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Permission Posing—The Only Photography Posing Guide That Works for Everyone

I believe photoshoots shouldn’t be awkward—period. It is 100% possible to craft an experience that is basically guaranteed to be positive for couples who hire us to document one of the most important days in their lives. Yes, there will always be aspects of this job that are out of our control. But, after years of photographing weddings and elopements using a specific empathetic posing technique, I no longer believe posing couples is one of those things left up to chance. 

Instead, a deeply intentional and personalized posing strategy can turn a session around.

Throw out your posing cards, forget the cringy prompts created to shock couples into a reaction, and get ready to learn about Permission Posing—my tried and true method for encouraging authentic reactions from couples at every photography session. 

Permission Posing is rooted in two ideals—both essential to making this method work.

  1. Couples already know how to be together better than photographers ever will.
  2. It is more important for couples to have a positive experience than it is for me to get epic photos.

If you keep those two notions at the forefront of your mind throughout each photography session, the result will be images that show the true relationship between a couple. You can still get epic photographs, but, more importantly, the couple will feel like their relationship has been documented in a way that is true-to-them. 

Traditional photography posing methods are often awkward and stiff—you’re relying on the recreation of specific poses instead of leading those in front of your camera to move naturally. If you’ve spent time in front of the camera, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about! If you haven’t, but you’ve photographed couples before—have you ever asked a couple to do something and they looked at each other like, “uh, do we have to?” THAT moment is exactly what we want to avoid moving forward!

Getting ready for a photoshoot shouldn’t feel like cramming for a test—you shouldn’t be memorizing poses, hoping you won’t run out of prompts or forget something. Instead, if you’re facilitating an enjoyable experience where couples are comfortable to be themselves, you’ll never run out of ideas! 

Yes, Permission Posing works even for the couples who insist they’re not photogenic, have a hard time relaxing in front of the camera, or simply get shy working with you. To mitigate the awkwardness, I’ve found it valuable to give couples a good idea for how the shoot will go—tell them beforehand that your goal is to help them feel comfortable.

The Philosophy Behind Permission Posing

Permission Posing is implemented through a simple communication tactic: I ask each couple to do what feels right, rather than tell them to move a certain way. I’ll offer plenty of aesthetic guidance, but how I phrase those suggestions ensures the power is totally in the hands of the couple—each posing recommendation is a suggestion and not a command. 

I believe each couple already knows how to be comfortable with each other—in their personal lives, when no cameras are pointed their way, they already move with each other. I aim during sessions to tap into that natural connection—to facilitate a space where couples display their own way of hugging, kissing, and exploring their surroundings.

So, what does that look like? I begin each session with a spiel where I tell couples a summary of what you just read—I ask them to look into each other’s eyes and listen without  looking at me. The goal is to get them really connecting with each other. Then, we start exploring the space in a way that doesn’t break that connection. I’ll give you an example of what Permission Posing looks like, versus what the same guidance would look like with traditional posing techniques:

Traditional Posing: “Katie, wrap your arm around Alex and look over your left shoulder.”

Permission Posing: “Hey Katie, would you feel comfortable wrapping your arms around Alex right now? Is that something you’d normally do like this? Oh that’s perfect! The lighting on your face would look so good if you looked over your left shoulder, could you do that? Amazing!”

The result is the same kind of pose, but instead of Katie thinking “am I doing this right,” they are enjoying the experience of hugging their partner in a way that feels good and natural. I’m able to make aesthetic adjustments to capitalize on the best lighting without pulling them away from each other and ruining the moment. I’m also giving a couple the chance to say “no” to anything I suggest. By asking permission in a way that repeatedly lets them know I’m only interested in encouraging poses that feel right, I’m making it easy for them to offer alternatives that do feel right. If in the above situation Katie had instead wrapped both their arms around Alex and kissed them on the cheek the photo would have still been adorable! Alex might even have laughed naturally because they were surprised by the improvisation that I’ve encouraged in this safe space.

How to Help Couples Become More Comfortable in Front of Your Camera

If you’re over traditional posing ques and looking for something different, the first step is figuring out what about the old system wasn’t working for you.

—Do you find that traditional poses still resulted in your couple looking/feeling stiff?

—Do you ever draw a blank? Are you lacking inspiration for giving couples’ direction?

—Do you find that your sessions feel too structured? Like, you just go through the same motions with different people?

First, know that you’re not the only photographer who feels that way—so many of us have struggled through those same frustrations. It can feel daunting to know something isn’t right (but be unable to put your finger on exactly what), or like you’ve lost inspiration to discover new excitement within your job. Trying to solve a couple’s discomfort on the spot isn’t easy, and can sometimes make the experience feel fragile and overwhelming all at the same time. You don’t want to say the wrong thing—especially if you’re worried you already did…

It’s a lot easier to set a positive tone at the outset of a shoot, than it is to drag yourself back to a good time after the air is saturated with tangible discomfort. By thinking hard now about what doesn’t work, you can better prepare yourself and your couples to create a scenario that is much more likely to work in everyone’s favor for the next shoot. Use Permission Posing techniques to combat your frustrations with traditional posing ques, and see how much more fun your next photoshoot can be!

How I Prepare Couples For Photoshoots

Part of my process prior to elopements is to fully inform couples about what their day will look like. I send planning guides, offer extensive consultations, and answer any questions that come up with the specific goal of doing everything possible to ensure getting photographed is a fun experience for them! My personal style of photography is a bit documentary—my philosophy is that I’m present to capture how an elopement unfolds naturally, not to mold the experience into something it’s not. I see my involvement through the planning process as that of an informed guide—my experience can help couples make better decisions, but ultimately every decision is theirs to make

Some planning decisions that make couples more comfortable in front of the camera:

  1. Comfortable clothing

I’ll never tell a couple what to wear, but I’ll make suggestions based on the  environmental factors that could affect their experience. For example: it would be nearly impossible for a couple to relax if they are freezing cold on their wedding day! I’ll ensure the couple understands what layers to bring, what shoes to wear, and what to expect from a location on their chosen date. (I also always have fleece leggings and hand warmers in my car, just in case!)

  1. Their dream location

Feeling comfortable in their surroundings can go a long way to make sure a couple feels comfortable in front of the camera. If they’ve told me they’d like privacy, I’ll recommend  somewhere we’re less likely to find crowds. On the other hand, if a couple isn’t comfortable going deep into the backcountry without amenities, I’ll recommend somewhere closer to town.

  1. The right gear

This is especially true with hiking elopements, but the right gear (and enough gear) is essential to crafting a positive experience for a couple. Good hiking boots, warm jackets, and even snacks can be the difference between an enjoyable photography experience and one they’re just waiting to end.

  1. TIME

As we craft each elopement timeline, I encourage couples not to try and fill the hours with too many activities. Running around all day without time to breathe is the best way to make the experience go by too fast—no one wants that for their wedding! Instead, I plan portrait sessions to last long enough to help each couple get through the initial “what do I do with this camera pointed at me,” and relax into the feeling of “wow this place is so beautiful I forgot we were getting photographed!”

By arriving fully informed about what their day will look like, your couples won’t be filled with questions (and unanswered questions can lead to discomfort). Take the opportunity to then set the stage at the beginning of their session—tell them pointedly that your goal is their enjoyment and offer up the option for them to do or not do at their leisure.

Permission Posing Changes How You Photograph 

Epic photos are the result of an enjoyable elopement experience, not the goal for me.

By prioritizing the experience for couples, my images have become so much better! It was a total mental shift at the outset—I don’t think of myself as “just” a photographer, but instead an experience provider who also documents the story of this couple’s beautiful day. Photographing only elopements put so much more of the planning process in my court, most of which I had zero control over when I photographed traditional weddings. I used to just show up and shoot—rarely getting more than a few minutes at a time to get couples in the mindset for portraits before they ran off to perform another task as the hosts of a big event. Now, because I’m helping couples choose locations and craft timelines, I have the opportunity to encourage an experience where they don’t feel rushed or distracted.

Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

About Maddie Mae

Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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