by Mariah Ashley
Are you sweating scheduling your engagement session? Well dab that brow because I’m about to reveal the secrets to great engagement photos.
One of the major concerns our clients have is location. If there’s one secret that I can impart on you is that the location DOES NOT matter. Does the photo below scream “Great spot for an engagement portrait!” ??? No? Read on…
Exhibit A… We met up with Devon and Michelle in Boston a few months ago. Michelle had her heart set on shooting at the Christian Science Center. We arrived, we started shooting, we were promptly asked to leave. Apparently professional photography is not allowed in this very public area. Weird but true. Michelle was very disappointed and getting booted put a hurt on the photo flow for sure. Before we left I snapped this quick photo of Michelle and Devon with the CSC in the background. As impressive as the buildings, pool, and fountain are to the eye they actually don’t make a very good backdrop for our engagement photos. Michelle and Devon get lost in the photo and the lighting is very harsh on their faces.
Now what do we do?! We didn’t really have a Plan B so we just started walking. After a block or two we ended up in a little nondescript neighborhood, which we immediately recognized as PERFECT for our shoot. The sidewalk and street may look a little crazy/cluttered to the eye (the photo on the right is a shot of me, this was Devon and Michelle’s view). On the right… my view. I was excited about the beautiful soft light (open shade), cool fence, and blooming trees. Michelle and Devon pop in these photos because the background is much less cluttered and the lighting is flattering.
Continuing our stroll we used the architectural elements we came across to frame Devon and Michelle. Again, we are not looking for grand dramatic background because we want the focus to be on Devon and Michelle. Throw in a couple of interesting but pretty common place elements like a fence and railing and voila… artsy romance!
The next anxiety inducing issue related to the engagement session is PDA. I totally get it, it’s embarrassing to get all smoochy and what not in front of us. My best advice is just to act like we aren’t there. We try to facilitate that feeling by shooting with a long lens. That way I appear to be more of a creepy stalker than an ambushing paparazzi. What’s more romantic than a creepy stalker with a camera? P.S. You won’t have to come up with these poses on your own. Trish and I will give you lots of direction and suggestions.
So what are we looking for exactly when we choose a spot to snap? The most important element is the light. Preferable lighting scenarios number one is: “open shade” as in the next shot of Jessica and Matt. This is a nice soft, EVEN, flattering, portrait light. There are no strong highlights or deep shadows to worry about. Open shade is perfect for photos with close up faces, even if there’s a construction crew on the periphery.
Our second favorite lighting scenario is back lighting. This requires strong sunlight BEHIND the subject. This kind of light is great for profile photos and romantic strolling away from the camera photos. It’s dramatic and Pizzazy! I love the way it rims the face and highlights the hair in the photo on the left of Laura and Jay. (An aside- that photo of Laura and Jay was taken in a random back alley in Boston). If it had been a cloudy day in Providence the photo on the right of Nicole and Dave wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as it is with the back light.
Another thing we look for is super CLEAN backgrounds. By clean I mean simple or neutral. In the photo below of Amy and Conor, we were at a beach-cabana type building (see photo below on right of me). The repeating white posts on the left of the photo of Conor and Amy created a soft white wall and a nice natural reflector for their faces. This shot looks like it could have been taken anywhere because background isn’t the focus but it does give the photo an ethereal quality.
When all is said and done, you can’t beat a timeless classic portrait. This is really the most important photo to take at your engagement session. Artsy creative shots are nice, but the classic portrait has real staying power. The photo on the left and the photo in the middle were both taken indoors using natural even window light (coming from the left) with a nice clean background. The photo on the right was taken in open shade with a tick of back light. Do you see it? A classic portrait has even soft lighting, a casual but not informal pose, and the subjects should have similar expressions.
If you’re up for it we like to end the session with something a little fun or “out there.” By this time you should be good and warmed up, trust us, and be ready to let your freak flag fly a little. We’ll often suggest an action photo or a pose that might feel awkward in the beginning of the shoot but comfortable towards the end. Best advice? Loosen up and have a little fun with it and us!