Discussions of theory are great, but sometimes nothing beats a little on-the-job experience and insight. Today I'm going to take you with me on one of my real-life client shoots to see what we can learn. We'll go over lots of dead-simple and practical tips that you can use to drastically improve the results of your next engagement shoot. Let's get started!
1. Scout The Location First
Engagement shoots can be a bit high pressure. If you're going to be the wedding photographer as well you're pretty much setting the stage for what the couple can expect from some of the most important pictures they will ever have taken of them (the wedding day photos).
On top of this, you have to think on your feet about great two-person poses while looking out for good backgrounds. One of the best ways you can reduce a little bit of that stress is to shoot in a location that you're already familiar with.
Before this particular shoot, my wife and I went to the location and wandered around for an hour taking photos of each other to get a feel for what worked and didn't. As you can see in the shots above, we found a really cool sculpture that we liked and therefore repeated for the engagement shoot.
Having familiarized ourselves with the location, we were not only less stressed on the day of the shoot but also much quicker. We had a good idea of all the places that we wanted to hit as well as those that we had already tried but didn't end up liking when we saw them on-screen.
2. Have Lots of Fun
When most people think of an engagement shoot, they picture a day full of overly serious, emotion-driven shots that convey the couple's undying love for each other.
This is all well and good, and I encourage you to take plenty of shots that match the description above, but that doesn't mean you can't take a couple of really fun photos as well.
Photos like the one above serve a number of purposes. First, couples love them. Odds are, the two people you're shooting don't spend their days holding hands looking into the sunset. They goof off and have fun and want a few photos that convey their true personalities.
Get to know the couple a little bit before you shoot, ask them what they like to do together and observe their interactions. As they become more comfortable around you and vice-versa, the quality of the photos you'll be able to capture will increase dramatically.
Another great effect of taking silly photos like the one above is that it lightens the mood, makes everyone laugh, and produces some actual smiles (as opposed to the fake versions you make them plaster on for the rest of the day). After the goofiness subsides, the smiles remain for a few seconds and make for a few really great shots.
Bonus Tip: The Key to a Good Jumping Shot
Just in case you're wondering, the secret to taking awesome jumping photos, whether you're shooting a single person or an entire family, is to have everyone tuck their legs when they hit the air. This has the effect of making the jumps look a lot higher than they actually are.
If you don't suggest this technique to everyone, you'll always have one or two people who do it instinctively while the rest have their legs awkwardly straight and their feet too close to the ground. It also helps to put everyone on a hill slightly above the photographer so the effect is really exaggerated.
3. Don't Forget the Ring!
Remember, the ring is probably the object that started this whole engagement journey. Whether it's a five karat behemoth diamond or something more unique like the one in the photo below, you want to be sure to give it some attention.
Many happy brides-to-be are quite fond of their engagement ring, not for the monetary value but because it's a symbol of both a lifelong commitment as well that ever-awaited wedding day she's so eager to have arrive. Consequently, they'll love the photos that you take of it.
Lots of photographers immediately think of stacking the bride and groom's rings on top of each other but at the engagement shoot the groom is likely to not have his ring. Also, it's a bit more personal to keep the ring on her finger and try to think of interesting ways to capture it in that setting.
4. It's All About the Bride
This tip involves a little bit of presumptive stereotyping on my part but you'll find that it holds true for most couples. Remember that, just as with the wedding day, the bride is the star. She's the one likely to want pictures (guys are often dragged to these things), the one who has been looking forward to this event and often the one whose family is paying for the photos!
All of this means that you should make a conscious effort to highlight the bride in several shots. Don't worry, the guy loves his girl and is often more than happy to let her take the spotlight for a few minutes.
Aside from getting some of the bride on her own, I like to do a few poses that work the guy in while still bringing focus to the girl. You can see this technique in a few of the photos above as well as in this next shot.
Remember though, that both the bride and the groom will want some of him too so be sure that he gets his turn! You can use the exact same technique of having both people in the photo while putting the focus on a single face through eye contact with the person you're trying to focus on.
5. Don't Be Afraid of the Sun
Around 95% of the time I try my best to stay in open shade for photo shoots. Direct sunlight creates awkward shadows, washes out colors, makes for squinty eyes, and causes people to sweat; all very undesirable features in photos.
However, one of the best times to find shade is right around sun up or sundown. Interestingly enough, this is also the time that it becomes easiest to actually use the sun in your shots. Some of my favorite photos from this shoot broke all my normal rules by embracing the sunlight rather than running away from it.
Even when the sun completely washes out your shot, you can use it to your advantage to create a sort of glamorous retro feeling. The location you choose for these shots is essential. Notice how the vine-covered building in the photo below really plays into the feeling I'm trying to create.
Be warned though, you probably shouldn't do too many shots like the one above. Direct sunlight can actually wreak havoc on your camera's sensors. In other words, shoot at your own risk!
6. Make 'Em Feel the Love
The tips above are all geared to get you thinking outside the box with your engagement photos. Amidst all these ideas it's important to not lose the primary goal of capturing some awesome moments between the future bride and groom that really convey their feelings towards each other (both in subtle and not so subtle ways).
The photo above might seem a little cheesy or cliche, but that sculpture makes this location one of the most popular in Phoenix for engagement and family sessions. Lovey-dovey shots are what people are paying you money to provide and you don't want to disappoint.
You might have to sit through tons of kissing to get that one perfect shot, but hey you didn't really think an engagement session would be all jumping shots did you?
7. Why Stop at Photos?
Most photographers know their way around Photoshop and many have experience in graphic design. If you match this description, put these skills to use and provide your clients with a few extra pieces to really sweeten the deal and help you stand out against the competition.
Simple typographical art like that shown above can make for great photo album covers, scrapbook pieces and whatever else your clients want. Even if they never use these shots for anything, they'll still be pleasantly surprised when you show them off and will likely reward the extra effort by promoting your services to their friends and family.
I also like to put together a photo slideshow, add some music and burn it to a disc that my clients can throw in their DVD players at home. Most computers have software to nearly automate this whole process and it really makes a great impression on clients.
There's a huge difference between showing someone some photos that you took of them and showing them a music-driven slideshow. The latter is sure to catch far more smiles and perhaps even a few happy tears.
To help you come up with your own great ideas for an engagement shoot, here are a few more shots from the same day:
Now that you've seen one of my most recent shoots, show us some of your best engagement and couple photos.
Leave a comment below with a link to the photo and share some of the techniques you like to use when shooting a future