How to ensure your engagement session is as unique as your love

Let's face it: Your save-the-date magnet is going to share that fridge space with at least one—if not several—smiling, perfectly posed couples. Don't fret, say wedding photographers; tricks of the trade will ensure your engagement photos stand out from the pack.

We'll start with an obvious, but often overlooked, first step: Be true to your love story.

“Our consistent piece of advice is, ‘Stay off Pinterest,' ” says Elle Reed of Brett Loves Elle Photography. “It's a great starter, but we find clients get overwhelmed with too many ideas and styles. We want them to feel exactly as they are. You limit your creativity when you're locked into too many ideas from other people and sources.”

Bring something sentimental—a first gift, a love note—to your shoot, and choose a location that means something to both of you. Consider the scene of your first date or kiss, your favorite patio for post-work drinks, the place where you first said “I love you” or your favorite spot for a cup of cold brew.

“For couples that want something unique, my first suggestion is that they work with me to pick a location that is special in some way to their relationship, not just a pretty place,” says Ben Barnes of Northmoor Studios. “The most unique and natural-looking engagement shoots are in locations that are meaningful and familiar, where the couple feels comfortable … places that will be recognizable to family and friends as uniquely a part of [the couple's] shared experience.”

A rising trend that lends itself perfectly to the “totally us” theme? The at-home engagement shoot.

Increasingly, couples are choosing to snap their engagement photos in their house or apartment, supplemented by images taken around the neighborhood.

The Brett Loves Elle team just wrapped an in-home session for a couple who recently finished building their dream home. They posed for photos over morning coffee, playing a game of Bananagrams, reading in their library, walking their dog and sipping on glasses of wine.

“We basically spent the day with them,” Reed says. “We love when couples take us on a tour of their everyday love story.”

Barnes also enjoys the intimacy of this style of shoot and recently snapped a local chef and his fiancee making a special meal at home. “I thought it was great; it was just the two of them hanging out,” he says. “As long as [the photos] are honest and true to the couple's dynamic, I say go for it.”

Not a big fan of your home? Explore your neighborhood instead. One of Reed's couples spent the day wandering Olde Towne East, posing outside the Kelton House, in front of their favorite mural and on the tree-lined streets.

Or, of course, you can skip town altogether.

“I did a shoot on a family farm deep in the Hocking Hills recently—that was pretty unique,” Barnes says. “I had never seen the place and had no real plan, but it was so beautiful that it worked out wonderfully. It was just the three of us and a dog—no one else around for miles—so it was all very natural and laid-back and fun.”

Speaking of pets, bring them along. Sure, it's logistically more work—two more pairs of paws to worry about. But you love your pets like kids, and nothing beats a grinning, goofy pup.

The key, Reed says, is a true understanding of a client's story; this opens the door for photographers to offer up options that feel authentic and unique.

“We actually, genuinely want to know more about our clients,” she says. “This is how we get the photos that wow.”

Among her favorites include a rock-climbing engagement session in West Virginia during which the couple took a leap off the side of a cliff and a shoot that took advantage of a helipad. And, for the traditionalists most comfortable with good, old-fashioned natural lighting and not much more, there are places like Sharon Woods in Westerville.

“It's perfect in all seasons,” Reed says.

“By far, the most important thing for a great engagement shoot is a high level of comfort,” Barnes adds. “If the subjects are nervous or over-posed or trying to do things that do not come naturally, it is not going to look good. Anything that encourages an unhurried, casual atmosphere is important. Location has a lot to do with that, but props and clothes are really secondary considerations in my opinion.”

Ultimately, don't overthink it, be yourself and focus on the big picture—your love story is unlike any other.