My Top 10 Art Directives for Epic Portraits

Today we’re doing a deep dive on 10 of my absolute favorite couple portrait ideas and how you can pull them off, too. I’m beyond excited to share this list with you because it’s full of ideas that can really elevate your work and reignite your creativity when it comes to couple photos. Nothing cookie-cutter here. 🍪🚫

Most of these were made for non-ideal lighting situations, too, so by practicing these portrait ideas you’re going to get so much experience using lighting strategically in your work. And mastering lighting is literally the KEY to taking wedding photography from good to epic.

Let’s get to work!

1. The Renaissance Portrait 🖼️

So this type of pose can be stunning when you’re able to pull it off. The end goal here is to create an image that looks like it should be on a castle throne room wall or fireplace mantle. It’s a classic and timeless portrait but at the same time, it commands attention because it’s not necessarily something you see every day.

This works so well for your couples that might not be as into PDA or don’t necessarily want all of their images to be overly lovey-dovey. It displays affection and connection without being as in-your-face.

How to pull this off:

  • Look for a patch of window light to use, then position the couple so that neither person is blocking the light on the other’s face. You might have to shuffle them around a little bit to get this right – a lot of times you’ll have them positioned at an angle toward the window.
  • Try having your couple look at the camera, look at each other, or look off in the distance.
  • Having them touch each other slightly in some manner helps elevate this type of pose. Think a hand on a shoulder, a hand on the back of the chair they’re sitting in, or something along those lines. Shows affection without overdoing it.
  • Get some variety! Play around with all of the above and get a ton of shots.

2. The Night Hawk 🌝

This one is allllllll about using the ambient light you have available to you depending on where you’re at. You can get some truly unique couple photos from seemingly boring lighting situations at night even though this might not be the type of scene that gets you pumped up to shoot. You don’t need to have gorgeous light to get some seriously rad images and that’s what we’re talking about here.

How to pull this off:

  • You need to need to NEED to scout the location in advance and locate patches of light that you’ll be able to use when you take the couple out. Avoid having to make all the decisions in tricky lighting scenarios on the spot – things will go so much smoother the day of.
  • You’ll have a lot of options in terms of lighting you can use for these photos- think street lights, the moon, neon signs (yes please), guard lights, etc. Take full advantage of the variety here.
  • Be extra conscious of how you’re positioning the couple during shots like these because you’ll have to deal with a lot more wonky/crazy-looking shadows on faces.
  • I say this all the time, but you need to be solid on the capabilities of your camera and know exactly what you’ll be able to pull off. How low can your shutter speed go? How high can you crank your ISO without getting noise? Get clear on what you’re working with and what you can expect from your camera in this kind of lighting situation.
  • Don’t be afraid to slow the shutter! Get that movement in your photos, tell that story, and work with the available light.

3. The Sunset Silhouette 🌅

Everyone asks for this kind of photo, right? It’s hard to get your couples’ faces exposed with the sunset without a flash, but let’s talk about how to get this shot for them. Whether or not you’re able to get their faces exposed, this is such a great storytelling image to grab. And it doesn’t necessarily mean photographing your couples, either, you can get the whole ceremony, the wedding party, or whatever is happening during the sunset.

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • Turn up your aperture.
  • Expose for the sunset and capture your subject in the silhouette.
  • Again – it’s not always about their expression, it’s more about setting the scene and capturing that moment.

4. The Look Behind 👀

This is one of the most flexible ideas on this list in terms of the lighting. You can get this done beautifully in pretty much any lighting scenario: Daytime, night time, harsh lighting, whatever’s happening. This one always comes off looking so natural, it’s seriously one of my favorites.

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask them “Hey, look back at me!” No one is going to find this too big of an ask or intrusive – a lot of couples don’t even remember you making small asks like this throughout the day. You’re just doing your job by helping direct your couple to get the best photos possible for them.
  • This lets you shoot into the shadows to avoid a lot of unflattering lighting scenarios on faces and it works SO WELL in harsh lighting situations.
  • Honestly, this one is really easy to pull off. It’s hardly a pose at all, but it can create some beautiful, candid images for your couple.

5. The Studio 54 Glam Shot 💥

Glam and timeless couple portraits, anyone? Yes? Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page. I’m predicting that this is going to be such a huge wedding photography couple portrait trend for 2020 and 2021. (Check out Hilary Duff’s wedding for some evidence of that!)

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • You’ll need a direct flash + a MagMod grid (The grid evenly diffuses the light and gives a vignetting effect.)
  • Don’t worry about what these photos look like raw when you try this out. The magic is in the editing when it comes to this type of shot, so relax and get those photos. [sparkle emoji]
  • It’s pretty easy once you’ve tested this a few times! Make sure you’ve got your power right. I always do this kind of shot on manual.
  • These are stunning for end-of-the-night photos or after-dark weddings. Seriously try this one out next time the opportunity arises for you!

6. The Reception Snuggle 🥂

This is such a great way to capture the scene at any wedding reception and get a photo your couples will love. A lot of times it’s easy to forget to take photos of the couple in this space, so take a few minutes to grab some shots of them interacting during the reception and I promise you they will love you for it.

How to pull this off:

  • Usually works best with natural light or a subtle off-camera flash.
  • You’ll probably have to do some directing here! Don’t be afraid of it. Ask them to snuggle or kiss for a few seconds and then show them the back of the camera after you get the shot. (They’ll love the sneak peek you’re giving them!)
  • If you have a shyer couple, ask someone to clink a glass or something so that everyone will start clinking and they’ll kiss.
  • It’s not only about their guests at this scene and this is something they’ll for sure appreciate having to revisit those moments.

7. The Long Lost Lovers Shadow 👯

Here’s a way to get some of those artistic shots you’ve been craving to shoot (and at the same time, impress your couple.) Win-win scenario if you ask me!

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • You need harsh direct light or harsh sunset light for this to work.
  • Position the couple exactly where you need them and get them to look at each other.
  • Keep in mind that if they kiss, a lot of the times their silhouettes will blend together unless the lighting is exactly perfect.
  • Look at how their shadows are hitting the walls. Avoid rough surfaces, for the most part. For example, brick will absorb light and won’t have the same effect as marble or another smooth surface will.

8. The Split Toning Switch ✨

Stuck in an ugly apartment without much to work with in terms of lighting? Like, no natural light at all? Girl, I got you with this one. This is one of the most fun ways to take a less than ideal lighting situation and turn it into an epic AF photo that your artsier couples will be obsessed with. When you get this kind of image for the right couple, it’ll for sure be the first thing they post.

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • Use ambiance lighting (like table lamps and overhead lights) to make sure your couple is well-lit.
  • In post-production, use the Split-Toning + colors section to adjust the tones of the highlights and shadows and change the hue and saturation.
  • The light you used (the lamp or whatever it was) becomes the highlight, which you can easily change the color of.

9. The Nostalgic Bedroom Photo 🛏️

The Nostalgic Bedroom Photo is… can we be honest here? It’s too fucking cute. Wouldn’t you love to have a photo like this of your parents?

This is a really fun way to start off an engagement session or maybe just a portrait session where you’re stuck inside because of weather. Capturing them in a safe space leads to these super nostalgic moments you can get for them.

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • Position them with the window light in mind.
  • Play around with lighting and positioning! They don’t always need to be cuddling or touching each other, but they could be. Pay attention to the vibes/personality of the couple and try out some different poses as well as candid shots.
  • Give them prompts or ask reflective questions related to their relationship. Throw in something funny and make them laugh! Elicit genuine reactions from them and especially if this is their home, you’ll get tons of candid shots of them because they’re more likely to feel comfortable and relaxed.
  • You don’t need a ton of space or a beautifully curated space. These can be super timeless + nostalgic without being having the perfect setup.

10. Embrace the Harsh Light ✨

One of the coolest ways to work with harsh lighting IMO is to fully embrace it and get some seriously epic shots like these ones. This kind of photo has pretty much the same effect as The Renaissance Portrait but this one is outdoors. It can be super editorial, super eye-catching, and so, so, fun.

Here’s how to pull this off:

  • Works best with smoother surfaces as the background. Rougher surfaces will absorb the light.
  • Variety – again! Move them around, have them separate, have them snuggle, etc.
  • Pay attention to the lighting on their faces. Keep them slightly positioned toward the sun so that light is on their faces. Direct them to lift their faces up toward the sun if weird shadows are happening around their eyes.

Wrapping It All Up

Okay, whew, you made it! These were my 10 go-to strategies for rad, incredibly Instagrammable couple portraits in less than ideal lighting situations and I hope you got some takeaways from this post to use in your own work.

To get access to ALL of my tips and tutorials related to mastering lighting as a wedding photographer, check out my course Light Source because it’s jam-packed with everything you need to raise the bar for yourself and really elevate your work.

Drop me a comment if you’ve got a question for me and I’ll see you guys in the next post!

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Instead of the usual spiel, let me give you the real scoop on what I do and why it might just be what you're looking for in your wedding photographer.

My approach? It’s all about capturing the raw, unfiltered joy and those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. I believe in photography that tells a story - your story - with all its unique quirks, laughter, and, of course, love.

I’m talking about the tearful smiles, the spontaneous dances, and the silent glances that speak volumes. My style is a blend of candid documentary and artistic flair, ensuring each photo feels as real and vibrant as the moment it captures. I don't just take pictures; I preserve memories.

Welcome to the party! I’m Katherine Marchand.

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