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Tips & Tricks

10 Overlooked Engagement Photography Tips

By Pye Jirsa on July 29th 2010

“Top 10” tips on the net, for any subject, can be a big fat waste of time. They often present a high-level overview of existing content, stating obvious points without really teaching anyone anything. To avoid this pitfall when discussing tips for engagement photography, we decided to stay away from obvious tips, such as “choose the right lighting, choose the right location, be personable, etc,” as these are all things that almost every photographer is already doing and therefore not worth rehashing. Instead, we want to focus on the less-obvious, often-overlooked aspects of an engagement shoot that can help you improve your overall product and avoid some of the “what-could-go-wrongs” during your shoots.

For a complete guide to engagement photography, check out our Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop.

10 Overlooked Engagement Photography Tips

1) Engagement Photography Tip 1 | Start with a Basic Portrait Session – What differentiates your photography style from others is probably not how well you take basic portraits, but it’s important to get your session started with some. First off, your couple gets warmed up, loose, and used to the camera in a quite, low-key location. Secondly, it gives you a chance to assess your subject and watch out for certain details. For example, are you going to have to look out for double chins? Is he a “blinker?” Having a slow, relaxed start can help you determine what you might have to watch for during the entire session. Thirdly, these are actually very important shots. As much as we all love stunning, artistic photography, we need a few basic portraits for mom, for their wedding website, or even for their invitations. Lastly, these can look pretty good if you choose the right background and the right lighting.


2) Engagement Photography Tip 2 | Let Clients Chimp – Chimping is a popular (and kinda ridiculous) term for looking at the pictures in the LCD of the camera. Although these images aren’t yet finished in post production, it’s important to have the clients see what you’re getting, not for every single shot, but at least for the images that focus on expressions and close-ups. In the end, it’s their opinion that matters. You could go the entire session thinking that you’re getting great stuff with great lighting but not noticing an awkward smile that he’s making, a wardrobe malfunction, or other small details. Most people are their own worst critics and it’s better take note of their insecurities and “flaws” during the shoot than to notice it after.

3) Engagement Photography Tip 3 Bring the Right Gear – This tip is border-line too obvious to include in this article, but it’s worth noting that not everyone requires the same amount of equipment; and, moreover, not every shoot requires the same equipment. If your style is more “lifestyle,” where you’re finding locations with the ideal lighting and focusing on expressions, posing, and getting clean, crisp, natural images, you may not need all of your flash gear, your tripods, and multiple lenses. However, if your style involves playing around with creative, off-camera flash, HDRs, and other techniques, you’ll probably need a lot more gear. It’s important to determine what kind of style you are going for before the session and plan accordingly.

[rewind: Learn HDR Photography from SLR Lounge]

4) Engagement Photography Tip 4 | Bring an Assistant – A good assistant will not only relieve some of the strain of carrying your equipment but will also perform critical lighting tasks, like holding reflectors to bring out the shadows under eyes. A good assistant can also ensure that all equipment is accounted for; and a good assistant will help watch for the details, like stray hairs or random objects in the background.

Here’s an HDR shot that is difficult to execute without a tripod, which might be too heavy to lug around for one photographer for an entire shoot:

Here’s a portrait that required two flashes and a hot light, a very difficult shot to execute without an assistant:

5) Engagement Photography Tip 5 | Have a Backup Plan – Any photographer, heck any person, will tell you that things hardly ever go as planned. If you show up for your favorite location and it’s closed for whatever reason, what do you do? Having a backup plan is important for avoiding the panic of finding a new location on-the-spot. The possibility of getting kicked out, inclement weather, and traffic/road closures are also things to consider in your planning.

6) Engagement Photography Tip 6 | Visit Fewer Locations – Many clients are going to literally want the world for their engagement sessions. They might want beach shots, city shots, night shots, and nature shots all in one session. While client satisfaction should always be a top priority, it’s important to take your time with each location. There’s already so much to think about without the time pressure; and being rushed increases the risk of something going wrong. Taking your time and focusing on the right expressions, ideal backgrounds, and perfect settings in one or two locations creates a better product and a more enjoyable overall experience than cramming in multiple locations in a few hours.

7) Engagement Photography Tip 7 | Take Fewer Shots – In line with the cliche “less is more,” this point is a branch off of the previous point. Taking your time to create thought-out, creative, high-quality imagery produces a better overall product than spamming your subjects and coming away with hundreds of average shots. This also goes back to allowing your clients to chimp in order to make sure that both you and your clients are happy with the results.

8) Engagement Photography Tip 8 | Ensure Proper Client Preparation – It goes without saying that happy, relaxed, and up-beat clients will likely photograph better than clients in the opposite mindset. As obvious as this is, the steps to helping clients stay happy throughout the session aren’t as clear. Every photographer will have his or her own methods, but here are a few general tips. First off, if your session is going through dinner, suggest that they eat prior to the shoot and maybe even pack a snack. If there’s even the slightest chance of it being cold, make sure they bring a jacket and maybe even have a backup in your car. It’s amazing how many sessions end early because the clients get too cold. The list can go on and on, but it’s important to anticipate the possible dilemmas and plan accordingly.

9) Engagement Photography Tip 9 | Have The End Product in Mind If your client is ordering a 20 page sign in book, you might need more photos than if they’re looking for one picture to blow up at their reception. Furthermore, if they’re looking to create a book, you might cater the shots to fit well in your style of books. For example, some photographers might take more sequenced shots to place in a row; or some might look for more variety in locations. In contrast, if you’re looking for that one, stunning shot to be enlarged for their reception, you might need to shoot with that in mind. Without changing your natural style too much, knowing the final product helps ensure that you’re delivering the right photos for the end product.

10) Engagement Photography Tip 10 | Stay Flexible – Photography ideas that stem from the client are sometimes cheesy and sometimes (actually, often times) just plain bad. On the other hand, they can be great and even inspirational. Regardless of the idea, it’s your ability to accommodate, modify, and improve their ideas to match their personalities and their style that will determine the overall client satisfaction.

We hope you learned, or were reminded of, a few things in this article, and as always, we would love a friendly discussion of engagement photography tips in the comments below.

If you’re interested in learning more about engagement photography, be sure to check out our Natural Light Couples Photography DVD. See the preview below:

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Good advice.

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  2. Michel Jones

    Thanks for such a nice tips and photos. One more thing I want to add here, few days ago when I was searching for some good engagement photography, I found one website. Where i found some good engagement photo. So I would like to share a link .

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  3. Damien Lavizzo

    “Photography ideas that stem from the client are sometimes cheesy and sometimes (actually, often times) just plain bad”

    True, but guess who is paying your bills. You salvaged this comment when you said that it IS your job to “accommodate, modify, and improve their ideas”, but I would venture to say that no idea that comes from a paying client is “bad” – if the client wants a particular shot or theme, it’s your job to give it to them. When you start paying your clients, that’s another story but if it’s their money it’s their moment. 

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    • Michael Yuen

      On the other hand, if the client’s idea is cheesy and bad, and you are asked to shoot it, it may go against your own style/image and poorly reflect on your “cheesy” photography. I agree that you should find a way to take the client’s idea and make it fit your style that reflects your type of work.

      If the client consistently comes up with bad ideas and doesn’t like any of the shots you made to accommodate them, then the client and photographer are a bad fit.

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  4. Warrior

    Great article!

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  5. Carlos

    I definitely picked up a nugget or two or three to keep in mind on my next E-session. Basically, in letting others help, whether it be an assistant with equipment, or having clients chimp, I’m relieved of a bit of anxiety with the end product thereby allowing ME to relax and think more clearly about my vision in the moment. Thanks!

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  6. Bristol Wedding Photographer

    Good advice, as always! Thanks for that! ;)

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  7. Angela

    Great article and great reminders! Staying flexible is probably one of those things we need to remind ourselves almost every shoot we are on because it never fails to be relevant.

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  8. Julie

    So true about getting the basic headshots and close ups. I too find my clients relax after the first 10-20 minutes. Most couples rock up ready to smile and that’s what they think they are expected to do, so I think it’s great to start off with them smiling right into the camera.

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