As photographers, we are aware that, in general, people are not naturally comfortable being photographed. In this article, I want to show you a fundamental technique that I use to achieve energetic, real, and authentic couple portraits.
First of all, let me quickly introduce myself, since this is my first article at Fstoppers. I am Franklin, the wedding photographer behind FBalzan photography, situated on the small island of Malta (which is right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea). I love to capture candid moments, and it took me a couple of years to transcend this craft to the couple portraits section of the wedding.
One of the most common concerns I hear during my consultations with prospective clients is the following: "We are not very good in front of the camera, you know," or "We will need your guidance on how to look our best as we feel awkward when getting photographed." When I hear such comments, I firstly reassure my clients that the vast majority of my clients are not models and that it is my job to make them feel at ease and achieve those natural-looking images - what I like to call "invisible posing."
Being photographers, we know that we need to take care of the technical aspects of the image (light, location, and composition) to create a great image, however, this is not enough to create meaningful portraits. It does not mean that as photographers we should not be aware of such mechanics, such as how changes in the distribution of the couple's body weight or the hand positioning can make our subject look more flattering or our pose more real. But we are aware that there are elements in a photograph, which make the moment special, authentic, and real. Such meaningful portraits can only be taken when we genuinely manage to connect with our subjects and make them feel at ease.
For this reason, during a couple's photosession (or the section of the couple portraits during a wedding), I firstly try to establish a connection with my couples whereby I understand their thoughts and worries, and try to overcome any psychological barriers to truly have access to their authentic selves. I normally consider the first 5-10 minutes of any photoshoot with a couple as a warm-up - where I chat and just get a feel of how the couple feels in front of the camera lens. At times, couples are able to naturally ignore me and just be themselves; however, the majority of the time, I need tricks and tools to be able to relax them.
Enter Promptology – a method that focuses on building meaningful connections, ensuring couples feel not only photographed but genuinely understood and at ease.
What Is Promptology?
Promptology is more than just a technique; it's an approach that intertwines empathy, communication, and creativity to foster a comfortable and authentic environment during my photoshoots. If you want someone to smile or laugh, asking them to laugh or smile will not create the expected reaction. As photographers working with other humans, we need to know how we can help our subjects convey the emotions we wish our images to express.
At its core, the use of prompts (hence the name promptology) is centered around the use of carefully crafted prompts or conversation starters that elicit genuine emotions and expressions from couples. Promptology encourages couples to reminisce, share personal anecdotes, imagine a particular scenario, or express their feelings toward each other. These prompts act as catalysts, breaking down the barriers of formality and allowing for candid, heartfelt moments to emerge naturally.
Through my experience, this area of photography is often overlooked by fellow photographers, and they feel at a loss on how they are to make the couple interact with each other. While this approach does not exclude the use of posing and posture adjustments, I consider that the prompt techniques mentioned in this article go hand in hand with other posing and technical knowledge that each photographer should also be aware of.
One of the primary objectives of promptology is to establish trust between the photographer and the couple. By engaging in open and sincere conversations through prompts and trivial chat, the couple realizes that the photographer is a caring human being and therefore can relax and trust him. This trust is a cornerstone for capturing genuine emotions and reactions, as couples feel more comfortable being themselves with us. I like my clients to feel that I am indeed a "friend with a camera," and this allows me to capture moments which they would not give me access to if I was just considered as a "photographer."
While the foundation of Promptology lies in the art of conversation, the specific prompts employed play a crucial role in sculpting the narrative of each photoshoot. I here wanted to share with you some of the prompts that I love to use and that have been proven to create such interaction.
‘Whisper To Your Partner Why You Love Him’
This timeless prompt goes beyond the surface, prompting couples to articulate the reasons for their love. By encouraging them to express the reasons behind their affection, I am usually able to capture genuine smiles and heartfelt expressions, creating images that radiate love and authenticity.
‘Whisper To Your Partner Your Favorite Nicknames for Them'
Nicknames often carry personal stories and intimate moments within a relationship. By delving into this playful realm, we can tap into the couple's unique language of love. This prompt not only sparks laughter but also provides an opportunity to document the affectionate dynamics that make each relationship special.
‘Whisper To Your Partner the Name of a Favorite Vegetable in a Sexy Voice’
This apparently silly prompt always injects an element of surprise and creates a genuine laugh during the session. Sometimes the crazier and unexpected the interaction is, the more powerful the emotion expressed is. This prompt adds a spontaneous and flirtatious touch to the visual narrative.
‘Imagine That You and Your partner Are…’
This prompt transports couples into a shared imaginary space, prompting them to envision a scenario together. Whether it's their dream vacation, exiting a bar together as if they are drunk, a somber moment as if this will be the last time together, or a shared fantasy, this exercise opens the door to genuine reactions, laughter, and the creation of images that reflect the couple's shared dreams and aspirations. You can vary the above prompt based on the mood you want to create.
The above are only some of the prompts I have successfully used and learned from other photographers, while some I have developed through my experience. Also, keep in mind that the above prompts can be tweaked and customized based on the individual couple and their stories.
To create meaningful imagery, as photographers, we need to firstly create an authentic connection with our clients. We should be trying to delve into the couples' backgrounds, experiences, and shared memories and use prompts that will resonate specifically with them.
While using prompts and interacting with the couple, I normally learn small details, which I then love to include in my prompts later during the day - this always makes my clients feel that I am indeed not only a photographer but I also care about their story and their humanity firstly. Such customization not only enhances the authenticity of the captured moments but also ensures a more personalized and memorable photography experience.
I can assure you that incorporating these prompts into your photoshoot will transform the photoshoot into a memorable experience for your couple and also enable you to get emotions which you would otherwise struggle to get.