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How to Look Natural in Photos: Engagement Shoot Tips You’ll Love

Posed poe-faced photos belong in the Victorian era, but when the trend for rigid formality fell, it made way for a chorus of forced smiles and awkward stances that make them as uncomfortable to look at as David Brent is to watch. So what do you do on your engagement shoot if you’re not a natural in front of the lens? Professional wedding and engagement photographer, Paola de Paola shares her advice…

  1. Create an ‘interest’ board
    “The first step to take when planning an engagement shoot is to sit down with the couple and put together an ‘interest’ board. An interest board is similar to a mood board but focuses on pictures of scenes the couple like and things (animate or inanimate) that they associate themselves with. This is a good exercise to pinpoint their interests.”
  2. Hold the shoot somewhere personal.
    “Once the interest board is completed it’s easier for the couple to choose where they want to hold the shoot. Each couple I work with choose their own locations and I always encourage them to go for somewhere personal to them as it makes the best frame for their story.”One of my favourite shoots was with Alex and Audrey. Their story together had started in London, but they told me that they wanted to move to Brighton in the future, so held their engagement shoot there and spent the entire day eating ice cream, having a good time and taking lots of pictures! It was great fun and produced some fantastic images.”
  3. Incorporate meaningful items into the shoot.
    “I was working with a French couple once, and had a violin given to him by his great, great grandfather. He was playing the violin when he met his partner, and so the violin became a symbol for how their love story started. It was only right that it was woven into their engagement shoot. Having a pet or a physical belonging that is meaningful to a couple helps to convey genuine emotion that you may otherwise not see.”
  4. Don’t over dress. And be practical.
    “I am based in London and the weather can be very unpredictable; it’s important to bear things like that in mind. Consider what does and doesn’t look good in front of the camera – bulging pockets filled with change and mobile devices never looks good; picking out colours that co-ordinate, do, particularly if you don’t over do it. Perhaps one of you wears a bright yellow trousers, and the other wears a yellow hat or scarf. Little touches like that add a real visual harmony to an image.“Above all, however, remember that you are beautiful however you decide to dress. Your engagement photographer will be capturing images that are close and intimate; images that convey the connection between you both. Remember that, and avoid wearing anything that might detract away from that. Wearing clothes you feel happy and comfortable in, will also help you feel more at ease.”
  5. Consider the lighting
    “Before I started shooting weddings, I worked as a music photographer and spent a lot of my time in music studios. This has made me very comfortable with lighting, and wherever possible, I use natural lighting. However, at dusk or in winter, when the natural light isn’t so good, I sometimes use a fill flash to lift the skin tone in the face. Consider the timing of your shoot before you book it in, as it will inevitably affect the lighting.”
  6. Keep things simple
    “A couple’s wedding day is highly organised and thought out, and often see a particular themes interwoven through the entire event, but when it comes to an engagement shoot, less is more; a theme could comes across as too staged, so always try to keep things simple. Saying that, seasonal themes can work well. Last summer, I shot a couple whose wedding revolved around Disney and classic funfairs. The engagement shoot was being shot in the winter, and when we started talking locations, we came up with Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland fair. It worked really well.”
    “I also had a couple who were getting married in Italy; the first part of their engagement shoot was taken in their home in London, and then I suggested we went somewhere that had an Italian aesthetic. We found a wonderful cafe in Waterloo with an Italian Vespa motorbike so it was very fitting. I wouldn’t call it a theme specifically but it was all there because they connected with it personally.”
  7. Relax
    “The most important thing to do during an engagement shoot, is to relax. Some people can be very shy, so it is vital the photographer is warm and welcoming, so that they feel they are in safe hands. With especially shy couples I like to get them to relax by drinking a soothing tea or coffee, and wait until they feel comfortable.”

Follow all these tips, and you’ll have a wonderful engagement shoot that’s full of laughs and captures the essence of your relationship.

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Paola de Paola is an experienced wedding photograph who specialises in same-sex weddings and engagement shoots. Take a look at more of her work, or contact her direct.

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