Photographing Couples: 13 “go-to” tricks for authentic poses and interactions

As a follow up to my last blog post on photographing women, this week I'll be talking about photographing couples.  I'm constantly asked about photographing couples and how to best pull out natural and authentic expressions and poses during a couples session or a wedding.  I'll admit that I never felt very confident in this area until about a year ago when I dedicated a pretty extensive amount of time to studying the best way to photograph couples.  Since then, I've had several new couples tell me they want to book with me because my photos combine the perfect amount of candid interactions with beautiful posing and placement.  That's definitely a compliment in my book!

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Photographing couples is a bit more difficult than photographing individuals.  When photographing individuals, you can follow certain posing rules to make the subject look their best.  While you still need to keep these rules in mind when photographing couples or groups, you also need to consider their interaction with each other.  Because, what's the point of photographing couples if you aren't photographing them as a couple?!

We all know that everyone is different, so there is no sure-fire way to capture authentic interactions, but with these tips, you just may find your next couples session a little easier and a little more authentic.

Get to Know Them

Yes, I'm going to talk AGAIN about the importance of building relationships with your clients, and this relationship probably isn't as important in any other genre as it is in photographing couples.  By getting to know your couples, you can get a sense of who they are together and how they interact with each other.  This knowledge is SO important in order to ensure authentic posing and interactions during their session.

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

My very first interaction with a couple (beyond emails, of course), is during their potential client meeting.  This is when we meet post-inquiry to discuss their wedding, their photography options, and to get to know each other a bit.  During this meeting, I ask them about how they met, how they got engaged, and what they envision for their photos.  All the while, I'm secretly observing them and their interactions with each other.  Post-meeting, I make notes in their email about their answers and interactions so that if they book, I can transfer my observations to their client file.  This allows me to have a sense of what they may be looking for in their engagement photos and their intimates at their wedding.

After a couple books their session or wedding with me, I then have them fill out a questionnaire (the details of which can be found here).  The questionnaire asks questions about their relationship, giving me an inside glimpse of their life together.  I also “friend” or follow my couples on social media so that I can have a continuously up to date view of their relationship.

Based on the observations made during their meeting, their answers to the questionnaire questions, and observations of them on social media, I can plan a session that will allow them to enjoy themselves, while also giving them something special, meaningful, and representative of their relationship.

Capture the Relationship

Sounds easy, right?  Although it is easier said than done, I want to ensure you that it's not impossible to do.

Let's revisit the questionnaire and planning topic.  If you plan for locations or activities that are important to the couple, you have already nailed the first step to capturing the relationship.  My unscientific and unofficial research shows that when you get a couple into a comfortable and familiar environment, they are a million times more likely to relax, enjoy themselves, and show me who they really are.

Look at exhibit 1:

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

In their questionnaire, this couple talked about their love for craft beer and local breweries.  Fortunately, Columbus has a pretty great beer scene, so we spent the first half of their session at a local brewery, where I photographed them casually enjoying some delicious local beer.  In this instance, not only were they doing something they love to do together, they were also loosening up a bit since they were consuming alcoholic beverages. 😉  Both of these things allowed for more natural and authentic photos.

How about exhibit 2:

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

This couple LOVES The Ohio State University.  They met there, began their relationship there, graduated together from there.  So naturally, we went to Ohio State for some engagement photos.  Allowing them to be in a comfortable and familiar location that brings back such great memories worked wonders for their photos.

And, exhibit 3:

Photo by Erica Kay Photography
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Games are a big part of this couple's relationship.  Whether they're playing their favorite board game or drinking over pinball at the local arcade, they love to spend time playing games together.  So, we visited a local rooftop bar and pulled out Pandemic, then finished the session by playing pinball at 16 Bit.

Avoid Traditional “Smile at the Camera!” Photos

Of course, you need to take one or two to appease the parents and grandparents, but does anything about that scream natural and authentic to you?!  If your goal is to achieve more natural and authentic interactions while photographing couples, then you'll want to avoid having your couples smile at the camera.

What You Should Do Instead

Here are some of my “go to” poses that always draw more of a natural interaction and provide me with beautiful photos.

The Look
Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

In order to show love and affection, having your clients look at each other is key.  There is something about eye contact that makes a couple really feel their love for each other.  That being said, you should have your clients look at each other as much as possible.  If they're a passionate couple, this look will ignite an undeniable chemistry and sexy body language.  If they're a silly couple, this look will result in a fit of giggles, which always makes for a good photo.

The Cuddle

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Whether they're facing each other or are in the “spoon” position, getting cuddly is so important.  Have them wrap their arms around each other and pull each other in close.  If they're facing each other, they can cuddle up and rest their foreheads together or have the shorter of the two rest their head on the other's chest or shoulder.  If one of them is facing away, have them cuddle up close and entangle their arms while the person in the back kisses the temple area of the person in front.

The Whisper

Photographing couples
The power of the whisper
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

This one is SO good for pulling out emotions and natural interactions.  As the couple is cuddling, ask one to whisper something into the other's ear.  This is perfect because since it's a whisper and they know no one can hear, they're going to whisper something from the heart.  Whether that's a declaration of love resulting in a sweet facial expression or a dirty joke ensuing in laughter, you're guaranteed to get some great emotion.

The Kiss

Photographing Couples
The Slow-Non-Puckered Kiss
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Kissing is obviously an important part of any romantic relationship and should be something you strive to capture regardless of the way the couple naturally interacts with each other.  However, there is a key to getting the perfect kiss photo.

If you've ever seen people kiss, you probably agree with me that the act isn't exactly attractive since it results in faces literally smashed against each other.  That being said, you want to avoid the smashing of faces by asking your couple to very slowly go in for a kiss and pause just a second before the actual kiss.  The entire time this is happening, you should be shooting.  By doing this, you're capturing the build up and emotion leading up to that kiss while avoiding the smashing of faces.

Avoid the smashed-face kiss! Photo by Erica Kay Photography
Avoid the smashed-face kiss!
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Pro-tip:  be sure that your client isn't making kissy lips during the slow move in for the kiss.  If you notice that one of them is puckering up the entire time, just ask them to smile softly during the process and not pucker up until the very last second.

The Lap Sit

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Here is another perfect position for both passionate and silly couples alike.  Have one sit on the other's lap (generally the female sitting on the male), while also encouraging the cuddling, looking at each other, etc.  This physical closeness will result again result in a natural interaction, be it a passionate embrace and kiss or a tickle fight.

The Walk

Photographing couples
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Easy peasy.  Have the couple walk toward the camera holding hands and looking at each other.  Encourage conversation and natural interaction, which sometimes means the woman will put her other hand up on his arm as they're walking or something equally as sweet.  You can also have them turn around and walk away from the camera as well, giving a different look to what is virtually the same “pose.”

I hope that these tips will help you bring out authentic and natural posing and interactions the next time you find yourself photographing couples.  If you have your own tips, I'd love to hear them in the comments!

18 thoughts on “Photographing Couples: 13 “go-to” tricks for authentic poses and interactions”

  1. Great advice! I minored in photography ~30 yrs ago at OSU, got married & have been raising 5 daughters (25-14). Film photography was costly (we were poor missionaries), so I didn’t shoot much, then had compact digital bc DSLR = too expensive. Finally got Sony α350 in ’09 (digital = whole new animal!) to shoot our girls cheering & doing track. Upgraded last yr to Canon 70D (kit lenses). Abt to upgrade to FF & 50 prime bc cheer = super-fast motion, night games or dim gyms, 1/1000+, no flash, & would like to do more portraits, so your posing tips are handy! Thanks!

  2. Great article, thank you for the tips ! One quick question : how come I can’t access the questionnaire? It leads to a login page. I would be interested in building my own and find some inspiration in yours.

  3. Hi Erica thanks for these tips and they are terrific! A quick one – I need to photograph cousins who work together for a work project – do you have any recommendations for poses that are not so intimate? I know them both reasonably well professionally, and we have a short window together – we will be outdoors in vineyards early morning .
    Many thanks for this advice!
    Kind regards

  4. tips simple, easy to understand and easy to put into practice seemed

    Very beautiful photo, the couple again … so sweet really

    thank you

  5. I love the article! And I want to add that the more candid they look, the more you can actually transmit an emotion and let the people see how your subjects felt in the particular place and time

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