What do you think of when you hear the term “artistic engagement photos?” Probably dark and moody images, right? Almost certainly rendered in black and white. The engagement photographers who take them also probably edit those shots in a very grainy style that is reminiscent of film photography. This is certainly what you find if you sift through the “artistic” engagement images you turn up on Google. So if you like engagement photos with that look and feel, you have no shortage of options!
But what if you want engagement pictures with an artistic flair but you do not like those traditional images? What if that grainy, old-fashioned style leaves you cold? What if you prefer bold, bright colors?
If so, not to worry! In our opinion, artistic engagement photography does not have to look like it was done in the 1920s. After all, who decided that that style is what constitutes art? By its nature, art is creative and pushes boundaries. It seems silly, therefore, to put this type of engagement photography into such a little box. No matter what style they are, engagement images can be artistic if they contain some of the elements we talk about below.
Art is obviously subjective and very much in the eye of the beholder. (Which is another reason to challenge the notion that the traditional style is the only thing that constitutes “artistic.”) However, there are a few things, in our opinion, that any truly artistic engagement photo must have. At a minimum, it should have one of two of those elements. If it has all of them? Well, then you have something really special.
The first (and arguably most important) thing that artistic betrothal images need to have is a component that makes you stop and take notice. They must have an X-factor that sets them apart from the average and ordinary. Art should never be dull and forgettable. It can be subtle, but it should still be something that you cannot take your eyes off of it.
In the case of the engagement portrait posted here, there are several elements that make it stand out. The most obvious are the colors. The blue of the sky and the yellows/greens of the sunflowers are bold and bright. In a sea of muted tones, they are going to catch the eye and make you take notice. (And they definitely challenge the notion that photos must look faded and worn to be artistic!)
As you look at the image longer, there are some other things that attract your attention. They do not hit you over the head like the colors do, but they are no less compelling. For example, the way that the sun lights up the edges of the future groom’s blond hair. Even more subtle is the way that it illuminates the strands of hair that hang down below the chin of the bride-to-be. Look really closely, and you will even see a bee silhouetted against the sky as it buzzes around the flowers. The combined effect of all of these is a shot that is compelling and memorable. In other words, artistic!
The second thing that an artistic engagement portrait requires is some element that pushes boundaries. As we mentioned above, art is never safe or easy. Ideally, it should be fresh and new -- a singular creation. So if an engagement picture looks like every other shot taken by every other photographer, how can it be considered artistic? That kind of image takes no risks, creates nothing original and leaves no lasting impression.
This particular photograph does the exact opposite, primarily due to three compositional choices that we made when we took it. The first is the silhouetting of the couple. Traditional engagement photography usually shows you the faces of the subjects. And that makes sense, right? You do not necessarily want a collection of images in which you are essentially anonymous. You want to see the emotions that you are feeling while in the arms of your beloved, after all! But sometimes it is ok to mix in a few silhouettes to change things up, try something different and highlight the beauty of the surroundings a bit more.
The second bold choice that we made was the posing. Instead of having the couple do the usual silhouette pose (i.e. looking at each other with profiles facing the camera), we flipped them around and had them back-to-back, looking into the distance. The result is a dynamic you do not find in non-artistic engagement images.
The third creative decision that we made is the angle from which we took the shot. Instead of creating this image from eye level, we crouched down between the sunflowers. This made the couple appear taller and framed their heads against the blue sky instead of the sunflower field. The overall effect was a picture with more drama and depth.
The last thing that defines an artistic engagement picture is the hardest to explain. Namely, such an image needs beauty. It must be pleasing to the eye and flattering to the couple. Yes, art can be harsh or even ugly. But an engagement photo? No, that needs to be beautiful. Because what couple would want a shot, no matter how creative or memorable, that does not look great?
So what makes an engagement image beautiful? That is a difficult question to answer, of course. But we would argue that the main element that makes a photo visually appealing is the way that all its components come together. If everything meshes and nothing seems out of place, then you are very likely to find the picture pleasing.
In our opinion, this portrait is a good example of a composition that just works. For example, there is a symmetry that the eye finds very attractive. You have the couple in the middle, standing so that they are almost mirror images of each other. They are framed more or less equally on either side by sunflower plants. As a background, the sky is clear and distraction-free. When you put all of this together, you get an image that is beautiful.
We took this particular shot during a destination engagement photoshoot just outside of Hannover Germany. The specific location was a sunflower field that blooms in the late summer and that is famous for the sheer quantity of flowers that it contains. There are thousands (if not tens of thousands) of these plants in just a couple of acres of farmland, making the spot ideal for gorgeous outdoor portraits.
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