It is spring, which means it is the start of engagement season! After a long, dreary winter, everyone is excited to get outside, enjoy the sun, and start taking photos before their wedding day. With my schedule booking up with engagement shoots, I thought I would write a post to help couples plan their perfect engagement session. Check out my 5 engagement planning tips below.
- Wait until mid-to-late May before you schedule your engagement session.
If you are from Michigan, you could argue there are several signs spring has officially started: Tiger’s Opening Day, Oberon is launched, or the temperature breaks 50 degrees and we all run outside wearing shorts in March! Trust me, I feel your excitement. However, from a photographic standpoint, you want to wait until mid-to-late May before you schedule your engagement session, for several reasons. First, you want the ground to be dry. Whether the bride wants to wear heels or maybe there would be a great romantic shot of you and your fiancé laying down somewhere, doing so on soggy ground isn’t an option. Secondly, May’s weather is perfect for various wardrobe choices. Think dresses, sport coat, jeans, light sweaters, and layers. You can’t pull off some of these looks in the middle of the summer. Lastly, by the time mid-to-late May rolls around, the trees are in full bloom and the yellow hue to nature has turned to lush greens, offering us a variety of beautiful backdrops. On the flipside of the calendar, I try to squeeze in all of my “nature” engagement sessions by the second week of October, while colors are in their peak. Couples need to be flexible in October as sporadic rains can cause shoots to be rescheduled. If you are shooting in the city, couples can still shoot comfortably into November.
- Know what you are going to do with the photos.
Are you looking for a few photos to keep for yourselves and use one for save the dates? Perfect, all you need is one location, one outfit, and about 30 minutes for your engagement session. Are you looking to use the images in a Signature Guest Book or as part of your wedding day décor? Sounds good; plan on two or three locations, outfit changes, and two hours of shooting. Not sure how you will be using them? No problem; do something in between and talk to your photographer beforehand so they can explain some of your options. Knowing how you plan on using your engagement photos is critical in planning your engagement session. Too little time paired up with too big of plans could lead to a lack of options when it comes to fulfilling your plans. Keep reading for more engagement planning tips.
- Your location should reflect your relationship.
The first question I ask a couple when planning their engagement session is, “What do you like to do in your free time?” followed by “What are you envisioning for your engagement session?” The answers to these questions do two things: it opens up lines of communication to allow us to collaborate on the planning of the engagement session and it gives me about 80% of everything I need to plan or suggest locations for your engagement session.
Are you huge sports fans? Let throw you in some Red Wings jerseys and take a few shots in front of the Joe (so sad this was our last season there.) Notice though, I said a “few” shots. As much as you love hockey, you also want to capture some of those classic, timeless portraits.
I would say the most common combination of locations I photograph on an engagement session is part city-part nature. This gives couples two distinctly different looks and allows them to plan outfit changes appropriately. Speaking of which…
- Dress stylish, appropriately, but not trendy.
I could write a whole blog on what to wear to an engagement session. In short, everyone’s style is different; however, there are some general rules to help you pick outfits that photograph well. Here is a link.
- Too complicated patterns are distracting.
- Don’t match colors. Compliment! Nothing looks worse or more dated than matching white and khaki outfits. (The fact that I am even typing this is making me cringe.)
- Be stylish but not trendy. Don’t believe me? Anyone want to look at their awkward teenage years photos? Me neither. Fashion changes and trends change even faster. There are some classics that are both stylish and timeless: jeans with dress shoes, a tailored sport coat with a button down and pocket square for guys; a dress with heels, jeans with boots, a skirt and blouse for women.
- Add a touch of style with accessories. A rancher hat, chunky necklace, scarf, sweater, or jacket give an outfit a whole new look without having to change the entire wardrobe. It also gives you an opportunity to make your look modern. Again, just don’t overdo it. Only incorporate those accessories in a few of your engagement photos.
- Match your outfit with the location. Don’t show up to a nature shoot wearing a shirt and tie. That looks silly and out of place. How many people do you know walk in the woods wearing a shirt and tie or skirt and blouse? Me neither.
BTW Photography specializes in engagement planning tips.
- Get awkward. Get cozy. Get comfortable.
If you are anything like me, I am not a huge fan of having my picture taken. What I am a fan of though is hanging out with fiancée. There isn’t anything that makes me as happy as making her laugh. During our engagement session, I focused more on the experience and less about my picture being taken. And you know what? I loved the photos!
When I work with clients on their engagement session, we try to plan something fun and active into part of the engagement session; something that allows couples to focus their attention on the moment and less on the images being created. We have planned picnics, champagne toasts with macrons treats, ball games, boat rides, even ski trips. The more unique and “you” your engagement session is, the more comfortable you will be and the more you will love your images. Keep reading for more engagement planning tips.
Bonus: Consider connecting your vacation or proposal to your engagement session. This is the best engagement planning tip I can offer.
Maybe it is because I am still relishing in my latest Paris vacation, but photographing your engagement session while on vacation could be a great idea. There were so many gorgeous and unique locations for beautiful and intimate portraits while I was in Paris. Whether it was the Lovre at night in formal wear or quietly sipping a coffee in a café, my mind was seeing potential for portrait, engagement, and wedding images everywhere! You don’t have to go to Paris either for your engagement session; there are plenty of unique locations within a day trip or quick plane ride from Detroit.
So there you go! From a photographer’s point of view, these are the things I consider when helping my couples plan their engagement session. The more “you” and the more fun the engagement session is, the more you will love not only the photos, but the entire experience.
Did I miss anything? Any engagement planning tips you would like to share with other readers? Leave a comment or email me and I will update the blog! Thanks for reading my 5 engagement planning tips.
After about a week and a half of being home, all 2008 images have been culled, 458 images have been edited, and my own personal coffee table album has been designed and printed. I think that marks the fastest turnaround time for me following a vacation. I largely contribute that feat to the fact that I am energized by the photos. I expanded my photographic horizons this trip and tried my hand at some Paris street photography. I have written about it before but will make the declaration again here; I think street photography is tied with fashion photography for being the most difficult genre of photography to take. Why? First, with street photography you have to constantly be observant and aware. That is much more difficult than one would think. Photography is difficult enough. You have to be thinking about numbers (aperture, shutter speed, ISO), light, and composition, to start. Then, with street photography, you have to think about what story or emotion are you trying to tell with just one image. There is often no time to compose the image or post the subject. In fact, you often don’t want your presence to be felt in the image, meaning that you often times can’t even pick the camera up to your eye. Lastly, street photography is intrusive. There is no relationship between the photographer and the subject. There oftentimes is no permission either. It is shoot first, ask for forgiveness later (if you are caught.) Wedding and portrait photography is the exact opposite; it is all about relationships and permission. While there, I decided to try some Paris street photography.
When I went to Paris, I was planning on photographing all of the usual things during the day and focusing on creating beautiful imagery of the city at night with all of its lights and romance. What caught my eye as I wandered around the first day was the culture. The people, the dress, the pace…everything was so strong and present. I was enchanted by it. I wanted to document it so I could taste it and relive it when I got home. As Becky, my fiance, and I left the Gardens of Luxembourg, we were walking across the street when I saw a couple sitting inside of a cafe. As I passed, I snapped several frames from the hip without looking. This was the shot:
Boom! That was it. They were having a moment that I wasn’t invited to be a part of, truly, with the glass dividing us and I invited myself in. With this photo, I told Becky I would be shooting street photography the rest of our trip.
I changed my settings to reflect it: continuous focus, 3-D tracking, continuous shutter, ISO 1600, f/5.6, Aperture Priority on my Nikon d750. In other words, as close to automatic as possible with some thought to the final image built in. Almost all of these images are shot with the Sigma 35mm Art lens. If you are a photographer and are looking for a piece of glass that will define you as an artist, buy the Art series lenses from Sigma. They are just that good. The other lens I used was the Nikon 14-24mm, which I only used when it was very crowded and I would be very close to the subject.
Next, I started aiming and snapping, without ever bringing my camera up to my eye. It was literally, point, shoot, and pray.
I started to shoot through the moment, tracking the person as I passed them. I actually enjoy the off-kilter, partially cropped images more than the “perfectly” composed images. They make me feel like I am seeing it through my own eyes for just that brief moment again.
As a wedding photographer, anything less than tack sharp images is failure. Shooting street photography exposed me to the beauty in imperfection. I love the image below and how the two women are framed by the archway of the metro. Sure, they are slightly out of focus, as is the metro sign on the wall. But that is the beauty of it; it shows the movement of time against their stillness.
You can’t go to Paris without visiting museums. We went to the Lovre, Orsay, and Picasso. As much as I enjoyed the art, I also enjoyed watching people enjoy the art. It was equally insightful.
Outside of the Picasso Museum, a four-piece street band was performing. They were awesome. The street was narrow, which forced passers-by between us. Again, going for that juxtaposition, I wanted stillness with the performers but movement with the city, showing how temporary the art they were performing is. I slowed my shutter down, help the camera at my waist, and started shooting. My favorite is the bike tire that frames the singer as it rode by. I am not going to lie; sometimes a good photo requires a bit of luck.
Sometimes, a photo doesn’t have an amazing backstory, but made me wonder what the subject’s story was, like the ones below.
In some circle, these women were fabulous.
During our stay in Paris, we were just a few block from the Eiffel Tower. We would visit there almost daily as we caught a metro. Most of the time we would see tourists taking selfies. This time, I caught what appeared to be a local who had something far greater on his mind. A wedding photographer tried Paris street photography.
The metro offered up a variety of opportunities from Paris street photography.
One of the things I noticed was how slow the pace was and how many people gathered over food. It seemed like there were endless amounts of conversations being had (or in this case, ignored.)
This was the one time I almost got caught. The sequence of images is actually reversed. As I passed, he looked up at me (notice the three chairs in the image on the left are closer). Luckily, I was walking so he didn’t stop me. Even his facial expression changed as he knew he was on camera.
This lady, on the other hand, had no idea I snapped these. I suppose that is the point, or at least my comfort level right now.
Here are two examples shot with the 14-24mm.
And with one last metro ride home, I was able to snap what would be my last Paris street photography images for the trip.
So, what did I learn? There is beauty in imperfection. Whether or not this will translate into my wedding work, I am not sure. I think it might be worth trying to have a dedicated camera with my “Paris street photography” settings on it to see. Stay tuned and I will let you know what I find.
Thanks for reading.
Once Becky and I became engaged, we made it a goal to make 2017 our most memorable year yet. We agreed to make wedding planning as fun as possible by celebrating every contract-signing, venue walkthrough, and item checked off our list. We have been pairing our birthday gifts with checking items off of our respective bucket lists (Nashville and front row for Mumford & Sons in May for Becky. My bucket list still needs some work.) So when cheap tickets to Paris popped up on our radar, we jumped at the opportunity. We have both been to Paris before, independently during our college years, and didn’t quite have the best experience. I lived on three euros a day, eating baguettes for breakfast and lunch and dried soup packets for dinner. Becky had a similar experience when the ATM ate her card, leaving her with no money for five days. Needless to say, we weren’t going to let those experiences happen again. Instead, we hopped on a plane with one page of a scribbled itinerary and figured we would go from there. Each day was balanced between museum visits, soaking in the city, and photographing the people and places.
We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, two blocks away from the Victor Hugo metro stop. It was perfectly situated between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Turn right out of the hotel, and it takes you to the southern end of the Eiffel Tower. Once we checked in, we dropped our bags and immediately headed there.
One thing that was different from the last time we were there was the amount of cell phones. EVERYONE was there taking selfies. I guess we should just come to expect it in today’s age. Don’t get me wrong, we took a few ourselves, but opted to also find a quiet spot to sit in the gardens and soak up the beauty.
I brought four lenses with me (14-24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70-200mm) and paired them up with my Nikon d750. For weddings, my 70-200 is my workhorse; it never leaves my camera. However, on this trip, my 35mm Sigma Art lense hardly ever left my camera. I loved it for both street photography and the occasional landscape image. The two images below are shot with my 14-24mm. While the distortion would normally bother me, I think it adds to the majesty of the Eiffel Tower.
After spending some time at the Eiffel, we navigated our way to the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t climb to the top, nor did we visit it at night. Instead, we walked the Champs Elysees before heading to the Luxembourg Gardens.
The Luxembourg Gardens were beautiful. If there was one thing I took away from the gardens, it would be that Parisians know how to live. Friends gather over bottles of wine, a gentleman brings a newspaper and lunch, teenage boys used a chair to host their chess game, couple stroll the grounds…everyone there seemed to be embracing the moment.
From there, we decided to stay out, grab a bite to eat, and head towards the Sacre Coeur to enjoy a hilltop view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower at night.
The Sacre Coeur, or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is located in the Montmartre area at the north end of Paris. A quick metro ride will drop you off near the base of the basilica; however, a hike of several flights of stairs will bring you to the church. Here, tons of locals bring bottles of their favorite beverage to enjoy an evening view of the city. We were there on Saturday, which made it quite crowded and loud (think EDM music playing nearby on crappy speakers.) Still, it didn’t take away from the view or the memories.
The next day was Sunday, April 1st. The first Sunday of any month is free museum entrance. Our plan was to wake up early and be in line for the Musee d’Orsay right when it opened. That didn’t happen. Between the jet lag and walking almost 10 miles on the first day, we were tired. We swung by the museum but the line was hours long. We decided instead to follow the Seine River to the island where Notre Dame is located and visit Sainte Chapelle chapel. On the way, we crossed Pont des Arts and saw all of the Parisian locks of love.
Becky was a little hesitant to see it Sainte Chapelle (10 euros for stain glass windows?) but as it turns out, it was one of our favorite stops on our vacation. At first, I was bummed. I thought all I got to see was the tiny little gift shop and statue located at the end of the room.
Tucked away in the corner is a tiny, winding staircase to bring you up to the chapel.
I think next to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this was my favorite religious sites. IT was absolutely gorgeous. From there, we wandered our way to the Pablo Picasso Museum, where 5000 of his works are on display.
From the Picasso Museum, we headed west towards the Centre Pompidou, a controversial museum of modern art located in Paris. It sticks out like a sore thumb as the entire outside of it is very industrial and displays various colored tubes. On our way there, we ran into some talented street performers, who allowed me to capture some of my favorite street photography images of the trip.
The Centre Pompidou was closed as the workers were on strike. Why? I don’t know. Leave it to the French to strike over something. With that plan thrown out, we found ourselves with a few afternoon hours on our hands. We decided to make our way back to the Orsay and see if we could get in. After waiting in line for 45 minutes, we were one of the last groups of people admitted for the day. We only had 1.5 hours in the Orsay, so we walked quickly to see the main attractions.
A view of the Sacre Coeur from the a window in the Musee d’Orsay.
With our trip starting to wind down, we decided to stay out late, let the city sleep, and take photos of the beauty Paris offers at night. Photographing cities at night is one of my favorite things to do while on vacation. For me, the beauty and design of the city and buildings is exemplified at night.
The next morning, we took the train out of the city to visit Versailles. Even though we got there as it was opening, it was already packed. Rather than wait in the never-ending line for the palace itself, we decided to start in the gardens, located on the back side of the palace. The gardens were serene. Classical music played on hidden speakers throughout the gardens. Organized labyrinths of trees would open up with various sculptures and fountains. Spending a relaxing afternoon in the gardens is worth the trip itself.
After the garden walk, we went back to the front entrance only to find the line never moved. There were still thousands of people, snaking their way, waiting to enter the Palace. I noticed the first entrance and security checkpoint was about 50 feet away from the large golden gate to the Palace. While I am not proud of it, I told Becky to go stand there so I could “take a picture.” A few selfies later, we blended into the line and saved ourselves a few hours of waiting outside. You can see the line in the courtyard below. It snaked back and forth 5 times behind the first row of people you see. We would have been waiting 2-3 hours, easily.
Once inside, Versaille is ornate, regal, and majestic. The one disappointing thing is you probably only see 20 rooms of the palace. While you can go at your own pace, you are essentially herded from one room to another. There is no wandering and exploring. I suppose you can’t really have that as thousands visit every day.
After the Palace of Versailles, there was only one place left I was hoping to see – Galaries Lafayette. It is a very, very high end shopping mall with architectural features unlike anything I have seen in an American mall. Four open floors of the world’s most luxurious brands and thousands of tourists who, unlike me, were actually shopping. Need a 65,000 euro watch? No problem! Plenty to choose from.
As the evening began to set in and our trip came to an end, we got dressed up for our last night out on the town.
We ate at a tiny little restaurant that was recommended to us prior to leaving, 7eme vin, tucked away in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. It was the perfect way to end the trip.
Check back in a few days as I will post the street photography photos I took while I was there. If anyone is interested in purchasing any of the photos you see, I will make my portfolio available shortly. Thanks for reading!
Spring is always an exciting time in Michigan. The ground thaws, 50 degrees is considered shorts and flip-flops weather, and we actually get to see the sun! Another reason why Spring is so nice: engagement sessions! Stephanie and Dylan took me back to their ol’ stomping grounds, Michigan State University, to photograph their engagement session. MSU has some beautiful backdrops for couples to use during their engagement session. As we walked the campus, I had a moment of nostalgia as the first wedding I ever shot was actually on MSU’s campus. Since then, I have been back on several occasions to photograph engagement sessions.