Consciously or not, we’re all conveying what we feel inside, or what we want people to think we’re feeling inside. Body language analysts are experts in decoding the small things a person is communicating, whether in a courtroom or on a café patio. What's not surprising? Many body language analysts are naturally great at photography and art.
When you look at a photo, there’s a feeling you get. What’s behind that feeling? Why do you feel that way when you look at it? “Art is subjective”, yes, and personal experience also plays a role, but there’s a science behind what our brains perceive as either uncomfortable or beautiful.
By a couple's body language, they’re conveying to one another and those around them what they think and feel in that moment. That’s well and good, but we have to have a place to start if we want to understand why this happens, right? That’s where the importance of establishing a person’s “baseline” comes in.
Each person has their “baseline”, which are the signs they give when they’re most comfortable and natural. In a courtroom or interrogation, it’s a body language analyst’s job to find a person’s baseline behaviors, then to look for instances when the person varies from their baseline, to detect possible deceptions. A photographer's goal in establishing a baseline is quite different! Generally, a photographer wants to help their subject stay within their baseline, and then help improve upon it minimally to convey both the subject's true self, plus whatever else the subject and photographer desires to convey. For couples getting married, that feeling is usually comfort, connection, and enjoyment.
One problem is that certain things can throw a person off their baseline, causing them to give signs that aren't helping to convey their truest self. One of the things that can throw someone off their baseline is getting their photo taken. For photographers using body language tools, the goal is to keep the person within their baseline behaviors, while adding markers of comfort and connection. We take these things into account when photographing men vs. women, and when photographing couples together.
Composition and surroundings can also help a couple, setting them apart as individuals or bringing them together. Architecture in the surroundings, whether natural or man-made, can act as a frame, a leading line, or a part of their general narrative, leading the viewer’s eyes around the story that the couple and photographer want to communicate.
Whether you're in the role of subject or photographer, whether using an iPhone or professional setup, it's good to keep in mind the messages your hands, facial muscles, surroundings, and the rest of your body are conveying.
10 things to keep in mind, from the head to the feet:
1. Is the head straight or cocked to the side? Exposing the neck is vulnerable, so having the head cocked to the side slightly can convey a more relaxed feeling.
2. Where are the eyes? A common misconception is that when a couple is looking at each other for a photo, that they need to be looking into one another's eyes. It's supposed to be romantic, right? In my experience, it looks more natural when the couple is just looking at each other's faces. This is because when two people are in a comfortable conversation with one another, they often mirror one another with their movements and expressions. The eyes of the listener move around the face of the person who is talking. They may not look directly in the eyes, and that's good! It's subtle, but can be an impactful way of showing the couple's connection to each other.
3. Is the neck or jaw showing excess tension? Do a nice shrug and wiggle those shoulders out.
4. Hands are like arrows. Our eyes tend to follow where people's hands are going. Where are the hands pointing? Since we want the viewer's eyes to move around the photo in a smooth way, it's nice to have the hands laying in a natural, relaxed position, while creating a curve with the arm.
5. Relaxed wrists convey comfort and ease. Keeping the fingers from sprawling out too much is also important, to keep from creating a bunch of little arrows, pointing all over the place!
6. In what direction are the hips squared to? Is the body and head in line with that direction? Do you want it to be?
7. Is the weight on one leg or both? Which one? How far apart are the legs? Observing these things and adjusting if needed can help create the shapes and interactions you want in the photo.
8. Where are the feet pointing?
9. What's surrounding the couple? Is there a background and foreground playing into it? Any secondary subjects? How are the colors helping or distracting from the couple?
10. Are there any significant distractions around the couple, and do you want there to be? How can you use the shapes around you to make the final image more pleasing and interesting?
In the image to the right,
the shadows are creating a frame that guide our eyes to the most contrast: the couple's shadow and their silhouettes facing each other.
Below, the arms of the couple are creating a visual circle around the spot where we want the focus of the viewer's attention: the woman's face. The background contains lines both vertically and horizontally that are leading our eyes to her face, then back around the image.