I’m just going to say it: I loooove engagement sessions. Don’t get me wrong, wedding days are wonderful in their own right, but the relaxed nature of engagement sessions can’t be topped. There’s no timeline to follow and no reception to rush to. I get to meet couples that come to their shoot as clients and leave as friends. The location scouting, the freedom to try new things, the trust built between me and my brides and grooms… I could gush all day about why I think engagement session are so important, but that’s for another post. Except for a few rare exceptions, I schedule an engagement session with every single couple who’s wedding I photograph. And when we begin planning for the shoot, the first questions I’m often asked is, Where would you recommend for locations? I love this question because it means my brides and grooms are already thinking about how they want to experience their session, but… there’s a catch.
Here’s the truth: I can’t decide what the best location is for your engagement session anymore than I can tell you what color you should choose for your bridesmaids’ dresses. (Though I do love mustard yellow, if anyone’s asking…) Your engagement session should be about so much more than a pretty location. Sure, pretty locations are usually easy and fun, but when you have the opportunity to make your session more personal, I always encourage you to. In ten year’s time when you see your images on the walls of your home, my hope is that you’ll be flooded with the memories of what it felt like to be so in love in those moments of anticipation of your new life together. And when your location holds meaning for you in that moment, it keeps that meaning forever.
There are a million and two different ways to personalize the location of your session, the key is just to get a little creative! If you’re a bride and groom feeling stuck in planning your session or even a photographer looking for ways to encourage your couples to think outside the box, the tips below are for you!
1. Where do you love?
Imagine yourself 40 years from now, going through an album of old photos with your grandchildren and coming across an image of you and your husband or wife in front of the coffee shop where you first met. A photograph like that tells a story. A photograph like that has meaning and emotion behind it. And doesn’t every relationship have a special place like that? Switch out the coffee shop for your college campus, or your childhood backyard, or the place where he got down on one knee and asked you to be his wife. The key is to find some place that is meaningful to each of you, together.
Nina and Matt picked Old Town Winchester because it was the site of many of their first dates.
2. What do you love?
Maybe you’re having a hard time thinking of a specific location or spot that holds a lot of meaning for you, or maybe our session is scheduled at a destination that’s new to you. Sometimes a specific “where” can be a challenge, which is when I suggest thinking about the “what.” If you and your fiancé love touring wineries together, let’s go visit a vineyard! (Bonus! We can pop open a bottle of pinot afterwards!) Love biking? Let’s find an awesome vintage bike and use it as a prop throughout your shoot. Maybe there’s nothing you two enjoy more than being out on the water, so let’s find a marina or a nearby beach that will infuse some nautical life into your images. Hiking, eating ice cream, cooking together, watching your favorite football team, camping, traveling… let’s bring some of that love and excitement into your photos.
In summers, Mindy and Dax‘s favorite dates are winery tours, so Barrel Oak Winery made perfect sense for them.
With Mallory and Richard‘s love for travel, DC’s Union Station made for the perfect backdrop.
These shots are from the archives! But Billy Goat Trail made perfect sense for Maggie and Dan who love hiking together. Bonus points to Maggie for climbing the trail in a pencil skirt!
3. How do you love?
There are some folks that just belong in a city. Any city. They may think that horses are just tall, skinny cows. When I’m planning with a couple like this, I probably won’t suggest that they throw on a pair of cowboy boots and stroll through the tall grass of the countryside. Likewise, if your favorite weekend activity is line dancing, maybe a downtown engagement session isn’t the best fit for you. If the Where and the What still leaves couples feeling blank, I try to find out what they want their photos to feel like. Chic, classic, rustic, country… They’re vague terms, I know, but it’s a starting point that helps me to suggest more specific locations. When searching for a unique spot, don’t be afraid to turn to Google! Research nearby parks and attractions that might suit your style. Go for a drive through your neighborhood and into the next town over—you will never believe some of the incredible spots you can find! Just be aware: sometimes places like parks and gardens require a fee before you’ll be allowed to shoot there. Make sure you communicate with your photographer about this before hand to ensure that all permits have been acquired and everything is kosher!
Jiae and John were looking for something classic and slightly city-like, so Old Town Alexandria was the ideal spot.
When Miki and Jeff were looking for something with a bit of a country feel, the rolling hills of Manassas Battlefield fit the bill.
BONUS: Timing and Weather
Whatever your location and no matter if you’re planning your engagement session in April, August, or October, one general rule always applies: the best time of day to shoot is during the two hours just after sunrise or the two hours just before sunset. This gives you the best opportunity to capture that golden hour, glowy light! It also means that it’s really important to be on time to your session, so none of that precious light is wasted! Be sure to consider that timing when planning your locations and any travel that may have to occur. And of course, no engagement session plan is final until Mother Nature says so. As a photographer who shoots mostly in natural light, sometimes I’m placed at the mercy of the weather. If it’s raining on the day of your session, we’ll plan a time to reschedule. It’s always a bummer to have to move a shoot, but the reason I make this final call is twofold: one, because I’d so much rather you have a fun time a your engagement session that have to worry about the weather running your hair or outfits, and two, because the quality of your photos will be so much greater when we don’t limit ourselves to shooting indoors and beneath overhangs if we don’t absolutely have to. Plus, good weather is just so much more enjoyable to spend time in! Right now in Virginia, Mother Nature and I are on rough terms. I’m already seriously considering starting a petition to have her share some of that Californian sunshine and weather with us. I can think of a few folks who just might put their name on that list.