How to shoot an engagement

Zak and Melissa--theyre engaged.
Zak and Melissa--they're engaged.

Melissa and Zak are getting married! And I was lucky enough to take some photos. I’m relatively new to the formal photography experience: I’ve been doing product-photography for more than a year, but I’ve only shot one wedding, and a handful of events. For years, I’ve relied on my Canon A95 Power Shot, which took excellent photos, but as a result, I never learned how to operate a manual camera. And, it didn’t help that I’ve really only sat for one photographic session in my life–senior photos–and that was years ago!

So, even though I’m not as seasoned as other great photographers, I wanted to offer some of my tricks and tips to make the most out of an engagement photographic session, especially for the newbie.

  1. Once you know your subjects a bit, its easier to get their chemistry to shine through.
    Once you know your subjects a bit, it's easier to get their chemistry to shine through.

    Get to know your subjects. Do you already personally know the people you’ll be photographing? If you don’t, spend a few minutes talking to them about their interests. How did they meet? If you know a little about your subjects, it’ll be easier to portray their personality through photographs, and to portray them in a light that they’ll appreciate.

  2. What supplies do you have? You don’t have to have an expensive camera to take amazing photos. I’m currently using a first-generation Canon Digital Rebel that I purchased used for $400. Yes, that’s a good chunk of change, but for a new one today, you’ll be shelling out between $700 and $1,000. I like my camera because it has all the settings of a manual camera, along with a preview screen, and interchangeable lenses. However, a point-and-shoot camera often takes great photos, too, although your options for customization will be far more limited than using an SLR.
    When going on a shoot, you’ll want to consider taking a tripod, especially if you will not be able to bring a lighting source. You’ll want to be able to take awesome photos, even in low-light conditions, and a tripod will help you to stabilize an image, reducing blur that often occurs with a longer exposure.
    It’ll also be smart to bring with you a few extra charged batteries, and even extra memory cards…just in case (always be prepared!!).
  3. Old train cars seemed so romantic, dont you think?
    Old train cars seemed so romantic, don't you think?

    Scout out locations. Even if you’re doing a shoot in a neighborhood you’re familiar with (which was the case with Zak and Melissa), it can be difficult to think of a place to shoot. Look at areas through the eyes of a photographer–once you start thinking like one, you really start to see like one, too. Interesting walls and textures provide good canvasses for photos. Talk with the couple. Are there any places that are special to them? For this shoot, Zak mentioned some dilapidated train cars, which happened to be perfect for an autumn shoot.
    And when framed correctly, any seemingly blase location can be turned into something extremely fabulous. The train car in the photo to the left has a rugged almost romantic feeling to it, but the inside was actually completely burnt out.

  4. Think about the weather. Did you know that overcast days are actually the best ones to take photographs? It’s true! It minimizes shadows around the face, and gives you an overall clearer photo. But we don’t always have cloudy or overcast days, so if you’re doing an outdoors shoot, you’ll have to work with it.
    Living in Oregon, we thought it was going to rain the day of the shoot. It was actually still pretty muddy, and Melissa ended up forgoing her Franco Sarto boots for a pair of well-loved Wellies and rolled-up jeans. If you’re not quite as lucky as we were (somehow it was a pretty dry day!), and you get caught in the rain, have no fear! Play it up, if you’re not afraid to get a little wet. Do some adorable poses with umbrellas, or maybe even go a little out there and get some puddle-jumping shots. If it’s dry and sunny, it’ll be easier to do more sitting shots, but never underestimate the coolness of bad weather!
  5. Although posing people can at times be awkward, its sometimes fun to elicit emotion to get a great shot.
    Although posing people can at times be awkward, it's sometimes fun to elicit emotion to get a great shot.

    Do some research, and be okay with posing people. Before this particular shoot, I did my research. You see, engagement photos haven’t been around as long as wedding photos. They’re not quite as formal, but they’re still couples shots. It always helps to get fresh ideas from groups such as Flickr’s Engagement Shots. If you’re unsure how to pose your couple, pay attention to the poses. If you want special treatment, look at the camera settings that others use.
    One of my greatest fears for a shoot like this was actually posing people. I find it awkward to pose, as I generally prefer to capture people’s expressions and beauty with candid shots. I felt a little more comfortable after doing my research, but still…do you say “Now be kissy now” or, “Now put your hand on her waist”? But after a few shots, it’ll be easier to loosen up, and you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for…how you want to frame a photo…and the emotion you want to portray.
    And if you enjoy the candid-ness of a photo, feel free to talk with your couple during the shoot. Make jokes…inspire reaction. Whatever!

  6. Determine how much editing you’re comfortable with. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you’ll bring a photo from great to stellar with a little bit of editing afterward. Some photographers are purists, and will not even crop a shot, but I’m of the ilk that believes a little tweaking can go a long way. For this shoot, I was disappointed that Melissa and Zak’s skin was a little washed out in some of the photos. The application of a light warming filter added a lot of life. Was your depth-of-focus not the way you wanted it? A little extra blur can be applied for major impact.

So, those are my tips. I hope you find them helpful. Send me any questions or comments, and I’ll do my best to answer.

In the mean time, good luck with all your photographic sessions!!!


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Exuberant photographer, artist, writer, designer, wannabe chef, and Crossfitter.

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