Engagement photos are a whole big thing - most likely, you haven't been professionally photographed since high school (let's not get into how awkward and terrible senior photos used to be - we've all been there). Suddenly you're engaged and you know that this (taking engagement photos) is something you're supposed to do. And it can be so overwhelming.
Breathe. We've got this, and I promise that engagement photos can be more fun and less stressful than you might think. Below I've put together some thoughts and musings on what to expect, how to prepare, location ideas and inspiration for what to wear for your engagement photos - whether they'll be in Nashville, your home, a waterfall, the woods, or some other beautiful location, we've got it covered.
On top of all of that, let's talk about why engagement photos matter and why you should schedule a session. Consider this my field guide I'm giving to you as you navigate unfamiliar territory. I'm with you and here to help you, every step of the way.
Here we go!
When to book
Alright, let's start from the top. The very first thing you need it know is, when should you book your engagement photos - what time of day has the best light?
I get asked this all the time. The best light for your portrait session will be either late afternoon right before sunset or early morning at sunrise. This light is everything we need to make stunning photos! Late afternoon gives us that strong golden hour light everyone loves, and it is incredibly magical. On the flip side, as painfully early as sunrise is, I can’t stress how worth it it is to take your engagement photos early in the morning. There’s no comparison to that sunrise light and in the summer it’s the perfect way to stay out of the heat. Mornings are also an ideal time to photograph in public places, as state parks and coffee shops are usually much quieter and we can avoid those random photobombing strangers in the background.
As a quick FYI, Save the Dates typically should go out at least four months before the wedding. Since my turnaround time is typically 2-3 weeks for engagements, I recommend scheduling your engagement session for 5 months before the wedding to give you plenty of time. That being said, if you're really wanting dreamy winter photos, let's schedule your engagement photos to happen in the winter! At the end of the day, the entire wedding process is your process and I wouldn't want to do it any other way.
You have an idea of when you want your engagement photos to happen - but now you need to think about why you're having engagement photos taken. So why do we do engagement photos?
It's become a cultural thing, for sure - it's only normal for most couples to do some kind of styled photoshoot and call it their engagement photos, and that's great. But I think there's a lot more than comes with engagement photos than we give them credit for. To me, the purpose of your engagement or portrait session is to celebrate who you are together, showcasing your everyday. For many of my couples, this is the only time they'll ever get photos of themselves taken in their everyday clothes, and these are the photos they choose to hang up in their homes even after their wedding is over.
For my wedding clients, I love portrait sessions because it gives us a chance to get to know each other before your wedding day. It also helps you become comfortable in front of my lens - and it's way fun. I promise that your wedding day photos will be even more relaxed and beautiful after we spend a few hours together, practicing in your engagement photography.
Finally, I want these sessions should look like you. How do you spend your weekends? What do you do on Saturday mornings? I want to step into your life together and photograph you there. That’s what these engagement stories should look like. Keep scrolling and we'll talk more about this in choosing a location.
We can make beautiful photos where ever you want to shoot, but after photographing weddings for years, I've learned a few things along the way that usually do or don't work when it comes to engagement photos. I'd love to share them here.
Typically I suggest couples should choose 1-2 locations for a two hour engagement session and we’ll take it from there. Shooting in natural areas like the woods, by the water or in state parks are always favorites of mine. We want to stay away from the crowds - I know how nervous most people get being in front of the camera, so I want to give you space, quiet and room to breathe (this typically means nature, nature, nature). It's way easier to be intimate and close to your loved one in the middle of the woods than it is downtown on the Pedestrian Bridge with people yelling over their shoulder at you to smile.
Think about any unusual places you may have access to - often times the best locations are the ones not many other people will think of. Places as quirky as junk yards, old attics or warehouses can make for amazing photos. Or maybe you know someone who has access to an amazing rooftop downtown we could use, or you have a family member who lives on a farm with acres of beautiful woods. Locations like this are perfect and unique to you! Try to stay away from places like landmarks, monuments and typical “engagement photo” spots in your area - they’re usually overdone and crowded with people at any point of the week.
Finally, I always, always love photographing couples in their homes. There's something intimate and beautiful about documenting your daily life together, where you live or where you spend a lot of your time. I’m also always up for traveling - if you decide you want to do your engagement photos out of state for mountain views or to be on the coast, let’s make that happen! I can tell you I'm already game.
What to wear
The question I get the most (always, always people ask this) is what they should wear for their engagement photos. It's a hard call because these are really important and you don't want to mess it up by wearing that "one dress you got that time that a month later after your photos you realize you actually really dislike the way it looks on you" - we want to avoid that at all costs. So read on, friends!
The most important thing is whatever you choose to wear for your photos should be an expression of you. My personal everyday outfit inspiration comes from florals and minimalist Elizabeth Suzann-like style - so I knew that when we were talking engagement photos back when my husband and I were engaged, I would be wearing florals of some kind (and I never regretted it!) and that my outfits would be incredibly simple.
So if you're like me, grab that floral dress from Zara and pair it with your Bryr clogs. If you want to go more minimal, stick with a silk shirt and high waisted black Levi's with mules and have your guy wear a floral tie with a chambray shirt or under a summer suit coat. When it comes to patterns, I always tell my couples - if one of you has a bold pattern you want to make sure the other is wearing solids so you don’t clash patterns or colors (ie, don't wear polka dots if he's wearing flannel!) This is one of the biggest things I can stress!
Do wear // Add accessories and layers to whatever you wear - bring a few long sweaters or a leather jacket, if you want to, to pair with your main outfit. Wear scarves in the winter or rompers in the summer. Jumpsuits are adorable, as are stacked rings and long necklaces. Be playful and bold, but creative and uniquely you. For guys, button-up shirts rolled up at the sleeves look amazing. Add a denim jacket, suit coat or suspenders and you’re killing it. Jeans rolled up slightly at the bottom with boots always looks good. Show off your tattoos if you have them.
What to avoid // Avoid clothing that can easily show bra straps or can be see through, revealing undergarments. Wear comfortable shoes! Get your make-up trial done the day of your portraits to give yourself that extra confidence boost. Avoid tennis shoes, sneakers, baseball caps and shirts with logos at all costs!
That being said, this session is probably the best reason for you to buy that Anthropologie dress you’ve had your eye on for the past few months. You have a floor length black velvet dress you never get to wear? Wear it. If you were ever going to wear that jumpsuit you got from Free People, now is the time.
How to prepare // I recommend wearing your outfits at least once before we shoot to make sure everything feels as good as you look. I trust your style, so break the rules if you want to. You’ll look incredible. (And just to get you inspired, I’ve put together a Pinterest board of engagement style inspiration with some tips to help you find the right clothes for your shoot!)
Finally, feel free to check out some previous engagement sessions I've done with real couples for some real life extra outfit inspiration. Nikki and Cade, Jesse and Lacey and Thomas and Natalie are all great examples!
To sum all of that up, your engagement photos are about who the two of you are, together. They're more than just pretty photos in pretty light - they'll be the photos you'll look back on to see your everyday together, who you really were in this season of life.
That's a really, really beautiful thing. Let's make it count.