I'm a storyteller who believes life is made up of the little moments and that the best photographs look for the in-between
It’s probably the phrase I hear more than any other – “we’re a little bit awkward.” Like maybe 9 out of 10 couples says it at some point. And here’s the thing – all of the couples on my website are real couples. So if 90 percent of them say they’re awkward and 100 percent of them get great photos, then you’re going to be just fine too. I promise.
Getting professional photos taken is a little weird. I get it. But feeling comfortable in front of the camera does get easier with practice. That’s why – especially if you’re nervous – engagement sessions are a great idea. They let you practice for your wedding day. Ideally you’ll do your engagement session with the photographer who is going to be shooting your wedding – that way, not only do you and your partner get to practice, but you can also see how your photographer works and what kind of direction they give you. Then, on your wedding day, it’s a been-there, done-that situation, rather than something completely new with someone you’ve never met.
If you want your engagement photos in a particular location, say Shenandoah National Park (a lot of my couples come from out of town for a session there) that’s cool too – you can’t go wrong with practicing how you interact with a camera in your face!
Here are four tips that will help you have amazing photos.
For every session I shoot, I have a spiel. It goes something like this: “Whatever you do, keep moving. It can be little movements – run a finger up his or her arm, sway side to side, do a dance, play with one another’s hair, whisper in each other’s ear, tickle each other.”
When you move, your body automatically relaxes a little bit. It’s hard to stay stiff and have your shoulders draw up to your ears like a turtle when you’re moving. So it’s an easy trick to help you relax in a natural way.
When you are moving and interacting, you are also creating authentic connection with one another that fits you as a couple – the way you would touch and interact comfortably if no one else were there. I do give a lot of direction to point people in the right way – but sometimes I just ask people to wander around a location and explore together. I want to see who YOU are as a couple – what does your relationship look like on a date night? How do you fold together at the end of a long day?
Movement helps with all of that.
Honestly, this is the number one thing that is going to help you. And I’m looking at you male partners in heterosexual relationships – y’all are the ones that struggle with this the most.
Truly, you have to get into it. If you go into your shoot with an attitude of “this is dumb. I’m doing this to get brownie points, or I feel ridiculous” – it’s going to be so much harder to work with you. Honestly, I spend half of some sessions working on figuring you out. Where do you feel comfortable – how can I help you get there? If cracking craft beers on the top of the mountain will help you get liquid courage, I’m 100 percent there for that. Whatever it takes to get you on board.
But, honestly, it really is up to you and your heart space. If you come to the session ready to enjoy yourself, you will. I promise I’ll make it fun. If you come to the session dreading it, I’m pretty good at drawing you out. But in the end, it’s still up to you to decide to show up – not just with your body, but in your relationship too. Have a good attitude! Crack jokes, be silly, or if that’s not who you are, wrap your loved one up in your arms and sink into one another, breathe each other in, write one another letters. Truly – the MOST important aspect of getting quality photos is not clothes or your body or the location, but you showing up boldly and allowing me to capture your relationship the way it is when no one is watching.
You do not have to go out and spend a lot on clothes for your engagement photos. (Say it louder for people in the back.) You can wear what you have in your closet. Be you.
However, this is a question people think about a lot – what do I wear? So here is a brief guide for you if you want to get something special for your photos, while making sure you look good together in what you have chosen. If you want a visual – here is a link to my Pinterest board, put together as inspiration for my couples.
A. Coordinate, don’t match. Unless you are being goofy or satirical.
A couple of years ago, I got my husband and me matching L.L.Bean flannels and you better bet I made him take some photos with me. I also got us matching Christmas PJs. But for engagement photos, try to stay away from matching – it honestly dates your photos a little bit and is a little kitschy. Instead try to coordinate. If one of you is wearing a pattern, the other one should wear a solid that pulls out one of the colors in the pattern. Or pick neutrals and stay within that family – two different shades of green for instance. If one of you goes bold with color, the other should go a little more muted. Or both of you could wear solids like these guys did.
Complement each other, rather than trying to drown out one another. Exceptions to this very loose rule are if you both have really loud personalities and it’s part of who you are. Then, by all means, go big and bold with colors and patterns and graphics and jewelry.
B. Keep it clean and pay attention to wrinkles
We own an iron…somewhere. But I live in athleisure and my husband is a nurse who works in scrubs, so it gets pulled out very, very rarely. Your engagement photos are one of those times it should get pulled out.
Wrinkles make clothes look sloppy – same for any kind of stain or rip, unless it’s intentionally part of the piece. I can* edit out all of those things but it is incredibly time consuming and it’s not an edit I include in your session fee. A little wrinkling is not something to be worried about at all – clothes do crease after all – but if your shirt looks like it was balled into a backpack and then pulled on – that’s going to show up in your photos and not for the better.
Same for dirt and stains. Absolutely – wear beloved boots or a favorite shirt. But clean the dirt off first =).
C. Be comfortable
Engagement photos are honestly not the time to try out a new style unless you find something that makes you feel like a million bucks. The way you feel will show up in photos. It’s why movement is so important, as talked about earlier. So if you are comfortable, your photos will reflect that.
Wear something that makes you feel beautiful or handsome. If you are self-conscious about a particular part of your body, draw attention to another part by adding an embellishment there. For example, I have rather large arms – those muscles help me hold my baby and serve me well, but next to my husband who is thin, they look extra chunky. So I typically opt for loose sleeves, rather than going sleeveless, when we get photos taken and up-play my hair, which is long and thick. Other tricks for an area you want to downplay include adding a chunky statement necklace or wearing a darker color or big pattern.
All that being said, and this is really important, photos can be hard if you are self-conscious because they will show you as you are. If you are used to taking selfies from a high angle, it may be a bit of a shock to see your body for the first time as it actually is. But this is you. And your partner loves you as you are and sees that body from those angles all the time. The only person who is going to be conscious of these things is… (drum roll) you. Seriously, no one else cares. You are getting married to someone who loves you the way you are. And if they don’t, run. You shouldn’t be marrying them.
If you want autumn foliage for engagement photos in Shenandoah National Park on a weekend at sunset – there’s basically a 100 percent chance your chosen site will be packed, wherever it may be.
For most people, trying to look relaxed for a photo session amid a crowd of strangers is not ideal.
So I recommend planning a session at a time and place there will be as few other people around as possible. Look, you’re going to enjoy the experience a lot more when other outdoor enthusiasts aren’t giving you the side eye while you are getting photographed.
Yet, here’s the reality… many of the locations I have on my blogs are popular spots. The reason for that is they are easy to get to. Take Raven’s Roost. You can’t tell, but the last time I shot there, there were two other couples getting their photos taken – so three photoshoots were happening simultaneously! Plus there were other people exploring the area, having a picnic, watching the sunset, etc. If that doesn’t bother you, then by all means, go for it – it’s an amazing location you can get to super easily. In fact, it’s probably one of the best spots for engagement photos in the area. That’s why it’s so popular. But if that sounds terrible to you, there are alternatives.
#A. Maybe because folks like to sleep in, sunrise is typically less crowded than sunset in all the popular locations.
#B. Weekdays are always less crowded than weekends – whatever time of day.
#C. Consider one of the hidden gems I know about (or maybe you know about) – they may not be as “epic” as Stony Man, Hawksbill or Bearfence, but you still get mountain views and a LOT less company.
#D. Go out of the park completely. A lot of people go to Shenandoah because that’s the national park in Virginia, but Virginia also has several national forests and many state forests that have amazing views, hikes and waterfalls. Some are well known, such as Spy Rock, McAfee’s Knob and Crabtree Falls, but lesser-known gems include Big Schloss and Tibbet Knob. Here is a roundup of state parks well worth exploring, and here is a list of hikes and overlooks off the Appalachian Trail.
Let 2020-21 be your year for trying something new, for being adventurous, and getting amazing photographs in the process!