Photographing someone’s Big Day is a beautiful—and stressful—job, especially if you’re not a seasoned pro. This week, PopPhoto is serving up our best advice for capturing that special kind of joy.

Photographers know that posing is no joke. And on the fast-paced, often rushed (and behind schedule) wedding day, having a posing plan is essential. There are no do-overs. So how do you ensure everything goes smoothly?

We sat down with Northern Virginia-based wedding photographer Jennifer Nolan and asked her about her posing strategies for creating happy, relaxed, and authentic images. From building a connection before the shutter clicks to addressing insecurities, these are her top tips. 

Build trust and connection

“I just can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get to know the couple,” Nolan asserts. “[If you do this], they already feel taken care of and [know] you’re trying to do your best job for them. I think that goes a long way to putting couples at ease.”

This is as simple as showing up a little early to a session or setting up an engagement shoot with your couple before the wedding. By making time to connect before pulling out your camera, you give them a chance to get to know you—and you them. We’re all more willing to open up to people we trust. And we trust people who are invested in our lives and stories. Even taking 10 or 15 minutes to ask questions and find things you can relate to can go a long way in building trust and comfort. If you are able to do this during an engagement session, then you’ll be ready to roll on the big day.

how to pose couples
Be sure to hype up your couple before and during the shoot. Jennifer Nolan

Be the ultimate wingman 

Everyone has some sort of insecurity—so don’t be afraid to hype your client up. Give them plenty of positive affirmation and acknowledge what they may be feeling. Don’t forget that communication is key. Provide clear directions so they’re never wondering, “what do I do with my hands?”

“I always tell them [that] even I feel nervous in front of a camera,” Nolan shares. “I make myself vulnerable and always remind them that it’s not just them, that everybody feels this way and it’s totally normal. I give them permission to feel that way. It’s just so important to pump up your couples from the beginning. I tell them how great they’re doing because that really does go a long way. I think it boosts their confidence as you’re photographing them.”

Couple poses for weddings and engagements

Nolan usually starts a session by incorporating movement or taking what she calls “mom and dad shots,” traditional-style portraits with the subjects looking straight at the camera.  

“I try to do prompts, walking motions, because I feel that [allows] their interactions to come out naturally,” she says. “From there I can go along and get them laughing, feeling more themselves. After that, I try to incorporate them into different settings.”

For the clients wearing pants, her go-to technique is to have them put a hand (or hands) in their pockets, and have the partner hold on to one of their arms. If someone in the couple is wearing a skirt or dress, Nolan will have the partner hold it, so that their free hand has something to do.

how to pose couples
Keep hands looking natural by giving them something to do. Jennifer Nolan

Related: Best cameras for wedding photography

The other thing Nolan is conscious about is asking subjects to pull their arms away from the body to create a triangle, which in turn helps creates a more slimming effect. Above all, though, she is after “the natural look.”

“The primary thing is making sure that they are relaxed and they don’t look stiff,” she says. “I think a good [pose] is either belly-to-belly or him with his hands in his pocket and her wrapping her arms right around him. Usually, you get the girl leaning and she does it naturally.”

How to pose couples with height differences

Posing couples with a big height difference can feel challenging, but Nolan advises that photographers don’t worry too much. When it’s possible, she’ll have the couples sit down to even things out, or she’ll have the taller partner bend down and just photograph from the torso up.

how to pose couples
When photographing a couple with a large height difference, Nolan will often have them sit. Jennifer Nolan

“Remember, they know their height difference,” she reassures. “While to us, it’d be, ‘Oh no, how am I going to work with this?’ They already know; that’s who they are. Unless they specifically say they feel funny about it, I wouldn’t put too much of an emphasis [on it]. If they’re comfortable with how they are, then I just make it work.”

Set expectations and communicate 

Are you a Photoshop wizard? Do you prefer batch processing files in Capture One/Lightroom? Let your clients know what you can, can’t, and aren’t willing to do. Otherwise, you may be fielding an unexpected request.

Nolan also will advise her clients on things like wardrobe to ensure that the resulting photos match their vision. Otherwise, that’s another opportunity for a missed expectation.

“One time I had clients that [said], ‘We just don’t feel right.’ It was because their outfits weren’t as dressy as the place they picked for photos,” she recalls. 

Sometimes, however, there will be elements out of your control—and Nolan advises that the best course of action is to keep calm and do your best.

“You [might] have couples that are unhappy, especially when [it] comes to body issues,” she explains. “I think sometimes it’s just not up to us. I think [we] as photographers just need to realize that we can’t control that.”

how to pose couples
It’s important to build trust before you start clicking the shutter. Jennifer Nolan

Avoid this mistake

If there’s one mistake photographers should absolutely avoid, it’s not taking the time to build a connection with their clients. According to Nolan, that’s when the tension will come through in an image, and that’s the last thing that should happen when documenting such an important event.

Other things photographers should look out for? Hands (of course), “the good side” (everyone has one), and mixed expressions—if one person is laughing but the other has a serious expression, the photo just won’t make sense. 

“I think hands are very important when we’re posing,” she states. “You want to make sure they look relaxed. I kind of joke about it [and say], ‘We don’t want Barbie and Ken hands.’ They always laugh about it. I’m constantly reminding them that I’m looking out for those things and I’ll ask them, ‘Do you have a good side? Do you have a bad side?’ But  like I mentioned earlier, those 10, 15 minutes of just getting to know them, putting them at ease, go a long way.”

See more of Jennifer Nolan’s work here.