Although some couples may initially view an engagement session as an optional – and perhaps inessential –shoot, the advantages of this type of photography session go beyond the sentimental value of commemorating on film this unique phase of your life. An engagement shoot is the best way to build a successful rapport with your photographer prior to the big day, giving you a chance to get to know his style and learn how he gives direction to his subjects. Also, the session is an excellent opportunity to get used to being in front of the camera.
Since most brides are not professional models, and the majority of grooms are not especially comfortable posing for photographs in general, an engagement shoot is the ideal opportunity for both to acclimate to being on the other side of the lens. Additionally, the resulting photographs can serve a variety of functions, from wedding décor to gifts for loved ones. That said, the advantages of an engagement shoot are only as strong as the session itself; so know what to expect, be prepared, and plan to have an amazing time.
Photographers know that clients can be incredibly busy, and if there are no other options, most professionals will agree to schedule a shoot on a weekend. However, a Saturday or Sunday session usually has to be squeezed in prior to a wedding or other big event the photographer has already scheduled for the same day. I encourage my clients to take a day off of work between two and three months before the wedding so we can hold the session on a weekday. Having a relaxing shoot during the week is a big improvement over keeping an eye on the clock and rushing through what would normally be a great chance to connect with your photographer (and each other). Also, keep in mind that public places such as beaches and parks will be less crowded during the week.
Engagement shoots are typically done on location and rarely in a studio. Sometimes I shoot at my client’s homes, sometimes at the beach, sometimes in a garden… or sometimes in a downtown alley. Select a location that best suits your personality, and be sure it’s an area where you will feel comfortable letting your guard down. If you are not sure where would be ideal for you and your fiancé, ask your photographer for some suggestions. He will usually have a few favorite spots in mind for a great shoot.
An engagement shoot is an excellent opportunity to test-run your makeup and hairstyle. Makeup should appear more natural than at the wedding, but it helps to actually sit in the chair and talk with your stylist about what your expectations are. You will also get a good idea of how quickly your beauty artists work.
As for attire, it’s important to select clothing that is comfortable and that accurately reflects your usual style. If you never wear dresses, don’t pick the day of your shoot to trade your favorite blue jeans and ballet-slipper flats for a form-fitting pencil skirt and 4-inch heels (same goes for your fiancé trading his leather moto jacket for a suit and tie). Also, be forewarned that the perfect little white sundress you may have purchased for the occasion might end up being see-through when the sun is behind you. (Yes, I’ve seen it before).
Every couple holds hands, kisses, and embraces in their own unique way. When a couple is relaxed, comfortable, and confident, it opens up worlds of opportunity for a photographer to move quickly and try all kinds of creative things. The more at ease a couple feels, the more natural their body language will appear, and the more successful their images will be. The engagement session provides photographers with a chance to witness and document these eccentricities first hand, so it’s important for couples to be themselves and interact with each other as naturally as possible. In fact, it’s the genuine moments that arise in between directed poses – such as when a bride is dabbing lipstick off of her groom’s face – that make for amazing photos and truly tell the story of the day.
I recommend ordering at least a few 8”x10” photographs to gift to your families. In my experience, parents absolutely love these photos. Other brides request that I custom print and frame an 11”x14” or 16”x 20” to be displayed on their escort-card table. Having a large print on an easel with an over-sized mat for guests to write on is not as popular as it once was. Instead, many couples request custom-designed press-printed guest books that showcase 15 to 20 of their favorite shots alternating with blank pages where attendees can write their well wishes. (Be careful not to use ballpoint pens with ink that will smear before it is dry!)
Overall, an engagement session should help instill a sense of confidence in your photographer, and give him a chance to get to know you, providing everyone involved with one less thing to worry about on the wedding day itself.