Never has anyone relaxed on being told to "just relaaaaaxxx"; nor have I ever seen anyone "be themselves" on just being told to just let loose and be yourself. In fact at a couple shoots one of the dialogues as a photographer; one should never spurt out is "relax and smile".
As humans what makes us act as our sanest selves is if we find a logic coherent enough that does not needs to be battled or argued upon. That is when we are able to "just chillaaaxxx". This pretty much is my background theory to crack the right rapport with the clients at couple photo shoots to ensure they are more comfortable, less awkward and definitely more truly candid about their day.
So heading straight to the point...how to achieve this golden goal? This read is for sure one with all the answers. Listed below is pretty much the roadmap I approach for couple photoshoots and 5 questions that would get clients cracking up like a nut!
Theme of the shoot
Well, this is a starter and pretty much is the decider of the vibe of your relationship with the couple. As photographers, when clients approach you, understand this that the clients all ready like what you have showcased. They might or might understand your vibe, but for sure like what's there. Hence, personally when I get approached by clients, my sole responsibility is to sell my vibe and ideas...clicking the button is pretty much the last thing I am worried about!
For all the clients who have worked with me, they can vouch that I pretty much go a step ahead in sharing ideas. After a brief chit chat about general stuff like "so, what would be your plans for the the big day" and pretty simple questions like "tell me what would you want to remember you big day as"...I get a good starting point to get thinking. For all those guessing or clueless...what should we talk to clients to get to know them better, try these starter dialogues!
Some photographers have a reverse theory about this, that it should be the client first proposing what they want. But I feel, I should pop some ideas, get them to put a tick or a cross on ideas and thereby very unknowingly these clients set the right brief for me and the whole process was also very interesting process of getting an engagement started with a purpose. Just the process of saying "yes I like this" or "no, I dnt feel that's us" helps me see the final picture more clearly and these conversation starters just helps us both; the couple and myself find a common ground and start this interesting journey with much less awkwardness and more trust.
Ummm....so what should I ask or talk about?
Share reference shots. It's ok to share work of other photographers that you aim to achieve some day. Ethically, do mention credits of the photographer you are showing to your clients. NEVER EVER remove watermarks! If there is none, mention the name. The clients should know it's not your work showcase and it's purely for reference purpose only for your better understanding if they like oranges or apples!
Always attempt to keep the conversation light and not a brief taking template from any management book! Simple questions that can be asked...
So is it a love marriage or an arranged one - this question pretty much gets the clients to start opening up.
What's the kind of time you have for this shoot? - this would give you a sense what kind of idea suggestions that need to come up from your end?
Any specific ideas you have or should I go ahead and showcase what body of work we have done for pre-wedding shoots? - Some clients do have awesome ideas that should be given the space to be spoken and heard out. One of our clients did get started the call with "Well we wanted to do a travel go-pro theme shoot in Ladakh"...There is a subtle line of listening and then suggesting your own ideas as well! Start with listening first.
How would you want this pre-wedding photoshoot to be remembered as ? It's a broad open question and sometimes keeping it this open, does helps the conversations started.
So what will you be wearing?
The pre-wedding is the only event in the whole wedding timeline that you as a photographer has some sort of creative control. None of what follows, till the time of the event...you have a clue what's going to pop up. So my advice, make the most of this control time that you have!
More than the location, a lot of what worries me is to get the right outfits. A good location with a mismatched outfit is all drained efforts!!
A pro-tip here, be a liiiiiitle stern that this is something you need to be aware of. I pretty much ask all my clients to send me pictures what they are planning to wear over whatsapp. Some days I am a virtual shopper assisting them through their window shopping at malls and some days I even go ahead and hunt out the right outfits for them on various online platforms! I also have a handy picture stock of some possible color combinations and styles you can choose for him and her for your couple shoot. This helps clients to get started and sometimes all they need to see something and say "ohhh...I have this in my wardrobe. Glad you shared this. One less thing to plan."
I speak this through experience. Have indeed gone ahead and planned and executed a two day pre-wedding shoot in Dubai with around 5-6 outfit changes (all shopped via Shein), and each suited for a unique location. Clients are always game to hear ideas and inputs to make them a hero of their own story!
Again...for all those guessing or clueless...what should we talk to clients to get to know them better, try investing a bit more of your time on planning the shoot and you'll be amazed how easy it would be to get an original story for the couple on the D-day, because you're not some strangers meeting for the first time and expected to "just relaaaaxxx and be yourself!!" Some of my clients in fact; have had a good loud laugh on the shoot day, as to how much I know how their vanity room, drawing room, balcony and garden looks like without me even being there ever! This is how you start gaining trust.
This is the day when everything comes together and for me by this day it's pretty much meeting the couples face to face finally as new friends. They know me, they confide in me and with confidence ask for my advice they're looking alright and if anything is missing. It's this confidence of knowing me as a person is what helps them start relaxing and getting in the zone of "okay...let's get this done and get some pictures clicked!"
Let's accept it, taking these candid pictures does require some posing and it's upto the photographer's skill set how much he or she makes it's less work and more fun for the couple. As much easy it sounds, no body had fun by saying "Oh common let's have fun!!" At least personally, I would be the first one to say "How, there's just two of us and you, and this pretty view and I'm in my heels!!" So pro-advice here...do not spurt out these words "Guys why dnt you have some fun!!" you are totally making them more clueless.
So a few questions that might help you get talking
I pretty much get started by asking the asking the clients as to how would they generally get pictures clicked. Like how would they stand for a picture in front of a phone! Remember gotta hear first. A lot of them do have a side preference, and this is the point, right at the beginning of the shoot you get to know about it. Personally for a very long time, I did used to think this specific face profile to be better, as a total hoax and superstitious. Over the time I did feel this does helps get the clients less conscious and some subjects do indeed have a better profile. For me, when in front of the camera getting past hiding my double chin is the only challenge! Sadly this is not the deal for everybody! Cut to the actual shoot...once I get the clients comfortable in their naural pose, start a lil bit of the subtle directions.
Start easy...simple directions like...can you just look at her of him! Ohhhh this works magic. Some laugh, some giggle, some shy off, some get quirky...I get surprised every time. Try turns once him looking at her, and once her looking at him. I'v had photo sessions where this just one small question started the whole photo session with a good kiss. Now isn't that an awesome vibe to start the work day with.
Try some movement...again simple questions like, why don't you hold hands and walk? Talking and clicking all this while is the trick!! Little moments like sharing a little smiley glance while holding hands happen and be ready to notice these. Never have I seen anyone pass on a their hand with a frown. It's one of those times, people keep their phones aside for your camera, keep them engaged and involved with you!
A pro-tip, always start the shoot where you have at least two locations sorted in advance. It is irritating if you keep changing locations after every pose. Give some time for the clients to settle in for your camera. Like personally, for me, the first pose of letting the clients be themselves in their natural pose, to a walking shot...I pretty much have it sorted in the back of my mind the two locations that would be a fit for this sequence.
My personal style is to be a chatty at shoots and try to have more real laughs out. I position the couple and then it's Questions time...
When was the first time you saw him/her?
Who popped the question first?
When was it that you felt he/she is the one?
What's the most irritating thing about him/her?
What's the one thing you like about her/him?
Can you just say something naughty/sexy/cute/happy in his/her ear?
What makes you both click?
Your idea of a perfect date?
What's the one thing you are really excited about your wedding?
Food, Chai and coffee - These questions never fail.
Sometimes getting a little weird also helps. As weird as "can you tell a joke" or "what's the funniest thing you've lately watched?" helps the talking.
Plan some actions that the couples would not do naturally but, for a change would be just fun. No who would not like a good breezy swing!
I very genuinely give mini-breaks between shots. It's in these breaks, couple are less cautious, not followed by a camera but still alone and are at their natural self best. They go ahead and laugh and do little actions of care and concern that are private to them. Be watchful of these little moments, but cautious of not being overtly sneaky. For example, at one of the shoots, it was really hot and humid and we were walking back to some shade to cool down. And on this walk, it was natural for the guy to have his arm around his lady's shoulder and walk and they were very causally discussing their wedding shopping list. Noted this and when back on shoot, my first ask was them can you just walk like that but imagine both of you or either of you are drunk! Did we all not have a good laugh and some genuinely honest pictures.
These questions are pretty much the starters to get some good genuine emotions out both for photos and videos, without the couples getting stressed about posing or holding their smiles for long. As cliche these set of questions might sound, the answers and the chemistry they helps develop between the couple and for me as a storyteller, never ends to surprise !! If in case, during these there are some shots that are missed out and require a retake, now because the couple's are in a good happy zone with the talking, they very happily do the needed posing for me with a genuine smile. It's also a genuine reaction to these questions as well that helps us get an original storyline and have some photos created that happen just for the couple and cannot be clicked exactly the same again.