Do I really need an engagement session?
One of my biggest ongoing goals as a wedding photographer is to continually look for ways to improve my clients overall experience with me, and to try to make the wedding day as effortless to the couple as possible. The beginning of 2016 sparked a lot of changes to how I approach each and every wedding. The biggest change? I now automatically include engagement sessions in every single one of my packages.
In the past, I had heard countless reasonings as to why a bride or groom did not want to book an engagement session:
- “We don’t have it in the budget”
- “We already had engagement photos taken by another photographer when he first proposed”
- “My friend is really interested in photography so she is going to take them for us”
All of these make complete sense, but I am going to let you in on a little secret —
Engagement sessions are a trial run for wedding photographers, too. When deciding that you do not want to have engagement photos taken, you’re also deciding that the first time you will ever be in front of my camera will be on the most important day of your lives together. Engagement sessions aren’t just an excuse to have more photos as a couple, they’re also a way for your photographer to see how you interact naturally, which poses work best with you, and even which parts of yourself you may be insecure about. There are so many reasons why engagement sessions are an absolute essential of the wedding photography process, but by far the most important, is that it makes your wedding day easy, smooth, and stress-free — which should always be the number one priority to consider while planning.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are my thoughts on what will make or break your photographs —
What should we wear?
This is by far the most commonly asked question that I receive, and also the most difficult to answer. Each couple has their own individual style and no matter what you wear, you should always keep in mind that when you look back on these photos years from now that you want to look like you. Just the best version of you. This being said, in my experience there are a few outfit options that look slightly better on camera than most.
GO WITH THE FLOW
I always recommend for bride-to-be’s to wear something that has a bit of movement whether it is a dress with a bit of flow to it, or a maxi-skirt that will blow in the wind. Even if it is just a secondary option to your slightly more comfortable everyday style, there is not much that beats fabrics that really capture that romantic feeling that comes hand-in-hand with a summer breeze.
AVOID THE MATCHY-MATCHY TRAP
I remember it well. I was in the eighth grade and my mom bribed me with a brand new pair of jeans so that I would agree to our entire family wearing matching black-shirt-blue-jeans ensembles to have our family portraits taken at a local grocery store portrait studio. I love my mom, but I hate those photographs. Unless you are having a Halloween engagement session and are going as the twins from ‘The Shining,’ you need to stay away from matching colours or patterns. Instead, opt for natural tones that will compliment each other effortlessly, or simply let your partner dress in a bold colour while you shine in a classic white!
I’m still stuck, where can I find inspiration?
To help my couples as much as possible, I actually started a Pinterest board dedicated to engagement outfit inspiration. If that isn’t enough, try checking out notoriously stunning wedding blogs like Once Wed, Wedding Sparrow, Magnolia Rouge, and Style Me Pretty.
Where should we shoot?
Find a location that reflects you as a couple
When I am shooting an engagement session, my ultimate goal is to capture photographs that really feel like and reflect who you are as a couple. This is made so much easier if we’re able to take the photos in a spot that is meaningful and representative of the two of you. Whether it is your first home that you just purchased together, the spot that you said “YES!” or even where you had your very first date, a location that means something will always trump a location that is just simply pretty when you look back on these photographs years from now.
What happens when you can’t think of anything?
If you are having difficulties finding a location that really speaks to you as a couple, always ask for advice from your photographer. If they are anything like me, they are bound to have dozens of local destinations in their back pocket that they are saving up for couples in your position. Just keep in mind that wherever you end up shooting that it will be somewhere that you will feel comfortable in. Are you not the adventurous type? Maybe don’t agree to shoot on the top of a mountain after a two hour long hike. Do you hate PDA? Avoid shooting in the middle of the city surrounded by strangers. Comfort is key when you are in front of the camera.
What else should we keep in mind?
Makeup and hair
Engagement sessions are the perfect excuse to have a trial run for the hair and makeup artist that you plan to use on your wedding day. Think ahead to what you want your “look” to be on the day of the wedding. Start collaborating with a professional and schedule a trial for the morning of your engagement session so that you can have it completely nailed down before you are down to the wire.
Timing of the session
The biggest thing to consider with natural light photographers like myself, is the timing of your engagement shoot. Typically for all of my engagement sessions I insist on shooting at “golden hour” which is the time of day (around an hour or two before sunset) where the light is nice and low, giving off that warm, golden hue that is incredibly flattering to any skin tones. This time of day shifts throughout the seasons, but in the summer that means that evening sessions are an absolute must.
How long before the wedding should we shoot?
This is entirely up to you, but in order to determine this you should think ahead to what you plan on using the photographs for. If you plan on sending out save the date cards, those are typically sent out around four to six months before the wedding, which means you should be shooting around five to seven months before. If you think they will be in any wedding decor, try to think of how long those printed products take to be produced (sometimes up to eight weeks for larger canvas items) and add on the time that your photographer will need to edit and send off your session to you. If it is simply a trial run that won’t be included in anything wedding related, you can shoot these whenever you like, but try to do so at least a few months before the wedding so that you are able to communicate to your photographer what you loved about the shoot, and maybe some things that you didn’t love quite as much.
Should we bring anything to shoot with?
Simple sessions without any props or styling can be just as beautiful as sessions that are professionally styled by a wedding planner, but putting effort into making your engagement session your own is never a bad idea. Always try to keep in mind that items that mean something to you are always going to stand the test of time longer than any sort of trendy styling item ever will. This might mean that instead of getting that burlap sign that says “we’re getting married!” you invest the time to write each other love letters and hire a calligrapher to inscribe them on to pages that you can frame in your home afterwards. Engagement sessions are also a great way to incorporate parts of you that may not be able to be at your wedding, for example, for Stephen and I that would probably mean having our border collie Gus with us! Personalization is the easiest way of making your session not only stand out, but create photographs that you connect with on a level that is more meaningful than just “that’s a beautiful photograph.”
All images above photographed at the Erich McVey Workshop in Elk, California at Navarro River Redwoods State Park | Creative Direction & Styling: Ginny Au assisted by Charlene Tea | Art Direction: Kaela Rawson for Ginny Au | Hair & Makeup: Emily Newman & Kaela Rawson | Dress: Zara | Linen Shirt: Zara | Models: Tony and Hannah Culver for Muse Model Management | Sponsors: Neve Albums, PhotoVision, Fuji Film, Pixieset, Once Wed, Make & Stow