When couples book me to take their pictures for an engagement session they always have a lot of questions to ask. Where should they go? What should they wear? What should they do? It was so important for me to write this blog post because the decisions of clothing, location and concept truly affect the results of a shoot. Good choices really add so much more to the pictures, and make it really inspiring and push the creativity level for me. As a photographer/artist I am inspired by so many things during an engagement shoot. By the connection that the couple has, their love and dynamic with each other, their energy, their expression, and the fun they are having in front of my camera.
Also, it’s good to have an engagement session not just to get beautiful pictures as a couple, but also developing a relationship and connection between the couple and the photographer. It’s very crucial for good results. On the day of the wedding, there is usually only an hour or less for the portraits. In the engagement session, the photographer and the couple can take the time to get to know each other before the wedding day. Also, the couple can get a feeling of how the photographer works. This way, on the wedding day, the couple will feel comfortable in front of the camera and the photographer won’t feel like a stranger to them.
I. CHOOSING THE RIGHT LOCATION
I always try to think of places that really show the personality and dynamic of the couple. It’s important to have a dialogue with the couple about the location, it shouldn’t be all up to the photographer. Try think of creative and beautiful places that are special: where they met, where he proposed, someplace they like to go together. It’s also important to consider the time of day and the position of the sun. You don’t want to take pictures during lighting conditions that are unfavorable for photography. Early or late day sun comes from an angle and looks much more flattering than overhead, shadowy, bright sunlight.
It’s also good to be aware that certain locations in the city, like museums or other private venues, require a permit or have restrictions about flash photography, tripods or extra lights.
The photographer and couple should talk about the concept a few weeks before. This is also a useful time for the photographer to become better acquainted with the couple. Do they want fun images? Romantic? Passionate? A combination of romantic and edgy? Urban feeling? What are their interests? Such considerations will determine the location & concept, but also help the photographer connect to the couple. Then they can better understand the dynamic of the couple, who they are and what their needs may be.
For example, one theme could be shooting a vintage session using old suitcases or using 1930s outfits next to a railroad. It can be a romantic picnic with a beautiful blanket and a basket with flowers and fruits. It could be an old car, or in a library.
III. CLOTHES, MAKE UP AND HAIR
It is best that couples should always have their hair and makeup professionally done.
A very important part in getting me inspired, and therefore getting good results is in the details, colors and style. It is so important to pick the right clothes and accessories. A cool hat, cool shoes, cool socks, a tie, a special suit or a jacket, vintage clothes or a beautiful hair piece can all make the difference. It’s important to wear clothing that fits well because it makes for better looking pictures.
It’s good to be daring and and wear things you might never wear on a daily basis. Many couples think that black or white clothes will be the best, but these often lack excitement and vibrance. White reflects too much light and risks overexposure. Correspondingly, black not only looks sombre, but absorbs too much light.
Ultimately, you should pick clothes that match the location. If it’s 5 Pointz or the Meatpacking district where the walls are very colorful then the wardrobe shouldn’t be too busy looking. If the location is very romantic and dreamy, then the clothes should give that feeling. For my shoot in the Las Vegas desert, I talked to the couple and we discussed what they would wear. We came up with a color scheme that matched the desert colors.
There is no one rule of what to wear, it really depends on the particular shoot.
For more information about make up, hair, and what to wear for an engagement shoot, check my article, What to Wear for an Engagement Shoot.
IV. HAVING FUN AND FEELING COMFORTABLE IN THE CAMERA
Before the session, I like to have a small talk about how the couple met, how he proposed, giving them compliments about what they decided to wear and how great they look for the engagement shoot, etc. I also tell them about myself (and about my crazy cats ) so I don’t seem like a stranger. This way we get to know each other, and the whole process of taking pictures is more personal. Then, the couple feels more comfortable and the connection with me is more friendly. Before the engagement session, I usually don’t know the couple so well except for the one time that we meet in my studio when they booked me. Or sometimes, I’m booked through phone or email, so sometimes I have never even met the couple in person before. That way I have no idea how they look or anything about their personality. So for me it doesn’t make sense just to grab the camera and start shooting. I really need to get to know a couple before I start pressing the shutter.
Getting a good picture is like a triangle: The couple – the camera – and me. These three elements need to come together to get good results. As a photographer, it’s not just about the technical aspects like composition and light, but creating good chemistry between me and the couple and the couple with each other.
When some couples stand in front of my camera they ask me, “Oh, Shira, what do you want us to do?”
The right thing is not to think about what you should do in front of the camera, but to think about how you feel towards each other. The best pictures are when things are natural and with real expressions. It’s not about the camera, but the dynamic of the couple and their real connection.
When I shoot, I try to feel out the couple and see how they reaction with each other and in front of the camera. Then, I decide how to interact with them. If I give directions, I keep them very short and try to get the couple to act naturally. I really believe that posing makes a person feel uncomfortable and sometimes not themselves, which can make expressions seem unnatural and unflattering. If a couple is goofy or easygoing, it’s important to pick up on that. I try to figure out and understand their connection. If it’s more subtle and private, and how comfortable they are with showing affection. Because some couples are private and sometimes even mention that they are not used to showing affection in public, and some are so comfortable to do anything.
I try to help my couples feel comfortable in front of the camera by trying to make them laugh, or asking them to do crazy things. In Vegas, I asked a couple to climb a crazy big rock. It was hard for them not to fall, and just climbing the rock together seemed to loosen them up. They took off their shoes, and by the time they got to the top they were laughing really hard. Sense of humor is not my strongest side, I need to take a course on how to make my clients laugh. I always use them to make each other laugh. They can whisper something funny into their partner’s ear or say something funny about them.
I once saw a beautiful red bush during an engagement shoot in Central Park, and I came up with the idea to have the couple stand in it. I love when couples just go with it and trust me even if it’s a crazy idea. They stood in the bush and laughed a lot because it’s not something they do every day. They didn’t care that everyone was looking at them because they were having fun.
It’s important for couples to remember that engagement sessions are all about having fun. One of my couples both loved Jamaican music and brought with them a mini-sound system which greatly enlivened the shoot. It was an absolutely brilliant idea and created such a fun-filled energy that every construction platform and scaffold became an instant dance floor. You can see the fun energy in the picture below.
What also makes the couple feel good is the encouragement that I give them. I always mention how great they are doing , how great they look during the shoot, and what a wonderful connection they have with each other. When I show excitement myself, it encourages the couple and makes the results much better.
I find that it’s also crucial to think about how the couple is positioned next to each other. I think when the couple faces each other instead of facing the camera, it’s a better way for them to get real, intimate, emotional expressions. So just the way they stand is super important and crucial for getting them to feel comfortable and act natural with each other in front of my camera. When they just stand in front of the camera, it can result in a flat image with no depth or emotion. But, when they stand facing each other, they are able to have a natural interaction. They can feel each other’s touch, make each other laugh, lean on each other, and be more genuine.