As Grand Rapids wedding photographers, we created this engagement session guide because engagement sessions are one of our favorite parts of the wedding experience. This time as an engaged couple is a fleeting moment together in your love story. The time when everything is giggles and heartbeats. When your love for one another grows and matures and you get to call each other fiancé while you start planning the rest of your lives together.
We believe that the engagement session is the secret to creating joyful, romantic, and authentic portraits on your wedding day. Your engagement session gives you time in front of our cameras before the big day. The experience you gain from your engagement session will make your wedding day feel seamless and comfortable. We created this engagement session guide for you and packed it FULL of our best tips for getting the most out of your engagement session with us. Follow the advice detailed below and you will have gorgeous images that are fresh and intimate but also represent you as a couple.
There are a lot of tips here, please don’t let them overwhelm you. At the end of the day, the outfits and accessories you choose will not matter nearly as much as the experience you have. It is the memories you two make together that will matter most. So laugh a lot and just enjoy yourself, we’ll take care of the rest!
(You can always save this and reference later!)
The Perfect Time – Golden Hour
What is “golden hour”? Simply put, golden hour is the hour before the sun sets behind the horizon. You will love golden hour because it is the best light to compliment you in your engagement photos. This light enhances your portraits giving them a romantic, enchanting, and timeless feel. For that reason, we love to schedule our sessions just before sunset to take advantage of the “golden hour” because the light is at it’s dreamiest. These also tend to be our couple’s favorite photos from their wedding or engagement session.
Finding Golden Hour
We suggest scheduling your engagement session around golden hour to take advantage of the golden dreamy light. In Michigan, golden hour varies depending on the season. The easiest way to determine when golden hour for your engagement session is to use a sunset calculator or weather app to determine when the sun will set.
Be sure to take into account factors such as whether or not the horizon will be visible from your session location. If your location is either in the city where there are tall buildings or in a wooded area, sunset is generally 30 minutes earlier than calculated. The sun also sets much earlier in the winter months so make sure to take that into account when choosing the engagement session date. Especially if you plan to even the evening with a date after your session! If all of this seems daunting, don’t worry. After booking a session with us we figure all of this out for you.
We are always a few minutes early to engagement sessions so that we can scope out the location for the best background to compliment the golden hour light. We recommend leaving 15-30 minutes earlier than you originally planned to maximize our golden hour time! Also, if you plan on wearing two outfits, save your favorite outfit for the second half to wear it closer to sunset!
Selecting The Location
The best location is the one that means something to you both as a couple. Such as the spot where you got engaged or had your first date. We always ask our couples for their preferred locations but don’t worry if you cannot come up with a location, we have plenty of dreamy spots for you to choose from. We are constantly searching for new locations in West Michigan and Grand Rapids area.
After lighting, location is our second priority. We believe the location of your engagement session should reflect you as a couple. For instance, if you never go downtown, we’ll avoid the urban vibe. If you both dislike the beach, then we obviously won’t go there! If you love getting lost in the woods and flower fields, then into the woods we go! Getting to know you better as a couple allows us to recommend locations will feel the most comfortable, which in turn means you will look relaxed and feel your best!
Things to Consider With Location
Think Outside The Box: Do you both have a special spot picked out for date nights? Date night locations can be the best place for your engagement session. If it is a business, we can always ask for permission to shoot inside. Are you both MadCap Coffee lovers? Can you spend all day with Founders drinking their IPAs? Or maybe you both enjoy the sophistication of a good cocktail? The sky really is the limit and we encourage you to brainstorm unique locations that you might only have access to that most people don’t. For example, see if you can secure permission to a location that would otherwise be off-limits to the public, such as a private lake house, estate, upscale hotel, or country club resort.
Nature: Heading outside to shoot in the natural beauty of nature is highly recommended! We do advise that when traveling outdoors to come prepared. If you are considering that beautiful rocky ledge overlooking Lake Michigan, be sure to bring a change of shoes. Heels will look great during your shoot but your feet will thank you for wearing tennis shoes to get there.
Traveling: We love to travel! And not just around West Michigan. Whether on a destination wedding or engagement session, traveling to a unique location can really set your engagement session apart. If you would like to travel to a location that isn’t somewhere local to Grand Rapids, just let us know. Additional fees may apply depending on your desired location!
LJ Outfit Inspiration
We get a lot of questions from our engaged couples about what they should wear to their engagement session. Fortunately for you and them, we have a LOT of advice!
To start, we recommend a maximum of one to two outfits for your engagement session to ensure that we have plenty of time to capture each look before sunset! During one of your outfit changes is when we will photograph your rings while we wait. Here are a few things to keep in mind while you pick your engagement session attire.
Softer Colors Are More Romantic
Neutral colors such as blush, light pinks, tans, pale blues and teals, creams, faint greys, and whites will always result in a more light, elegant, and airy look to your images. These colors are softer and always look more romantic. This also holds true for your wedding day, so this something to consider when picking your wedding colors!
Coordinated Outfits Instead of Matching Outfits
We advise against our couples wearing the same thing. For example, both of you wearing white tops. White doesn’t allow for any contrast to your images, besides when your outfits match exactly things start to blur together. Remember, the goal is to coordinate outfits instead of matching.
Formal and Casual
We recommend a formal outfit and a casual outfit for your engagement session. We recommend both to be dressy outfits so that you will have plenty of variety of classy portraits to choose from later.
Your Best Dress
If you are unsure what sort of dress to wear, we recommend a flowing, maxi-length dress or skirt. These dresses provide for a soft, feminine look and the movement of this type of fabric photographs beautifully.
Our Best Advice for Her
Ladies, we recommend that you wear something that flatters the parts of your body that you love the most. Most importantly, wear something that makes you feel extremely confident! We love movement in our portraits and will capture your beauty from all angles, therefore select an outfit that will make you feel free of insecurities. We want you to be confident, REALLY CONFIDENT because it will show in each of your photos. Besides the right outfit, other confident boosters include professionally done hair, makeup, and nails.
Our Best Advice for Him
Guys, we recommend that you avoid small patterns. If a pattern is smaller than a dime it can create strange visual effects in a digital camera. Remember that a simple dress shirt and pants with a pair of closed-toed shoes go a long way. We recommend avoiding blue jeans, shorts, graphic tees, and tennis shoes.
Style Tips For Her
Your engagement session is one time you don’t have to worry about overdressing. There is no such thing as “too dressed up”! So don’t be afraid to have some fun and rock a tulle skirt, a sequined gown, or a flower crown! If you are hesitant to add new permanent pieces to your collection, consider trying out Rent the Runway for your engagement photos because you don’t have to spend a lot to feel like a million bucks. Most of our brides though love having the great excuse to add a few new permanent pieces to their closet! We recommend sticking to maxi dresses and skirts while avoiding pants and shorts for your session. This is your chance to say yes to a dress (or two!)
Most of our brides who choose two outfits will bring one stunning dress, and then another short casual dress, such as a sundress or cocktail dress. Keep in mind, you don’t have to bring two looks if that is too stressful or if you would rather stick to one fabulous looking dress. It’s better to have just one outfit you are in love with rather than one outfit you love paired with another you are not very excited about. So one or two outfits? Both are right!
You can really bring some extra depth and dimension to your outfit by pairing an accessory or two with you “wow” dress! Big statement pieces like necklaces can really bring a lot of pop to the photo while the smaller details are not quite as noticeable. Bracelets, earrings, belts, and hairpieces can bring great visual interest, so choose one or two that complement each other. For a warm, romantic, and even whimsical engagement session, consider fresh florals in a crown or a bouquet
Your Most Flattering Features
Every woman, regardless of her shape or size, has one area of her body that she is more self-conscious of. That is okay! The key is recognizing that area in advance and choosing items that compliment your natural features. By doing this you, you will love the way you look in your photos.
Your Arms: If you feel self-conscious about your upper arms, three-quarter length sleeves create an amazing slimming effect on any arm. So when you pick your dress, be on the lookout for dresses that include longer sleeves! Alternatively, if you have the perfect dress but it is sleeveless, you could pair that with a cute blazer, cardigan, or jacket. Ironically, strapless dresses or skinny straps have the opposing effect on arms in camera. So we recommend avoiding those!
Your Legs: One quick trick to making your legs look longer and slender on camera is to wear heels. A heel will elongate your legs making them look fabulous. Closed-toed heels are a particularly amazing look in photographs because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. And if plan to wear open toe or peep-toe heels, consider scheduling a pedicure before your session so you don’t feel self-conscious of your toes showing! Trust us, it’s these little tricks and details that will make all the difference!
Splurge A Little
When it comes to hair and makeup, this is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself a little by having it professionally done! You will cherish these images forever and so investing in professional hair and makeup can be an extra fun way to celebrate the occasion and allows you to be extra confident during your shoot! Not only does it look amazing, but it also takes away the stress of getting ready on your own. So go for the blown-out hair and lash extensions! If you are worried about looking tired or just want a little something special for your engagement photos, false lashes will make the most impact in your portraits! Who doesn’t like to have bigger eyes!
Tip: Consider having your wedding day hair and makeup artist do a trial before your engagement session. Not only does this give you the opportunity to see how things look before your wedding day, but you will also have an idea of what it will look like in your wedding photos!
Lastly, if you are looking for recommendations, we know some of the best professionals in the West Michigan wedding industry and would be happy to connect you with them!
The Finishing Touches
- Have your nails done
- Fake eyelashes compliment your eyes the best
- Have your ring cleaned (super important!)
- Skip the spray tan
- Avoid clothes that show tags and bra straps
- Avoid clothing with branding or logos
- Check your wrist for hair ties and empty your pockets before your session
Style Tips for Him
Guys, let’s face it, you look most striking in a well-tailored suit. Don’t worry, if you don’t own one there are amazing rental companies where you can rent a dapper yet affordable look. Websites like The Black Tux let you do the whole thing online and is our personal favorite. But renting isn’t your thing and you prefer to buy, companies like Banana Republic let you buy a well fitting suit right off the rack. Solid shades of navy or grey are a strong complement to your lady’s outfit, whereas pinstripes or plaids patterns tend to distract the eye.
If a suit doesn’t really feel like you, then aim for long pants and a nice button down. Long pants with closed-toe dress shoes is a sophisticated and masculine look for a guy. It draws attention away from his feet and legs, placing it where we want it, on his face. So for your engagement session, we recommend leaving the shorts and sandals at home.
The details in a man’s outfit can be subtle but speak volumes to his overall look. Ties, bow ties, fun socks, tie clips, leather belts, watches, cuff links, suspenders, and vests are strong ways to complement any outfit. You can still mix and match accessories to complement both of her dresses without doing a full change. So, regardless of her outfit, you win.
Pro tip: get a fresh hair cut before your engagement session and your wife-to-be will love you even more.
Things To Avoid:
- Gym Clothes
- Blue Jeans
- Graphic Tees
- Logos or Branded Clothing
- Baggy Clothing
- White Socks
- Keep your phone and wallet in the car and not in your pocket otherwise, they will show up in your pictures!
Relax and Have Fun
Relax! Don’t worry! You’re going to look amazing! There are a lot of elements that go into creating a beautiful wedding and engagement photos but don’t over think it. The most important element is confidence. If you both have outfits you look and feel great in and are comfortable, you have set yourself up for a successful engagement photo shoot. Remember what we said before, what you wear isn’t nearly as important as the memories you make together! We have worked with EVERY personality type and EVERY body type, and we always create images that our clients love, so get excited!
Engagement Session Guide FAQs
Weather – Rain or Shine
Trust us when we say, we are watching the weather long before your session. If we suspect rain or snow, we’ll connect a few days in advance with a game plan. When scheduling your engagement session, always dress for the season. Michigan winters can be unpredictable and if you plan to do a winter shoot, dress in layers. You can always peel off a coat for a few poses and hop back in between shots. As a West Michigan wedding professional, we know that rain or snow can come in a go any minute. We always take those weather considerations in before your wedding day and prep you accordingly. This is also why we bring a clear umbrella to every session (just in case!)
Dogs and Pets
Those of you who know us, know we are dog people. For that reason, we strongly encourage you to bring your dog or pet. We understand that they too are family and as a young couple they can feel like your children. That said we do suggest limiting their involvement. When it comes to pets it is best to have someone else bring them so that they can be included at the beginning or end of a session with the remainder of the session focused on you two as a couple.
After Your Session
After the session you both will be all dressed up, so why not take advantage of it? We always recommend our couples to plan a dinner date after their engagement session. We know first hand how planning a West Michigan wedding can feel all-consuming, so take some time after your session for just the two of you to relax and enjoy each other company. Go back to your original date night spot or try out that new restaurant you have been eyeing. You deserve it!
Be sure to check out some of our favorite engagement sessions for inspiration on outfits and locations!
Just like your wedding day, the more you plan to invest in your engagement session the smoother it will go and the more you will enjoy your photos! Don’t leave the session details until the last minute as the stress of rushing can take away from the enjoyment of the engagement session. Remember, much like your wedding, your engagement session is supposed to be fun! We hope you found this engagement session guide helpful! Please reach out to us, Leidy & Josh, if you have any questions! Even if you are not one of our brides and we are not your Grand Rapids wedding photographer! We would still love to hear from you!