Over these past two years, I have worked with some extraordinarily cute couples, and I’m not even referring to how they looked physically. I’m talking about the pairs that melt your heart by the authenticity of their relationship. The adorable ones where trust isn’t something they ever worry about. They know each other completely, weaknesses and all, and they’ve accepted each other fully.
As a photographer, a question started to arise in my mind: What is it about those awesome couples that make them so great, and further, how could I take those qualities and explain them to other couples to help them grow closer together?
So I sat down to think, and very quickly a correlation began to emerge. Now, keep in mind that this is purely theoretical. But, there seems to be a pretty solid connection between the amount a couple naturally snuggles in front of the camera and my perceived authenticity of their relationship (henceforth referred to as a couple”The Snuggle Factor”). [[[I need to go ahead and interject by declaring what I am not saying. I am not saying that couples who don’t cuddle are in some way not involved in authentic relationships. Please do not read this that way! You definitely don’t have to be a snuggly couple to have a good relationship.]]] What I am saying is that couples who do snuggle often seem to have good relationships.
Why explain all that? Because it is my job to make every couple appear their best, and my best images tend to come from couples that snuggle uninhibited. So, assuming every couple wants to look great, I’m going to share some thoughts with you on how you can increase both the amount of fun you have during a couple session AND get better images at the same time!
1. Have fun!
I know that seems a little basic to start out with, but stick with me! I challenge you from the beginning of your session to forget that the camera is there at all! Remember that you are in love! The person you are taking pictures with is possibly going to be the person you spend the rest of your life with (or already is). The more time you spend being yourselves and having fun together, the higher your Snuggle Factor and the better your final images. “But what if we do something wrong? Shouldn’t we ask the photographer if we should be smiling or not?” My answer… nope! Outside of something that makes you super uncomfortable (which you should definitely tell the photographer), if there is something that could look better, the photographer should let you know. You really don’t even need to think about it. Your job as the couple is to be in love. Let the photographer worry about the actual photography part.
Here’s a review I got from one of my all-time cutest couples a couple months ago: “Our hour and a half with him felt more like a date where someone just happened to be following us around with a camera.” Not surprisingly, some of my favorite images came from that very same session [Click HERE to view those images]. Bottom line: joyful, uncensored love looks good.
2. Embrace the awkward.
In every session I’ve ever done, outside of maybe two (Their Snuggle Factor was ridiculous), there is this strange twenty minute period at the beginning of every session called “The Awkward 20.” It happens to every photographer with every couple. You don’t know the photographer, and the photographer doesn’t know you. Further, unless you’re incredibly used to kissing downtown while random passerbys honk congratulations at you, you’re still getting used to the whole PDA thing. Based on all those things, it can take about twenty minutes to warm up to each other, and it’s totally normal. The biggest thing to remember is that especially in those moments where things just feel strange, it’s okay to laugh it out! In fact, the couples that overcome this awkwardness the quickest always seem to be the ones who laugh the loudest right out of the gate. So, laugh if you feel weird! The quicker you embrace it, the more time you’ll have to enjoy a really fun date!
3. Get to know your photographer (suggested by my friend Joe’s girlfriend, Hannah)
A couple months ago I was hanging out in Harrisonburg, Virginia with my great coupled friends Hannah & Joe. Now, Hannah and Joe have great Snuggle Factor. I’d put them at a solid 22 out of 25. All around fantastic team!
Scene: We’re in a coffee shop. We’ve finished our coffee and are standing up to leave. We’re prepping to walk ou the door when uninstructed Hannah jumps into Joe for a big hug. Now, being the affection police that I am, I quickly brought up my camera and snapped the image you can see below. It’s an awesome moment that completely shows… them.
Now, there are a few things that made this image possible. 1. Hannah really likes Joe. 2. I had a camera. 3. Hannah was comfortable enough around me to literal not care that I was taking part in their moment. I do not think this kind of image would have happened so easily if I were a complete stranger to them. You will be most comfortable snuggling and being yourselves when you know the person behind the camera. So, simple enough, get to know your photographer! Before I ever take a single picture of an engaged couple, I spend at least an hour just getting to know them. One reason for this is that in those conversations, where the couple can see me and hear my heart for them, a trust is built. I want my couples to feel 100% natural around me to the point where they would introduce me to people as their friend. Why? Because in that kind of relationship our time together goes from an awkward photo session to a really great date.
4. It’s more about your relationship than your proximity (suggested by my friend Hannah’s boyfriend, Joe)
Bottom line, your Snuggle Factor isn’t just about how close two people are physically. It’s about an unashamed affection that is displayed from a place of complete interdependence on each other. When two people totally know one another, they feel comfortable being themselves. Laughter doesn’t need to be forced because it comes out naturally! The photographer doesn’t need to tell you to keep kissing. In fact, after they’ve overcome the Awkward 20, they’d prefer if the photographer would quietly snap away and let them make out.
All of this spawns out of a comfort developed over many long conversations. Snuggle Factor overflows from couples that don’t mind the world seeing that they are in love. It’s who they are. I’d say the biggest thing you can do for your relationship and for to improve the way you photograph together is go on a walk. Leave your phones in the car, put on some hiking shoes, and simply talk.
Getting authentic photographs of great couples starts with great couples.