Despite recent trends in wedding photography towards documentary (or reportage) photography, many wedding clients are still looking for high quality, artistic and imaginative posed bridal portraits and couple shots. Techniques relating to posing and capturing great couple shots is the area in which I get the most requests for training. There isn’t one magic formula but this article gives an insight into the approach I would recommend to other professional photographers.
Light, Light Light!
The foundation for standing out as a wedding photographer is being able to see and understand light. The quality of light should always be given heavy weight in your decision making – whether you considering window light, artificial lighting or assessing the direction of light in the grounds of a venue. And not only should it influence where you shoot, but also how you pose the couple and the atmosphere you create.
Soft window light might lend itself to a romantic, tender mood. Church grounds are effectively surrounded by trees and the church itself, which results in top lighting; so the posing might be geared to the bride looking up in some capacity. Or on an overcast day, you might use a canopy (eg overhanging branches) to create more directional light. On an sunny, contrasty day, to avoid ungainly shadows in eye sockets, consider shooting into the sun but with aid of dark (eg green foliage) background.
Always consider how the quality and direction of light sculpts the couple and affects the mood.
Search Imaginatively for Inspiration
To stand out from the wedding crowd, there is little point in looking for inspiration from other wedding photographers (mainly formulaic) or wedding magazines. (Wedding magazines are very conservative and not particularly interested in artistic or imaginative wedding photography per se: they are serving a wide audience – think lowest common denominator – and are primarily interested in illustrating ideas for accessories and wedding themes). Instead, look at alternative sources such as fashion magazines where much more thought has been put into light and creativity. You will need to take into account that the average wedding couple are not models, so not every advertisement in Vogue will translate into a suitable wedding photo. But you should be able to take ideas on posing structure, mood, engagement and expressions – and adapt them.
The inspiration for this image was taken from a fashion magazine advert.
Practice Your Posing
It is not uncommon to see an idea for a pose in a magazine, think that you have it in your head, and go blank when faced with the challenges on a wedding day. It is important to practice the nuances of a pose so that when put into practice you can instinctively know why it is looking wooden (or analyse some other problem). Practising also helps you to understand the limitations and adaptability of different poses (does it work when the bride is taller than the groom?). Always think about the hands and the impact on the feel of the image (sometimes it is best to hide them, and never leave them dangling).
Think in advance about the impact of height differences.
Develop Your Own Style
There is nothing wrong with keep tabs on trends in wedding photography, but do not be a sheep (and after all there are probably already enough photographers offering vintage, quirky photographs of the bride and groom’s feet!). Don’t be afraid though of emulating a particular photographer’s general style as (providing you do not emulate it too mechanically and follow the advice in the rest of this article) it may well eventually evolve into your own unique style. My own style is editorial but classical in nature. The way I make it my own is through the use of light.
Expressions – Explain to the couple what you are aiming for
Remember that wedding couples do not have your photographer’s eyes and may find some of the posing and set-ups strange or even awkward. You need to put on your director’s hat and explain enthusiastically the aim of the photograph and why you are setting things up in a particular way. If the couple can visualise the final image, it will help you achieve the right expressions and ultimately mood of the photograph. If the expressions do not suit the pose and mood of the image, do not take the photograph until it is right. I see too many wedding photographs where the couple look sheepish or inane. A good wedding photograph should be about engagement, passion, drama, or romance. Not standing standing side by side, looking embarassed. Not stooping over (in the way only wedding couples do) and puckering up for kiss that might be more suitable for grandmothers.
This couple need to stand at the bottom of a damp stair well. But I explained about the quality of the (top) lighting and explained how the pose would need to suit this.
Don’t be afraid to micro manage
With the couple’s permission, use your hand to gently finesse the final pose (perhaps the tilt of the head). That final 10% can make a big difference to the quality of the final image. Remember that posing does not equate to unnatural or wooden photographs. Good posing is about doing the opposite: making it look credible and natural. Yes the couple wouldn’t naturally do this, but they have hired you to create stylish representations of the day with more mood variety than they could achieve themselves.
Make sure grooms do not hunch their shoulders.
Not all your posing should be geared to capturing single full album spread ‘hero shots’ that take ten minutes each to set up. Some album spreads cry out for a set of inter-related and complimentary images. Try out some posing ideas that allow you to adjust easily a few elements for a slightly different look. In fact visualising post production and album design is always a good idea when deciding about location and posing.
Be Imaginative with Angles, Perspective and Composition
This partly relates to developing your own style of wedding photography; but for example, wide angle lens can often add drama to your image if the posing and expressions warrant it. At the very least, be experimental. Too many photographers just stick to one versatile lens and photography from just obvious positions and angles.
Vary your photography with off-camera flash and video light
Use of these artificial forms of lighting will depend on the mood you are trying to create. Video light is often good for interior romantic poses (see our article on video light); whilst off-camera flash offers a more ‘edgy’ feel that is closer to fashion photography. Either way it is important to pose the couple that suits the light source: they produce harsher shadows than natural soft light, so you will want to avoid poses that casts shadows over faces. If in doubt keep the posing simple in these cicumstances.
Plan the day’s timings with the wedding couple
Good couple shots need more time than the average wedding photographer allows. So it is important that the couple understand this and build the time around it to still enjoy time with their guests. Manage their expectations so that they are on your side when faced with awkward banqueting managers!
Use an assistant
I would recommend highly the hiring of a good assistant. They can take care of the equipment whilst you concentrate on leading the couple into position; and they can offer a second pair of eyes to ensure all of the elements come together before you take the shot. It’s really important to get the detail right. See more of my work on our wedding photographers surrey website.