The Definitive Guide to Taking Amazing Engagement Photos

The Definitive Guide to Taking Amazing Engagement Photos

Once you’ve picked a date, a photographer and your venue, it’s time to celebrate.

Those are some of the toughest decisions in wedding planning and you can cross them off your list—woo-hoo!!

It’s time for the fun stuff, like taking engagement photos.

Why you should take engagement photos

An engagement session is about capturing casual photographs of you and your fiancé… however, there’s a hidden perk:

It’ll help you get more comfortable in front of the camera.

Taking professional photographs can be intimidating. So if you’re not sure where to put your hands or how to stand, that’s where your photographer comes in.

He or she will share tips for posing in a way that looks candid, so you feel like a pro by the wedding day.

These sessions are also a great way for you to get to know your photographer better.

That way they’ll arrive on your wedding day already knowing how you and your partner interact, and how to photograph you in the most genuine way.

Engagement Photos Brian Shannon

Consider taking lifestyle engagement photos

To me, an engagement session should reflect the uniqueness of each couple and be more than just a way to get save-the-date photos.

If you’re worried about your photographs looking cheesy or aren’t into taking pictures at a park or beach, consider doing a lifestyle engagement session instead.

What’s a lifestyle engagement session?

Rather than just taking pictures at a pretty location, a lifestyle session attempts to capture and document real-life events, such as an activity you both enjoy or even a typical day in your lives.

You can use props (like a violin if you’re a violinist, hiking boots if  you love trekking along park trails or a bottle of vino if you’re both wine connoisseurs) and plan around a theme that you can design with your photographer or have styled by your wedding planner. 

I love to plan sessions with the couples I work with around activities or interests they really love.

Here are a few examples:

Also: Just add flowers!

A tip if you’re interested in adding some flair to your engagement session: Bring flowers!

Have your florist make a smaller mock-up bouquet for the session.

Not only will it look beautiful, it also gives you an idea of how your wedding version will look—it’s a win-win.

When should you take engagement photos?

If you’re looking to use your images for save-the-dates, the traditional time to take them is 6-8 months before your wedding.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take them earlier or later!

There are no hard rules for it: I’ve had some couples take their photos a few days before their wedding (it’s great to get warmed up for the wedding day) and others who decided on more than two years in advance!

If you’re having trouble deciding when, start by choosing a season (If you’re interested, I have a handy guide on choosing a wedding date that talks about the advantages and disadvantages of each season. You can find it here.)

With that in mind, it becomes much easier to talk to your photographer and narrow down a date.

Here in NYC, spring and fall are the most popular seasons for engagement sessions.

Engagement Photos

Where should you take your engagement photographs?

While a gorgeous backdrop always helps, I’d say choosing a location that has meaning to you and your fiancé is more important (even if it doesn’t have the most breathtaking views).

A spot that has special significance to you both makes your images that much more unique.

That being said, sometimes we all need a little bit of inspiration.

If you plan on taking your photographs near NYC, here are a few of my favorite spots.

Keep in mind some of these locations require a permit fee to photograph there. Be sure to look into it before your session!

  • Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
  • Belvedere Castle in Central Park
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • The Highline
  • New York Public Library
  • The Top of the Rock
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO (check out my handy guide on taking photos in DUMBO here)
  • Pier I, Upper West Side
  • West Village
  • Forest Hills, Queens
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Washington Square Park
  • The Met
  • Montauk Point, Long Island (a bit of a drive, but it’s a personal favorite)
  • Prosser Pines, Long Island
  • Oheka Castle, Long Island
  • Fire Island Lighthouse, Long Island (great alternative to Montauk if you love the beach)
  • The Vanderbilt Museum (one of my favorite spots on Long Island)
  • Bear Mountain (a little over an hour from NYC, great if you’re into hiking or nature)

If you plan on taking your engagement photographs outside of the New York area (or these spots above don’t resonate with you), feel free to email me—I’d love to help you find the perfect spot for you.

Bear Mountain

Engagement photos: what to wear

It’s totally normal to be a little lost when it comes to what to wear—how casual or dressy should you be? What colors should you wear?

Here are my top tips to make sure you both look and feel great:

1. Wear clothing that feel like you. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable during the session.

If you wear something that doesn’t feel authentic to you, it’ll make it harder to act natural, which will show in your pictures.

The goal with your engagement session outfit is to look like the best version of you. 

2. Choose solid, neutral, lighter colors that complement your surroundings. In general, light grays, whites, blues, pinks, and tans work with any surrounding.

Wearing dark or bolder colors will often overpower the scene and can distract the viewer from the real subject of the images—you!

3. Try to complement each other, but not match. It’s best to choose colors that work well together, rather than matching patterns or prints.

Think homogeneous or complementary colors, and avoid clothes that have logos or patterns. 

Engagement Photos

Alexis & Reuben chose to wear neutral blues and browns during their session in Yosemite National Park. These colors are complementary colors, so they look great together!

 

4. Formal is better. Classic, formal clothing helps add a date-night elegance to the scene.

For men, dressing in fitted layers (a blazer and a dress shirt, for example) with dress shoes is best.

Try to avoid wearing just a t-shirt or shorts if possible.

For women, I recommend finding a dress that makes you feel amazing.

Adding a few accessories such as earrings, necklaces and rings is also a great way to add dimension.

Flowy dresses (like a maxi dress) look great with a bit of movement or wind.

If you’re not sure where to start, a temporary subscription to Rent the Runway is a great way to feel like a million bucks without having to spend it!

If you’d like a few more examples, I put together a Pinterest board for some visual inspiration. 

Hair and makeup

The day of your engagement session is a great time to plan a wedding hair-and-makeup trial.

That way you’re able to get the most out of giving your wedding day look a test drive.

Plus, it has an added bonus of giving you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera!

Central Park Engagement Photos

Time of day matters (a lot)

The best time to take photographs is during the hour before sunset (or the hour after the sun rises, if you’re adventurous!)

This is when the light is best, and you can get that soft, warm glow in your pictures.

Depending on the time of year and your location, this can range from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Oh, and another quick tip—try to avoid outdoor winter sessions, if possible (unless you’re looking for snow).

I personally try not to do any photo sessions outdoors if it’s colder than 50 degrees fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius). It’s much harder to look good if you’re freezing!

It’s ok to be nervous

Understandably, many couples I work with are nervous when they arrive to to take their engagement photos.

In fact, we know how it feels! When Heather and I had our photos taken in NYC, we both were super nervous as well!

Feeling nervous is completely normal—but don’t worry!

Taking pictures together shouldn’t be some some stiff, formal event.

It should feel more like a fun date activity, a real representation of you and your fiancé, which will result in more than just pretty save-the-date photographs. 

After the first few minutes, you’ll completely forget about the nerves (I promise) and you’ll find yourself simply enjoying the special time together.

As long as you have a great photographer, they’ll give you tips on how to look natural in front of the camera, and they’ll make sure that none of your photographs look stiff and overly posed. 

Heather and Tom

A photograph of me and Heather from the session I mentioned above. Definitely worth the small bit of nerves in the beginning!

 

How long does the session last?

This’ll vary depending on your photographer, but most engagement sessions usually last between an hour and an hour and a half.

With the couples I work with, I like to start around two hours before sunset (or at sunrise), as this is when the light is best.

I find that after about an hour and a half or so most people start to get tired (it’s not easy being in front of the camera) so unless you’re doing a destination session or a session with multiple locations, that amount of time works great.

If you’d like to incorporate more than one outfit or location, make sure to let your photographer know so they can figure out the best way to get the most out of both!

Speaking of destination sessions…

Think about taking destination engagement photos

Do you and your fiancé love to travel?

Why not incorporate that into your session?

Few things bring me as much joy as taking photographs in new places does, and if I can make it work logistically, I love to capture new places with the couples I work with.

Not all photographers will offer this, and although I do recommend having your wedding photographer take your engagement photos (that way you can practice working together), if it’s not possible, you could always look into a local photographer while traveling.

P.S. Here are more free tips and resources on all things wedding planning, from whether to do a first look to how to create the perfect wedding timeline for you & more! 

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HI THERE! I'M TOM

I'm a destination wedding photographer based in New York City who specializes in creating elegant and romantic imagery for adventurous couples like you.