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How to pose pairs: advice from a pro

Photographers know that posing is no joke. And on the fast-paced, often rushed (and late) wedding day, having a pose plan is essential. There is no redoing. So how can you be sure that everything is going well?

We sat down with Northern Virginia-based wedding photographer Jennifer Nolan and asked her about her posing strategies for creating happy, relaxed, and authentic images. From establishing a connection before the shutter clicks to resolving insecurities, here are his top tips.

Build trust and connection

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to get to know the couple,” Nolan says. “[If you do this]they already feel cared for and [know] you try to do your best for them. I think that goes a long way to putting couples at ease.

It’s as simple as showing up a little early for a shoot or arranging an engagement shoot with your couple before the wedding. By taking the time to connect before you pull out your camera, you give them a chance to get to know you and them. We are all more willing to open up to people we trust. And we trust the people who are invested in our lives and our stories. Even taking 10 or 15 minutes to ask questions and find things you can relate to can go a long way in building confidence and comfort. If you’re able to do this in an engagement session, then you’ll be ready to ride on the big day.

Be sure to promote your relationship before and during filming. Jennifer Nolan

Be the ultimate wingman

Everyone has some kind of insecurity, so don’t be afraid to overdo your customer. Give them lots of positive affirmations and acknowledge how they may be feeling. Remember that communication is key. Give them clear instructions so they never ask themselves, “what am I doing with my hands?”

“I always tell them [that] even I get nervous in front of a camera,” Nolan shares. “I make myself vulnerable and I always remind them that it’s not just them, that everyone feels this and it’s totally normal. I give them permission to feel this. He’s so important to pump up your couples from the start. I tell them how well they are doing because it really goes a long way. I think it builds their confidence when you shoot them.

Couple poses for weddings and engagements

Nolan typically begins a session by incorporating movement or taking what she calls “mom and dad shots,” traditional-style portraits with the subjects looking directly at the camera.

“I try to do prompts, walking movements, because I feel like [allows] their interactions come out naturally,” she says. “From there, I can accompany them and make them laugh, feel more themselves. After that, I try to integrate them into different contexts.

For clients wearing pants, his go-to technique is to have them put a hand (or hands) in their pockets and ask the partner to hold one of their arms. If someone in the couple is wearing a skirt or dress, Nolan will ask the partner to hold it, so their free hand has something to do.

how to pose couples
Keep your hands natural by giving them something to do. Jennifer Nolan

Related: The best cameras for wedding photography

The other thing Nolan is aware of is asking subjects to pull their arms away from the body to create a triangle, which in turn helps create a more slimming effect. But above all, she is looking for “the natural look”.

“The main thing is to make sure they’re relaxed and don’t look stiff,” she says. “I think a good [pose] is either belly to belly or him with his hands in his pocket and her wrapping her arms around him. Usually the girl bends down and she does it naturally.

How to pose couples with size differences

Posing couples with a large height difference can seem difficult, but Nolan advises photographers not to worry too much. When possible, she’ll have the couples sit down to even things out, or she’ll have the taller partner lean over and shoot from the torso up.

how to pose couples
When photographing a couple with a large size difference, Nolan often sits them down. Jennifer Nolan

“Don’t forget that they know their size difference,” she reassures. “Whereas for us it would be, ‘Oh no, how am I going to work with this?’ They already know; that’s who they are. Unless they specifically say they feel funny about it, I wouldn’t stress too much [on it]. If they’re comfortable with who they are, then I make it work.

Set expectations and communicate

Are you a Photoshop wizard? Prefer to batch process files in Capture One/Lightroom? Let your customers know what you can, can’t and don’t want to do. Otherwise, you might be responding to an unexpected request.

Nolan will also advise clients on things like wardrobe to ensure the resulting photos match their vision. Otherwise, it’s another opportunity for a missed wait.

“I once had clients who [said], ‘We don’t feel well.’ It was because their outfits weren’t as dressy as the location they had chosen for the photos,” she recalled.

Sometimes, however, there will be things beyond your control – and Nolan advises that the best thing to do is to stay calm and do your best.

“You [might] have unhappy couples, especially when [it] comes to bodily issues,” she explains. “I think sometimes it’s not up to us. I think [we] because photographers just need to realize that we can’t control that.

how to pose couples
It’s important to build trust before you start clicking the shutter. Jennifer Nolan

Avoid this mistake

If there’s one mistake photographers absolutely must avoid, it’s not taking the time to establish a connection with their clients. According to Nolan, that’s when tension will show up in a picture, and it’s the last thing that should happen when documenting such a significant event.

Any other things photographers should look out for? Hands (of course), “the good side” (everyone has one) and mixed expressions – if one person is laughing but the other has a serious expression, the photo just won’t make sense.

“I think the hands are very important when we’re posing,” she says. “You want to make sure they look relaxed. I joke about that [and say], ‘We don’t want Barbie and Ken’s hands.’ They always laugh about it. I constantly remind them that I pay attention to these things and ask them, ‘Do you have a good side? Do you have a bad side? But as I mentioned earlier, those 10, 15 minutes to get to know them, to put them at ease, goes a long way.

See more work from Jennifer Nolan here.