How to Prepare for: Engagement Photo Shoot

This article is intended for couples who are going to have an engagement / couples portrait session with Chris Schmauch, the owner of GoodEye Photography + Design (but this is good info even if you’re using another photographer). It is broken down into three main sections in order to help you prepare for the shoot, what to expect during the shoot, and then what to expect after the session is over. I wrote this because I get asked about this topic often, and I’m kinda tired of writing the same email over and over again. Plus, I can add to this article as I think of new tips. Photographers, feel free to link to this page, but don’t reproduce the content (that’s stealing, man!).

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Before the shoot…

Jump To: During the shoot | After the shoot

Why do we need an engagement shoot, anyways?

Ok, so you’ve already sent out your save-the-dates, and you really don’t need any casual portraits to print and hang on the wall. Consider this: would you hire a hair or makeup professional without a trial-run beforehand? These vendors represent an investment of a few hundred dollars at most, yet many couples spend thousands of dollars on their photographer based purely on reputation and the photos they’ve taken of other couples. How will you get along with the photographer on your wedding day? That’s the vendor you’ll interact with the most by far on your Big Day, so wouldn’t you like to know what it’s like to spend time with that person? Don’t you want to see how that person can direct and work with you to make you look your best? Don’t you want to make sure that person makes you feel comfortable, even though you’re uneasy by nature in front of the camera? It seems to me that this is a no-brainer, yet many couples see the engagement session as a luxury. Any multi-thousand-dollar investment should include a greater level of confidence than you can get from an online portfolio and a one-hour meeting in a coffee shop, and I honestly am considering renaming engagement sessions to “practice photography sessions.” Trust me, after you’ve seen what I can do with you, and what you guys are capable of in the right hands, you’ll feel waaay more comfortable going into the actual wedding day. Plus, if your wedding is running behind schedule and our available bride and groom portrait time gets squished to 10 minutes, the three of us will know how to make it productive and fun since we’ve already done it before – as opposed to starting from scratch and trying to learn too much in too little time.


How soon before our wedding should we have the engagement shoot?

The answer really depends on how you intend to use the photos. Typically, couples want to use at least one of the photos for their save-the-dates – so in this case sooner is better.  If you don’t care about save-the-dates, your next consideration should be location. If you have a specific place in mind, perhaps a spot that’s special to you both, that location may look better at certain times of year more than others. Deciduous trees and fields tend to look pretty gross in the winter, but beaches look the same year-round. Lastly, I tend to be most busy during the summer and fall, so if you have a tough schedule to start with, I recommend booking your session when I am not totally slammed with the normal wedding season (and therefore have more flexibility with my own schedule).


Where should we have our engagement session?

If you don’t already have a place in mind that’s special to you both, I have tons of engagement galleries on my website that are organized by type of location: ArchitectureBeach + Field ComboBeach + Urban ComboBeachesCity ParksCity StreetsCountry Farms and BarnsDark Forests / Ferns / CreeksGardensLight Forests and FieldsPonds and LakesPrivate Estates and Urban Decay. These are top-level places that I hope will give you some location inspiration. Don’t feel obligated to choose a place I’ve shot before, I love exploring new locations!


When is the best time of day to shoot?

Because I use off-camera artificial lighting extensively during engagement sessions, I am very flexible in regards to weather, time of day, and location. However, that doesn’t mean some times are more ideal than others – usually the “worst” time to shoot is high-noon – or whenever the sun is at its peak height. The sun is most “harsh” at this time – and most natural light photographers won’t even attempt it. I can and do work with harsh sun routinely, but most couples like to have their engagement session end with a romantic sunset. So, my default start time for engagement shoots is 2 hours before sunset; this could be as late as 6:30pm in the summer, or as early as 2:30pm in the winter. This is assuming we’re shooting at a location that has full-view of the horizon – if we’re on the East/shadow side of a mountain, or if we’re shooting in a forest, we’d want to start much earlier.


We have busy schedules, can we shoot on a weekend?

There are several reasons to not shoot on the weekends, but by far the most important to me is my wife and three kids. Weddings already take up much of my weekend days, so I resolved a few years ago to shoot only weddings on weekends, and shoot everything else during the week. I know this doesn’t relate to you directly, but I want you to understand my motivation here. What is relevant to you, though, is the fact that most engagement shoots take place in public outdoor places – beaches, parks, city streets, points of interest – and there’s less people wandering around these public places during the week. That means less gawkers wondering what we’re up to, and less people to get in the backgrounds of your photos. I know you are both busy, but the vast majority of couples are able to get off a little early from work with a couple month’s advance notice.


What if it is rainy / foggy / windy?

Very few engagement sessions have to be postponed due to bad weather. Rest assured, though, that if I feel the weather will compromise the quality of the photos, I’ll be happy to reschedule with no extra fees. Wind is probably the biggest reason for postponements – especially at west-facing beaches during the summer and early fall. Wind up to 15mph is workable, but gusts beyond that threaten to blow my lighting equipment over, which would be an expensive accident indeed. Plus, those gusts are not hairdo-friendly, so it’s best to postpone or change location if there’s time. Fog is almost never a problem unless you’ve got your heart set on blue skies. Cloudy skies can often lead to some of my favorite photos as they add drama to the scene. Really light rain is no big deal, but if it’s been falling for a while, that means mud and lots of wet surfaces, which really limit posing options. Do yourself a favor and don’t stress over weather-dot-com’s 10-day forecast. I can’t tell you how many times rain was in the forecast, but ultimately never came.


What should we wear?

Since most of my engagement shoots happen outdoors, and I like to experiment with a variety of poses, be prepared for your derrier to come in contact with sand, dirt, concrete, railroad tracks, fallen trees, asphalt, or any other number of “dirty” surfaces. If you decide to wear high heels and a cocktail dress, don’t expect my usual variety of photos (like, anything sitting down). I recommend casual clothing, no crazy patterns or logos. If we’re shooting in the forest, don’t wear really dark colors unless you have a ninja-themed engagement shoot. You don’t have to be all matchy-matchy, but it would be cool if there was some subtle stylistic connection between you both – perhaps your scarf matches his undershirt – be creative. Ladies, feel free to bring multiple tops or outfits. Feel free to bring a bag with a couple outfit options along, but be prepared to constantly pick it up and put it down throughout the shoot. Guys, don’t wear a shirt one size too small, even if it does make you look tough; it will make some poses feel awkward because you won’t have full arm mobility.


Can we show you some poses we want to recreate from bridal magazines / Pinterest / Google Images?

I consider myself to be quite creative, but there’s so much inspiration out on the interwebs. I won’t be offended if you’d like to try some ideas you’ve found – as long as you don’t present me with a stack of printouts organized alphabetically with 10 manilla folders. I’m not above getting inspiration from other sources, but if there’s a highly unique shot that’s only been done by one person, I’m not going to be the first to copy it. The vast majority of couples come with no pre-conceived ideas, and are happy to be putty in my hands with whatever I come up with – and that’s totally cool too.


During the shoot…

Jump To: Before the shoot | After the shoot

How do you deal with shiny skin?

If you tend to have shiny/oily skin, it will definitely show since most of my photos use flash-based lighting. Ladies, usually this can be easily remedied with a light matte-finish powder or blotter paper. Guys, I recommend what I personally use – an oil-mattifier like this one that is like a really light lotion that soaks up oil without leaving any residue (ladies can use this too of course). I usually keep some in my bag if you forget.


Can we bring our dog / child?

Yes and yes. But after a few photos, I recommend putting him back in the car for the rest of the shoot. The dog, that is – the kid can stick around 🙂 Seriously, though, if you want a bunch of photos with your dog, bring along another person that will be responsible for said canine. Otherwise, I’ve found dogs to be far too distracting to their owners, which affects the overall quality of the session. If you’ve got a human child, I’m happy to make it a dual family portrait / engagement session. It’s a two-fer and can be lots of fun. But if you want a really romantic session, just bring yourselves.


Nervous, uncomfortable with photos?

I don’t have any tequila in my camera bag, and I know this would really help some people – but I think the big thing for some people is they just don’t feel super comfortable in front of the camera. I assure you that you are in good hands; I will direct you the entire time, and spending a couple hours together will not only increase your confidence in me, but it will make you more confident with your own abilities in front of the camera. Sessions are totally laid back, and almost everyone says they are actually a lot of fun. It’s normal to feel nervous about a new situation, but remember you’re being guided by a professional that knows how to make you look your best. I am used to working with normal, non-model people – so if you like the galleries of all the “normal” couples you see on my website, just know another couple will eventually scrutinize your gallery, thinking there’s no way they can look as good as you.


How intimate do we get during the shoot?

The shoot doesn’t include a hotel room, but be prepared to unleash the passion you feel for your partner. I will give you as much direction as I feel you need – what to do with your hands, where to look, when to relax, and when to improvise. I do not want a bunch of lip-locked, face-mashed make-out photos; I will help create moments of intimacy and unscripted fun. Most of the shots will be posed, but in a completely natural and candid way. If you don’t want to have any actual lips touching, just let me know – I’m happy to accommodate your specific requests.


Can we bring props?

Maybe you’d like to hang a sign with your wedding date around your dog’s neck (sorry if you thought this was an original idea), or maybe you’d like to include some balloons, a full-on picnic, or other crazy stuff. It’s all good, I’ll try pretty much anything! In the interest of not lugging a bunch of props for your entire shoot, I recommend we work with any props at the very beginning so we can be light and nimble for the rest of the shoot (well, at least for you, I still have to carry all my gear!).


Can we help you carry your lighting equipment?

Speaking of gear, I do have quite a bit of stuff I carry and use at each engagement shoot – about 40 or 50lbs worth of stuff. I know you’re being kind by offering to help, and I like you a lot for thinking of me – but it’s super expensive stuff, and my wife says I need the exercise, so just leave it to me.


How much exercise is involved during the shoot?

This is totally location-dependent. But most beaches and forests involve a fair amount of walking around – at least a mile or more, sometimes up and down hills. Some beaches are tough to access, and require sure-footedness and somewhat steep climbs/descents. Many forests have lots of poison oak – so if you don’t know what it looks like, I’ll point it out.


After the shoot…

Jump To: Before the shoot | During the shoot


How many photos can we expect to see from our session?

I average 80 to 120 edited photos from a two-hour session.


What’s your turnaround for seeing all the photos?

This could be anywhere from a couple days to a few weeks – it totally depends on my existing workload at that time of the year. Winter / early Spring engagements typically have the fastest turnaround.


Do you do a “sneak peek” on Facebook?

If you Like my GoodEye Facebook Page, I’ll post a sneak peek of a few photos within a day or two. Just email me afterwards to let me know you’ve liked my page, and that you’d like a sneak peek; that will be my reminder to post it. The photos I post on Facebook will be watermarked, but feel free to tag and share them, just don’t crop out the watermark please. Any photos you purchase will be full resolution, and unwatermarked.


Do you do skin / teeth touchups while editing?

Unless you have a giant pimple in the middle of your forehead, my editing is typically restricted to overall image adjustments. However, feel free to request any additional edits after you see the photos – I can usually accommodate most requests at no additional charge.


Can we keep our photos private?

In this age of sharing, my default mode is to allow easy viewing of all photos for everyone. Even so, I don’t use any last names, so Google won’t show your photos in a search for your name. Regardless, I respect your desire for privacy so if you’d like to password-protect your gallery, just ask. It’s super-easy to implement.



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