How to Shoot An Engagement Session with Vanessa Joy
Everyone has their own creative process. It’s all well and good when you’re shooting and feeling inspired and creative and motivated. But what happens when that falls flat? When you’re standing in front of your clients (or rather, hiding behind your camera) and hoping something starts happening? There’s nothing quite like the panic of being paralyzed by lack of pose ideas.
As much as we’d all love to only photograph our subjects when we’re feeling artsy, being a professional photographer simply doesn’t leave room for that. We have to work when we’re tired and feeling bland and still produce the same results as when we’re at our photographic best. At least to the point where our clients can tell anyway.
What I propose is that you have a system for engagement shoots (or really any shoot). Maybe you’ll only have it in the back of your mind and bring it up on the uncreative days. Or perhaps you’ll just use it as a starting point to get everything flowing from there. Either way, having a go-to process in my head has helped me on numerous occasions. Posing guides are great, but having a method in the back of your mind will be much faster to access.
Here’s my method and process of how I shoot my typical engagement session and how I interact with my clients and pose them. My sessions are slated as hour-long sessions, usually shooting about an hour before sunset so I have the best natural light and can maybe even snag a sunset or twilight picture or two.
Because this is usually the first time that my clients have been in a professional photo shoot, I try to start off with easy poses. My initial goal is to stay a little bit further away from them than I normally would. I’ll typically use a Canon 135mm 2.0 lens so that the distance between us is more comfortable than shooting with say a 50mm lens right off the bat.
Posing-wise, it’s wise to start by having them do things that are natural, like walking and holding hands. I have them start walking away from me, then turn around and walk towards me. In the beginning, as they’re walking away from me, I won’t direct them too much because that’s when I’m usually solidifying my settings and the photos aren’t usually too great (since it’s just their backsides anyway). When they turn around and walk back towards me, I’ll direct them to be a little bit flirtatious and start looking at each other and interacting with each other, rather than interacting with the camera. After that warm-up to make them a little bit more comfortable, I’ll have them start looking at me for some photos and then I’ll have them interact with each other with a little more affection than just holding hands.
When I pose a bride and groom, I love it when a groom’s hands are on the bride’s arms and her arms are just tucked in nice and close with him. I usually tell them to snuggle in close like she’s cold and he’s trying to warm her up. It’s a great way to add movement to a pose and get them a bit more relaxed. Overall, it just looks so much more connected for me than the typical “arms around the waist, arms around the shoulders” look.
After I feel that my clients are comfortable being photographed, I’ll move in, typically with my Canon 50mm 1.2 lens and photograph a bit tighter and capture some more of the details. Photographing the bride, I’ll have her look at me, look at her fiance, and maybe some of the details like the ring or anything else that would make for a cute photo. I do like to photograph the groom as well, so I try to make sure I pay attention to both of them, even though a lot of the attention does tend to fall on the bride-to-be.
In general, anytime you can add movement will benefit your images. Think of yourself as a videographer if that helps. Videographers don’t want to shoot someone standing still. It’s just not interesting. Learn to add movement to any pose that you typically do and you’ll get a ton of natural-looking photos, plus it helps loosen up the couple.
From there, we’ll change positions and try a few different things, or walk to different locations to keep things moving. I like to vary poses that have them standing, seated, and always adding movement to any position. Anything to deliver a good variety to my clients. After all, a goal of mine is to provide them with an engagement album, and that won’t be easy to do if the photos all look similar.
Having them interact with each other is great. These tend to be the pictures that my clients like a little bit better and will blow up or make big pictures in the albums. The pictures of them looking at the camera tend to be the ones that mom and dad hang on their wall. I want to make sure I get both of them, both far away and then both close up. Think of that every single time you shoot. Get side, medium, and close up. It helps tell the entire story when there’s field-of-view variety.
Another great tip is to distract your couples by giving them some kind of task. Tell them to draw a heart in the sand with their feet. Or maybe you’ll have them line up their fingertips together. It doesn’t actually matter what the task is because you’re not photographing it. You’re just using the tool of distraction to get them to be less camera-aware, resulting in more natural and relaxed expressions.
Even though my style is a little bit more light and airy and soft and romantic, I do try and step out of that style every once in a while. As long as I have enough of my-style-type photos to fulfill their expectations, there’s no reason not to experiment. Same goes for you. Every shoot, after you get what you’ve promised your clients, try something new. Maybe it’s a new pose, or a new type of lighting. There’s no reason why you can’t use real couples to try out new photography skills you’re looking to learn or hone in on.
The biggest goal in my sessions is to show my couples that being in front of the camera doesn’t have to be a stiff experience. It can be fun and will most definitely ease their minds when it comes to photography on the wedding day. Be sure to check out Behind the Shutter’s YouTube channel for a few more tips on engagement sessions I have for you!