February 4, 2016

Graham Ashton

6 Ways To Step Up Your Couple Photography This Valentine’s Day

Featured Photo: Vanessa Porter

I have a confession: I love a good romance, and I always have. But it took a while before I realized that St. Valentine himself couldn't have come up with a better pair than romance and photography. Two years after leaving my career as a photojournalist, I found myself shooting my first wedding—and I was hooked.

There's something amazing about a couple photo. Done right, a stranger will look at the image and think, Man, these two have found true love. Corny? Maybe, but that's what I aim to do in all my engagement and wedding photography sessions, to go beyond the basic newspaper announcement pose and capture that spark. I just completed my second year of shooting weddings, and while that in no way makes me an expert, I've found a few methods for going beyond the basic poses and capturing that spark. In honor of Valentine's Day, here are six ways any photographer can step up their couple photography.

Start with a basic couple pose, but don't stay there.

Photo by Hillary K. Grigonis / Pixel Press & Photo LLC
Photo by Hillary K. Grigonis / Pixel Press & Photo LLC

Posing guides and Pinterest boards are great starting points, especially for new photographers not quite comfortable creating their own couple poses. But fixed poses can also be a sticking point too. Instead of focusing on following a couple pose exactly, get creative in finding variations—not only will some flexibility help your subjects to relax a bit, but it will get you more variety too.

For example, say you start with a basic pose with the couple holding hands while facing each other. That's a good start, now change it up a bit. Ask him to brush her hair back, just slightly. Ask her to rest her cheek on his chest. Ask him to kiss her forehead. You just took one basic pose and got four very different shots in a minimal amount of time.

Stick to suggestions, not demands in your couple photography.

It's easy to have a vision in your mind of just what you want the photo to look like, but much harder to create it—especially when the couple is uncomfortable. Don't get so stuck on your ideas that the couples aren't themselves. Be flexible with your ideas, and you may find your shots are more creative than you initially intended in the first place. As the photographer, it's your job to direct the couple pose, but it's also your job to capture what makes that couple unique, and you can't do that without a bit of flexibility.

When a couple arrives at the session with their own ideas, incorporate them as well.

Sure, as the photographer you know what's going to work well artistically for your couple photos, but who better than the couple themselves to know what fits with their own style? Yes, some of them won't work well, but some of couple shots may wind up hanging on their wall.

For best couple pictures make a moment with conversation and action.

couple photography valentine's day
Photo by Hillary K. Grigonis / Pixel Press & Photo LLC

Nothing like a camera in your face to get you feeling romantic, right? It's understandably hard for a lot of couples to relax during a couples photography session. Break the ice by asking for an action instead of a pose—that will give the couple something to concentrate on besides you. Ask them to go for a walk or dance together. Conversation can be a powerful tool for helping your subjects to relax as well as creating genuine expressions. Ask them how they met, the funniest thing the other one has said, or on the fun side, who is going to do the dishes once they're married.

Sometimes, my favorite shots don't come from the poses that I set up, but from unexpected moments between all the planned photos. It's especially true for the engagement photos.

Keep your camera ready as you walk to a new location and you may find some beautiful candid moments unfolding while the pressure's off.

Create low key, high emotion intimacy.

Photo from t.germeau

When it comes to couple photography, there's a very fine line between The Notebook and Fifty Shades of Gray, between sweet images and gag-inducing ones. The key is to create images that are low key, but full of emotion. That's why I love to take couple photos just before the kiss and sometimes ask couples to pause just before their lips touch. One, their faces aren't smushed together, and two, there's something powerful about the anticipation before a kiss (that's also PG). Creating low key, emotional images doesn't have to just stop at the almost kiss. There's something powerful about a simple hand on the cheek, her cheek resting against his chest, shoulder or arm.

Set a mood with light.

Photo by Eleazar

Creating a mood in couple photography isn't just about getting great poses. Light plays a big role in creating emotion in an image and couple photos aren't any different. Shooting during Golden Hour (an hour before sunset) is an easy way to instantly add some warmth and emotion to the image. A much trickier technique, but one well worth mastering, is to use backlighting to highlight the couple. Shooting with the sun behind the couple outdoors creates a nice halo effect—use spot metering and a reduced power fill flash for an accurate exposure. Or, for drastic contrast, I like to photograph a couple standing in a doorway or a large window, intentionally surrounding them with overexposed highlights.

Remember, bigger shadows mean more drama, so for simple, sweet photos use soft light and for striking, intense shots look for hard light and maximum contrast.

Incorporate the couple's personality.

Photo by Sean McGrath

I view each couple photography session—whether it's a wedding or just portraits—as individual love stories. The best photos come from drawing inspiration from the couple. Perhaps you can schedule the session for a location that's important to them, like where they met or where he (or she!) proposed.

Incorporate props from hobbies that the two have together. Don't be afraid to ask what type of photos the couple is drawn to most and use that as a starting point for generating your own ideas.

Couple photography isn't easy—there's twice as many limbs and eyes to worry about, and there's a fine line between sweet romance and an awkward public display of affection. But when you capture that photo, the one that captures their spark, you've created a treasure (and you'll start booking even more sessions).

Post by Hillary K. Grigonis, a Michigan-based lifestyle photographer. When she’s not taking pictures, she’s writing (about taking pictures).

Graham Ashton

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