The top five ways to get authentic photos

November 29, 2018

One of the things I always wonder when I see an epic photo of a couple is, “How in the heck did the photographer get them to do that?”

Over the past few years I have done so much research, trying things out with couples and families, watched tutorials, worked with other photographers, and invested in education on this topic. I have a HUGE list of all the things I have done to grow my business here and this happens to be one of the newer things that I am passionate about growing.

I wanted to put together what I have learned and what I realized after all of my learning, I wanted to put what I know into a comprehensive post here for you. I hope it helps. It definitely is never a finished topic. I am always learning, and I think the best way for you to get really really good at this is to keep trying new things, making lists of things you want to try and new ideas in the moment.

When I posed this question on instagram, people said their struggles were:

  • Running out of ideas and re-using the same poses and prompts over and over again.
  • What to do with super awkward people? Getting them to interact authentically and naturally is a struggle.
  • Intimate poses without turning it into a steamy R-rated image.
  • How to clearly direct an interaction so that the couple gets it and actually creates the pose.
  • How to get actual, real, authentic reactions on camera that aren’t posed or forced.

I need to make it clear that prompts and poses are different. So what is the main difference?

– Prompts: Asking the subject(s) to interact or do something. This typically involves movement.

– Poses: Asking the subject(s) to get into a specific stance or seated position and hold it. This typically involves no movement at all.

The answer to all of this from my experience? Experience will allow you to conquer these issues.

I am constantly adding to my list of poses and prompts that I want to try, and then I try them. I look at other photographers work, I try to get to know my clients on a whole new and deep level.

I. am. always. growing. Thats how you get better.

But for the sake of answering those questions and to give specific tips, I have the list below:

PROBLEM 1: Running out of ideas and using the same prompts and poses over and over again?

This is totally normal. The way that I try to move past this is to have a running idea list of prompts and a separate visual one of poses.

Create two separate documents. One for prompts and one for poses:

  1. Prompt document – This should include a list of things you will say to your subject/client/couple. Things like “pick her up and spin her around,” or sit on his lap and tickle him.” Add to this list as you see images that inspire you.
  2. Pose Idea board/doc – This can be a Pinterest board and an Instagram “saved” list that you add to and refer to when you get stuck. I add to mine all the time. You can also make a google doc and upload images to the document. I like to do this mostly on Pinterest and pull it up on my phone when I get stuck for ideas, or have ideas I want to remember to try.

I also google the heck out of this subject and listen to other photographers about this. I recommend looking into Monique Serra’s video workshop and Dawn Charles Cultivate workshops. They really help if you are super new to this. I also try to read other photographers blogs and scour the internet and youtube for any and all ideas!

A special note about prompts: When thinking about prompts, I like to look at images that have great interaction and analyze a few things. Are they sitting on one another? Are their legs intertwined? What are they doing with their hands? Then I imagine what the photographer must have asked them or said to them to get the reaction. Then TRY IT! You never know if it will work until you try.

bride and groom at their oregon coast elopement at arch cape

PROBLEM 2: What to do when your subjects are super awkward? How to get them to interact naturally. 

  1. First and foremost, get to know them. Ask a ton of questions and be quiet. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them if they are okay jumping, swinging around, etc. If you force them to do something that they’re too nice to say no to, the photos won’t be or feel real. The more you get to know them, the more they trust you, the more they will feel comfortable opening up and being real. Why? I have gotten to know things like how a guy that I was shooting had a funny dance that embarrassed the heck out of his fiancee, so I asked if he could demonstrate. The photos were great! You never know what you will learn and how it can impact your images.
  2. Next up? Keep them moving. One of the best things you can do is to use prompts and keep them moving. Why? Posing feels awkward in general and if you have people who are already stiff, this might make it worse. Start out easy with them walking away from you holding hands, then running back to you.
  3. Slowly move through your list of prompts and shoot the in-between moments when they aren’t worried about having to pose or fill the prompt.
  4. Once they’re comfortable with you, you can add poses in. If it feels stiff, go back to prompts. Take breaks, laugh with them and show them the pictures and tell them they’re doing great. I mean, be real!
  5. Have them interact with props. If there are low hanging branches, have them play with it somehow. If there is water, have them hold hands and help each other in.

In between all of this work you’re doing, you are bound to get some really great photos. You will learn to read people and understand what they are open to. Some people are tougher to get to open up in front of the camera and it is your job to help them feel comfortable. The point of this is to think about improving constantly and working on being a better photographer to serve every client. If you have that perspective, you will do your best for everyone.

PROBLEM 3: How to capture intimate poses without getting R-Rated?

One of the things I worry about is making sure I keep my clients comfortable. If they get steamy in front of the camera, then that is just them being them and I just record that for them.

I wouldn’t worry about it getting too steamy, but keeping the poses and prompts guided so that it stays fun and within what your clients want will typically guide you. Maybe if it looks too steamy, adjust things, adjust where limbs are or if they are sitting, get them to standing. They can’t see themselves so its up to you to show them and let them know how their photos are looking.

Practice makes perfect, and minor adjustments will go a long way.

couple at their saint irene's elopement

PROBLEM 4: How do I direct the clients so they do what I see in my head?

Some things that come to mind first:

  1. Have pictures to show them so they get what you’re thinking. There really is no shame in this. I do it all the time so that they know I came prepared and they can see how cute the photograph will look.
  2. Practice with them. Grab one of them and do the pose with them so they know what you’re looking for.
  3. Don’t over think the explanation or directions you give. Sometimes I will say, “Grab her around the waist and pull her in tight and close,” and the resulting image and reaction is more authentic than, “pull her in close, tilt your head, smile and almost touch lips.” I would rather have their real reaction.

Couple at their saint Irene's elopement in Tualatin Oregon

PROBLEM 5: How do I get real / authentic reactions that aren’t posed or forced?

  1. Get to know your clients. If they don’t feel like they can trust you or know you or even know that you care about their photos turning out insanely amazing, they won’t be warmed up enough to actually be real in front of the camera.
  2. Get those prompts out and use them!
  3. Don’t feel like you have to get all the photos to look authentic and real. The pressure will make you not flow with the shoot.
  4. While people are getting ready, adjusting themselves, and moving from one location or pose to the next, KEEP SHOOTING. You never know when you will get an epic shot or quick kiss. I use a fast flash drive (at least 150mb/s) so I can keep shooting without getting the dreaded, “Busy” screen on my camera.
  5. Number 4 in my last set of answers -> Don’t over think your prompt or explanation or directions you give.

So now what? That is a lot to take in, right? Try one thing at a time. I usually only try one new thing at each shoot and refer back to my normal poses and prompts or sheet of ideas. When I learned to shoot a double exposure, I did it one time and then kept forgetting to do it at other shoots for a few months! Over time you will remember things you want to do more often and then you won’t need a list constantly, you can try new things on the fly.

It takes time, patience, and putting your couples/clients first. What do you think they would cherish? Let that lead your decisions, and have fun doing it.

My best,