Recently, there was a big change in the way the United States handles LGBTQ individuals. This Pride month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that bars employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. It is a large win for the community and comes less than 16 years after same-gender marriage became legal in the U.S. If you are a photographer that supports the LGBTQ community, but aren’t sure exactly how to capture a same-sex couple during their engagement or wedding, here are some tips on how to photograph same-sex couples.
Get to know the couple
As with any couple, the more time you invest in building rapport, the more comfortable your couple will feel in front of the camera and the more natural the images will look. Ask them about their story while observing how they interact with one another and the positions they take on naturally. Also, talk to them about their comfort level in regards to showing affection in public. PDA may be something they’re not yet used to, as they may have spent years unable to express themselves safely in public. Listen to them and be willing to make them comfortable. In addition to asking what makes them comfortable, make sure you ask any questions you need to in order to feel comfortable before the wedding. Once the wedding day arrives, you are photographing two people in love on one of the most important days of their lives; it is not the time to start asking questions about their lifestyle. Remember, you are a photographing a wedding, not a “gay wedding”. If you treat your same-sex wedding clients differently, they will feel it. Do what it takes to capture your couple’s beautiful photos, regardless of their gender.
Don’t assume gender roles
One of the biggest mistakes photographers can make is to assume that one identifies as traditionally masculine and the other, feminine. Plugging same-sex couples into traditional wedding positions may make the couple uncomfortable or offend them. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about how they self-identify and embrace their answer. It’s also important to take into account physical differences or similarities. Many traditional wedding poses assume one partner to be stronger, taller, or bigger than the other. If your couple is relatively the same height, size, and shape, those poses may not work for them. Also make sure you don’t assume there will be a tuxedo and wedding gown. There could be two gowns, no gowns, two tuxes, or any other combination. If they plan to wear the same color, consider adding details to break up the image so the color doesn’t overwhelm the frame. Putting effort into getting to know the couple as they are (without stereotyping) is a valuable lesson that will help you capture more meaningful and authentic photos, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Keep your poses open ended
Use open-ended prompts like “hug each other” or “walk toward me and hold hands”. Make sure to get action shots of them just being together and let them naturally fall into place with one another. If you have a specific shot in mind (like a piggyback ride or a dip), tell them and let them select who does what. Leaving your posing prompts open-ended will give the couple a chance to express their true dynamic by assuming positions that feel most comfortable for the two of them. Many couples have an idea about what positions they want to be photographed in at their engagement session or wedding. Using their idea as a starting point is a great way to get a better idea of how the couple would like to be portrayed. If your couple is having trouble relaxing, or if the images are looking stiff, choose a shooting location where your couple is comfortable and can really interact with their environment (such as cooking a meal at home, playing with a pet or engaging in a favorite hobby). Authentic moments like these help the couple tell their story. Remember that many rules of posing apply to everyone and are important for same-sex couples as well. Use poses that flatter the couple’s body, angles, background, lighting, etc. As with any couple, simply asking them to interact will usually allow the love to shine through.
Prompts where both members of the couple are doing the same thing at the same time are a solid choice. Skipping is a fun pose because it involves movement, couples tend to act goofy and there is usually a lot of genuine smiling. Another good prompt is ‘look over here’. Couples often give sweet looks when they look back over their shoulders. A great way to get this pose to work is to ask the couple to walk away from you and look back when you call to them or when they reach a certain point. If the couple is in motion, the pose will feel less forced. This is also a great pose to show off the backs of outfits and it works especially well for showcasing two wedding gowns at the same time.
Use preferred pronouns
Address the couple by their names or use gender-neutral pronouns. Observe the terms they use with one another and don’t be afraid to ask for preferred pronouns. Showing that you care enough to use the pronouns they prefer will help foster a supportive, inclusive and respectful relationship between you and the couple. Gender-neutral terms should also be applied when talking about the other people in the wedding. Use terms like “wedding party” instead of “bridal party”, “bridesmaids” or “groomsmen” unless otherwise noted.
Focus on the couple
If you are photographing your first same-sex wedding, it’s okay to be excited, but remember to treat your couple how you would any other couple. Relax into the role that you normally assume and remember, this day is not about your portfolio. Your number one priority is to help your couple feel comfortable with you and in front of the camera while capturing priceless moments.
Ask about family
Ask your couple about the support of their family, and if there is any sensitivity you should know about so that you can plan family shots accordingly. Some family members may not be supportive, so ask the couple whom they will want in their photos.
Capturing love as a photographer is an important job, as well as an honor. Photographing a same-sex wedding or engagement session can challenge your photography skills while teaching you valuable lessons that will translate to photographing all types of weddings and people as the industry, and the world evolves.