creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box

by Danielle Hatcher

Staying creative when photographing couples is tough.

On the one hand, when compared to photographing young children, it’s nice to have subjects who willingly stay where you place them.  But on the other hand, what do you do after you’ve captured the safe, stand-and-smile-for-the-camera shots?  Don’t get me wrong!  Everyone loves the classic “prom pose” shown below.  Especially when you’ve got light as gorgeous as this…

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

But let’s talk a bit about thinking outside the box when it comes to photographing couples.  Here are 5 tips I frequently use to stay creative and increase my variety.

*These tips don’t just apply to weddings and engagements!  They also apply to maternity portraits and newborn and family sessions as well.  Capturing mom and dad’s relationship in these scenarios is so important, and often times creates images that many couples haven’t had the chance to get since their wedding day!

1. Encourage Movement

As we all know, lighting is of the utmost importance when photographing any subject.  But I argue that movement is almost equally important to an interesting photograph.  Remember there are two variables when talking about movement.  The first is movement of the subjects.  The second is movement of YOU, as the photographer.  Encourage your couples to walk, run, jump, dance, and play while you move around them to capture different angles and perspectives of the same activity.  I give LOTS of feedback during a series like this.  It can sometimes be uncomfortable and embarrassing to goof off in front of the camera.  Lots of specific and positive feedback is important…  “When you look back and smile at him your profile looks gorgeous.”

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

TIP:  Remember to keep your shutter speed higher when there is a lot of movement.  Depending on what lens I’m using I try and keep my shutter speed faster than 1/400 during times like these.

2. Go Wide or Go Home

As someone who shoots a lot of families in addition to weddings, it’s common for me to put one lens on and keep it on for an entire family session.  I shoot like a mad woman until the kids are over it, and then we call it a day.  But when you’re shooting couples, you have plenty of time to switch up your lenses when there are no toddlers on the brink of a meltdown!  Shoot wide and get some of that beautiful scenery in the shot.  One of my favorite things to do when I shoot wide is utilize full sun.  Placing your subjects in full sun provides great color and depth.  In these instances, I meter off the sky which ensures a lovely blue tone, and puffy white clouds.

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

3. Shoot Through Things

While you’ve got your wide lens on, it’s a good time to move around a bit and shoot through things.  Hop behind a wall and get a bit of the corner in your frame to introduce more of the surroundings.  Or look for a blossoming bush or low lying branch to shoot through.  All of these things offer great variety, introduce more color, and provide new perspectives.  Note: It took me a long time to master this… I’m still working on it, actually.  Just play with this one and have fun trying new things!  Remember that not all of your photographs have to turn out.

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

4. Don’t Pose… Direct and Observe

Posing every aspect often leads to stiff bodies and awkward expressions.  Instead, aim for direction.  Once I’ve set up a shot, I encourage my couples to interact together.  There isn’t a specific pose I’m going for, I’m just looking for genuine interaction: smiles, touches, glances, etc.  I like to use a longer lens in this scenario to give the couple a sense of privacy and safety.  They don’t have to worry about me interfering or hearing what they’re talking about.  In this particular shot (from a family session), I sat Dad down first and placed Mom almost in his lap.  Then, I had her lean into him even more.  After that, I directed him to touch her face and asked him to whisper something in her ear to make her laugh.  Then I just stepped back and observed.  This series was so fun, and it shows – he obviously knew how to get her to laugh!

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

5. Try a Creative Crop

When talking about creative crops, I think this little eCard is highly appropriate…

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

Creative crops are fun, offer variety and are often more emotive than a typical portrait.  In this maternity session, I was trying to highlight mom’s cute belly and the couple’s anticipation for their baby.  By cropping out their heads, and focusing on their hands, interactions, and her belly I did just that.  Similar to tip 3, creative crops often don’t “work” the way we initially envision them.  Take a lot of photos at first, overshoot even.  Move around a lot.  Play with it and have fun with this.

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photo

Again, play with these tips.  See what you like, and what you don’t.  Movement is important – there’s a reason I listed it as tip #1!  So, move around a lot and vary your perspectives.  Go wide.  Shoot through things.  Try lots of varying creative crops.  It will take a while for new things to “click” (no pun intended) but I’m confident you’ll be happy you stepped outside of your comfort zone once you do!

creatively capturing couples: 5 tips for thinking outside the box photoDanielle Hatcher, California
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Danielle Hatcher is a wedding and family photographer serving Sacramento, CA and surrounding areas. She is a native Californian currently residing in Roseville with her husband, two great kids (soon to be three), and their mutt Jake-the-wonder-dog. Danielle shoots with a Nikon D700 and an ever growing list of lenses (just don’t tell her husband that). Her kids always beg her to stop singing along to the radio so she has given up on her pursuit for American Idol.

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