we'll have fun, i promise
But who said you have to be engaged or married to take beautiful portraits together? Often considered something just for newly engaged couples, I also offer a la carte couples' portrait sessions which can occur before a proposal, after a ring, or beyond the vows.
Maybe you just moved in together, said 'I love you' for the first time, or got matching tattoos. Maybe it's your wedding anniversary. Or maybe, you just want to remember this time and how young and in love you were with picture-perfect clarity 40 years from now.
So let's meet up and run around town (or the woods, the beach, or your bedroom) while documenting this moment—however big or small—in your journey together.
Here's a loose guide to get us started on planning your engagement or portrait session. All of these things are reasonably fluid and may or may not apply to what you want or need, which is okay. And as always, don't hesitate to let me know if you have questions or even a wild idea for something—chances are I will be totally on board.
The exact timing of your engagement or portrait session depends on your personal desires for the photos (i.e.: fall leaves or spring flowers; indoor or outdoor locations; holidays; special wardrobe requests) as well as whether you plan to use them for Save The Dates, invites, a holiday card, your wedding website, or any sort of announcement.
Sometimes I do an engagement session a full year before the wedding, other times it’s mere weeks beforehand, or has even utilized as a pre- or post-wedding portrait session to make the most of a packed day-of wedding schedule. A non-wedding-related portrait session may be more flexible in terms of when to do it, though you may still want the photos for a holiday or gift.
Regardless, our time together during the session usually lasts 2-3 hours (this includes any travel time between locations, which will need to be taken into account when planning) and my editing turnaround for portraits is 3-4 weeks.
We can plan for up to 2 locations if you want to add a little variety and it's logistically possible within the 2-3 hour session. It’s important to think about what sort of vibe you're drawn to and whether you want it to be cohesive or a contrast to your wedding or other photos you’ve had done. Do you want an urban location, or something in nature? Indoor or outdoor? Intimate or bustling? Sometimes couples come to me with an exact idea of where they want to go, and others have no clue and ask me for suggestions. I dig in a little deeper about locations below.
My favorite natural light to work in is the golden hour, which you probably already know as the last hour leading up until the moment the sun dips below the horizon. I like to incorporate this time into most engagement or portrait sessions when possible, which may leave us with more daylight, moonlight, or artificial light on either side of sunset to work with, each of which offers ample opportunities for creativity.
As we start the engagement or portrait session planning process I’ll look up the time of sunset on whichever days we’re looking at to help plan out your day and the session accordingly. The goal is to have a certain location in mind for sunset and ensure we're not traveling between locations during that time. If for whatever reason you have an aversion to golden hour light, just let me know and we'll skip it.
I love (lovelovelove) playing with artificial light, too, so I will gladly schedule a session specifically with neon lights, street lights, flash, or car lights in mind!
Do you have a Pinterest board or two that you want to share? Don’t hesitate, send them my way! Gathering inspiration is one of the most exciting parts of the planning process for me and can provide a clearer idea of what you want rather than trying to say it with words.
Try to avoid sending me a Pinterest board as a “these are the exact shots we want” sort of list, as I try to maintain a certain flow throughout the session and deferring to a shot list will ultimately distract us all from that. If there are a few special poses or ideas that you would really like us to try, do let me know and we’ll make it work.
You can find my general inspiration board (there are sub-boards for Couples and Group Photos in there, too, which are great for weddings!) which lends itself to a vibe I'm drawn to and try to evoke in my own work on my Pinterest here.
In the same way that you may want multiple outfits, I like mixing up where we’re photographing to add variety and help tell another aspect of your story together.
We can usually incorporate 2 locations—sometimes a 3rd if it’s nearby and we have time—but I always try to make sure they contrast each other. One spot may be your home for added intimacy, and the other may be a wide open park with lots of green space. Maybe we’ll start in a warehouse neighborhood and end up overlooking the city from a grassy hilltop, or go from a sunny beach to a dark, cozy bar. I also love being able to document the travel between locations for added fluidity, so if we can walk or take the subway or taxi between them, even better.
It’s nice if at least one location is significant to your relationship or life together: the bar where you had your first date, the lake you walk around together at sunset, the art museum where your partner proposed, or your home. For private locations or businesses it’s important to reach out to the owner or organization for permission beforehand, as well as to ask when their least busy or most convenient time of day for us to swing through is so we don’t disrupt their patrons.
If one of your locations is really popular (i.e. Times Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chicago's Cloud Gate, etc.) it's a good idea to keep this in mind and consider how comfortable you'll be being photographed with a bunch of people watching, as well as the unpredictable nature of these locations. They can often be chaotic, loud, buzzy, and crawling with people, which may or may not be the vibe you're going for.
If you have a *very* specific image that you want at one of these popular locations, please let me know about it ahead of time so I can ensure I have the appropriate gear and am able to make a plan. A certain viewpoint or area may look entirely different at different times of day (due to light, weather, crowds) and it would be well worth it for us to consider going early (like sunrise) or on an off-day to ensure we have enough time and proper conditions to can make the image you want.
To avoid the typical crowds at Coney Island, Milena and Vic opted to start their engagement session at sunrise in early May.
As filmmakers, The Metrograph in NYC is a special location to Bre and Chris. They reached out to the management ahead of time to ensure we could shoot there and when would be the most convenient time.
I found this beach near SF thanks to Google Maps. Teresa and Thomas told me the general area they wanted to go for photos and I zoomed in until I found something that looked interesting.
Amanda and Mike were totally open to location ideas, so the week before their session I drove around Portland with a friend until these giant cable spools jumped out at me.
HELP! we don't know what to wear!
Somewhat surprisingly, clothing ends up being one of the main sources of anxiety when planning an engagement or portrait session. To break it down as simply as possible I usually suggest two outfits: one that you would wear to a nice date night, and one that's more casual. One outfit change (in conjunction with a location change) is okay, but anymore than that can disrupt the natural flow of the shoot and ends up eating into our photography time. If you want to stick with one outfit that's totally fine, too!
I'm always happy to offer suggestions on clothing if you ask but my main suggestion will always be to wear something clean & comfy that makes you feel confident, badass, and sexy/cute/attractive/[your adjective of choice here]. Sometimes that means you’ll order a new outfit, but I honestly recommend looking into your closet to pull out those favorite, special, tried and true items. Comfort is key with footwear, too, so I recommend wearing a comfortable shoe since we have a tendency to do a lot of walking and moving during these sessions and stopping to swap out shoes cuts into the time and the candid flow we're going for.
If you want ideas, I love fashion (17 y.o. Caitlin wanted to be a fashion designer-chef-artist-actor) and always keep a Pinterest board full of looks that I personally find fascinating, which you can find here. Heads up: I'm not afraid of color or prints, which might not be your vibe and this is completely okay: I first and foremost want you to wear whatever feels the most true to you.
Pleasepleaseplease try to reach out with any wardrobe questions at least a few days before the shoot so we're not anxiously texting back and forth at 10pm the night before. If you don't ask for help, I'll assume you feel confident in your choices and won't pester you or tell you what I think you should wear.
A FEW clothing q's to ask yourself
COMFORT & FIT
Would I actually wear this or is it just something I think I'm supposed to or someone told me to wear?
If it’s new, try to give it a whirl (date night, work, grocery shopping) before the session to see if you feel like your best self in it. If you’re constantly pulling at it or adjusting it or feel timid or not yourself, try to go with something else.
Can I move in it? Does it move with my body in an interesting way? If the wind catches it will I put on a show?
Long & flowy dresses, skirts, shirts, or pants are always fun in photos, but shorter or too-tight cuts can lead to a wardrobe malfunction if it's a windy day, you're moving a lot, or you don't wear the style often. If you would be uncomfortable accidentally flashing the camera, consider a longer hem.
Would I wear heels and a suit for a hike? Or a t-shirt and jeans to a fancy restaurant?
If you want to have one fancy outfit and location and one more casual, we may want to coordinate the clothing accordingly. That being said, I like breaking rules so maybe a tshirt and jeans in a nice restaurant is the right idea...but for your own safety, please don't hike in high heels!
Is this too restrictive? Does it fit? Can I lift my arms and hug my partner and maybe do a little dance?
If something limits your movement or ability to sit down, definitely reconsider wearing it for the session. I encourage a lot of movement and interaction during photos and too tight or restrictive clothing clothing can hinder your ability to move candidly.
BONUS! Is it clean? Free of holes? Am I wearing the right bra or underwear?
I'm capable of some surprising feats of Photoshop magic but would rather not spend hours editing out a stain, tear, or bra strap if it can be avoided. :)
WHAT ABOUT MY HAIR & MAKEUP?
Take this opportunity to pamper yourself before the session, however that may look to you. If you color your hair, get regular haircuts, facials, or manicures, now would be a good time to schedule those appointments or stock up on sheet masks and your favorite nail polish for some at-home pampering. The more you can do beforehand to feel your best and most confident self will really pay off during the session.
Those who wear makeup often use this as a chance to do a wedding day makeup test or trial with someone before the big day, which is a great idea! That way we can see how well the look photographs (a note for your makeup artist: I predominantly use natural light but utilize my flash on occasion, which may affect which products they choose to use) and it will help you determine whether or not you feel confident or even like it.
On the topic of makeup: unless you wear a full face on a regular basis, I stand by the idea that less is more for your wedding or photo session. If you’re typically a no-makeup or low-key tinted moisturizer and barely-there mascara type, maybe don't go for huge false lashes, deep contour, and overdrawn lips; you won’t feel like yourself and could be unfamiliar with the necessary touch-ups throughout the day.
The same sentiment goes for your hair. You don’t have to wear a formal updo or have “wedding hair” because other couples before you have done that. Do whatever makes the most sense to you and won’t render you completely unrecognizable or uncomfortable on the day and in your photos.
The first few minutes are always a little awkward, don’t worry! I’m nervous before every engagement session so it’s normal if you are, too. If you drink alcohol sometimes (oftentimes) I’ll suggest a shot at the start to get us all loosened up if you're interested. It’s okay if you don’t know what to do at first, I’ll guide you and have you mirror some poses if you’re unsure. We’ll wander and photograph around the first location for up to an hour then change wardrobe (if you want to, no pressure either way) and head to the next location.
If you want to incorporate your pet into some photos, let's do it! After lots of practice, I've learned it's best to do this at or near your home, and to limit it to one location. From there we can have someone pick up your pet if we’re out, or we can swing back to your place and finish up at a location near there. We should always try to have a plan in place before starting to ensure things flow as smoothly as possible.
Limit the luggage
Stay hydrated & fed
Try not to bring a lot of extra stuff along as we’re shooting. We’re usually in a car and can leave non-valuables in there, but in busier cities we may be walking or relying on public transit which makes dragging extra bags a bit of a hindrance. I carry my gear pack and can tuck some of your smaller items (wallet, keys, phone, sunglasses, chapstick, etc) inside and could possibly sling a small bag over my shoulder if you need, but constantly putting down bags will chop the flow and candid nature of the shoot.
One of my best friends turns into a complete monster (she's the first to admit it) when hungry, and you may be the same way. It’s a good idea to eat something (nothing too heavy; I only ever want to sleep after a giant bowl of pasta) beforehand so we can move through the shoot without having to stop to grab a bite. Unless, of course, you want to incorporate a meal into your session, which I've done lots of times! A little picnic or food truck or quick detour to an ice cream shop will always provide cute photos and props.