how to plan an engagement session

Mary Dougherty

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ABOUT mary

I'm a fine art film photographer living in the mountains and traveling to tell beautiful stories





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Engagement sessions are a chance to have fun, get comfortable in front of the camera and take some amazing pictures. It should be like a date that you always wanted to go on: a chance to enjoy the things that you love, and get to know your photographer. They don’t take place within the structure and schedule of the wedding day, so there’s the chance to try something different and make them personal. I like to break the session down into three elements so it’s a little more simple to plan and prepare for, and they are:

You can personalized each area as much or little as you like, and answering these questions will help you determine what your shoot will be like. Where will you be? What will you wear? What will you be doing?

Location:  Choosing between a sunny day at the lake or an afternoon in the conservatory (a great place for winter sessions) will likely guide the rest of your decisions. I like to include at least one location that has open, natural space and often help people narrow down the location when planning. Light is also a big player in choosing a location, and it’s worth it to choose a location – or time of day – solely based on that.
Style: My advice is to wear something that makes you feel good. Never had a chance to rock the amazing dress you bought? Do you love bright colors, bold prints and interesting patterns? I don’t think you need to shy away but finding outfits that work together is something I generally talk through with people and decide on day of once they show me the options they brought. I love my pink tights, and I would probably be afraid to wear them to an engagement shoot, but then again they might just be amazing. Choosing to have one bold element can generally be balanced out by the rest of the clothes, and typically couples have 2 different looks they change in to.


Activity: This is a subtle element that can take center stage or sit quietly in the images. Whenever people have something to do, or a context of what they are doing where they are, they are more likely to loosen up and relax. I suggest adding in some kind of activity so that it can not only be photographed, but introduce people to the session and feel comfortable. For Carli and Dan (above) we started in the stacks of their alma mater’s library and not only did I love the light and color of the books, but we pulled a few out to look through and they had a sense of context with the photos and what they were doing. Who hasn’t wanted to sneak through the rows for kiss or two (obviously I have, my wedding was in a library).

Starting with one of these areas and making a decision will help guide the rest, and give your session some personality as well. I love to capture people being themselves, so plan something you’ll have fun with! I hope these tips helped and would love to hear if you have any feedback or suggestions. See my recent engagement sessions on the blog here or browse through images over here.


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