Jeff and I were just in San Francisco this past week and in the course of four days we shot three engagement sessions for three incredibly unique and beautiful couples. Each couple was very different from the others – their stories were distinct and their personalities were one of kind.
We absolutely LOVE that all of our couples have such unique stories and personalities – we wouldn’t trade this job for anything – but photographing so many different types of personalities can also be challenging, right? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if every one of our couples responded the same way to our jokes? If they all looked great in the same type of poses? If their senses of humor all clicked perfectly with ours? If every groom thought that Jeff’s monkey dance was super awesome and NOT totally lame?
The truth is that we have to connect with each of our couples on a level that makes them comfortable and allows them to relax, but it’s not easy discovering what those levels are when everyone is so unique.
But over the years, Jeff and I have found that there’s one commonality between our couples that we can bank on. They love each other. They want to spend the rest of their lives together. They’re planning a wedding and they’re preparing to make a unique and lasting commitment to each other. As ordinary as that sounds, it’s actually a pretty remarkable thing.
And when it comes to photographing a lot of different couples, this is one thing that in almost every circumstance we as wedding photographers can rely on.
So Jeff and I like to get in touch with that emotional side of our couples when we photograph them, and we like to call this emotional connection, “Grounding.”
What Does Grounding Mean?
When Jeff and I meet a couple at the engagement session, they’re lives are usually insanely busy. I’m making a global statement here, but most couples are working full-time jobs, planning a wedding, maintaining social lives, and juggling a mountain of life responsibilities while trying to pick the perfect outfit for the engagement session and somehow stay connected in their committed relationship.
This is the baggage that couples are carrying into the engagement shoot. It’s a lot to handle, and by the time the session arrives, engagement photos can unfortunately become just another piece of luggage that gets thrown into the life/wedding mix. Our job as photographers is to bring our couples back to earth – to strip the baggage off of their backs and bring them back to their core feelings for each other.
We need to remind them of their love story.
So when a couple arrives at the engagement session, Jeff and I begin the session by “grounding” them into those emotions. And we do that by telling them a couple of things.
First, we tell them that we realize that there’s probably a lot going on in their lives right now. At this stage of the wedding plans, they’re probably not getting a ton of time just to hang out and connect with each other. Just getting ready for photos can be stressful, so we can only imagine how much they’re juggling beyond that. But the beauty of the engagement session is that it’s the one item on the long list of wedding to-dos that doesn’t require them to actually DO anything. Our job is to create gorgeous photographs of them – and we’re going to make that happen – and they’re only job for the next couple of hours is to connect with one another. We’re going to provide the space and freedom for them to connect emotionally – the evening is blocked off, the phones are in the car, the outfits are perfect, and the hair and makeup is beautiful. They don’t need to think, they don’t need to make any decisions – all they have to do is be in love.
His job is to love on her and her job is to let him. And the more they do that, the better.
We’re not going to host a therapy session or anything like that – we’re photographers, not counselors for Pete’s sake. But they are going to do a lot of touching, hugging, and kissing for the next few hours while we pose them, and that’s enough to make anyone feel super loved.
And finally, here’s the key statement that we tell our couples just before we begin the engagement session: we tell them that the goal for the session is for them to go home that night more in love with each other than when they came. That’s all. If that happens, then we’ve done our job.
And it’s remarkable how different couples from all walks of life respond to this. It’s like an emotional switch gets flipped on in their hearts as the layers of life get left behind in the car. Many couples get giddy and happy. Others get reflective, and a few just get downright emotional. But all of them get excited.
It’s the simplest way to introduce a couple into a photo shoot. Just by starting off with their emotions in mind, we’ve found that it’s easier to connect with a range of different people on a deeper, more authentic level. This isn’t a new way of doing things – it’s definitely not revolutionary – but if you’re looking to bring out more authentic emotion in your shoots, then this is one method out of many to throw into your toolkit.
Written by Erin Youngren
Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.