Your Best Portraits Ever! Part One

Couple with Dog

You want to look your very best in your wedding photos, right? You’re in a beautiful dress (or snazzy suit for the guys). You’ve got perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect flowers, perfect everything. You’re all set for the most amazing photos of your life! 

And then it all goes to ruin with a stiff, awkward pose and unnatural smile.  

Admittedly, most couples are not professional actors. And society has erroneously taught us from a young age that we should stand straight and stare directly at the camera with a big, toothy grin whenever someone wants to take our photo. The result is stiff and insincere at best and downright unflattering at worst. 

Couple 2For a lifetime we’ve been trained to stand and smile the wrong way whenever a camera is pointed our way. But with a little knowledge on your side you can overcome all the bad “say cheese” advice to be more photogenic and more comfortable in front of the lens. 

Be an ACTOR, not a POSER. Don’t think of it as “posing” which is synonymous with uncomfortable, stiff, and tedious. Instead think of yourself as an actor while the photographer is the director who offers general guidance. As a photographer I’m asking people to act all the time.  

For example, at a lakeside I may ask the person I’m photographing to look out over the lake as though it was the sea and they’re waiting for that perfect sunset. Sometimes I ask for different emotions by setting a scene; “You’ve just had the best afternoon ever, but now you’re getting a little tired. You just sat down to rest a bit and you’re thinking about what the best part was.” Sometimes I like to use movie references; “You’re Han Solo looking roguishly charming, with just a touch of bad boy.” (This works particularly well with guys who are reluctant with the camera.)  

Sounds silly, I know, but it’s tons of fun, keeps things relaxed, and best of all makes for great photos. So much better than, “Smile at the camera.” 

Use Props. Simple props can make a world of difference when they are meaningful. Standing by a big Letter “A” doesn’t mean anything, even if your name’s Anne. But what if Anne plays guitar or likes to go white water rafting? Put an oar or a guitar in her hands and ask her to play a bit, or talk about why it inspires her and now you’ve got something. It not only helps to create a relaxed atmosphere, but it tells a little something about who this person is.  

Needless to say, props should be used in moderation and with consideration. You don’t want to haul around an engine block if it turns out Anne likes working on old flathead V-8s. 

I’ve photographed people with motorcycles, dogs, sports equipment, musical instruments, even a sword! Don’t plan on using the prop for every photo, however. Even one or two photos out of the entire set works wonders.


This is part one of a two part post courtesy of Patrick Pope Photography (  Check back soon for Part Two.  

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