How to Look Amazing in Your Engagement Photos

I often get questions from my couples about how to look your best in engagement photos - what should you wear? How can you make sure they don't look overly posed or cheesy? Are they really worth doing? To get the definitive answers to these questions I talked to Anna Wu, a lovely and talented photographer friend here in the Bay Area who also happens to have snapped the portraits of me in the About section of my website! Read carefully, take notes, and your engagement photos will be amazing! 

Anna Wu Photography

Anna Wu Photography

Rachael: Sometimes couples tell me they're not sure if they need or want engagement photos. When and who do you recommend them for?

Anna: I encourage all my couples to consider an engagement session. It can make for a great test run to see what it’s like to work with your photographer, and it’s also a chance for you to practice getting in front of the camera. Once you’ve done an engagement session, the portrait session on your wedding day gets that much easier, and everything goes just a little bit more smoothly. Your engagement session is also a great opportunity to get creative. You have more time and less stress than on a wedding day, so you can have a little fun with the portraits. You can explore a different location or theme that might be meaningful to you, and you can get a lot of variety. Plus, you’ll get to keep some beautiful portraits of you two that aren’t just in your wedding attire.

Anna Wu Photography

Anna Wu Photography

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Rachael: How should brides and grooms prepare for engagement photos so they look and feel their best?

Anna: Choose your outfits ahead of time, and focus first on fit. You want to choose clothes you feel great in. If you’re absolutely lost on what to wear, a go-to recipe is a nice dress with a pop of color for the ladies (my personal preference is a long, flowy dress) and a collared shirt, pants, and nice shoes in all neutral colors (think browns, creams, blues) for the gents. I also recommend hiring a professional hair and makeup artist even if you want to keep a fairly natural look, because a great stylist will know how to enhance your features without making you look unrecognizable. Plus, it’s so nice to feel pampered. On the day of the session, give yourself plenty of time so you’re not rushing to get ready and get to the shoot. In fact, you might as well make an entire day of it and schedule yourself a date night after the session too. You’re already all dressed up, after all!

Anna Wu Photography

Anna Wu Photography

Rachael: I remember being so nervous and awkward during my own engagement session, and feeling hesitant to to show intimacy with my (then) fiancé, which is ultimately what I feel like makes for good images. What do you find is the best way to loosen up?

Anna: Remember that your engagement session is a celebration of this exciting time in your relationship, and it should be fun! It’s totally ok to feel awkward. Just laugh it off (literally, laughing can help you loosen up) and enjoy being with each other. Let go of the idea that you need to get perfect photos out of it or that you need to look a certain way. I totally agree that intimacy can make for some of the most impactful photos. But that can take many forms. If you’re not the type to make out in public, don’t assume that that’s the only way to get beautiful photographs. Sometimes it’s just how you look at each other or the way you entangle your arms together that make for the most meaningful images- because they’re uniquely you. Your only job is to be yourselves. Trust your photographer to do the rest.

Anna Wu Photography

Anna Wu Photography

Rachael: How do you choose a location? Any favorites you want to share?

Anna: I make my couples choose their engagement session locations, because I think the absolute best locations are ones that have some sort of personal significance. It could be as simple as a farmer’s market that you shop at regularly, the place where you had your first date, or even your apartment and first home together. I love seemingly mundane places because they’re unique. Anyone can go to the Golden Gate Bridge if they can’t think of anything else. Not everyone knows about that one park bench where you once got lost in conversation for three hours. But of course, if you do just want to go with an unfailingly beautiful spot, there are tons to choose from in San Francisco. Some of my personal favorites include the Ferry Building, City Hall, Sutro Baths, and anywhere in the Presidio.

Anna Wu Photography

Anna Wu Photography

Rachael: How can couples avoid photos that look overly posed or 'fake'? I feel like this is everyone's worst nightmare (including mine!).

Anna: There is definitely an art to creating something genuine despite the staged setting of a portrait session. I think most of the responsibility lies with the photographer. They should give you enough direction that you don’t feel at a loss for what you’re doing but not so much that they’ve directed you into a specific contortion that doesn’t feel like you at all. But for you as the subject, any time you start feeling awkward about a pose or a scene, reset yourself by focusing on your partner. Think of it as an interaction between the two of you and not a performance for the camera.

Thoughtful Ways to Involve Parents in Your Wedding Without Losing Your Sanity

With Mother’s Day on Sunday, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mom and just feeling very appreciative that when planning my own wedding, she was incredibly thoughtful about asking how and where she could help with the process, instead of just inserting herself where she felt like it. I know the topic of parental involvement in the wedding process is a sticky subject for many couples so I thought rather than offer up some cheesy Mother’s Day homage, I’d give some practical advice on ways to get mothers and parents involved in your wedding that will actually be helpful to you AND help them feel as though they are being a meaningful part of the process, without driving you crazy. 

I am writing this from the perspective of a bride and the bride’s relationship with her mother, but I think this is also applicable to the groom’s relationship with his mother, the bride’s relationship with her father, etc. Remember that although your wedding day is all about you, and should be a reflection of you and your betrothed, it’s also a big freaking deal for your parents. They have loved and cared for you since you were just a wee babe and now their baby is all grown up, about to start a life of their own. Apart from sending you off to college or becoming a grandparent, your wedding day is likely to be one of most significant milestones of their journey as a parent, so it’s important to acknowledge this and allow them to bask in the glow of that moment along with you. Not to mention they may be helping to fund a significant portion of your wedding. 

All that being said, while I happen to have a great relationship with my mom, she can drive me totally bonkers at times, so the trick is to figure out the best way to get parents involved in the process that won’t significantly increase your stress level.

So how do you actually do this? I would start by identifying tasks or chunks of the wedding process that you actually need help with, as well as tasks that you are comfortable handing off to a parent and letting go of control over (these two buckets may or may not overlap). As a certified type-A control freak myself, BELIEVE me that I know this can be really, really, difficult. Then, you need to have an understanding of which components your mom or parent is interested in or feels strongly about. And, think about what their strengths are. What are they good at? You may find, for instance, that it’s very important to your mother that your invitations are addressed the ‘traditional’ way (see: Emily Post). Perhaps you aren’t crazy about addressing your friends as ‘Mr. and Mrs. John Smith’ (I myself had a hard time with this concept), but if it’s something you can live with, and it’s important to your parent, let it go and let them have it. Managing invitations and RSVPs is not an insignificant task from a time perspective, so handing that off to someone else to figure out and manage would be a big item to cross off your to-do list!

So what happens if you and your mother completely clash on a particular element of the wedding? Perhaps she feels very strongly that you should wear a veil, but this is something you are vehemently opposed to. Then it’s time to sit back and get some perspective - how will this one thing your parent is requesting/feels strongly about really affect the overall experience of the day for you? If it’s something that you know will make them happy, and you can live with it, then let it go. If it’s something you truly cannot get on board with and will create feelings of bitterness, let your parent down gently, give them some insight into why this is not something you are comfortable with, and then offer an olive branch - try to suggest an alternative. Being sensitive to the feelings of your parents and family throughout the planning process will go a long way. Maybe your mother feels strongly about you wearing a veil because she and her mother wore veils at their weddings, too. Could you incorporate a family heirloom into your dress or bouquet that would hold the same meaning?

Image:   Premack Weddings  My dad helps my husband put on cufflinks that belonged to my Great-Grandfather on our wedding day.

Image: Premack Weddings
My dad helps my husband put on cufflinks that belonged to my Great-Grandfather on our wedding day.

There are probably a million and one ways to get mothers or parents involved in your wedding and wedding planning process; here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

For creative parents:

  • Get them involved in the design process! Have them design or create invitation illustrations, favors, thank-you cards, programs, escort displays, chuppahs, or ceremony elements
  • Ask them to write, sing or play something during your ceremony
  • Seek their advice or feedback when making design-related decisions about flowers or decor-related elements

For business-minded parents:

  • Ask them to help with negotiation of contracts, managing your budget, or dealing with vendors (if this is not something you are hiring a wedding planner to do) 

For super organized parents:

  • Have them manage RSVPs or address and send out invitations
  • Ask them to plan a rehearsal dinner, farewell brunch, or shower

For foodie parents:

  • Invite them to attend a catering or cake tasting
  • Consult them on wine pairings or signature cocktails

For social parents:

  • Ask them to serve as the point person for out of town guests, helping to arrange lodging, suggesting fun activities for the wedding weekend, or connecting them with other out-of-town guests before the wedding
  • Ask them to give a toast or speech during the reception

If the above options sound like too much of a commitment for you, here are some ways to honor and get parents (or really anyone close to you) involved on the day of the wedding:

  • Include them in the ceremony processional
  • Ask them to perform a reading or blessing during the ceremony or dinner
  • Incorporate family heirlooms such as jewelry, handkerchiefs, ribbons, cufflinks, or boxes into your attire or ceremony
  • Ask them to be a member of your bridal party
  • Incorporate things that are meaningful to them into the wedding day. Serve a family recipe as a dessert or a favor, or include a favorite flower in your bouquet
  • Honor family members both living and passed by displaying wedding photos from their own wedding day
Image:   Premack Weddings  This silver box belonged to my Grandmother and was made by my ancestors who were silver smiths. We used it to hold our rings during our wedding ceremony.  

Image: Premack Weddings
This silver box belonged to my Grandmother and was made by my ancestors who were silver smiths. We used it to hold our rings during our wedding ceremony.  

Hopefully you are getting the sense by now that it’s not so much the specific gesture or way in which you invite parents to participate in the process that matters; it’s the meaning behind it and the effort you make to ensure that your wedding day is as special for your parents as it is for you and your betrothed. 

Happy Mother’s Day!