When I began photographing couples and families, I launched into all the usual research. I looked at innumerable paintings and photographs for inspiration. I found some great spur of the moment shots, but there was a significant dearth of interesting planned images. It was all clichés and stiff poses of people trying to look their best.
Color and composition are key. Achieving a good balance gets complicated when more than one subject is being photographed. I thought a great deal about where I would shoot, what people should wear and how I might position them in the shot, but that wasn’t enough. I knew I was missing something essential. The only way I could navigate this conceptual maze was to jump in and make some images. Afterwards I would sit with the pictures and analyze why I liked some but not others. This required shooting a lot of pictures that disappointed me, and for a while, I felt enormously frustrated.
Gradually, I began to realize how much I was looking at the space (or lack of space) between people and how important this space was as a psychological component in the photograph.
For example, separation creates tension that can be mitigated by eye contact or intensified by the absence of it. Our viewer’s eye dances around the photograph trying to read the unconscious signals we imagine the people in the picture are giving off.
Playing with light and shadow creates spaces that impact our emotional perception of the relationship between the subjects. Interesting negative spaces become compositional elements in the photograph and add another dimension.
When figures are close or overlapping, the composition feels more familiar, but it’s also full of potential. For example, the overlap can morph the figures into a single unified being.
In the end, there’s still an enormous amount of chance involved. We all know that a single portrait subject can be full of surprises. As soon as two or more subjects are involved, all bets are off! Some days we just get lucky.