Above: The atmosphere that Ashlee Weaver uses to help frame her subjects creates a fairy-tale feel to her couples’ imagery. Romance is elevated through an ethereal look and feel of the outdoor landscape, as if they have escaped to some enchanted place. And through creative composition, it’s as though her subjects are surrounded—nearly enveloped—by the elements. It draws one’s eye right to the heart of the moment, showcasing each one as a unique and sacred love story. © Ashlee Weaver
Although working with more than one subject in your portraiture certainly can present its challenges, when your subject is sharing the frame with a loved one, chances are, capturing expressive photography actually can become a little bit easier. Thankfully, people hire photographers to capture special moments in their lives that are almost always happy occasions, which is another plus.
Engagements and weddings may be the most obvious of celebratory events that call for photo documentation. The old-school traditional engagement and wedding portraits have been all but edged out completely by more natural, candid photographs that capture more of a story of both the relationship and the event than portraits of the past might have done. Of course, some trends in photographic styles come and go, that’s true for anything, but the desire for an authentic outcome, photographically speaking, isn’t going away anytime soon.
In fact, it would seem that the more accessible and easy to use cameras become, the faster it becomes to master the technical pieces of the photographic puzzle (namely, the tech pieces), the more demand there will be on wedding photographers to be able to capture more creative and authentic stories of their clients. It would stand to reason, then, that the art of true photographic storytelling becomes as important to the craft of photography as the photographic tools (aka gear) themselves. And there’s no finer story to tell than a love story.
Ironically enough, when it comes to capturing a couple in love, the photographer is always the third wheel. Being a perfect stranger coming into any relationship and pointing a camera at the couple can make for an awkward situation. Love and romance are an intimate part of life, and intimacy is exactly that, intimate. It’s not something that many photographers can effortlessly capture on demand. Trust is involved in creating a comfort level between you and your subjects that allows them to let you be a part of something as special and sacred as their relationship. As Canadian photographer Kimberly Chorney, owner of Butterfly Photography (butterfly-photography.ca), simply states, “People put their guard down when they feel safe.”
So, how do you ensure your clients feel safe in front of your lens?
It’s a question that L.A.-based Max & Friends photographer Katherine Rose (maxandfriends.com/katherine-rose) takes very seriously. About her approach, she shares, “I’ve really found that photographing people is a collaboration. I can’t capture what I’m not given, and I’m equally responsible for providing the right environment for people to feel open and vulnerable in front of the camera.”
Photographer Jessica Perez (jessicaperezphotography.com) in Florida nods to the idea of responsibility by stating, “It’s in the way you make the couple feel, how you engage with the couple, the things you say and the stories you connect with. Engaging is definitely the utmost important thing you can do.”
And Colorado-based photographer Ashlee Weaver of Ashlee Kay Photography (ashleekay.com) affirms that establishing a relationship with clients is essential, adding, “Catching real and romantic moments in photographs goes beyond the pose.”
The message is loud and clear, then, that one of the most important parts of the photographic equation may very well be how photographers can relate to their subjects. And, ironically enough, that has little to do with a camera. In fact, camera aside, you must put the time, energy and caring into establishing a relationship with your clients first, before you can tell their story through your photographs.
Once you’ve established the necessary level of trust with your clients, capturing the connection between them is absolutely the key to creating an expressive and evocative image that truly will tell their love story. Katherine Rose muses, “Some people are more relaxed in front of the camera than others, but I always find that people are able to loosen up after the first 30 minutes.” She also notes, “I primarily shoot with a 50mm, so I often will move very far away or come very close. I normally start a bit wider, so that people feel more comfortable and are more inclined to act natural.”
And nothing is more natural than laughter. In fact, Ashlee Weaver suggests making the session all about your subjects, “interacting and laughing with each other,” she says. “I start each pose with them looking into the camera, then I always get more with them looking at each other—80% of the time that turns into laughter, which I make sure they know is more than acceptable. Sometimes I straight out tell them I want them to laugh together.” She reminds us, “You have to seem confident in your methods, even if you’re not. Let’s face it, we’d all feel silly standing face to face with somebody, but they will feel far more comfortable with it if you tell them exactly what to do, encourage that it looks great, and be real about it. I say, ‘This might be silly, but I always love the outcome’ at least twice a session. Somehow that helps my clients feel more comfortable.”
Jessica Perez suggests to “be quick with compliments or quirky phrases to put perspective in the shot,” she says. “If I want a passionate kiss, I tell them to ‘give me that kiss as if you were losing one another, and THIS kiss was the last kiss,’ and it usually gets the job done. It’s a nice mix of direction without all that awkward posing.”
Kimberly Chorney doesn’t focus on the posing at all, either, instead she shares, “I remind them to always be interacting with each other, having them place their hands somewhere on the other person. Having a hand in hair, on a cheek or the small of a person’s back creates a feeling of closeness and togetherness.”
Above all else, capturing true romance in your frame is essentially about allowing the connection—the love—to express itself, with little prompting from you. By ensuring your subjects feel at ease and offering gentle guidance, you allow them to be who they are in their relationship. Your job, then, is to stand poised and ready to release the shutter as the love story unfolds in front of you, as Katherine Rose so eloquently puts it, love in “its truest form—full of light, movement and feeling.” Perfectly said.
Ways To Connect With Your Clients
Kimberly Chorney: Begin a friendship with your clients by asking lots of questions—their first date, favorite music, favorite movies and activities they enjoy doing together—to get to know them better.
Katherine Rose: Assure your clients you want them to act natural, telling them to just be together and exchange any sign of affection they normally would. Give them permission to adjust poses or requests from you that don’t feel natural to them.
Jessica Perez: Let them lead you. Ask them to allow you to be a participant in their life during the session. Do what they do, engage in what they engage in, and see what they see.
Ashlee Weaver: Use your prep time to further relationship-building. Talk as you walk to your location or as you get your camera equipment ready. Ask them questions about themselves, but also share a little about you, too, to make it reciprocal.
TRACEY CLARK is the founder of Shutter Sisters, a collaborative photo blog and thriving community of female photo enthusiasts, shuttersisters.com. Learn more about Tracey and her work at traceyclark.com.