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My family is really into telling stories and documenting our history in pictures. It's a BIG part of how we bond and stay connected when the miles separate us. Under normal circumstances, the engagement session would be a big deal for me. However, because Sherrod and I have long dated outside the gazing eye of our families (with the exception of occasional visits), I found our engagement session an extremely important opportunity to tell our story as a couple.
Going into our engagement session, I felt quite a bit of anxiety. I'd seen lots of picture perfect couples displaying their love in all types of engagement sessions, and I was feeling the pressure to create a good narrative for our families who haven't gotten to know “us” in our element. It seemed reasonable that we'd get some good pictures, but I never thought we would come close to the picturesque images I'd been fawning over on Pinterest. The thing is, I'm not that comfortable in front of the camera and to say that Sherrod is shy in front of the camera would be an understatement. So, I made a plan and it might provide you with a helpful nugget or two as you plan yours.
First Things First, Define Who You Are as a Couple
To get started, I asked myself a few questions: Who are we? How are we connected? What do we find special? The answers to those questions were simple. Sherrod and I are homebodies who love activities centered around the home like cooking, watching TV, clipping coupons, and cuddling. Our very first conversation was about both of us having moved to DC from Atlanta for work, living in the same place and knowing the same people, but never having met one another. A few talks later, our mutual faith sealed the deal and everything else flows from there. Going to church for bible studies and worship plays a big part of our week, as does, working out, dinner dates, and casual strolls. In four years we found special meaning in so many things that became a part of us as a couple.
Research E-Sessions & Find Ways to Personalize Them
With this information in hand, I researched Washington, DC and home-based engagement sessions. I saw lots of ways couples wove parts of their routines into their storyboard and I did the same. I kept a folder of pictures that spoke to me. And once I'd organized all the images, I was able to make a more defined list of scenes I wanted to capture. Each scene was defined by: location, theme, attire, and desired photos. My final list looked something like this:
We didn't capture everything on this list, but I didn't expect to. Photo sessions take a lot of time. It's important that you stay flexible and keep your expectations in line with what is feasible and reasonable. And it's always better to have more options than needed in case something comes up, rendering one or more options void. In fact, our best photos were captured in spaces we happened into during the session.
Paint a Picture For Your Photographer
I prepared several themed collages (i.e. must have shots, poses, ring shots, places) to help our photographer get an idea of what we were looking to accomplish. Between the photo collages and the scene plan, our photographer had an opportunity to get a good sense of what we wanted in advance of our session. She also made suggestions on sites to visit and how to make the best use of our time.
Weather-Proof Your Wardrobe
I went over each scene and thought about our wardrobe choices and the logical order of filming for each location. Early on the forecasters predicted 54 degree weather on the Sunday we planned to film on. However, it turned out to be the coldest day of the year yet, with temperatures in the 20s. Talk about a game changer! If you don't have a statement coat on hand, borrow one that's fitting of your style. It will become the centerpiece of your look. I infused things of my own with a couple of borrowed pieces…but it was all me.
Choose a Photographer That's easy to Work With
I have to give a big shout-out to our photographer, Beverli of Beverli Alford Photography. When I set out to find a photographer for our DC based engagement shoot, I didn't need to look far as Beverli is a member of our church. Beverli got her start in photography filming her daughter who was an aspiring model in an effort to save money on the exorbitant costs of head shots and call cards. She discovered a natural talent and has been in the business ever since.
I feel a great sense of debt to Beverli who was so generous with her time and resources. Not only did she brave the cold temperatures with us for hours, but she made it possible for me to have my make-up professionally done by one of her colleagues. In the very beginning, she told me I would receive a service far more valuable than what I would pay…and she was right. When it was all said and done, I felt like a million bucks and she captured the essence of “us” perfectly.
I was worried we'd have tons of awkward photos…because I know us. Not to worry though, Beverli helped us relax despite the cold and encouraged us to feel the pure emotion as if no one were watching at all (…let alone taking pictures). Not to toot my own horn, but we look like commercial models! We haven't yet selected photos for edits, but I couldn't resist showing you how great things turned out before she does any editing or retouching. Here are a few of my favs:
Sherrod and I are very pleased with the way our session turned out. Do we look cold to you…?
My planning process may have been a little more work than most are willing to put into it (in terms of the research and prep), but I'm happy with the results. If you're a bride or photographer with tips on planning engagement photo sessions, please leave them in the comments section. There is someone out there dying to know how to pull off the perfect shoot.
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.