tips for a best-ever engagement session

With the arrival of spring, the season for engagement sessions is gearing up, and I couldn't be happier. I absolutely love photographing engagement sessions. They are really awesome because they:

  • are a great opportunity to get to know new clients, or reconnect with those whom I've photographed before
  • give people a chance to warm up and feel not only comfortable but confident in front of my camera
  • provide me with a chance to discover new places and hidden gems, as my clients nearly always choose their own locations
  • are full of wonderful moments of creativity and experimentation without all the stimuli and structure of a wedding day
  • showcase each couple's personality and personal style
  • are a portrait of the love between two people, commemorating the fleeting moment between dating and marriage

In my excitement, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a great engagement session, and have narrowed it down to the following components:

communication, preparation, location, timing, styling, hair + makeup, and fun.

COMMUNICATION

Clear and open communication is what makes magic happen. I love when clients give me lots of information about themselves, their relationship, their tastes, and favourite things. I love to know what they're hoping for in terms of engagement shots, and how they plan to use the photos. I would say the most important thing to know is what they are like together.

A couple's dynamic strongly affects my approach when posing and photographing them. If a couple is really laid-back and kind of silly, they will undoubtedly feel awkward if I coax them into more romantic posing. Conversely, if a couple is really physical and expressive, they will want to be close to each other and might feel uncomfortable if I suggested more artistic, pulled apart posing.

I learned this lesson a few years ago when one of my clients, Ria, was really awesome and honest during the beginning of the shoot and said, "Dallas, if you don't mind, can we not do the mushy stuff? That's just not us--we're goofy together."

Ria did me a huge favour by telling me how she and her then fiancΓ© are together. I catered my approach to their dynamic, and have been doing so ever since.

PREPARATION

A good plan is a beautiful thing. Before every engagement session, I send my clients a detailed email outlining how the shoot will go and share tips and tricks for a great session. One such tip is the importance of eating beforehand. It's also a smart idea to bring along a small snack or two, to avoid anyone feeling 

hangry

 or have their energy fade.

LOCATION

Location sets the tone of an engagement session. As I previously mentioned, I strongly encourage my clients to choose their own location(s). I believe it's important that the space has some meaning to the couple. It could be a favourite weekend hangout, or the place where you first met, or even some place you've been meaning to visit together. Here are some great location examples:

Jennifer and Jay chose Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, an urban location suited to their modern aesthetic.

Karly and Jon chose Burlington's Royal Botanical Gardens, lush and colourful.

Jackie and Emil chose Montreal's Jean Talon Market, as Emil is a chef and they love shopping for fresh ingredients there.

Staci and Dan chose The Heart and Crown pub in Ottawa, where they first laid eyes on each other.

Heather and Spencer drove out into a bright yellow canola field. Heather is a photographer and painter, so she used her eye for colour to find the perfect backdrop for Spencer's grandpa's classic truck.

Saleema and Derek took me to Montreal's Dominion Square Tavern, where they had one of their first dates.

Lastly, this photo of Fehn and Kyle isn't an engagement photo (they're only first-year university students!) but I included it to point out that you can also choose a location based on colour. This was shot in an alley near my house. I'm always on the lookout for colourful spots, and snap photos on my phone for later inspiration. I encourage clients to do the same. Oh, and

there's an app for that

.

TIMING

It's best to give a bit of thought to the time of day when planning any portrait session, as lighting has a strong effect on not only the mood but colour tones of the photos. Clients who want something dreamier might choose early morning or sunset. For those who like a crisper, brighter look, a daytime shoot would be a good choice. And for a more romantic feeling, a nighttime shoot might do the trick.

STYLING

I get really excited about styling, because I love clothes and have a lot of fun working with clients to choose outfits that show off their personal style. I maintain an inspirational Style Guide on Pinterest that's full of ideas for different types of outfits. Here's a quick screenshot of the board that shows some examples:

When discussion styling choices with clients, I advise against certain colours and patterns, as they can warp on camera and be distracting. I also advise against trying to match, as it can look a bit contrived. It's better to choose outfits of the same dress code, in colours that harmonize with each other. I also encourage clients to bring a few outfit options with them, and I can help them narrow it down to one or two looks. Often, one more casual look and one dressier look each creates a great balance for the photos.

HAIR + MAKEUP

And now we've arrived at my favourite component: beauty. Investing time in your hair and makeup has perhaps the biggest effect on how polished you look in your photos. I always tell my clients to prepare like they're getting ready for a hot date: exfoliate, moisturize, shave, and all that jazz. I suggest that they do their hair the way they like it best, or even consider having it professionally styled. You can't go wrong with a bouncy blowout!

I am proud to offer complimentary makeup application with all my engagement sessions. This is included in the cost of the session, and it allows me to create a gorgeous look tailored to both the client's taste and my style of photography. Makeup is done at the beginning of the session, on-site, and takes about 20-40 minutes, depending on the intensity of the look. Of course, sometimes clients have another makeup artist in mind, or would like to pick up some products while getting their makeup done. I'm equally happy to accommodate this! If a client is planning to go to a makeup counter, I always recommend MAC, Bobbi Brown, Make Up For Ever, Chanel, or NARS. I often go get my makeup done at one of my favourite counters as a treat before a special event, and put a lot of trust in the talented artists who work there.

FUN

The final component of a perfect and memorable engagement session is to have fun. I always remind clients to focus on each other, to revel in each other's company, and enjoy the experience together. It's always my goal to create a relaxed memorable experience to go along with the final photos.

So there you have it, the keys to a best-ever engagement session!