SHOOTING FOR EMOTION
Shooting for natural emotion doesn't happen naturally. It's these weird paradoxes that make us frustrated and confused in our work as photographers. This was me last year - feeling defeated after shoots, measuring the chasm from what I wanted my photos to feel like and how they were turning out + unsure of where to begin the change. I decided to start the process of shifting from posing to directing (thanks Ben Sasso), and focusing on giving the couple a bonding experience rather than a forced photo shoot. And I have to say, the results have been not only aesthetically exciting, but surprisingly relaxing + FUN during the shoots (and if you know me, you know I'm all about that play).
Posing for Emotion: Most of my couples I do not meet until the day of the engagement shoot. Essentially, "hi, what's your name. Let me have a camera in your face for hours - oh, and give me that natural we-are-at-ease couple thing that I always see on Instagram." Okay, so it doesn't exactly work like that, but sometimes it can feel like that for a photographer/couple. I firmly believe the responsibility is on me to help the couple feel connected and comfortable to myself and each other. Ways to do this? Become genuine friends with your clients - ask questions and find common ground. I'm cultivating a protected environment for them, where they get a few hours to not have to stress out about weddings details, job frustrations or anything else - and just get to kiss + play with their fiance. I always tell my clients that my job is essentially PDA, so don't be afraid to be all over each other (which usually loosens everyone up). Photo-panic is alleviated when there's no pressure or rush. Personally, I don't keep a strict hour-cap. My style is adventurous, calm, dramatic + natural, and none of these happen when I'm shouting confusing directions incessantly or checking my watch. I enjoy couples, shooting + nature, so being outdoors with them for me is a treat and not a count-down. At the end of my shoots, I feel like I've made two friends - not just clients.
For my shoots, I adjusted my director's mentality. Before, I would micro-manage bodies (sounds weird? Well, it looks weird too! But it is the way most photographers start out when directing). Ex: "Face each other, move closer, liiiiiitttle more, ok now grab his right shoulder with your left, no wait, right hand, yep, and wait move forward again, now bend backwards, tilt your head down + now do three backflips." Okay, maybe not the last part - but let's be real, that is how it feels to the couple. This stiff posing is actually easier than trying to read your couple to see how they naturally connect. But I keep telling myself it is worth it to stop, relax and make this a bonding experience for them. I mostly asked them to do motions rather than pose (Ex: I want you guys to run up and jump into a I-haven't-seen-you-in-10-days hug; grab hands and run towards me like you're frolicking (like, dramatic frolicking); put your foreheads together and take a deep breath and let it out; whisper in each other's ear something hilarious that I can't hear; tell the other person what you absolutely love about them that most people don't know, etc.). This not only gives you 100x more natural photos, but it stirs up an emotional connection between the two of them. For the most part, couples want a lot of direction because they've never done this before. But I want to give them more than just poses, but give them feelings to look back on. And to be honest, who doesn't just love a good bear hug every once in a while?
Tip: When directing a motion, do it first. I always exaggerate what they are supposed to be doing (and I do it by myself) + I look ridiculous - and it always makes them laugh and feel free to respond comfortably because there is no way they are going to look more ridiculous than me. I promise, it kills every time. I've become great at dramatic frolicking.
Editing with Emotion: I've learned distraction can kill the mood (tbh - life lesson right there), and the same goes for when you're editing. And I'm not talking about watching Netflix while editing. I believe my job is to convoy in a photo what is happening in real life, and each photo is a moment. The way I edit can be distracting or helpful in re-living that moment for the couple (is my photo sharp? p.s. - 5D Mark IV...razor sharp, are there distracting elements in my photo that I can crop or clone out? Is my photo too contrasted, bright, un-natural?). Simplify and see what it will do for your emotion.
Tones can be interesting maneuver (especially with the IV), but I have been keeping my white balance setting almost entirely on "cloudy." I've been playing around with Kelvin, but "cloudy" tends to give me a consistent positive + easy-to-edit warm photo. I've been editing with Indi Presets in Lightroom, and tweaking them a LOT with my HSL sliders/basics tab. I've been bringing down the 'whites' a lot, giving a little more of an emotional and subtle photo.
Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, 35mm 1.4L II, Hold Fast Moneymaker Strap
Thanks for listening! If you have any comments or questions, or just wanna say 'hey' - drop a comment below or on my Insta @christyjohnstonphoto .