THE JOURNAL

Franzi Annika Photography is a Charleston Wedding photographer for the elegant and modern bride. Serving the Low-country and open for travel worldwide.  

The Ultimate Engagement Session Style Guide 

Since most couples have never been photographed professionally before, many questions come up prior to the shoot, such as: What location should you choose? What time offers the best lighting? And probably the question of all questions – What should we wear for our engagement session?

1. Reasons for doing an engagement session

Since you are only engaged once in your lifetime, shouldn’t you enjoy this time to the fullest? Wouldn’t it be nice to create some stunning memories?

We truly believe that an engagement photo session is a must-do and that it will have a HUGE impact on the flow of your wedding day. As a couple, it will give you the chance to become comfortable in front of the camera before you get married and without the constraints of a wedding day. It will help calm your nerves and boost your confidence. It will also help you establish a relationship with your photographers (us!).

During an engagement session, you will experience how we shoot and pose in a relaxed atmosphere. In turn, we will see how you two interact and will be able to photograph you in a genuine way on your wedding day. Last but not least, an engagement session is a lot of fun and the photographs can be a perfect addition for wedding invitations and Save the Date cards!

2. Ways to approach your engagement session

The reason you’ve fallen in love with our photographs is most likely because we lean more on the “Lifestyle” side of photography rather than the “traditional” style.

Showing candid moments and raw emotions in our pictures is what we want to achieve and what our clients cherish the most. This means that we would much rather have your session filled with stuff you love to do rather than just put you in standard poses that aren’t unique to you.

Some questions that might guide your choices:

  • Where did you go on your first date?
  • How do you spend your time on your weekends?
  • What do you like to do together as a couple?
  • What is a location that is special or sentimental to you?

Here are some ways that you can use questions to guide you to some creative photo opportunities: Do you have a favorite spot in your home? Perhaps you like cooking together, so we could start with you in your kitchen, baking muffins or creating an easy meal together. Do you love to be in nature? We could take some shots of the two of you hiking, fishing, or simply laying in a hammock outdoors. Did you meet in a unique or unconventional setting like a laundromat, a local pub, or at Jenni’s Ice Cream? We could create some really wonderful pictures in settings like these! Are you more of an adventurous couple? We could book a helicopter flight or an off-road ride on a quad.

You will instantly feel so much more confident in an environment you know and or that has a deep meaning to you. We promise you that it won’t just be a beautiful session, but also a memorable one, so do something personal, and don’t shy away from crazy ideas! The more creative the better. Here are some more engagement session ideas:

  • pillow fight
  • bubble bath shoot
  • fast food restaurant
  • ferris wheel / carnival
  • favorite shopping place
  • boarding/surfing/kayaking
  • poolside
  • paddle
  • sailboat
  • record store
  • smoke bombs
  • ocean shoot
  • instruments
  • flower field
  • brunch in bed
  • camping trip
  • laundromat
  • fire escape

3. Selecting the right location

This section goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. We always encourage our couples to think outside the box. Maybe you or someone in your personal or professional network can secure a location that would otherwise be off-limits, such as a beautiful private estate or a cute Airbnb. Or it could be a family ranch, an upscale hotel, or even an airplane hangar; the sky is literally the limit, and as long as the lighting is great, we can make any location look awesome!

If you are from out of town or just want to get some ideas for your Charleston engagement session, here is our Charleston location guide with our favorite photo spots around town.

Destination Engagement session

If the Charleston area is not what you envisioned for your engagement session, you should know one thing: we love to travel! Since we are on the road quite a bit, tell us about your engagement session dreams! Who knows? We might have already booked a trip to your favorite location. If not, we would be more than happy to discuss and plan it with you.

4. Choosing a date and time

Since we are wedding photographers, most of our weekends are already booked up to a year in advance for weddings and bigger events. Therefore, we always schedule our engagement sessions during the week. We work with many out-of-town couples and usually schedule their engagement sessions whenever they will be in Charleston for their tastings, venue walkthroughs, and hair and makeup trials.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend starting about 2 hours before sunset or right before sunrise to capture the dreamy light at the golden hour. This time might vary depending on location. For example, at the beach, sunset and its available light will be much later than in a city where the sun will disappear behind tall buildings way earlier. Also, keep in mind that sunset times vary throughout the year. Once we know a date and location for your engagement session, we will help you find the perfect times for your session.

If neither sunset nor sunrise works for you, no worries! We pride ourselves in being able to make every lighting condition work and always strive to create magical photographs – no matter if it’s in the middle of the day, at the end of a cloudy day, or even at night.

Just a little note about weather forecasts: Unless there is a downpour the day of your engagement session, we will still shoot – even on a cloudy day.

5. Preparing for your engagement session

Okay, here we go! Let’s dive deeper into this last part of our engagement session guide. You’ll see that it is divided into five different sections, and at the end of the guide, we’ve linked our Pinterest board with sample photos to each section to give you visual ideas as well. Keep in mind that what we’ve offered are guidelines, not rules. We want you to look and feel like yourselves, dressing as you would normally dress so you can be as comfortable as possible and your personality still shines through. Always chose comfort over looks! Although we don’t consider ourselves stylists or fashion experts, we want to share some tips and tricks that we’ve picked up in other engagement sessions that may help you look your best on camera.

5.1 Choosing outfits for your engagement session

Once you’ve decided on a location and activity for your engagement session, choose outfits that make sense for the location and conditions. For example, if we shoot at a beach, consider going barefoot since wearing shoes would most likely look odd. Or if we go on a hike, heels are probably not the best option. Not only do the wrong shoes look out of place, you might be uncomfortable the entire session. Also, be sure to bring lots of layers, wool socks, and cute boots on cold days, and bring clothes that can breathe on hot summer days.  Always try to be as comfortable as you can be.

In-home Sessions

To achieve a more intimate and cozy look during your in-home session, choose outfits that you would normally wear when hanging out at home. Feel free to:

  • show some skin
  • choose tank tops/ shorts/ sweaters/ jeans
  • wear undies or have your bae go shirtless (both are fine as well)

Choosing Colors

In general, we recommend leaning towards neutrals and earthy tones and staying away from bright, dominant colors.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t restrict you to only browns and creams. There are neutral shades for every single color. For example, instead of a saturated green, go for a soft forest green. Instead of a bright red, choose a deep maroon, and instead of an intense yellow, opt for a mustard yellow. If you are not sure about your skin tone and would like to know more about complementary colors, we’ve linked an amazing article here.

How do you choose colors that are complementary to your skin tone? Here are some examples of colors that work best for cooler skin tones:

  • emeralds
  • deep purples
  • lavender
  • pale yellows
  • rose reds

Here are some examples of colors that work best for warmer skin tones:

  • green
  • brown
  • mustard yellow
  • coral
  • gold
  • warm reds

Movement

We absolutely love capturing movement in our photographs. It adds energy and interest to your photographs, so anything that catches wind or shows movement is a big yes! The stiffer the material, the less movement and most likely the less comfortable you will be, so make sure you choose flowy and soft materials.

Patterns

This one is easy! Since we don’t want to distract from your beautiful smiles, we recommend avoiding big, chunky, and/or crazy patterns. Also, avoid pairing too many patterns together. Your photos will quickly appear hectic and distracting, so the smaller and more subtle the patterns, the better.

Oh! And don’t forget to iron your clothes before your engagement session because wrinkles also tend to be distracting!

Complementary vs Matching

We don’t want to get too deep into this topic, but let’s say complementary is good; matching is bad. When your outfits match, you tend to blend in – rather than stand out – in your engagement photos. Complementary means that colors/tones, accessories, patterns, and textures sing together but still differ from each other.

If you really want to get deeper into how to match the colors of your clothes, here is a quick guide to color matching clothes and creating a beautifully matched outfit.

Add Accessories

Don’t be afraid to be bold!  Accessorize your outfit, add more interest, and make it your own! Some cool accessories are:

  • scarves
  • statement necklaces/ jewelry
  • sunglasses
  • hats
  • fun shoes

Go Pro: Hair and Makeup

This one is up to you! As a person who never wears makeup, I totally get it if you prefer the natural look. However, some brides love to schedule their hair and makeup trial before their engagement session to see how they photograph and to remove the stress of getting ready by themselves. Professional hair and makeup also often add an extra boost of confidence.

Flattering Your Features

Regardless of height, shape, or body type, in our experience every woman (and man) has an area that she/he is subconscious about. Recognizing that area while choosing an engagement session outfit is key. Here are some tricks to create slimming effects in a really flattering way:

Arms + Legs:

Do’s

  • three-quarter length sleeves
  • jacket/ cute blazer/ cardigan
  • closed-toe heels
  • long pants/ dresses

Dont’s

  • skinny straps
  • strapless dresses
  • flip-flops
  • jorts

Fashion tips for him:

Even though it may seem a little easier to find outfits for him, here are some do’s and don’ts:

Do’s:

  • white tee and jeans
  • bring your favorite button-down
  • blazer/ pull-over sweater
  • chinos
  • boots/ dress shoes/ sneakers (just not running shoes!)

Don’ts

  • band shirts with huge and distracting logos
  • shorts
  • flipflops

5.2. Number of outfits

In general, we recommend you bring options to your engagement session that we can pick and pull from. We will then mix and match outfits that work best for the location we will be shooting in. Don’t bring your entire closet though. Three pairs of bottoms and tops plus accessories, dresses, and jackets is a good number. Also, keep in mind that if we are shooting outdoors, you might need to change in the back of your car or somewhere in nature.

Something else to keep in mind: The more outfits you bring, the more time you will spend changing, and the less time we will be shooting.

If you plan on wearing just one outfit, that’s totally fine as well. You are more than welcome to send us a snap of your outfit choice before the shoot if you would like to get a second opinion.

5.3. Props

No, we are not talking about cheesy chalkboards, stools, and balloons! More like cool props that really have a meaning in your life, such as:

  • a Domino’s pizza picnic (Martin and I absolutely LOVE Dominos)
  • your motorcycle or vintage car/truck
  • blankets and a campfire
  • a bouquet
  • bubbles
  • a paddle board …

5.4. Do’s and Don’ts

  • You may bring your dog/cat/parrot, just don’t let them stay the entire session. Usually, the attention span of pets is very limited, and a bored animal will distract you from the actual shoot.
  • You can get a spray tan; however, keep it subtle – you don’t want to look orange in your engagement photos.
  • Plan a buffer when getting ready so you can arrive a view minutes early.
  • Clean the ring!
  • Ladies, bring a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
  • Guys, empty your pockets – key chains and phones showing through your pockets and don’t look flattering in photos.
  • Iron your clothes.
  • Start a Pinterest collaboration board so we can get an idea of your style.
  • Relax. We don’t expect you to be pros at this. Make it a date and enjoy the time together.

5.5 Engagement session check list


1. Set date, time, and location with us

2. Review guide for style tips

3. Schedule hair and makeup appointments

4. Choose your outfits

5. Get your nails done

6. Clean your ring

7. Pick a fun post-session date nightspot

8. Pack a bag with:

  • flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
  • outfit options
  • touch-up makeup
  • water bottle (for warmer sessions)
  • bug spray
  • coat or cover-up (for colder sessions)

Check out our engagement session outfit Pinterest board with more inspiration for the perfect outfit.

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