Make sure your engagement photos show who you are as a couple with these tips.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.

Engagement photos get a lot of play time. More often than not, a couple includes them in a save-the-date. And let’s be honest: You’ll blast them throughout your social media channels the moment you receive the files from your photographer. That’s why it’s so important to inject some personality into your engagement photos.

So how do you begin to plan a think-outside-the-box shoot? Start with your photographer. He or she can guide you on all the major factors, including location, wardrobe and even props. Location is usually the first detail to nail down.

“We start with location and look and feel,” says Sarah Williamson of Together We Click. “Some people want more urban, some want more greenery, some want to do lifestyle shots in their home or a place they got engaged or met. Figuring out the overall vision is important. We have a questionnaire for the couple to fill out so we can make sure everyone is prepared. It’s knowing their story and what they are all about in advance.”

Carmen Hall of Forget Me Knot Photography agrees that location is important—picking something significant to the couple is a foolproof way to go.

“I always want them to choose something that is more meaningful to them,” Hall says. “If they got engaged at a certain park, or met at a certain bar or restaurant, I like to incorporate some of that into their engagement session.”

Mindy Amornyard and Damian Ettish, married on May 20, 2017, took their engagement photos during the fall 2016. An exploration of parks around Columbus helped them settle on a unique spot.

“We didn’t want to go the super-predictable route,” says Mindy (now Mindy Ettish). “We did a little bit of research and went to some other parks that people don’t always go to. We Googled ‘Columbus parks’ and visited several well before the date of the photos. We visited one or two every weekend to scope out what would work best for us. We also got to walk around the parks, which was nice.”

They stumbled upon a small park on Clintonville’s southern border called Glen Echo, which offered a different backdrop for photos. Glen Echo has a bridge with a mural of birds inside, along with a creek and beautiful foliage surrounding it all. Their session was the first time that their photographer, Dan Buckley of Dan Buckley Photography, had taken photos there.

“It allowed us to get several unique shots with [the park’s] variety of rock faces and graffiti,” says Buckley. “Before leaving the park, Damian surprised Mindy with flowers and that made for some fun photos. The second half of the shoot was at the Scioto Mile at sunset, where we got the photo of Damian carrying Mindy that they used for the save-the-date.”

Kara McElroy and Alex Grant, who were married on Sept. 30, 2017, also wanted locations for their photos that were a bit different and showed off their personalities. They chose Stauf’s Coffee Roasters and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Grandview for some of their shots, scheduling the session in their favorite season: fall.

“We used to walk up to Stauf’s every Saturday with our dog, so we even had our dog in some of our photos,” says Kara (now Kara Grant). “We live in Grandview, so we didn’t want to go too far for our photos. We thought these places would really capture what we wanted.”

Since weather in Ohio can certainly play a factor in photos, look for spots that have an indoor option as a backup. You might just get a shot you weren’t expecting. Jennifer Nickle and Guiseppe Iuni also did location research before their March 2017 engagement photos. The North Market and the Hilton Columbus Downtown provided them with both backdrops.

“We did Jennifer and Guiseppe’s session when the weather was kind of cool,” says Hillary Ferguson of Hillary Ferguson Photography. “We were trying to figure out where they could go that was different. They have a favorite place they like to get tea, so we ventured around the North Market. We bopped around and took advantage of those places.”

Another way to nab a unique shot is to incorporate another element, like a pet or something special to the couple. Ferguson loves animals and encourages couples to bring their pet along to the shoot. Hall agrees, and if her couples bring a pet or other props, she’ll start with those photos first. She recommends bringing a friend or family member to take the pet once those photos are done, so as not to interfere with the rest of the shoot.

Hall shares that besides pets, it’s a good idea to keep things simple and avoid going over the top.

“I want it to be more about the couple instead of things,” she explains. “Sometimes props can take things away from them or their personality. I’m all for something small.”

Hall got creative at Stauf’s during her shoot with Kara and Alex: A coffee cup with the engagement and wedding dates written on it helped reinforce the “engagement” aspect of the photos.

You can’t forget about clothing: Personality also shines through in what you wear. Together We Click provides couples with a style guide to give them an idea of what might work well in their photos.

“Our approach is to be yourself, but amp it up a little in terms of wardrobe and styling,” Williamson says. “Some people struggle with that. They ask, ‘What should I wear?’ We help them come up with that visual element as well. We want it to be a little more fun than jeans and a T-shirt. Maybe it’s wearing a suit or a fun dress or even a tutu. We use Pinterest a lot to suggest things that might work.”

Although you might be inclined to match clothing, Hall likes pieces that complement each other instead. Your favorite colors can be fun, and mixing patterns and textures also adds a different element.

If you’re the types who prefer to think big, you can go completely out-of-the-box with a themed shoot. Ferguson recounts one where the couple chose a ’50s theme at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant near the airport.

“They dressed the part and played the role very well,” she says.

Another of Ferguson’s couples embraced a soccer theme, shooting at Crew Stadium because the groom was from Ireland and loved the sport.

Ultimately, what makes you and your partner feel the most comfortable is the route you should go to ensure your photos are fun and unique.

“We wanted everything to be like us,” says Kara of her engagement shoot. “We weren’t super fancy. We only changed our clothes once. We didn’t try to fit a mold. This is what we wanted, and it turned out so well because it was so candid and felt so real.”

Planning aside, what can you do during your actual photo session to get a shot unlike anyone else’s? Be yourself.

“It’s awkward for everyone in the beginning,” shares Ferguson. “The biggest thing when I start working with couples is I [encourage] them to have fun and don’t feel stupid. Sometimes the couple just laughing and being themselves brings out their natural personalities instead of feeling super posed. They might say something to the other person that looks or feels natural, opposed to the awkward prom-type photo.”

And if you’re nervous for your photos, trust your photographer and the process.

“We knew having a very good photographer was important,” Mindy says. “We did our research on the [photographers] who matched our style. We wanted to make sure the overall look we were going for matched. We met with Dan beforehand and he had a lot of good recommendations. He had said to us before that he doesn’t really like posed photos. He said, ‘I’ll capture you guys. You do you, and we’ll go from there.’ Photos are super awkward anyway, so he made it more comfortable in that sense.”

From the photographer’s perspective, they’ll always step in to give direction when needed. Hall says that she and other photographers are aware that the last time a couple most likely took professional photos was during their senior year of high school.

“Right at the beginning, I’ll start with a standard photo of them looking at the camera,” Hall says. “Then from there, I like to tell them certain things. I tell them to say certain things to each other to evoke emotions and reactions out of them.”

At the end of the day, your photographer is your biggest ally.

“As photographers, we are looking for the overall pretty picture,” Williamson says. “We’ll always place the subjects in good lighting and good background, and see what happens from there. We want it to feel natural. We’re really getting to the point of who they are.”