The Engagement Session Style Guide
What Every Bride Needs to Know
The engagement session is one of my favorite parts of our time together because it gives you both a chance to be in front of my camera before you get married, which is going to make your wedding day experience feel so smooth, seamless and comfortable. Not only that, but I get to create something so special together. You’re going to be married for over fifty years, but you only get to be engaged for this short period of time. I'm so excited to capture the only time in your life when you get to be each other’s fiances. I created this guide for you, and packed it with all my best secrets for getting the best out of your engagement experience, so let’s dive right in!
Choosing Time & Date
I'm a natural light specialist because I believe that natural light, from the sun and its reflections, creates photographs that feel fresh, timeless and true to you as a couple. I begin all engagement sessions two hours before the scheduled sunset during “the golden hour,” when the light is the dreamiest. Use a sunset calculator online to determine the scheduled sunset for the date and location you’d like to do your session. Then, just subtract two hours to figure out your start time. Remember, the sun sets much earlier during the colder months of the year and much later during the warmer months, so make sure to factor that in when choosing your engagement session date, especially if you’re taking off work or have evening plans afterward. To get the most out of your session, please plan a buffer when getting ready so you can arrive a few minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. I'm only able to shoot when natural light is still in the sky, so we'll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down. If you’re wearing two outfits, save your favorite one for the second half, and if you’re wearing one, arrive in that.
TIP: My weekends fill up fast and far in advance. You can get a Fast Pass to the front of the line by scheduling mid-week. Plus less crowds during the weekday!!!
Selecting the Right Location
The location of your engagement session is up to you! The first thing to decide is whether you’d like to feature the desert in your session. Like most of my images and most of my couples want to showcase the natural beauty of Arizona to give their out-of-town guests a fun preview of what to expect when they travel to the southwest. I especially love shooting in the desert because it’s so unique and the light is divine. There are also other great options around the state, and I'm always up for exploring a new spot together.
Think Outside the Box
This is the time to think outside the box! I encourage you to brainstorm unique locations that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you, or someone in your personal or professional network, can secure permission to a location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a beautiful private estate, country club or resort. Maybe it’s a family ranch, upscale hotel or even an airplane hangar. The sky is literally the limit! Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with. Plus, if something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! If you get stuck or need inspiration, some amazing places are Papago Park, Tempe Art Center, ASU Art Museum, South Mountain Park, Superstition Mountains, Downtown Phoenix, Roosevelt Row, or Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Just to name a few. Just let me know which type of session you’d love and we’ll go from there! Easy-peasy. I have other great go-to locations around town that we can always hit too and whether you’d like to feature to the desert or not, and we will go from there! Easy. Peasy.
Styling Your Session
Want your engagement images to look more editorial? Bring a little extra something with you! A freshly-picked bouquet for you to hold, or fresh flowers to put on something else, like a bicycle basket, tree swing, picnic basket, car bumper or rowboat, is a fun way bring a little extra romance to everyday objects.
Whether it’s larger items like classic cars, or smaller ones like blankets or hats, even incorporating just one extra styled item, could be a fun way to make your session more unique.
Style Tips: For Her
Because you’ve been waiting your whole life for this.
Dress It Up
Have you thought about rocking a sequined gown, tulle skirt or flowers in your hair but just never had an occasion for it? This is your chance to do it up! Remember: There is no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your engagement session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to add a new permanent piece to your collection, check out Rent the Runway because you don’t have to spend a lot to feel like a million bucks. Plus, you can send the outfits back when the session is over. Other brides love having a great excuse to bring a new permanent piece (or two!) into their closet! As for my indigenous clients, I absolutely adore traditional outfits and moccasins!!!
Tip: There’s no such thing as too dressed up.
Say Yes to the Dress
Long, flowy dresses and skirts look amazing on camera because they bring extra movement to the photos. Especially when juxtaposed with nature, like the desert, forest, plains or beach. Cute, shorter-length dresses photograph beautifully as well. Dresses and skirts tend to look most stunning on camera because they really flatter the female body — which is probably why the red carpet is always full of so many dresses and not very many pantsuits! I recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session, and saying yes to a dress or two!
One or Two? It’s Up to You!
Most of our brides who choose two outfits will bring one “wow” dress, and then another shorter sun dress or cocktail dress for a more casual “us on a date” feel. But if you want to bring two “wow” dresses and forgo the more casual dress altogether, give yourself permission to do it! The camera loves runway-esque apparel and so do I! Remember, though, you don’t have to bring two looks if it’s too stressful or you’d rather just stick to one fabulous look. One outfit that you love will be so much better than one outfit you love and another you’re not very excited about. So, one or two? It’s really up to you!
When choosing colors for your outfits, I recommend selecting lighter tones and more muted shades. By avoiding ultra-bright, bold colors, it will help bring all the attention to your faces and let the eye focus on the way you feel about each other. The camera loves shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light neutrals like heather gray, creams, leather brown and white. That softer color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments, and especially complements the desert. Pops of color can be added in your jewelry, scarves or in flowers.
Coordinating the Looks
As you’re coordinating your outfit with your fiance’s, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palettes coordinate, but don’t necessarily “match.” You should each aim to wear a different dominant color, but stay within a similar color palette family. So if you’re wearing a blush dress, soft blue earrings and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a navy coat with gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square. Now he has his own dominant color (navy) while still incorporating a few touches of your color palette. Most brides choose their dress first, and then put together their fiance’s outfit based on that. That’s why I have a section for each of you.
Flattering Your Features
In my experience, every woman, regardless of her shape has an area of her body that she’s self-conscious about, so recognizing what that is in advance is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos. Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. You could also bring a cute jacket, blazer or cardigan along, too. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera, so I recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is a set of slimmer-looking arms. Heels elongate women’s legs, making them look fabulous. Closed-toes heels in particular look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your feet show. These little tricks make all the difference!
Tip: Bring a pair of flats to wear when moving from place to place. Your feet will thank you later!
Make a Statement
Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images. Big statement necklaces bring a lot of pop to the photos, such as my favorite...the turquoise squash blossom. While the smaller, delicate ones are not be as noticeable on camera. Belts, bracelets and earrings bring great visual interest, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention. Fresh florals in a crown or bouquet can be a really romantic touch as well.
Go Pro: Hair & Makeup
Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most of my brides’ checklists because it looks amazing and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. Whether it’s lash extensions or blown-out hair, professional hair and makeup will give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light, if possible, so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light I’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of my brides feel like their makeup is “too much” at first, since it’s more than you would wear on a normal day, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it just right for the camera — and my brides always love the final result. If you need a recommendation for hair and makeup, I work with the best in the business and have a go-to team! They’re sweet as pie, talented as heck, unbelievable professionals and wonderful people. You’ll LOVE them! Just let me know and I’ll send you their information. I know they’ll take good care of you!
Tip: Confidence. It’s always the best accessory.
A Little Extra Polish: Don’t forget, your ring will be center stage, so give yourself permission to get it cleaned and your nails done, too!
Skip the Spray Tan
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even a few days prior, because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully.
It’s All in the Details
Long pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from his legs and feet and place it where you want it: on the face you fell in love with. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts, sandals and jeans at home, too. Suit pants, dress pants or colored pants work best. Brown leather dress shoes complement almost every look, whether he’s wearing a full suit or a blazer and colored pants. Ties, bowties, pocket squares, colored socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests and watches are sharp complements to any suit. If you bring two suits to the session, you can start with a traditional necktie and belt, then switch to suspenders and a bow tie for your second look. If two suits are too stressful, (say that 10x :P) no problem! One look will do the trick! You can still mix and match accessories to complement both of her dresses without doing a full change during the session. So, either way, you win.
How to Prep Your Man
Most men aren’t overly excited to take photos for two hours, because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to you. Take fifteen minutes to educate and empower your guy. Tell him why you chose me and my style of photography. Show him your three favorite sessions that I’ve done, explain why you love them and express to him how much it means to you. Trust me, he’ll light up the camera for you! The most common thing I hear from guys before engagement sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t think they’ll be good at it. By the time we’re done, though, they can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!
Fashion Tips: For Him
Because dapper and debonair never go out of style.
As Long as He’s Got That Suit & Tie
From James Bond to Don Draper, men look most striking in a well-tailored suit. If he doesn’t have one, now’s the perfect time to invest in something he’ll wear for the rest of his life! The best part? It’s a lot less expensive than you might think! While custom suits can cost thousands of dollars, some of the most well-known brands have off-the-rack suits in their stores for a fraction of the price. Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong complement to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye.
Tip: There’s no substitute for a well-tailored suit.
Mix It Up
Many of our grooms love to mix a suit coat, blazer or sport coat with a different pant color. It adds some extra visual interest, and can be more fun than wearing two full suits in a row. I'm big fans of this fresh take on a timeless classic.
Next time you walk by a store like J. Crew, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, trust me when I say that it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you both a lifetime. Adding another layer will bring extra dimension and visual interest to your photos. Blazers, vests and coats up the level of any look. If the temperature permits, he could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!
After the Session
Don’t forget to plan a dinner date. You’re already going to be all dressed up! Why not take advantage of it? I know the wedding planning process can feel all-consuming, so take some time after the session just for the two of you to relax and have some fun together.
Photo Delivery Timeline
-social media sneak peek with one of our favorite photos
-blog post with some highlights of our time together
-online gallery with all of your final, retouched, high-resolution images
One Final Note
I know I just gave you a lot to think about. I created this guide to help make your engagement session experience something you’ll look back fondly on for years and years to come. At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you select won’t matter nearly as much as the memories you make together. Your future marriage is the most important thing to me, and I want your engagement session to be a time for you to just be yourselves and enjoy it. Have fun together. Laugh a lot. And I’ll take care of the rest!
Engagement Session Checklist
1. Set date, time and location with Jen
2. Review guide for style tips
3. Schedule hair and makeup appointments
4. Choose your outfits
5. Get your nails done
6. Clean your ring
7. Pack a bag with:
- Flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
- Outfit two (including shoes and accessories)
- Touch-up makeup
- Water bottle (for warmer sessions)
- Coat or cover-up (for colder sessions)
- Pick a fun post-session date night spot
I can’t wait to see you soon!