I wholeheartedly recommend doing an engagement portrait session. What is an engagement portrait? It’s a portrait session with the couple, usually (but not always) at an outdoor location, most often in casual outfits, in most cases taking place well before the wedding day.
The main purpose of an engagement portrait is, of course, to capture some nice photographs of you and your fiance, both just for the sake of having them, and to use for wedding-related things. But it also gives the three of us an opportunity to work together and get to know each other a bit more. Think of it as a “warm-up” for the wedding day itself.
Ideas for Using Your Engagement Portrait Pictures
Included in your session are the high-resolution, unwatermarked image files, which you can use for a variety of items for your wedding:
- Save-the-date cards
- Signing book (a book typically consisting of a few dozen of your favorite images, with a photo on one side of each spread, and space for guests to sign on the other)
- Signing mat (a medium-sized print, such as an 8x10, set into an oversized mat on which guests can sign)
- Prints on display at the reception (framed 5x7 or 8x10 prints distributed around the venue, on guest tables, by the bar, on the signing table, etc.)
When to Schedule Your Session
I typically do portrait sessions on weekday afternoons / evenings, and we’ll want to plan to get started about 1 hour before sunset for the best light. The most comfortable times of the year for outdoor photography are Spring and Fall, and Winters down here typically aren’t too bad either. If you happen to book me right before or during Summer, you might want to try to wait until late September for the engagement session.
However, if your wedding is coming up too soon, or if Summer is the only time you and/or your fiance are available due to work or school schedules, waiting might not be an option. If Summer is the only choice, don’t sweat it (see what I did there?). As long as we’re not out in the direct sun (which we usually won’t be), though it will certainly still be hot, it likely won’t be unbearable as long as you are dressed comfortably. But for a Summer portrait, an even better option is to do an early morning session instead, as mornings will be quite a bit cooler than evenings.
Engagement Portrait Locations
In the New Orleans area, the French Quarter is the most popular location for these shoots. There’s an abundance of visually interesting doorways, walls, and building facades that all make for excellent backgrounds. For couples seeking a more natural setting, City Park and Audubon Park both feature lots of oak trees, lagoons, and bridges.
On the Northshore, Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, Fairview-Rivserside State Park in Madisonville, and Camp Salmen Nature Park in Slidell are beautiful locations to shoot at. But you are certainly not limited to just these options. You might have a particular location in mind that has sentimental value or that you find visually appealing, such as your neighborhood, a farm, your family’s hunting camp, a park where he proposed, the beach, a favorite bar, and so on… I’m always open to my couple’s wishes, and enjoy shooting in new locations.
What to Wear
The most important thing is to wear what is comfortable and “you”. If you are a blue jeans kind of couple, don’t feel compelled to wear much dressier outfits just because you are having your picture taken. You want to look nice, of course, but you also should not wear outfits that are so out of character for you that you feel awkward in them. Likewise, if you are both snazzy and fashionable dressers. The main goal is to capture images that represent who you are as a couple. And although the common advice is for you to wear outfits that are similar in terms of how dressy they are, my view on this is that if you are known as being a couple where one of you is always wearing something fancy and the other is typically more casually dressed, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to incorporate these differences into the portrait.
I don’t get too particular when it comes to making suggestions about colors, though in general more neutral solid colors tend to work better than bold and bright colors and patterns. My main request is that you don’t both wear the same colored shirts, as that tends to subconsciously make the two of you blend into one large shape.
Lastly, comfortable shoes are highly advisable. We’ll be doing a lot of walking, especially if we’re shooting in the French Quarter. If the shoes you would like to wear in the photographs are not suitable for walking, you should bring a comfortable pair to change into as needed.
Some couples choose to do an outfit change, which is a great solution if you can’t decide between a fancier outfit and something more casual… do both! But some advance planning may be needed to ensure efficient usage of the time we have available, so let’s discuss that beforehand if you are going that route.
Can Our Dog Come?
Absolutely, if a dog is an integral part of your relationship, by all means bring this treasured pet along! A park may be a better choice for this kind of shoot than a more urban area. Chances are, you won’t want your dog included in all the images, so bring a way to secure the leash to a nearby tree as we shoot just the two of you. Alternatively, what a couples sometimes do is arrange for a friend or family member to take the dog after we've done a few photos, or to bring the dog to us when we're near the end of the session to do those as our final shots instead.
One Last Important Piece of Advice: Arrive Early!
On the day of your session, give yourself plenty of time to get there. This is true no matter where your engagement portrait will take place, but is especially the case for areas where accessibility and parking can be difficult, such as the French Quarter. One reason is that since we will usually be shooting during that last hour before sunset for the best light, we have a limited amount of time to work with, so starting on schedule is important, and as most New Orleans residents know, it almost always takes longer than expected to get where you're going, especially around that late afternoon time when we'll likely be shooting.
But secondly, and perhaps even more crucial, if your hair and makeup took longer than expected, and you are running late as you battle your way through traffic and struggle to find a place to park, all this is going to be extremely stressful and may even result in a little quarrel between the two of you in the car. It goes without saying that this might put a bit of a damper on your mood and temporarily make it more difficult for your true chemistry as a couple to show, which will come through in your pictures. So, plan to get there at least half hour or so before the portrait is scheduled to begin. If everything goes smoothly you’ll get there early and can relax with a drink for a little while before we begin shooting. And if you’re running late, you’ll still be on time!