One of the problems, when you photograph couples, is that they can be really awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera. But photographing these couples can be especially fun for them and for you!
In this article, I’ll show you how to understand awkward couples and find out what makes them tick so that you can make the lighthearted, romantic photos you’re both hoping for. As you overcome the challenges, you may find yourself taking some of the most cherished photos of your life or career.
Sometimes having an audience staring at a couple makes them severely uncomfortable. And sometimes being so uncomfortable leads to playful behavior. Be ready for any real expressions that come out.
1. Camera Settings
First, just a quick word about camera settings. If you’re already perfectly comfortable with camera settings, please skip this part.
You want to use your camera in such a way that allows you to put all your focus on the couple – not your settings. So manual mode may not be the best option for you.
Many photographers, both pro and amateur,
prefer aperture priority
(A or Av). Setting your ISO and then choosing your aperture based on creative preferences is perfect for photographing couples. You can then use exposure compensation to make quick adjustments as you move through the session.
Don’t let fumbling over settings get in the way of interacting with the couple.
Exposure compensation was used here to get just the right look for this silhouette. It took a little warming up to get this couple to dance and kiss.
2. Ugly Locations
We’re going to dive into the minds of awkward couples, but first, let’s consider ugly locations.
Couples seem to have a knack for choosing ugly locations. Yes, the place is meaningful and beautiful to them, but they’re looking at it through the eyes of love, not the eyes of a photographer!
However, I have come to realize that the entire location you’re photographing does not need to be majestic – you only need to find pockets of beauty. Just little pockets of nice light, and tiny patches of background that look nice.
Normally, this is a majestic location but it was a
tough time of day for light
. The exact scenery was irrelevant to this photos since I got in close to capture the expression of the moment. At this point, I wasn’t even telling the couple what to do, there was just a lot of fun at the moment. Often people find it difficult to “smile naturally” for the camera. But not when they forget that the camera is even there.
3. Awkward Couples
Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new. – Brian Tracy
Some people are simply as “cool as a cucumber” and perfectly comfortable in new situations or in front of the camera. But when it comes to the awkward couples, one or both of them tend to be a little neurotic or disagreeable.
You’ll know the signs when they tell you they’re nervous, begin saying self-critical things, or simply refuse to adopt a pose you’re asking them to do. Now, you have no idea what they’ve been through in life and what has led them to be uncomfortable like this. Even
though they’re nervous
and maybe a little difficult to work with, it’s still your job to take some great photos of them.
I always consider the first couple of scenes to be throw away photos. Everyone needs time to warm up. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself or the couple. Who cares if the first few photos turn out or not?
This was exactly the photo I had in mind for this couple. It should have been easy too. It normally is. But there was drama leading up to it.
You need to think of yourself as a director with a couple of stubborn or uncomfortable movies stars. The audience wants to see drama and romance and you’re going to have to get this couple to play along.
So set the scene in a nice pocket of light
with a good background
and don’t be distracted by camera settings.
This was the scene I wanted. I got my camera settings dialed in before I told the couple what I wanted them to do. I told them that this was a silhouette photo so that there would be no pressure to have the right expression on their faces.
Set up your couple the best you can and start clicking. Don’t worry that it’s not perfect off the bat. Give them some direction, be kind and playful in the way you speak (keep your humor appropriate). Most importantly, watch for the outtake moments. The magic is always in the laughter and the expressions.
When I told them to dance, they looked at me like I was crazy. She even had some choice words for me. I finally convinced them to twirl and we all loved the photo.
If both of them are uncomfortable in front of the camera and disagreeable toward each other, you may witness an awkward dispute or fight between the couple. They may be distracted, unhappy, and even unwilling to follow your directions.
At this point, it will be a little less like directing and more like being in an improv sketch. They’re going to throw surprising lines your way and you’ve got to respond creatively. The scene will change quickly and be full of surprises. But this may lead to the photos you love the most.
You can see why you need to keep your mind off of camera settings and on the couple. Don’t stress about anything, just roll with the scene.
This was a fun moment as they were trying to understand how I wanted them to pose.
But it didn’t take long for the fun to wear off. There may be a lot of moments like this leading up to all those perfect Pinterest photos you see.
The Magic Ingredient
Neurotic and disagreeable behavior leads to drama – and drama is the magic ingredient in your photos.
No matter what happens, your job is to turn this ordinary couple, who feels uncomfortable in front of the camera and disagreeable with each other into a Pinterest dude and a beautiful belle. He may be stiff and expressionless, she may be less than encouraging, but you’ve got to work the scene to bring out the best in them.
As we pushed through the scene trying to get the pose correct, I decided to keep taking pictures. I saw something here. Certainly not the moment I was after, but it was the moment I was given. Something deep and human was coming out.
This is one of the truest and most human photos of a couple I’ve taken. It was the perfect combination of directing and improvisation. He wasn’t living up to the Pinterest standard of a romantic photo, so he got a whack. It was a playful whack but added a level of drama to the photo that I had never achieved before. This is the way it works for couples in real life. Trying something new, struggling through the frustration of trying to get it right, and finally – hopefully – overcoming.
After the tension is released and the challenge overcome, they will have their “happily ever after.”
The Awkward Photographer
Of course, the awkwardness of the photographer plays a role in this too. Perhaps you know exactly how uncomfortable it is to be in front of the camera. This is good because it means you can empathize with the people you photograph.
Unless they’re trained models (and perhaps even if they are), they don’t know how to be in front of the camera. They feel or look awkward because it is a truly awkward experience. But you can embrace the drama of the moment and lead your couple through both the fun and the difficulty in order to achieve the photos you’re all hoping to make.
Awkward is Real
- Remember to use your camera in such a way that it does not distract you from the couple.
- Don’t stress over the location. Simply look for little patches of beauty and put the spotlight on your couple.
- Be the director that is willing to join the scene, embrace the drama, and capture it for them.
- Don’t think of awkward as a bad thing, but a fun thing.
I’d love to hear your awkward stories below.
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