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choosing the perfect time, location, outfit & More!
A NOTE ABOUT THIS GUIDE
I'm so excited to be working with you and I can’t wait for our time together during your engagement session! It’s normal to be a little nervous about your session. I always tell people that AJ and I still get nervous before having our own photos taken - and I do this for a living!
I'm a big fan of engagement sessions for a few reasons. First, they allow you to get comfortable in front of the camera. It takes time for most couples to warm up to being photographed and understand how I pose. Timelines can be pretty tight on weddings days and 30 minutes may be all we have for portraits - which is why I’ve found that wedding day portraits turn out so much better when couples do engagement sessions ahead of time.
Second, you can showcase your personalities in a more casual setting that is significant to the two of you (and even include pets!). While they’re great for save-the-dates, I’ve taken engagement photos anywhere from 18 months in advance to a few weeks before the wedding.
There is a lot to think about when it comes to planning a session and since I get asked the same things over and over again, I thought it would be the most beneficial if I put together a guide that walks you through everything you need to know.
I’ll cover what to wear, whether to bring pets & how to manage them, location ideas and more!
I get it. Having your picture taken for 1-2 hours might not be in your top-10 favorite things to do during your downtime. And at first you might feel sort of awkward being in front of the camera. But I think you’ll find that by the end of the session, it’s a lot easier than you thought, and you even had a little fun. I look forward to it because it’s a great opportunity for us all to hang out a bit before the wedding day.
A NOTE TO
Engagement sessions can take place anywhere from immediately following a proposal to just a few weeks before the wedding. I’ve found that there isn’t a “good” or “bad” time to take your photos. I normally plan sessions based on a particular “look” a couple has in mind, spring flowers for example, or based on schedules.
Sessions typically last about an hour and a half and, when I can, I love to begin sessions about two hours before sunset. I prefer to shoot when the sun is lower in the sky to avoid harsh shadows and bright sun patches. The first two hours after sunrise is also an ideal time to shoot.
I schedule sessions during what we believe will be the best light of the day - which means that it’s super important to be on time. If you’re late to an evening session, we may run out of light before we’ve finished shooting and if your session takes place in the morning, the sun gets more harsh as it rises.
While I shoot most of my engagement sessions between April and late November, sessions can take place all year. Most of my couples choose a season based on the location where they want to shoot.
A few things to keep in mind during each season:
snowfall, hot cocoa and cozy coats
If you’re planning to take your engagement photos during the winter, keep in mind that if your session takes place in the evening, we could begin shooting as early as 2:30pm to catch the sunset. I recommend dressing in layers so that in between photos you can warm up. Make sure you bring a little extra makeup and tissues in case your nose begins running.
fresh flowers and sunny days
Even though Spring begins in March, I typically don’t begin shooting for another 6 weeks because the weather in Illinois is still pretty chilly and the trees don't have leaves. When I schedule spring dates, I typically schedule both a primary date and a backup rain date.
walks on the beach hand in hand
In spite of the heat, I'm a big fan of summer sessions! Because of the later sunset, sessions sometimes begin as late as 6pm. If you’re taking your engagement photos during the summer, I recommend bringing extra makeup and a few towels to make sure you stay fresh throughout your session.
If your wedding is local, save the dates should be sent between 6 and 8 months before the wedding. For a destination wedding, you’ll want to send them out 8 to 10 months before the wedding.
If you’re hoping to use your engagement photos for your save the dates, I recommend scheduling your session at least two months before you plan to send out your save-the-dates. Between inclement weather, editing, designing your save-the-dates and printing, two months is generally a safe amount of time to make sure your images and cards are ready.
A Few Of My Favorite Midwest Locations
I love when couples choose a location for their session that complements their wedding. For example if you’re planning a chic, elegant wedding, it may be fitting to take your engagement portraits among the classic architecture in a downtown business district, while a local park or flower-filled fields may be more fitting for a couple planning a more rustic affair. The best session locations are often meaningful places to the couple; however, I'm also happy to make recommendations. From ski slopes to lavender fields to apple picking and college campuses, the options for engagement session locations are endless!
Krannert Center Amphitheater
Old State Capitol (IL)
CLASSIC & ELEGANT
Basically any alleyway!
Allerton Park Barns
Sleepy Creek Vineyards
Starved Rock State Park
County or State Fair
The above locations are all beautiful, but l also love exploring meaningful locations with my couples!
While I take most of our engagement sessions in the midwest,
I’ve photographed sessions everywhere from Chicago to Los Angeles, Knoxville to Richmond. If you have a location in mind that is significant to the two of you, let me know because if our schedules align, I would love to take your engagement photos outside of our normal area.
*Travel fees may apply depending on the location and my availability.
Our dogs are a huge part of our family, which is why I love when couples choose to incorporate pets into their session. Keep in mind that bringing a pet along often means that we’ll need to choose a pet friendly location.
I recommend planning for your pet to be at the first part of your session and then either dropping them off or having a friend take them home. We won’t have your pet in every single photo, so it’s also nice to have a friend available to hold him or her in between shots.
If you’re going to bring a pet, I recommend exercising your pet before the session and bringing your pets favorite toy or treats! Depending on your pet’s fur type, it might also be a good idea to groom them before the shoot and bring a lint roller along - just in case!
TIPS FOR LOOKING YOUR BEST
When picking outfits I recommend keeping in mind the word “complement” rather than “match.” For example, if the groom-to-be is wearing a blue and pink pastel plaid shirt, the bride-to-be may want to choose a long, soft blue dress. It can also be a great idea to choose “color-families,” such as pastels or jewel tones.
Generally, couples pick two outfits for an engagement session: a more formal outfit and a casual outfit. I recommend saving your favorite outfit for later in the session, when couples usually feel more comfortable in front of the camera. And don’t forget to bring a few accessories! Statement necklaces, cute shoes and classic watches are great ways to add detail to outfits.
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Heels lengthen legs, but if your heels aren’t comfortable for walking, bring an extra pair of shoes to slip into in between shots.
I love the way larger patterns photograph - just be careful not to choose a pattern that is too small - it may accidentally make your photo look a little too busy.
Softer, pastel colors tend to photograph better than bright colors - especially since bright colors could reflect on your skin. We love bright, neon dresses, but we don’t love the neon reflection they add to your complexion.
for the ladies
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Statement jewelry is a great way to add color or pattern to a simple dress.
Lace and tulle look amazing in photographs.
Dresses with lace sleeves are a great way to help slim arms. Depending on your location, you might want to consider a fit and flare or a flowing dress!
They look great in walking and photos with movement. Choose an outfit you feel comfortable in, but don’t be afraid to dress up!
for the ladies
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Engagement sessions are the perfect time for a hair and makeup trial! Professionally done hair & makeup last longer than typical hair & makeup. They also tend to hold up better for humidity and wind.
I think it’s so important that you look and feel your best for your engagement photos - and if you’re planning to do a hair & makeup trial anyways, the engagement session is a great time to test how your hair & makeup look on camera.
for the ladies
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There will probably be times during your session when we’re shooting your hands holding or the engagement ring on your hand - which means it’s a good idea to clean up your nails before your session (this applies to the guys too!).
for the ladies
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You can’t go wrong with a suit and tie. Consider pulling out that suit you had to wear last time you were a groomsmen!
Layer with a blazer and a fun tie - you can even wear jeans with this look.
Bowties are always a good idea.
Be careful not to choose a pattern that is too small - it may accidentally make your photo look a little too busy. Softer, pastel colors tend to photograph better than bright colors - especially since bright colors could reflect on your skin. Cozy sweaters layered over button ups are a great way to stay warm and stylish during the cooler months.
for the gents
what to do if it rains
It’s typical for us to schedule two engagement session dates. A primary date and a rain date. Having two dates helps us make sure that your photos happen in a timely manner. Coordinating schedules can be tough and I’ve found that the best way to make sure my couples get the look they have in mind for their photos is to schedule two dates at the same time.
I’ll check in the week of your engagement session to confirm the time & location we’re meeting and the weather. We know it takes a lot of time to get ready for engagement session and it’s the worst to get dressed up and drive out to your session only to have it rain. Let me know what works best for the two of you - but if the weather looks like it won’t be great, we typically try to make the call at least 12 hours in advance.
When I can, I always try to take a photo of your ring during your engagement session - so it’s a good idea to have it cleaned or clean it yourself before your shoot! To clean at home, soak your ring in warm water with dishwashing soap for 20 to 40 minutes. Then gently brush the stone with a soft toothbrush, rinse and repeat if needed.
champagne is always a good idea
If you’re planning to bring props to your engagement session, I recommend including them only if they’re meaningful to you. Shots of drinking coffee at a local coffee shop would be cute if that’s where you met; however, trying to fly a kite together when it’s not a part of your relationship may come off as contrived.
When it comes to posing for your engagement session, you don’t need to worry about a thing! I’ll guide you through the entire process beginning with “poses” that are super easy and natural. If I tell you to do something that feels a little funny, it’s probably because I know it’s going to make the two of you laugh - and that’s the photo I'm actually looking for.
Throughout your session, I’ll keep an eye on your hair, makeup and outfits to make sure things stay in place. My goal is to keep you feeling as relaxed as possible to enjoy our time together!
If you’re anything like us, you probably don’t get dressed up all that often. Which means that the day of your engagement session is the perfect occasion for a date night (or brunch, if your session is in the morning!)
The engagement session is another part of celebrating your love and heading off to dinner is a great way to end the session!
As soon as possible after your session is complete, I'll get you on the calendar for your viewing appointment. This typically happens about 3 weeks after your session and it is so much fun! You get to see your images on a big screen, pick your favorites, and order any wall art you might be interested in. While you wait, you'll have a chance to browse our selection of save-the-date cards.
I know that this guide is long and hopefully it covers everything you need to know to prep for your engagement session! However if there is something I missed, or you need a recommendation feel free to email Hello@LisaShreffler.com.