I’ve written this page as advice to my own clients, with my own taste and style in mind; I prefer comfortable, natural pictures that aren’t too stylized.
When you’re planning your look for our photo session, just keep repeating these words: close, confident, and comfortable. Prepare well, then just show up and have fun.
Clothes and Accessories Considerations for Both Women and Men
The primary guideline for both women and men is that you wear clothes that you love, that make you feel confident and comfortable. All of the following advice should accommodate that primary guideline. We’re not doing “fashion photography” here – my focus is on the closeness between you and your fiance. Most of my clients say that what they like about my pictures is that the people look human, natural, and comfortable, not completely glam, self-conscious, or posed.
You should be comfortable in your clothes, whether they are casual or dressy. They should fit you well, and generally should not be too baggy. Any clothes that require a lot of adjusting and accommodating are likely poor choices, because we want you focused on each other, not on that strap, or that collar, or whatever. Try not to match your clothes to each other too much: coordinate, but don’t match. Anything that can be ironed should be ironed – trying to fix rumpled clothing in Photoshop is not an option – it never works well. Classic styles and shapes work well on most people, even though they may not be the trendiest, and you won’t end up looking at the pictures in 15 years and smacking your forehead.
The best choices for photos are usually simple solids, bold colors, minimal patterns or no patterns at all, and definitely no bold logos. Try to avoid wearing white, including white sneakers or shoes, unless it really is how you’ll be most comfortable, as it can be so bright that it becomes distracting. Wearing black can be great, but remember how everything tends to be visible on black: every little bit of dust, leaves, every hair out of place, cat and dog hair, etc., is going to show in the pictures. I’m a big fan of black and white photos; clothes that are bold colors will translate well into black and white, while pastels generally won’t.
Your clothes should be appropriate for the location, and the same goes for shoes and jewelry. This usually means that your attire is not quite as dressy as “business casual” but also not “I’m going to mow the lawn.” Think “casual date.” Khaki colors are rarely flattering on anyone in pictures, and the same is true for turtlenecks and heavy sweaters.
Dressing in layers can work well for both women and men, and allows for changing the look pretty easily. The more options you can bring along, the better: an easily-removed lightweight jacket, sweater, or scarf (for either men or women) might be a nice way of achieving a different look without having to actually change your clothes. We are likely to have trouble finding a good place to really change clothes. We also shouldn’t be carrying too much extra stuff, because we’ll just have to put it down somewhere, and it can end up being a distraction. I’m not going to obsess about how your clothes look – I’m much more interested in how YOU look. I’ll be trying to find moments and situations that look natural for who you are as a couple. Of course, when I see a really good opportunity for something glamorous I’ll take it, but in general I’m less interested in glamor and more interested in expressions, reactions to each other, etc.
If you normally wear glasses, then you should wear them in the pictures. If you have photochromic lenses, which get darker when exposed to daylight, we’re going to have to find some way to work around that – either bring a different pair of glasses or wear no glasses at all.
Avoid sunburn in the days before the session, and go easy on the tanning, too. A haircut or trim done a week or so before the shoot is usually a good choice.
Considerations for Men
Be prepared to receive a little bit of transparent powder on your face, head, or neck, in case you’re looking shiny – this makes a huge difference in the pictures, and doesn’t look like you’re wearing makeup. A clean shave can go a long way to dressing you up. We want to see your eyes, so if you’re wearing sunglasses I’ll probably ask that you take them off. Dark jeans are a good choice, as are button-down or polo shirts, tucked in or not, whatever your preference. Shorts or t-shirts probably wouldn’t be good choices, unless we’re planning to be at a really casual location. A hat is a great accessory, but should not be worn for all of our pictures. If taking off the hat will leave you with serious and irreparable hat-head, then it’s probably best to do without it altogether. Try to limit the amount of stuff in your pockets, too, so your clothes hang well on you. We definitely don’t want anything large in your front pockets; that could really bring our pictures in an entirely different direction than we had planned.
Considerations for Women
Makeup should be appropriate for the location and time of day, generally matte (not shiny), and not glittery, unless we’re doing an evening shoot, and you (or your makeup artist) really know how to do this well. If you’re not normally one to wear makeup, at least consider a little bit of powder to help even your skin tone and reduce any shine, and a bit of lipstick. If you’re so inclined, foundation and mascara can be a big help, as long as they aren’t overdone. Choose lip, cheek, and eye colors that are just a bit bolder than you’d normally wear, and be sure your makeup blends well into the rest of your skin tones – remember, we’ll be seeing your ears, neck, and hands, too!
Sunglasses are OK as an accessory, but we’ll likely keep them off your eyes (on top of your head, in your hand, etc.) More than anything we want to see your face, so I’d likely ask that you remove your sunglasses. If your hair isn’t behaving in the breeze we may need to put it up or back, so please come with the means to do so. (For these pictures, it probably IS worth fighting the wind in your hair, even if it’s causing trouble, because a bit of a breeze will look great when it’s coming from the right direction.) Having your hair done in advance of the shoot can help, but remember to keep it in a style that’s appropriate for the location and time of day. Some stronger hairspray than you’d normally use can help, too, if done in moderation. Since we are going to have you looking at each other a lot, that means the camera will be seeing you in profile; it happens pretty often that long hair ends up blocking your face when you are seen in profile, so I’ll probably keep asking you to move it back. Your hair makes a great accessory, but like any other accessory it becomes unwelcome when it keeps us from seeing your face.
If you would normally carry a handbag to this location, then a handbag is OK, as long as it doesn’t distract too much from our ability to see you, and your ability to be comfortable and close with your fiance. Most women end up being more comfortable without the bag. If you do bring a bag, remember you may end up putting it down somewhere nearby at some point, and that might mean putting it on the ground.
A very short skirt or very low-cut top probably wouldn’t be good choices for all of the pictures, as they will limit the way you can be posed and the angles from which you can be photographed without the pictures becoming inappropriately risque. If you want to go a bit sexier, sure, by all means bring those clothes – we can definitely do some pictures that you wouldn’t want to use for something as public as a Save The Date card.
Supportive or smoothing undergarments (like Spanx) can be a big help, regardless of your figure, and can help your clothes hang well and move well. We’re likely going to do a lot of walking, so make sure your shoes will be sufficiently comfortable. If we’re going to be on the grass or sand, tall heels are going to be a problem. We will probably want to photograph the engagement ring on your hand, so you might want to have your nails looking their best, as long as they are appropriate for the location and time of day. If you would prefer to photograph the ring on its own, maybe the ring box would be a good choice, if you still have it, or we could have your fiancé hold it, or just put it down somewhere.
The most important thing is that we have lots of pictures of the both of you, close together, looking confident and comfortable, and in great locations. We may do some pictures of each of you alone, too. If either of you have a particular concern about some part of you showing that you’d prefer does not show too much (you don’t like your ears, or your thumbs, or your arms, or your ankles, etc.), try to dress in such a way that you won’t be distracted by it, and please let me know about your concerns in advance, so I can be prepared and try to accommodate. Everyone has their concerns; part of my job is helping keep those issues out of our way, but I can’t do that if I don’t know what’s on your mind.
It’s probably going to feel a bit like you’re on stage, and being asked to be a bit more intimate in public than you normally would (I’m assuming here!). No one expects you to be actors or models – just be yourselves, and it’ll be great. I’m going to take a LOT of pictures, so we’ll have plenty of options from which to choose. You definitely won’t be staring into the camera the whole time.
You might want to bring some props, too: the dog, the guitar, the sports jersey, the picnic basket, the wacky picnic blanket, the floppy hat, whatever. We probably won’t use them all, or all the time, but it’s fun to have options. If you want to do something specific for your Save The Date card or engagement announcement, please prepare that: the chalk board, or the sidewalk chalk, the paint so we can put the wedding date on the bottoms of your shoes, etc. My own personal preference is for a Save The Date card to be a sweet picture of the two of you, not too intimate, and not too contrived, but I’m happy to go along with whatever you’ve got planned.
I’m going to do everything I can to keep the backgrounds of the pictures interesting but unobtrusive. The pictures I’m trying to make are “awesome pictures of you, in that place.” This will often mean that I am quite a long way from you taking pictures using a long telephoto lens. Believe it or not, and in spite of having ALL of this advice, I’m not one to shout instructions at you, so there will be plenty of time when you feel you’re just hanging out together, and then remember that I’m way off over there taking pictures. “Where did he go?” is something I hear on occasion, and I love that: it tells me that you were just having a real, private moment together, and you forgot about being photographed for a minute. Those moments are great little opportunities for me to see you looking real, comfortable, sincere.
Some of my clients don’t really love being photographed. Some always feel that they look awkward in pictures, and although they want to have pictures from this time in their lives, they are sort of dreading the actual photo shoot. Fear not. I’m going to take a lot of pictures. No, really, A LOT. Some close up, some from very far away. We’ll have plenty from which to choose. In the end, there’s always just one that is the favorite from the day. I aim to give you a whole bunch that you’ll love, but still there’s always just one that is the best.
The less you want pictures of yourself that are close up, the more important the location we choose for the photo session; if the place is really stunning then I can make pictures that show a lot of the environment, and you appear smaller in the frame. The picture then becomes about the two of you being together, in that amazing place, instead of being about your features, your figure, your clothes. There’s no reason that we can’t make sweet, fun, intimate pictures of you, no matter what your particular concerns may be.
An engagement portrait session is a great opportunity for us to work together to find ways for you to be more comfortable in pictures, which will mean you are more confident about having pictures taken on your actual wedding day. I give my clients complete veto power over the pictures, so you can control which pictures of you are shown, and which go into the “no one should ever see this” pile. This is a core principle of my business practice.
We’ll do a lot of moving around, we’ll do lots of pictures that have you from head to toe and have tons of background, and also lots of pictures that are pretty close up. The best pictures will be ones that really show who you are, and who you are together.
Try to be prepared to be close, at ease, goofy, fun, playful, together. How? If I could answer that, I would! You might look up some jokes in advance, so you can tell them during the session. Try making a mental list of some old private jokes, favorite stories to tell each other, etc. (I’ll likely be too far away to hear any of that.) Your reactions to each other are what make for the best pictures. If you want to have a drink before the session to put yourselves at ease, please keep it to just one.
As far as weather goes, as long as it isn’t actually raining and storming, we can take good pictures. Dramatic stormy skies and wet sidewalks can be good, but we don’t want it to look like you’re “weathering a storm” together. We may have difficulty finding places to sit or put things down if it has recently rained. If we need to change the date to accommodate the weather, we change the date to accommodate the weather, it’s no big deal.
Direct, midday sunlight is our very worst enemy, no matter what time of year – no one looks good in it, and there’s nothing I can do about it with lenses, lighting or Photoshop. Early morning and late afternoon are generally the best choices, as are weekdays instead of weekends, so we won’t have too many other people around distracting us, or walking through the background.
We’ll have plenty of time, so don’t worry about the time. Within those 3 hours that I offer, we can go to whatever locations you like, though I advise against trying to do more than two separate spots, as we end up spending very little time actually taking pictures. If we’re going to be in just one location, three hours is a very long time for portraits; most people are showing signs of having had enough after a little more than one hour. After that, some people become bored and antsy, and others are finally getting really comfortable. Everyone is different, which is why I offer such a big block of time. Sometimes the best pictures happen when you’re no longer focused on looking your best, and you just look like … you.