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Lights, Camera, Engagement: Expert Tips for the Best Engagement Photos

Here’s how to capture the excitement of engagement.

Gone are the days of drab black-and-white engagement photos in the local newspaper. Today’s personalized engagement photos are used for save-the-dates, wedding websites and even strung across banners at the wedding reception. But along with every other wedding-related item on your checklist, preparing for your engagement photo shoot requires some work. We reached out to local photographers for their top tips on how to achieve perfect engagement photos.

Session Scheduling

The recommended timeline for scheduling your engagement photos depends on how you want to use them. “Many couples are excited to share the news of their engagement right away with professional photos, while others want to wait for a particular month or season,” says Chrissy Graddy, co-owner of Graddy Photography in Minneapolis. If you are planning to send out save-the-dates to your guests featuring your engagement photos, then the session is usually done sooner, she says—anywhere from six to 12 months before the wedding date.

If you’re skipping photo-heavy save-the-dates, but would like to use the photos on your wedding website or displayed at the reception, you have some flexibility with the timeline. However, remember that photographers often book months in advance, and scheduling a session shortly before your wedding can cause unneeded last-minute stress.

Sometimes timing your session is as simple as picking out what season you want represented in the photos. It’s a good idea to shoot engagement photos in a season that’s opposite your wedding, says Andrew Vick, owner of Vick Photography in St. Louis Park. “If it’s an urban wedding downtown in the fall, let’s do ‘winter wonderland’ for the engagement photos and get some skates on.”

Location, Location, Location

The setting you choose for your photos can convey a lot about who you are as a couple. What do you like to do together, and what are some of your favorite spots? The more comfortable you are in your surroundings, the more comfortable you are displaying your affection in front of the camera—which is often the hardest part.

“I absolutely love it when a couple chooses a location that has meaning to them,” says Jes Hayes, owner of Mad Chicken Studio in Duluth. “I’m here to help in the process, but the decision is ultimately up to the couple. When a couple is connected to a location, I’m able to pull inspiration from that, which makes the session and the final images better.”

Many couples like the juxtaposition of a relaxed outdoor engagement session and more formal wedding-day photos. If you’re considering an outdoor location, make sure to choose a spot that incorporates the best thing about Mother Nature: natural light.

“Beautiful photos can be captured just about anywhere,” says Jeff Kesterson, co-owner of Jeff Loves Jessica Photography in Minneapolis. “Great light is more important, we think, than the perfect location. We particularly love the soft, warm tones of the golden hour [the hour after sunrise or before sunset], but pockets of great light can be found any time of day.”

Props to Natural Photos

When deciding which (if any) props you’d like to include in your session, just remember: the more natural, the better. These photos should be centered on your love for each other during this exciting time of your life. Props can emphasize this, or steal the focus completely.

“I tend to find that props can date an engagement session really quickly,” says Vick. “They’re very trend-specific, and because you might find them online or on Pinterest, chances are that 80 percent of other brides are also looking at those. So even though there is a bit of a treasure hunt and a find-factor with it, sometimes they may not be as special or as unique as you may feel your relationship to be. Instead, think architecture and landscape, as it stands the test of time.”

There are many other ways to tie in a desired theme with a subtler prop. “I’m a big advocate of actively doing something for your engagement shoot,” says Eliesa Johnson, owner of Photogen Inc. in Minneapolis. “Maybe you go on a hike or maybe you love sailing and go for a boat ride. When there is something for you to actually experience and do, the photos tend to turn out a little more natural and fun. It also makes it easy to decide a location and setting, while being entirely personalized.”

There is one prop that photographers happily embrace, however, and you can even train it to be photogenic.

“I think there’s a nice blend with tying pets into engagement sessions,” says Vick. “It’s a great way to tie in your lifestyle with an animal that’s special to you.”

More than Posing

Engagement photos allow a couple to candidly capture beautiful images outside of the hustle and bustle of the wedding day and the surrounding regalia. They are also a crucial step in preparing for the big day.

“You’ll appreciate having well-lit, non-selfie photos of you and your partner,” says Kelly Schoeberl, co-owner of Olive Juice Studios in Rochester. “And it gives you an opportunity to see and experience your wedding photographer in action so there are no surprises on the wedding day.”

That also means that you can get that awkward first time together in front of the camera over with long before the wedding day—which alone is worth the investment. But the importance of a good relationship with your photographer shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Before we even pull out our cameras, it is important for us to build a strong rapport and begin earning their trust. If a couple seems nervous, we tell them that it’s perfectly OK to feel awkward, so it’s our job to direct them and help them to look great,” says Kesterson. “Typically, grooms are the most apprehensive about getting in front of the camera, so afterward when they give us high fives and tell us ‘That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,’ we know we’ve done our job well.”

Engagement sessions are arguably the most fun and stress-free task on your wedding to-do list. They don’t result in a discussion over linens or a fight over the guest list. The photos are about you as a couple, and nothing more.

Your engagement photo session marks a special moment in time on a journey, says Vick. “They remind couples why they are going through with all the wedding conversations. Couples leave reminded of why they fell in love in the first place.’”

(Photo by: Vick Photography)


What not to do when it comes to engagement photos.

1. Don’t come straight from work
“You know when the couple had a rough night the night before and they are coming stressed from work. They’re coming in a little hot. And you have that uphill climb to help mellow things out and get them connected.” —Andrew Vick, Vick Photography

2. Don’t reproduce everything you see on social media sites
“It’s a good idea to come with ideas and use other photos for inspiration, but don’t come with the expectation that your photos will look exactly the same. Work with your photographer to let them know the style you are going for and then let them add their own unique twist.” —Chrissy Graddy, Graddy Photography

3. Don’t use different photographers for your engagement photos and wedding photos
“Every photographer is different in directing couples and communicating in general. We get to work out any kinks so that the wedding day is as smooth as possible and we can maximize our time together.” —Jes Hayes, Mad Chicken Studio

4. Don’t overdo it on outfit and location changes
“Try to keep the focus on maximizing your photo time by keeping outfit and location changes to a minimum: one to two outfits and one to two nearby locations. Of course, if your session time is longer and you have several hours to work with, there’s more flexibility here.” —Jeff Kesterson, Jeff Loves Jessica

5. Don’t be so serious
“If you’re so inclined, have a drink before the shoot. Trust us, you’ll smile easier and we’ll all have tons of fun.” —Kelly Schoeberl, Olive Juice Studios

6. Don’t skip engagement photos
“I think this is an important thing to do, because not only is it a great time in your relationship to document, but it also gives you the opportunity to feel comfortable in front of the camera.” —Eliesa Johnson, Photogen Inc.

The Look

Wardrobe do’s and primping musts.

1. Stick to one to two outfits, and utilize various poses and backdrops to create variety.

2. Choose complementary colors, not an exact match. Monochromatic color schemes—various shades of the same color—or even the color wheel are great for color inspiration.

3. Wear clothing that makes you feel like you. Now’s not the time to try a new color or a tighter fit than you usually wear. If you feel uncomfortable in your clothing, you’ll look uncomfortable with your significant other.

4. Stay away from any wording or large logos. They are distracting in photos, and often get cut off in the photo due to posing.

5. Avoid the latest fashion trends, as they tend to date photos.

6. Make sure your roots are touched up and nails are cleanly polished—both show very easily in natural light.

7. Clean any jewelry that will be in the photo. Even if you don’t take any specific photos of the ring, people’s eyes are often drawn to it in pictures.

(Photos by: Daly Proof Photography)

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