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How to Handle Stiffness and Stress in a Wedding Photography Shoot

Portraits are an important and time-consuming part of the photography lineup for a wedding day, and you and the couple may have trouble relaxing. The following tips can help you reduce awkwardness or tension so that your photos capture the joy and love in a natural, beautiful way.

How to guide subjects through natural portraits

If you’ve ever had your picture taken, you’ve probably been in a situation where you had to hold an awkward pose for what seemed like an eternity or had to smile for so long that your cheeks started to hurt. Not only did you feel uncomfortable while getting your picture taken, but you also probably groaned when you saw the picture. Why? Because it didn’t look natural!

Some of the difficulty with portraits lies in posing. How do you create a certain look in your photographs without your subjects looking stiff? Consider the following tips to getting portraits that you and your clients love:

  • Look to print pros. Magazines can be a fantastic source of inspiration when you’re coming up with natural poses you want to incorporate into the portrait segment of the wedding day.

    Not only are a plethora of wedding magazines available (which can give you ideas for everything from bridal portraits to how to arrange a wedding party), but you can also consult fashion magazines for both men and women and find natural poses that appeal to you.

  • “Aaaand action!” Give your subjects something to do. For example, tell the bride to grasp the groom’s lapels and pull him slowly toward her for a kiss, or tell the bridal party to link arms and walk toward the camera. This strategy gives the photos movement and keeps posing from becoming stiff.

    Also, people often play around with the action that you give them, which results in genuine emotions that you can capture.

    [Credit: 42mm, 1/200 sec., f/5.6, 125]
    Credit: 42mm, 1/200 sec., f/5.6, 125
  • Try show and tell. If you want to try a pose that’s a little more complicated than “Look at me and smile,” try demonstrating the pose for your subjects. People are often more willing to try a pose if they see you do it first, and it keeps them from feeling like they’re doing the Hokey Pokey if they’re not exactly sure what you want them to do.

    Showing subjects how to pose can also keep the portraits feeling more lighthearted and gives you the opportunity to further interact and build rapport with your clients.

  • Give the subjects a little R&R. If you notice that, despite your best efforts, a pose is becoming stiff, let the subjects relax for a moment. You can tell them to do things like take a deep breath, shake out their arms, relax their face, or “swish” their knees, which prevents them from locking their legs. When they’re comfortable again, reset the pose and take the picture.

  • Call for backup. If the thought of memorizing so many poses is a little daunting and you’re afraid you’ll draw a blank, bring a pose guide or smartphone with a collection of images as a backup. Remember that people often feed off the energy of their photographer.

    If you’re feeling stressed out about memorizing poses, that stress may translate into stiff portraits because your subjects feel uncomfortable around you. But if you’re relaxed and having fun, your subjects will most likely be relaxed as well, which makes for better portraits. Having some sort of memory backup can allow a peace of mind and go a long way in letting your creative juices flow.

How to stay focused during a wedding photography shoot

So the formal portraits are underway. You’ve been running around for a few hours and even helped find Grandma, who wandered away right before the family pictures. Your morning espresso has long worn off, and you’re starting to feel that 6 a.m. wake-up call. This point in the wedding is where staying focused is crucial.

Each wedding is a unique opportunity, and you only have the chance to do it once. Here are a few ways to keep your mind on track during the portrait session:

  • Concentrate on the goal. When you start the formal portraits, know exactly what you want to get done. Whether it’s capturing people in the most creative way, sticking to the schedule, or just making sure that your exposure and composition are good in every photo, concentrate on that objective and repeat it to yourself if you find that you’re distracted.

  • See the light at the end of the tunnel. The formal portraits are the most hectic part of the day. Keep in mind that after they’re done, the rest of the wedding should be smooth sailing from there on out.

  • Cross items off your list. If you have the shot list with you during the formal portraits (and you should!), crossing off what you’ve already done gives you a sense of accomplishment and makes what you have left to finish seem more manageable.

  • Take a break. Even if you have only 30 seconds, take a mental break. Grab a drink of water, take a second to find your center, and get back to work.

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