The first paid photography job I ever did was an engagement session, which I think is common for shooters just breaking into the world of weddings. I was extremely fortunate in that for me it was like a workshop because I had a pair of high-end shooters there to guide me a long. My clients were actually their friends, but the friends didn’t have nearly the budget it would take to hire the pros, so they offered the job to me. We all met up at the beach together and the shoot was great. Since that time, I’ve relied heavily on what I learned that day and I’ve used that knowledge to grow and begin developing my own style.
E-sessions are popular on the boards, and I’m often surprised at how solid some of the work is from people starting out, so I don’t pretend to be an authority on all things e-session related, but I think that some of what I’ve picked up would be useful for those that are anxiously looking forward to shooting their first e-session, or maybe improve on their early attempts. Styles vary from shooter to shooter, so I can only talk about what works for me. I hope that others will have plenty to add, but I want to put something out there to start with, so here goes...
E-sessions aren’t like weddings - the photographer gets to pick the time of day instead of the bride. I’ve never had a client question this...they trust that I know what I’m doing. I keep a tide calendar on my desktop so I’ll always know when sunset is. (plus, I shoot at the beach a lot, and the tide matters) My e-sessions tend to last 1 to 1.25 hours, tops. I schedule the meet time for an hour before sundown. There are rare occasions where mornings are requested, so the earlier the better. I want the sun as low in the sky as I can get it. It creates more opportunities to find open shade, and sunsets are always awesome photo opportunities if it’s not too cloudy.
Meeting for the session:
After we greet each other, I give them the speech about how we’re going to have fun, and that the goal is just to show them being themselves with one another. I tell them to be mindful of where they are, since safety comes first, which is rule #1 . (‘don’t back up just because I ask you to, look where you are first’) Then I give them rule #2: always at least be touching other somehow, especially if you’re not looking at one another. Even if it’s just holding hands, always touch, always pay attention to each other. Two people walking down the beach not looking at each other and not touching isn’t very romantic.
Often I’ll have the couple sit side by side for a few minutes and grab a few shots. If there are stairs or rocks nearby, that’s perfect. I’ll ask them to kiss, to look at each other, or look off in the distance while I work different angles. It’s just an easy way for them to start and maybe get a little more comfortable with the paparazzi. (I usually have a second shooter too.)Then it’s time to move on. “Good job guys, you’re doing great...isn’t modeling fun?”
Most of the time, when I’m just starting the session, there’s still plenty of direct sun. I use this time to get them involved in the scenery and each other, but not looking at the camera because the shadows would be too harsh. This is when I’ll have them stand and just ‘be together.’ If they turn out to be really chatty, I shout: “less talking, more kissing!”
It’s also a good time to find a scenic spot and ask them to walk away from you to a certain point, then do something fun, and walk back. I suggest to them: “Make sure you’re holding hands or touching (rule#2!) -How about if you walk down to point x and stop, then you can have a big kiss, or pick her up and twirl her around, whatever sounds fun to you when you get there. Then come back when I wave at you” It’s a perfect time to use a long lens and hang back - I always, always get good stuff at this point. As they make their way back to me, I switch to the shorter lens and get more scenery when they’re close. Just for efficiency’s sake, when they do get back, I’ll ask them to give me a head start in the direction we’re going so I can shoot them walking towards me again, from another angle.
or something like this:
The tight portrait shot
I’ve seen more than a few e-sessions where there isn’t a nice tight shot of the couple looking into the camera. There might be loads of cool stuff, but not the direct portrait. In my experience, it’s the portrait shot that’s going to sell - especially if the parents order a print. I make it a point to find at least two opportunities to get this shot during the session.
Early on, when the sun is still high enough, I’ll find somewhere to sit them down where the sun is behind them so I can break out my 40X72’’ reflector. Whether it’s stairs, rocks, a bench or whatever, I try to find a way for the bride to sit on the grooms lap, or usually just on one of his legs, facing him, with her arm around his shoulders. It’s a great opportunity to get them looking into the camera with beautiful light bouncing in to make the eyes really pop. Sitting, especially with her on his leg, is an easy, comfortable way to equalize their height. More often than not, the groom is taller and this allows their faces to be very close compared to standing.
Usually I try the same or very similar pose again at the end of the shoot, after the sun has gone down and we have the wonderful, even light and the can face any direction without need for reflectors or lighting. I’ll have the bride sit on his leg again, facing him so that her ring finger is towards me. Her hand on his cheek or shoulder is a nice way to show the ring.
More stuff to try:
By this time, there’s usually maybe 30 minutes til’ sundown, so I’ll do more out in the open stuff, or I look for open shade. At the beach, I’m looking for shade between rock formations, at the park or downtown, it’s the shady side of the street or an outdoor hallway. I’m looking for good light, where there is some direction to it.
I do like a more intimate approach, so this is where a lot of the kissing comes in. I’ll find somewhere for her to lean against a wall, or rock, etc. so he can lean in for a kiss. Then we can try the reverse.
A couple of things on my to do list at this point are:
- I like to have them sit facing me, with her between his legs, leaning back on him. In open shade, the light is nice and their eyes will have a nice catchlight from the sky, etc. They often intertwine hands in this position, so it’s a nice way to grab that kind of a detail shot.
- Have them face me, with her standing in front of him. If she’s not particularly smiley, it’s time for the kissing game. (not my invention at all) Tell him that he has a job to do, which is to kiss her on the neck. Tell her that her job is to not let him. Be ready.