Hello everyone and welcome to this new blog post. I’m going to attempt to put together some basic, helpful and, hopefully lucid, thoughts on getting the most out of an Engagement Photography Session. If you scour the internet, as I did before writing this, there is certainly no shortage of advice on what to wear, where to shoot, professional hair & makeup (yes/no), include props or not, etc…pretty structural advice on the do’s/don’ts of this session…which is super-helpful. And, so as not to regurgitate existing info, I’d like to approach this topic with just a slightly different perspective than I’ve seen elsewhere.
The question we are going to tackle and where most of my ramblings in this post are going to center on is –
“How can you *FEEL* your best for the session?”
Meaning – how do you know that you’re prepared or that you’re going to get what you want…so that you can relax, be yourself and enjoy this experience?? If you’re like most people, you’ve never hired a professional photographer before. And only a very small percentage of people are models paid to be in front of the camera on a regular basis 🙂 So most people’s experience in this area is usually zero. Zero experience means you feel like you aren’t in as much control as maybe you’d like to be. And, add to it that there are A LOT of expectations on the results from an engagement session…zero experience plus big expectations = anxiety. And it’s not often that we as pro-photographers can get away with just saying “Trust Us”…and that makes it all better. Usually it doesn’t make it better…but what are you supposed to do other that just…trust us…and *hope* it goes well?? That’s what we’re going to talk about.
Of course, to a degree you can’t get out of trusting the photographer, right? But he/she is not the lord and master…they are in a service role working for you. So *YOU* need to have a handle on your vision and expectations so that you can effectively communicate to the photographer how they can best serve you. And I know what you’re thinking, “if I could simply do that, I wouldn’t be reading your damn blog.” Got it…thx for reading anyway though…moving on 🙂
OK, as with most big things – some of this can be broken down into smaller pieces in order to make you feel better and more in control of the situation. And on a side note…I promise, this won’t take away from the magic of the experience at all! It’s still going to be fresh, unique and wonderful…but you’ll walk into the situation feeling like you have a clear, connected vision to be excited about…which will enhance the experience – not take away from it. Compare that to walking into the session nervously “hoping” that your photographer magically knows what you want and is somehow emotionally & spiritually connected to you so that they represent you and your fiance’s true love correctly. Yeah…*THAT* sounds like a risk for you and the photographer both!!
Before anything else happens, we we ask the biggest questions first. **Stay away from the details in the beginning – never let the smallest details (outfits, location, props, etc) be the driving factor on the direction of your shoot.
Question# 1 “WHY are you holding this session??”
- Is about the product?? i.e. – to get our Save The Dates out…or to have images to put on our reception tables…or to design a sign-in album??
- Is it about the experience? i.e. to soak in yet another wedding planning first with your fiancé and create new memories??
- Is it about other people?? i.e. mom/sister/friend says I absolutely have to do this…plus I hear it’s a good idea to work with my photographer once before the wedding day, right?
These are all perfectly fine reasons – and you may relate to any or all of them (and there are a ton of other reasons I didn’t listed.) But, whatever your reasons are…identify them. They’re good indicators for which direction to start designing your session.
- If it’s all product related, then we plan the session around your Save The Dates/Sign-In Album, Center Pieces to match your theme, your personality, your colors, etc.
- If it’s experience related, then we plan around more intimate parts of the two of you – your hobbies, your favorite things about each other, experiences you’ve shared together.
And I know, you probably aren’t ALL one way or the other…we’re much more complicated than that…but this gives you a couple of paths of thought to start down and see how much you relate to one versus the other.
Question# 2 “WHEN are you holding this session??”
This is not a particularly tough decision, so please don’t overthink this. There are only a few determining factors here.
- For people worried about Save The Dates…wedding tradition states you should have those out around 6 months before the wedding (nothing bad happens if you don’t hit that deadline…that’s just what “they” say you have to do.) So, I might suggest scheduling 8 months before the wedding, to give plenty of time for the photographer to edit the images, you to choose your favorites images to use with your Save The Date design, and for the printing & shipping.
- But, then there’s convenience…if 8 months lands in the middle of summer…and you’re in Texas, where the devil himself packs up to vacation in hell to get away from the heat…then maybe a compromise could be made.
- Or maybe you’re in a career where some parts of the year are more intense than others – like a teacher, a college student, a CPA –it may be more important to plan for the down times.
- Maybe you have a particular theme we are working around – Holiday themes, season themes, city activity themes… that can help dictate when you hold the session.
- Do you have a particular venue that you want to hold the session in and you’re working around them?
Any/all of these things may be important…you’ve just got to decide which of them take priority and let that guide you to answer “when”.
The day & time-of-day specifics of the “when” will have to be worked out with your photographer, of course. But I can tell you what WE at Moments & Milestones do so you have a point of reference.
- We try to avoid weekends, because we are working weddings/events…so weekdays are best for us (although we’ll compromise to do a Sunday or early morning Saturday if we absolutely can’t make anything else work.)
- I advise our clients to plan on an early morning start time or a late afternoon/evening start time to take advantage of the soft dawn or dusk lighting (specific times depend on when the sun is setting on your session date.) There are a couple of “magical” times during the day where we can control and play with the lighting because the sun isn’t beating down on you, blowing out your skin tones and creating distracting shadows everywhere…and that’s the time we want to schedule for. (Of course, if you are holding your session 100% indoors, then outdoor lighting doesn’t matter one bit!)
Question# 3 “WHERE are you holding this session??”
OK, we’re narrowing things down very nicely. To answer this question, we’re going to start by doing a mental exercise. Close your eyes and imagine you printed a big picture from the session (I know you haven’t even had the session yet – just go with it!)
- Where is it displayed??
- Who is going to see it??
Now look closer at the picture…what is the landscape around you in the picture??
- Is it indoor or outdoor??
- Is it a city-scape with tall buildings or secluded and rustic?
When you look at the picture…what does it make you feel??
- Is it light & happy??
- Is it dark & moody??
- Is it perfect & posed…or is it relaxed??
There are a *TON* of applicable descriptive terms you can use…feel free to expound. But the point is to be able to start communicating direction for the session – what the background should look like, how it should feel.
Let’s factor in one more thought – is there anywhere that is VERY special to the two of you?? Meaning – anywhere you guys like to go regularly?? Anywhere that would be comfortable to create a “date” setting for the two of you?? Maybe where the proposal happened?? Or something relating to a shared hobby that you guys enjoy doing together??
Communicate your thoughts about the location to your photographer and let him/her become your partner to team up with and find the best location. With your vision and their experience and creative talent, narrowing down the location shouldn’t be nearly as daunting of a task as it was for either of you.
Two more suggestions regarding finding the best location, once you and your photographer narrow it down to a handful of options :
- Visit the locations in person…and if possible, visit them at the time of day you’ve scheduled your session for. Does it feel right? Do you feel comfortable?
- Use a Google image search. Don’t just look at YOUR photographer’s work at these locations…Google “Engagement Session at *location*” and look at the work of thousands of artists who have shot at this location…this is a wonderful way to get a feel of what resources these venues have to offer.
Question# 4“WHAT? The details concerning your session”
This is what everyone stresses about at the beginning – what to wear, what to bring, what to do with your hair, or your pet or your props, etc. As I mentioned before, there are already a lot blog posts that give great advice on the particulars of each of these. From my perspective, and for the purposes of this blog I’ll say : there may be some hardline do’s/don’ts…but frankly, most of these decisions are based entirely on opinion.
We’ve been tackling these questions on a very big-picture basis, versus getting lost in all of the details…and I don’t want to stray from this too much but I’ll make a suggestion that can help you narrow down the details :
- One tool that some designers use is called an “inspiration board”…we use it here at M&M for every wedding & session we hold. At its base, it’s a conglomerate of images that “inspire” you about your session. And the easiest tool that you have at your fingertips to build a board like this…Pinterest. There are other options, of course, but Pinterest is an accessible and easy-to-use tool for this exact thing. So get on and pin engagement pictures like crazy. Share this board, or group of images, with your photographer. Knowing “what the client finds attractive” should be quite useful from their artist’s perspective.
Word of Caution : please DON’T choose/pin images and expect your photographer to duplicate someone else’s work…but DO use the inspiration board to help them get into your head so that they can produce images in a style that is very relatable to you. I’m sure you’ve hired a ridiculously creative photographer (*ahem* especially those of you who are working with us!! 🙂 ) whose talent you can rely on…and now that you’ve provided appropriate guidance and clear expectations, these ridiculously creative people need room to *CREATE*!! So please, I beg those of you who somehow heard : “take control and dictate to your photographer what images to shoot”…know that this is not the best way to get the most of your session.
OK gang…the goal here was to answer how to FEEL your best for the session. And to sum up my advice :
- Gain some control over the outcome by understanding your expectations
- Put definition on your vision
- Communicate your vision & expectation to your photographer.
There are a ton of directions you can go with it – that’s what makes designing a session so exciting!!
I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, ideas, etc. Please leave them in the comments section and we’ll get back to you asap. Thanks for taking the time to read through this. Until next time ~