Imagine a young couple about to be married, filled with love, passion and romance.
They join hand in hand, embarking on the adventure of their lifetime, choosing to journey through life together, facing a future of bright promise, hopes and dreams.
Now here's the question. If you were a portrait photographer, how would you portray their love in a way that years from now they could look back on the portrait and immediately bring up feelings of these long ago days when their journey first began?
By the looks of most photographers' websites, it seems they'd have that story depicted by way of the couple... holding a balloon.
Or making them jump in the air. Smiling at the camera. Or some such antic done purely for the camera's sake.
I can't walk through Central Park without tripping over a dozen photographers directing couples to look at the camera, smile, kiss, rinse, repeat, with the occasional command, "now pretend your partner said something really funny."
Somehow, those images don't cut it.
Maybe I'm a sentimental sap. But I look at those photos and wonder why they don't let go of the balloon, and hold each other instead.
I'll tell you why. Because those photos are not about the couple.
They're about the pose.
In those photos, the couples are interchangeable, dispensable, because it doesn't matter who the couple is as long as they can follow orders such as holding a balloon. So the photo is actually the "couple holds the balloon" pose and when you think about it, you realize in those photos the couple's just as much a prop as is the balloon.
It's led to this. I've been on a journey to take engagement portraits to a more meaningful place, where it's about the couple and never about the pose. I picture the couple's private feelings for each other, their quieter, tender moments together, as mostly hidden from public view, as if behind some big thick curtain. And it's like I'm poking my lens through that curtain, taking a small peek into their relationship, capturing what their love looks like.
I've found that's best done by immersing the couple in their feelings rather than assigning them tasks to perform.
And guess what? An interesting thing happens when couples are deep into their feelings instead of concentrating on play acting for the camera.
A phenomena occurs.
Because a moment comes where for a brief instant, something intensive happens.
And it shows. It really shows.
It could be a look in the eyes. Or how their lips softly part. The tilt of a head. It's a mood. A sense. All of a sudden there's an expression of utter and sheer serenity, love, passion, heart, yet whatever it is, it radiates.
It's difficult for me to describe in words. But when I see that singular moment reveal itself, it's breathtaking.
Because it's real, it's genuine -- and it transcends the moment.
And that's the moment I want to quickly pluck out of thin air and throw into the camera to keep and treasure forever.
They're not even aware of it when it occurs. It's not a conscious act. In fact, it can't be posed. It can't be play acted.
Some will scoff and say I'm making too big a deal about this, that a picture is a picture and that's all there is to it. Maybe so. Or maybe for them. But not for me. This project has become almost like a quest to create photographic art pieces and its star the emotions of the couples depicted in them.
Already many have come to my website volunteering to be photographed and more couples continue to call. I've watched and observed them in front of my lens, waiting for those telling moments to appear. And with each couple I photograph, there's something I learn about having them so in touch with their feelings, so experiencing the feelings they have for each other, that the atmosphere is created where this magic comes alive.
I wish I could engineer it. I wish I could make it happen on demand. I wish it were as easy as saying "pretend your partner said something really funny" and voilà, immediately there would be a wondrous, intimate expression emanating from their souls where suddenly there's that moment which is beyond words, leaving you in its path, uttering "wow."
Oh but there's no such luck, it just doesn't happen that way.
Maybe that's what makes those transcendent moments all the more beautiful and meaningful to catch for all eternity in a portrait?