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Episode 2: Everything I needed to know about the wedding day I learned at the engagement session!

In our last blog post we gave lots of great advice about preparing for shooting your first wedding as a professional photographer.  Today we are going one step deeper.  We are talking about the benefits of having an engagement session before shooting a wedding.  And going even further giving you tips on shooting your first engagement session!

In the last blog post I also shared with you that we, as wedding photographers, have always given away our engagement sessions for free.  Whether you feel like that business model works for you or not, matters not.  You can still place an appropriate value on the engagement session not only as a means to boost the wedding sale / income, but also as a preparatory time for the wedding day itself.

While you will get to learn basic information from your clients like:

  • Was the bride OCD about her looks? Is there a part of her (or his) body that they hate?
  • Are they self-conscious about their looks?
  • Did the couple take the session seriously or was it very casual?
  • How are they together? Shy? Timid? Sexy? Fun?
  • Do they listen to you and take your advice?

Guiding your couples through the process of the engagement session will help you to grow the relationship with the couple and ensure that all parties are comfortable with each other on the big day.

How to prepare your clients for their engagement session.

Especially when you are preparing for your first engagement session, this, once again starts, before the session itself.  It’s all about preparation.  Here are a few things we always did to help our couples prepare themselves for the engagement.  These things also, in turn, gave us a heads up of knowing what we would be working with!

1)      Advise your couple on the location.  Ask them questions like:

  • What style is your wedding day?  Rustic? Chic? Sparkly? Elegant?
  • Do you have a location that is special to you as a couple?  Would you like to go back to the location where you were engaged?
  • Does your family have land / own property that might be appropriate or sentimental?
  • **The engagement session will often be used to send out Save the Date cards and should be somewhat reflective of the couple and their day.**

2)      Advise your couple on their attire.  We always told our couples that they should bring at least 3 outfits to the session that way if they saw a test shot of a particular outfit and hated it, they were not stuck with it for half of their photos.  We also told them to feel free to bring a car load of clothing options, shoes, accessories and we would help them put together nice looking outfits right on site the night of the session.  The clients loved this.  It was like having the added benefit of free stylist alongside photographer.  Additionally, we also gave our clients a list of makeup/ hair artists that they could use.  This gave the impression that they “should” be having their hair and makeup professionally done.  Most of our clients followed our recommendations.

3)      Advise your couple the best time of day for lighting and location.  Often clients would ask to schedule their sessions mid-day on Saturday or Sunday.  This was problematic for a number of reasons including most of our Saturdays were booked with weddings and the ones that were not we actually wanted to spend with our family!  Because we gave the sessions away for free, we could dictate that we ONLY shot engagements M-Thurs.  Most people work so this naturally put us in a pattern of a later evening, naturally beautiful light session!

4)      Advise them how to handle bringing a pet.  We ALWAYS required someone to come with them to TAKE the pet back home.  Our engagement sessions typically lasted 1-2 hours and it is unfair for a dog to sit in a car that long.  We would shoot the photos of the pet at the beginning of the session, then send the animal on its way with their chosen friend or parent.

5)      Advise the couple NOT to bring extras.  It is NOT a good idea to have a mom, friend, sister etc. hanging around during the session.  It just makes everything awkward. We have had to kick out quite a few overbearing moms who wanted to tag along, but it was what was BEST for the client.  It’s really hard to take sexy photos with your mom standing there.

How do I guide my engagement session?

This is a valuable set of skills that we acquired over the years.  Of course we understand that you will master the art of leading your clients over time but we CAN make it a bit easier for your first engagement session.  The things I am about to tell you came from a plethora of wins and losses, struggles and successes!

  • When arriving at the engagement session(especially your first engagement session), be sure to tell the client how excited you are and how much FUN this is going to be!  Generally, the guy will grumble something under his breath and when he does you can poke fun by saying something to the effect: “Don’t worry we won’t torture you too long… we will have you off to dinner in no time!”  This puts the guys at ease and diverts their attention to food most of the time.  It is also a great lead in to chit chat asking them what they are planning for dinner! It’s a great ice breaker.
  • Immediately help the client choose their first outfit if they do not already have it on.  Compliment their style and pick something positive to say to make them feel GOOD about themselves.  Half of the engagement session is all about getting the clients where you want them mentally.
  • As you are walking to the first location to pose, prep them for what is coming.  We always gave a schpeel that went something like this: “Guys tonight we are going to try a variety of locations, poses and styles.  This will help us better understand what you really want for your wedding day.  It will also help you get to know how WE are going to work together with you to create AMAZING images!  We will use a combination of lighting, sometimes you will see a flash in this box go off (point to off camera flash setup) sometimes you will not.  It’s ok… you all just keep enjoying each other and when we ask for that perfect “smiling” picture for Mom, be sure to look right at the camera.  Throughout the night we will switch off photographing you because each of us sees you and the location in a different way, so if we have an epiphany moment and change out positions, just know that you are about to create some really cool images with whomever is behind the camera.  Are you ready?!”
  • As you are working with the first lighting setup, be sure to watch for the smaller details.  Don’t allow hairs to be out of place or leaves to get in the way.  Trust me, fixing things IN the camera is SO much easier than fixing them in Photoshop!  It does NOT make you look like a lesser photographer if you stop to “tweak” or move hair.
  • Try a variety of poses and be sure to get a variety of shots from close up, ¾ to full length and everything in between.  Ensure that you are varying your crops and angles.  Many couples really love that scenic silhouette that you create while others will only truly love a close photo of faces.  You never know until you are finished with this session WHAT they will “amazing” so this is your time to try fun things.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your couple to do adventurous things like splash in a puddle, climb a tree or wade in a creek.  If they won’t do it at the engagement, then they certainly are not going to on their wedding day!  You need to gauge their level of adventure!
  • Ask them to kiss!  I know it sounds cheesy but an engagement session should include lots of snuggling and kissing alongside the “pretty pictures”.  This will help you ascertain their level of comfort with PDA.  For some couples, they will make out right in front of you like it is no big deal, for others holding hands and a kiss on the cheek is all you can get.  And that is OK!  Always remember that the tense moment before the kiss or the laugh after can make for a better photo than the kiss itself.
  • When you are trying posing, have him do fun things like whisper something embarrassing or “personal” in her ear.  This will almost always illicit genuine laughter and smiles.
  • Take control of the flow of the session itself.  Shoot several images in each outfit but do not get carried away.  This is an engagement session.  If you provide them with 800 images from the engagement they will expect 5000 on the wedding day!  Help them limit their priorities.
  • Throughout the night ask them personal questions like: What do you love about her/him?  What makes you laugh?  What is your favorite movie? Where did you grow up?  Who is your favorite relative?  This will open a ton of doors and chats and it will help you remember your clients as more than just a bride and groom.  I can remember the names, faces and families of almost every client that we photographed their wedding for one reason or another.  In looking back over our records we had less than 10 couples NOT take us up on the engagement session and I can tell you that THOSE are the couples I had a harder time remembering!  True story!
  • As you are nearing the end of the session, ask your clients if there was anything else their hearts desire.  Most of the time the answer will be “No” but sometimes you will have a client who will say, “Well I REALLY wanted (insert Pinterest photo idea here).”  And you may have taken 300 photos already but if the idea they have in their head is this one particular photo it is entirely possible that they will look at the rest of the images and not “love” them simply because they felt like they were missing that one stupid photo.  9 times out of 10 you will take the photo and they won’t even like it anyhow and you can use that to convince them that YOUR ideas are better than Pinterest!
  • When the session is over, declare you have so many amazing photos and tell them to expect to see these photos finish in a certain window of time.  Of course, as a professional this is your first chance to impress BUT do not overdo it!  If you cannot deliver wedding images overnight, do not finish the engagement proofs overnight either.  Or better yet, finish them and then file them away to be sent 1,2,3 weeks later.  Be ON time with your promises or exceed the expectations but a little but remember that you are setting precedent.
  • We always asked our couples if they needed something in a certain time period like an image for Save the Date cards.   We often found that people waited too late and then would expect us to rush the images for things like this.  In clearly setting the expectations with them on the engagement session night you could politely inform them (while they were still riding the high of the session) that you will be happy to proof several favorites and relay them to the couple quickly in order to make their wish happen but the rest would be processed on your normal time table.  This usually made people very happy and eliminated any confusion.

As you walk away from the first engagement session, take notes of what you learned that night in their ShootQ Client information.  Write down any family issues, body issues, or special requests they may have given because you will likely NOT remember them months, or even years, later on the wedding day!  Use all of the information you gathered during the engagement session to help you better relate to your clients on the wedding day!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog article where we detail how to use ShootQ questionnaires alongside your engagement session proofing process to help you succeed in pleasing your clients on their wedding day shoot.

Join us next week for Episode 3: To the Ceremony and Beyond: Tips for shooting the ceremony, reception and everything in between on your first wedding day!

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The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!