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Engagement Photography: To Have and To Pose

Trends and tips to make your engagement photo shoot one for the guestbooks.
Annie Michaelson

Picture this: You’re in your favorite outfit, heading to a local coffee shop for frothy lattes with your spouse-to-be, followed by a late-morning walk around the lake, pup in tow. What might seem like the perfect weekend-day date is actually how your engagement photo shoot should feel—light-hearted, fun and reflective of your relationship.

Engagement photos express each couple’s unique personality, illustrated through the details chosen by the bride and groom, from the location to the props. As these photo sessions have morphed into dreamy mini-fashion shoots, we tapped local experts to learn about the latest trends and tips so the camera-shyest couples will be feeling like supermodels—in a flash.

Loosen Up
“My philosophy on engagement sessions is that you’re taking a break from wedding planning and remembering why you fell in love in the first place,” says Andrew Vick, owner of Vick Photography in St. Louis Park.

One of the biggest mistakes couples make before their engagement session is that they come straight from work and show up separately, without any time to reconnect before the shoot. Instead, Vick suggests setting aside time the night before to make dinner together and watch a movie or relax over a cocktail before your session starts.

“I recommend couples have a drink beforehand,” says Leah Fontaine, owner of Leah Fontaine Photography in St. Paul, with a laugh. “Then I start the session with a ridiculous dance-off, which especially works if the bride and groom are beat-boxing. You’ve got to get a little silly to break down those walls.”

Rachel Cook, co-owner and photographer of Half Acre House in Minneapolis, says the majority of her couples claim that they’re terrible at taking photos—they’re selfies or they’re nonexistent. To shake off the pre-session jitters, Cook recommends pretending you’re on a great date with your fiancé and the photographer is just there to document.

“Your favorite photos will be the ones where you’re not worried about the way your arms look or how you’re positioning your body,” Cook says. “You’re doing something you really love, at a special place—that’s something I encourage people to think about.”

Hot Snapshot Spots
More and more couples are choosing to use special spots from their courtship for their engagement photo sessions, whether that’s a brewery they frequent on the weekend or the college campus where they first met.

“I encourage couples to do a few locations, including a place that’s really significant to them,” Cook says.

St. Anthony Main area and the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis continue to be hot locations, as well as natural landscapes like Theodore Wirth Park, Taylors Falls and Minnehaha Falls.

“If my couples are having an urban wedding, they like to switch the focus for their engagement photos and tend to do a more natural session,” Fontaine says. “That way, they can get a mix of both, and when they print their photos, they won’t all be so heavily focused on trees or the waterfront, [for example].”

Couples are also opting for more in-home sessions, where they feel comfortable being themselves in their own environment. Plus, it doesn’t depend on the weather.

“People tend to get cozier, and it’s a more intimate session,” Cook says. “You’re focused on your partner and not worried about who’s watching you.”

On the other hand, it can’t hurt to add a little adventure—think about the activities you enjoy together and use some in your shoot, whether that’s skiing and sledding, or paddle-boarding and fishing.

“I like to ask couples what they like to do, where they spend most of their time and where they fell in love, and suggest we go there,” Vick says.

Photo-Ready Fashion
One of the most common questions is what to wear to the shoot. Most photographers advise bringing a dressier outfit and a more casual look.

“Start with the bride—she should pick out the outfit first that she feels amazing in, whether that is the fashion-forward outfit or the comfortable outfit,” Fontaine says. “And I always emphasize layering and accessories. Adding those different elements immediately adds richness.”

But you don’t have to go out and buy a brand-new outfit—wear something you feel represents who you are, that you would wear in your normal life, and most importantly, that you’ll be comfortable in.

“I recommend wearing something you feel looks really flattering,” says Laura Ivanova, owner of Laura Ivanova Photography in Minneapolis. “Nothing over-the-top, but something that shows your figure, versus drowning in something that’s trendy.”

Struggling to find a look that goes with your partner’s? Fontaine says you shouldn’t be afraid to mix patterns and colors. Lighter hues and pastels are great for summer shoots, while Vick recommends more muted tones for fall—think clothes that mirror “how you take your coffee, from latte to deep espresso.”

“If you want to add interest to your images, you can pair a gingham with stripes,” Fontaine says. “Don’t be afraid to wear pieces that have life to them, as opposed to colors that go together.”

Timing Is Everything
Good lighting is key for great photos, which is why most photographers schedule sessions during “the golden hour”—the hour or two just before sunset.

But because the golden hour is in the early evening, your engagement shoot may cut into your workday. To avoid rushing straight from work and feeling exhausted, Fontaine recommends taking a half-day to get primped and relaxed before your session.

“Set yourself up for a great date night!” she suggests. “Do your makeup trial run, have a drink with your significant other and capitalize on those romantic feelings.”

For a moodier feel, some photographers shoot just after sunset, and for those bright, sunshine-filled shots, a sunrise session is best. “People love to sleep in, but it is such a romantic time to come together, right before the world is waking up,” Fontaine adds.

Engagement photos are integrated into the wedding day more than ever—including in wedding invitations, websites and save-the-dates. If you’re planning to do the same, be mindful of when those need to go out and when you should schedule your shoot.

“If you’re using your photos for save-the-dates, those go out six months in advance, so you’d want to schedule your shoot at least a month before you plan to send them out,” Ivanova says.

Props and Pups
One of the best ways to ease into your engagement session is by doing something you both love—that way, you’re more focused on being with your fiancé than posing for photos.

“If there’s an activity or hobby that is significant to couples, like riding bikes, playing cribbage or playing catch, I encourage them to bring props,” Cook says.

No props come to mind? Think about the locations you’ve chosen for your shoot. Maybe it’s a waffle cone at the ice cream shop down the street, or your favorite book at the library where you first met. Adding props creates more interest in photos, and is another great way for each of you to express your personality in the session.

“If you’re big sports people, and one person cheers for the Packers and one cheers for the Vikings, show a little of that rivalry,” Vick says. “If you’re both marathon runners, let’s throw some running shoes on and start the shoot that way.”

But there’s no better prop for an engagement shoot than your four-legged friend, and because our pets are a part of our families, they’re becoming a key part of engagement photos.

“Bringing puppies is so much fun because couples get to focus on something that they genuinely love, and you get to see their faces as they interact with the puppies,” Fontaine says. “Couples are really stepping into what makes them tick and what makes them interact with each other.”

A Must-Do
Some couples may want to opt out of engagement photos, but there are countless reasons why you should include them, as it’s an excellent way to get a preview of your wedding day.

“It’s a great opportunity to do a trial run for your hair and makeup and to build trust with your hair and makeup [vendors] before the wedding,” Fontaine says.

Engagement photos also give a glimpse into what your wedding photos will look like, and you’ll have a better idea which types of shots you prefer. You’ll get to know your photographer better and grow more comfortable in front of the camera.

More importantly, it’s a great time to reconnect with your fiancé and celebrate your recent engagement—what could be better?

“Once the session’s done, continue that connectivity,” Vick says. “Grab a bite to eat, stop for ice cream at Izzy’s by Gold Medal Park or get a drink afterward. If you make it a special night, I sense that people find more value in their imagery as well.” *

Dos & Don’ts
Do have fun. Unless you’re a model, this is likely the first time you’ve had professional photos taken since high school. Relax and enjoy the experience.

Don’t overthink it. “Nervous laughter translates to hilarious, joking-around laughter, and it will get easier as you go.” —Rachel Cook, Half Acre House

Do trust your photographer. “If couples do the silly thing I ask them to do and keep trusting me, we will end up with an amazing photo.” —Leah Fontaine, Leah Fontaine Photography

Don’t wear anything that makes you uncomfortable—you don’t want to be tugging on your shirt or skirt after every shot.

Do get your hair, makeup and nails done. This is the perfect time to do a wedding hair and makeup trial run. Plus, “it gives you that extra level of confidence.” —Laura Ivanova, Laura Ivanova Photography

Don’t forget to ask your photographer how they plan to approach the wedding day. This will help you decide if the photographer is the right fit for you. “Couples should be asking how much the photographer directs throughout the day, what approach they take and how much they’ll be interacting with the couple.” —Leah Fontaine

Do have a dog handler if your pup is in the shoot. “I recommend a dog handler to take them away on a walk the rest of the time so the couple doesn’t need to be anxious about if their dog is barking in the kennel.” —Leah Fontaine

Don’t be afraid to cuddle and kiss!

Trendy Threads

  • Floral prints
  • Floor-length dresses
  • Figure-conscious cocktail dresses
  • Warm, neutral hues for fall and winter shoots
  • Pastels and lighter hues for spring and summer shoots
  • A coordinating (not matching) look with your partner

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