8 Reasons Why You Should Have An Engagement Session (and a little secret I have never shared)

Couple embracing during their Raleigh engagement photo session

You just booked your wedding photographer and her/his collection comes with an engagement session, or maybe it doesn't and you are weighing out whether you want to add one or not. Well, allow me to help you out with that process and offer you up 8 reasons why you should have an engagement session.

As a wedding photographer, I hear this ALL THE TIME, couples deciding if they do or don't want an engagement session. And I have heard all of the excuses as to why not...and never once has one of them been budget, which I have always found interesting.

So before I begin on those 8 reasons why you should have an engagement session that I think will really help you in deciding if it's right for you (spoiler alert: it is), let's start with the 8 excuses for not having an engagement session that I hear most often.

Excuse #1

"We just aren't really interested in engagement photos. It's not our thing."

Excuse #2

"We already had our cousin/uncle/mother/aunt/friend do our engagement photos."

Excuse #3

"We just don't really have the time for a session with our schedules and all the wedding planning."

Excuse #4

"We just look really awkward in photos."

Excuse #5

"We aren't really into the whole posed, lovey-dovey, public displays of affection sort of stuff, we really just hang out at home a lot when we aren't at work."

Excuse #6

"We live in __(insert distant city or state here)__ and won't be making it to __(insert distant city, state where photographer lives)__ until the week of the wedding."

Excuse #7

"We'll have plenty of photos of us from our wedding."

Excuse #8

"We have seen all the photos from our photographer on Instagram and we like those, so we're good."

I have heard all the excuses and never once heard one that actually held any real weight. That's not to say that the couples didn't really feel a particular way about it or that they were lying to me, but it was always bolstered by something else...usually fear of being in front of the camera.

Being afraid is okay.

Allowing that fear to keep you from a potentially rewarding experience and heirloom is not.

So let's dig into the responding 8 reasons why you should have an engagement session (and some rad pictures as evidence).

Reason #1

Here'e the truth, engagement photos aren't anyone's "thing". Unless you're a model, having a camera pointed at you is a new experience. It's scary, I get that.

Secondly, I would be willing to bet that you have never had an engagement session, and so how can you not like or be averse to something you have never experienced? Believe this: your photographer isn't looking to prep all their gear, drive/fly/swim to you and be bored, they want to have some fun too. And so there is a really good chance that if your photographer is having fun then so will you.

Reason #2

That's awesome that your cousin/uncle/aunt/mom/friend is a photographer! The access those people have to your lives and the comfort or ease you likely feel around them is so nice.

Though unless they are a professional photographer, chances are that your wedding photographer will do a better job of it. You wouldn't hire your cousin to do your taxes just because they are okay with math and computers, so why would you have them photograph you simply because they are there and they have a camera?

Secondly, your photographer wants to have that same access and that relaxed feeling from you when they are working with you - your pictures will really benefit from that relationship, so it is worth your while to make that a priority because you will have those photographs forever.

Reason #3

Time is our most valuable asset hands down. We all have it. It's always in limited supply, and so we want to use it wisely. Yet we always find ways to make time for the gym, for friends, for family, for scrolling through Instagram or trying out that new bar down the street.

Engagement photos don't have to be of the two of you bounding through a field of wildflowers, or walking hand in hand on the beach, or kissing in front of that sunset. Your photos should be about you, telling a little bit about your story and what makes you two unique. 

So if you love walking through your city and trying new bars, or seeing the new exhibit at the local art museum, or reading in your favorite coffee shop, or making breakfast and eating on your front porch, then that's exactly what you should do.

Your engagement photos aren't about taking time away from you to do something you never do, they are just meant to allow you to do all the things you already love doing but this time you have a photographer along with you. And if you don't want to do an engagement session, perhaps your photographer will offer you a post-wedding session (also a ton a fun and you can read 5 reasons you should consider a post wedding session here).

Reason #4

I am going to make this one really simple, and maybe a little brash, but I don't know another way to answer this sincerely.

You know who looks awkward in photos? Everyone, ever.

Until they worked with a professional.

I find that when I ask couples what they find awkward about themselves in photographs it's rarely about how they actually look, and a whole lot more to do with what they are doing. For example, no one ever looked good in a photo: while chewing food, while blinking and talking mid-sentence, while getting blinded by the sun, while cramming their chin into their neck or while balling their fists in their pockets and standing like a statue.  

Your engagement photos should be part fun and part learning experience. Your photographer will show you ways to stand, things to be doing, where to put your hands, and hopefully how to see the light/shadows that they are seeing. Then when your wedding day comes, you'll know what to do, or at least what your photographer is trying to get you to do and won't be stressing about being "awkward" because you'll know how not to be.

Reason #5

Some of my favorite engagement sessions were in home sessions (check out Alex and James romantic in home engagement photos here or Nicole and Shane's in home and Umstead Park engagement photos here). Just being able to spend time with my couples doing what they ordinarily would do gives me insight as to who they are and what they are really about.

And maybe you will be like one of them and want to have a little adventure as well, but you don't have to as there is so much we can photograph at home from reading on the couch together, to snuggling in bed, to cooking dinner together, to laying out in a hammock under the stars. 

There seems to be this idea, because it is often what we see a lot of, that we need to go to this immensely beautiful garden, or park or wherever and pretend to do a bunch of stuff we don't do. The only thing that is good for is a recipe for photos of you looking uncomfortable and out of place. 

Simply put, your photos don't have to look like anyone else's. They don't have to be published in Martha Stewart's blog. And they certainly don't have to make anyone else feel what they make you feel. So make them your own.

Reason #6

Once again, I feel the need to be very straight forward here.

It's 2018 and we have planes, trains and automobiles. It's easy to get from one city to another and reasonably inexpensively as well with various cheap flight searches such as Kayak and hosting sites like Air BnB. And while I know a lot of photographers who charger an arm and a leg to travel, there are a lot who don't.

Those that don't charge an arm and a leg (at least this is how I do it) usually ask that you cover the airfare and a night or two (or more depending on it being an international destination or domestic) in a hotel or some accommodation not infested with rodents. And if you are like me, you actually love showing new people around your favorite spots and share some of that locals only knowledge, plus you get some rad photos out of it as well!

So for $500-700 tops, you can fly your photographer in (even if they are across the country) and maybe even less if you really have already started a good relationship with them (calls, emails, Skypes or just engaging with one another on Insta posts and stories), in which case you save the money on a hotel and offer them your guest room - or maybe they have a friend who lives in your city. 

Fun fact: if you fly your photographer in, they may be willing to spend all of their time with you and not just the standard 2 hours that an engagement session lasts. This not only nets you more photos opportunities, but also more time getting to know and like your photographer, which takes us back to Reason #2: giving your photographer more access and being more comfortable with them. 

Bottom line is that while I get that $500 is no small sum of money, what you are getting in return for it more than makes up for it. 

Reason #7

This is my favorite one as it hits closest to home for me.

While it's true you will have plenty of photographs from your wedding, most will be of you and family, you and friends, you by yourself, and a whole lot of your drunken attendees dancing the night away. All great photos to enjoy for sure. 

But if your wedding day is about you, your family and friends coming together to celebrate your day, then your engagement session is about just the two of your celebrating each other.

Take it from someone who did not get engagement photos, you will at some point in your life regret not doing it, it's that simple. My wife and I were embarassingly uninvolved in our wedding planning and skipped most things due to both perceived lack of time as well as assuming we'd get everything we could ask for, photographically, during the wedding. 

I have already talked about time, so you know we were wrong there - we just didn't make the time and probably also thought it would be awkward. And we were wrong to assume that our photographer would get everything we wanted during our wedding because in the end we didn't know what we wanted. Ultimately, our photographer knew nothing about us as a couple and because of that our photos are not what they could have been and nor was our experience. 

Reason #8

Last and not least, reason #8.

This is what I alluded to in my title when I said "a little secret I have never shared".

Some couple's really do their homework and get to know their photographer and their work. Though I would argue this point may be more important than the other two, and that is: if you can't fully see yourself in the work of the photographer (and I mean close your eyes and imagine) that you are thinking of hiring, then you may not be happy with the final results. And I can assure you that you won't want that and your photographer doesn't want that either.

A few years ago, a couple hired me for their wedding. We got on great. Enjoyed some beers, talked about them, I shared some stories about me and my family and we really hit it off.

We did their engagement session a few weeks later and I thought it went really well. They were easy to work with, naturally knew how to be next to one another and were game for some fun ideas that I had which I thought really panned out and added to their story.

A few weeks after I delivered the gallery to the couple, I got a call from their planner who was calling to let me know that the couple didn't like any of their engagement photos. At first I assumed it might be one or two they might not like as not every photo is everyone's favorite and I know that going into it. So I said "okay, no problem. Which one's didn't they like?" The planner told me "all of them". 

My heart fell to the floor.

One, I was sad that they were so displeased with their gallery, as this was about and for them. And two, these were photos, I thought, were so beautiful and telling of who they are as I had come to know them.

I got in touch with the couple and we set up a time to meet and talk more about this and to really try to pinpoint what went wrong and what we could do. At the meeting they brought some photos from a friend's wedding that they liked (I had asked them to bring me anything they liked, whether it was my work or not) and it was immediately obvious what had gone wrong. 

The photos they were really in love with were of a completely different style than mine. They were bright and airy with lots of pastel colors and bright, bright whites. I told them that while I am technically capable of doing something like that, it's not what I do or in the work I display. 

We realized then that we weren't the right fit for each other and they decided to find another photographer.

It was an awful feeling, for them as well as for me.

But in the end it was the right move for everyone. I saw their wedding photos several months later and they were just what they had been looking for and you could see that joy in each photo.





What I implore you to do is to talk to your photographer, hear what they have to say. They are not there to steer you wrong, but to guide you with the experience they have and maybe even from their own personal experience. 

So the bottomline is that if you like drinking beers on your patio and singing your heart out to The Head and the Heart while your partner grills up dinner, then that could be your session right there. Or if you love perusing old book stores and trying out new coffee shops, then there is your session right there. And if you are into taking your dog for walks at the park and feeding the ducks, then I can assure you there will be some awesome engagement photos from that time.

Engagement sessions are mainly about you and part about getting to know your photographer a bit better. What they aren't about is what everyone else thinks or is doing, so just do you.



I'd love to be your photographer! 

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