Five fail-proof tips to ace your engagement photo session

The question has been popped, the grandparents have been called, and the requisite “we're engaged!” post is already blowing up your Insta notifications. Now it's time to commemorate your endless love with a professional engagement shoot.

But before you start pinning photos of sweater-clad couples on abandoned train tracks, take a deep breath and step back. We turned to photographers Nicole Dixon and Hillary Ferguson—owners of respective, eponymous wedding photography businesses who have more than 20 years of combined experience behind the lens—for their no-fail processes to getting cringe-free engagement photos that you, your partner and your families will love.

STEP 1: Finding your soulmate photographer

Whether you intend to use your engagement photos for save-the-dates, as home décor or just to rack up likes on social media, Dixon and Ferguson agree that finding the right photographer is the first step to getting gorgeous photos.

“Ask a lot of questions,” Dixon suggests. “Ask about their style, how they got started and what they love about wedding photography. If you can, meet them in person, even if it's just for coffee. Getting to know them will give you a good idea of what to expect when you're working with them.”

Dixon and Ferguson both suggest interviewing several photographers to get a feel for each one's personality and aesthetic. If you're torn between two great photogs, pick the one you and your partner could imagine hanging out with socially.

“It's really about your personalities meshing with your photographer,” Ferguson explains. “When you all get to know each other and can joke around together, the best stuff comes out.”

STEP 2: Location, location, location

Now that you and your photographer are swapping recipes, it's time to decide on the perfect location. With tons of photogenic spots in and around Columbus, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Dixon and Ferguson agree that revisiting significant spots from your relationship is the best place to start.

“Go back to where you had your first date or where you got engaged,” Dixon suggests. “If you always go Frisbee golfing together, maybe go to the Frisbee golf park. Make it something personal.”

If you're not the sentimental type, ask your photographer for suggestions and be open-minded. Sometimes the best photos happen in the most unlikely places.

“I get bored with the same spots, so I'll drive around and find a random street,” Ferguson says. “Neighborhoods that seem a little sketchy can create really cool backdrops.”

For couples who are getting married in Columbus but live out of town, Dixon suggests getting engagement photos close to your new home.

“A lot of couples come back to their hometown to get married, so it's sort of cool to do the engagement session in the town where they currently live,” she says.

STEP 3: Dressed for the occasion

A conversation about fashion can be full of landmines, especially if you and your partner have different ideas on what constitutes “good style.” Most couples err on the side of caution and go with a grandma-approved sweater or a nondescript button-down shirt. There's nothing wrong with playing it safe, but for couples who want to break out of the one-size-fits-all clothing option, Dixon and Ferguson have a few hacks to ensure you look your best.

“Don't go out of your way to bring something that's not who you are. It's about what feels right for you,” Dixon says. “If you're not a formal person, you're going to feel really uncomfortable in formal wear, and it's going to show in the pictures.”

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Be sure to consider the context of your surroundings and the season when you're picking the perfect look.

“A park is an odd place to wear a suit,” Ferguson says. “Think about where you're shooting and what looks natural. I always tell people to dress nice but casual and to just be themselves.”

Besides being yourself, avoid overpowering stripes or bold patterns, show up to the shoot ready to go, and leave any clunky purses at home. If you're totally stumped, search Pinterest for some inspiration (this is your one free pass on the site, which often results in over-inspiration).

“Sometimes, simple things like layering clothes can make a difference,” Dixon says. “Plan out what you want to wear in advance, so when it's go time, you don't have to worry about it.”

As for props, less is definitely more. None at all is ideal.

“If people want to bring props, I will do whatever they want to do, but I prefer to just play off my environment,” Ferguson says. “You don't necessarily need all that stuff. It's really about the interaction.”

STEP 4: Strike a pose

If you or your partner is camera-shy, nailing the perfect casual pose might be a challenge. Luckily, you don't need a perfect runway walk to get engagement photos you'll love forever. Trust your photographer to find your best angle, and for your own sanity, loosen up before the shoot.

“I suggest the couple grab a drink. Not multiple drinks, but maybe a drink to take the edge off,” Dixon advises. “The best shots happen when the couple is just enjoying the moment together.”

Both photographers suggest starting formal, then relaxing into the shoot. Getting a variety of candid and posed shots will make picking the final selects that much easier … and keep grandma happy.

“The goal is to get a mix of what the couple wants and the more traditional shots for family,” Ferguson says.

STEP 5: Trust the professionals

If you've done your homework and picked the right photographer, you don't need to fret over the details. Think of engagement photos as a chance to capture an authentic moment, rather than just composing an Insta-worthy shot.

“The staged Pinterest stuff is on the way out,” Dixon says. “People are looking for custom photographs that capture real moments.”

Both photographers agree that if your connection is authentic, the perfect photo will just happen.

“At the end of the day, you're spending all this money on a photographer so you don't have to worry about all the details,” Ferguson says. “We're here to make your day great, and you shouldn't have to worry about all this stuff. That's what we do.”

BONUS: Trust yourself

Now that you know all the rules, you can decide which ones to break. If cheesy is your thing, go for the whole wheel and make it work for you.

“I've had couples that every other place we stopped they high-fived, because that was their thing,” Dixon says. “It was completely hokey, but that was their thing, so we did it.”

Finally, if you want to go weird, go weird.

“I recently shot a groom lassoing his bride on a playground while wearing a red, white and blue onesie, while she was holding a sign that said, ‘Save me,' ” Ferguson recalls. “It was perfect for them. It's just how silly they are.”