10 Tips for a Successful Engagement Session

August 5, 2019

You’re engaged- congratulations! After shooting portraits for hundreds of couples, I have been able to round up ten of my best tips for making your engagement session a successful one. I hope this serves as an informative resource for you as you plan for your shoot!

Number One:

Be Yourself 

Everything from your location, to your clothing and what you’re doing in the photos matters. I can’t tell you how often I get an entire Pinterest collection from a Bride who wants pictures *just like* the ones she’s chosen. Pinterest can be a great inspiration, but it can also be limiting- especially if you’re pulling images that don’t represent you or your future spouse at all.

You want to express yourselves in an authentic way that represents you as a couple. Besides, if you’re using these images for your save-the-dates, you’re going to want to show up as the couple you actually are in real life, not strangers pretending to be someone else. 

Number Two:

Timing it Right

Speaking of save-the-dates, you’re going to have to really think through the timing of your engagement session if they’re going to include photos from your shoot. 

Let’s think backward for a second.

It is recommended that you send out your wedding invitations about 8 weeks before your wedding, and your save-the-dates 6 to 8 months in advance. 

If your wedding is considered a destination wedding – like so many are here in Charleston, and friends and family need to plan travel, you’re going to want to send those save-the-dates out 8 to 10 months in advance.

My turnaround time for editing photos is usually 2 to 4 weeks. You’ll also want to give yourself enough time to get your photos, choose your favorite ones and then possibly design them on something like Minted.com or Shutterfly.com. Depending on how you send them out- directly from the printer or from yourself- you’ll also have to factor in envelope stuffing, addressing and mail time.

Number Three

What to Wear

“What should we wear for our engagement session?” is the most often asked question. My answer is always complimentary outfits, which are different from matching outfits. At the risk of looking like you’re in uniforms, you won’t want to be matchy-matchy with each other. This is a great time to pull out Pinterest and get some inspiration. Find complementary color palettes, patterns, and textures. Choose something that matches your personalities and that you’ll both feel like a million bucks in. Try on your clothes and see how you look standing next to each other in a mirror. Does anything clash? Do you need to change a piece out for another?

I always tell couples to bring at least two outfits. You can bring three if you would like, but I do recommend at least two; the more outfits you have, the more diverse your photos will be.

Bring one casual date outfit and one more formal outfit. This really comes down to your individual style, but it will help to have a variety of styles and moods to choose from.

You’ll want to dress according to the weather so you’re comfortable and in context with your surroundings. Also, don’t forget to accessorize and plan accessories in accordance with your multiple outfits. Hats, jackets, scarves, and jewelry go a long way in adding interest to your attire.
For the guys, make sure he has room to put his hands in his pockets. During the shoot, I will direct him to put his hands or just a thumb in a pocket. 

Number Five

Relax Beforehand

I want this to be an enjoyable and memorable experience for you both. So, to set yourselves up for success, try not to schedule your engagement session on a day that you have to work or run a bunch of errands beforehand. Showing up stressed, tired and cranky is not the best way to start the shoot! 

If you choose a morning photo shoot, plan a very relaxing evening the night before and get good sleep. If you’re choosing to have an evening sunset shoot, make a date of the day. Plan for lunch at your favorite restaurant and do things to connect with each other before you show up to meet me for the session.

The more that you two are relaxed and ready for pictures, the better.

Number Six

Hair and Makeup Trial

This tip is for the ladies who want to plan their wedding hair and makeup. This is the prime time for you to be able to test out how your hair and makeup is going to look in photos. (This tip also goes for those who are doing bridal portraits.) 

I know some Brides don’t want to reveal anything to their groom, but I highly recommend capitalizing on getting to test things out. After all, you’ll have these photos forever! If you’re using a hairstylist and/or makeup artist on your wedding day, it would be great to take advantage of your trial run on the day of the shoot.

How often do you put on makeup and find that in photos it hardly looks like you’ve put anything on? Or you realize after pictures are taken that your brand new foundation didn’t match your neck? Yikes! You may find that you want to do more than usual and go for the false lashes, or that you actually love your hair up in photos rather than down. But you won’t know any of that until you test it out.

Along the lines of hair and makeup, you might consider a fresh manicure for those up close ring shots!

Number Seven

Prep Him

This tip can be a delicate one to approach, but I see this scenario so often that I feel it is necessary to take on- so I’ll do the best I can as a guy myself. Most men aren’t a huge fan of having their photo taken. 

Many times, couples show up to a shoot where the guy is not so into it, and within 15 minutes he’s clearly had enough. He’s ready to check out at that point probably because he feeling uncomfortable or unprepared. 

I don’t want this to happen to you both. You’d be amazed at what a guy will do for love. Let’s make this experience as painless as possible for both of you. This starts with involving him in the process, even if he says “just tell me where to be and I’ll show up.” 

To minimize those uncomfortable feelings, be upfront with him about how long the engagement shoot will be. (Usually 90 minutes to two hours.) 

Try not to schedule the shoot on a day when you know he’d rather be watching his favorite college football team play. Again, we want to set you both up for the best possible experience.

Let him know that you’ll be changing outfits. Allow him to give input about what he’s wearing so he feels confident, and don’t forget about those pockets I mentioned earlier! 

Tell him about how I’ll be guiding you both about what to do with your poses and hands so nobody looks funny or stiff. I realize that more than likely neither of you are professional models, so no pressure.

Remind him that these are photos that the two of you will be able to look back on for the rest of your lives and it will be so worth it in the end. You may want to plan a fun date for after the shoot as something to look forward to when it’s over. You’re dressed up and looking your best anyway!

Number Eight

Bring Props

Props aren’t necessary, but they can personalize your shoot in a unique way. Many times, couples will have a sign with their wedding date on it as a save-the-date. Others bring items that represent what brought them together, for example, a sport or profession. 

I had a doctor couple who met at medical school bring their lab coats, which made their shoot “them”.

Pets could also be considered props since they’d probably not be in all of your photos, but they represent you as a couple with your fur-baby.

Another thought is to incorporate props that go along with your color scheme or wedding theme. This serves as a small preview of what guests could expect at your wedding.

Number Nine

Make Photos Timeless

I give this tip to everyone I photograph. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, when you’re looking back at the photos I’ve taken, you won’t want to see old technology strapped to your wrists. As fancy and new as your Apple Watch is right now, it’s going to be an eyesore and something to laugh at down the road. 

Let’s keep the distractions to a minimum- maybe swap out that smartwatch for a classic battery-powered watch. Especially if you have an obvious tan-line. 

Number Ten

Bring a Friend

If you have a sister or best friend that can tag along for your engagement session as your extra set of hands, you’ll be able to focus on relaxing and making the shoot fun.

They can help you carry your purse, keep an eye on Fido for you, and help with that one crazy strand of hair that keeps flying in your face from the wind. Also, if there’s no place to change outfits at your shoot location, they can help you hold up a bedsheet to change behind.

As one last tip, I’d like to ask you to trust me as your photographer. I have your best interest at heart, which is to capture your best selves as an engaged couple. Think of the engagement session as a way to break the ice like a trial run for your wedding day. Relax, have fun and enjoy the time together!

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PHOTOS BY RHETT MARLEY   |

CHARLESTON, SC

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