Four tips for easing photo jitters

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.

For many couples, the engagement session will be your first experience taking professional photos together. Understandably, there can be a lot of anxiety that comes along with that realization. You might be worried about not being photogenic. You might feel nervous if your photographer is a complete stranger to you and your partner, and one you’ve only met briefly before the shoot.

Even professional photographer Hillary Ferguson, of Hillary Ferguson Photography, found herself thrown off when she stood on the other end of the lens for her own engagement photos. “I tell people how to pose and do things all the time,” Ferguson recalls, “but when I was on the other end, I was so awkward!”

It’s natural to feel odd with a lens and (metaphorical, but maybe literal) spotlight on you. But we’re here to allay your engagement photo fears with four tips to help you enjoy taking the photos almost as much as you’ll enjoy looking at them for the many years to come.

Tip #1—Feed off Your Partner

For some, engagement photos are a point of excitement in the wedding preparations—Pinterest boards abound, and countless work hours have been spent daydreaming.

But for others, that initial photo session is, at best, a chore; at worst, it’s a point of dread. All of a sudden, you’ll be face to face with a camera—and a stranger behind it—while being asked to “act natural.”

“I was a little bit nervous,” recalls Laura (Mustard) Arnett, who married Trevor Arnett on May 26. But Trevor? “Trevor doesn’t really get nervous,” Laura says with an air of relief.

Often, says Ferguson, one half of the engaged couple is more comfortable with the photo session than the other. So she recommends to do as you’ve done for all your relationship: Rely on each other and compromise for one another.

“The couple knows each other best,” says Ferguson, “so they know how to feed off each other and laugh together, and that’s kind of where the real emotion comes out.”

And if you’re the more excited half, try telling your partner jokes or remind him or her of a shared memory during the shoot. This will not only help both of you relax, but it can also help you transition away from the typical engagement poses. Of course, you’ll have plenty of those, too, but dreamy, one-of-a-kind candids will only come from organic interactions.

Tip #2—Pick a Meaningful Setting

“I always like to have some sort of special meaning involved,” says Ferguson of helping couples select their shoot locations.

A sure-fire way to make any uncomfortable situation better is to be with a special person (check!) and in a familiar place. With this in mind, one of the best ways to combat any first-time photo nerves is to pick a place in which you and your partner are comfortable. It could be the place you met, your favorite date-night spot or just a regular haunt—anywhere you have memories together.

Comfort Witcher, of Comfort Photography, agrees that she sees a noticeable difference with couples who pick a place with meaning, but says it can be anywhere with sentimental value. Last summer, she journeyed an hour outside of Columbus to shoot a couple’s engagement photos at a farm that had been in the groom’s family since the 1800s. “I find that if they have a location like that in mind, they’re going to automatically feel more comfortable,” she says.

Tip #3—Trust Your Photographer

If Arnett has one piece of advice for other soon-to-wed couples, it’s this: “Find yourself an awesome photographer.”

Indeed, a good photographer will make a world of difference. He or she will get to know the couple, make jokes and brighten up the mood of a shoot. “Anybody’s going to feel awkward with a camera just in their face. I find that awkward silence is not good at all. So I just kind of get them joking, laughing, having fun,” explains Witcher.

A good photographer will also guide couples through the photo session. “A common question a lot of couples ask me is, ‘Do we have to come up with our own ideas?’ ” says Ferguson. The answer? No—you can come in with ideas, Ferguson notes, but you can also leave a lot of that heavy lifting to the photographer. “That’s why you hire me. You like my work,” Ferguson says with a laugh.

Plus, your engagement photos are a great way to get comfortable with your photographer before your wedding. “You don’t want to feel those nerves on your wedding day for the first time,” Witcher says. “The engagement session is a good time to get some of that out of the way and to learn how your photographer interacts with you guys.”

Tip #4—Enjoy the Process

We know, we know: This one is easier said than done. But just think of your engagement photo session as a concrete block of time you get to spend with your partner.

And on top of that, the old adage is true—things do get better with time, and your engagement photo session will be no different. Wherever you are on the Richter scale of professional photo jitters before the session, you will get more comfortable as the session goes on, Ferguson says.

“By the time we’re into the mid-session, people are really relaxed and comfortable, and it kind of seems like second nature,” she notes.

“Everything goes so fast,” adds Arnett. “In the wedding-planning process, everything seems so nerve-wracking. But [your engagement photos are] one of those things you really need to enjoy.”

So soak up the quality time with your partner during the photo shoot, and enjoy the small beginning to your celebration of spending a lifetime together.