Hey, I'm an elopement photographer based in Alaska! I love genuine moments between people and love that I get to document them for a living <3

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Everything you need to know about planning an engagement session

Oh maaan there is a ring on it and it’s time to start planning! First on the agenda that isn’t listed in the actual list: choose the right photographer! Making sure you jive with them and feel comfortable is SUPER important. Definitely do your research and find someone whose work you love and who you get along with. If you’re all set with a photographer than continue on! If you’re still on the lookout and you like my style, let’s chat!

A long while ago I did an Instagram takeover on @southeastalaskabride. I shared a few tips and tricks about preparing for your engagement session. Obviously Instagram stories are limited in space and didn’t allow much room for elaboration. I decided to take those tips and expand a bit more in a blog post. Proposals and engagements happen year-round and I know that often they are daunting to plan as a lot of couples don’t get in front of the camera very often, so that’s where this blog comes it!

Update: I now have an instagram series started on this as well, woohoo! Each episode is a different section of this blog post and will dive a bit more in depth. The first episode even covers steps before the first one in this blog!

Engagement sessions are used by couples to either announce their engagement and/or use to send out wedding invitations. It is also a time to document those pre-wedding moments with your loved one that are oh-so-sweet. Let me just say we have come a LONG way from the “traditional” engagement sessions over the years…Thank goodness!!

Gone are the days of stuffy indoor shoots with cheesy backdrops and poses! (If you want a good laugh, look up the engagement session scene from Masterminds, I crack up every single time I watch it!!).

During your session, you will want to be comfortable and at ease with each other, your photographer and with what you’re wearing and how you look. Here are a few ways to prepare for your engagement session so it’s the best ever!

1. Choosing the best locations for your engagement session

Choosing the location is a crucial part of the process of planning your engagement sessions as it lays out the foundation for choosing other details such as seasons, times, outfits and others! Often choosing a location with meaning adds an extra layer of special to your session because it personalizes it a bit more. Think along the lines of where you met, a coffee shop you love, a park you frequent, a hike you enjoy, at home on the couch snuggling, or where the proposal went down.

If there isn’t one that you can think of or not one that you think would work for a session, then think about different types of scenery or settings you both like. Do you want a vast mountainscape, a cozy forest, a cool river bed, lakeside or ocean, rocks or hillsides, urban/industrial, fields of grass and flowers? Cozy indoors and snuggles and baking are also an option! If you prefer one over the other or a couple of those options then let me know and I will share all of the areas I think best suit your vision! (Currently in the process of putting together a location brochure with all the well-known spots, and also some hidden gems). Let me just say that being a photographer in Alaska has 100% spoiled me with all these amazing views!

If you are entirely open to location and have no preference then I will do my best to choose a location that will suit your personalities and interests after talking with you both.

Couple laughing and smiling in greenhouse
Couple laughing and smiling in greenhouse
Couple laughing and smiling in greenhouse
Couple laughing standing side by side holding hands in greenhouse

Madison and Elliott chose to do their session at a local greenhouse. They frequent the greenhouse often on dates and that’s actually where I met them, so it had sentimental value for them.

2. The best times for engagement sessions

Golden hour

Choosing a time for your session is an important factor in how your final images will look. The most popular time to shoot is usually around sunset, during ‘golden hour’ which is an hour before. Golden hour is also an hour after sunrise, but often that is super stinking early in Alaska, soooo yeah, haha. These times of day are when the sun is lowest in the sky and casting beautiful glowy orange light across everything. This light is perfect for very warm and romantic photos.

Remember the mountains

Time ties into your location depending on what scenery or setting you decided to go with. In Alaska we have a lot of close by mountains that affect how the sun hits different locations and dictates the time of ‘actual’ sunrise and sunset. If you’re up in Hatcher Pass around the Lodge’s or Independence Mine the sun will ‘set’ much sooner because it will go behind the mountains earlier than it actually sets. If your house is pressed up against the base of a mountain you may not see the sunrise until mid noon or not at all. Definitely make sure to take into account when the sun will be in the right place for the location you’re choosing. I can take care of all of this for you as well!

If you’re shooting in shaded areas such as in the city around buildings, inside a home or in the shadow of the mountains and want optimum light then earlier in the day is usually best so that you get the best light filling the shadows or streaming in the windows (this varies of course). If your house has a great sunrise or sunset view then shooting around those times is also amazing for that sweet golden hour light.

Shooting in full mid-day sun is tricky, but if unavoidable, it is often most flattering when you’re facing it straight on, as to try and avoid raccoon eyes and side nose shadows.

Couple about to kiss with sunflare between them
Couple sitting on fur rug snuggling with sunset light
Camera prism flare at sunset around couple
Couple staring out over sunset on snowy mountain together

Ashleigh & Ashley chose to do their engagement session at the Glen Alps look out at sunset. Boy, oh boy, was that a magical shoot! The light was gorgeous and set the perfect mood for the last half of their session!

3. Outfits for your engagement sessions

Being comfortable during your engagement session is key! You don’t want to be worried about your skirt being too short, pants too tight, or having weird bra lines in your dress or shirt. Likewise, with men it is important to take into consideration what they feel the most comfortable in (granted, it may not be that well worn, greasy pair of Carhartts they know and love ;)).

All about the movement

Wearing something that you can easily walk and move around in is important as a lot of my prompts and poses involve movement and interaction. Generally, for engagement sessions, I recommend at least two outfits, one casual and one formal/semi-formal, or two of one or the other if that suits your style more. This allows for plenty of variety during your session with a couple of different looks. Layering up is super helpful if the weather is conducive because you can also have sweaters and scarves that you can add or remove to create a different look within the same outfit.

Colors, colors, colors

Coordination is key and usually a much more complimenting look than completely matching. Granted, I’m a sucker for matching pajamas or underwear or cute cheesy shirts if that’s something you dig as well haha! Usually picking a couple of colors that work together is a good start, then you can both choose pieces that incorporate them but also choose different patterns and styles that coordinate. Don’t be afraid of bold patterns if that is your style! Also, don’t feel like you have to dress a specific way for your session, being comfortable is key!

Feet are important too

Footwear is an important aspect to consider for your engagement session, sometimes it may not be something that crosses your mind though! During the wintertime, I definitely recommend bringing snow boots and maybe clamp ons depending on the location. This is so that you can walk to a specific spot and be warm and safe, then if you have a cute pair of heels or anything else you can just change into them for the photos. If you have cute winter shoes that will also work for photos then that is a win/win. In the summer sometimes locations get a little muddy, so likewise I recommend bringing mud boots, hiking shoes or tennis shoes depending on what location conditions are like. Better to bring and not need than need and not bring!

*Ladies, I have a client wardrobe available that I am slowly expanding on, currently available in S and M sizes and some L as well. These are mostly dresses for casual/semi-formal looks. Check my highlights on instagram (instagram.com/donnamariephotography) under “wardrobe”.

Couple holding hands to showcase engagement ring
Couple sitting next to each other snuggling and holding hands
Couple snuggling with blanket in the woods
Couple piggy backing in woods

Ana & Cam chose to go with a gray theme because when they got married they chose to merge their last names and have it become Grayson. I thought that was pretty clever!

4. Hair, Makeup, & Nails!

Ladies, whether you’re doing it yourself or having someone pamper you, it’s important to keep in mind what kind of feel/theme you want for your images. If you’re going for a super loose and flowy boho look but have a tight updo and hot pink nails it’s not going to quite get the effect you want. Try to think ahead to what you might like to wear and if you want to coordinate you can use that as a starting point for nails, hair, and makeup. Pro tip: This may even be a good time to have your wedding trial run!

It’s all in the movement

I am partial to loose hairstyles, there is something so fun about hair flying when you’re picked up and spun around, hair dangling down as you’re dipped kissed and of course having your man romantically push your hair aside for a kiss is always nice! Up-do’s are also gorgeous and honestly, it just comes down to your preferences and your hair type.

Highlight your features

For makeup, don’t try anything you aren’t comfortable with! A little bit more mascara than usual will help your eyes pop if you like to keep it natural though! With lipstick do take into consideration that this is your engagement session and that means loooooots of kissing ;). So if you opt for lipstick or lipgloss try to find something that doesn’t easily transfer so that your partner doesn’t also look like he is wearing lipstick as well, haha!

For nails, I at least recommend clean and filed, maybe a clear coat or french tip. If you have a specific look or colors you like then go for it!!

Also, don’t try something totally new that you aren’t comfortable with because it may bother you through the shoot instead of leaving you relaxed.

Couple dip kissing in the snow
Couple fallen in the snow laughing
Couple picking up and spinnnig around
Couple snuggling close smiling in snow

Grace & Ryne were such sweethearts to work with! When I showed up and saw Grace and her long Rapunzel hair I got so excited! I knew that as it caught snowflakes and as we ran and jumped and spun that it would look absolutely magical!

5. Pets/Props/Extras

Often I will bring along some blankets or sheepskin rugs for sitting poses to switch things up a bit, I also have string LED lights, some chairs, and other items as well. I always encourage couples to bring any items of their own that they would like to incorporate. If you have a blanket you love snuggling in or a piece of furniture that is easy to include, or any pets (Read here on how to include them in your session!) then definitely bring them! I want this session to be all about you and your favorite things, so don’t be afraid to incorporate anything uniquely you! You could incorporate skiing, sledding, video gaming, drinking hot cocoa or coffee in a winter picnic, or a summer picnic with sparkling cider or champagne and wine, we can hike up a mountain and set up a camping scene, set up a fairytale forest scene, the sky is the limit!!

Nicky & Logan love their pup Benelli and the great outdoors so obviously all of those had to be incorporated!! They did a couple zips on the snow machine, played with their dog, snuggled in the snow and just had a blast!

6. Relax, have fun, be yourselves!

Last, but most certainly not least. Don’t be afraid to be yourselves!! Be silly, be serious, be sarcastic or super romantic, whatever your vibe is don’t be afraid to show it!! I want you to be comfortable and have fun and not have a care in the world during your engagement session. You will laugh and have fun and feel like you’re on a date, with a third wheel of course ;).

Guy is picking up girl and walking across lake shore with mountains in the background, engagement session detail
Couple spinning and laughing on lakeshore, happy couple during engagement session
Couple in a canoe at Eklutna Lake with a mountain backdrop, canoe engagement session
Couple in a canoe at Eklutna Lake with a mountain backdrop for their engagement session

Krista & Ben had THE MOST fun during their couple’s session! They were all laughs and smiles and loving on each other the whole time! They weren’t afraid to get a little dirty or dip their toes in the water and that was so so fun!

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How to plan the best engagement session

All this talk of engagement sessions getting you wanting one of your own?! I’m DOWN! Reach out to me on my contact form, click here <3

How to plan the best engagement session


How to Plan the Best Engagement Session

  1. morganyaskus says:

    My fiancé proposed here in Anchorage while we were at Zoo Lights. I’ve lived in Alaska my entire life and never managed to actually make it, although I have always wanted to. I was finally getting over a cold and hesistant to go in the first place, but needless to say, it was a perfect first time visiting the Zoo Lights!

  2. Megan McPhee says:

    My fiancé and I would love to have some engagement photos to include in our reception slideshow for our wedding in June! We wanted to book you for the receptions but you are going to be in Dominican Republic for our wedding. We would love to have your talent still be a part of our special day! Happy new year!

  3. heartsahoy says:

    My fiance Joshua proposed to me last spring in our home. He brought me my favorite tacos, got down on one knee and gave me the beautiful ring that he picked out for me. It was so sweet and so perfect. We would love for you to capture some beautiful images of us and our love to cherish forever!

  4. Megan SIDDERS says:

    My SO and I have been looking at rings and are planning on getting engaged this spring. We love your photos and would love your unique touch on an engagement session!

  5. samalie.mejia says:

    The day I met my boyfriend I knew he was the one for me because not only did I meet him in my comfort zone (cozy at home) but his last name is Coffey (and I love coffee!). A few months later he got me an “engagement stethoscope” as a placeholder for a ring. Now, 1.5 years later, I know he is planning some type of proposal trip because I love to travel and maybe we could meet up with you somewhere!!! The location will be a surprise to me until we board the plane but I’d love to work with you if possible!!!

  6. Kaylee Mahler says:

    My boyfriend and I met just over the two years ago in a EMT class. We secretly figure out each other’s names lol. We did a winter mini session with you not too long ago and we absolutely loved the pictures! I know he has a little something planned soon but I’m not supposed to know….. shhhh… I would love to win another’s session with you!

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