The importance of the engagement shoot
For some, the thought of having an engagement photo shoot may seem like the definition of hell; words like cringe-worthy and awkward might come to mind but over the next few minutes I’m going to try and change your point of view.
We’ll start at the beginning, and we’ll explain what the engagement photo shoot actually is. Imagine on your wedding day, following the ceremony and the family shots, you’re probably thinking that your photographer is going to whisk you away for some wonderful photographs of just the two of you. This part of the wedding day is known to photographers as the couple’s session, and its this part that an engagement session is similar to; just the couple and the photographer off taking some photographs together in a quiet area of the venue. This is pretty much standard practice for weddings (in the UK at least, your countries’ customs may vary) and there seems to be no ambiguity surrounding the practice, it’s what is to be expected. However, if we take this exact situation and replace it on a nice Sunday evening away from a wedding day it becomes an area of controversy. There’s no smoke and mirrors about it, it’s the exact same setup except you have less chance of an audience of your family members as it’s happening!
As far as I can see, the only downside to an engagement shoot is that initial fear of having one, whereas on the other hand there are multiple benefits. Engagement photo shoots are for everybody, but the people that benefit the most are actually the people least likely to have them, the people that don’t like having their photograph taken. The one thing that every couple tells me at the end of their photo shoot is that it wasn’t as bad as they were expecting and were actually having fun by the end even if they were apprehensive at first.
Weddings can cause anxiety for several reasons, am I going to be too nervous? Is everything going to plan? Is Great Aunt Miriam going to make it over from Canada? For people that don’t like having their photograph taken you can add something else to the list, so imagine taking some of that apprehension away before the wedding day; an engagement session can do just that. Even for people that don’t particularly mind having their photograph taken, many of us aren’t used to being in front of a camera that we aren’t controlling (I’m talking selfies here!) so it can get you used to being photographed by a professional, but also see how they work. In addition to that, you get to see how your photographer is going to photograph YOU, you can decide what works and what doesn’t work for you, all of which is going to save time on your wedding day; and believe me time on a wedding day is a valuable commodity.
There are other practical benefits too, it might be that you’ve seen some photographs taken at sunset in a field of sunflowers and would love to do the same, but that simply isn’t going to happen if you’ve booked a city venue in November. An engagement shoot, timed well, means you could have that photograph. The other element of this is that you get the choice of locations, you could have it somewhere that means something to you, where your first date was or where you used to walk along the seafront when you first started seeing each other. I’m shooting one couple shortly that are massive Beatles fans and we’re doing a Beatles tour around Liverpool, the choice is endless. That’s not to say it has to be that way, I personally have a series of local parks that are really great for them too, and normally nice and quiet to help with those nerves a little bit.
Couples often ask me if they’d be best having their shoot at the venue they’re getting married in, the only real benefit I can see to this is your photographer getting familiarised with the venue. However, it might be that they’ve already shot at the venue anyway and this takes away any benefit; the other thing to bear in mind is that a photographer will either check out the venue beforehand to see the best places for photographs or tend to arrive a little early on the day for the same thing. If you did go ahead with a shoot at the venue you also have the issue that really, at the end of everything, you’re going to end up with 2 sets of the same photographs. One in your everyday clothes and one in your wedding clothes, and I can guarantee you’ll be using the wedding ones every time. The engagement photographs are there as a reminder to the time when you were engaged, let the venue ones be the reminder of the wedding day.
One of the other big causes of anxiety for many is weather. It might be that you’ve booked your personal idea of perfection in a country house in July, the beautiful exterior of the building and those stunning gardens surrounding it. However, in reality there’s no guarantee you’re going to get the perfect weather for that, even at the height of summer there’s a chance it’s going to rain on your wedding day. Photographers plan for that kind of thing with ideas for inside photographs but it might not be what you had in mind with a lovely sunset shot overlooking the lake when you booked the venue. The beauty of the engagement shoot is if you wake up on the morning of it to gale force winds and rain that Noah would be proud of, you simply re-arrange for a better day; try doing that with your wedding day!
If you still aren’t sold on the idea then just remember this, you don’t HAVE to show anybody the engagement photographs if you didn’t want to, you don’t HAVE to even tell anybody you’re attending one. Use the session as a practice for the wedding day, and take on board everything that I’ve said above to make the most of it. You never know, you might actually enjoy yourself.