Complete Guide to Engagement Photography – 10 Tips & Tricks for Better Photos
Engagement photography, or pre-wedding photoshoots, provide photographers with an opportunity to develop communication and trust with clients prior to the wedding day. These controlled, predictable shoots also give photographers a chance to practice, experiment, and try new creative techniques without as many pressures or time constraints as a wedding day. The best way to become a better engagement photographer is to get out there and shoot. But to ensure a positive experience for both sides and to prepare yourself for success, we’ve compiled 10 engagement shoot tips to help you the best session possible!
Engagement Photography Guide Outline
- Understand the Clients’ Needs/Wants (WAVE)
- Plan out the Details & Wardrobe
- Master Foundation Posing
- Learn Natural Light Engagement Photography
- Incorporate Flash into Your Engagement Photography
- Refine Posing & Directing
- Understand Storytelling
- Master Off-Camera Flash Engagement Photography
- Learn Multi-Point Lighting for Engagement Photography
- Elevate Your Engagement Photography With Advanced Creative Flash
1. Understand the Clients’ Needs/Wants (WAVE)
Our first engagement photo session tip is to put together a successful plan to help understand your client’s vision and establish the right expectations.
1a. Take the Photos your Clients Want
Often times as photographers we are faced with shooting in the same locations over and over again which inevitably places us in a creative rut. The best way to combat this is to make sure your engagement sessions are personalized and catered to your clients’ desires.
We created the W.A.V.E (Wall Art Vision Exercise) as a means to help photographers better dial in the creative vision clients have for their shoot and it has easily become one of our favorite engagement photography tips for photographers. The W.A.V.E. a simple exercise designed to help your clients focus on the type of images they desire, and it allows you to start planning for (and envisioning) the shoot.
Bonus Engagement Session Tip: Watch a video demonstrating how the W.A.V.E method works here!
2. Plan out the Details & Wardrobe
Location scouting and planning is for your session is easily one of the most important engagements shoot tips. Here are a couple of ways we suggest preparing for your next engagement session.
2a. Have the Couple Create a Moodboard
True lifestyle photography requires that we understand our clients’ personalities and tastes. Have your client put together a mood board on Pinterest to help you better understand their style, help to determine your engagement session location, and get a better understanding of the vibe and feel they are looking for.
Bonus Engagement Session Tip: Create Pinterest mood boards categorized with images from locations you frequently shoot at. This is not only a great marketing tool, but can also be used as a reference tool for your clients.
2b. Discuss Wardrobe & Styling
To ensure that your engagement session is cohesive, discuss what the couple will be wearing and if there are any potential props that they will be bringing. This engagement shoot tip is to make sure you aren’t in for any surprises when you show up.
3. Master Foundation Posing
Posing is an area that is one of the most challenging for photographers to master. There are times when you’re at an engagement shoot and you feel like you’ve run out of posing ideas and struggling to get a certain look or feel, and this is why we’ve developed an entire framework for posing (easily our most popular engagement photography tip) that we call the Foundation Posing Framework, which teaches you what you need to know.
3a. Understand The 5 Foundation Poses
Around 97% of poses come from 5 different positions of the feet and this was how our Foundation Posing Framework was created. By learning these 5 poses from the ground up, you’ll be able to place your couple in any pose and will likely be your most used engagement photo session tip. The framework also allows you to get in and out of poses quickly.
Bonus Engagement Photography Tip: This e-book is packed with tons of engagement photography tips and tricks for posing, lighting, and planning! It’s one of our favorite engagement session resources and it’s entirely free to download.
4. Learn Natural Light Engagement Photography
One of the most important beginner engagement photography tips for photographers is to have a solid understanding of how to manipulate and maximize natural light before moving into any artificial lighting.
4a. How to Shoot with Available Light
Interpreting light starts by understanding its attributes: quality, color, direction, and luminosity. Of these factors, light direction distinguishes the overall theme of an image, as shadows and highlights cast onto the subject based on the light’s direction can either emphasize or reduce imperfections. The Hand Test is a nifty engagement shoot tip to help determine where to place your couple in just a couple of seconds. This is a quick and easy way to find your direction of light and start shooting.
Bonus Engagement Session Tip: Watch this tutorial from our best-selling course Photography 101 that demonstrates the Hand Test in action!
4b. Master the Reflector | Your Simplest Lighting Tool
Before investing in on/off-camera lighting, start by manipulating natural light with a silver side or white side of a reflector. The best engagement photography tips and tricks are often the simplest and that is definitely the case when it comes to a 5-in-1 reflector. It’s a great way to add a kiss of light into the scene without overcomplicating it.
Bonus Engagement Session Tip: Here is a BTS video from one of Pye’s engagement sessions that offers multiple techniques on how to use a 5-in-1 reflector on your next engagement session.
4c. Maximize Dynamic Range
When your ambient light starts to fade, you’ll need to rely on pushing your camera to its max capacity to really try and retain all the color and detail in the scene. With natural light couples photography, you can try and underexpose an image to retain that detail and then pull it into post to enhance it.
5. Incorporate Flash into Your Engagement Photography
There is only so far you can push your camera sensor to let in all the available light, and that’s where on-camera flash comes into play. Shooting with a flash can be very intimidating if you are new to photography, but luckily we’ve got you covered with these on-camera and off-camera flash tips.
5a. Create Flattering Light with a Single On-Camera Flash
It’s truly a myth that you can’t create beautiful light from an on-camera flash, it all just depends on how to modify and/or bounce it.
5b. Incorporate Off-Camera Flash for Natural Effect
After you’ve garnered a basic understanding of how to manipulate your on-camera flash to create flattering light, it’s time to take it off-camera. Creating ‘natural-looking flash’ comes down to the type of light modifiers that you’re using and more importantly, the balance between ambient light and flash.
Bonus Engagement Session Tip: Struggling with using flash to create natural light effects? Our newest Lighting 4 course is dedicated to creating every natural light effect using flash!
5c. Balancing Ambient Light & Flash for Dramatic Effect
The difference between a natural-looking image and a dramatic image has nothing to do with whether you are adding flash or not, but instead, it deals with ambient light exposure. If you want a more dramatic looking image, you’re going to pull the ambient exposure down and pump up your flash power and do the exact opposite for bright more natural-looking images.
6. Refine Posing & Directing
Now that you’ve got a better grasp on couples posing and engagement photography lighting, let’s kick things up a notch. Understanding the technical art of posing allows photographers to know where a pose is going wrong and how to fix it. Let’s dive into
6a. Mind the Details & Make Micro Adjustments to Your Poses
The key to perfecting your posing skills is by studying the nuances. When focusing on the bigger picture you often miss out on the small details that could have made the image 10% better.
6b. Use Posing Cues to Get Your Couples to Relax
Mastering the concept of “being a director, not a photographer” takes a photographer’s client-service to the next level by using cues and direction to create images that tell consistently authentic stories.
7. Understand Storytelling
Engagement sessions differ vastly from the chaos of weddings in that you get 3-4 hours to just focus on the couple and their story without any other family members or distractions. We’ve created a simple framework called S3 (shooting stories that sell) designed to help you build the foundation for vivid storytelling. Here is one of our favorite tools to use when you need help telling your clients’ stories.
7a. Build a Story
We learned from our previous pathway that we can use the W.A.V.E to dial in our clients’ vision. Use their answers to focus on telling their story through imagery. This three-step process is a simple and easy way to slow down and capture real moments as they unfold.
8. Master Off-Camera Flash Engagement Photography
In our previous pathway, we barely scratched the surface as to what we can accomplish with flash. Let’s cover a few more intermediate techniques that show us how to use one single off-camera flash for dramatic imagery.
8a. Learn How to Overpower the Sun
When you start purchasing more gear and adding higher powered strobes into your kit, you’ll have the ability to create a variety of shots during challenging light throughout the day.
8b. Re-create Golden Hour
When you’ve lost that beautiful golden light and need to re-create it, this is when having more than one flash/strobe comes in handy. The end result will vary depending on the wattage of each light source (mainly between using a flash vs. a strobe) but as rule of thumb, you’ll need at least 400ws of power to convincingly re-create sunlight.
8c. Add Back Lighting
We’ve shown you how to light the subjects from the front, but let’s switch it up and place our flash behind our subjects. This can help to create silhouettes, help enhance flares within a scene, and also help illuminate and chisel out your subjects from the background.
Bonus Engagement Session Tip: Sometimes even the simplest of illusions shock people, and backlit photos are essentially the easiest trick you can pull out of your hat on pretty much any shoot. Read more on how to achieve this technique here.
9. Learn Multi-Point Lighting for Engagement Photography
Now let’s take it one step further and add in multiple off-camera flashes to create images with a higher level of thought and production value.
9a. Incorporate a Front Light & Back Light
Chisel out your subject by creating a two-light setup that helps illuminate your subject just enough to pull them out of the scene and add in a backlight to help separate them from the background.
9b. Create a Spotlight Effect
Highlight both of your subjects in the frame using a simple technique taken from stage lighting. This spotlight effect draws in the eye of the viewer to focus directly on the subjects.
10. Elevate Your Engagement Photography With Advanced Creative Flash
Once you’ve become comfortable incorporating more than one off-camera flash into our engagement sessions, here are some more advanced, multi-point lighting techniques that will help expand your engagement photography.
10a. Understand How to Manipulate White Balance
Visually change your scene by altering your white balance adding colored gels to balance out your subject’s skin tones. This tutorial from MagMod does an incredible job of explaining how different gels paired with custom white balance settings can completely transform a scene.
Bonus Engagement Photography Tip: Struggling with trying to figure out how to dial in the right white balance? This Minute Photography tutorial covers it all!
10b. Freeze Your Subject & Add Movement
A fantastic way to help you enhance the level of creativity that you bring to each and every single one of your shoots is to maximize the capabilities of your camera. When working in locations that contain movement (streets, ocean, crowded places, etc.) you can manipulate your shutter speed to showcase that. This is a great night engagement shoot tip that utilizes a longer exposure to freeze time and create motion blur. The technique you see above is called a “whip-pan” and you can learn how to do it here!
10c. Use Specialty Lenses for Creative Effects
A tilt-shift lens is meant to throw the focus plane off, helping you focus on multiple subjects to create interest or correct perspective. At first, it is difficult to navigate the functionality of a tilt-shift lens, but like any other technique, it’s a matter of trial and error. Understanding how the focus plane works is the main hurdle to cross because it is such a non-traditional perspective. The image above was created using a Canon 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift lens. Click here for more inspiration on how to use a tilt-shift lens in your engagement photography.
10d. Stitch Together Images to Create A Panorama
Panoramic images hold the ability to capture an expansive space and compress it into a single image. Create high-resolution environmental portraits via the Brenizer Method that showcase your subjects and their surroundings. Wide aperture panoramic stitching works best with lenses that give you a shallow depth of field and greater compression.
10e. Use Accessories in Front of Your Lens for Flare Effects
A great way to add interest to your scene is to use objects with reflective and prismatic properties to create fascinating flare characteristics in your image.
10f. Creating Double Exposures In-Camera
Sometimes we have to turn even the worst locations into something extraordinary and having a couple of tricks in your back pocket will really help you out for times like this. Double exposures are a great way to add interest and create magic from your basic surroundings that will definitely awe your clients!
We hope you found this guide helpful and refer back to it when you are looking for helpful engagement photography tips for photographers! Feel free to share and bookmark this as a resource.