Engagement Session Planning Guide
The engagement session is one of my favorite parts of our time together because it gives you both a chance to be in front of my camera before you get married, which is going to make your wedding day experience feel so smooth, seamless and comfortable. Not only that, but we get to create something so special together! You’re going to be married for over fifty years, but you only get to be engaged for this short period of time. I’m so excited to capture the only time in your life when you get to be each other’s fiances. I’ve created this guide for you, and packed it with all my best secrets for getting the best out of your engagement experience, so let’s dive right in!
Choosing Time & Date
I’m a natural light specialist because I believe that natural light, from the sun and its reflections, create photographs that feel fresh, timeless and true to you as a couple. I begin all engagement sessions one hour before the scheduled sunset during “the golden hour,” when the light is the dreamiest. Use a sunset calculator online to determine the scheduled sunset for the date and location you’d like to do your session. Then, just subtract 1 hour to figure out your start time. Remember, the sun sets much earlier during the colder months of the year and much later during the warmer months, so make sure to factor that in when choosing your engagement session date, especially if you’re taking off work or have evening plans afterward. To get the most out of your session, please plan a buffer when getting ready so you can arrive about 15 minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. I’m only able to shoot when natural light is still in the sky, so we’ll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down. Before we start your session, we’ll take 10-15 minutes to loosen up, chat and have some fun so you’re nice and relaxed in front of the camera!
Selecting the Right Location
The location of your engagement session is up to you! If you need help deciding on a location, I’d be more than happy to recommend a few. There are plenty of great options around the state, and I’m always up for exploring a new spot together!
Think Outside the Box
Choosing a location for your engagement session is the time to think outside the box! I encourage you to brainstorm unique locations that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you, or someone in your personal or professional network, can secure permission to a location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a beautiful private estate, country club or resort. Maybe it’s a family ranch, upscale hotel, your college campus or even an airplane hangar. The sky is literally the limit! Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with. Plus, if something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! If you get stuck or need inspiration, check out the engagement section of my blog and keep browsing through this guide. I have some great go-to locations that we can always hit, too! Easy. Peasy.
Your engagement session includes my travel time anywhere in a 30 mile radius (or 60 miles round trip) of the 06851 zip code. If you’d like to have your photos taken at a location outside the of this area, I’m up for the adventure! The travel fee for destinations outside my regular area of coverage is $0.75 per mile. I love traveling and am actually on the road quite a bit, so I’d love to make it work! If you would like me to meet you at a location outside of Connecticut for your engagement session where I don’t already have plans to visit, just let me know and I can give you a custom quote.
Styling Your Session
Do you want your engagement images to look more editorial? Bring a little extra something with you! A freshly-picked bouquet for you to hold, or fresh flowers to put on something else, like a bicycle basket, tree swing, picnic basket, car bumper or rowboat, is a fun way bring a little extra romance to everyday objects. Whether it’s larger items like classic cars, or smaller ones like blankets or hats, even incorporating just one extra styled item, could be a fun way to make your session more unique. If you’re looking to bring on a pro to style your session, I’ve worked with some of the best in the business and would be happy to give your their information!
Style Tips: For Her
Because you’ve been waiting your whole life for this.
Dress It Up
Have you thought about rocking a sequined gown, tulle skirt or flower crown, but just never had an occasion for it? This is your chance to do it up! Remember: There is no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your engagement session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to add a new permanent piece to your collection, a lot of brides love Rent the Runway for their engagement photos because you don’t have to spend a lot to feel like a million bucks. Plus, you can send the outfits back when the session is over. Other brides love having a great excuse to bring a new permanent piece (or two!) into their closet!
I recommend that you wear something that flatters the parts of you that you love the most and also allows you to be extremely confident! If you are uncomfortable when you look in the mirror (having to suck in or only liking the way you look from one angle), then that probably isn’t the best outfit choice for you. I want you to be really confident in your outfit, because we know that you will love your portraits so much more if you’re not worrying about how your clothes fit!
Quick Tip: There’s no such thing as too dressed up.
Say Yes to the Dress
Long, flowy dresses and skirts look amazing on camera because they bring extra movement to the photos. Especially when juxtaposed with nature, like the forest, plains or beach. Cute shorter-length dresses photograph beautifully as well. Dresses and skirts tend to look most stunning on camera because they really flatter the female body — which is probably why the red carpet is always full of so many dresses and not very many pantsuits! I recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session, and saying yes to a dress or two!
One or Two? It’s Up to You!
Most of my brides who choose two outfits will bring one “wow” dress, and then another shorter sun dress or cocktail dress for a more casual “us on a date” feel. But if you want to bring two “wow” dresses and forgo the more casual dress altogether, give yourself permission to do it! The camera loves runway-esque apparel and so do I! Remember, though, you don’t have to bring two looks if it’s too stressful or you’d rather just stick to one fabulous look. Something to consider is the time it would take from your session to change outfits, depending on their complexities. One outfit that you love will be so much better than one outfit you love and another you’re not very excited about. So, one or two? It’s really up to you!
When choosing colors for your outfits, I recommend selecting lighter tones and more muted shades. By avoiding ultra-bright, bold colors, it will help bring all the attention to your faces and let the eye focus on the way you feel about each other. The camera loves shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light neutrals like heather gray, creams, leather brown and white. That softer color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments.
Coordinating the Looks
The goal is COORDINATING outfits instead of MATCHING! I also recommend avoiding both of you wearing WHITE as a top. White doesn’t allow for any contrast in your images. As you’re coordinating your outfit with your fiancé’s, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palettes coordinate, but don’t necessarily “match.” You should each aim to wear a different dominant color, but stay within a similar color palette family. If you’re wearing a blush dress, silver earrings and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a gray suit, paired with black shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square (if he’s not keen on wearing a suit, gray pants with a white dress shirt and tie work wonderfully too). Now he has his own dominant color (gray) while still incorporating a few touches of your color palette. Most of my brides choose their dress first, and then put together their fiance’s outfit based on that. That’s why I have a section for each of you!
Flattering Your Features
In my experience, every woman, regardless of her shape, has an area of her body that she’s self-conscious about, so recognizing what that is in advance is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that compliment your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos. Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. You could also bring a cute jacket, blazer or cardigan along, too. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera, so I recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is a set of slimmer-looking arms. Heels elongate women’s legs, making them look fabulous. Closed-toed shoes, heels in particular, look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your feet show. These little tricks make all the difference!
Quick Tip: Bring a pair of flats to wear when moving from place to place. Your feet will thank you later!
Make a Statement
Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images. Big statement necklaces bring a lot of pop to the photos, while the smaller, delicate ones are not as noticeable on camera. Belts, bracelets and earrings bring great visual interest, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention. Fresh florals in a crown or bouquet can be a really romantic touch as well!
Go Pro: Hair & Makeup
Splurge a little! If you were considering getting your hair and makeup done, this is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself! Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most of my brides’ checklists because it looks amazing and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. Whether it’s lash extensions or blown-out hair, professional hair and makeup will give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. You will cherish these images forever and so investing in professional hair and makeup can be an extra fun way to celebrate the occasion and allow you to be extra confident during your shoot! If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light, if possible, so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light I’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of my brides feel like their makeup is “too much” at first, since it’s more than you would wear on a normal day, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it just right for the camera — and my brides always love the final result. If you need a recommendation for hair and makeup, just let me know and I’ll send you the contact information for some of my favorite hair and makeup artists. They’re sweet as pie, talented as heck, unbelievable professionals and wonderful people. You’ll LOVE them, and I know they’ll take good care of you!
Quick Tip: Confidence. It’s always the best accessory.
Get That Sparkle
Don't forget to clean your ring! I will be photographing your gorgeous diamond, which means that this would be a perfect opportunity to have your ring cleaned so that it’s clear of dirt and other build up that may be visible through a macro lens!
A Little Extra Polish
Don’t forget, your ring will be center stage, so give yourself permission to get it cleaned and your nails done, too!
Skip the Spray Tan
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even a few days prior, because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully!
Style Tips: For Him
Because dapper and debonair never go out of style.
As Long as He’s Got That Suit & Tie
From James Bond to Don Draper, men look most striking in a well-tailored suit. If he doesn’t have one, now’s the perfect time to invest in something he’ll wear for the rest of his life! The best part? It’s a lot less expensive than you might think! While custom suits can cost thousands of dollars, some of the most well-known brands have off-the-rack suits in their stores for a fraction of the price. Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong compliment to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye. I do recommend that he avoid patterns that are smaller than a dime. These small patterns can create strange visual effects in a digital camera. Close-toed shoes photograph well, and I recommend avoiding graphic tees and tennis shoes!
Quick Tip: There’s no substitute for a well-tailored suit.
Mix It Up
Many of my grooms love to mix a suit coat, blazer or sport coat with a different pant color. It adds some extra visual interest, and can be more fun than wearing two full suits in a row. I’m a big fan of this fresh take on a timeless classic.
Next time you walk by a store like J. Crew, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, trust me when I say that it’s worth an hour of discomfort for photos that will last you both a lifetime. Adding another layer will bring extra dimension and visual interest to your photos. Blazers, vests and coats up the level of any look. If the temperature permits, he could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!
It’s All in the Details
Long pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from his legs and feet and place it where you want it: on the face you fell in love with. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts, sandals and jeans at home, too. Suit pants, dress pants or colored pants work best. Brown leather dress shoes compliment almost every look, whether he’s wearing a full suit or a blazer and colored pants. Ties, bowties, pocket squares, colored socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests and watches are sharp compliments to any suit. If you bring two suits to the session, you can start with a traditional necktie and belt, then switch to suspenders and a bow tie for your second look. If two suits are too stressful, no problem! One look will do the trick! You can still mix and match accessories to compliment both of her dresses without doing a full change during the session. So, either way, you win!
How to Prep Your Man
Most men aren’t overly excited to take photos, because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to their bride. Before your session, take fifteen minutes to educate and empower your guy. Tell him why you chose me and my style of photography. Show him your three favorite sessions that I’ve done, explain why you love them and express to him how much it means to you. Trust me, he’ll light up the camera for you! The most common thing I hear from guys before engagement sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t think they’ll be good at it. By the time I’m done though, they can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!
Take a Deep Breath
You’re going to be amazing models! I always tell my couples that the BEST models are the ones who have never modeled professionally before. And I mean it! The couples who are usually most nervous are the couples who totally rock their session, so be encouraged! I've worked with EVERY personality type and EVERY body type, and I always create images that our clients love!! Get excited!
After Your Session
Don’t forget to plan a dinner date. You’re already going to be all dressed up, so why not take advantage of it? I know the wedding planning process can feel all-consuming, so take some time after the session just for the two of you to relax and have some fun together.
Photo Delivery Timeline
Sneak peek with one of my favorite photos on Facebook & Instagram
Blog post with some highlights of our time together
Online gallery with all of your final, retouched, high-resolution & web sized images
One Final Note
I know I just gave you a lot to think about. I created this guide to help make your engagement session experience something you’ll look back fondly on for years and years to come. At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you select won’t matter nearly as much as the memories you make together. Your future marriage is the most important thing to me, and I want your engagement session to be a time for you to just be yourselves and enjoy it. Have fun together. Laugh a lot. I’ll take care of the rest!
Engagement Session Checklist
1. Set date, time and location with Shaina
2. Review guide for style tips
3. Schedule hair and makeup appointments
4. Answer Engagement Session Questionnaire (in email sent with this guide)
4. Choose your outfits
5. Get your nails done
6. Clean your ring
7. Pack a bag with:
- Flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
- Outfit two, including shoes and accessories (if applicable)
- Touch-up makeup
- Water bottle (for warmer sessions)
- Coat or cover-up (for colder sessions)
- Pick a fun post-session date night spot
I look forward to working with you soon!