Engagement Session Style: Planning Your Photo Session!

You've hired your photographer, and you're so excited to have picked someone whose work you love. What's the next step? Your engagement portraits, of course!

Most professional wedding photographers offer engagement portraits as a part of your package or an add-on. Personally, I practically require my couples to take advantage of the complimentary session that I include in each of my wedding photography packages. From a 20-minute mini-session to an all-out full day of adventure, I believe that any opportunity to work with your photographer before the wedding day will be a beneficial experience and will contribute to relaxed and beautiful wedding day portraits.

Your engagement session is probably going to be the first time you step in front of a professional camera as a couple, so let's help you put your best foot forward for this fun shoot!  I want your engagement portraits to show your personalities and tell the story of who you are as a couple.  The locations you choose, the clothes you wear, and your comfort level on the day of the shoot will all contribute to these goals.  If you'd like a little guidance in these areas, read on! These are my tips for getting the most out of this fun shoot.


When should we have our engagement session?

planning for winter engagement portraits  

There's no hard and fast rule for when you should have your engagement portraits done. Some of my couples schedule this right away, and have their session more than a year before their wedding day. Other couples might not do their session until the week before the wedding due to distance or busy schedules. My personal preference is to have a bit more time than that, but it's really up to you! There are, however, some things you might want to think about when scheduling your engagement portraits.

  • Seasons: Here in the Midwest we have four gorgeous times of year that offer differing backdrops and colors for portraits, both outdoors and indoors. Spring can bring rain and new blossoms. Summer offers festivals, activities, and delicious summer light before sunset. Fall gives us the sought-after changing leaves and some of the prettiest sunsets of the year. And finally, while it's a bit touch-and-go, if you can be flexible and wait for falling snow, a wintery wonderland is a gorgeous setting for a romantic afternoon or evening shoot. You may even want to choose a different season than your wedding is scheduled for, to add an extra bit of variety to your images.
  • Save the Dates: Most wedding planning resources suggest sending a save-the-date card or memento to your guest list 6-9 months ahead of your wedding date so they can plan for their attendance, especially if the guests will be coming from out of town. It is very popular to use engagement portraits for these, and I offer a lovely selection of options through Minted.com. If you're planning to use an engagement image for a Save the Date, be sure you schedule your session at least one month before you intend to order your products- and make sure I'm aware when you need them by so I can accommodate your needs!
  • Milestones: Are there any dates or times of year that are meaningful to your relationship? Think about when you met, when your first date happened, when you got engaged- all those little milestones that we might be able to recreate or honor in your session!
  • Schedules: We all have crazy schedules, and I know that is even more true when you're planning a wedding! If you're out of town or have a heavy traveling or activities schedule, it might be a good idea to look ahead to any optimal blocks of time and get on my calendar as soon as possible.

Where should we shoot?

Wisconsin wedding photographer Sunset engagement

I believe that selecting the right spot for your engagement session is about more than just finding a pretty backdrop.  Parks, lakes, and iconic buildings are great- but I want to be sure each place that we choose tells something about your story in addition to providing a nice setting.  You'll receive a more detailed questionnaire from me if you've booked me for your wedding, but to get a head start you can consider a few questions:

  • Where did you fall in love?  Not where did you MEET, but where did your love story develop?  Did you move to a new city together, or take a memorable trip?  Perhaps you are movie buffs, or learned to do something new together, or shared an amazing experience.  Take some time to reminisce on the road map that led you to choose one another, and take note if any particular places or experiences stick out.
  • What's your typical date night?  Is it a night in with a pizza and a board game, or a stroll in your favorite downtown spot, or a trip to your favorite restaurant?  Talk about what you do regularly and see if anything strikes you in your daily love story.
  • What's your DREAM date night?  This shoot is an opportunity to step outside of the norm that you envisioned above and think about what you'd do if you could have any date night you wanted.  My personal perfect date with my husband would be an afternoon stroll around a big city, exploring the sights and taking in the culture.  After a brief nap, we'd continue our date by getting dressed up and going out to a fancy steak restaurant and then finding a rooftop on which to enjoy the sunset with a drink in hand.  Blue-sky it, and we'll reel you back in if we need to!  You never know what ideas you might come up with.

Somewhere in the midst of the answers to those questions is an idea or two that will make your session unique and tell a part of your story.  Years from now, when your romance has developed and grown, they'll be reminders of where you were when you fell in love and started this great journey!


What should we wear?

Best Madison Wedding Photographers

Sometimes it's a challenge to put together a simple outfit for the workday, let alone a "special" outfit for professional photos.  Trust me, I hear you!  This is hard to do if you aren't a regular fashionista.  So here are a few tips to help you get started!

  • Look first to your closet for inspiration.  Pick out your VERY favorite items- the ones that you feel really good in when you wear them.  This is the best place to start!
  • Don't be afraid of color.  Color pops are a fun way to brighten up your images.  Look to your wedding decor and plans for inspiration.  Go bold with a colorful dress or top, or add a splash of color to a more neutral look with accessories and jewelry.  Matching your accessories is a great way to compliment one another in a subtle and classy manner.  For example, pick a belt or great pair of shoes for her and a tie for him in similar colors- it will bring an otherwise uncoordinated pair of outfits together!
  • If your session allows for more than one outfit, select one dressy look and one casual look.  This way you'll get a nice variety of looks out of your session.  It's great to have options when choosing what images to display throughout your home or your wedding plans. And let's be real, moms like dressed up portraits!
  • Got a special themed outfit set in your plans, like a pair of your favorite team's jersey's or a custom pair of silly tees? Keep the plans for this outfit short. One set of shots in one of your locations should do, to get the fun shots out of the way without overdoing the theme for a full half of your session. If you're limited by an outfit max for your session, ask your photographer if it's OK to add just a few minutes in this easy-to-change-out-of wardrobe on top of your allotted outfits. I've happily allowed my two-outfit session clients to spend 5-10 minutes showcasing their rival team spirit between "serious" outfits.
  • Make sure your clothes fit well and aren't too loose or too tight.  A tailored fit will be more flattering in photographs than something that's too small or oversized.
  • Fancy is fun! Consider something a little more glamorous than your usual if you'd like to make your session feel like a special occasion! Looking for a couture outfit on a budget? Consider renting a designer piece or two from Rent the Runway. For about the same as you might spend on a new outfit, you can have a gorgeous garment for 4 days or longer that you wouldn't otherwise purchase. It's worth it- I learned this tip from Jenna, the lovely gal in that blue ombre dress above!
  • Accessorize, accessorize, ACCESSORIZE!!  A simple outfit can take on a few unique looks when you swap out belts, necklaces, earrings, shoes, ties, bow-ties, and other little accents. Keep a couple of accessory swaps handy during your session and it will only take a couple of minutes to alter your outfit between spots at your location.
  • Layer it up!  Similar to accessories, layers like cardigans, jackets, and vests can be added to an outfit to change it up a bit.

track themed engagement session wisconsin photographer

What NOT to wear: here are a few things to avoid in general, unless they REALLY speak to you and your style!

  • Matchy-matchy outfits.  No offense, but if you show up to your session in matching white t-shirts and jeans, I WILL pose you "creatively" and submit you to awkwardfamilyphotos.com.  😉  OK, I won't go that far.  But just don't do it. Why? Because this is a trend that is already dated and overdone; not to mention, it often screams "department store studio" moreso than "we invested in a really great photographer."
    • Instead: match your outfits by having a pop or accent of the same or a similar color, or mix it up by using complementary colors in your outfits.
  • Grubby shoes.  No dirty tennies please, unless part of your shoot is about how you fell in love hiking in the mud!  Grooms take note: dress shoes go with jeans, too!
    • Instead: select shoes that will compliment one another in your outfits. If the bride is wearing fancy heels, a dressier shoe would look appropriate on the groom. If the bride's shoes are a little more casual, a nicer set of sneakers or a loafer style would be a great look.
  • UBER-trendy styles.  No matter how great it looks on the celebrities, if a fashion trend is outrageous or extreme and likely to be short-lived, don't immortalize it in your engagement photos.  Keeping your wardrobe classic will ensure that anyone viewing them twenty years down the road won't be laughing about how they are "SOOOO 2013."
    • Instead: choose a pop of color that's trendy right now, or look to the runways or magazines for the hot, yet classic accessories that will stand the test of time.
  • Anything that's not YOU.  Don't go buy something in a style you never wear and won't wear again.  You want to look like yourselves in your photos, not a version of yourselves trying to be something else.
    • Instead: if you're attracted to something that's outside of your normal wardrobe, consider wearing it for work or a date on a few occasions before your session to confirm that you love the look.

"So... We're not that photogenic..."

I hear this statement from my clients ALL. THE. TIME.  And you know what?  It just isn't true.

Engagement Session Outfit Ideas

Getting beautiful images isn't about fitting into a certain size, being a certain height, having a perfect nose or beautiful skin or all those other things we human beings get so caught up in.

Being in LOVE is what makes gorgeous images.  And you hired me (or another awesome photographer) because you're in love and you want that story told.  So stop worrying!  Trust me to create a comfortable experience while we shoot.  It's not just shootin' time, it's time to get to know each other and time for you to practice being in front of my camera.  If you don't worry too much about the little details that make you think you're not photogenic, you'll have a lot more fun.  And fun in photos = smiles and laughter = beauty.

If you're still a little worried, then set aside a bit of time to have a beer or a glass of wine before we start.  Heck, I'll join ya!  One little drink (or coffee, a gelato, or dessert if you don't drink) and a bit of conversation can make your session seem much less daunting.

So now that you're armed with a bit of guidance and some fun ideas, relax, and have fun on your engagement session!  Think of it like a date with your photographer tagging along, and enjoy your beautiful images for decades to come.