Is there any reason to want engagement photos? Of course not, say the newly engaged, and the unengaged, and me, once upon a time. What is the overall point, for starters? To show off that you and him can stand on a rock? To show off your pink polyester blouse? To show off that your ring can go onto the stem of a leaf? And you have to realize that you’re not a person that in any other time in her life is meant to be photographed. You’d never pay someone to be photographed a lot, for hours on end. You reason that, at any other time in your life, you’re a person who either avoids photos at all costs, or, when forced into one, resorts to fish faces out of sheer panic.
While I may have been on the fence about many things at the beginning of my planning odyssey, I was resolute about engagement photos: No fuckin’ way. For a whole universe of reasons, most listed above, emphasis on the I’m Not Photogenic and Being Photographed Makes Me Feel Like Vomiting Blood. It’s one thing that Joe and I will be photographed all day on our wedding day, and I’m preparing for that with extreme drug, psychiatric, and electrotherapy. But it’s a necessity. One “needs” wedding pictures. You know, to do all the stuff you do with those things. Put them in your… wedding picture room. Rub them all over your wedding picture wall. Put them in your bubbling cauldron and use them for curses, I don’t know. Whatever.
But it’s quite another to pay someone to be photographed in your plainclothes just doing normal things on a normal day, but then make those things worse by doing them with weird bible verses written on chalkboards, or forced embraces at high-tide during the dead of winter. Wrap that all up in a pricey bill and you get: Nope, not gonna do it.
Even my dear mother, the only person ever I’d take engagement pictures for, said she “didn’t really see the point of them,” and submitted a candid of Joe and I drinking beer to my hometown newspaper engagement announcements. It was then that I considered the deal officially sealed: Me and all my strange, Escher-esque angles were to remain delightfully undocumented all the way until July, 2016.
That was until I was found my now-wedding photographer, Jamie Mercurio, through a Twitter exchange. Jamie had been reading this very column, found my Twitter, saw I was looking for someone to shoot my wedding, and we started chatting. It turned out that she offered exactly what I was looking for: Beautiful, perfect photos, lots of candids, no eerie technicolor Photoshopping, no words written on the bottom of people’s shoes. She had the most impressive website by far, out of all the Maine-based photogs I’d been researching, but if she’d never reached out, I’d never have found her! It’s a matrimonial miracle.
To stay within budget, and because I thought engagement shoots were one giant way to feel sad and bad, I chose one of Jamie’s packages that did not include an engagement shoot. She sweetly urged us to do one anyway. Why? It would help us get comfortable in front of a camera. It would be good practice for the wedding. It would help us learn what we like and don’t like. It would be… fun? It all started to make sense.
Reluctantly, I obliged. Of course there was a part of me that wanted to do it, and was sort of hoping we would after all. And here we are. The photos will have happened by the time this post goes live. By then, I will know for sure if I should have held fast and abstained, explaining to Jamie that we are not like her other clients, or maybe any other engaged couple on earth, all of whom somehow seem quite beautiful and very natural and not at all like they hiss like raptors and escape into the cloak of night every time a camera is pulled from a tote bag. For that is how it seems, no? Everyone I’ve ever known who has gotten married has produced a lovely engagement shoot oozing easy je ne sais quois. And everyone in the portfolios of the photographers I’ve researched. And everyone in Jamie’s impeccable portfolio, too. They all look good.
It’s a sense of keeping up with the Joneses I worry will cloud my entire shoot. If I spend the whole time trying to look as perfect as seemingly everyone else does naturally, I’m worried I’ll come out looking like a stilted LEGO. Here, I turn to Jamie with questions, for answers.
L: Jamie! Readers of my column and you know I am a bit neurotic and having someone take 1,000 pictures of me and my beloved in full, 360-degree motion is just a huge trigger for anxiety. Like, I can’t just find my one good angle and make you take only that pic like I do in selfies. What’s your go-to advice for people like me?
J: Don’t freak out! It’s going to be SO fun, I swear. I like to start shooting a couple of hours before sunset so we get that nice golden-ish light which makes EVERYONE look their best, and I swear that we will get at least 1.5 drinks in you (but not TOO many because I need your eyes to be open) before we start shooting, which I find helps us all to laugh and helps my couples put aside the total awkwardness that is me yelling directions at you like, “Look at each other! Now laugh hysterically. JUST DO IT!” I’ll try to go easy.
My go-to advice: loosen up. Have a drink. Don’t take yourselves too seriously. These are not the last photos that will ever be taken of you and your man ever in your lifetime (we have a whole wedding day!). Another thing I always want my couples to feel and realize is, it’s just ME. I’m just a person—I love taking photos and I’m 100 percent nonjudgmental. If you want to take some editorial-style “serious” photos, if you want to laugh the whole time, if you want to do a combination of both, I’m cool with it. I’m up for anything. I want you to do you. I’ll direct you, but mostly I want you to be yourselves and have some fun, while I make some beautiful portraits of you in your element.
L: What do I wear? No, really—in your professional experience, what works best and least-best in the outfit department? Because I’m at a loss. Crop top?
J: In my professional opinion, you can never go wrong with a crop top. Kidding, BUT. I know this sounds really cliche, but honestly more than anything I want you to feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, and if you feel most like your sexy/cool/chic/artsy/nerdy/insert-desired-personality-trait-here self in a crop top, then by all means, wear it. Do you have a pair of jeans that make you feel like a superstar, or a chic dress that was $10 from Forever 21 but you love how you look in it? Boom. Does Joe have a flannel that he lives in, or something that you find super-sexy? Tell him to wear it. I also want you to feel literally comfortable, because if you’re wearing a tiny skirt or something and you have to spend the whole session pulling it down cause it’s riding up, or something like that, that’s just annoying for you. I want to have my engagement photos taken in yoga pants. #reallife
In terms of prints, stripes, plaid etc. I love a good print but I always suggest nothing too insane. Solids are solid. If you need outfit ideas, feel free to look through my past engagement sessions on my blog for inspiration.
L: What could go wrong? Really, though: I’m a “prepare for the worst and assume it will happen ALWAYS” person. Have you ever had a shoot where the pics were totally unusable? Or a couple so uncomfortable you couldn’t photograph them well?
J: Honestly, not much. If it’s pouring rain, of course that wouldn’t be IDEAL, but if you have a cute umbrella and wellies, and I have a ziplock bag for my camera, or if you have a stellar, well-lit cozy coffee shop, it will be amazing. There is a zero percent chance that we will end up with no usable photos, because I will be showing you the back of my camera from time to time when we shoot—this helps me get an idea of images of yourself that you like, and we can create more images like that.
L: You’re coming to my hood, but there are so many different routes we could go for setting, and I can’t pick! Park / cute bar / whathaveyou? What works for a background scene and what doesn’t?
J: Part of what I am most excited about is getting away from my typical Maine backdrop. I have spent so much time shooting couples on the beach and near water that I am pumped to get a little bit more of an urban and new environment. That said, I’m really up for anything—if you have any ideas, I’m more than open to them. What I typically do when I meet with couples for engagement sessions is just start the session, and walk around—so if we’re shooting in downtown Portland, Maine, we meet for a beer, and then we head out. Then from there it’s like, “Oh, that’s a really cool wall with ivy covering it, go stand there for me.” Or, the couple says, “Hey Jamie, we really wanted a photo in front of X coffee shop,” so we’ll head there, stopping along the way if we see cool alcoves or alleys, or anything of that nature.
L: What’s your mindset going into every session? Asking so I can copy it.
J: What I love most about engagement sessions, and why I really hope my couples spring for them is mostly that I get to meet and chat with you at a more “chill” time than on your wedding day. I feel like engagement sessions really bring out your true personalities because you’re not all, “Holy shit are the TABLE ARRANGEMENTS DONE and WHO HAS THE RINGS and IS GRANDMA HERE YET?” Instead, I get to meet you just as you are IRL, in your day-to-day life. Loving each other, which is always so sweet and really never gets old. I just want to meet you, and capture you being you. Sounds lame, but honestly, it’s why I love being in this profession. I love love, and I want my sessions to capture and preserve those feelings for you.
Armed with Jamie’s platinum-level reassurance, I think back to all the perfect engagement shoots in her portfolio. All my married friends’ perfect engagement shoots. All the perfect engagement shoots that pop up on my Facebook feed by some strange robotic twist of algorithmic fate. It’s a novel feeling but, for the first time in my planning journey, someone has actually talked me out of a pit of self-doubt. It seems that perhaps all the engagement shoots I envy aren’t beautiful because their subjects are supermodels—they’re beautiful because their subjects are happy, hanging out, goofing around, and most importantly, in love.
These are all things Joe and I are pretty good at, especially that last one. Add in a talented photographer, which I now can, and there you have it. And if it turns out that we never do anything with the photos except keep them in folders on our laptops? So what—it’ll be nice to look back on my own engagement photos for once someday and think, Look at those perfect people.
Image by Bobby Finger, source photo via Shutterstock.
Watch this space weekly as Lauren Rodrigue shares the victories and freakouts of planning her 2016 wedding and the marriage that’ll follow. Tweet her at @laurenzalita.