Editor’s Note: This portrait photography how-to from professional photographer Jide Alakija is part of a monthly series on Digital Photo where top pros from Nikon USA’s Ambassadors program share their simple tips, tricks, and advice on how to be a better photographer.
In this portrait tutorial, Jide shares six of his can’t-miss tips for capturing striking photos of couples.
#1 Provide Entertainment
When photographing couples, they are often unaware of how they look and how the photographer sees them. A lot of times, couples are self-conscious about the camera, which can make them feel insecure.
To combat this, bring a Bluetooth speaker and ask the couple to play “their” song, and then ask them to focus on their love and themselves. This helps the couple get into a certain mood or character where they are less aware of the presence of the photographer, and more focused on their connection. When their music is playing in the background, couples are a lot more at ease and able to present to you those real, authentic emotions.
To take it a step further, inspire the couple by asking them to imagine themselves on their wedding day dancing to their song for their first dance. Having that form of inspiration can really set the mood and tone, which can in turn help you capture very personal photographs.
#2 Complimentary Colors Set the Tone
Color and tones are a huge consideration and a great way to incorporate a bit of drama in the image. I look for colorful things, and I tend to find that if I have an expressive, “loud” couple, I like them to include expressive, bold colors in their attire.
If the couple is more introspective, I typically have them wear more muted colors. By aligning the couple’s personality with the colors in the wardrobe and the scene I am able to strengthen the photograph. I’m big on thoughtfully using colors that meet the tone of what you’re trying to say.
Get started by using a simple color wheel for complimentary colors and then setting from there. For example, if I were photographing a couple in a park with greenery, I would use a muted burgundy or maroon for their attire, which offers a more subtle look than bright red.
#3 Use Highlights
When you’re creating an image, and setting your scene, there are many ways to use light to your advantage. The most important part of the photo should be in the light, like the curves on a woman or a man’s hands or expression. Align all the things you want to flatter on the side of the image with the light. Be conscious about the light and communicate with your couple. Use shadows to subdue the parts of themselves that they’re not flattered about.
#4 Use “LEMs”
LEM stands for Limbs, Eyes and Mouth. About 55% of communication is body language and it can help tell a better story by considering these in your images. When you compose a photo, use the LEMs to communicate a more impactful message based on the idea of the story you’re trying to tell. Direct the subjects where to place their hands – whether it’s on their partner’s face or at their side. When photographing a couple kicking water toward each other on a beach, their joyful limbs can show the playfulness between them. Expression on the mouth is also an important cue, but so is the eyes gazing into the other person. Pay attention to these and use them to create a stronger image!
#5 Let the Couple Tell Their Own Story
Most of the time new photographers find themselves directing a couple’s every move. Instead of saying, “put your hands here…put your arm around her and look at the camera,” you can say, “Can you embrace her, protect her and make her feel warm?” By doing so, you can let your subjects show you how they naturally interpret your direction for a more authentic post. You can also crack a joke and see how they react. Their natural response to the stimulus is essentially what you’re trying to capture as opposed to creating an expression that is inorganic or robotic. Instead of creating the expression, photographers might have an idea what they want, but it’s hard to communicate this to couple. An emotion or action should be stimulated or inspired by an instruction the evokes an emotional response.
#6 Shoot Various Perspectives
Always try to vary your compositions when photographing couples. For instance, to capture emotions I like to get in close and use tighter crops. To tell a more environmental story, I tend to stand back with a wide-angle lens. One perspective can’t capture the entirety of a couple’s relationship so you will want to tell stories with different expressions, variations and viewpoints. As a result, you will be able to capture the in-depth story behind the couple you’re photographing. On a photoshoot, I always bring out a NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 VR S lens because that is the focal range that gives me a perfect spectrum for composition. I also like to have other options in my bag, like a 28-35mm lens for wider perspective and a 70-200mm lens for a more intimate and telephoto shot. I love using Nikon Z 7II mirrorless camera, which allows me to crop my images with denser pixels to get even tighter in the frame if I need to.
About Jide Alakija
Brooklyn, NY-based Jide Alakija is a Nikon Ambassador and an internationally renowned photographer with over 15 years of experience in shooting multicultural weddings, documentaries and editorial campaigns. To learn more about Jide’s work, visit his website at https://www.alakija.com, and follow him on Instagram at @alakijastudios.