Editor’s note: Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity for aspiring portrait photographers to practice love story and romantic / family photo shoots.
Below you can find three practical tips and ideas for a Valentine photo shoot from our regular writer, a portrait photographer, Barbara Stitzer.
Ahhh, Love. It can be giddy, maddening, complacent, jealous, warm and gooey, and downright crazy, usually all in the same day. And the weirdest day for love?
Valentine’s Day, The Amateur Night red headed step child of New Years Eve, but instead of drinking too much and waking up pantsless while in a pool of your own vomit, you’re forced to purchase heart shaped everything in order to prove to your beloved just how in love with them you truly are. Even if you’re waiting to break up with them till the next day, when you can drown your sorrows in all of the heart shaped candy that goes on half priced sale.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE love. I really do. And I have a lot of shoot requests for Valentine’s Day that usually fall into one of three categories:
1. The Boudoir Shoot
Frankly, I think these shots are more the women’s own present to herself than a present to her man, but then again, who am I? Boudoir shots should be a clandestine peek into the life of a woman in repose, when it seems like she’s just naturally beautiful and sexy and lounging around with no idea in the world that anyone is watching her.
There is nothing full frontal, or even necessarily “knowing” that the camera is on them, just hints of skin showing off the fabulousness that is her. To get a shot like this, focus on the model through the mirror, NOT the mirror itself, at a low f-stop.
2. The In Love Shoot
Being in love is an almost smug feeling, and those people who are really feeling it, or really want to feel it, love to shoot around Valentine’s Day. Again, I like the shots to be about them, rather than me, so as long as they have nice profiles, turn them toward each other and allow the magic to happen.
A lot of people want to kiss while you’re taking your love picture, and go ahead and let them, but I’m here to tell you that the vast majority of people won’t buy that shot. Like no one. They like the suggestion more than the actual act. I like to think of it like restaurant advertising. Restaurants show beauty shots of food, not people eating it, and Valentine’s Day shoots are for loving each other, not loving the camera.
This is a really sweet and beautiful picture, and this type of shot sells really well, except at Valentine’s day, when the mood switches inward:
This fabulous couple came in to celebrate their love for Valentine’s Day. I love this shot because the wife is just so safe and secure and lovey, and you can tell that the husband knows just how lucky he is to have her, but right after that shot, he kind of dropped her, and they turned to each other and started giggling together, so I told them to grab on to each other, and I took the shot real fast, and it was absolutely magical.
To get this type of shot, ask your couple to look at each other, and hug each other with all four arms. Don’t give them a lot more direction than that, and see what they do. If one seems to be pulling away or not hugging the other one as tightly, then you can direct them to lean in, but that usually doesn’t happen for Valentine’s Day pictures, because they feel all in love if they’re taking Valentine’s pictures.
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3. Kiddie Valentine’s Day Shoots
This is by far the most popular kind of Valentine’s Day shoot. In fact, there is a new little sub culture of photographers who do “Valentine’s Day Mini shoots” where you get fifteen minutes or so and some digital prints. I don’t really understand that way of thinking, because I’m more of a luxury boutique photographer who will take three house with you if you need it, because little kids are pretty unprecdictable, but , knowing that there are all kinds of shooting in the world, I’ll share my Valentine’s Kissing Booth setup with you, and you can modify it at will.
To make a kissing booth, you can take an old milk crate or a commercial lemonade stand, which this one is, and cover it in burlap or any other material that you like. Thanks to Nicole Lowe for taking this yellow and green stand and making it all Valentine’s-y. We made cupcakes and got some paper hearts from the Party Store, and Nicole wrote the “kisses” sign on a heart shaped blackboard. We bought a heart –shaped box of chocolates for Gretchen to hold and we were in business.
One thing I liked about the kissing booth is that you can pull out for large group shots or you can zoom in to catch the sweetness, while still capturing the essence of Valentine’s Day.
You can make your own little paper hearts and throw them up in the air, or you can make heart shaped bokeh by shooting a light through a heart shaped metal cutout, or you can go cheap and take aluminum foil and cut out hearts, then take little roscoe gel samples and tape them to the holes and shoot a light through them. Experiment with having the hearts closer and further from both the light source and the camera.
You don’t even need to use the booth:
To make this picture, I shot Gretchen, Andrew and Ava on a green screen, then I used a green removal program to cut the people out (but you can totally choose the magnetic lasso and hand cut the people out). Then I took a shot of a green field and also a shot with a regular tree in it, used the hue and saturation sliders in Photoshop (Image>Adjustments> Hue and Saturation) to make the leaves pink and fine tuned the pink with the eyedropper tool, by sampling Gretchen’s bright pink dress.
Then I took the distortion tool (Edit>Transform>Distort) and pushed in the top of the tree to make it into a heart, and just to make it more fun, I took a leaf from another shot, cut it out, made copies of it (Control J) and turned and distorted the leaves and put them in various places around the tree to make it look as breezy as the grass looks. I took the burn tool and darkened the areas in front of the tree and in front of the kids to make it look like they were back lit and a mild sun was making their shadows.
Did you see our updated Valentine gift guide for photographers and their sweethearts? More than 50 ways to show your affection yet another time.
Don’t want to do all of that work?
Little kids love to be in little spaces. These little twins were four, and pretty squirrelly; once I got one sitting down, the other one ran off, so I put them in a little small tube at the playground that only they could sit in, and…magic!!
Send me your pictures of Love to firstname.lastname@example.org and help make me a tad less cynical this Valentines Day. Let’s get better together!