Being engaged is one of the most special times in a relationship. Things are cozy and familiar, yet just beginning. Promises are being made, parties are being planned and you’re hyped about documenting this sweet, memorable period in your lives. When it comes to engagement shoots, the planning process can start off exciting and fresh but quickly devolve into a stressful and self-confidence-draining endeavor. Luckily, we’ve got some expert tips from Elizabeth Davis, a professional photographer who’s been there, done that and taken more engagement photos over the years than she can even begin to count. Here are her tips to an amazing shoot:
1. Wear Whatever You Want
“I always tell clients to dress comfortably, dress for the weather and most importantly, dress like yourself,” Davis says. “If you wouldn’t go out like that normally, don’t wear it to your engagement session.
So, what’s the best way to decide what’s a yes and what’s a no? “Think about these photos in ten years,” she says. “What do you want to remember? The beige suspenders and highwater hipster skinnies you made him wear to match your boots? Nope. You want to remember what you were like together before the babies, before the tough financial times, before the little bit of gray at your temples.”
Davis also stresses to avoid social media. “Don’t look at Pinterest. Just be yourselves as you are right now. If that’s tees and jeans, great. If it’s tuxes and cocktail dresses, great. Just wear what you love and what looks like you, so that when you’ve grown old together and look back over those photos, you actually recognize the people in them.”
2. Give Yourself a Reality Check
Here’s a breath of fresh air: professional photographers who care about making you happy would rather skip over your Pinterest board filled with other people’s perfectly-curated personas. Davis, for one, is loud and proud about that. “Look, I have nothing against Pinterest,” she says. “It’s awesome. I use it for creative inspiration all the time. But one thing Pinterest can’t do is tell you who you are, and you shouldn’t let it try. Getting ideas for centerpieces is one thing. Letting it dictate what you project to the world about yourselves is a whole other story.”
“Lately, lots of people’s stories are starting to look the same, and that really bums me out,” she says. “Because who wants to tell — or listen to — the same story over and over again? What does standing in a sunlit hay field facing the camera with deadpanned expressions on your faces say about the unique bond between yourself and the person you’re standing next to? We’re talking about a bond so strong and valuable that you’ve actually decided to vow to never leave this person. Ever. That’s a big deal. So as you’re talking with your photographer or planning where and what your engagement session will be like, log off Pinterest, take a quiet moment and think about what’s special about the two of you, and what places mean the most. If it’s your own backyard or the spot where you first met, that’s perfect. Let’s go there.”
3. Keep it Simple and Mix it Up
For all the planning and prepping people like to do to get ready for those perfect photographs, it turns out the best ones tend to come from a place where there’s no pretext. “Sometimes you may be able to pay a little extra and squeeze an outfit change in there too,” Davis says, “So I have a lot of couples who show up to their sessions decked out in professionally-done hair, makeup, the whole she-bang. We shoot a little, super romantic and backlit and pretty. Those shots often come out looking beautiful. But then, they go change clothes and come back in something that looks like what they wear on Sunday mornings when they don’t plan on leaving the house. And I plop them down in the grass and suddenly, there they are — there are those gorgeous personalities I was looking for. A little variety can be a great choice and well worth the extra effort that it takes to get you feeling like yourself.”
4. Utilize the Season
When it’s almost time to take your photos, take a moment to consider the season and make use of what’s available. “Think about what time of year it is, and what you usually do around that time,” Davis says. “If it’s autumn and you’ve never been to a pumpkin patch or a corn maze in your life, but you love going to the county fair every year, that’s awesome. So many visual possibilities! A good photographer will pick up on all of those and find the right shots for you. Or if it’s the holiday season and you love going to your neighborhood coffee shop on lazy Sunday mornings for peppermint lattes, then throw on some sweaters and let’s go. Those twinkly lights and cozy atmosphere are perfect, especially if you’re comfortable there and it’s part of your story together. ”
5. Go Big or Go Home
At a point in time when lots of people consider themselves great amateur photographers but don’t know how to help subjects get comfortable and capture images that stand the test of time, Davis says it’s best to either hire a genuine pro or consider going it alone. Otherwise, she explains, you might lose considerable time, energy and money on something that doesn’t feel right to either of you. “Either save up and hire someone with great reviews, tons of experience and top-of-the-line gear— someone who will truly get the best from both of you— or get a selfie stick on Amazon. Wait for a nice sunny afternoon a couple of hours before sunset and go make some magic,” she says. “I know it sounds kind of extreme, but in my opinion, both ends of this spectrum can work beautifully.”
6. There’s Nothing Wrong with a DIY Shoot
So, about that selfie stick: If you don’t have the budget or the inclination to hire a professional but you’d still like to take some engagement photos, Davis says, the solution’s pretty simple.
“On a shoot like this, the kind of camera barely matters. You can use a GoPro, an iPhone or an old point-and-shoot from way back when,” Davis says. “Make it just the two of you. Lie down in the grass and make faces at the camera. Walk through a busy street hand in hand. Sit down at your favorite bar and order drinks. Go to an arcade or go dancing. Look at the camera sometimes, and other times, look at each other. Don’t wait for the perfect moment — just keep clicking the shutter release button, especially when you devolve into fits of laughter because of how silly you feel. Try not to look at the LCD too often. Not only will the time you spend creating the photos be a fun and intimate date, but it will result in a handful of photos that are strikingly unique and that you’ll treasure for years.”
What’s your favorite engagement shoot tip? Spill in the comments section below!
(Photos via Elizabeth Davis Photography)