I’ve been doing some research in Facebook groups lately and find that a super common question is around how to pose LGBTQ couples at engagement sessions or portrait sessions on a wedding day. Some photographers go as far as to say that they wouldn’t accept an inquiry from an LGBTQ couple because they don’t know how to pose them.
This situation is problematic for several reasons. First, it is illegal to deny your service to someone on the basis of their sexual orientation. Unless you want your business in hot water for discrimination, you had best sort out whatever hesitations you have around booking LGBTQ couples or find a new line of work. And second, you do not need an entirely new set of skills to photograph an LGBTQ couple. You do not need special lenses or filters or that one preset pack. What you really need is to adjust your mindset around posing entirely.
Your couple is not a prop in your version of what love looks like. Really think about that. You can read all of the posing guides, you can get mentoring from that one photographer with 20,000 followers on Instagram, you can watch all the videos from rockstar photographers on YouTube… But if you are posing everyone exactly the same, you are doing your couples a huge disservice. This goes for both heterosexual and LGBTQ couples. Your couple is not a prop in your version of what love looks like.
This change in mindset should alleviate any concerns you have around how to pose LGBTQ couples. Because if you let go of the super gendered cookie cutter that is the backbone of most traditional posing, and embrace that you aren’t going to deliver the same 50 images from every session, it becomes impossible to pose a couple incorrectly.
At this point, I’m sure most of you are wondering, “Okay, great, but how?” You’ve stumbled upon this blog post about how to pose LGBTQ couples, and so far, I haven’t given you a single pose to use in your sessions. While I am totally okay with the idea of simply challenging mindset and leaving folks to interpret that on their own, I also respect our need for a tangible takeaway. I can’t give you a list of 5 foolproof poses, but here are some questions, prompts, and general practices to use in your posing strategy.
5 Tips for Posing LGBTQ+ Couples
“Are you comfortable being affectionate in public spaces?”
This is, absolutely, the most important consideration when it comes to shooting portraits. Never assume that your couple is comfortable being affectionate in public. This should be common practice with any couple, but particularly with LGBTQ couples who may feel unsafe because they have experience with shame or harassment for engaging in public displays of affection.
You can ask about PDA in a questionnaire before the shoot, you can bring up when discussing locations for portraits, or you can observe it naturally while shooting. Unless I have asked this question directly, I will not ask my couple to kiss until they have already done so without prompting.
“How are we feeling?”
Temperature checks are also super important! Just because your couple indicated on their questionnaire that they are super down for the PDA doesn’t mean that the same will still apply when they show up for portraits. Just because they have alotted 45 minutes in their wedding timeline for portraits does not mean you need to shoot for 45 minutes. You have no idea what your couple is bringing into a session. They could have had an argument right before the shoot, they could be feeling rushed to get back to the reception, or maybe they’re just feeling a little off.
If you’re going to check in with your couple, it is super important that you actually listen. You need to meet them where they are at if portraits are going to be successful. You need to match their energy and set your own expectations aside. Remember, your couple is not a prop in your version of what love looks like.
Use affirming language.
Affirming language starts with using the correct pronouns. I strongly recommend asking for pronouns on your lead capture form, but this can also be done on a questionnaire before the shoot or wedding. If you arrive at a shoot and do not know your couple’s pronouns, ask them! A simple “My pronouns are ___, what are yours?” can keep you from misgendering your clients. (If you want to know more about pronouns, you should read this blog post.)
Beyond using the correct pronouns, affirming language also includes the encouragement we provide our couples. “You look so beautiful” or “you look so handsome” may be affirming language to some, but it may be triggering to others. “You ladies are stunning!” or “You guys are so dapper!” may be well intentioned, but you could also be causing harm. A good rule of thumb is to use gender neutral language when addressing your couples. You can address your couple by their names, or use terms like “You two look…” or “You both look…” You can use neutral compliments like amazing, phenominal, awesome, or incredible.
“I want you to love on eachother a little bit.”
Do not go into portraits ready to micromanage. For starters, our couples are not props. Physical love language looks entirely different for different couples. When you give couples a request that is open to their own interpretation, the result is authentic and they can never be doing it wrong.
The “love on eachother a little bit” prompt is super versatile because you can do it while standing, sitting, or walking. At this point, your job is to be the ultimate multitasker. You should be shooting, giving them all sorts of encouragement about how they are totally killing it, and also taking note of what their love language looks like. When they do something that translates particularly well on camera, ask them to hold it or do it again. As you progress through the shoot, refer back to poses they have already fallen into naturally.
Forget gender roles.
Some couples come into portraits already asking for direction. The portrait session of the wedding day may be the part they are most anxious about and they are looking to you to alleviate the pressure. There is nothing wrong with giving your couple specific instructions, just forget what you’ve been taught about traditional posing.
Traditional posing is based entirely on gender roles. Someone is masculine and someone is feminine, and there are a list of poses for masculine people, and a list of poses for feminine people. When a masculine person and a feminine person are in a pose together, the masculine person needs to appear strong and protective while the feminine person appears small and protected. Forget all of that. And never assign gender roles based on what someone looks like or what they are wearing.
To keep things equal and avoid gender roles, switch up your posing requests. Your couple can take turns leading each other while walking, kissing each other on the cheek or forehead, or hugging each other. Allow them to self-select who will take on each role in a pose. Switching things up gives both partners the opportunity to shine, eliminates the power position, and gives you more variety in your final gallery. Everybody wins, right?!
Which of these tips was the most helpful for you? Let me know in the comments down below!