Preparing and Planning for an Engagement Session

Today I am sharing a really fun shoot that I got to do with my brother and his wife.  One of the things about being a wedding and portrait photographer is you typically bring your work to your family and they are ready to hire you because they are so familiar with your work!  As I already know my brother pretty well haha, I had a starter idea of what to look for.

Earlier that week, I started to keep my eye out for locations.  While pursuing Old town in Fort Collins, CO, I came across some really fun locations for their shoot.

Their is such a fun hippie vibe in Fort Collins and a handful of retro places to go with it.  And when I saw these pianos, I just KNEW we had do something with them.  Cameron is an amazing piano player, so I thought it would be fun to implement that into their session.


When planning an engagement session, it is important to get to know the couples personal style preferences.  When they come to you, they are likely coming with a certain expectation of what they will get given your photography portfolio and current style, but you do also want to create something that is custom to them and their personal vibe, within that box...

One of the first things that helps in planning a proper location and vibe of an engagement session, is to work with the couple on what they are planning to wear.  In this process, it will also give you a better idea of what exactly their vibe is and it will give you an idea of the kind of location that would look good.  You can always choose the location first and then buy or select your outfits that work for that location, but in this case they had a handful of outfits ready to go and I helped limit them down and offer suggestions for ribbon and things like that.

Maurina's black silk dress with the sweater she chose to go with it just had a downtown feel to it, so from there I started to put together my thoughts of ideas to shoot. She had a vintage themed wedding, so the lace vintage needed something to match it in vintage style with a mix of a formal educated look and a more fun flirty setting just like the hem of her dress.  Cameron's maroon pants were also a touch hipster retro but the bow tie he wore also went with the semi formal look I talked about.


This is one set of outfits these guys picked out.  If we were to do it again, I would have had him wear darker shirts and a medium shade shirt!  We had a good laugh when we quickly went through proofs. AHH!  It looks like he doesn't have pants on and his skin is a bit fair to wear white.  I would have gone down a few shades darker on the pants and maybe a medium blue polo or button up shirt (un-tucked) on him.  I just ended up editing the photo to have that darker shade of shorts for him instead.

The other thing that I want to bring up with this photo is 1. the green color in the trees in the background (we had to hunt for those early trees coming in) 2. The colonial styled house has that semi formal hometown feel to it (a look of distinguished tradition) and the fact that it is white goes with her dress.  If, however, there was no green tree and green grass, then there would be too much white!  Especially since the day was white overcast we would have a harder time finding that color. The light against the dark helps center the attention on them... I will get more into that later.


Here are a few more of my location scouting photos.  We didn't use this piano here, as I didn't love the brick wall behind it, but I LOVE this piano!  It is so wild and fun.  Tell me in the comments if you would dare paint a piano all out like this for your home, or maybe at a school or community center.  How fun.


Here is a list of things to consider when scouting for a location for a photo session:

What will the lighting be like.

You will want to arrange to shoot at a location that has ideal lighting.  As for the time of the day, aim for the magic hour but be cautious of when your location goes into shadow too.  An example of this is finding a perfect location, such as a beautiful grove.  Realize that magic hour outside of that grove may be different from inside the shadows of that grove, meaning you will have less flattering light faster

Fees and/or Reservations

Not all gardens allow photography without a prearranged reservation and fee. This may required at least a week in advance or more.  Always be sure to research the regulations prior to arranging a session there. The last thing you want it for security to show up and request you leave.

Some locations require insurance

Shooting inside a cool upscale hotel lobby? Awesome.  Not only will they want a large fee and reservation, but you will need to have a x amount on your photography insurance.

Are there events in the area that will interfere with your location? 

Are you planning your shoot downtown and there will be a local fair going on that weekend?  How convenient will parking be? Where will you park?

Do you want there to be more people or fewer people?  

What day is better for that? Are you capturing the session on a college campus that will be swarming with people?

Will there be a place for your couple to change clothing should they have more than one outfit. If not, what is your backup plan.

My backup backup plan... I store a large quilt in my trunk that we can through over any car for an instant changing room... or we make a three wall tent for changing in by each holding up the quilt/ sheets...

Will the cafe or store owner be cool with you taking pictures?

There are really two ways to approach this, the first is to call or stop by in advance and make an arrangement with them, or 2nd, come by with the couple the day of and ask whoever is working if you could take a few pictures with your couple inside the store.  If you will only be a few minutes and you are doing all natural light in a less obtrusive way then they may just fine with it.  If however, they don't allow photography at all or state that they do but only allow it on _ days etc, then you obviously are up a creek...  But if this is the way you want to go be prepared with a laxed plan B.

Are pets allowed?

If your couple wishes to do pictures with their dogs on leashes, this may limit the location you choose or recommend to them as some will ban pets

Consider back up plans if it starts to rain.  

Are there trees or a nearby shelter you can chill at while a short rain shower comes in and out.  Since springtime is a popular time for engagement photos, this is a common risk.

Take one look or thought to the terrain so that you can recommend what shoes to wear and recommend

ie High Heels in a field with holes and rocks and dirt are not a good combo.  Also, if there is a LOT of walking, such as a large garden, then recommend a second pair of slip on's for comfort and saving time.

Look for shaded areas

Sun is great for those beautiful sun kissed moments, but there will be times when you really just want your subjects in the shade with nearby lift bouncing in from the side to bring light into their eyes.  For example, the alleyway pictured below had a warm light bouncing across into the shade because the sun hit the rich color of teh stucco wall and that warm moved into the shadows.  This would be a perfect spot to have a soft natural fill light without heavy light taking over the subjects hair.  And it is perfect for closeups too.

Look for those high contrast areas

We talked briefly about shooting in the grove and about the shadows.  If I were shooting down in that grove I would want to look for shadows across the way while my subject is in sun in the foreground.  This will create a higher contrast of the two and put even more focus on my subject.

Look for color

Are there landscapes filled with rich greens or are they a dull brown? In this case we were shooting early enough in the season the green had not come out yet, so we looked for those early blossoms and colorful surroundings downtown like you see here.

IMG_5652IMG_5653When location scouting, I loved the light and warmth especially this time of day (early evening) and also the patio lights hanging above!  Why is it that back alleyways have so much character to them.  Do you have a back alleyway you like to shoot at?IMG_5655

Here is their video that shows you a look around Fort Collins and a glimpse of them as a couple.  Save the date fun!  Also, you can check out their engagement photography session here.

Cameron and Maurina's 1950's vintage Save the Date video from Rebecca Mabey on Vimeo.


Are you engaged?  Or do you photograph engagement photography?  Share your work below.  Would you ever want a video like this one made for your own Save the date or everyday lifestyle.  Email to find out more.

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