| Clothing and Posing for Engagement Portraits
Submitted by Neil Speers
While your photographer is responsible for your posing and creating the energy to make an engagement portrait session a success, here are a few tricks that help to make an image you'll be proud to hand down to your grandchildren.
You want the emphasis on you - meaning your face, your expression, your love for one another. The photo session is about you, not today's fashions. But certain clothes do take the viewer's attention away from where it should be.
While choosing formal or casual clothing is certainly up to you, don't try to be something you're not. If you normally wear jeans and T-shirts, you should probably wear jeans and maybe slightly better shirts. If you normally wear slightly more formal, then keep wearing that. The portrait is about who you are, how you live, your personalities and passions.
A simple outfit in a solid colour is by far the best. And, having both of you (or, in case of a family portrait, all of you) wearing a similar colour adds a cohesiveness that doesn't detract from the image. While a mid-tone such as medium blue, red, green (or other favourite colour) is ideal, an experienced wedding photographer should be able to deal with white or black outfits. After all, the photographer will have to deal with black tuxedos and a white wedding dress on your wedding day. While wearing coordinated colours may seem odd - and going against the advice in the previous paragraph, it does make a "unified" couple or family look that plays up the most important feature, your faces.
In the case of a large group - say a blended family - you can use specific colours to show smaller family groupings within the large group. Just make sure someone coordinates the colours so they don't clash.
As an aside, tanning a lot before your portrait or wedding is not recommended as a deep tan almost always looks muddy on film.
Yes, the photographer will direct you to get specific poses - but here are a couple of simple things can make for a more dynamic and relaxed session.
The oddest sounding one is to push your face towards the camera. It kind of feels like you're pretending to be a turtle, sticking its head out of its shell. This tightens up the skin under your chin, reducing double chins and making you look years younger. Don't worry that it will look odd on film, cameras only see in two dimensions and so your face being closer than your chest won't be noticeable in your finished portrait. Try this in front of the mirror and see the effect for yourself. In fact, practice in front of the mirror to get comfortable with "posing."
Hands are always a concern for people, but don't sweat it. Put your concentration into presenting your face. Simple things to do with your hands include just hanging them at your sides, fingers slightly curled rather than stiffly straight. Rotate your hands so your thumb is towards the camera instead of the backs of your hands. A slightly more relaxed look is to hook your thumbs into your pockets or into your belt. You can also put your hand in your pocket, but leave the thumb out and pointing down instead of across your waist.
In my opinion, the worst thing to do with hands is hold them together in front of your crotch - to me it looks like you have to go to the bathroom. Perhaps it is comfortable because it is "defensive", but it's not that attractive.
Try to have your hands on two different levels, such as one hanging loosely at your side and the other hooked in your belt. Or, one hand up on a shelf, partner's shoulder, or against a wall. Don't worry too much as your photographer should direct you for the best placement of your hands.
Put on a smile - with your eyes. That is the most important place to smile. A plastered on grin with sad or tight eyes only looks like a plastered on grin. Even if your mouth doesn't smile, putting a twinkle in your eyes brings a lot of personality to a portrait. How do you do that? Try it in the mirror a few times. Try to look blankly at your self, then add the twinkle. Then, do the same for the camera.
Martha Stewart once explained how to do a great "camera" smile She raised her eyebrows a touch and smiled with her lips apart bringing her cheeks up. Made her look slightly surprised and very happy. Another one to practice in the mirror.
For the totally camera intimidated, the best thing you can do is get a friend or family member to take lots of pictures of you - with no film in the camera. Take lots and lots of shots that way. Hundreds of shots. Do so many that you get really bored of having the camera in your face. Do this a few times if you have to. That way, when you're actually getting your picture shot - the camera won't be a "monster waiting to capture your soul." I read years ago about a fashion photographer who did that with professional models. He wanted them to get past their initial reactions to the camera and just "be", so the first "two rolls" were not in the camera. If it works for models, it'll work for you.
So, the "cramming for a test" version; wear similar coloured clothes in the style you're used to, push your face slightly towards the camera, relax your hands at whatever position they're at, smile with your eyes first, practice in front of the mirror, practice with an empty camera if needed, and have fun.