Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images

We asked twelve photographers to share their stories concerning some of the vulnerable, intimate moments they captured throughout the years.

Since the days of Queen Victoria and the dawn of the “wedding portrait,” couples have turned to the camera as a way of telling their stories and sharing their most precious memories. Old, worn cabinet cards are still passed down from generation to generation, and vintage family photo albums serve as a testament to the importance of documenting moments of intimacy and tenderness.

Even when photographing their love might have meant persecution or oppression, as in the case of LGBTQ+ or interracial couples in the early 1900s, our forebears understood the significance of recording their lives on film. Today, we continue to follow in their footsteps. 

Depicting Romance and Intimacy in Images - Couple Kissing in BedCapture authentic moments of life. DREAMSTOCK1982 / Westend61

In the past few years, engagement, honeymoon, and elopement photo shoots have been on the rise as social media encourages more people to document and tell their own stories. Many of them follow a documentary approach, preferring private, intimate, and candid interactions over traditional posing. 

The following twelve photographers discuss their stories and the significance of showcasing romantic intimacy in a way that’s truthful and real.

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Capture Intimate MomentsCapturing a natural moment of intimacy tends to be more relatable to your audience. Image by Lauren Pisano. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, EF 24-70/ 2.8L lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; Exposure 1/20 sec; f16; ISO 400.

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“This photo is a self-portrait with my husband. I initially wanted to take a picture of just his reflection in the foggy mirror, but that felt too sad. I did another version of us kissing, but that felt too sexual. Finally, when I relaxed in his arms, it felt like the right moment.’

“I think when people see an image that they can relate to personally — on a private level — it helps them tell their own story and see something in themselves that they might not have noticed before. I love that photography can be collaborative in this way.”

Pro tip: “I think it’s important to recognize the small, quiet moments in life that stand out and resonate with you on a personal level. If you are in touch with what moves you, I think you can see it in others, too. It becomes possible to read people and work with them so that they are at ease and able to feel the moment, as well.’

“I think there are a variety of photographers making images revolving around intimacy, but I do wish there were more photographers dealing with female sexuality — and not always in relation to a male partner. Or, at least, I wish these images were more mainstream and seen as interesting because of the image, not because of the subject matter.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — A Comfortable Complex MomentA comfortable, yet complex moment is often underrepresented in the queer community. Image by Retales Botijero / Westend61. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Tamron SP 24-70mm lens. Settings: Focal length 53mm; Exposure 1/160 sec; f4.5; ISO 100.

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“Here, I wanted to capture that bittersweet moment of farewell, after a summer love, for two young lovers. In general, I would like to see more representation for queer people, without all the usual heterosexual stereotypes. I miss seeing pictures of real queer people in everyday situations — not necessarily pictures of relationships in the context of Pride Day or rainbows. I feel queer people are underrepresented when it comes to these ordinary, everyday moments.”

Pro tip: “The most gratifying thing about working with this theme is discovering and capturing unique moments and glances that go unnoticed, day-by-day. And, for me, the most important thing is the comfort of the models and the complicity between them. Create an atmosphere where everything comes naturally. Always show gratitude — they are sharing a precious and private piece of their lives.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Capturing True IntimacyCapturing true intimacy allows the client to revisit that beautiful moment in time. Image by Tami Keehn. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Sigma 35mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f2.8; ISO 200.

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“At the time of this shoot, Sam and Sarah had been together for fifteen years, and a proposal was imminent. Sam had planned to propose to Sarah while they were in Florida on their trip, but Sarah beat her to it!’

“They contacted me about having some romantic beach engagement photos done while they were in Florida on holiday. Watching the love and connection between the two of them was just beautiful. This serene moment happened on the pier as we watched this beautiful sunset.’

“I think it’s important to capture true intimacy through my photos because it helps to bring a client back to that moment and place in time. I want them to not only see the photo, but to feel what it was like to be in that moment again.”

Pro tip: “I recommend creating a solid client/photographer relationship before the shoot has even happened. Talk to them on the phone or see them in person, if possible. Learn about their story and what makes them unique. I also do a questionnaire to learn even more about their relationship, and what brought them to where they are today.’

“I like to start with action-oriented, playful posing to start a session, to get them warmed up. Then, by the end of the session (which is when this photo was captured), they are completely comfortable with my presence and just being in the moment with their person.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Portray Authentic VulnerabilityPortraying authentic vulnerability inspires the viewer to tell their own story. Image by Uwe Umstätter / Westend61. Gear: Nikon D800 camera, Nikkor 50mm/1.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/400 sec; f4.5; ISO 200.

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“My intention was to capture love and tenderness in old age, and I wanted to realize this idea with people who know me well and trust me. I asked my father-in-law and his girlfriend, who are not professional models, to be part of it. They had posed for me already several times in the past, so they were familiar with the way I work. It was important to me that they feel relaxed during the shoot, so we did it at my home, a place they also know very well.’

“My main interests are people and their feelings. For me, the most important thing is to portray people in an authentic way — with their real emotions and without any kind of pretense or mask. I also want to take pictures that inspire every viewer to create his or her own story around them. I derive the most joy from expressing vulnerability.”

Pro tip: “Make sure your models feel welcome and comfortable, and keep the lines of communication open. Express your appreciation often, create a pleasant atmosphere, stay positive, and remember to show them some of the pictures you’re taking.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Enjoy the ProcessWhen photographing a significant moment, enjoy the process without sweating the results. Image by Natalia Mindru. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon 50mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/400 sec; f2.8; ISO 400.

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“This was a couple from Lisbon, Portugal. Due to a mix-up with a taxi driver, I had a relatively short time with them compared to most of my other shoots. However, despite the brevity of our time together, I remember their good mood and hospitality well. They are no longer a couple anymore, but if I visit Lisbon again, I would like to see them again.’

Pro tip: “I believe that communication is key, in this kind of photography. Plus, don’t go in with any expectations. People are different. With some, it might be easy, and with others, you’ll probably need more time.’

“The most rewarding part is enjoying the process without focusing so much on the results. Photograph as if nobody’s watching. Be a witness. Practice opening your mind and heart. Be vulnerable, and listen.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Create a Safe EnvironmentCreating an environment that is comfortable and safe for your subjects allows for their natural chemistry to surface. Image by Lisa Weatherbee. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; Exposure 1/160 sec; f2.8; ISO 800.

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“Through casting, I was able to find a real couple that had great natural chemistry. We had a great time creating a shoot that captured the loving energy that they brought to everyday moments as a couple.’

“I think the most beautiful parts of love reside in the everyday, and that goes for romantic love, family love, and friendship. Flowers and fireworks are nice, but the way that your partner looks at you when you’re sharing a joke, or the intimacy of cleaning up after breakfast, of talking over the paper. There is so much beauty and tenderness there, and I love finding and exploring it over and over again.”

Pro tip: “Create an environment that feels comfortable, safe, and relaxed for your subjects. Play music that feels loving and that makes people feel beautiful. Give them time and space. People need to relax into the moment. They need to not feel rushed or crowded. Keep the environment feeling positive and collaborative. Give continuous feedback that lets the subjects know that they’re doing great and that you are making really special photos together.’

“Also, love is so diverse, and I always want to show that in my work and see it in other photographers’ work. I also feel that we need to get away from outdated gender roles and avoid objectification.’

“When I work with any of my subjects, I place a lot of value on making sure everyone feels seen, feels good about how they are being portrayed, and feels like they can speak up if things are working or not working for them. I want to take suggestions from them about what feels real and true and incorporate it into the work. I always enjoy the collaboration.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Capture the MomentPhotography is about capturing the feelings and emotions of a particular moment. Image by Katharina Mikhrin / Westend61. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Sigma Art lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; Exposure 1/125 sec; f2.8; ISO 100.

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“I found this couple via my friend’s Instagram page. They have an interesting and difficult life story. They’ve lived together for eleven years now, have two kids, and married after they moved to Germany as refugees. They were under social pressure in Russia for their orientation, and they left the same year the new, anti-gay law regarding homosexual propaganda came into effect.’

“We did this session at home, in their small, cozy apartment in the industrial city of Duisburg, in North-Rhein-Westfalen, West Germany. We instantly saw eye-to-eye, talked a lot, and played with the kids. People and their life stories are of great interest for me. I can say that photography — and capturing these intimate moments — is my way of experiencing the world. It’s like psychotherapy for me.”

Pro tip: “Get into contact with the couple in advance, and be open and friendly. Let them “live” in front of a camera and act naturally. You can softly and subtly direct the situation, keeping an eye on the details. I believe that empathy is the key thing for any photographer. Photography is more about feelings and emotions than anything else.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Choose a Comfortable EnvironmentWhen possible, schedule your shoot in the subjects’ native environment. Image by Kike Arnaiz / Westend61. Gear: Sony 7Rii camera, 50mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f1.4; ISO 400.

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“This is a true story about a couple who are actually in love. Sometimes, for stock, we might try to “fake” certain concepts, like a business photo shoot, but intimacy is one theme that can’t be faked. They have to truly feel that attraction and comfort with one another. To help them feel most comfortable, we did this particular photo shoot in the couple’s own house.”

Pro tip: “First of all, talk with your models about what you want to do. Explain to them, beforehand, what kinds of images you’re looking for. Make sure they like your ideas and are on board, since intimacy can be a very delicate topic. To create a comfortable environment, I recommend shooting in a private place where they can feel safe. Be patient. These kinds of photos take time.’

“One thing I wish more people understood about portraiture in general, and specifically photos about intimacy and vulnerability, is that they don’t necessarily have to be sexual. These are all natural and important parts of the human experience. They shouldn’t be taboo.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Focus on the SubjectsThe focus should be on the subjects, not the location. Image by Amanda Vanvels. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II lens. Settings: Exposure 1/1000 sec; f2.0; ISO 800.

“This is a photo of two of my good friends. They lived about two hours away at the time, but they had recently bought an old RV, fixed it up, and decided to come spend the winter camping near me.’

“They had also just recently gotten pregnant, and I wanted to capture this time in their lives. I took some photos of them in and around their RV, with her belly just starting to get big. This photo was taken outside on their picnic table. They had gotten these matching tattoos a few years earlier, and I thought it should be captured.”

Pro tip: “I never try to turn my couples into something they’re not. I capture them as they truly are, rather than putting them in ‘epic’ poses, in crazy locations, to do well on Instagram. I wish more photographers would stop focusing on the location and start focusing on the people. When you’re focused on the people and connections, rather than pretty locations, you find that the people, right in your own town, need their stories told too.’

“I’m always thinking about how I feel when I look through my parents’ wedding album or when I look through old boxes of photos at my grandma’s house. That nostalgic feeling is what I want to give my couples. And, I want to give them photos that mean something, not boring “smiling at the camera” photos or trendy location photos. I want to give them photos that truly represent who they are, as a couple.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Arrive PreparedMake sure to plan all of the technical details ahead of time so you can concentrate on the story you’re telling. Image by Anastasiia Nurullina. Gear: Sony ILCE 7m2 camera, Canon 24-105 mm f4 lens. Settings: Focal length 105mm; Exposure 1/60 sec; f6.3; ISO 640.

“This is my friend Elena with her girlfriend. They are both creatives from my city. Elena is a graphic designer and Oksana is beginning her career in architecture. They both have great taste, so we found a very beautiful apartment for this shoot.”

Pro tip: “The first thing I’d recommend for capturing intimacy is not to be too businesslike and practical about it. When working with couples, I always try to be very flexible about timing, to make the process more fluid.’

“I plan all the technical details ahead of time: the gear, the location, the wardrobe, the lighting, etc. That way, when I finally meet the models, I know that I’m just helping them to organize another beautiful date and make it special.’

“Intimacy has always been a part of our mundane, ordinary lives, but we mostly see it represented in staged, glossy photos. That can result in ‘trendy’ photos that look too similar, so I recommend looking for unique details in each story you cover. These details can be cultural, geographical, or simply personal.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Capture a Beautiful MemoryCreating a beautiful memory for a couple often happens with a reaction, rather than a pose. Image by letizia haessig photography / Westend61. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Sigma 35mm 1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/250 sec; f2.5; ISO 400.

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“These are two good friends of mine. We all met at the same time while we were on vacation in Cape Town. She has kind of been my muse ever since then. Eventually, she moved to Vienna to be with him, and I visit them every now and then. Once they got together, I naturally started taking photos of them together, since I am originally a wedding photographer.”

Pro tip: “To me, the most important elements in my couples photography are intimacy and authenticity, and they come from building trust. In this case, we were friends before, which made it much easier. But, I try to build that trust with all my clients by getting to know them as much as possible.’

“My goal is to make the shoot feel like they’re hanging out with a friend. I also try not to give them super specific posing instructions but, instead, give them something to do or think about. I prefer reactions to poses. I think images like these, that are honest and real, are some of the most beautiful memories you can create for a couple.”

What’s the Story Behind this Photo?

Depicting Everyday Intimacy and Romance in Images — Tell an Honest StoryGetting to know a couple’s history will help to tell a more honest story. Image by Lupe Rodríguez. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Sigma Art 1.4 35mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/800 sec; f2.5; ISO 400.

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“I always want to show the simple intimacy that unfolds in relationships, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender. I’m drawn to real, natural moments between two people who love each other in their day-to-day lives. This photo was taken while the couple was in the car. I wanted to photograph them from the outside so that the message was stronger and felt more natural and intimate.”

Pro tip: “Before taking photos of people, I always talk to them and get to know their history. I also explain that I want them to be themselves. I suggest they simply spend time together, as they would on any other normal day in their lives, without worrying about me being there. The first and most important thing is that they feel comfortable.’

“Also, try to remember that there are many different love stories out there. I think representation is crucial, as is portraying same-sex couples in a way that feels true and normal rather than sensationalized. The most rewarding part for me, as an artist, is when I get to show the images to the people I’ve photographed, and see that they feel recognized and can identify with the images I’ve made.”

Cover image by Uwe Umstätter / Westend61

Find more insight and inspiration for capturing intimate family portraits here:

Tips and Tricks on Shooting Family Photoshoots on a BudgetCreating Emotional Family Images with Photographer Min Mohd4 Photographers on How to Capture Intimacy in Family PortraitsPregnancy and Early Motherhood: Representative Images that InspireHow to Capture Authentic LGBTQ+ Content

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