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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.