Welcome to the Style Guide
I’m so excited for your engagement session! Marriage is the best! You have such a fun journey ahead! I want you to know that I’m honored to be your photographer and humbled that you’ve trusted me with the responsibility of helping you create memories you’ll look back on and cherish for a lifetime. I can’t wait to celebrate with you on your big day and be at your side to capture all the memories you’ll make with each other and the people you love most. But first, let’s talk about your engagement session!
As a photographer, I believe your engagement session is one of the most important parts of the pre-wedding process for four reasons. First, it gives us a chance to spend time together and get to know each other better before the big day. Second, it gives you a chance to get comfortable in front of my camera so you’ll know exactly what to do and be posing pros by the time the wedding rolls around. Third, it gives you a set of beautiful images that you can use for save-the-dates, your wedding website, prints to display at the rehearsal dinner or reception, frames for your wall in your new home together and so much more! Most importantly, it gives you a way to freeze this special time in your life. A chance to pause, take a deep breath and relish in this season together. You’ll be husband and wife for fifty plus years, but you only get to be fiances' for a short little window of your life! With your engagement session, I want to help you slow down long enough to remember this short, sweet season of life for years to come.
My goal is simple: for your session to be as fun and stress-free as possible! That’s why I’ve created this guide just for you! The following pages will help you get the absolute most out of your photos. By the time you’ve read through it, you'll have all of your questions answered and feel ready and prepared for your session!
This guide is packed with my best tips, tricks and insider secrets for scheduling and styling your engagement session –– and everything in between. Your only job is to be yourselves, laugh a lot, have fun and let me do the rest! I can’t wait to get you in front of my camera and I’m so excited to see you soon!
P.S. - Don’t forget to plan a dinner date for after your session! You’re already going to be all dolled-up! Why not take advantage of it?! I know the wedding planning process can feel all-consuming, so take some time after the session to relax, have some fun together and celebrate this season of your life! Even though I’m so excited about your wedding, the thing I am MOST excited about is your marriage! One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is this: never stop dating each other. So if you ask me, your engagement session is a great excuse to plan a date night!
PLANNING YOUR TIME | ALLOW YOURSELF MORE TIME THAN YOU THINK YOU'LL ACTUALLY NEED
When you’re planning "getting ready" time before your session (scheduling your hair, makeup, etc.) please give yourself a lot more time than you think you'll need. Make sure to account for things like traffic, getting lost and parking, so you can prevent unnecessary stress, arrive a few minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. I’m only able to shoot when light is still in the sky, so we’ll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down!
STYLING YOUR SESSION
If you want your engagement session images to look and feel a little more editorial, I recommend bringing a few small, simple props with you, like fresh flowers to hold or a blanket to sit on. If you want to set up a picnic or incorporate another special element into your session, just let me know! Maybe you have access to some larger props that have a real “wow” factor, like a boat, classic car, vintage bicycle or hot air balloon. This is the time to dream a little bit and decide what really feels like you! Props aren’t a must by any means. Some of my couples love them and go all out. Some pick one or two items to bring. Others stick with just their outfits –– and that’s great, too! The most important things you need to bring to your session are love and laughter. I'll take care of the rest.
Think outside the box
When it comes to choosing a location, don't be afraid to think outside the box! I encourage you to brainstorm unique places that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you (or someone you know) have access to an amazing location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a beautiful private estate, family ranch, exclusive country club or luxury resort. Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around with people in your personal and professional network. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with! If something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! You can also consider Airbnb or other property rental sites. In the past, my couples have secured permission to shoot in some pretty incredible places!
If you need some location ideas and inspiration, I have plenty! Check out my Instagram (@hvphotography.us) and the engagement section of my blog. If there’s a certain session you really love, just let me know which one and we can go to that location!
HAVE YOU BEEN EYEING A GORGEOUS DRESS, BUT JUST NEVER HAD AN OCCASION FOR IT?
This is your chance to do it up! Remember: there’s no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your portrait session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to spend a ton of money adding a new permanent piece to your wardrobe, a lot of my clients love Rent the Runway for their portrait photos because you don’t have to spend a lot to feel like a million bucks. Plus, you can send the outfits back when the session is over! Some of my clients love having an excuse to go shopping and purchase a new permanent piece (or two!) for their wardrobe – and that’s okay, too! Whatever works for you!
SAY YES TO THE DRESS | THERE'S NOTHING MORE FLATTERING THAN A LONG, FLOWY DRESS
Dresses and skirts tend to look most stunning on camera because they really flatter the female body — which is probably why the red carpet is always full of so many dresses and not very many pantsuits! I recommend choosing long, flowy dresses or skirts because they’re flattering on all body types, look amazing on camera and bring extra movement and dimension to your photos. Maxi (or floor length) skirts and dresses will give us the best “twirl factor,” add more romance to your walking photos and look especially gorgeous when juxtaposed with nature, like the desert, forest, fields or beach. Cute, shorter cocktail-length dresses or midi skirts photograph beautifully as well. My clients who choose to bring two dresses will sometimes choose one of each! I recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session, and saying yes to a dress (or skirt!) or two! You won't regret it!
One OR two? it's up to you!
Most of my brides who choose two outfits will bring one “wow” dress, and then another shorter cocktail-length dress or midi/maxi skirt for a more casual “us on a date” feel. But if you want to bring two “wow” dresses and forgo the more relaxed dress altogether, give yourself permission to do it! The camera loves runway-esque apparel and so do we! Remember, though, you don’t have to bring two looks if it’s too stressful. If you’d rather just stick to one fabulous outfit, that’s fine, too! One look that you love will be so much better than one outfit you love and another you’re not very excited about. So, whether it’s one or two is really up to you! If you’re having a hard time making up your mind, feel free to shoot me an email with pictures! I’d be happy to help you narrow down your options or give you my opinion about what will look best on camera!
When choosing colors for your outfits, I recommend selecting lighter, neutral tones and more muted shades. Bright, bold or neon colors are distracting and take the focus away from where it should be: you two and how much you love each other. You can never go wrong with light neutral colors like cream, taupe, camel or light gray. The camera loves shades of soft pinks and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light-colored neutrals. That softer, more pastel-leaning color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments!
coordinating the Looks
As you’re coordinating your outfit with your fiance’s, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palette and wardrobe pieces coordinate, but don’t actually “match.” You should each wear a different dominant color, but stay within a similar color palette family. So if you’re wearing a blush dress and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a navy coat with gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square. Now he has his own dominant color (navy) while still incorporating a few touches of your color palette. Most of my brides choose their dress first, and then put together their fiance’s outfit based on that. That’s why I have a section for each of you!
FLATTERING YOUR FEATURES
In my experience, every woman (regardless of her size or shape) has an area of her body that she’s self conscious about. Recognizing the areas you’re self conscious about when selecting your outfits is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos. Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. If your dress has shorter sleeves (or no sleeves) consider bringing a cute jacket, blazer, cardigan or pashmina to incorporate into your look. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera. For most women, skinny straps actually make arms look BIGGER. So I recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is slimmer-looking arms. If it’s colder outside, I suggest bringing a warm coat (the longer, the better!) to wear when we’re not shooting so you don’t freeze in your dress.
For shoes, keep in mind that heels elongate women’s legs and force constant tension in the calves – which makes them look more toned. Closed-toed heels, in particular, look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. You can never go wrong with a pair of neutral pumps! If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your toes show. If your shoes don’t show at all in the dress you’ve selected, you could always choose neutral ballet flats to make your session more comfortable. Lastly, make sure to bring a pair of flats/flip flops to wear when moving from place to place. Your feet will thank you later!
MAKE A STATEMENT
Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images. Whether it’s a necklace, belt, bracelet, earrings, hat, or scarf, bringing an accessory or two can bring great visual interest to your photos, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention when paired together. For example, if you go with bolder earnings, you might want to choose a more humble necklace, or maybe even no necklace at all. Fresh florals in a crown or bouquet can be a really romantic touch as well!
Go Pro: hair & makeup
Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most of my brides’ engagement session checklists. It looks amazing on camera and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. You’ll have these photos forever, so this is the time to pamper yourself! Whether it’s lash extensions or blown-out hair, professional hair and makeup will give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light (if possible) so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light we’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of my brides feel like their makeup is “too much” at first, since it’s more than they would wear on a normal day, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it just right for the camera — and my brides always love the final result. If you need a recommendation for hair and makeup, I work with the best in the business and have a go-to team! They’re sweet as pie, talented as heck, unbelievable professionals and wonderful people. You’ll LOVE them! Just let me know and we’ll send you their information. I know they’ll take good care of you!
Clean your Ring
Your ring hand will be featured in a lot of the photos, so if you have time before your session, I recommend getting your ring cleaned and treating yourself to a manicure.
SKIP THE SPRAY TAN
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session (even a few days prior) because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph most beautifully.
TOPS & BOTTOMS
The same way that a dress is the most flattering silhouette for the female body, a blazer, sport coat or suit jacket has the same flattering effect for men. You can’t go wrong with a dress shirt, slacks and a blazer, or a well-tailored suit.
For colors, I recommend neutrals and soft. When selecting your pieces, I recommend choosing a different “weight” for the pants and coat. So for example, navy pants (darker) and a heather gray blazer (lighter). Or gray pants (darker) with a soft powder blue shirt (lighter).
When selecting an outfit for photos, the most important part isn’t the price. It’s the fit. For men, it’s important to have a jacket that fits snugly (but not too tight), and pants that are the correct length and don’t have too many breaks. Just like high heels make women look taller than they are, bunched up fabric stacked on top of a man’s shoes makes him look physically shorter than he really is. Solid colors will help keep the attention where it belongs, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye, so stay away from too strong of prints, avoid logos and opt for solids instead.
The next time you walk by a store like J. Crew or Banana Republic, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you a lifetime. Adding extra layers will bring additional dimension and visual interest to your photos. If the temperature permits, you could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath, or bringing a leather or denim jacket with you. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!
IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS
Long pants with closed-toed shoes is the most sophisticated and masculine look for a man. They draw attention away from your legs and feet, and place it where you want it: on your face! So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts and sandals at home. Dress pants, colored pants or nice dark-washed jeans work best. Brown leather dress shoes complement almost every look, whether you’re wearing slacks, colored pants or dark-washed jeans. As opposed to athletic shoes, dress shoes, help elevate your photos and will give them a more editorial look.
I know I just gave you A LOT to think about! Don’t panic :) Just take it one step at a time. I provided an Engagement Session Checklist for you below to help you stay organized and on top of things! But if you have any questions at any point, please know I’m here for you! If you’re deciding between two dresses and can’t commit, no problem! I’m here. If you love two locations but can’t make up your mind, no worries! I can help with that, too. If you need a recommendation of any kind, I’m on it! Remember, I’m just one email away :)
At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you wear won’t matter nearly as much as the fun we have together and the memories you make as a couple. The style choices you make will definitely enhance your photos, but the most important accessory to bring with you is joyfulness –– which is the one that makes the biggest difference in your photos anyways. You don’t need to have prior experience in front of the camera. Just show up with a smile and I’ll take care of the rest :)
Lastly, above all else, I want you to know that you (as people) are the most important thing to me. Your marriage matters most. So if there’s ever anything I can do to serve your relationship today, tomorrow, before the wedding or years down the road, please know that I’m here for you and my door is always open. My marriage is one of the biggest blessings of my entire life, and even though I don’t know everything, I’ve learned a lot in the past ten years that has helped me have a healthy, intimate, thriving, fulfilling, adventurous, on-fire marriage –– and I’m passionate about helping other couples have that, too. Because marriage isn’t the ball and chain or handcuffs our current culture parodies it to be. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do… because it causes you to be the best you you’ll ever be
I can’t wait to see you soon!
Engagement Session Checklist
☐ Email me to schedule a date, time and location
☐ Schedule hair and makeup appointments
☐ Review Style Guide for outfit inspiration
☐ Choose your outfits (drop off at dry cleaner if needed!)
☐ Get your nails done
☐ Clean your ring
Pack a bag with:
☐ Flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
☐ Outfit two (including shoes and accessories)
☐ Touch-up makeup
☐ Water bottle
☐ Coat or cover-up (for colder sessions)
☐ Pick a fun post-session date night spot and make a reservation