rely on folksy or soft rock genres to get the vibe where I want it.

TIP THREE

Never, ever, ever start your session off with a pose that is going to make your couple feel uncomfortable. I almost always kick off a shoot with having them walk away and then eventually having them embrace. I am still chatting them up and throwing suggestions, but I’m giving them space and letting them interact with each other so they can get used to the whole picture taking concept gradually. I then ease into more intimate prompts and move in closer.

get to that spot...

Keeping it simple is almost always your best bet. This one is a great one to kick off a session with by the way! Simply ask them to hold hands and help one another make their way to a specific destination. This works best if you're on some interesting terrain like rocks, hills or water so they have some obstacles to get over which will keep things interesting. You want them distracted by the task at hand and their focus to be on one another. Encourage them to be extra helpful with each other.

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THE KISSING GAME

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HE WRAPS HeR up from behind. Have him kiss her cheek… then the other… then the other... gradually keep him switching cheeks faster and faster until they’re laughing hysterically.

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t’s important your level of energy matches or exceeds theirs! Be enthusiastic with your direction and let your energy naturally encourage them!i

AIRBORN

Movement is clutch for adding life into any photo. Have him pick her up any way he likes (over the shoulder, over the threshold, around the waist, etc) and then they spin as fast as they can without falling over! If she’s wearing a dress or has her hair down there is going to be some great motion in frame, not to mention natural laughter. Take it to another level and incorporate hands on his face and a kiss mid spin. 


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RUNNING >>>

This one seems like a no-brainer but there is a lot of variety you can implement with this simple task and any sort of movement adds energy and life to your photos. Have them run toward you while you track backwards with them; have them run across your frame, maybe the girl pulling the guy by the hand; maybe they run away from you and you have the girl look over her shoulder back at you. Have them run right past, or OVER you as you're shooting. Don't always shoot from the same prospective. Focus on their hands, or get an upward prospective. There are many ways to get creative with this and the results are almost always rewarding.

Wait until your couple is comfortable with you before you go sticking your camera in their faces, but when they’re ready, these are some of my favorites!

They’re embracing so I’ll have them “fall asleep” on each other, resting heir foreheads together. Then you can change it up from here however you wish! Have him wrap up her hands in his and kiss her fingertips. Have him draw a shape with his nose on her cheek and have her guess it. Have him kiss all around the edges of her face super fast (promoting laughter and movement). Have them ALMOST kiss but stop just short… hold that suspense and see how long they can go without laughing (though laughing is ultimately the best result anyway). Have their hands on each other’s faces, running fingers down each other’s cheeks or chins. Have her “smell his nose” (weird, but creates some laughter).


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<<< Up close and personal

YOU’RE ABOUT TO LOSE YOUR SENSE OF SMELL. SMELL HER ALL UP RIGHT NOW!

THE DIZZY GAME

 Have them hold hands out in front of each other. Now you’re going to instruct them to start spinning as fast as they can without letting go of each other’s hands. Encourage them to spin faster, faster, FASTER. Laughter is almost guaranteed. Change it up and have them do the same thing, this time back to back!

squishy face

I find it's easiest to have her sit across his lap for this one, but you can really approach this from any position. Have them touch cheeks and just snap a few shots of them cuddled up like that. Then ask them to wrap their hands around each other's heads and squeeze! "Now squish your cheeks together as though you can't possibly be too close to one another!"

WALKING

Talk about easy. This one takes the cake and ANYONE couple can do it. Step it up and mix it up though. We can have them walk like they’re drunk (really encourage them to be goofy here!). Have them play slingshot where he pulls her forward and then she runs in front and pulls him forward. Have them swing in and out, bumping hips. Have them walk away from you and maybe she looks over her shoulder toward you.

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TIP FOUR

Always get their hands involved. Don’t even give them the opportunity to ask “what do I do with my hands??”. Right off the bat tell them to incorporate their hands in every situation! Whether it be in their own pockets or running through her hair, or running all over and down each other, that’s what we want. Hands create interest and a natural element in the image. 

TIP FIVE

Be light hearted and don’t take the session or yourself too seriously. If you're tense, the couple will be tense. Your attitude is infectious so make sure what's rubbing off on them is matching the desired session vibe. Calmness and confidence for a romantic and peaceful mood, or enthusiasm and excitement for a fun and energetic mood.

TIP SIX

Don’t over explain your process. It’s important they are on the same page in regards to your style and approach but if you overdo it, it can become overwhelming and intimidating. The last thing you want is for your subjects to be overthinking your instructions and becoming self-conscious.

It’s just what it sounds like. You can structure this however you want, but the point here is to create a distraction. You want to give somewhat arbitrary commands so they are focused on completing the task, rather than focusing on your camera. My commands are usually something like this… “start slow dancing… now run toward me!… now run backwards!… give her a spin… show me your best dance moves!… play rock paper scissors… kiss each other!… etc, etc. You want your instructions to be simple

BATMAN!

It’s okay to push couples outside their comfort zone a little, but if you’re working with someone like me - I would not like this! haha. A lot of people love this though and it can produce some of the best reactions. He wraps her up from behind and whispers in her ear, in his sexiest Batman voice, how he does the laundry. So silly, but it’s supposed to be. Providing you’re working with the right couples for this, it never fails.

TIP SEVEN

One of the best tips I've received, which I'll pass on to you, is position your couple on different levels. It can get boring if they just sit next to each other. Mix it up by having her on his lap, or sitting on the backrest and leaning over his back. Maybe have her hangout on the countertop while he kisses her neck. Make your photos dynamic by implementing some character like this.

TIP EIGHT

During your shoot you might notice your couple is just standing stiff and upright. Hopefully this won't be a common issue because you'll keep them moving with all these games, but if you ever want to get them in a more static pose, try this: Tell them to just create subtle triangles with their limbs. It can be as simple as a hand in a pocket or resting their weight on one leg. Bent limbs are more natural than rigid ones! 

TIP NINE

Build your couples confidence in themselves and don't hold back with the complements. You want your couple feeling REALLY good in their own skin and you never want them doubting themselves. If they do something unscripted praise them for it! You can't put them in a box and expect them to feel comfortable all the time. If he makes her giggle, run with it and encourage him to do more of that. Gawk over her ring and tell him how much you love his watch. These little things will build them up and make them more confident.