Taking engagement photos soon? You've come to the right place––Ester of Ester Knowlen Photography is sharing her professional advice on how to get incredible engagement pictures. Let's get started––
If you are totally at a loss when it comes to ‘planning your engagement session’, this blog post is for you!
We will cover everything from outfits to not looking like a dork, and believe me, your photographer gets a ton of questions of this exact sort (they kind of answer questions for a living), so feel free to run this advice by them, and I know they will say it rings true!
So cheers, here is to helping take the unknown out of your session, giving you some ideas, and getting some fun photos with you and your beau!
PS. Do make sure your love read this post too! They are likely more nervous than you are and need all the help they can get!
PREGAME :: LOCATION + LOGISTICS + PREP
FINDING YOUR LOCATION
Unique Access / Meaningful - Let’s dive right in, shall we? When it comes to finding a great photo location, pick something either near and dear to your heart OR something super unique that you have access to that no one else does - and these two usually intertwine. Do you have someone with a sail boat or a row boat that's just dying to let you use it? A vintage car or truck in the family? Rooftop access? A friend with a cool RV or an Airstream? A family property that you can go frolic on? A light and airy house or an apartment that you guys just moved into that contains all the coffee and furry blankets (i.e.: where the heart is)? You get the idea! - what do you have access to that's unique that no one else has access to? This is how you get unique photos that look like no one else’s, and have loads of fun with your session. Believe me, your photographer will thank you too if they get to hang out at a sushi place your friend owns and capture your most favorite times together!
Traveling anywhere fun?
Here's another idea that's a bit more on the fringes - if you happen to be going on a vacation coming up OR have had a favorite place that's somewhere else than where you live, talk your photographer!! He or she might be trying to beef up their travel portfolio and just maybe might absolutely be game for combining their vacay with a fun session for you. There might be some travel costs involved, so check with them on what it would all entail. Personally, I don’t know a photog that would turn down hanging out at let’s say your family cabin in snowed in Colorado for a day (or a beach in Florida), and capture your photos while at it! Chances are your photographer loves to travel, and goes on vacations, so see if you can combine dates in such a way things work out just right and get you out somewhere else fun for more unique photos.
Around the corner?
Nothing comes to mind in the above unique access category? Not really up for leaving the comforts of home? Don't fret, let's figure out what you're into next and what's just around a few corners.
Here's a bit of education on the vibe, because the vibe of a place will set the vibe for the session:
Urban / Industrial?
This kind of a setting will yield some more editorial type of shots. Simple backgrounds, neutral colors. If you do actually go into the city, there will be some "city" distractions and charm that will make it into photos (graffiti, parked cars, some street signs, possibly just maybe people). We’re assuming the photographer you went with is a pro, so they will do what they can to avoid as much distractions as they can, but it is the city we’re talking about. If this is your vibe, you know you like it just the way it is, street signs don’t bother you one bit. You’re set!
Meeting up at a park or somewhere in nature tends to be more intimate, early, since you are surrounded by plants, grasses, trees, etc. The weather and Season change a place, so factor that in when thinking up your outfits (do plan accordingly and be ready to adjust if the weather plays a trick on you!). And, speaking of private/intimate, which we mentioned above - If you and your babe are really not much for an audience, but love the outdoors, pick a park where we can venture off the beaten path a bit. Example: Your busy mid downtown park. though pretty, can be surrounded with cars, strangers, homeless people, garbage cans, and so on (lots of hustle and bustle), so you might be better off going some place with a bit less action. Now, if you're on the flip side of this coin and kinda love the business of the city (like the Urban peeps above but with a nature twist), that might be just the location for you! Knowing what you will feel most at home with will help us pick just the right place for your sesh.
Looking for example? Here's one - For Ally and Gabe (the two gorgeous people featured here) Lebanon Hills in Minnesota was a park with special meaning - a place of many sweet moments, picnics, hikes, and good times, so they really felt at home there. That's kind of the goal - pick something either super pretty or something you're comfortable with. Your photographer is made of suggestions if you need one, just let them know your general area and they’ll give you a list of pretty places you might love.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Don't get super attached to a single wall or background, or a tree (this one goes to weddings as well). The light changes dramatically based on the time of day and season you visit it, so if you happen to go exploring a park, just get a general idea, don’t expect to take a photo right in front of that one place you imagined (and no doubt snapped a photo of on your iPhone).
As we already mentioned, our photographer is a pro - trust them to pick the right photo spots based on the light at the time you're shooting, and what creative arrow strikes them in the moment.
The spot in Ally and Gabe's engagement session was picked literally on a whim! I first told them to meet me in a specific parking lot, but when I spotted this gorgeous grassy hill on my drive in, I just had to start there! So, we met up in a different spot, and frankly it was the way I haven't seen or experienced the Lebanon Hills Regional Park before, despite having shot there many times.
When creativity strikes, just follow the creative mastermind wielding the (likely very expensive and badass) camera and lens. You won't regret it. I promise!
OUTFIT TIPS (i.e.: What to Wear, What not to Wear)
I think here all photographers agree, again. Above all wear something that you can move in, feel good in, and don't have to constantly adjust - that's just asking for stiff, uncomfortable poses. Wear something you can sit or roll in the grass in, run, be picked up in, perhaps even carried in, and definitely have fun in.
Whatever feels right in the moment, make sure your attire won't hinder any flirtation or interactions. If you're not the roll in the grass kinda couple, no worries, I’m sure your photog will help you find your own groove. You bring the mood, trust them to amplify it.
Oh yeah, and here are a couple articles of clothing I personally don't care for-
1. Wrap sweaters with tank tops underneath.
2. Hight heels
Many amazing photos have been tossed because the wrap sweater has moved away from the body while running or doing something fun, and exposing too much. Unless you are a size 0-2 and super comfortable in that tank top alone, wearing a wrap sweater or unbuttoned shirt with a tank is just asking for fat rolls (and believe me, I'm in this category too! And I'm a size 4-6. No wrap sweaters for me!).
As for heels - take your location and the style of your photographer into account. If your photog is a lover of shenanigans, moving and grooving focused, high heels might be too cumbersome so you can't go climb places and you're more stiff. You'll have more fun if your footwear allows you to play.
STYLE + ACCESSORIES
Here’s another place where you factor in the vision for your session (are we going outdoorsy / camping style or more glam urban trekking?) to help guide your choices. Whatever makes you you, and gives you two something to be playful with always works best.
Very simple outfits - ex. jeans + a solid black crewneck sweater sometimes can be fun, but there really isn't anything to play with, tug on, tease with, and Play = Interaction = Reactions = Unexpected Bursts of Laughter = Alluring Smiles = Flirting = Good Times = Amazing Photos.
Every photographer has a favorite palette, and we all know what works best with our editing style. For me for example blues, reds and yellows change shade and tone during editing, so I’m in particular not a big fan of sunshine yellow. I prefer neutrals and layers to set the tone.
If you’re really unsure and just cannot tell based on looking at your photographer’s website (we all showcase what we love most), you can ask for advice, and they’ll be super happy you asked.
Overall, color-palette aside, just make sure it's something you love, that fits you well, won’t hinger play, and you'll look awesome! If you want to wear a fire orange-red maxi dress, go for it! However, save your color pop for the focus, and build harmony around the outfit so not everything screams “Look at me!!!!!" You can take a screen shot (or an cell phone snap) of your favorite pieces and paste them into Evernote (for example), to see how they all work together when side-by side. Super helpful!
On a what-not-to-wear note, stay away from anything that messes with your skin tone.
Example: If you have some acne or redness in your skin, skip red/pink outfit combos, go for neutrals like shades of grey and beige mixed in instead (blues, browns and deep greens also work well and are part of the red-neutralizing palette).
HOW MANY OUTFITS?
Your photographer probably has a rule there, but I think we all generally agree on the “one, but” statement. The 'but' stands for accessories, and things you can throw on or change into quickly and on the go (so in effect it could function as another outfit). If you layer, it's much easier to pop on another shirt (or a cute jacket) in a jiffy. A head to toe ensemble change basically keeps the group from adventurously exploring, and ties you to your vehicle. Given that most people arrive to their session kinda nervous, and it takes a bit to get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look off your faces, your photographer will likely want to focus more on interacting and loosening you two up rather than showcasing various attires.
Also, keep in mind that if you went with someone of the “ lifestyle” variety, which is the best photography type there is - your photog probably wants to 'capture the in-between moments', which might be the way you scramble over some rocks, with him gentlemanly giving you a hand, or carrying you down, in which case they will probably be carrying all your stuff + carrying all their camera stuff. So, be nice and try to minimize the amount of 'stuff’ you're lugging along, but definitely see if you can mix in some variety inducing quick-change things to throw on.
Accessories in a large way serve as props, because they are something to adjust, move, and tease with. They also help create movement, which photographs amazing! (Read: less stiff or frozen). Blankets are generally great, because of their versatility - you can wrap in them, sit on them, dance / wrestle with them, take turns snuggling in them, etc. Just pick a throw that doesn't cover you in lint the moment you come within 2 feet of it. Please and (your photographer will) thank you.
If you’re still in need for some action-inducing pro type ideas - here are a few. Sitting and rolling in the grass simply rocks. Hot chocolate in cute mugs, or bubbly, can also create some super sweetly candid photos, just remember - as mentioned above - your photog will likely try to carry all your stuff so they can capture you candidly walking between locations and poses, so either pack your game pieces and accessories into something you don't mind showing off in pictures (a cute vintage picnic basket you can help carry?), and/or pack lightly into something like a backpack that that they can lug along for you.
Getting your makeup professionally done is not a deal breaker, but it’s never a bad idea. Either that, or put a bit more effort into getting prettied up. For one, it will make you feel like a million bucks, for two it will make you look like a million bucks, so there really isn't a downside.
If you're out of a product, places like MAC or Sephora will do a quick version of a makeover for you for free. Do be nice and buy something, though, those girls love makeovers but they get scored on their sales, so they'll be more helpful and spend more time with you if they know you have a purchase in mind (and, yes to false eyelashes!!! Always! MAC brand are the best!) If you're going DaVinci on your own face, look up some YouTube tips for a smokey glamorous eye, and accentuate a bit more than you normally would for your daily makeup. It photographs better.
DOWN TO BRASS TAX :: INTERACTION + WHAT TO EXPECT
Below is basically the most important stuff in this entire article, so tune in, absorb it all - this is the secret sauce to great photos!
"PLAY = Interaction = Reactions = Unexpected Bursts of Laughter = = Alluring Smiles = Flirting = Good Times = AMAZING PHOTOS"
COME READY TO...Play, Dance, Flirt, Kiss, Hug, Snuggle
...and show all kinds of affection towards each other. You will likely start with easy stuff that will get the excitement going and melt the jitters away (for all, since I can guarantee you, your photographer comes a bit nervous too).
If you need music to loosen you, bring a little portable speaker and blast your favorite playlist (or ask your photog if they, like me, already are planning on it). Music, I find, sets the tone and creates a hangout-type atmosphere, much like hosting a fine meal with great background tracks - it makes the conversation flow, it makes things feel less awkward. In short, I refuse to go anywhere without a soundtrack.
MOVE MOVE MOVE.. and did I say MOVE?
The more movement you can create while you two interact, the better! Rock back and forth, run your hand down his shirt buttons, run your hand up and down her arm, touch both your faces (or take turns), pull him in for a kiss, playfully throw her hair in her face, pick her up, bump into him, tug on each other, swing arms as you walk, pretend to drunken walk, in other words - move move move.
And to put it in layman's terms - basically what would you be doing if you were on a date in the woods having fun together??? Don't overthink it! It's as simple as that! You wouldn't stand crazy frozen next to each other, fumbling for what to do what our hands if you were just hanging out, so why bring on that treatment during your photos? The more you move the more natural the photos will come out! So, put those hands on each other, make out a little, tease a little, flirt and PLAY!
DON’T DREAD THE SILENCE FROM BEHIND THE CAMERA!!!
If your photographer goes quiet for a minute, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong!!!!! Sometimes he/she might be absolutely loving what you're doing and be focusing hard on capturing it just right and in many different ways, which takes loads of setting changes since they likely shoot in the Manual mode.
Temporary silence might also mean your photog is thinking up an idea for the next thing they want you to do. Other times they might be seeing something unfold and don’t want to interrupt. We sometimes want to see what you do naturally. This is how some of my absolute favorite shots have been born - by observing and catching in action or re-enacting something rad you did you didn't even know was rad! So, don't overthink the quiet, if it happens, just assume you're on the right track and carry-on, keep having fun with it.
TRY TO FORGET THE CAMERA
If she's flirting with you and you're spending all your energy on tracking your photographer and the camera, something is missing. It's the connection. It the person behind the lens an imposter on a moment that could have happened.
You can't connect with each other and be completely focused on where the camera’s at. You actually have to pay attention to each other.
The most beautiful photographs happen when you two get lost in the moment - be it a sweet and cute and cuddly quiet one, or a fun and exuberant one.
Believe me, your photographer is dying to just see yoo interact, so forget they are even there, and focus on each other, which will help them capture you in your element. Remember that old adage - "Dance like no one is watching". Now that's magic! I promise you, when you see those photos, they will make your heart skip a beat too!
HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE A DORK...
...is a question that comes up a lot. Deep breaths buttercup!!! Your photos might have a few tricks to get you to look a bit better than in Grandma Marge's iPad snap. When you show up, try to bring the real you, bring the mood, be ready to move, groove, and play (oh wait, you've heard that one before?? Cool!) If you really want a practical tip - here's the best one I’ve heard - don't freeze or hold your breath, don't hold your reactions, and - you have two hands, and a few other limbs - go ahead, use them! Don't worry!!
Your photographer will make suggestions, or adjust a thing or two if they want to see some variation, so there's nothing to memorize. Set out to create some imperfect (and yet maybe just perfect) moments together. THAT is not just what feels most natural, but it also is what photographs best.
RESIST THE URGE TO BICKER
Yep, I said it. In YOUR hands you hold the key to awesome times and great photos. Remember, photography is about capturing your interaction, so keep it positive.
Girls - here's a little tip (file under marriage advice as well)
Whether it's the way he smiles, or the way he spontaneously hugs you, squishing your boobs accidentally. In those moments when things aren't as picture perfect as you imagined, don't sweat it!!!! This isn't film era, there are plenty of memory cards! Adjust, laugh it off, move on, try to enjoy his attempts at being charming, even if not quite Titanic-the-movie perfect. He'll be much more eager to play if he doesn't feel like you're scoring his every move. Being in front of the camera can be somewhat nerve-wrecking, so have tons of grace for each other.
Guys - As to not pick on your significant other exclusively, there are some tips for you as well.
Guys can sometimes get stuck on "What do you want me to do?" and What do I do with my hands?" ---- RELAX.
As long as you're up for anything, and use those hands, and lips, and manly arms of yours, you'll do fine. You know her, you know what quirky things get a laugh out of her. You know what makes you two tick, and you definitely know the art of 'making advances', if you didn’t, ehm you wouldn’t be getting to marry that girl of your dreams and therefore at your engagement session… If you’re still overwhelmed, let's simplify - you know how you love to hold her hand when you walk, you know how you like to hug her (each couple kinda has their unique way to do all these seemingly simple and unanimous things). Try not to question yourself or dwell on any gesture that doesn't come across just right. Laugh it off, move on, goof off, have fun, be charming.
You've got this!
Guess what, it's OK to fumble sometimes. Fumbling can be cute and endearing, as long as you are amused by it and laugh it off.
As I mentioned above and enough times via the less-than-subliminal messaging - move, play, breathe, be in the moment, let go, take things in, be your quirky self, and use your beautiful body to express your unique connection. There's no right way or wrong way, and some of the instructions you will be given might be a bit vague on purpose, because your photographer might want to see your interpretation of it.
Oops, I just divulged an industry secret. Well, now you know - sometimes the man (or woman) behind the camera might be trying to trick you just a bit, and see what you do with "it," so not every photo they take looks identical for every couple.
I think that just about covers it. I hope this is helpful, and puts you at ease, if just a bit. Hope you've enjoyed the read, and thanks for your time!
Ready to find a photographer and rock your engagement session? See our list of the best + most trusted Minnesota photographers + their exclusive Forever Bride deals here!
photography // Ester Knowlen Photography