If you’ve never had your photograph taken professionally, the idea can be a little intimidating. You are investing a lot into the photographs, but like anything new, oftentimes people feel nervous about looking and feeling awkward, or about disliking the results.
Which is why I think engagement sessions should be an experience — not a photoshoot.
Ok, let me explain a little bit more.
For me, a photoshoot is when you show up, smile at the camera and the photographer tells you to put your hand here or smile or “act natural.”
While an experience means you don’t have to be told to smile because you’re already smiling. You don’t have to be told to hold your body a certain way because you are already connecting in a way that is authentic to you. You don’t have to “act natural” because you are interacting naturally.
For your engagement photos you book an airbnb in the mountains and cuddle up while drinking cooco and petting your dog.
Or get up before dawn and hike to the top of a mountain to see the sunrise over the horizon.
Or wander around downtown, eating ice cream and window shopping.
And then a friend comes along and has a camera and documents you two just being you. That is ultimately my goal as your photographer.
So how does that work in real time?
Deb and Travis booked a fall engagement session in Shenandoah National Park. They picked one of my favorite spots for their shoot — Stony Man — and opted to go at sunrise, which is what I recommend for this location. They also picked a weekday, which meant we got the summit all to ourselves despite it being prime fall leaf season.
They booked a room at nearby Skyland Resort and a made a weekend out of their session. We met about an hour before dawn at the trailhead — I had headlamps available for them since it was still dark and we began the half mile hike to the summit. As we walked, we got to know each other a little bit. I asked them how they met and how long they had been dating and what they liked to do together and then we talked a bit about how the shoot would go and what they could expect.
As we walked, light began to spill on the trail from the openings through the trees. By the time we reached the top, we had about 20 minutes before the sun came up. But we could already see this amazing fog that blanketed the valley below.
I pulled out my gear while they donned their preferred clothing, and I told them where to go.
I’ve shot at Stony Man many times so I know where I like to shoot and where it is easiest to move around, but Mother Nature makes the experience different every time. On this occasion, I had never seen fog like this in the valley. It was magical.
I asked them to walk over to a section that I knew the sun would come up behind. I have a spiel that I give couples before I start shooting. It goes something like this:“Don’t stop moving. The movements can be small like running a hand up and down her arm or swaying side to side or bumping hips, but don’t stop. Because when you stop, you start to get stiff. Your shoulders draw up, your face freezes and you start to feel awkward. But movement literally melts that away. I’m going to give you guys some instructions along and along, but if I’m not saying anything it means that what you are doing is awesome and I’ll just keep moving around you getting different angles. Ready? Let’s go.”
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