Planning 101 29th March 2018

Pre-Wedding Engagement Shoot | What To Expect

Engagement shoots are an increasingly popular pre-wedding activity, with many photographers offering them as part of a full wedding package, and more couples choosing to take them up. Whilst the idea of spending a couple of hours with a lens pointed in your face may seem daunting, the purpose of the shoot far outweighs any scepticisms you may have.

Firstly, the engagement shoot will help you learn to relax in front of the camera in preparation for your wedding day. What may at first seem awkward or intrusive will soon feel natural and even fun. Secondly, it's a fantastic opportunity for your photographer to get to know you as a couple. After all, your photographer will be spending a lot of time with you on your wedding day, so it's great if you can become friends! The photographer will also use the opportunity to learn what you are, and what you're not, comfortable with when it comes to being photographed, and will use this information on your wedding day to ensure you have the best day possible. 

To help you make a decision about whether you'd like to have an engagement shoot, and to put your mind at rest, we've asked professional photographer Philp Bedford what you could expect from an engagement shoot. Here's what he had to say:

The Warm-up Exercise

When I start the photo shoot, I will begin by just asking the couple to walk in a reasonably beautiful location that has some form of interesting background, and ask them to walk towards and away from me just to get them warmed up. This process isn’t necessarily for good photographs but more for the sole purpose of getting used to posing and interacting together in front of the camera. I usually find that the first photographs that I take aren’t very interesting; the aim of these first few minutes is to relax the couple in front of the camera.

engagement shoot, philip bedford


I always suggest to couples that the location of a shoot should be somewhere that is personal to them. The photo shoot, although an activity in itself and something that I think most of my couples quite enjoy in the end, I want the shots to look like a nice day out, perhaps a romantic date spent in their favourite place. I think the ideal outcome of a photo shoot is a couple of hours spent in each other’s company where the photographs reflect happy memories in a special place.

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When scoping out opportunities for good photographs, I look for places with interesting backgrounds. I then simply ask the couple to stand in the chosen spot and to just look at each other, to begin with, not at the camera. This strategy is designed to get them to start interacting together and I photograph them from a considerable distance, using a long lens. By doing this I hope that and they will start to forget that they are being photographed by me, as I have moved quite far away from them. Also having them look at each other can usually provoke them into interacting physically to show intimacy, which looks great on camera but also I tend to find that couples can start to giggle at this point at how unusual it feels to be photographed professionally.

I’ll sometimes ask them to look at me, asking them to pose in some way, and occasionally directing them in terms of how are they stand together, but the majority of photographs are genuinely natural, where the couple look at each other and now feel quite relaxed in front of the camera.

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Lighting & Composition

I am always looking for visual ways to separate the subject from the background - one composition technique that I can find works is called” figure to ground” - and one of the best ways of doing this is through a mixture of lighting and composition. Using either a light or a dark background can produce a contrast that is aesthetically pleasing, creating silhouettes or high key imagery but neutral backgrounds are also useful because they will not distract from the main subject in the photograph. 

Personally, I always tend to prefer using some degree of backlighting as I enjoy the glow from the light falling on the couple from behind and the atmosphere that this creates in the picture. I particularly find it flattering on women, because it can highlight the colour and length of their hair quite beautifully.

There is something to be said for flat lighting too, usually created either by shade or clouds in the sky. So don't worry if your engagement shoot falls on a cloudy day! If it's a sunny day, I'll often look for natural reflectors such as lightly coloured ground, to help soften the hard lighting from strong sunlight. Softer lighting is usually quite flattering and doesn’t create any hard shadows on the your face. Whatever the weather decides to do on the day of the shoot, we'll always find a way to make it work! 

Aside from the background, I usually look for something in the photograph to create a sense of narrative or to help the couple feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Footpaths are great because the couple can walk away and towards me as I mentioned earlier but they also act as a compositional tool to lead your eye into the photograph. I also use walls and fences as compositional leading lines. 

Another great photographic tool are trees or walls that the couple can lean against. I have found that by asking a man to lean his back against something and then asking his partner to lean into him, it creates a natural and relaxed intimacy.

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Contact Philip Bedford Wedding Photography to discuss your own wedding photographer and engagement shoot here.


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