Some call it a couples photo shoot, most refer to it as an engagement shoot - however you prefer to call it, it is a photography session that has much more to it than making lasting memories of your newly celebrated commitment to be forever tied in the bond of marriage. It's an experience to both the couple and the photographer and coming into it with the right state of mind will make it in itself a unique memory and it will guarantee an outcome you'll love.
As a wedding photographer with a penchant for the documentary style and who fervently stays away from staging, choreographing, or posing during wedding shoots, I used to struggle with the idea of a couples photo session since it essentially involves a guided series of romantic poses to capture what is supposed to be genuine moments of love and romance. For the couple, this can be nerve-racking and big source of discomfort - after all, how genuine and natural can you be when you have to put on a performance to a stranger with a camera pointed at you, realistically, even if you can put on a good performance, you will never fool the camera. No matter how well you fake your moments, the camera has a way of revealing any negative emotions you are having at the time of the shoot - anxiety, discomfort, annoyance or uneasiness, if present will always lurk behind an otherwise beautiful image.
More to the point, keep in mind that your final pictures can never be separated from your experience taking them. For a winning set of engagement photos, the process itself is a memory that will forever be attached to your final images. So do your best to make it what you would like to remember. So now what? We agree that for the best outcome, you need to feel comfortable during your engagement session. But how do you manage to shed your anxiety and discomfort? Read on for a few helpful tips.
Be thoughtful about the location
In most of the engagement sessions I've shot, the couple typically chooses a setting that is meaningful to them or a place where they have fond memories - their first date or their first kiss or where he or she proposed. Being in familiar surroundings that trigger warm emotions will help you relax and embrace the moment to make the best of it. If such setting choice is not feasible, choose your location to fit your vision of a romantic backdrop be it natural, scenic, urban or whatever your happy place is. Your photographer can help make suggestions that fit your preference.
Be happy in what you wear and how you look
It is crucial that you feel good about how you and your partner look for the engagement shoot. This really falls under the "be yourself" theme, so don't overthink it. Keep in mind that this photo shoot is more about you and your partner, your chemistry and your intimate moments. Being dressed in a way that best reflects your true personal style and the setting of your choice is the way to go. Find the sweet spot between being too underdressed to feel romantic and sensual and too overdressed to feel comfortable and relaxed. Finally don't lose sight of the colors you're wearing. While there is no wrong color for an engagement shoot, coordination between you, your partner and the backdrops offered by the location is key.
This is the tip that will require the most effort on your side. I have worked with more than a few couples who blew me away with their ability to achieve this state of mind, but for many others, it takes some time to get there once the session begins. Who you are when you and your partner are alone together is not always easy to be in the presence of others. A skilled photographer can help ease the awkwardness and get you comfortable quickly enough to get in that romantic space necessary to create magic. However, you and your partner need to be intentional about getting there on your own. Just keep your eye on the prize of beautiful, romantic and timeless images of your sweet and intimate moments.
Do the cartwheel, dance, jump, tickle each other if you feel like it, but keep it genuine. Having fun always adds wonderful energy to the whole photo shoot and to the resulting images. Yet, for this to work, it has to be you and it has to be real. So go crazy if you have it in you, and if you don't, just stick to being yourself.
Create an inspiration board
We can all use some inspiration before heading into any photo session. Because an engagement shoot is such a personal experience to you, you will have visions in your mind about how you’d like the resulting pictures to be, but this can be easily lost in translation as you try to talk it out with you photographer. Collecting examples of images, themes, angles, poses and looks you love will help you and the photographer get closer to that vision. As a photographer I would like to caveat this with a caution. Inspiration boards are just for that - inspiration. There’s nothing wrong in recreating poses and looks that you love, but it takes a lot away from the genuineness of the moments if overdone. A lot of your energy can be lost in a futile effort to copy instead of creating your own personal, unique and genuine images. Trust your photographer to guide you through this. If they’re true to their profession, they will be honest with you about what works and what doesn’t.
Do you need props?
My honest opinion is, not really. I have shot prop-filled engagements sessions, and at times, they did contribute to some lovely images. However, finding, crafting or transporting the right props can take too much time and energy and these will end up being used in only a small subset of your final pictures - unless you want a repetitive theme across the board. If you feel strongly about an object that is very meaningful to you and your partner, aside from your engagement ring, do include it by all means, but I recommend against going out of your way to make anything a central theme aside from yourself and your partner. A final note on this topic - nice and easy accompaniments to engagement shoots like a flowy scarf or a picnic blanket and basket for a nature shoot can go a long way.
Finally, never lose sight of the fact that at the engagement session also serves as an opportunity to get the couple to know their photographer and vice versa. It's a great way to test the chemistry before your wedding day - after all, your wedding photographer will be there from the moment you start getting ready until the last piece of confetti hits the ground at your send-off. You need to be comfortable in their presence and most importantly learn to be yourself around them if you want genuine pictures that remind you of a happy time surrounded by friendly presence including that of your photographer. The time we spend engaging in conversation, and taking pictures in quiet and intimate settings during your engagement session is invaluable time to build that chemistry and trust that is so critical come your big day.