Authentic Wedding Photography: Tips for Relaxed Couple Portraits

Authentic Wedding Photography: Tips for Relaxed Couple Portraits

I’m here to talk about the best way to whisk away your couples for some relaxed portraits on their wedding day and get some natural photos of the two of them together.


Hello, I’m Simon, and I’ve been photographing weddings for over a decade now. I’m mainly a documentary photographer, so I want to take as little time out of a wedding day for couple portraits. I also want to be as authentic to the couple and their relationship as possible. I really don’t want them looking back at their photos and thinking that’s not “us.”

I’m not against photographers who spend a lot of time lighting and posing couples. But for me, a wedding day should be a wedding day with some photos, not a photoshoot with some wedding day.

So as you can guess, I’m not big on posing and controlling a couple. I want to capture their true personalities rather than fit into some sort of Disney Princess/James Bond wedding industry stereotype. But I do like getting some relaxed portraits of a couple together, ideally with minimal intrusion on my part. Here’s what I’ve learned (so far) about achieving that.

The Energy You Bring Is Really Important

The most important thing when taking photos of people, especially in a portrait session, is that your energy is reflected right back at you. So if you want a fun photograph, provide the feeling. If you want a quiet, contemplative, romantic portrait, then you need to provide the calm and quiet to let that happen. More will come from the energy you are providing than any posing.

Talking to the couple can also be a really useful tool—keep asking questions, watch when they light up, and connect with each other (what makes them tick as a couple?). This is all really useful stuff.

Get the Portrait for Grandma’s Mantelpiece

Get that cheesy shot—and tell them that’s what you’re doing because they’ll know exactly what you mean. Just make sure you get that one in the bag. It will be awkward, but it will also break the ice a little bit, and you’ve ticked off that shot.

Awkward Couples Often Lean Into Each Other

Often when a couple is awkward, they’ll actually connect with each other in the moment. There’s nothing natural about having your photo taken for most of us.

Often it’s a great idea just to embrace the awkwardness and let them lean into each other and laugh about it, console each other—however they handle it as a couple. And, whoops, we’ve captured a connection. We’ve captured truths about how these two people relate, and we’ve created a moment. That was too easy, right?

Stand Back, Long Lens

Being a documentary wedding photographer, I make most of my favorite photos using wide angle primes. But while making couple portraits, I’ll often grab my 85mm (or 56mm, as I’m a Fujifilm shooter). That allows the couple more space to be themselves and have a bit of personal space. The ideal is that they get some time away from the hustle and bustle of a wedding and get to connect with each other. Again, if this approach works, you’ve got it in the bag through just being present and observing.

Sometimes It’s More Complicated Than That

Sometimes they don’t naturally respond in this way at all (again, remember there’s nothing natural about having your photo taken).

I don’t really like posing couples, but if you really do have a rabbit-in-the-headlights couple or subject, then it’s time to take more control. This can be setting up a loose pose and then letting them be themselves within it, but often I like motion. Something as simple as walking or running (whatever that dress allows) puts the couple in a more natural state of being—and it often allows you to get them in a more natural state of being.

Dancing is also a good one—especially if they’ve been learning something special for their first dance (or are actual dancers—it does happen!). Just get them moving. "Motion + Emotion." (That's a Two-Mann quote).

Prompts and Invites

Prompts are essentially when you get the couple to play a little game. These usually invoke memories or get them thinking playfully and can get great natural reactions.

I usually have some prompts in my back pocket for if I really need them. Something like “whisper a word she’s never heard you say before,” or there are hundreds of practical suggestions.

There are loads of prompts and “invitations” out there. But if you’ve limited time (like on a wedding day), I really would recommend sticking to the lighter, fluffier ones—people will laugh with you much more willingly than they’ll let you into deeper emotions, and you really don’t want to be dragging people there on their wedding day.

I have also learned that people are either strong creative thinkers or they’re really good at accessing past memories and emotions. So if the playful approach isn’t working, try a more “memory lane” approach, and vice versa.

Also, prompts and invitations are a last resort for me as they have absolutely nothing to do with what’s actually happening on their wedding day. So if I can create natural portraits without taking their minds elsewhere, I really will.

Portrait Light

Sometimes you will find a spot of wonderful light to use, and of course, you have to use it. I always try to schedule portraits during golden hour (despite living in Britain, I’m still an optimist) in the hope of finding and using that beautiful golden light.

Also, golden hour is usually after the speeches on a wedding day, so the couple is usually a lot more relaxed, and you can actually see that in the photos.

I tend to use natural light wherever possible for photos. That’s because I think it’s so hard to get natural, relaxed reactions and emotions while balancing a couple with off-camera flash. For me at least, it completely changes the energy, and I can’t maintain the relationship and juggle all the technical stuff—they end up looking like well-lit mannequins.

I’m also a huge fan of the photographer Jane Bown, (who worked for The Guardian newspaper). Her simple, natural light portraits are always a bit of a touchstone for my photography.

Have a Bad Weather Plan for Your Couple Portraits

As mentioned before, I live in Britain, so a good weather plan is actually a backup plan! Finding great window/doorway light around a venue should be a top priority. Even if you do manage to get outside, indoor window light photos will create a totally different vibe.

In those dark December weddings, interesting lighting around the venue can also be a great help in getting some relaxed shots without setting up lights.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, that will help you get some great photographs of your couples on a wedding day. Photos that are relaxed, authentic, and require minimal intrusion. If you have any questions (or even suggestions about how to do this better), please feel free to give me a shout or leave some comments.

Simon Dewey's picture

I'm a documentary wedding and family photographer based in Derbyshire, UK. I'm an award winning member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association and This Is Reportage. I love fiddling around with analog film / instant film cameras - but most of all I love capturing the stories and emotions of a wedding day, or documenting families lives.

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