Here are a few tips on how I get great engagement photos when shooting couples on various engagement photoshoots in Sussex. These ideas will help other wedding photographers with tips on how to shoot the engagement photos but also help couples understand the process of how to get great engagement photos.
The Warm-up Exercise
When I start the photo shoot, I will begin by just asking the couple to walk in a reasonably beautiful location that has some form of interesting background, and ask them to walk towards and away from me just to get them warmed up. This process isn’t necessarily for good photographs but more for the sole purpose of getting used to posing and interacting together in front of the camera. I usually find that the first photographs that I take aren’t very interesting; the aim of these first few minutes is to relax the couple in front of the camera.
When scoping out opportunities for good photographs, I look for a location that I feel will look interesting as a background (shot using a shallow depth of field). I will simply ask a couple to stand in the location and I ask them to just look at each other to begin with, not at the camera. This strategy is designed to get them to start interacting together and I photograph them from a considerable distance away, using a telephoto lens. By doing this I hope that and they will start to forget that they are being photographed by me, as I have moved quite far away from them. Also having them look at each other can usually provoke them into interacting physically to show intimacy, which looks great on camera but also I tend to find that couples can start to giggle at this point at how unusual it feels to be photographed professionally.
I’ll sometimes ask them to look at me, asking them to pose in some way, and occasionally directing then in terms of how are they stand together, but the majority of photographs are genuinely natural, where the couple look at each other and now feel quite relaxed in front of the camera.
Lighting & Composition
I am always looking for visual ways to separate the subject from the background – one composition technique that I can find works is called” figure to ground” – and one of the best ways of doing this is through a mixture of lighting and composition. Using either a light or a dark background can produce a contrast that is aesthetically pleasing, creating silhouettes or high key imagery but neutral backgrounds are also useful because they will not distract from the main subject in the photograph.
Personally, I always tend to prefer using some degree of backlighting as I enjoy the glow from the light falling on the subject from behind and the atmosphere that this creates in the picture. I particularly find it flattering on female subjects because it can highlight the colour and length of their hair quite beautifully.
There is something to be said for flat lighting, usually created either by shade or clouds in the sky. I also look for natural reflectors such as lightly coloured ground, to help soften the hard lighting from strong sunlight. Soft lighting is usually quite flattering and doesn’t create any hard shadows on the subjects face.
Aside from the background, I usually look for something in the photograph to create a sense of narrative or to help my subject feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Footpaths are great because the couple can walk away and towards me as I mentioned earlier but they also act as a compositional tool to lead your eye into the photograph. I also use walls and fences as composition all leading lines.
Another great photographic tool are trees or walls that the subject can lean against. I have found that by asking the male to lean their back against something and then asking a female to lean into the male creates a natural and relaxed intimacy.
I always suggest to couples that the location of a shoot should be somewhere that is personal to them. The photo shoot, although an activity in itself and something that I think most of my couples quite enjoy in the end, I want the shoots to look like a nice day out, perhaps a romantic date spent in their favourite place. I think the ideal outcome of a photo shoot is a couple of hours spent in each other’s company where the photographs show what a great time often they share in this location.