Panicked perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. What if you could relax, book lifestyle sessions you love, and finally feel like an ARTIST? Read on… (Photography: ALINE MARIN)
Do you remember this scene in Napoleon Dynamite? It’s Uncle Rico being photographed by Deb, who’s painstakingly micromanaging his every move in search of the “perfect” portrait.
This is one of my all-time favorite movie scenes depicting photography, because it’s so awkwardly real. We’ve all been there: either behind the camera, trying desperately to recreate a pose or an expression or a tricky bit of lighting; or in front of the camera, thinking, “Holy heaven above, is this what I put my clients through?!?”
The sad fact is the more we micromanage and control and contrive, the less of our clients’ natural spirits we capture.
And sure – there are times when that’s the look you’re going for. You intentionally create a fantasy image that isn’t meant to be revealing or honest. Maybe you’re photographing cosplay, or glamour, or a conceptual scene in which your subjects act out a part. If that’s the case, this article isn’t for you. Keep rocking the unreal, you awesome imagination station!
But if you crave connection, intimate interaction, and photographs that showcase your subjects at their most authentic, you may want to quit trying to be perfect, and embrace the magic of radically relaxed lifestyle sessions.
Portrait of Aline Marin by her husband Mihai Marin
Meet the Magic-Maker
A native Brazilian, photographer Aline Marin made her home in Atlanta, Georgia, by way of Eindhoven, Holland, by way of Seattle, Washington. (And these locales don’t include the 20 countries she’s visited in her extensive travels!) A musician, cat-mama, coffee-lover, and avid appreciator of all things history-infused (old books, antique furniture, vintage movies…), Aline’s passions have refined in her a storyteller’s soul.
“The first time I photographed a wedding, I realized capturing love and creating incredible memories for future generations was the one thing I was meant to be doing.” – ALINE MARIN
I reached out to Aline and asked her to share the story behind one beautiful engagement series. This collection of images struck me as perfect in its imperfection. Every odd flare of light and spontaneous grin drew me closer to these strangers. I was convinced of their love and their laughter, not because every frame was exactingly clean or because every head-tilt was precise, but because each and every moment was so deliciously real.
And I wanted to know: how do you do it?
Shoot Somewhere That Matters
We’re all creatives here. So you know what I mean when I ask, “Have you ever tried to create in an environment that was totally unfriendly to creating?”
It’s impossible, isn’t it? It’s like trying to enjoy a symphony while a baby wails in the row behind you. Or trying to engage in a romantic date in a grimy fast food restaurant.
Ambiance is everything for creatives, and it’s true for our clients as well. If they feel nervous or uncomfortable or out of place in the space they’re in, there’s no way you’ll be able to make relaxed, natural portraits of them.
Listen To Their Ideas
If you’re lucky, your clients will know exactly where they want to be photographed – and it will be somewhere attainable! (Unlike, say, photos of them petting the lions at the zoo. NOPE.)
“Tanya and Erik were in love with the idea of being photographed in Piedmont Park because it’s such an important Atlanta landmark. They also both loved the local Dancing Goats coffee shop. Basically, they knew exactly what they wanted!” – ALINE MARIN
If your clients’ specific idea won’t work for any reason, a few questions can help you understand why they chose their suggested locations, and help you provide alternatives. Ask:
- Can you share what makes that location important to you?
- Will you describe what you love most about the way that location looks?
- What do you most want to AVOID in a photo shoot location?
You might be surprised to find that your couple selected a specific park – not because the park is special to them, but because they really like one of the large, old oak trees in the park. Or perhaps their desire to be photographed at the art museum had more to do with the modern architecture and less to do with the museum itself. Once you know what’s truly important to your clients, you can help them find alternatives when necessary.
Have Your Own Ideas At the Ready
“I have a list of locations I share with my couples once they book me. I love to photograph in places that are new to me, so I’m always adding new ideas to my list!” – ALINE MARIN
Pinterest is a terrific way to curate a list of places to shoot! Document each location with a carefully-composed snapshot on your phone, then post the photo to your Pinterest board with a brief description of the area and any permits or fees required.
Couples who aren’t quite sure where to go for their lifestyle sessions will LOVE that you’ve taken the time to create an online lookbook of ideas for them to peruse.
Wherever you’re shooting, it’s best to confirm that you won’t get kicked out if you show up with a camera. It’s amazing how 20,000 people with iPhones and selfie sticks won’t even garner a glance from a security guard; but the minute you pull out a DSLR, you’re at risk of arrest.
Play it safe, avoid embarrassment, and get permission in advance.
“If I am unsure about a location, I will call ahead; or the couple can double-check. For some places, a simple phone call is enough. If a paid permit is needed, the couple will decide if they want to book the place beforehand. It’s always important to have complete information and the necessary location permits in advance.” – ALINE MARIN
Can you wing it and hope you don’t get caught? Sure! But that can make for an awkward moment – and ruin the entire experience if you don’t have a Plan B in place!
Don’t Tell Them How To Be Themselves. They’re Already Pretty Good At That.
I once completed an engagement session after which the bride-to-be hugged me and said, “When you emailed that this would be fun, I honestly rolled my eyes. I figured that was just a thing you say to everyone. But this was SO MUCH FUN! Thank you for making this feel like a super-awesome hangout instead of something we had to do just to make our parents happy!”
Obviously, not every client will feel all happy-happy joy-joy post-shoot, no matter how chill you are, how much you both love Game of Thrones, or how many margaritas you share beforehand. But there are things you can do to help ensure wonderful lifestyle sessions for your couples – and yourself.
Take Posing Off the Table
“I might give a little direction, but mostly I just talk to them. We chat about their upcoming wedding and life in general. I try to keep my couples focused on each other and thinking about what’s important to them. I let them know it’s okay to laugh, to be serious, or to cry. As long as they are comfortable and feel like themselves, they’re doing great.” – ALINE MARIN
If lifestyle sessions are your cuppa tea, go ahead and tell your clients openly, “I just want you to snuggle, play, laugh, and interact. It’s okay if you’re silly or make a weird face. I’ll be looking out for the perfect in-between moments where you both look your best. So you do YOU, and I’ll tell you if I need you do to anything differently.”
“Depending on the couple, I sometimes ask them to whisper silly things to each other. It’s usually a good icebreaker!” – ALINE MARIN
Make the Most of Every Scene
The brilliant benefit of “unposing” is that there are a million(ish) photographs you can make from one simple setup.
While the obvious shot may be a fairly standard composition, you can tell myriad stories with minor shifts in composition:
- move closer, or switch to a telephoto lens
- move farther away, or switch to a wide-angle lens
- search out environmental elements you can incorporate into the shot for a layered look
- slowly circle the couple looking for fresh angles, interesting shadows, unique light, or creative backdrops
- slow down, and allow the scene to unfold naturally in front of you
Focus On What Matters Most
While unscripted lifestyle sessions may seem like the work of a freewheeling, wild-child mind, even the least-posed photography requires purposeful planning if it’s to go off without a hitch.
From establishing a photography time that coincides with the best light, to confirming permissions at new locations, to helping your clients select photo-worthy outfits, your business brain is still wheeling-and-dealing in the background, even as your creative soul is humming away.
Aline keeps her ducks in a row with a planner. Not the digital kind; the pen-and-paper kind!
“Plan your future! Following my planner saves me so much time, and I LOVE scratching things off my to-do lists! It helps me get organized for everything, from new client meetings to weddings to lifestyle sessions.” – ALINE MARIN
Are You Ready To Let Go & “Let It Be”?
We’d love to see examples of your first lifestyle sessions! What challenges did you encounter? What lessons did you learn?
Join the conversation in the comments below!