Fresh out of my Getty Images summer internship in 2008, I approached my very first engagement shoot with improved technical skills to make nice looking images, which definitely works when taking on editorial assignments, but not so much for engagement shoots. Considering I’ve never done this, I had no idea how to communicate with my clients during a portrait session. Was I supposed to “pose” them and hope for the best? Did I actually have to talk to them? During the shoot, while I looked for the good light and interesting angle, Mike and Vania (pictured below) nervously awaited my instruction. The technique was there, but there is was very little connection or communication. At the time I was very happy with these images, at least from a technical standpoint. I still like them, but this approach may leave the client feeling unfulfilled…
The next few images are from my very first engagement session. Compare these with the last few images and tell me if you can see the difference!
1. “Just look at each other and smile.”
Yes they are looking at each other, but their body language doesn’t show any real connection. The image is framed nicely, but since they’re so far apart I’m left wondering how genuine this moment really is. They should be closer and more intimate.
2. “Whisper something into her hear that will make her laugh and… look up!”
This image does seem natural at first, but there is a lot of direction here. I feel like this is all they’re going to remember from this moment, my constant direction. Where is the sentimental value in that? Yes, it’s a nice angle with even symmetry, but I’m afraid my direction may not make this a very special experience for the subjects. Taken at Union Station.
3. “Mike, kiss Vania on the neck, and Vania, look at the camera.”
Technically it’s clean: nice light, good angle, but way too posey. Again, the subjects will remember my direction, making the moment less special for them. Taken at Union Station.
3. “Twirl her around!”
I still really like this one. It’s a fun shot that everyone seems to like, which is why a lot of photographers done this shot at Union Station, or any train station that has long tunnels with light at the end!
4. “Dip her in front of the sign.”
Not feeling this one. Way to posed… Taken at Union Station.
5. “Mike, walk Vania out as if it were your first dance!”
This isn’t all that bad. There is beautiful soft light coming across the room, giant windows with nice silhouetted ironwork… Taken at Union Station.
For the past few years, I have focused less on the technical aspects and more on being completely engaged with my subjects. I’ve found that I can’t just snap my finger, say “act like you’re in love” and hope for the best. I have to feel a little of what they’re feeling. I have to open my heart so they open theirs. They need to willingly invite me in their world, which is often guarded and private. Trust is essential, so during a Beloved session, I am usually never more then 3-4 feet away from the couple. I bring only one camera and generally one prime lens, maybe two depending on the setting. No more off camera remote “back lights,” multi-camera set ups etc. All that technical stuff may look cool, but it can be very distracting for my subjects. As a result, the session becomes more like a “photoshoot.”
Below are a few of my favorite examples of Beloved. Can you see the difference?
This is what it’s all about. Creating a space where people in love feel comfortable being natural and intimate in front of the camera. These moments simply cannot be staged. Making images like this is more fulfilling for me as a photographer and it’s certainly more fulfilling for my clients. All of the couples above have told me they remember exactly what they felt during each of these moments. They come out feeling closer and and even more bonded with their partners.
Thank you for looking 🙂