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Everything You Need to Know about Engagement Photoshoots

An engagement shoot, also known as a pre-wedding photoshoot, is a photography session that a bride and groom have with their photographer in preparation for their wedding. Despite what the name suggests, it is not about taking photos at an engagement party.

We have invited Dan Waters, an experienced wedding photographer to tell us everything there is to know about engagement photoshoots. Dan has been shooting weddings since 2008. In 2014, he was voted one of the UK’s top 10 breakthrough wedding photographers by and he produced photographs for the BBC and CNN.

Dan has agreed to answer a few questions about pre wedding photography, for the benefit of our readers.

Q. Why take engagement photos? What is the benefit to a couple in arranging a pre-wedding photoshoot?

A. There are several great reasons for investing in an engagement photography experience, but I’m going to start with the reason no-one ever talks about. Let me start with a quote. Do you remember the number 1 hit single by Baz Luhrman - Everyone's free to wear sunscreen? There's a line in it that says…

"Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh, never mind

You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth

Until they've faded, but trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back

At photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now

How much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked"

To sum up, you’re amazing and deserve to be celebrated just the way you are. Not only on your wedding day when everything is perfect, but all those other quirky, crazy and intimate details about your relationship…

… How you treat your dog like your first born child

… How the groom looks so gorgeous in his leathers with his motorbike

… And how the bride’s happiest memories of their relationship so far are when she’s lying in his lap looking up at the blue sky under their favourite picnic tree in the wooded glade no-one knows about.

There are infinite things a couple love about their relationship and an engagement session helps them celebrate them. These are moments that can’t always be captured on a wedding day. Engagement sessions are perfect for preserving those memories. The only limitations for an engagement photoshoot is our imagination. Being able to look back on these photographs in 20 years and show your children what mum and dad were like is a special gift for both you and them.

The second reason for having an engagement session is to get comfortable in front of the camera. So when the wedding day comes, you feel confident in yourself and in your photographer. You and your photographer will discover the poses and style of photographs that work best for you and you’ll be ready to rock it on the big day.

Engagement sessions should be incredibly fun, so that you and your photographer will become fast friends. This means that on your wedding day you’ll feel comfortable and relaxed in their company and have complete trust that they’ll create more beautiful memories for you.

If you’d like to read more on the “why have an engagement shoot”, here is an article dedicated to this question:

Q. Another frequently asked question related to this topic is “what to wear for my engagement photos? And how many outfits should I have?” Men seem to be more uncertain than women on this point. One question that often crops up is “What do guys wear for engagement photos?”

A. The short answer is to wear whatever makes you happy and what feels true to who you are. If you want to bring along a few different outfits to capture the different sides of your personality, that’s fantastic. That said, most people do the whole photoshoot in one outfit.

Of course it also depends on the time of year. For an autumn leaves session you may want snuggly hats and scarves. For a romantic spring stroll among the bluebells, a light coloured shirt and jeans would work well.

The most common things to wear for a man are jeans and a shirt or jumper. Women will either wear something similar or, if the weather is nice, they sometimes choose a summer dress or skirt.

The other important element when selecting clothes is colour. You don’t want a kaleidoscope of different colours that are too distracting. When you look at the photographs you want to see the faces and the emotion and the relationship more than the clothes. Therefore muted colours often work better than dazzlingly bold colours or busy patterns.

It’s also a good idea to consider whether the colour and tone of your clothes are coordinated. This is less important for an engagement session than a larger family group because there are only two of you, but it’s still worth thinking about. For example, you probably wouldn’t want the girl in a colourful summer dress and the man all in black, as they’d clash. The man would be better off in either a light shirt or a shirt that includes a complementary colour to his fiancée's dress.

Having said all that, it’s worth stressing again that the most important thing is for the two of you to feel that the clothes represent your true personality at this time in your lives.

Q. Having settled on the right outfit, is there anything else a couple needs to consider? How do you prepare for your engagement photos?

A. Some couples like to get their hair cut for the photoshoot. Avoid having a completely new style done because you may not like it, or it may not be a style you end up keeping for long.

The hairstyle you have had for a while, or one that you are likely to keep, will represent you better. But hey, I’m all for embracing life and experimenting so I don’t want to be the fashion police - these are all just guidelines.

With makeup, I suggest applying it as if you’re going for a meal out. Again, you’re welcome to do something funky if you like, but just be confident it represents the real you, and also that both of your styles are complementing each other.

The guys may want to shave, or have a little tidy-up of the facial ‘furniture’. Then again, facial hair photographs really well, so it’s totally your call on that one. After all, this isn’t a business headshot so you’re welcome to do whatever represents you best. Avoid shaving 10 minutes before leaving the house though because you may still be red and blotchy on the photoshoot.

Q. How long does the photoshoot last? And how many engagement photos should a couple expect to get?

A. This depends on the photographer and how their wedding collections work. Personally, I don’t put a time limit on my sessions because my one and only aim is to create the best photographs for you that I possibly can. I’ve done photoshoots in the Peak District and on the Norfolk coast (there are additional travel costs in those instances). That said, most engagement sessions last around 90 minutes.

The number of photographs also depends on the photographer and their style and the products they’re offering. I normally show clients 30-50 photographs and then they choose which photographs they’d like. Photographs can be offered in a variety of ways: prints, framed wall portraits, canvases, albums, heirloom boxes and digital files.

Q. At the typical wedding, the bride and groom will spend some of their time outdoors and some indoors. Is it necessary to set up an indoor pre wedding photoshoot, specifically?

What about a night pre wedding shoot? Is it recommended?

A. The main goal of the engagement session is to naturally capture the true personality and relationship of the couple, so it doesn’t really matter whether you do a sunset walk or a documentary style shoot around your home in your PJs.

Q. Some photographers talk about “creative pre wedding photoshoots”. What do they mean by that?

A. Engagement sessions have several names, but ultimately they’re the same thing. Some couples go for classic pre wedding photoshoots, others want something more quirky and creative. For example, I’ve done a Wild West themed engagement shoot because the couple loved the Wild West.

Others engagement shoots can be more traditional and romantic. The important thing is to bounce around some ideas with your photographer rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Q. How much do engagement photos cost?

A. As with most industries the price variation is huge and based on things like photographic skill, service, product quality, target market and how in demand the photographers are.

Some photographers will offer engagement sessions for free in the hope of impressing you and getting the wedding, while others charge thousands of pounds. Obviously most photographers fall somewhere in between and charge a few hundred pounds.

Some photographers only offer digital files on a USB which will inevitably corrupt in a few years, while others offer albums and wall art that can be handed down to the next generation.

Q. Is there anything else that a couple needs to know before embarking on their pre-wedding shoot?

A. Just like in every other profession, photographers come in lots of different styles and personalities. It’s really important that you get on with your wedding photographer because they’ll be following you around all day and can enhance or undermine your wedding.

So, from that point of view, an engagement session is a great way for you to trial a photographer before committing to them for your wedding. I actually offer a money back guarantee on everything I do, but 99% of other wedding photographers don’t. So before you sign a wedding contract, it’s worth investing in an engagement session to see if you and your photographer are a good fit for each other. If you are, then you’ll have some beautiful photographs that authentically celebrate your relationship… and if you’re not a good fit, then you can always choose someone else for your wedding.

Photography credits: © Dan Waters

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