Photography Tips

3 Tips for Layering Shots

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As people-centered photographers, we often shoot multiple-hour portrait sessions in the same location. One of the most difficult parts of our job –– especially when the natural environment around us looks similar –– is giving our clients enough variety so their blog post has a lot of visual interest and their final gallery feels full and complete.

Typically, there are three ways to get more variety during a session:

1. Background 
If you’re somewhere where there’s no shortage of backdrops and every time you turn around there’s somewhere beautiful and different to photograph (like Paris), you can get a lot of variety just by placing your subjects in front of new backgrounds.

Paris Engagement at Luxembourg Gardens

2. Posing
Different posing is one of the best ways to give your clients even more variety in their images. Once you’re in front of a beautiful background, the mistake we see a lot of photographers make is moving to the next location too fast without maximizing the location they’re already in. That’s usually because they’re not confident with posing couples. That’s okay! We weren’t at the beginning of our career either 🙂 Being comfortable posing people for long periods of time… takes time. And practice. And a proven system you can rely on when you get nervous, your palms start sweating, your mouth gets dry, and you aren’t sure what to do or say to your clients –– things start looking awkward, and you’re too flustered to fix it. WE HAVE BEEN THERE. That’s why we offer a free online posing class for photographers with some of our best tips for posing every body (regardless of shape or size), and also why we created a full Posing Course for photographers who are ready to take their posing to the next level. How do you know if you need the Posing Course? Here’s the easiest way to tell: If we put a couple in front of a blank wall, or in an open field, where everything looked exactly the same, could you do an entire session with them in that one location and have the whole thing (somehow! miraculously!) feel fresh and visually dynamic?

3. Composition
In addition to changing backgrounds and mixing up the posing, one of the best ways to get variety during your sessions is by varying the composition of your shots –– and one of the easiest (and most beautiful) ways to do that is with a technique we call “layering.” Simply put, layering is when you have a layer of something blurry in the foreground of your image that gives people the feeling that they’re peering in on a moment.

Today, we want to share three tips for how to make your layering photos look better at your next shoot.

1. Make sure your subjects aren’t “camera aware.” 
Like we mentioned above, the point of layering photos as a technique (most of the time) is to give the viewer that feeling that they’re peering in on a private moment. That’s what gives the shot its romanticism. So, when we’re layering our images, we almost always have our couple not looking at the camera. Instead, we have them interacting with each other –– laughing, kissing, snuggled in close etc.


2. Use a longer lens, or make sure to get your lens close to the thing you’re layering with.
In our experience, longer lenses (like an 85mm) are much easier to layer with, as opposed to wider lenses (like a 24mm or 35mm). That’s partly because, the wider the lens, the more of everything we’re seeing in the shot. Which works great when we’re trying to show off the scale of a landscape, but it’s not ideal when we’re trying to “peer in on a moment” where our subjects are the focus of the images. Longer lenses help us get the blur we want from the foreground (and background) layers, while making our clients the stars of the image in ways that wider lenses can’t, because that’s not what wider lenses were designed for.

3. Make sure the layer is in similar light to your subjects
When layering, we always try to make sure that our foreground layer is in the same (or similar) light to the light our subjects are in. There are a few reasons for this.

First, as a general rule, we want similar light throughout all of our images (layered or not) because, for our style and taste, when the light is dramatically different in multiple parts of the same image, the eye doesn’t know where to go. It’s distracting and takes the focus off where it should: our clients.

Second, if the foreground layer is in bright light (let’s say the sun it directly hitting it) and our subjects are in shade, the blurry foreground layer is going to look like a big, overexposed, washed out blob –– and we don’t want that! So whether we’re layering with a bush or tree or anything else, we just always want to make sure that harsh, direct light isn’t hitting our foreground. A little bit a soft glowy light is okay, as long as the sun is backlighting the foreground.

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  1. Abhishek Roy says:

    This article is very helpful. You have explained many things so beautifully! Great insights.

  2. Gaurav Gupta says:

    Layering is so essential to really drive the eye to the subject of a frame. I love how I can just sense the romance through all of these shots. Beautiful pictures!

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