Engagement sessions are great ways to get to know your clients and to boost their confidence in themselves so that they’ll know their pictures will be beautiful when you show up at their wedding. Here are some simple, practical tips for instantly improving your next engagement session.
Have them start in a sitting position. People often talk about not knowing “what to do” while they’re being photographed. If they’re standing, they can start getting nervous and move around a bit. I try to put people in a position where they don’t feel stiff and they don’t have the option to move around too much. Having them sit is a great way to accomplish that! My favorite sitting position is to have the groom sit while the bride sits right in front of him, between his legs. If you ask them to look at each other, they’ll be pretty limited in where they can put their hands, how they can tilt their heads, etc and they won’t feel as unsure about what they’re supposed to do. At the same time, they won’t feel too stiff.
Within the first 60 seconds, show them images on the back of your camera. Part of the reason I start by placing couples in the position I just described is because it’s hard for them to “mess up.” Couples are almost always nervous at the beginning of an engagement session. By beginning this way, you’re ensuring you’ll catch some flattering images right off the bat. However, your clients don’t realize this, which is why we should immediately give them positive feedback. If they seem particularly stiff or overly nervous at the beginning, crack a cheesy joke and wait for them to laugh. Then, fire off six or seven (or more) frames. Immediately go show them those six or seven frames and, as you flip through the images on the back of the camera, you’ll instantly boost their confidence for the rest of the shoot. Show them you’ve already got great images.
Some photographers resist showing images to clients during the shoot, preferring to wait until they have the chance to Photoshop the images. I believe the confidence you instill in clients by showing them how good they look – in even just a few frames – outweighs the downside of not presenting perfectly retouched images.
Display confidence in the shoot, NO MATTER WHAT. This is a big one. No matter what happens, always act as if the session is going great. Imagine being in the hospital and watching a doctor come in to review your chart. As he scans through pages of test results, you notice looks of concern and disappointment appear on his face. How would you feel? The same thing happens during photo shoots. Your client views you as “the expert” and they will watch you for clues that reveal how you think the shoot is going. If you display frustration or disappointment, your client will interpret those emotions and assume that they aren’t doing something right. Then, their confidence will plummet, even if the cause of your concern has nothing to do with them.
Once while shooting images of a bride and groom at a wedding, I stopped to review a few frames I’d shot and saw black lines running across the frames. I had blown a shutter. Not wanting the bride and groom to think anything was wrong, I smiled and told them how great they were doing as I quickly flipped through a few more frames to see how far back the black lines went and how many images were ruined. Once I knew the extent of the damage, I calmly picked up my second camera and finished the rest of the shoot. The client never knew anything was wrong and never found out that equipment malfunctioned at their wedding.
Encourage couples to focus on each other, not on you. Most people get nervous when thinking about having their picture taken. Knowing that, my goal is to help couples to be “camera unaware,” meaning they’re not consciously considering having their picture taken. To that effect, I let them know that I want them to focus on each other and not look at me for most of the shoot. I assure them that we’ll grab a few images of them looking at the camera, but I ask them to generally look at me only when I ask. Having them focus on each other encourages them to talk, laugh and forget that I’m doing this activity that normally makes them nervous. I generally wait until couples are warmed up and relaxed before I ask them to look at me, and even then I only have them look at me for short periods of time before I tell them to focus on each other again.
Encourage them to bring a prop or to focus the shoot around an activity. Again, many people are unsure of what to do while they’re being photographed. If you center even part of the engagement shoot around an activity, then that answers that question for them. It also works wonders for taking the focus off you – the photographer. (It’s hard to think about being photographed while riding on the back of a Vespa!) Even having a couple bring something simple like flowers helps occupy their hands.
Save the best location for last. When you arrive at the place where you’re shooting the session, scan the area to quickly get a sense of a few different spots that will work well. If you see one location that is particularly great, save it for last, or at the very least don’t go there first. Most couples take a few minutes to build up their confidence, and you don’t want to spend time at your best spot while they’re getting their nerves worked out.
About Chris Humphreys
Based out of Denver, CO, Chris Humphreys travels across Colorado and the rest of the United States photographing weddings for discerning couples who want their weddings captured in such a way as to be true to who they are.
Chris has been blessed to have been recognized by several WPJA awards and to be names one of the top 15 wedding photojournalists in the world. Chris is also a sought after speaker and teacher for other photographers.