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.

A Modern Tea Party

Check out Style Me Pretty Living's feature on our Modern Tea party! 

With winter in full effect here in San Francisco, I've been drinking cup after cup of piping hot tea. Although I used to be a die-hard coffee drinker, a few years back, I switched completely to tea after noticing that coffee was bothering my stomach, and became a full-fledged convert. In particular, I became addicted to the teas from Mariage Frères, a French brand that a friend first introduced me to when she gave my husband and I some as a wedding gift (it is aptly named!). I do still love a good latte, but a good cup of tea warms my body and soul. 

When I heard my photographer friend Anna Wu mention the idea of a throwing a modern tea party, I was beyond excited. The tea party needs a makeover! There's no reason the concept needs to be centered on mismatched china, doilies, frilly linens and sad finger sandwiches. We decided to throw a modern tea party that would honor our love of this delicious beverage AND good, clean, modern design. 

We teamed up with our local friends Tea People (the same folks behind Boba Guys) to pour their delicious teas and teach us more about the different varieties, brewing methods, and history. Benj, our self-proclaimed tea geek, brewed up 4 different kinds, all unique and delicious. I love how different the leaves and the color of each tea look next to each other. And they all have such exotic names!

Of course for me, apart from the tea itself, I was most excited about designing a tablescape that was beautiful and unusual. I decided to go with a mid-century influence to bring in a modern vibe and then soften it with florals. I must have had 20 conversations with Melanie Tom of Hawthorn Flower Studio to try and describe what I wanted...I could see it in my head but it was difficult to communicate! But she read my mind and came up with the most gorgeous floral design that was both organic yet structured, romantic but not overly feminine, and had this amazing movement that filled up the negative space in the most incredible way. All the heart eyes. 

With a modern take on the tea party it only seemed fitting to have modern sweets, too - and Craftsman & Wolves fit the bill perfectly. The lemon saffron tea cakes, banana travel cakes, and raspberry lime cream puffs were the crowd pleasers. But my personal favorite were the yuzu almond caramels...they had such a rich, intense flavor. I could have eaten the whole bag myself. 

Naturally, one needs to be properly invited to a tea party, and I loved Bri Connolly of Brown Fox Calligraphy's modern take on this invitation suite. This was the first time I'd had a chance to design something on acrylic, and though a bit finicky to work with, it's such a fun material. Especially when you have Bri's gorgeous handwriting overlaid on top. 

there is always time for tea!

Featured on Style Me Pretty Living

Planning & Design | Ruby & Rose
Photography | Anna Wu Photography

Calligraphy | Brown Fox Calligraphy
Desserts | Craftsman & Wolves
Flatware | Mrs. Peasy 
Floral and Design | Hawthorn Flower Studio

Furniture | West Elm
Hair | Fox & Doll
Makeup | April Foster Artistry 

Tabletop Goods | CB2Crate & Barrel
Tea Tasting | Tea People
Venue | 1544 Events

Rustic Summer Supper at Stable Cafe

Exciting update: Head to Green Wedding Shoes to see their lovely feature about the event!

Late summer supper at Stable Cafe

Now that fall is here and we're done with weddings for the year, I'm looking forward to sharing a ton of images from the beautiful events and collaborations we got to be a part of this year! First up is an intimate styled shoot / dinner party that my good photo friend Kayla of Kayla F Photo dreamed up and asked me to help bring to life.

Like many lovers of good food and unique urban outdoor spaces, I am a long-time fan and frequent patron of Stable Cafe here in the Mission. It's pretty much the perfect urban oasis: a peaceful outdoor courtyard lined with fruit trees and accented with clever groupings of succulents and other pretty plants from Lila B. Add zig-zags of string lights overhead, a lush covered greenhouse and beautiful old café tables and chairs...and I basically want to move in. Intimate parties or small wedding celebrations are made for this place. Who wants to let me plan an event here?! 

Kayla's original vision was a simple and rustic dinner among friends - sounds easy, right?! Here are the key ingredients to any good intimate gathering, as far as I'm concerned: 

Beautiful flowers. If you know anything about me you probably know that I'm a full-fledged flower addict. Amanda Vidmar created this garden-inspired centerpiece that had us all swooning with its romantic combo of garden roses, ranunculus, bearded iris, Abelia branches, and blue Viburnum. 

Amanda Vidmar floral centerpiece

To help the table blend in even more with the courtyard setting, Amanda draped Hops across the backs of the chairs.

Hops chair swag

Next, you need a beautifully set table. We chose blue and white stoneware and votives from Heath Ceramics and these gorgeous pale grey, hand-blown glasses, both from Chairs + Cups' perfectly curated inventory. Cloth napkins, flatware, and marble candlesticks came from CB2. And that gorgeous hand-dyed grey runner from Silk + Willow.  

Setting the table at Stable Cafe
upscale summer supper stable cafe
Amanda and I intensely focused on figuring out the perfect napkin fold. OCD tendencies at their best!! These tiny details are the ones that make the overall picture perfect!

Amanda and I intensely focused on figuring out the perfect napkin fold. OCD tendencies at their best!! These tiny details are the ones that make the overall picture perfect!

Beautiful paper goods - another one of my favorite things. Including a simple menu at each person's place setting makes any meal that much more special and builds anticipation for the delicious food you're about to have. Bri of Brown Fox Calligraphy hand-wrote these menus in a medium-gray ink on light-gray paper. Of course, for a larger event, hand-written menus for each guest might not be practical, but when you're only setting a table for 8 this is a worthy splurge! We made each place setting extra special by attaching each person's place card to a sweet little plum. 

hand lettered menu on gray paper Brown Fox Calligraphy
Brown Fox Calligraphy hand lettered place card

Sometimes a little literary inspiration can really help set the mood. When I found this Virginia Wolfe quote, I knew I had to incorporate it into the design, so I had Bri make up a small sign to adorn our dessert table: 

one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well

And of course, what's a good dinner party without amazing food?! We teamed up with LRE Catering who put together the most delicious, fresh, seasonal summer menu we could have dreamed of. Not only was everything to-die-for scrumptious but their presentation was spot-on. My stomach is grumbling right now...

LRE catering
LRE Catering rustic summer supper
LRE Catering grilled t-bone steak

The best part of any intimate gathering is undoubtedly getting to spend time with friends and enjoy each others' company. Ryanne at One True Love made sure we were all comfortably and stylishly equipped for QT with some pieces from the collection at One True Love Vintage Rentals. I love the rustic, mid-century feel of those leather and wood armchairs together with the weathered leather poof. And how sweet is that wicker basket? It became the perfect spot for Amanda to stash all of the hops! 

One True Love Vintage Rentals

See, it's not so hard to pull off an intimate dinner party! Grab a few of your closest friends and lay the table...and just remember, "one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well"! 

Giving Thanks

In DC, where I am spending Thanksgiving this year with my husband's family, there is a serious chill in the air and most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. Luckily for me they are still clustered in big piles on the ground and the sidewalks. I grew up in the woods in Massachusetts, and every fall my parents would spend what seemed like days and days raking leaves into giant piles to be eventually stuffed into thick brown paper bags. Once this activity commenced, it went without saying that my brother and I needed to jump into as many leaf piles as possible. Though we never discussed a formal rating system, whoever made the biggest mess and managed to send the most leaves fluttering through the air was definitely the winner.

I'm too OCD now to want to get my clothes dirty by actually jumping in a big pile of leaves, but hearing them crunch beneath my feet and smelling their wonderful earthy smell instantly reminds me of fall on the East Coast - something I crave and really miss every year now that I live in California. Once fall arrives, time seems to speed up and the end of year holidays and all the craziness that goes with them are here in the blink of an eye. 

It seems easy these days to be overwhelmed by the number of commitments we all have during the holidays - either at work, with family, or otherwise. With holiday decorations popping up even before Halloween, and the hype of crazy Black Friday sales I sometimes feel like all the joy is being sucked out of the season right before my eyes, which makes me so sad because it can be such a wonderful time of year. But once I take some time to reflect and focus on what is important to me - spending time with loved ones, taking time to cook delicious food and do some entertaining - I get my holiday mojo back. 

2015 has been a big year for me personally and professionally. I have so much to be thankful for - my thriving business; my incredibly supportive family; a beautiful home in a city that I love and feel safe in; my friends who keep me laughing; my dog Bandit who offers daily snuggles and company in my home office; and my husband Andrew, who puts up with all my crazy ideas and is willing to travel to the ends of the earth with me. The list goes on...

What are you thankful for? I wish for you some peace and quiet and the time to reflect about all the positive things in your life this Thanksgiving. Here are some of the things inspiring me at the moment; click on the image to see the full inspiration board on Pinterest.

Lake Tahoe Summer Inspiration

I'm heading up to Lake Tahoe this weekend with my husband, our pup, and some friends for a much needed mini vacation, so I've had summer in the mountains on my mind. Lake Tahoe is one of my very most favorite places in California, especially in the summer. A freezing cold, crystal clear lake. Amazing views of snowcapped mountains. Ice cream cones. The smell of hot pine needles and fresh mountain air. As I write this, the Sound of Music is running through my head...are we there yet?!

It's no surprise that Lake Tahoe is such a popular destination for weddings each year. What's not to like? Beautiful environs, a laid-back vibe, and in the summer, gorgeous wildflowers. A few of my favorite ideas for a summertime celebration up in the mountains, by the lake: 

1. Keep your guests cool with delicious ice cream sandwiches from  Coolhaus  2. Glamp it up out in the woods in a well-appointed tent form  Shelter Co . 3.  Sunset wine and cheese cruise  to Emerald Bay. Rehearsal dinner - check!  4. Make your get-away across the lake in vintage style on a Chris-Craft boat 5. A faux birch bark cake gives a nod to the woodsy setting. Photo:  Troy Grover  6. Two words:  bruschetta bar . The folks at Shelter Co. are geniuses. Photo:  Matt Armendariz  7. Go frolic in a field of flowers with your betrothed. Capture it on film. Photo:  Dylan and Sara Photography  8. Hire  Camper Cocktails  to show up in their Airstream trailor and make craft cocktails for your guests 

1. Keep your guests cool with delicious ice cream sandwiches from Coolhaus
2. Glamp it up out in the woods in a well-appointed tent form Shelter Co.
3. Sunset wine and cheese cruise to Emerald Bay. Rehearsal dinner - check! 
4. Make your get-away across the lake in vintage style on a Chris-Craft boat
5. A faux birch bark cake gives a nod to the woodsy setting. Photo: Troy Grover
6. Two words: bruschetta bar. The folks at Shelter Co. are geniuses. Photo: Matt Armendariz
7. Go frolic in a field of flowers with your betrothed. Capture it on film. Photo: Dylan and Sara Photography
8. Hire Camper Cocktails to show up in their Airstream trailor and make craft cocktails for your guests 

Click below for the full Pinterest board!