Being photographed by a professional may seem like a daunting event, but hopefully this set of engagement session tips will help you get some frame-worthy images of yourself and your partner. Bear in mind that the information below is mostly relevant to my own working style. So your experience may vary if you hired someone else (but why would you?).
1. Trust the Process
The idea of someone taking your picture probably conjures up a lot terrifying thoughts–like someone holding a big camera in your face and telling you to smile. The reality is the actual photography part is a smaller aspect than you might think. It’s more important for you to be ready to interact together, keep an open mind, trust the process, and have fun with it. So what’s the process? Generally it’s about finding interesting light, loose direction, and then I press buttons a lot.
2. Just be “Natural”
Nobody wants cheesy, overly posed photos, right? The majority of the people I work with specifically say they want “natural photos” like ones they see on my website. The reality is that these are mostly just naturally-looking photos. Most images start with simple staging and evolve with direction. The directions are intended to help solicit natural reactions and real expression. You just happen to be in the right light, in the right part in the scene… But here are some engagement session tips to help you look natural as you sit pretty in the scene:
- Body language is key. When standing or sitting, we are rarely ever perfectly stiff and evenly balanced. When standing, keep all your weight shifted on one foot or the other. Relax your shoulders and try not to tense up.
- It’s all in your head. Somewhat counter to the above, overthinking things can make you look stiff or awkward. Give yourself permission to cut loose. Ignore the people around you and just focus on each other. Don’t be afraid of looking or feeling silly. The more you let go, the better you’ll look.
- Reminisce. This session is about you and your relationship. It may feel awkward at first to cuddle up in public, but we are here to celebrate your relationship and history. It’s like a special date (except there’s someone with a camera nearby). Think about your history together, your first date, the first time you danced together–all the little memories that remind you why you’re going to get married.
- All Hands on Deck. Unless you’re directed otherwise, try to keep your hands on each other… hold hands, play with his hair, wrap your arms around each other.
- Hips Don’t Lie. Shakira is right. When you’re standing together, bring those hips together. You wanna hold each other like college kids that just figured out how to talk to the opposite sex. Not like middle schoolers (unless you were far more socially adept than I was, I suppose).
- PDA is A-OKAY. Well, you don’t have to make out in front of the camera, but we need to see that you’re at least into each other. Snuggle, eskimo kisses, smush your faces together… in other words get close!
- Sometimes be unnatural. So I do like to play with an editorial style sometimes if the light is dramatic or there’s a possibility to play with context and composition. Go with it. It can be awesome.
3. Location, Location, Location!
One of my biggest engagement session tips when considering locations is not to think too much about what landmarks you want in the background. In many cases I can make something work but I wouldn’t want that to be your primary reason to choose a spot. Instead of a single backdrop, think about the location in terms of an environment or atmosphere (i.e. the feel of the city, or the feel of nature). I, of course, would encourage any location that has some sentimental significance–like it was your first date spot or where you first met.
Multiple locations is also a common request, though I would recommend keeping it simple and/or close together. Some locations, like Sutro Baths, are actually quite dynamic and having more time there would be more productive than moving around a lot. Changing locations can also disrupt the organic flow of a session, so I would definitely limit it just one location change where you’d need to jump in a car. Also keep in mind transitioning from different locations will decrease the available time for actual photography.
Keep in mind that some locations can be very crowded on the weekends so if you have flexibility, consider having your engagement session midweek to avoid crowds at places like Baker Beach or Golden Gate Park and other weekend hot spots. Conversely, if you like the look and feel of the city, downtown or SOMA is pretty sparse on the weekends. In terms of lighting, the best time of day for the shoot is typically close to sunrise or close to sunset. I typically reference this Sunrise/Sunset Calendar.
How your clothes look and fit are pretty important to both reflecting your personality and being comfortable. But also is important when thinking about the outcome of the session. Here are a few engagement session tips when thinking about outfits.
- First, pick styles that reflect you. If you rarely get dressed up, don’t feel like you have to for this shoot.
- If you want a more natural feel, pick outfits that you might normally wear to the type of locations you choose (i.e. very few people hike in heels). I encourage people to dress appropriately for the scene unless you’re going for a super editorial feel. Casual dresses on the beach or through the woods can be nice. More formal wear can work at more austere locations like the Legion of Honor or Palace of Fine Arts. And if you end up in Iceland in the winter, it’s all right to bundle up! (Also, can someone please take me back to Iceland?)
- It is also important to coordinate so that either you’re both in more casual clothes or both dressy.
- Simple, solid colors tend to work the best, especially when set in front of busier backgrounds. It puts the focus on you guys so you can pop a bit more. For the gentlemen I typically recommend avoiding white dress shirts. They lose all detail and often end up being the brightest element in the scene.
Lastly, it’s important for the clothes to fit well. Keep in mind that loose-fit clothing that might look nice in motion can potential add mass to your body. But the most critical aspect is comfort. Having the freedom to move around a little bit can greatly add potential to the shoot. This includes footwear–as we will be walking around quite a bit!
6. Hair & Makeup
Engagement sessions aren’t just a great way to get comfortable in front of the camera. It’s also an opportune time to work with your makeup artist. Whether you go all out or keep things light and natural, it can help you further develop a working relationship with your makeup artist. One thing to consider is checking out the wind forecast or trends. If it’s going to be super windy, you might consider having you hair back or up, though sometimes letting nature do it’s thing can be part of the fun!
7. Props & Baggage
Leave ’em at home. Okay, some people really like that stuff and many photographers will encourage it. I’m just not one of them. Again, I operate under a philosophy of keeping it simple. Having to worry about carrying an extra bag of stuff around during the shoot can be a bit of an inconvenience since you’ll constantly have to keep an eye on it and figure out where to put it when we shoot. It’s far more ideal if you come empty handed so you can have more movement and motion involved!
8. Your Fur Babies
Similar to the above, pets can complicate the shoot. Though I understand that for some people that their pets are like their kids and they want to incorporate them. If that’s the case, here are a few engagement session tips for you pet-lovers out there:
- You’ll want to bring along a caretaker for the little guy/gal since we won’t be including them for all the photos.
- Have some treats handy or a toy for them to play with so you can reward them for being good.
- Understand that, frankly, unless they’re crazy well trained, they’re going to do their own thing.
- Seems obvious, but double check the locations you’re going to are dog-friendly.
9. The Tip to Rule All Engagement Session Tips!
I said this before but I think it bears repeating… Have fun! Seriously, if you ignore a bunch of the other engagement session tips but embrace this, you will get photos you love. Don’t think of your session as something you have to do for your save the dates or whatever. This is ultimately for you and that experience should be fun.
Okay that’s it! I hope you found these engagement session tips useful and illuminating.