How to Prepare for An Engagement Session – From a Wedding Photographer

Photo of an epic engagement shoot with a bride in red and groom in black standing on a mountaintop
Photo credit – Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

This post contains affiliate links and/or links to my own products. I never recommend anything I don’t love or wouldn’t use myself.

Because I had a destination wedding, I never had an engagement session with my photographer before the wedding. So to get advice on how to prepare, I turned to a professional wedding photographer to help answer my questions.

Kathryn Cooper is a wedding photographer who specializes in creative, extraordinary wedding photos. You’ll see her photos throughout this post and can learn more about her work on her website.

Here are the basics of what an engagement session is and how to prepare for one with your significant other.

Why do you need an engagement photography session?

There are a few reasons why an engagement session is a good idea before your wedding.

The main reasons why you need an engagement session are to have photos for your wedding stationery before the wedding, to practice posing and working with your photographer, and to capture the memories of being engaged.

You’ll have a few stationery needs to announce and celebrate your wedding from your save the dates, to your wedding website, that you may want a few recent photos for. Having an engagement session means you’ll have a set of recent, professional, cohesive photos to use across your wedding materials.

If you feel uncomfortable in front of the camera or want to try out new hair and makeup looks as a trial, your engagement session is a great time to practice. You’ll also get to develop a closer relationship with your photographer before your wedding day so you feel more comfortable when it’s time for a whole day of photos. Many photographers include a free engagement session within their wedding packages for this reason.

You also may want to capture the period of your life when you were engaged. Especially if your engagement is long, it can be nice to have photos from just that period of time in your life.

Is an engagement session necessary?

If you aren’t sold on an engagement session, it isn’t 100% necessary to have a good photography experience. It’s more of a nice to have for the reasons I mentioned above. So if you don’t plan to use photos for your stationery or website, don’t need to practice, or simply can’t fit it into your schedule or budget, it is not a big deal.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of my post, I didn’t end up having an engagement session with my photographer. I lived 5-6 hours away from where my photographer was located so even though an engagement session was included in my package, I wasn’t able to take advantage of it. Instead, I negotiated that part of my contract. I asked if instead of a 1 hour engagement shoot, she could add 1 hour to my day of package. That way I would have more coverage of getting ready in the morning and the reception after dinner. She agreed so it was a win for both of us.

How long after an engagement do you take engagement photos? 

You don’t have to wait long at all after your engagement to start taking photos. Here’s a general guide of when to take engagement photos.

You can take engagement photos immediately after your engagement up to a few months before your wedding. You don’t want to wait until too close to your wedding to take engagement photos because you won’t get a chance to use them before your wedding.

There’s nothing stopping you from taking engagement photos as soon as you are engaged. You can use the photos to announce your engagement and take your time with the rest of the planning, having your photos to use throughout the process.

You may want to wait to take official engagement photos until you’ve selected a wedding photographer. That way you can practice and build a relationship with your photographer before the big day and work out anything you want to fix in advance. You’ll also get a real taste of your photographer’s shooting and editing style before the wedding.

photo of an engaged couple in a grove
Photo credit – Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

For example, if your photos come out too dark for your taste or they capture an unflattering angle you don’t like, you can ask the photographer to make changes so your wedding photos come out differently. In rare cases, it may surface some huge red flags that make you reconsider your photographer choice. And it’s good to find that out before the wedding day.

Kathryn Cooper added that you don’t want to take too long to take your engagement photos. Otherwise you won’t get to use them or maybe even see them before your wedding.

I know some couples who wait a year, and others who take them the month after the proposal. The most important factors are what season you want photos in, and how long before your wedding you want them completed by. In general, it’s smart to aim for doing your engagement photos at least 4 – 6 months before your wedding.

Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

She also mentioned seasonality as an important factor. If you dream of fall photos with red and orange leaves, make sure you are planning for a fall engagement session.

How long is an engagement photo shoot?

An engagement photo shoot is typically 1-2 hours. With engagement sessions ranging from half hour mini sessions to 4 hour dedicated engagement shoots if the location or staging is complicated to set up.

The length of the shoot definitely varies by photographer, the style of the shoot, the package your purchase and other factors. You should talk to your photographer about your vision before you book your shoot and ask them for details on how long the shoot will be.

Most engagement sessions are about 2 hours long. I also offer adventure engagement sessions which are up to 4 hours long, involving more adventurous activities such as hiking to waterfalls, going up mountains on ski lifts, hitting up multiple locations with different outfits, etc.

Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings
photo of a smiling bride to be and her fiancé in the mountains
Photo credit – Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

How many photos do you get in an engagement shoot?

You should expect to receive 50-100 photos in a typical engagement shoot. Depending on the package your photographer offers and how long the shoot is, the number of photos guaranteed will vary.

You’ll often receive a few more photos than you’re promised as an added bonus. But you may need to pay an additional fee to use more than your allotted amount of photos.

I guarantee 100+ images for 2-hour sessions, or 175+ for 4-hour adventure sessions. My engagement sessions start at $500. I typically deliver many more images–usually around 150 or so for typical sessions.

Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

Ultimately, you’ll never use 50-100 photos for your wedding unless you put them all into a separate book. I love making photo albums to keep all of my photos in a place that I’ll look at over and over. Specifically, my favorite company for photo books is Artifact Uprising. Their products are unmatched in terms of quality and the software is easy to use. You can take several months (or years if you’re a procrastinator like me) editing the photos into a keepsake book by saving your progress. Here’s a link for $20 off your first purchase from Artifact Uprising.

picture of my wedding album from artifact uprising
My wedding photo album and my child’s first year photo album from Artifact Uprising

Now that I’m married and several kids later, I still look at my wedding album from Artifact Uprising several times a year. I pull it out whenever my toddler asks to see photos of my wedding or a certain relative. And it’s a special way for her to connect with her late Grandpa who died shortly after she was born. She can look at photos of my Dad and I walking down the aisle or dancing and know who he is.

How to Prepare For Your Engagement Session 

Once you have your engagement session booked, you’ll want to think about your vision for your photos. What outfits you’ll both wear, what your hair and make up will be, what location you’ll shoot them in, what poses you want, and what style you’d like. Here’s a full list of how to prepare for your engagement session:

Start with you how you’ll use the engagement photos

Ultimately, the best way to start to create your vision is to think how the photos will be used. If you plan to frame them, you might want something simple and classic. Or you might want something that represents you as a couple whether that’s your love of hiking or your love of crosswords. If you plan to show it off to family and friends, you might want something that’s more adventurous.

Book your location, date, and time with your wedding photographer

Once you have your vision set, work with your photographer to nail down the details on where it will take place and what date and time work with your schedules. Your photographer may be frequently booked with weddings or other shoots so don’t wait until the last minute to pick the date.

photo of an engaged couple in a desert
Photo credit – Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

Create your engagement photo look – from hair and makeup to your outfits

Kathryn has some great tips on how to create the perfect look.

Figure out a couple outfit ideas and think of the season and location for your engagement session. Bringing an extra pair of shoes and a comb or brush is a good idea since you’ll likely be walking a lot. In addition, many brides opt to have their hair + makeup trials done the day of their engagement shoots. It’s a good time to test out your vendors and looks!

Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

Scout out your photo shoot location if possible beforehand

Your photographer may be able to do this for you but if it’s a location that they don’t have access to or can’t scout out for other reasons, you’ll want to make sure someone is familiar with the location and where to take the best photos. Here are some possible things that could come up and create a snag:

  • Permits required for photos that may have a large fee
  • High traffic areas with too many people to get a good shot
  • And similarly crowded times for certain locations
  • Photos of the location not matching what the actual scenery looks like
  • Difficulty getting to locations
  • Long distances between locations
  • No where to use the bathroom or change outfits
  • Unexpected construction or closures

Research poses you’d like for your photographer to capture

Pinterest or the photographer’s portfolio is a great place to start. If there are a few key poses that you’d like to capture, tell your photographer about them in advance.

Talk to your partner about anything you’d be uncomfortable doing at your engagement shoot

If kissing or nuzzling is something you’d rather save for private situations, or other PDA makes you or your future spouse uncomfortable, talk about that before your engagement shoot. Your partner may also have insecurities about their body or style that they want to avoid highlighting. It’s important to let your photographer know what you and your partner are comfortable with so they don’t inadvertently make you feel uncomfortable by asking you to kiss or pose in a certain way.

Book your pre-engagement shoot hair and make up appointments

If you’re planning to have your hair or make up done for the occasion, book those appointments in advance. This is a great time to plan your hair and make up trial to test out how your wedding look will appear on camera.

Or if you’re not planning on professional hair and make up for the big day, it might make sense to still plan a hair cut or other maintenance sessions like waxes or facials that you regularly receive before your engagement shoot.

Clean your ring and get a manicure for close up photos of your hand

There will be a lot of photos of your hand and engagement ring. So it makes sense to pay special attention to this area before your shoot.

photo of a couple in front of a waterfall
Photo credit – Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

Pack a bag with all of the things you need for the shoot

If you’re planning on multiple outfits, make sure you pack them into your engagement shoot bag. You can also bring make up for touch ups, hair spray, and other emergency “just-in-case” items to help your shoot go smoothly.

And if you’re having a shoot somewhere far away or hard to get to, make sure you remember to pack gear for the location. For example, if you need to hike thirty minutes to get to the perfect spot, don’t forget to pack hiking gear.

Get a good night’s sleep the night before your shoot

You’ll look your best if you feel your best. So try to do something relaxing the night before and get to bed at a reasonable hour. This is not the time for a late night out with your friends. You don’t want to be hung over or tired for your engagement shoot.

Photo of two brides-to-be taking in the woods for their engagement shoot
Photo credit – Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

Do you tip a photographer for an engagement shoot? 

And last but not least, you might be wondering if you need to tip your photographer after the engagement shoot.

A cash tip is not expected by the photographer after an engagement shoot. If you had exemplary service and want to tip the photographer, you can. A tip can also wait until after the wedding.

Straight from the professional’s mouth. Here’s what Kathryn has to say about leaving a tip after the engagement session.

I occasionally am tipped during engagement photos, but I would never expect a tip. Most engagement sessions are add-ons to wedding packages, so happy clients can always tip at the wedding if you choose to do so (but again, it’s never expected). Even more awesome than a tip is a thoughtful review so that as photographers, we can continue to thrive as independent business owners!

Kathryn Cooper, Kathryn Cooper Weddings

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Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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