a collage of three couple portraits featuring engagement sessions

The perfect icebreaker, engagement sessions are a great way to connect with your clients and explore your creativity with the images you take. The reason? Engagement shoots are quite different from the grueling marathon of photographing a wedding. You have a lot more time on your hand than you do on the wedding day to set up poses and get to know the couple. In a way then, these sessions offer you a sweet little window to focus on your couple and tell their story just the way they want. And to help professional wedding photographers nail the engagement session with better planning, posing, and improvisation, we bring you these simple tips. Check them out!

How To Nail An Engagement Session

Here’s your engagement session guide to navigating through the process of planning and photographing a memorable engagement photography experience for your clients.

1. Planning 

infographic stating nailing engagement shoots becomes relatively easy when you know the location and the challenges it could pose

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." This line could be dating back to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella The Little Prince, but it still seems to have a universal appeal even after so many years. And just like in any other sphere, planning plays a crucial role in helping things work in your favor as a photographer on a shoot day. Nailing engagement sessions becomes relatively easy when you know the location and the challenges it could pose. Because let’s face it - be it poor lighting or shooting permits, you wouldn’t want unannounced hurdles to hinder your pace of work on the shoot day. To avoid getting into such a situation, here’s how you can prepare yourself better for the photography session.

Suggested Read: Planning An Engagement Session

A. Decide On A Location

Begin with pre-deciding on a location for your couple’s engagement shoot! Be it a nearby garden, a cafe where your couple had their first date, an amusement park, something on their travel list, a city’s vantage point, a beach, a backyard lawn, or even their home sweet home! The choice of engagement venue could be anything. Start by asking your couple what’s brewing in their minds. If they have specific choices, great! If not, not to worry! Suggest some of your favorite spots in and around the city that could work as an awesome place to get stellar engagement photos.

Moreover, if you have images from the previous sessions taken at a particular location, you can share those with your clients as well to help them get a better understanding of the visuals. More importantly, try to get to know the couple and understand their personalities. For example, if they are both outdoorsy people, perhaps you can suggest an adventure engagement session and build their expectations accordingly. If they are people who love the solace of their home and would love to reflect that in their engagement photos, plan their session around that.

B. Fix The Date & Time

a couple of color posing while the bride looks at the cameraImage Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @apollofields

The next important thing on your list is to finalize a date and time. This is based on three factors: the location, availability, and time of the year. First, if the location of choice has time constraints, i.e., opening and closing time, you will have to plan your engagement photo session taking this factor into consideration. If you selected a location with no timing constraints, you would still want to plan the photo shoot within a safe window that allows you the best lighting and shooting conditions. The golden hour is one such preferred window.

Second, and an equally important factor, is your and the couple’s availability. If like most wedding photographers, your weekends are preoccupied with wedding bookings, you would need to communicate that to your clients. And select a preferable time during the weekdays. Also, if they too can’t seem to block their calendars for a weekday, try to work on finding a middle ground.

Lastly, be mindful of the season and time of the year. Because that determines the sunset and sunrise timing, which could play a crucial role if you are planning to incorporate those gorgeous sunrises or breathtaking sunsets in your sessions. Moreover, pay attention to the season, try to avoid the timing of direct sun during the summers or the wee hours to avoid the bone-chilling cold weather during the winters. Also, set up prior expectations as to how long the session will take.

C. Location Scouting

Being well-acquainted with the shoot location can help you seamlessly navigate through the entire engagement photo session. Not only will it significantly reduce the time spent in looking for ideal spots on the day of the shoot but also limit the trial and error process for the ideal lighting. Moreover, location scouting could help you better prepare the logistics of the venue such as the timings, any rules and regulations, the need for photography permits, camera charges, etc. In addition to that, take notes of all the natural corners, backdrops, and shades that could add to your scene.

D. Discuss The Theme

infographic stating having a theme in place could help you chalk out your shot list with ease

While you can do without an engagement photo theme, including one to your session is just a lot more fun. First, it could help bring out a lot more exciting and fun couple poses. Moreover, it could also help you streamline the process of deciding on a shot list. Yet again, if your clients have something they wish to include as part of their photography vision, address it and see how you can incorporate it into the session. If that’s not the case, here are some engagement session ideas - a dream destination, winter wonderland, wanderlust, posing with pets, etc. For a better understanding of how to include these themes into your workflow and some amazing engagement photo ideas, follow this blog on 12 engagement photo themes to fit every mood and budget

E. Planning The Outfits

a couple posing intimately on the doorway of a stone structureImage Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @jodibphotography

“Dress for the location or the theme.” Here’s some advice that you can pass on to your clients when it comes to choosing the outfits for their engagement day. Another major help would be to tell them that “matching outfits is a big no-no!” Rather than going for the same color, ask them to smartly coordinate their outfits. In addition to that, take into consideration the time of the day and the color
palette of your dominant backgrounds.

You do not require your couple to entirely blend in with or jarringly stand out before a particular background but rather complement the surroundings, making the images look cohesive and well-balanced in terms of colors. Most couples tend to go for two different outfits, but that can vary. Two sets of outfits bring more variation and flexibility to change the location background accordingly, but one works just as fine for a short, simple, and casual engagement session. If your couple is game for more than two looks, even that works; however, do keep in mind the more the number of changes, the more the need to plan the logistics better. So prepare accordingly!

Lastly, in addition to outfits, a professional hair and makeup session can also help your clients with the getting ready process. And also steer clear of the constant fear of a bad hair day on the day of a photo shoot. And honestly, most of us like to look our best when facing the camera, and if it is for a special occasion like an engagement shoot, then your couples have all the more reason to look the part!

F. The Need For An Assistant

infographic stating if you find yourself juggling between multiple tasks, perhaps you need an assistant to share your workload

You might not always require an assistant to help you out during an engagement photo shoot, but if you do, it is important that you take action in advance rather than getting stuck during the shoot. These sessions are often fun but they could also require you to move about and be proactive when it comes to trying different photography angles. And to get everything in order, you might need someone to help you and your couple with multiple things such as holding and carrying props, gear bags, or reflectors. If you are wondering how to take engagement photos while handling all that and more, perhaps an assistant could help.

G. Including Props, Pets, Or Kids

The best engagement photographs are often those that bring out the reflection of the couple’s personality and their life together. And what better way to do that than to include fragments of their lives - be it their pets or kids. However, if your clients are planning to include any of the two as a part of their engagement photo shoot, include them for a few shots. But keep the primary focus on the couple.

Moreover, if kids or pets are going to be a part of your session, guide your couples that a) they would require someone to be there with them during the shoot and b) it would be wise to bring them in for a brief window only, so that after a few photographs, the couple could be themselves without feeling the urge to look after them. In addition to pets or kids, props could also make for exciting engagement photo ideas. However, be mindful of limiting their use to a few shots and only if it is either requested by the clients or goes with the engagement photo theme. 

H. Bring Minimal Gear

Going by the “Keep It Simple” (KISS) motto, remember that less is always more when it comes to choosing camera gear for an engagement shoot. You don’t need to haul your whole wedding rig. Even though the engagement session is shorter than the wedding day, there is plenty of movement involved (which can tire you out, especially with too much gear to carry around). If planned right, one camera body (with a backup in the car!) and two or three of your favorite lenses should be enough.

2. Posing

a couple kissing in the middle of a busy street Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @jorgesantiagophoto

Posing can be nerve-wracking for some couples. After all, not everyone is born with a spotlight on their face or a knack to know their best angles. But as a photographer, you can make the process a bit easier for them. Coming up with engagement photo poses and guiding your couples throughout the photo shoot is crucial. And here’s how you can make that happen!

A. Encourage Interaction

Encourage interaction during the session to avoid the poses from looking mechanical and forced. The best of posing is often what appears effortless. And to get to that stage, it is crucial that your couples feel at ease. So when you encourage them to just be themselves and interact with each other, the natural ease will show in their body language too.

Moreover, because you are showcasing two people in love, kissing, hugging, and holding hands can make for great moments. However, remember not to press your couple to do things they might not be comfortable with - or would not want to be a part of their photographs! Another plus for encouraging interaction is that it will allow you to get to know your couple better and help them get comfortable with you.

B. Provide Clear Instructions

Since this is usually your first time working with the couple, be sure to be extra clear with posing instructions and engage in light-hearted banter. Engagement sessions can be great practice sessions before the wedding day. What it also does is help you establish trust in advance. So pay extra attention to ensuring that your couple and you are on the same page when it comes to poses and the overall vision of the shoot.

C. Foundation Posing

a couple embracing each other while the sun shines on themImage Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @loversoflove

Start your session by incorporating foundation posing. Not only are these easy to enact but also yield awesome results. Engagement session poses can benefit from following the KISS principle. Pick poses that you know in advance will be flattering and comfortable for both the future bride and groom. It can be good to have a few go-to poses, just in case you get in a bind. Here are the five basic posing cues for foundation posing:

  • Open Pose: Just as the name suggests, this pose allows the couple to open up their body structure. This would mean opening up posture for the shoulders, the feet, the chest, and the hips. They could be facing the camera.
  • Closed Pose: Closed pose allows the couple to draw attention toward each other. In this pose, the couple would be facing each other and also aligning their body (chest, hips, feet) toward each other.
  • V-Up Pose: In this pose, you can direct your couple to form a V-like frame with their bodies while facing each other. So while the lower body appears to be hinged together, the upper body form opens up to a V-like shape. 
  • Stacked Pose: In this pose, frame the taller of the two, at the back of the shorter person with their bodies facing the same direction. Holding hands often goes well along with this pose.
  • Reversed Pose: This pose allows one person to stand in a position that faces away from the camera while the other person stands next to them in a direction facing the camera.

D. Micro Posing

Now that you are familiar with the fundamentals of posing cues, following the same posing basics, experiment by adding slight posing adjustments. The idea behind implementing micro posing is to keep the fundamentals essentially the same, with some tweaks here and there. Some of the aspects where you could bring variation are the direction of the eyes, the space between the couple, the placement and movement of hands, and the overall emotion and mood of the image. As little as it seems, these tweaks can bring striking differences in the sequence of your engagement photo poses.

E. Experiment With Cropping

a couple standing holding each other's hands and glasses on their other hands Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @lovebyjoemac

Cropping introduces another aspect of creative experimentation. Even if you are posing the couple in the same manner for two different photographs, the way you choose to frame the scene can make all the difference. For example, a wide-angle frame, medium cropped frame, and tightly cropped frame can all provide beautiful imagery within the same pose. A combination of such poses also makes for good photo collages.

F. Introduce Movement

Adding a bit of movement to the posing process can help you break the monotony of all the static poses. Moreover, it helps you include a sense of spontaneity and candid appeal. Thus, bringing a sense of authenticity. Asking your couples to simply walk while holding hands is one of the easiest ways to include movement in your photographs. Other cues could include a twirl, a jump shot, genuine laughter, etc.

Related Read: Engagement Session Posing

3. Photography & Lighting
infographic photography quote by Alfred Stieglitz

“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” This quote by noted American photographer Alfred Stieglitz beautifully underscores the role light plays in photography. Finding the right light and working out the best angles are an integral part of your engagement photography workflow. And there are different ways you can get that right! Here are some aspects that you can work around for a smooth workflow.

A. Switch Shooting Angles

Begin with incorporating your “safe shot” in a pose, then look for different angles before you move the couple to a different pose. Think of incorporating different angles, such as bird’s-eye view, close-up, over-the-shoulder shot, for more variation. When you have a variety of angles to shoot from, your portfolio becomes more diverse, helping you attract ideal clients when you share the images.

B. Find The Perfect Light

a couple of color posing while leaning towards each otherImage Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @infiniteloopphoto

Try scheduling engagement sessions around the golden hour - an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. You may not have much of a say over timing or lighting on the wedding day, so if possible try scheduling your session during your ideal shooting time. Chase scenarios with soft and diffused lighting conditions. A soft golden hue during the sunset and sunrise adds a bit of a sweet dreamlike effect to the images. On the other hand, during the blue hour - the time around dusk - the inky cool tones of the sky can help you add a sense of magic and mystery to your images. Simply put, try to avoid harsh lighting situations by carefully planning the session’s timeline.

Quick Tip: If, for some reason, you are unable to hold the photo shoot during your ideal shooting time, we’d suggest that you go ahead and practice new lighting techniques! From understanding how to work through harsh lighting to shooting at night, capturing the perfect light during the session is possible in any situation. If needed, make use of reflectors to diffuse light.

Related Read: Top 5 Tips: Photography Lighting Basics For Any Location 

C. Get Creative With Artificial Lighting

As much as we would want as photographers to always find the best lighting conditions, it isn’t always the case. And it is in times like these that artificial lighting can be a savior. Learning how to use flash can help you gain complete control over the lighting scenario, its quality, amount, color, and direction. With the creative use of flash, you can subtract light from all the distracting elements and add it to your main subject.

Suggested Read: Hard Light Vs Soft Light: Understanding Wedding Lighting

D. Include A Sense Of Storytelling

infographic stating instead of telling a story from start to finish, try framing a few shots in a way so that when put together, they form a sequence


Now, if you are wondering how to include a sense of story when covering engagements, here’s a trick. You don’t have to go on telling a story from start to finish; rather, try framing a few shots in a way so that when put together, they form a sequence. One of the easiest ways to work this out is to start your session by taking some wide-angle shots, then slowly proceed with medium, close, and tight shots. Remember to keep the outer elements such as the location, lighting condition, or background similar. This sequence can help you introduce a sense of story in your photographs. Moreover, such images also work great as a collage.

E. Shoot For An Album

A popular way to showcase an engagements is to have it printed as a guest signing book to display at the wedding. Keep that in mind during the session and look for details or angles that will add to a possible book layout. An album is something your couple can keep and show their friends and family, ensuring that you remain top of mind when someone from your couple’s social circle needs a wedding photographer.

Engagement picture poses work naturally for an album, and oftentimes, professional photographers forget to offer one to their clients. Since you’ll be shooting a variety of poses, ranging from completely posed to natural and candid, your final images will make a wonderful album. One idea: Offer to make your couple a signing book that wedding guests can write in on the wedding day. Build the book with engagement pictures.

F. Give Your Couple Time To Enjoy 

a couple posing where the bride is in a hoodie and the groom is on a bicycleImage Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @sarafrance

Engagement sessions are a great way to capture beautiful portraits of people and showcase your signature style. Take moments to have fun with the couple - even if they don’t yield you any images, you are building rapport with the couple. And that will pay off in big dividends on the wedding day and in getting to know your clients! When you can include your couple’s emotions in the engagement shoot, you will continuously create stunning photos they are sure to love!

4. Make The Most Of The Weather

Oftentimes, the weather has its own mind. And, at times, no matter how precisely you followed the weather forecast, the predictions can take a complete U-turn. As a photographer, it might lead you to change your plans at the eleventh hour. But before rushing to immediately call out “pack up”, learn how you can make the most of the weather.

A. Rain

The weather playing a spoilsport on the day of your engagement shoot? Wait! Do not immediately cancel the session because of inclement weather. Overcast skies or even a little sprinkle can provide interesting lighting conditions. Also, using umbrellas as props or tucking the couple under the eaves can be fun ways to show intimacy and add a dash of romance to your images! However, before booking a final date, be sure to check the weather forecast. And in times of heavy rain, check with your client if you can postpone the session. Especially, if the theme and mood of the session are all about soft tone, golden-hue images.

B. Incorporate Your Environment With Creative Framing

a couple posing in a hayfield where the groom has lifted the bride in his armsImage Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer @olsondesignphotography

One good way of incorporating your setting into your images could be shooting through objects and using your surroundings as props. For example, if you find yourself in a field with tall grasses and wildflowers, consider posing the couple amid the green patch, then position yourself to include some out-of-focus greenery in the foreground of the image. Techniques such as these can help add some visual interest and establish your location in the images you take.

When you’re still learning how to take engagement photos, focusing on the natural landscape around you will dramatically help you achieve your goal. Engagement photo poses that incorporate the environment connect the location and the couple, creating a wonderful synergy. For example, if you are doing beach engagement photos, consider weaving the ocean and the sand into your photos so that the images exude the vibe of the surroundings. After all, if your couple has chosen a particular location for their engagement shoot, it must hold some value to them. Therefore, try your best to blend the location with the images.

Related Read: Stormy Skies Photo Inspiration From ShootDotEdit Customers

C. Improvise

Things don’t always go as planned. Whether it is a sudden change in the weather or the workflow, a lot can happen. And sometimes, even all your planning can still fall short of preparing you for something out of the ordinary. Your best call? Improvise! Follow your photographer’s instinct, put on your creative hat, and let the magic unfold. Sometimes, the best plans are the ones that take an interesting turn.

Increase Your Chances Of Future Bookings With Engagement Sessions

infographic stating when your clients are happy, the chances of them booking you for their future milestones would also go up

A gypsy run before the wedding day, a great opportunity to get to know your couple better, an ideal occasion to make your couple feel comfortable before the camera ahead of their big day, a stellar chance to build your couple’s trust and set expectations - an engagement photo shoot has many advantages. That’s why walking into your next engagement shoot thoroughly prepared with the tips we’ve shared here will not only boost your confidence but also help you deliver your best and impress your clients. And when your clients are happy, the chances of them booking you for their future milestones would also go up!

Further Read: Architecture-Inspired Engagement Photos From ShootDotEdit Customers

At ShootDotEdit, we are passionate about helping you grow as a wedding photographer. Besides sharing helpful tips, we also strive to make your post-production workload lighter with our professional photo editing services. If you’ve been spending too much time editing photos, then you should consider outsourcing your editing to the experts. To learn more about our services, check out our pricing plans.

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