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Tips & Tricks

Quitting Your Day Job Part 5: Tips for Successful Engagement Sessions

By Chris Nachtwey on July 23rd 2014

What Really Happens When You Quit Your Day Job – This is a unsugar-coated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full time photographer. I also hope to interview other full time photographers to share their experiences with you as well.

Part 4: Tips For Successful Engagement Sessions

If you’re a wedding photographer like myself, chances are you will be shooting a good number of engagement sessions throughout the year. In my case, I didn’t shoot my first engagement session until I had shot a few weddings. My first few wedding clients didn’t want to do engagement sessions. So there I was, a few weddings under my belt, but not one engagement session. You would think that an engagement session would not make me nervous since I had shot a few weddings, but I was actually pretty nervous going into my first engagement session. Since then, I’ve photographed a good number of engagement sessions, so if you’re going to shoot your first engagement session soon, or feel like your engagement sessions need an overhaul, I’ve got you covered!

REWIND: 10 OVERLOOKED ENGAGEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

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My Six Tips For A Successful Engagement Session

Location

Once a client has decided to do an engagement session with me, I immediately ask them where they would like the session to take place. I always suggest my clients pick a place that is special to them – it can be where they got engaged, where they had their first date, or somewhere they love to go on their days off. I want the location to be special to my client, because a location they love usually leads to a better session. The client is comfortable, relaxed, and excited to be photographed at one of their favorite places. Make sure you do all the research on permits and such for the chosen location so there are no surprises the day of the shoot.

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Time of Day

I like to shoot my engagement sessions during the hour before sunset into the actual sunset. The light is beautiful and we can get some great sunset photos at the end of the session (come on, who doesn’t love a great sunset portrait?). Suggest what time works best for your shooting style to your client, but be prepared to shoot at anytime. Your clients might have tight schedules. I’ve shot during the midday sun, on the streets of NYC on a busy Saturday afternoon, and in a dimly lit forest. “Be prepared for anything” is my motto.

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Communication

My number one rule for any session or wedding is great communication with my client. Being on the same page with your client is so important to a successful engagement session or wedding day. Once we have nailed down a great location and I have found out if a permit is required, I send my client the short email below to help them prep for the session. Some photographers might go into more detail in their email to their clients; I like to keep things to the point.

Hi (Client’s Name),

(Text referring to the specific couple and how I’m excited to meet up and rock the engagement session together.) 

Here are some tips for your engagement session:

  • Relax and have a good time during the session! 
  • Clothes: I always suggest wearing clothing that is casual, but nice, and is comfortable. If you’re not comfortable in your clothes, it will show in the photos. You are more than welcome to bring two outfits. One casual and one more ‘night on the town’ look. All that is up to you and your fiancé, but those are my thoughts on clothing.
  • Hair and Makeup: I always suggest doing your hair and make up in a way that you love! It can be fun, sexy, natural, etc. Just make sure you’re in love with how your hair and make up look!
  • The Ring: I always suggest having your ring cleaned before your session. Don’t have to, just a tip.
  • Ideas: If you have a Pintrest account with some ideas, feel free to send it to me. I create images in my style, but I’m always game for new ideas.
  • Feel free to email, call, or text me to talk about ideas.

My clients are always really receptive to my email above, and love that I help them plan for the session.

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Gear

Oh gear, let’s face it, we have too much of it. I have gear that backs up the back up gear. For engagement sessions though, I try to keep my gear simple.

My Engagement Session Gear

I suggest keeping it simple on an engagement session when it comes to gear. I know I carry a little more then needed, but it’s what I feel comfortable with. I’ve shot an engagement session with less gear and rocked the session just fine. Find the amount of gear your comfortable with, and roll with it!

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Bring an Assistant

I usually never shoot without an assistant. They are my extra hands and eyes. They serve as a voice activated Light stand from time to time, holding a speedlight and modifier when needed. Assistants can also help keep your client engaged by talking with them when you are messing with gear or trying to troubleshoot an equipment problem (nothing worse then having gear not function and all your attention shifts from the client to a piece of gear that is not working). Your assistant should be someone who is personable and works well under pressure.

Posing

I personally use the foundation posing system from SLR Lounge’s Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop DVD and a mix of intimate poses I have created over time. When I first meet the couple, I take a few minutes and explain the four basic foundation poses we will use through out the session, posing my client as I explain them.

I always knock out the important “must have” shots right at the beginning of the session, then move into more intimate or artistic poses. I highly suggest checking out the foundation posing in the SLR Lounges Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop DVD. Learning the foundation poses has made my engagement sessions much more efficient and fun, plus the DVD is full of great tips for planning, photographing, and delivering beautiful images to your couples.

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Conclusion

Engagement sessions are tons of fun and a great time to connect even more with your new client. I include engagement sessions with all my wedding photography packages, because I want my couple to know how I shoot and pose long before the wedding day. If my clients know how I work and pose before the wedding, the wedding day will move along a lot better. That makes clients and photographers happy during the hustle and bustle of your clients’ big day!

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Vince Arredondo

    Excellent Series!

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  2. MARTIN MIANO

    Very good and interesting article. Well said on the communication

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  3. Kurk Rouse

    You shoot crop but you also have excellent glass to back it up, my D7000 had an unfortunate dive into some salt water while I was capturing a seascape let just say a very strong wave bested me RIP D7000 :( . I really like what you said about communication, it’s that communication that allows you bring the emotion out of clients and make there photos look great.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      HAHA yes Kurk! I do have the glass to back it up. When I was starting out I could have blown all my money on the D800, but instead I wanted two cameras that were exactly the same so when I was shooting they felt the same in my hands and I knew the settings..so I choose the D7000’s and invested in the glass, knowing when I want to upgrade to full frame the glass would work just fine with full frame. Glass is king to great images when it comes to gear in my opinion. Communication is key to great images from a client relationship perspective.

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  4. Gregory Davidson

    Nice read, I too recommend SLR Lounge’s Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop DVD

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