Engagements, weddings or just couples in love, there is a special art to creating the perfect romantic image. It’s all about freezing the moment and capturing the emotion, and needs to be completely different to a formal, posed portrait. This is about the connection between two people and the more creative you are about showing it, the more original your romantic photography will be – so here’s how to steer clear of the saccharine clichés and aim for something more meaningful.
Where to start
As for any photographic shoot, forward planning is essential. Your location might be fixed if, for example, you’re taking some romantic shots on a couple’s wedding day, but for engagement shots or simply couples’ portraits, the decision of where to take the pictures can be critical. A location that has some special meaning to your subjects is a great idea, but if they don’t have any thoughts, it might fall on you to come up with suggestions. Studio shots tend to look posed and less natural, so scout out some outdoor spots such as gardens, parks and other natural settings. Of course, this means that the weather comes into play, but even in winter, frosty or misty days can make for a wonderful atmosphere.
Advice for your couple
It’s important to manage your couple’s expectations. Before the shoot, talk to them about what style of picture they’re looking for. Show them previous couple shoots you’ve done and ask them which pictures they like and why, or get them to show you a couple of examples of images that they’ve spotted elsewhere. This is the point to decide on the location and to get them to think about what they might wear for the photos.
A lot of people feel awkward when put in front of a camera, and this can be doubly so for a couple, especially if it’s their first photo shoot together. On the day, you need to do all you can to make them feel relaxed. You want their feelings for each other to shine through naturally, not via staged and stiff poses that makes them feel embarrassed.
One way of getting them to loosen up is to chat to them while you set up your camera and take a few test shots. Ask they how they met and what their wedding and honeymoon plans are. Once you get the sense that they’re feeling more relaxed, you can start the shoot for real. Finding something to get them laughing together goes a long way towards getting a more natural result. Then keep shooting – with luck, you’ll be able to capture an unconscious glance or touch that comes without thinking.
The technical challenge
Romantic photography comes with its own set of challenges. You want to create images that show emotion, connection, warmth and joy. These are not formal portraits or gritty reportage, but at the same time you’ll want to avoid soft-focus schmaltz. In other words, you need to tread a fine line, and this is where your skill as a photographer comes into play.
- Location – of course, there are obvious locations for romantic photographs – standing in a rose garden, on a beach or on a footbridge are the sort of images we’ve seen a thousand times. But sometimes the unexpected can work even better. Pick an urban setting for a change – use depth of field to isolate your couple in a busy street or market. Or if they share a hobby, sport or activity, incorporate it into the shot – perhaps they enjoy cooking together, so take some pictures in the kitchen, or maybe they both love skiing or skate-boarding or dancing. Challenge your couple to think of somewhere different that has meaning for them.
- Lighting – flattering lighting is a must and the images need to be warm and romantic. Dawn and dusk can work well for couples shoots, and if you’re working during the middle of the day, try to avoid positioning your couple in direct sunlight which can be too bright and somewhat harsh. A softer light coming from the side will allow for light and shadow on their features, while light that falls on them from overhead or directly in front will flatten their faces. If the location is dull or badly lit, you might want to use your flash – in which case bounce it rather than aiming it directly at your couple.
- The private moment – put your couple in their own world by, for example, taking a picture of them through a window, between leafy branches or through a filter. To emphasise the connection between them, encourage eye contact between the couple rather than having them look towards the camera. Capture the touch of hand, a secret smile, the moment when they forgot you were there.
- Posing – you don’t want romantic pictures to look posed, but your couple might need some help. There’s nothing wrong with some suggestions – lean against a wall, hold hands, sit on a bench, embrace, kiss…but then let them interpret the poses to make them more natural. Ask them to walk towards you, and away into the distance to add movement to the image – a rear view of them walking hand in hand can be very effective.
- Smaller details – not every picture has to focus on their faces. Use their body language and take pictures of smaller details – clasped hands, a close embrace, a genuine show of affection. And not every image has to be serious. Show them laughing together and horsing around, ask them dance, catch them teasing each other – it’s when they’ll be most relaxed.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about a romantic photo shoot is that it’s all about them. Your job is to capture the emotion they have for each other in a way that suits them as a couple. Every couple is different, so a good photographer will help them to find a way of expressing this – and creating a set of beautiful images that they will cherish for years as they grow old together.
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