Everything you need to know about planning an engagement session
Some of you may have seen my Instagram takeover on @southeastalaskabride several months back, some maybe haven’t. I shared a few tips and tricks about preparing for your engagement session, but Instagram stories are limited in space, haha! I decided to take those tips and elaborate a bit more in a blog post. Proposals and engagements happen year round and we are currently headed into the busiest ‘engagement season’, so it seemed fitting!
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!!).
My goal during your session is to have you interact and just love on each other so that I can capture your personalities and those sweet unposed moments. Without further ado, let’s jump right in!
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.
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
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. I go over light and different types a little more in depth over on another blog post: How to Use Light in Your Photographs.
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.
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
Coordinate, but don’t match. 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 winter time, 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 and then if you have a cute pair of heels or anything else you can just change into them. If you have cute winter shoes that will 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. These are mostly dresses for casual/semi-formal looks. Check my highlights on instagram (instagram.com/donnamariephotography) under “wardrobe”.
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 neon pink nails it’s not going to quite get the effect you want. This may even be a good time to have your wedding trial run!
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.
A little more is a good thing
For makeup, usually a little bit more than usual is good because it pops a bit more in camera. Darker mascara will make your eyes pop and a little bit of contouring under your cheekbone will accentuate your natural angles. 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.
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!
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 (MY FAVORITE! <3 <3) 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. I want this to feel like a date, and then if you can I want you to go on another date after and just keep the happiness and romance going!
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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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
For a chance to win a thirty-minute engagement session comment below with your proposal story! Winner will be chosen on January 2nd!
CLOSED-Morgan Yaskus is the winner!
Hello hello! I’m Donna, a photographer in the gorgeous state of Alaska. I’m short, half Colombian, funny (at least I like to think so) and always up for anything! I’m married to an awesome guy named Hunter who I sometimes rope into assisting for sessions and weddings (if you’re lucky you might get a chance to meet him, he’s cool!). I love spending time with my husband, be that going for a hike or sitting our butts on the couch to watch New Girl and eat pot stickers (100% a good date night idea!). Chocolate chip cookies are my guilty pleasure, I have a girl crush on Shakira and know pretty much every song, I also have way too many half written notebooks. I’m an advocate for having fun and being yourself, always, no matter how strange you may think you are. I’ll own up to being a little random and crazy sometimes haha!