So you’re engaged–hell yes, congratulations! And you want images that capture your engagement–hell yes again! But how in the name of pants do you choose an engagement session location?
There’s a lot to unpack here, so listen up, because I think this is really important:
You’ll enjoy your session (and your photos!) so much more if you choose a location that is true to you.
Questions to ask yourselves, before you even think about opening Pinterest:
Pretty basic, yes? But really stop and think about this one. The automatic impulse when someone wants engagement photos is to find some epic vista. And yes, I’m always down for that, but does it make sense for you as a couple? Seriously, zero judgment here: what do you like to do? When you say you like hiking, do you really mean “it sounds good in theory but we literally have never been on a hike together.” If you want to experience something like that for the first time then yeah, I’m down for that too, but be honest with yourself, because that can help narrow things down! e.g. we probably won’t pick a 10-hour hike to 14,000 ft. elevation.
But either way, your first decision is this: do you want an indoor location or an outdoor one?
Indoor sessions are quickly becoming one of my favourite things. You have more options than you think here. You can stay home, we can hit up your favourite hipster coffee shop, we can document your first or fifteenth tattoos, hell, we can even take off for a weekend trip to that cabin you love. Flannel and fireplaces anyone…?
Stretch those creative muscles, think about your favourite places and favourite things to do! I once shot part of a session in a vintage arcade in San Francisco; it was rad.
This is also a great opportunity to think about somewhere that’s unique and special to you, maybe even somewhere that most people don’t get access to. Make it yours!
If you’re super indecisive like me, you can have your cake and eat it too: we can do both. If you want a longer, more all-inclusive look at your lives, we can always plan for a longer session! I don’t like tearing about to four different spots in one standard portrait session and vote against it as a rule–we won’t get a chance to settle and hit our groove. But I’m always down to extend things and craft something really unique to you. Let’s make some magic.
Determining the overall feeling can either help you find a location or lead us down another road (and a future blog post).
Let’s say you definitely want to be outdoors. Are you a frolic-through-the-flowers whimsical type of couple? Then we’ll find a field. Do you want to get all sultry, thigh-deep in the water? A lake, perhaps, or a waterfall, or your bathtub…Unless you literally have balls of steel and don’t mind the Pacific Ocean.
Or, that secondary road I was talking about: let’s say you already know that you want to do an in-home session. You can go more playful, more cosy, more intimate, more casual… all of them? Half-dressed, early morning, making coffee? Comfy clothes, bottle of wine, board game? Look, we’ll talk, you and I. We’ll talk.
After you’ve decided on indoors or out, the next step is deciding whether or not you want to travel.
Most people decide to kick around their usual haunts: those places that are important to their relationship, the familiar, the comfortable. And there are zero things wrong with that. Having an emotional tie to a place you go to often is magical.
But… you can also find somewhere farther afield. This can be somewhere you’ve been before that you love, or maybe somewhere you haven’t been but speaks to you. For example, Duncan and I love traveling and finding new places together (I once dragged him to Norway in the depths of winter on a whim), and we have several places on our list right now that we’d both love to visit, and where I’d love to get portraits taken! It’s something we enjoy doing together.
I’ve been traveling my whole life, and my passport is always current, so, seriously, if you want to scoot up to Canada for a getaway session, we can totally do that.
KEEPING ALL THAT IN MIND… I NEED TO SHARE MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON PINTEREST/INSTAGRAM/ETC. AS “INSPIRATION”
I’ve had a few chats with photographer friends about this, and I don’t want to end up bitter or jaded, so…
Let’s just start by admitting that Pinterest and Instagram and wherever else you’re looking for inspiration can be really great resources. I use them myself when I’m shooting somewhere I’ve never been before and don’t have a chance to check it out ahead of time. California is a big state, and even just driving around the Bay Area can take all day, so the Internet is absolutely a good resource when looking for a session location. And Pinterest is so useful when you’re trying to convey a mood or a style that you can’t properly convey in words. Example: Molly used a Pinterest board to get a better idea of my brand when we were working together, and it was brilliant.
The problem with diving too far down the Pinterest rabbit hole is that there are usually people in these images, yes? And before you know it, all you can think about is “that one shot” in “that one pose” that you saw. Once it turns into a shot list of things that other people have done, it isn’t about you anymore, is it? I guarantee it: 20 other couples are trying to recreate “that one shot” as we speak. As photographers, most of the people we follow on Instagram tend to be other photographers. I have seen the same beautiful photo in a particular location in Yosemite over and over and over again, so often that I’m not wowed by Yosemite right now.
HOW UPSETTING IS THAT. I want to be wowed.
I need to take a break so that I can see magic in those photos again; I just can’t right now because they don’t seem special when everyone and their left-handed sister is recreating them.
And in addition to the cookie cutter, impersonal nature of this, those photos on Pinterest can never be created exactly as you see them. They were brief moments with the sun at a precise angle and the wind blowing in just the right way and the editing style just so and the couple aren’t you. What feels natural to them and reflects their relationship may not feel natural to you.
That’s partly why I prefer Google Earth to social media. You’d probably be amazed at how much time I spend on Google Maps/Google Earth. I am thorough. I can see different locations and gauge the light (and decide whether or not I need to drive out there myself) without colouring my perception of them by looking through another photographer’s lens. If I don’t scroll through images of other couples there, I’m totally free to create images for my couples based on what we see and experience together, and who they are with one another.
Not someone else.
Does that make sense?
Also, fun little secret, I found our wedding location on Google Maps! I had a vague idea, but man…this place was really tough to find. Not even the little yellow man can get close to it! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then go ahead and enjoy that time sink; I’ll see you in a few hours.) I had to find places around it and then swivel and hope I could see it from a distance. I felt like I was in Pirates of the Caribbean: “It’s [a location] that cannot be found, except by those who already know where it is.”
Anyway. Let’s leave some Pinterest negativity behind and jump over to my personal thoughts on location importance.
It never has been, and it never will be. You are. We can take photos down the side of a building for all I care, and I’ll still have a great time. The best photos happen when I can really engage with my couples, no matter where we are.
But we have to shoot somewhere after all, and helping you choose a location is a big part of my job; I pay attention to colours and shadows and the overall feeling that I know can be conveyed with the range of tones in a specific place. For example, picture a shaded redwood grove vs. a wide open beach vs. the graffitied side of a building. Or even a beach in summer vs. a beach in winter. Totally different vibes.
If you already have somewhere in mind, great! Tell me all about it, let me weigh in! I may make some suggestions based on light, timing, etc., may even suggest similar spots that will photograph better, but if something is important to you, we’ll make it work. Like Tim Gunn wants us to. (And we mustn’t let him down)
If you have no idea, also great! I send out a questionnaire to my couples that helps us narrow down your style and what you like. Then we dive into my collection of cool spots and find somewhere that you love. Or we find somewhere new to both of us!
At this point, I think I’m rambling. I could go on and on about this topic–and I did say I’d repeat myself. Let me try and give you the TLDR version:
Also, with the re-launch of my website and new brand, I have a secret to share with you about my wish list! Ask me about it if you’re getting married soon, and in the meantime, watch this space…