March 29, 2012

Pancake Session: Approaching the Engagement Shoot

Happy Thursday & welcome back for another batch of pancakes! Hot off the griddle!

As we speak. I’m working on our most recent engagement shoot that we just did with Hillary & Chris all around the Yale campus, as the cherry blossoms are just starting to bloom up here. And I’m pretty much in love with them. Hillary & Chris… AND their shoot! I can’t wait to show you guys!

It got me thinking a lot about how our approach to engagement shoots has been evolving into what it is now. As well as some things that we’ve learned and started doing, that are getting us into the kind of shoots that we really want to do. And that pretty much sounded like the perfect makings for a new batch of pancakes to me!

So here it is! We hope you enjoy!

Pancake Session: Approaching the Engagement Shoot.

1. What (not) to wear.
A couple of weeks before the engagement shoot, we’ll get in touch with our couples to get them started on thinking about everything. This would be the time when we would ask the four questions we use to help build their design board. But it’s also a great time to start sharing some of our best tips & practices to make the shoot a success. Among those, our top 3 are: 1) having their hair & makeup professionally done so that they feel their most beautiful/confident*, 2) educating that we’ll be shooting during “Golden Hour” and what time we’ll need them to show up to make sure that happens and 3) giving them an idea of the kinds of outfits and colors that work best. As you can see in the board below, we recommend to all of our couples that they go with clothes in the palette of navy, light blue, pink, gray and/or cream with accents of brown leather, and stay away from anything in the super bright orange/red spectrum because it doesn’t register as well on the camera. We also ask that they choose clothes that are solid and stay away from anything with a lot of patterns. Because we believe these kinds of outfits lend themselves to more classic, soft images. Finally, we’ll recommend that they bring things like scarves, headbands, hair pieces, jewelry and fun shoes to bring out their own style. Also, if they happen to have a horse they should definitely bring it along! :)

2. Personal Stylist
Part of the timing for when I’ll tell our couples to show up is based on this second step. We always like to allow enough time for them to meet us at our place first. This way we can hang out for a bit, share a glass of wine if they want (which tends to help with the shoot!:) and it allows us to look through what they brought and help style it for the best look. So I’ll always tell our couples to bring a couple different outfit options each, and we’ll help them put it together. Just having that little bit of extra input has really gotten us a lot closer to the kinds of shoots we’ve been wanting to do, and I think it’s been a huge help to our couples who’ve never really done this before. So just helping them to figure out what works best together.


3. Location, Location, Location.
Since a lot of our couples are coming to us now for the shoots (and even when we’re going to them!), we’ve been taking a much more active role in helping to pick out the location. We definitely always want a location that reflects who each individual couple is, so for a while we were just having them pick the spot. But what we were finding is that a lot of the locations we were finding ourselves in had sentimental value to the couple, but didn’t necessarily make the best backdrop or have the best light. So now what we do is try to figure out what that location stands for (we love to travel, we love food, we love the water), and help pick one that will reflect that about them, while also making for a great backdrop. With the way that we shoot (wide open, a lot of close crops), the background really becomes more about a vibe or an overall feel than a specific location anyway. So this way we’re getting the best of both worlds.

4. I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands
As you can also see in the board above, we always try to suggest one or two things for our couples to bring with them, just so they have something to do with their hands. In the beginning of the shoot when the nerves are running a little higher, just having something to hold on to like a bunch of lavender or a coffee or a book/leather journal can take a lot of the pressure off knowing exactly what to do. And for whatever reason Will Ferrel totally got it right…we always want to make sure they know what to do with their hands!

5. From Clients to Friends.
Finally, at the end of every shoot we always try to take the time to go grab a drink or maybe some appetizers or have them back to our place to hang out a little longer. That’s when the pressure of the shoot is off, the nerves are gone and we can really start to connect as friends. And that’s always been my favorite part about doing these shoots.

The Why: For us, we really struggled for a long time about what the engagement shoots should stand for/why we were doing them in the first place. Everything at the wedding is actually happening, events are unfolding, emotions are running high. It’s a beautiful thing. And therefore, a photojournalistic photographer’s dream. The engagement shoot on the other hand is literally all about the shoot itself. We’re not just documenting something else that’s already going on. And that was really hard for us to reconcile. So we did what we do, and we asked ourselves the Why. Here’s what we came up with. 1) The engagement shoot is about documenting this time in life where the couple is just engaged and what these days feel like. We want future children and grandchildren to be able to look back at these pictures as a window into what life looked like for these two people when they were just starting out on this life together. 2) We get to hang out with our couples and go from clients to really feeling like friends and that’s super important for getting those really emotional images on the wedding day, and finally 3) We don’t want the first time that we point a camera in someone’s face to be on their wedding day. We’ve done it before and it works out fine. It’s something we definitely can do. But it’s just always that much better and easier, when that’s not the case. And once we’ve done the engagement shoot, it all just flows that much easier on the wedding day.

Hope this helps at least a little! Feel free to leave any questions in the comment box below!
Happy Pancake Day!

  1. molly stillman

    GREAT tips! love it.

  2. sharon elizabeth

    Lol!!!! "I don’t know what to do with my handdddsssss"

  3. Stephanie Stewart

    Great advice, Mary! Especially with respect to location and what it means to the couple. And I would love it if a couple brought along a horse too!
    P.S. Can you change this series name to Salad Session? It’s just that I ALWAYS want pancakes whenever I read these! ;)

  4. Nancy Mitchell

    Thanks for sharing your tips! Love them all! Now to put them into action:)

  5. Lisa

    Thanks so much for sharing these tips! :)

  6. Bethany Ann

    Love these tips! I also like to help my couples pick out outfits. It always works to everyone’s advantage. :) Happy Thursday!

  7. Tara Peddicord

    i. loved. this. post. so so good :)

  8. Dominique

    This is such a great post and so well thought out. I agree with everything completely. I find it really useful explaining that a good location is, like you say, all about the feel and vibe of the place, more than anything else. And light of course! Following an engagement shoot, I also find a huge change in their body language, confidence, and manner in front of the camera on the wedding day. It’s a great way to build relationships and understanding.

  9. Heidi

    Great post! Love the outfit choices!

  10. Lauren Wakefield

    LOVE the idea of having them over ahead of time…and helping them style their outfits. Brilliance! Love love this.

  11. Kari Jeanne

    I love this – really connecting with the clients and helping them to get the best images possible! Is it hard to be such photography geniuses?!?!

  12. caitlin elizabeth

    i love that they WHY has become an entirely new entity with y’all :) thank you for yet another helpful pancake session!!

  13. Girish

    Excellent points there. It’s perfect timing as well. Helps a lot, thanks a lot for an in depth write up.

  14. rich

    these are REALLY AWESOME tips!

  15. Karen Bonar

    Agree 100 times over! :)

  16. Emilia Jane

    This is so helpful! I love the idea of meeting neutrally first and helping them put outfits together :-)

  17. jackie g.

    Great tips! I give a little engagement session "tip sheeet" in my client folders that i give them at our initial meeting…and the FIRST tip is that the engagement shoot is an EXCELLENT time to do a hair/makeup trial with your wedding-day makeup artist….that way your new ‘do and makeup isn’t wasted :)

  18. Kelly Ewell

    Good thing I’ve got a gray dress sitting at the top of my options then! So excited!

  19. Jessie Emeric

    Love #4 – giving them something to hold with their hands is always a good idea! Thanks for the great tips, always so helpful! xoxo

  20. Carissa

    I LOVE your why. In fact, I’m going to steal it, if that’s ok. I have couples ask me why we should do an engagement session, and I’ve never felt like I have a good answer. This is perfect. Thanks for another heaping stack!!!!

  21. Sophie

    Awesome tips! Love the idea of giving them something pretty to hold. Also a great idea for children’s shoots, since older kids often feel awkward with their arms dangling around with nothing to do… Great post, as always!

  22. Shannon Rosan

    Yes! Totally agree! Love the style boards :)

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