Engagement sessions are a big hit with couples and photographers. Almost all couples agree for a session before the wedding, so engagement photography has pretty much become a staple of wedding photography. An engagement shoot is done after a couple gets engaged and it usually is captured before the wedding. Some photographers sell this session as a separate product and most photographers include this session in their wedding packages. Regardless of how you like to approach it, understanding the basics of photographing couples and knowing how to coordinate a shoot that involves more than one person is crucial. Hence, I decided to write a piece to explain what goes into the planning process of an engagement session.
1) The Importance of an Engagement Session
If a client chose you as their wedding photographer, they put tremendous trust in your artistic vision and abilities to deliver work which they will enjoy for many years to come. If engagement sessions are something that you do not currently offer, I suggest you to look into offering them soon. Educating your client on the importance of an engagement session might prove crucial for your business and your relationship with clients. It is also a great opportunity for you to show your client what you can do without being in a time crunch.
Look at an engagement session as a practicing ground for the upcoming wedding. While meeting your clients for a consultation can give you loads of information about them, working with them directly before the wedding and learning their preferences might be very helpful for you while photographing the actual wedding. At the same time, engagement sessions give a great opportunity to your clients to understand how you work behind the camera, and give a chance to practice for their upcoming wedding as your subjects.
These are the main reasons why I offer engagement sessions in all of my wedding packages. Other reasons for including such sessions into your packages could be giving an opportunity for your couples to use the photos in their “Save the Date” invitations and also to print and showcase their favorite pictures during their wedding. From a marketing standpoint, both of these can be very useful for your business, as they provide great opportunities for free marketing and advertising.
2) Approaching Your Clients
Be very open with your clients about your preference regarding an engagement session and explain how you typically do it. Be very patient with the couple and let them speak their minds before suggesting anything from yourself. As the opportunity presents itself for you to explain what you usually do, lead them the right way while showing examples of your previous work. Ask questions and make the session about them. Find out if they like certain places or if they have strong location preferences where they wish to be photographed. Are they an outdoorsy couple or do they enjoy the city life better?
Always stay confident in yourself as a photographer and a coordinator. Remember that you are the one leading this photo session and you are the one who subtly will need to educate your clients every step of the way. It is your job to organize the engagement session and keep your clients in the loop about every change that you may encounter.
3) Timeline and Location
Once you know the preferences of your clients, setting a rough timeline will help you determine what to do next. Some of my clients want colorful autumn foliage as a background and we wait for that perfect season to capture what they want. Advise your clients to choose the season wisely and know what to expect as the weather changes. As the season gets closer, check the weather forecast to determine the exact date of the shoot. Make sure that chances of precipitation are not very high and that you have an exact location to go to.
Start your location search by asking your clients of their favorite spots or favorite parks. If they do not have any preferences location-wise, take the liberty of suggesting good locations for them and have some example photos to show the advantage of the places you want to take them. If you do not have many places to showcase, broaden your horizon by doing some research on your own. Check out local parks, open spaces, downtown, museums, cool book stores, coffee shops and more. You can also look at photos of other photographers in your area. If a certain location strikes your fancy, contact the photographer with a compliment to their work and ask about the location where they conducted the photo shoot. If you ask nicely, you will most likely get a response.
If you decide to photograph in a state or a national park, always be very careful with rules and regulations – most state and federal parks do not allow commercial photography without a permit. Always do your homework beforehand, so that you do not get yourself kicked out by a park ranger in the middle of a shoot – apply for permits months in advance. Personally, I avoid the hassle of applying for permits and typically stay away from state or government-owned lands and facilities.
Know that you do not need a lot of space to make great photos. A very small public park can work great to make amazing photos.
Timing of the shoot is very important. I often give my couples two options. The first option is to photograph very early in the morning, and the second is later in the afternoon. Both times, the light is soft and often diffused, so there is no harsh direct light to deal with. This way, I do not have to worry about finding a shade, which can be problematic in open nature parks. Educate your clients on the importance of choosing the right timing. You are the photographer and you should know best what light works for you.
I also recommend my clients to take the whole day off. I want this day to be as relaxing as possible without interference from work or school. Weekends are the best for this purpose. But if your clients are flexible with taking a day off any day, you should keep your options open.
Once the location and time is set, follow up with your clients and make sure to send them the exact address of the location. Google the location using the address you have and make sure it actually takes both of you to the correct place. Always provide your mobile number to make it easy for them to find you when they arrive at the location.
Arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than agreed – you do not want to make your client wait for you. In addition, if the park is closed for some reason or there is a big event taking place that you were not made aware of, it will give you a chance to notify your client and move the engagement session to a different location, if necessary.
This is the biggest question I get from almost all of my couples. While clothing is very subjective, your clients will seek assurance from you that their style is worth being photographed in. Regardless of what you say, your clients will probably end up wearing something they feel most comfortable in. However, from your experience, you can guide your clients into choosing to wear things that will look good in the camera.
I want my clients to be comfortable in what they are wearing. I ask my clients to wear something that will match their personality. At the same time, I tell them that I love working with neutral colors (or even pastels). I am also not quite fond of different textures. My preferences are my preferences and if they do not consider them, I do not get upset over it. I keep on reminding my clients of the fact that if they look good, they will feel good. If they feel good, they will photograph outstandingly.
Usually, I recommend a change of clothing in the middle of the shoot, reserving the wardrobe for something classic (a cute dress and heeled shoes for ladies) and for something more casual. If needed, I will send them a color chart to pick out clothing that compliments the background we chose to photograph against. I also send my clients a lot of example photos of what I mean, so that they can visualize my thoughts.
5) Hair and Makeup
My approach to this particular point may not reflect your opinion as a photographer, but I am a strong believer in a good spa day to make me feel all better. This is true for most of the ladies out there. No offence to boys who are reading this, but my first priority is to make my female clients happy and feel fabulous. After-all, happy wife, happy life, right? Hence, I arrange for a hair and makeup time for my brides right before the engagement session. This is the biggest reason I want them to disconnect from everything they do that day and take a day off. I want them to relax and get their hair and makeup done professionally. This is all done at no charge to my clients. I pay for the services of the hair and makeup artist and I am more than happy to do so. This little trip to the professional salon will assure that your female client will look amazingly confident in front of the camera.
I also suggest my bride to get their manicure and pedicure done according to the colors that they are going to be wearing for the session. Remember that they are scoring a brand new engagement ring and chances are you are going to be photographing it. So, giving a fair warning to your clients about it will save you a lot of work in post-processing and will also save you some great detail shots.
Arrange the time for the makeup artist correctly. Talk to the hair and makeup artist and find out how long it will take for her/him to finish the job. Make sure to include everything in the timeline that you will share with the client. For example, if you are planning on meeting your client at the location at 5 PM, you will need to take into consideration how long it is going to take them to drive from the makeup artist’s place to the location. From there, subtract the duration of time the makeup artist needs and tell your clients to be there accordingly. Give about 15-20 minutes of slack time, so that you do not end up rushing everything. This is especially true for late afternoon/evening photo shoots.
6) Styling the Engagement Session
I also suggest the option of styling the session to my clients. While they can style the shoot according to their own taste, I also recommend getting it done professionally. It is relatively inexpensive and saves a lot of time for the couple. I show portfolios of planners, who stylize events and engagement sessions and put my clients in touch with them.
Most of my clients opt out of the above and go with adding their own personal touches to the engagement session. This is also a perfectly distracting maneuver. Often times, clients feel awkward in front of the camera and don’t know what to do. Accessorizing the shoot and adding some props will shift their attention from you to the objects around them. If the props hold sentimental value to your clients, it will be better for you.
If your clients are bringing their pets to the engagement session, make sure that they have a designated person to come and watch the pets while you are working just with the couple.
This is basically all I take into consideration while planning an engagement session. The next article will be dedicated to taking the actual photos and interacting with your clients during the session. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask or share below. Thank you!