On a side note, I am half way through the process of putting together a photography related book discussing portraiture, creating beautiful images in less than ideal conditions, how to quickly build trust with your clients, and bring out the very best in them. Basically the book covers everything I do as an image maker, and lots of love is going into this. I am really really excited about it. To get earlier access to the first section of this book signup below with your email address, and you will be the first of anyone to receive this.
When thinking about the portrait sessions I have with couples, I often wonder if 20-30 minutes is enough. That's my standard, and most of my friends think its crazy. I shoot alone and very often never have the chance to scout the location until I drive up and take briefly look around. Combine that with the potential stress of meeting the couple for the first time on the day of their wedding has forced me to develop my own method to create and capture authentic portraits and honest, real connections between my couples, several times throughout this short 20-30 minute period.
I'm talking about not having any plan at all. Everyone involved with the wedding lives by the timing and schedule of the day, however, the couples I work with most often are not managing minutes. My favourite couples want to have fun, and they leave room for things to happen naturally. This is how we do it.
Leaving room for surprises works in my favour for the kind of portraiture I love and want to create. A surprise many come in the way of fantastic or dramatic light within an area, an amazing mood and style from the couple making the shooting process effortless, or an amazing hidden location found while wandering away together. Anything goes really, but above everything, the entire point of this short adventure is to break barriers and begin a conversation with one another that allows for a really honest and intimate exchange to happen, one on one. I cannot be distracted by any technical considerations, you camera must be an extension of your arms and eyes. I am framing loose and quickly, shooting by the hip, staying very close, and working within the best available light. I love my Fuji cameras because they are literally silent, and no one ever knows when the picture has been taken.
Not having a plan leads to directing spontaneously, shooting as you go forces you to shoot from the heart so to speak, and puts all the more pressure on you to make something happen. Not having a specific plan puts the couple in a place where it is not immediately easy to relax, everything becomes funny and unexpected, they must help each other get from one spot to the next, they bump into each other, they curse then kiss each other, they aren’t thinking about what to do or where to stand because I often don’t let them stop long enough to wonder about it, and when we do pause its only long enough for me to ask them something about one another that kick starts another series of laughing and running around. On the other side of things, you can create a moment where everything is suddenly quiet and still, and you can watch your couple re-connect without asking anything of them. It's quite amazing the way two people will instinctively come back together, and so much more naturally and gracefully then any direction from my part ever could.
I love the suggestion of movement in images. I feel photos taken when one is unsure about their surroundings and direction always reveal something very genuine about that person. Keeping my couples moving forces them to not get stuck into standard positions, and keeps them in the moment in a very active way. Often I see a look of feeling somewhat lost, yet content and excited in the eyes and facial expressions. I suppose I love simple portraits, black and white, no distractions, at a time of deep self realization, and personal exposure. No editing required.
I take time to put my camera down and have a conversation. During a day filled with so much energy and excitement couples love the opportunity to get away from it all. You need to ask questions to understand what makes them tick, what excites them, or what worries them, and I must be very careful what I say, and what my body language is saying. The trick here is to pace this adventure like a movie, or a song, and creating these peaks and valleys are very important. Right away I make sure to get their attention with a question I know will create a little laugh for one of them, and cause them to engage in some joking. As we walk along I might ask one of them to go off 20 feet away or so while I keep the other to my side and start a conversation about the other one in front of us. This usually causes a bit of defensiveness and vulnerability in the far away partner as we are most certainly talking about them. The more personal the questions the better, which can be dialed in from a warm to a hot degree depending on how the clients are responding to everything. The more personal the question, the more expressive the reaction.
The moments immediately after revealing something very personal is a time where the most authentic portraits can be made. These are the images I am working towards all day.