One of the reasons I love shooting at McMenamins Edgefield is because I did two different engagement sessions in one week and they look completely different. There are SO many places to shoot, it’s nuts. Spring, summer, fall, and winter, all bring completely different scenery, foliage, and vibes. I never even went inside for any photos for either, and I could do an entire session just indoor. I have a tiny garden at home and it takes so much time to keep it looking decent, but then you go to Edgefield and it seems like every corner is a different garden area. The sheer amount of time to keep those grounds looking amazing astounds me.
At some point during the first conversation with our couples, 95% tell us one of two things. “We hate getting our pictures taken,” or, “We are super awkward in front of the camera and never like any photos taken of us.” Our answer? We have only worked with one couple that’s truly difficult to get great photos of: us.
How can you feel comfortable & confident but also get photos that you love and feel like capture who you actually are? Here are three things we think really help the fantastic couples we get to photograph.
There is a reason the photos you see people get taken at the studio mall always look awkward, stiff, and fake. It’s not the lighting. I would even say it’s not the photographer’s ability to take good pictures. It’s a lack of feeling invited in, of basic hospitality. If you don’t feel safe or like you can let your guard down, then you have to literally pretend to look happy. That’s what models do: act, and it takes years to get good at it.
A few years back, before I was married to my crazy-hot wife Susannah, I did a project called, the face study. I wanted striking and genuine photos of people who naturally avoided the camera like the plague. I also wanted to accomplish this by having the camera two feet away from their faces. Did I have a cozy, beautiful studio? Heck no! It was the most sketch garage you could imagine. It leaked when it rained, wires hung from the ceiling that looked like a noose, and it had a bunch of my junk lining the walls. We don’t always have access or the ability to provide the ideal environment. The beauty with true hospitality, is that you don’t have to have the nicest stuff. Before each session, I'd grab my space heater from my bedroom and set it up in the garage, find out their favorite music & turn it on, and have one of their favorite drinks available. It was then time to start taking photos!
2. directing instead of posing
I knew from personal experience getting my own photo taken “professionally” how much I would die inside when the photographer would tell me things like, “Move your head slightly to the left. Nice. Now a little down, okay and now shift your shoulder up.” It felt so stiff and like they weren't even taking a photo of me. It felt like they were taking a photo of my face. With all the directions making me focus on my body and what it might be looking like (definitely weird and awkward??), I overthought everything and just started feeling more and more stressed, which probably looked "great" for the photo.
Now that I was taking photos of people in my studio and they were in a good mood and feeling welcomed, I knew I could instantly lose all that if I just shoved a camera up to my eye and started taking photos like crazy. I would often pull the camera away from my face and talk with them about how they were doing and how they were feeling. I would also, as much as possible, make them do crazy stuff, that for sure “wouldn’t make you look sexy.” I would make them squish their faces together. Shout as loud as they could. Blink their eyes twenty times. I instantly saw a change in their attitudes--because I didn’t take the photos themselves too seriously, they were invited to let loose and relax, and that’s when the magic would happen. A surrender of their self-consciousness and a genuine smile. I could then direct them in ways that gave them the power to look and feel amazing. We always believe that the most beautiful people are the most genuine. When they're in front of the camera, they just need a great cheerleader.
3. getting them to forget about the camera
When you snap on a zoom lens, you often get great natural photos of people. You also might get a court-ordered restraining order. That’s because they don’t know the camera is on them. But how do you get that same kind of relaxed genuineness when you have the camera right in their face? You do as many things to help them forget as possible. Becoming the director and not trying to constantly pose them is a great start to helping them forget about the camera. But having them do specific actions (especially with each other) helps all the more. I often do this by having one of them run up and surprise the other one. Giving them something to do does just that, gives them something to do other than, “get their photo taken." We all know what it feels like to stand awkwardly without knowing what to do with our hands.
Take Almeera and Erik's shoot for example. They did not like the idea of getting their photo taken. At. All. Even though I was not having them over to my “studio” or home, I could still show hospitality by finding out some of the meaningful places to them. After getting engaged, they stayed a few nights at the Manor House at Pleasant Beach and since then, ferry rides have become a big part of their relationship. Score and score. I brought some whiskey and tequila for them to crack into, but they even beat me to the punch and brought some champagne and whiskey of their own. It was a party for sure! The whole time, whether it was on the island or on the ferry, I would direct them and give them suggestions that gave them the power to let loose and have fun with each other. “Erik, on the count of three, run up and grab Almeera. In fact, forget the three seconds, do it whenever it would scare her the most.” “Give her 50 kisses on her neck!” Everyone can look and feel amazing when getting their photos taken, they just need to be given some jobs and a good cheerleader.