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My Couple Photo Session Structure and System



In my last post, I walked you through my must-have shots during an engagement session, wedding day portrait shoot or any couple photo session. In this post, I’m going to share a few more details about how and why I capture these photos. I also share how I get my couples comfortable in front of the camera.

Related: Portrait and Wedding Photography Shot List

I also mentioned how photoshoots can be stressful for us photographers. However, I also know how nervous my couples get to have their pictures taken. For the majority of my couples, the engagement session is their very first time getting professional photos done (other than elementary school portraits – but do photos where you had spaghetti sauce on your shirt even count?). This discomfort and nervousness can show through photographs. It’s my job as the photographer to get them comfortable so I can deliver the very best photos! My goal is to create such a memorable experience that my couples leave thinking (or telling me) “Wow! That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be!”. So let’s get started!

Related: See this post about why I always make sure to have an engagement session for my couples.









The First Fifteen Minutes

I always use the first 15-20 minutes of each shoot to get my couple comfortable in front of the camera. On wedding days you might not always have the convenience of time, but that’s why I always make sure to have an engagement session. This session is a great opportunity to get them comfortable. That way on the wedding day they already know what to expect.

I don’t tell my couple this, but I will rarely keep shots from this time. The best ones will come in the next 1.5 hours (I normally shoot for 2 hours!). That’s also why I choose to keep the best locations for last. I want to make sure I save the best shots for the best locations.

If we are doing a sunset shoot, the light will also only get better and better as the session progresses. Therefore, I’m not too worried about how it looks at the start either. I still make sure it’s decent, so I don’t look like I don’t know what I’m doing but it might not be 100% ideal and I’m ok with that.

In those first few minutes, I also make sure to encourage and praise like crazy. This boosts their confidence and it definitely shows on camera!


What Poses Do I Start With?

I like to start off the shoot with a classic portrait. Even though this kind of photo might not our favourite from a creative standpoint, I think every couple still needs one in their portfolio. Refer back to the last post to see my complete shot list!

This pose slowly gets them used to a camera pointing their way and it’s nothing too intimidating.

After the classic portraits, I like to move into doing a few walking shots. This is a great transition and eases them into more posing and instruction. It’s easy to look natural if you’re just walking and holding hands. I also tell them to chat and laugh with each other so they don’t even have to worry about looking into the camera (at least at the start!).

The reason I do this is that I want to make sure not to jump right into too much instruction as that might get overwhelming and intimidating. Remember, this is most likely your couple’s very first professional photo shoot. They are probably feeling nervous too, so by easing them into the shoot, I get them comfortable in front of the camera and ready for more “advanced” posing.



Give Actions, Less Poses

Although I’m talking a lot about poses, I actually try not to pose too much. I like to give actions instead of poses. So rather than saying “Place your hand around her waist and look here” I’ll get them to move into a hug, look at me for a couple seconds, then pull each other in for a kiss. The pose doesn’t get stale or look awkward because they are not holding a pose, they are flowing through different actions.


Don’t Make Them Feel Bad!

This seems like an odd tip, but it’s actually really important! If you move your couple into a pose but realize it doesn’t work, stick with it. And by that, I mean keep shooting a few photos, then move them into another or make adjustments. But never tell your couple that it wasn’t great or make them feel like it was their fault (this is a huge confidence crusher!). You are taking so many portraits and poses during this session, that even if you don’t include them all, they’ll never remember and come back asking why you didn’t include it.


The Engagement Ring

I will usually photograph the engagement ring towards the middle of the session. This time gives me a little breather and gives them a little break too! It’s a great way to give the session a mini reset. It’s also a great chance to peek at your shot list if you brought one!



Single Photos

Once they’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the camera, I’ll suggest we do the single photos! So I’ll normally do these towards the end of the shoot.

I’ll always ask the other partner to stand by my shoulder to make them laugh! These are super cute and create really nice laughing and natural smile portraits.


A Couple Other Tips for Couple Photo Sessions…

  • At the start of the shoot, I like to make sure to mention something along the lines of: “It may look like I’m taking the same photo over and over, but I’m changing my lenses and angles as we go, so I promise they all will look completely different!”. I say this because I don’t want them to wonder and start doubting me in their heads when I’m taking similar photos over and over! Remember, it may be obvious to you what you’re doing, but for your couple, it may be confusing.
  • Similar to my last tip, but another thing I do to avoid doubt and confusion, is to always explain (no need to go into huge detail) what I’m doing. For example, if I’m testing the light and adjusting my settings, I won’t just leave them there standing wondering how they should stand or where to look. I’ll say “Ok, I’m just testing the light here, so take a minute and chat about whatever!”. Bonus tip… You might notice a shift here. They’ll probably suddenly feel less tense because you’re not focused on them. If they start chuckling together or sharing a few kisses, I might keep shooting for a minute once my settings are adjusted. This way, I can sneak in a few candid shots without them knowing!
  • One of my rules is that I don’t show any photos from the back of my camera. I do this for three reasons. The first one is simple; I like to keep it the photos a real surprise until my sneak peek! The second reason is that I know that all the photos I take are not keepers. I would hate for a client to see a test photo or one that’s not posed or framed properly and mistake that for the final results they could expect. Once that happens, the couple could lose all confidence with me and for the rest of the session, it is hard to gain that back. The third reason is similar to the last one, but not all photos are flattering – I might take test shots when someone is making a weird face or from an unflattering angle. Especially for women, I don’t want her to see a photo that unflattering and lose all self-confidence thinking that she’ll look like that in every photo.



This all might seem like a lot! Don’t worry, these are all things that I’ve learnt to do after many photoshoots. During your first shoots, I think the most import thing to remember is to simply be yourself. Your couple hired YOU over any other photographer. Just be yourself, do the best you possibly can and the rest will come. The only way to get better is to keep shooting, so don’t get discouraged if your first shoot feels like a disaster. Trust me, when I think back to mine, it’s cringe-worthy! But you know? The couple was happy with their photos and that’s all that matters. :)



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Emilie Smith is based in Edmonton, Alberta // Edmonton Wedding Photographers, Mountain Adventure Wedding Photographers and Edmonton Elopement Photographers

Serving: Alberta // British-Columbia // Canadian Rockies // National Parks // Okanagan // West Coast // Northern Canada

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