Written by Alexa Poppe, an award-winning reportage style wedding photographer based in Cornwall. 

More and more couples are choosing to have an engagement shoot as an opportunity to get to know their photographer and for their photographer to get to know them. It’s also a great way to prepare themselves for all the attention of the big day, and to get used to the camera. 

For a lot of couples, the term ‘engagement session’ doesn’t sound appealing because it sounds more like a posed photoshoot and personally, I usually get booked for my natural un-posed style of photography. Well, to a certain degree this is true, we are meeting for the purpose of taking portraits so it’s not a natural event and therefore not really reportage style photography, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t take candid photos during a pre-wedding shoot. Engagement shoots should feel like you’re going for a walk with a friend who happened to bring a camera along.

I’ve had great feedback from all my couples who booked engagement sessions, as they said they didn’t expect it to be so much fun and useful at the same time. They also said it was a great way to ease the nerves before the big day.

Have a read through the advice below to help make your mind up about whether an engagement photoshoot is worth it…

THE PERFECT PRACTICE RUN FOR YOUR BIG DAY

So the big day is some way away, but you still have got so many things to think about and organise! Well, you’ve booked the photographer at least, so that’s one less thing to worry about. He or she will turn up on the day and everything will be running smoothly, plus most professional wedding photographers know how to get the best photos out of short windows of time on a very long day – but will you be ready?

Well, you’ve had your picture taken before, right? You might even have a collection of photos at home where you look exactly how you want to look because you’re the kind of person who knows exactly how to show off their best side, how to pose and how to get your partner to relax and pose too for your Facebook and Instagram feed. Hmmm, or perhaps not?

Perhaps you’re more like me; someone who is putting up that fake smile and awkward look as soon as a camera is pointed at them. Almost definitely there are a thousand phone pics of you and only about a couple you like yourself in just because you didn’t know they were taken or the light was good at the time.

Professional photography is not about a lucky moment or good light (it is to a certain degree, and great moments make good photos plus good light always helps), but on the bigger picture, it’s about preparation, skill and a relaxed relationship between subject and the photographer.  

I think this is actually the most important reason for an engagement shoot. Chances are you haven’t had too many opportunities with your partner to pose for the camera together, so this is your opportunity (and mine as your photographer!) to find out how you shine on camera. Everyone has a good side and an engagement session helps me to find the best side of you, what makes you smile and most importanly what makes you relaxed and ‘you being you’ in front of the camera.

IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU

The wedding day is your day but it also feels like a long day. There is so much going on and so many people seeking your attention, speeches to do, cutting cakes, eating cakes, oh and getting married and slipping on that ring, and so the list goes on…

There’s little chance you’ll get more than half an hour alone with your partner, and that half an hour will be taken up by portrait photographs with your photographer. And believe me – half an hour isn’t long. An engagement shoot is a chance to take the time just for the two of you, to get some beautiful shots but also to take the time to really celebrate the special bond the two of you have. You can choose a location which perhaps even means something to you; maybe you got engaged on a certain beach? Together we can make a plan for the best light, location and weather – all the stuff you can’t really plan on a wedding day. And hey, you’re going to have some lovely pictures of just the two of you relaxing together that you can keep forever and that you can also send out as ‘Save the Day’ cards or use as decoration on your wedding day.

LET YOUR INSPIRATION FLOW AND GET CREATIVE

There’s a good chance you have some favourite photos and ideas for your wedding day. Maybe it is just something you’ve seen on Pinterest or Instagram, but having worked in advertising and design for years I relish getting inspiration from my clients so I can get to know your style and your tastes even more. A pre-wedding photoshoot is the perfect opportunity to play around with some more creative setups which are too time consuming and could take you away from your guests for too long on the big day. Together we can take our time, plan the shoot, choose light, location, maybe even the weather and create something super special. Whereas on the big day schedules are tight, nerves are running high,time is running, your guests are waiting and not forgetting that the British weather is occasionally a little unpredictable…

A CHANCE FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER TO GET TO KNOW YOU

A great way to prepare for the big day and get to know you is spending a little time with you by putting you in front of a lens. An engagement shoot is the perfect way for your photographer to experiment with light and angles to find out not just what your best side is but also what makes you tick, what makes you laugh, what makes you ‘YOU.’

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER

Let’s face it, you will spend a lot of time with me on your wedding day. I’ll be there to document the whole day for you from prep to after first dance, so an engagement shoot is a great way to get to know each other so that I’m not a complete stranger on the day. I usually combine the shoot with a quick coffee to have a chat about your day. It’s always good to put a face to the name before the big day.

BRING YOUR CHILDREN AND PETS

Many of my couples already have children, so why not make the most out of this session and bring them along too to make it into a family portrait session? Even though I don’t have children myself, I find working with kids a lot of fun and very rewarding.

The same goes if you have pets who are a big part of your life. Please bring them along, they can loosen up our session too as the focus is not just on the two of you, and just like that you’ve made the most out of your engagement session with some great family portraits to keep.

However, a little piece of advice I can offer anyone considering an engagement shoot with their children is to bring a friend or a family member along who is happy to take the little ones off for a break! This is so the two of you can also relax and have some photos by yourselves (if only because energy levels and attention spans are very different).

CHOOSE A TIME AND A PLACE…   

There are a lot of beautiful spots to choose from here in Cornwall. There are a variety of stunning beach locations, or if you want to mix it up a bit and you are already getting married near a beach, why not head to some woodland or a National Trust site like Lanhydrock instead? You’ll get the best out of both worlds in your photos! For something a little different, some of the old mining sites can be a stunning, more industrial-style backdrop. 

I love to shoot in all these fabulous locations – and it’s even better if your shoot is somewhere with a special meaning to you, like a beach where you got engaged.

I often get asked the question ‘Is there a good time for an engagement shoot?’ I don’t think it matters as it’s more a question of when wedding photographers can best fit it in as our diaries are often filled with weddings in summer! Therefore the ‘off season’ from October through to March is generally better as I have much more time and can be flexible with the planning. Also, Autumn and Winter months provide wonderful colours and a light that you just don’t get in the summer – plus the beaches are empty! Let’s face it, who wants millions of wind breakers and speedos as a back drop in their photos?

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR/BRING TO AN ENGAGEMENT SHOOT

My answer: Anything you like. But you should feel comfortable and wear something you can freely move in. It’s obvious that high heels might make you taller but they are not made for a stroll on the beach…Wear something smart-casual, something that’s you. 

Bring a prop if you like! I had a couple bring a giant balloon with them once and it added some lovely colour to the photos. Even though my photo sessions are mostly casual and non-staged, if you rather have something set up like a picnic scene or similar, let me know so we can plan it in and bring some props along. 

I also strongly advise to bring an umbrella along – it is Cornwall after all, and the weather can change quickly! 

And remember; you’re about to start the biggest adventure of your life, so let’s have some fun!

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