Dreaming of landing a flawless engagement photo to feature in your invitations, use in reception décor, or simply cherish forever? The five Ws of engagement session photography can help.

 This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2019.

Who should you hire?

Ideally, the professional who photographs your wedding will photograph your engagement session as well. Many will travel and plan sessions outside of their home city, though Columbus certainly has ample photogenic backdrops. An engagement session is a chance to get to know each other—and get used to posing for photographs—without any pressure.

“The engagement session can be a good time to have a practice run so the couples are more comfortable the day of the wedding,” says Nicole Dixon, owner of Nicole Dixon Photographic. “Most couples haven’t had portraits done since their senior photos. An engagement session can put their mind at ease that it can be a comfortable experience.”

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When should you have your engagement photo shoot?

Engagement sessions happen any time prior to the wedding and capture a very special moment in a couple’s life.

It’s important to give yourself or your photographer enough time to book locations if necessary. For example, Hillary Ferguson of Hillary Ferguson Photography recently photographed a dressy engagement session in the lobby of the historic Hotel LeVeque in Downtown Columbus, which needed to be rented beforehand.

“I also think surprise engagements are really neat,” Ferguson says. “I shot my first one recently. … He brought her to an overlook along the Scioto Mile and dropped on one knee in front of me ‘reading a book.’ I grabbed my camera from under a blanket and captured some pretty emotional images. The love and excitement was so real, fresh and great to capture.”

As for day-of timing, Ferguson says, “it’s always best to shoot during the golden hour,” which is the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset. “On a sunny day, you can get some killer sunset shots,” she says, “not to mention the lighting is gorgeous outside.”

Where should you take your photographs?

Jennifer and Benjamin Derkin of Derk’s Works Photography ask their couples a series of questions to determine engagement session locations.

“We love to hear about the places and spaces that are meaningful and significant to them,” Jennifer says. “We love to know more about their story, shared passions, favorite locations to spend time together. What would they do on an ideal date?”

If no locations spring to mind after exploring those topics, the Derkins will ask for some words—like outdoorsy, active, edgy, classic, rustic, bubbly, intellectual—that describe a couple and plan a session around that. Remember: Professional photographers know all the best locations for a photo shoot. You don’t have to do all the decision-making on your own.

Why plan your on-camera style before the day of the shoot?

Engagement Session Styling Rules 101: Dress in coordinating, complementary colors. Wear solid prints or minimal patterns. Avoid heavy makeup or oversized accessories.

“Usually my backgrounds are pretty in and of themselves, so patterns can be a little distracting,” Ferguson says. “Keep it simple. I find that couples that are dressed relaxed [such as in jeans and a nice shirt] tend to feel not so stuffy. Although I love a more styled shoot too, such as a themed shoot or one that involves the full get-up at a cool location.”

Her rule of thumb is to have couples bring one or two relaxed outfits and one dressier option. This gives them some variety and peace of mind in case of last-minute location ideas.

What should you bring to your engagement photo shoot?

The better question might be, what shouldn’t you bring? Answer: Pretty much everything but yourself and your fiancé.

“One thing that I like to tell all the couples is leave your purse behind,” Dixon says. “Otherwise you’re always putting it down on the ground. If it’s not going to be in the photographs, don’t bring it.”

Couples may have previously decided upon props they’re responsible for bringing the day of the shoot, such as pets or other items specific to their love story.

“One session we recently did,” Benjamin Derkin says, “they brought their journal in which they had been writing love notes back and forth to each other since they were dating. They read some portions to each other and we used the fuel of their story to inspire the locations and lighting we used. I think whenever I can guide a session in such a way that we get lost in their story and memories—and almost forget that we’re on a shoot—that is the best kind of session.”