Engagement + Proposals

Posing Couples for Naturally Romantic Engagement Photo Shoots

December 6, 2019

By Jen Huang

© Jen Huang

Engagement photography can be daunting because it’s really just about capturing one thing: the unique relationship between two people. There aren’t any wedding details, schedules or group shots to worry about, but at the same time, the challenge of engagement photography is its simplicity.

Many photographers resort to overused poses or cheesy props, and the photographs soon become overcomplicated or fall short of what makes the couple special. Here are five pointers on how to create authentic and romantic portraits of couples.

The Location Doesn’t Matter

I often tell my couples that details like attire, location and props don’t make an impact on your shoot. I could photograph a couple in a random parking lot and create beautiful images for them. I don’t say this because I think I’m an amazing photographer; I say this because in truth, a portrait of a couple isn’t about the periphery details—it’s about the relationship between two people.

As long as you capture that, you’ve succeeded. All the other details are just the cherries on top. Don’t overcomplicate your shoots with fancy attire or locations. Focus on telling the story of two people and their love.

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Get Comfortable by Getting Uncomfortable

My couples are usually a little nervous during their engagement shoot, and that’s normal. Instead of starting with simple poses, I actually ask them to do something they may find uncomfortable or challenging.

For example, I might ask the groom to dip the bride and give her a kiss. The dip itself may not look great, but the moments before and after result in silly giggles and laughter, or even hugs as they support each other. That’s when the real, worthwhile moments can be captured.

Direct Movements, Not Poses

Sometimes we focus too much on the final image instead of figuring out how to get there. Remember, some of the best photographs were created candidly and accidentally!

In order to get that print-worthy moment with your couples, ask them to perform movements rather than frozen poses. If you’d like to capture your couples kissing, don’t just ask them to kiss; ask them to kiss and walk at the same time. You’ll find that the movement engages the couple in an activity where they’re more likely to kiss “naturally” and let natural emotions emerge.

You might also be able to capture any happy accidents that happen, like a kiss landing on a nose—those will result in some of the best images from your session.

Mind the Gap

Relationships are intimate, but photo shoots, especially engagement shoots, are public. Most engagement shoots are happening outside, and the couple finds themselves posing in front of someone who is basically a stranger. Because of this, couples don’t hug as tightly, they don’t kiss as passionately and generally they leave more space between themselves. These types of images end up looking awkward and fake.

Try to be aware of this gap and ask your couples to squeeze each other tighter and move in closer. I physically push my couples together so that my images look cozy and sweet.

More is More

Usually I am a “less is more” person, but not when it comes to direction. One of the biggest mistakes amateur photographers make is to think that natural poses come from less direction, or letting the couple do what they want.

When I first began shooting engagements, I remember walking around New York City, following my couple around and giving them no direction at all. As you can guess, the resulting photographs were literally paparazzi-style photos of my couples, walking. There was no variety, no artistry and no sense of the couple’s personality. 

If you don’t provide solid, confident direction, all it results in is confusion. Work on your directing, not only so that you can capture authentic, natural images, but also so that you can infuse the images with your own, unique, artistic eye.

Jen Huang is a fine-art wedding and portrait photographer who, over the last decade, has photographed in over 20 countries and on six different continents. A photography educator who offers a variety of instructional and inspirational materials, she recently came out with a new book, The Master Guide to Fine Art Wedding Photography.