Being an awkwardly shy teenager starting out with a little Canon point and shoot, people photography was not my first love. I liked details and macros (still do). After a photography class my last year of high school, and working as a school/event photographer my last two years of college, my perspective began to shift.
Then, while in Jerusalem working on a summer archeological dig on the Ophel, my love of people photography really took off. It was here that I went on my first street photography excursion. The official photographer of the dig site took a few of us out one day for a lesson in street photography. He lives in Jerusalem and has a lot of experience with street photography in the area. It was this day that really started my love of photographing people. There are two lessons that stand out to me from that day:
1. Learn to use light and shadows to create visual interest
2. Learn to see what is unique and different and capture it
I also learned to appreciate black and white photos, because they add to the emotion and interest of the photo by removing distracting color. This was something that my boss and mentor at work had been trying to help me see. I didn’t understand it until this day.
These two (sort of three) lessons have done a lot to shape my development as a photographer. This day laid the foundation for my style and my love of photography, especially when it comes to people.
Some pics from my first experience with street photography:
It was also in Jerusalem when I had my first experience photographing a couple. This was the other foundational building block for my development as a photographer.
My dig supervisor asked me to take engagement photos for him and his bride-to-be. She was flying to Jerusalem from the States, and only staying for a short time. I had one shot at it.
I was terrified.
This was something totally new to me. I had only served as an assistant photographer for a few weddings. I would hold the reflector or flash and watch my boss masterfully instruct the couple in poses, while keeping them natural, relaxed, and sincere. Then I would photograph decorations and candid shots. I didn’t know how to deal with actual people!
I ran straight to Pinterest looking for pose ideas, when it came time for the shoot I forgot 99% of the poses I had liked (still happens today).
So, I jumped right in. I tried to pull together every bit of knowledge I had about lighting, posing, tricks to help the couple feel relaxed and natural, and I shot like crazy.
My first engagement photoshoot:
I was terrified the entire time. But, I loved every minute of it! From this point I was hooked.
Thankfully, I have had a lot of friends become couples and ask me to do their photos, giving me more practice. I still get terrified before every shoot, I still pour over Pinterest, I still forget everything I researched, and I still just go in and shoot like crazy.
Thanks to my experience in Jerusalem and my job as a photographer (and photographer’s assistant) at Herbert W. Armstrong college, I’ve learned some lessons about couple’s photography. These might not work for you, or you may already use them. But, they are the lessons that have shaped my style and personality as a photographer and the strengths that will help us in making Matt and Tab Photography the best that it can be.
What I’ve Learned:
1. Don’t be afraid of light
Photographing at golden hour is a pretty basic concept. I love golden hour. In some ways, I think it hinders me because I only ever want to shoot at golden hour, which isn’t always possible. But, in my love of golden hour, I’ve also developed a love of the sun’s rays and lens flares.
The sun is obviously overtaking this photo, but you still see the silhouette of the couple. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Bright morning light, dusting of snow, dreamy isn’t it? © Tabitha Friesen 2014
This was extra special with the sun reflecting from the foggy mist from the warm pond on a cool morning. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Lens flares especially can be bothersome for some photographers, but I have learned to love them in my photos. I actively try to place the sun at the right spot to emphasize its rays, silhouetting the subject, or pointing my lens in the right direction to get some lens flare. I think it adds a unique, dreamy essence to your photo that you will never see with just your eyes.
Shadows, silhouettes, and lens flare. It creates an intense and moody image. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Creating a scene where the sun peaks out from an obstacle, like the trees here can help not totally overexpose everything, but also add interest and in this case a nice hair light! © Tabitha Friesen 2014
I just love the light reflecting from the pond, the pink lens flare matching the balloons, and that warm light. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Dreamy © Tabitha Friesen 2014
2. Spontaneous laughs > forced smiles
I like to make the couple laugh and flirt. I want them to feel natural and comfortable. A cutesy giggle or a hearty laugh because of a goofy joke, or just being flirty with each other, show joy and happiness you will never get by saying “Say cheese!” or “SMILE!!”. My aim is to capture their interactions with each other. When they look back at their pictures I want them to be reminded of their friendship and how much fun they have together!
Big laugh. Adorable. © Tabitha Friesen
It helps when the bride-to-brings her goofy bridesmaids along. They brought the most smiles that day! © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Goofy kisses always get the girl to laugh. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Big smile, eye crinkles, that’s a great expression! © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Matt took this one, but how can you not laugh when you get a piggy back ride? © Matthew Friesen
I told him to kiss her forehead, then said something awkward about it. She laughed. Win. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
© Tabitha Friesen 2013
3. Be natural when you pose
This ties in with the last point. I like spontaneity, I like interactions, I like a more candid feel. But, I know that a lot of people want to see the cute couple’s faces. So, I often try to get some nice photos of the couple looking at the camera. (I often say, this one is for the parents, and that almost always gets a nice genuine smile straight away.) I often try to give people posing ideas throughout the session, but they aren’t always looking at the camera. It helps add variety.
I try to think of poses that are natural, unique, and most importantly comfortable! Here are some tips I often use:
- Use natural bends in the joints to create a more comfortable and natural look. Such as: a hand in the pocket (note: if you tell someone to put their hand in their pocket, also tell them to leave their thumb out, or they could look like an amputee, or on the hip and leaning back on something with a leg bent at the knee.
- Tell them to hold hands and walk away from you, then back
- Have only one person look at the camera (I usually do this with the girl)
- Use props (these can also get in the way, so use wisdom!)
Classic, adorable, both looking at the camera. © Tabitha Friesen
Holding hands, looking at the camera, the parasol adds natural movement and interest. © Matthew Friesen
A comfortable stance, very natural, both looking at the camera. (Note the natural bend in his arm and thumb sticking out of pocket) © Tabitha Friesen
Another one I posed them for. Leaning on the fence creates a natural pose. © Matthew Friesen
Leaning on a tree, leg bent at the knee © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Sometimes I like to have just one (usually the girl) look at the camera. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Matt took this one, but I was giving posing instructions. Go team! © Matthew Friesen
A loving embrace, where the girl looks at the camera. It’s a good one! © Tabitha Friesen 2013
Holding hands, walking, and talking. Very natural. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Holding hands and walking (and flirting!) © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Props are a big part of this photo, adding interest and helping them feel more comfortable. © Tabitha Friesen 2014
Those are the main three things I’ve learned from photographing people:
- Don’t be afraid of light
- Spontaneous laughs > forced smiles
- Be natural when you pose
These three things are all built on the foundation I learned in Jerusalem about: using light and shadows and learning to see what is unique and capturing it (in the case of couple’s photography this is where flirting and natural interaction is key). On occasion I use the semi-third point and turn photos into black and white just to isolate the emotion in that moment.
You can see more examples of people photography on our portfolios page.
Thanks for reading. Leave your comments below!