9 Tips for Picking an Engagement Session Location

9 Tips for Picking an Engagement Session Location

Engagement / 2016 . 04 . 22
gina and huy

The location of your photos will help to define the mood of the pictures.

I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but if you’ve been lusting after photos of the gorges in Oregon and you live in Miami, matching the aesthetic isn’t going to be ideal, but that doesn’t mean you should give up all hope and tell your photographer to just meet you at the nearest city park.

As a photographer, I’m always down to help my clients find a location, especially for those who are traveling in and don’t know the area, but time and time again I’ve been shown that my clients are honestly SO awesome at this. If you’re on the hunt for a spot for your own photographs and feeling a little lost, I have some general guidelines I’ve found helpful and I wanted to share the 9 tips to keep in mind when looking for your engagement session location.

1. Choosing a Location That Suits You

The goal of an engagement session is to get to know your photographer, to learn prompts from each other that help you fall into place on the wedding day, and to personify what your love looks like.

Think about what works for you as a couple. It doesn’t have to be a conceptual art project, but I find it helpful to choose something you’re drawn to. Coffee lovers? Find a coffee shop that has tall windows on two sides of the building for you to cuddle near. Homebodies? Consider an in-home session showing you cooking a meal together. A shared love of terrifying horror movies? Grab some high waisted shorts, ringer T’s, and pigs blood and head to a campsite for a retro Sleepaway Camp vibe.

foggy sunrise session photographlighthouse engagement session

2. The Sun Moves

I hope this one doesn’t come out of left field but, the thing about glowy, beautiful sunset photos is that they happen at sunset.

If you went to a location and were in awe of the glory of a sherbet colored sky, picking that location and showing up with your photographer at 2 p.m. isn’t going to do the place you found any justice.

I live on the east coast and I would say 90% of my sessions are at sunrise. It’s foggy in the morning, the sun rises over the ocean, but not every location is right for a sunrise session. If you went on a hike in the morning and saw a beautiful sunset from the side of a mountain, a sunrise session (where the sun is on the opposite side of the mountain) may not be right for that location in that exact spot. And keep in mind if you’ve selected two locations that require travel between them that the commute time means you may have to start a bit earlier than golden hour and miss a chunk of it to travel between the two places.

I wrote an article about planning for lighting on the wedding day for you to peruse, but the cool thing about engagement sessions is that they’re pretty flexible, schedule wise; it’s really just about showing up when you’re supposed to!

how to choose a location for a portrait session at sunset

3. Matching Clothing to Locations

A beach session with a business suit is as out of place as a flowing lace dress and a floral crown in front of a Starbucks.

If what you want to show is an autumnal, outdoors session, aim for a time at the end of the peak of foliage, head into a forest with plaid, wellies and jackets. If you want something romantic and warm, consider a flowing dress that allows for a lot of movement and aim for a location that may have a bit of wind, like a beach or a field. If all you own are Victorian dresses, consider time traveling to the late 1800s and bring a customized churn to make your own butter (note: I’m not a historian. I don’t know what happened in the 1800s), but do not touch anything while visiting because I don’t want to live in a world where microwavable popcorn doesn’t exist and you don’t want that on your conscience. Butterfly effect, guys.

how to pick an outfit for an engagement sessiona snowy sunrise sessionNIK 5607

4. Busy Locations Look Busy

Want a bunch of tourists in the background? Shoot in any park in a city on a warm afternoon!

Really, though, a packed outdoor market with tons of people can make for really interesting movement and atmosphere in the photos, but it may happen that a random stray person giving you stink eye while wondering into your photos isn’t what you have in mind. A park session sounds convenient until someone has parked under your favorite tree (and that’s the entire reason we picked this park, Chad). While there may be a beach you have in mind, keep in mind that other people also like beaches. It’s important to be mindful of areas that have heavy traffic on the weekends and some locations, like a cute row of stores, ice cream, and coffee shops, may be packed in the afternoon on a weekend. Our job as photographers is to assure you it’s normal, wait it out, and time the photos appropriately, but if this doesn’t sound like your scene, I totally get it.

This is one reason why getting out into nature can be such a huge bonus and state parks typically have sunrise to sunset hours to boot. Keep in mind that while some state parks are wide, expansive and you may not see anyone the entire time you’re exploring, other parks have a singular draw; like a waterfall, a specific view, or a dead body where visitors will congregate and potentially be taking selfies in the background of your photos. Also, this is a HUGE benefit of sunrise sessions! You usually run into a few joggers and that’s it!

And just a note! One place that’s probably not busy that you’re already familiar with is your home (which, bonus, says a lot about the two of you, too!). It can be a great place for intimate portraits and it requires little to no location scouting at all.

sunrise session to prevent busy locationnaomi and somesh 59 bw

5. Be aware of reschedule policies

If you’ve had to get a permit to shoot at your dream location (wait, weren’t *you* supposed to take care of that? Thanks a lot, Chad.) see if it’s movable to another day in case of rain. AND ask your photographer what their policy is!

Ask yourself what you feel comfortable with, too. If your photographer sticks with the date regardless and you need an indoor back up plan, look up photo policies at local museums, find a coffee shop or library. Or if your photographer says “let’s grab some umbrellas and wellies and do this thing” that could be perfect, too, even if it means putting the glittery dress away and bringing out some brightly colored cardigans or socks to make colors pop on an otherwise soft lit, cool toned day.

wes anderson inspired engagement pictureschoose a spot in your home

6. Dog Friendly Locations

Parks on a sunny day are a smorgasbord of dog butts and barking distractions.

Heather Jowett wanted to add that if you’d like to bring your dog, pick a location that isn’t heavy in dog traffic. And if you’d like to venture into areas that may be a little busier for part of the shoot, having a friend or family member pick up your pet can be a huge help half way through the session.

bringing your dog to an engagement sessionpuppy engagement pictures

7. Don’t Wear Stupid Shoes

When scouting your location, be aware of the effort it takes to get a location and be aware that this could mean walking miles up a mountain or standing precariously like a baby goat.

A wonderful tip from Sara K Byrne! If you found a spot you loved because you hiked up a mountain with hiking boots and pants to keep briers from skinning your legs, know that repeating this feat in heels is probably not going to work. If your dream is wearing heels for your session, you probably don’t want to plan any hike for your engagement session, even if the views are amazing.

christopher and kateyshoes appropriate for hiking

8. Tall Fields are Harvested

And then… you’ll just be standing on a lawn.

This one sounds like common sense, right? Except this was a lesson I learned the hard way when I showed up a location and introduced my awesomely dressed clients to a beautiful, dead lawn of a location. There were tufts of wheat and trees so we were able to make it work without issue, but a golden field of yore it was not. Also, fields aren’t around all year round! They’re planted and harvested 2 or 3 times a year so if you’ve found a field you love along the way, do a quick visit a few days before your session to make sure cutting hasn’t occurred!

a tall field that could be harvesteda beautiful tall field in maryland

9. Wedding Blogs for Inspiration

Life is hard and photos should be fun. Amen.

Wedding blogs are a great source of inspiration for folks planning their wedding day because it’s an ever-updated planning check list for this huge event that goes beyond anything you may have planned before. An event where all of your closest family and friends and plus ones come together to celebrate your love and commitment while they drink, eat, and quietly judge your centerpiece decisions. Wedding blogs can be helpful to help guide you when you’re feeling lost in that way.

For some people.

For others, it’s an overwhelming source of unrelatable weddings adding to a never ending to-do list where you fall down a copper-utensil and pompom decorated rabbit hole of frustration wondering “do I really have to do all these things” while secretly wishing you could elope. So, I will say this. It’s your wedding. It’s your session. If you feel like you really want to incorporate props into a session because they speak to you, do it. If you want to shoot around your home, make it so.

Happy location scouting! xo

cool cliff engagement locationschoosing a location for your engagement session9 Tips for Picking an Engagement Session Location

9 comments
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  1. Reply Sarah Nickerson

    “Thanks a lot Chad!” –so good.

  2. Reply Daniel Ruiz

    Really really nice article. It really shows you have fun and enjoy what you do. Wonderful photos and thanks for sharing!

  3. Reply Johanna Schnakenberg

    “Keep in mind that while some state parks are wide, expansive and you may not see anyone the entire time you’re exploring, other parks have a singular draw; like a waterfall, a specific view, or a dead body where visitors will congregate and potentially be taking selfies in the background of your photos.” This is fantastic

  4. Reply Matt Wilson

    side note: Tall grasses are also occasionally control burned. Learned that the hard way. Thanks, Chad!

  5. Reply Lindsay King

    You’re just the best! <3

  6. Reply Patrick

    Just bookmarked to read later… but reminded me of one spot I scouted for a local wedding last month… it was the day before, a huge piece of graffiti/wall art – about fifty foot long, ten foot high – five minutes from the ceremony, and beside where the b&g wanted to go… so perfect for something different… when we arrived on the day of the wedding – 24 hours later – it’d been completed painted over! Not even a nice white wash but a dull grey primer!!!

  7. Reply Mat Tam

    Great post and stunning photos, especially the black and white silhouette of the couple looking at each other. There’s nothing more important to a session than #1 choosing a location that suits you though. And often times as the photographer its our job to help find a location that’s suitable to them. Client often will pick that busy location where there are tons of people in the background like you mentioned.

  8. Reply Rachael Grace/Weaver

    Such a cool shoot, has a classy retro feel to it!

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