Wedding Tutorial: How To Photograph Engagement Sessions

If you've been hired to photograph a wedding, there's a very good chance your clients will also want you to take engagement photos. Recently we released our 14 hour long wedding tutorial How to Become a Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer which covers everything about how to start a wedding business. Lee Morris previously released a sample called How To Light Posed Photos In a Church but today I wanted to share a free excerpt on making the most out of your client's engagement session.

new york engagement

So what are engagement sessions? Engagement shoots are extremely popular in the United States and have become a major marketing tool for the bride and groom's wedding. Basically an engagement session is simply a short photoshoot that captures the energy of a couple during their dating or engaged period. Usually the couple wears casual clothing and sometimes they may have you photographing them doing something that they both enjoy. The purpose of engagement photos is usually to promote the wedding itself, and many couples will include these photos on their "save the date" invitations they send out to their guests.

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As a wedding photographer, engagement sessions are a powerful tool for you as well. Not only do these "e-sessions" give you an opportunity to create some amazing images on a day that is much less stressful and busy than the actual wedding day, but engagement sessions also allow you to build a great rapport with your clients early on in the wedding process. I find this to be extremely important because the wedding day can be stressful but if you have worked with your clients in the past, it can make for a much smoother wedding day.

As a Wedding Photographer in Charleston South Carolina who shoots a lot of destination weddings, many times I literally meet my clients the day of the wedding. I can tell you, it's a lot more difficult to quickly build the relationship needed to capture great photographs with someone you just meet or only had coffee with than it is with a couple you have already worked with in the past.

In this short 12 minute excerpt from our full 14 hour long tutorial, I try to answer a lot of the questions I had about engagement sessions back when I first started shooting weddings. Some of those questions included: What type of lighting equipment do I need? Should I use natural light or flash? What should the couple be doing in my photographs? How do I get them to pose and look natural in these photographs? Where should I place my subjects for the best light?

Obviously there is not a single "right" way to do anything photography related so my goal in this section was to share multiple shooting techniques that I've used over the years. My hope is that other photographers can learn a few interesting tips and tricks which they can then use to create their own style. Below are a few of my favorite images from the full 40 minute Engagement Session section.

Jason and Kristin Burke's Engagement Photos by Patrick Hall, Charleston, South Carolina

charleston south carolina engagement photos

engagement photos at night

good engagement photo ideas

how to shoot engagement photos

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what are engagement photos

If you are already a professional wedding photographer or are thinking about starting a part time wedding photography business, check out the full trailer on this extensive 14 hour long digital tutorial below. Wedding photography has been one of the best career decisions I've ever made in my life, and it continues to be one of the most rewarding activities I do each week.

How To Become A Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer from FStoppers on Vimeo.

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Patrick Hall's picture

Patrick Hall is a founder of and a photographer based out of Charleston, South Carolina.

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Awesome tutorial!

nice, but seriously, who has 2 assistants for an engagement shoot ? Besides, the amount of time you spend trying to set up 2 lights and convey what you want to your assistants, you are now losing that precious time with your clients and failing to interact and connect with them. Great if you are a commercial photographer on a set, but for all practicality, it's silly and fails.

I usually only use one assistant for engagements but in order to show a 2 light setup I needed a second person. There are many images where I did not use an assistant at all but rather just relied on natural light. In my opinion, it's worth taking the extra time to really nail a great location and sacrifice a few other spots rather than rush through a bunch of locations and never get one perfect shot. You would be shocked how little time it takes getting one or two lights set up once you get good at this....and most of the time I'm still able to entertain and engage my clients while I'm directing everyone at the same time.

It's funny when photographers say you don't need this lens, gear, camera
when they are using the best gear, I know you don't need the best gear
but others would be more skeptical.
Back to the assistants. I know this is called commercial wedding photography and not many people have two assistants or external lights, radio triggers so you need those things to be a commercial photographer but I'm
just wondering does the dvd cover couples who aren't overly
affectionate with each other and that don't look like a couple who have signed
up with a talent agency e.g a male who thinks he's
too cool for photos and is behaving like a child, or a female conscious about her weight. Have you ever had to
deal with clients like that and any tips? And with the assistants does it also make it harder for those type of couples to get comfortable. Cheers.

I'm not sure I understand. Every photo from this session was taken with a Nikon D300s which is a super old camera at this point. I think it's fair to say we here at Fstoppers have proven time and time again that gear doesn't make the photo. That being said, if you are going to take on the responsibility of shooting weddings professionally, then you do need a good amount of gear to get the job done reliably and responsibly. There just isn't any way around it.

As for how to make less attractive or awkward people look good on camera, there definitely is a way and I think I learned more from Peter Hurley than anyone else on how to coach your clients to produce the most aesthetically pleasing photos as possible. Just because you might not find someone attractive doesn't mean that you as a professional photographer can't make them feel amazing and take the best photographs they've ever had taken of themselves. People know what they look like and are usually pretty comfortable in their own skin. Your job is simply to capture them looking their best while they display a lot of positive emotion. If you cannot pull great emotion out of people of all variety then photographing people might not be something to pursue.

Wow, yes you didn't understand any of that question. I didn't even ask about gear I just said it's funny when photographers say you don't need this F2.8 lens etc when that's what their using, and now you're contradicting yourself by saying you need that gear to pursue weddings professionally, which is true.
Also you didn't even address any of the other question I had or have any positive tips or advice.
People know what they look like and are usually pretty comfortable in their own skin? Are you serious? How many people have you photographed? If that were true then everyone would take amazing photos and wouldn't need photographers! Females are always self conscious especially those who aren't at their ideal weight.
I wasn't asking if I thought they were unattractive I was asking how to deal with females who are insecure about their own looks, and males who just don't want to be at the shoot at all. That has nothing to do with what I think of them.
From the look look of your tutorial it's staged with couples who know how to pose and interact with each other but what about couples who don't publicly show affection towards each other? You don't always get the perfect couple.
Does your dvd cover any of this or is it all fantasy living in an ideal world with perfect conditions?

Ah sorry I misunderstood your question. Throughout the tutorial we emphasize that you do not need the top of the line gear. However it does help. I would suggest that a 2.8 lens is a necessity but you could buy a $400-$1000 Sigma/Tamron/Nikon lens instead of the flagship $2000 lens. Same with cameras. Instead of buying a $2000 full frame camera, buy a used DX camera from a few years ago and the image quality will be good enough. The cameras and lenses I started my business with 7 years ago would not be "acceptable" by today's standards yet I still booked high end weddings and many of those images are still on my website and in my portfolio. Maybe in a future Fstoppers video I could find a way to shoot a wedding with a D7000 and a single 50mm 1.8's doable for sure.

As for posing people and making them look the best possible, that's really not the scope of this DVD. We produced Peter Hurley's DVD which is all about expression and bringing the most out of people (not just headshots) and it was 4 hours alone. If that is what you want training on then this tutorial is not going to satisfy that material.

We talk a lot about marketing and perceived value in this Tutorial and a big part of that is not publishing images of couples who look awkward or do not sell your brand. Every company does this. It wasn't my intention to find an awkward couple to shoot an engagement shoot with but at the same time I didn't hire models either (this is a real couple, she's a photographer so maybe she knows how to pose more than normal but they are both very affectionate). Every wedding photographer I know learns how to break down self conscious barriers with their clients and that is a skill every photographer needs. We might cover that material in another tutorial but for this one it was primarily about using flash, natural light, creating variety during a shoot, and other small helpful tips. Posing is another beast altogether.

I can assure you, 90% of my clients are self conscience and every week I have to make the best possible photos out of people who wouldn't consider themselves photogenic in the least bit.

Awesome that was more the reply I was looking for. Cheers.

How large is the softbox you use on the speed lite for that engagement session?

maybe like 12" by 18" or something like that.

Patrick you could not have ansewred that question more truthfully. There is beauty in everyone and if you, as the photographer, can share with them their beauty through a photograph...endless opportunity.

you don't have to use 2 lights... only have 1? kill the kicker light. don't have 2 assistants. use a light stand. taking to long to setup? learn your gear and light ratios before you try it in the field. get a good idea of the distance between light and subject. set the light once and just try and maintain that same distance and keep the same Aperture and then use your shutter speed to control the ambient. then your just using time to set the lights up once and after that its just the same setup in different locations. cant maintain the same distance, then keep the inverse square law in mind and know how much you need to adjust flash power up or down, or have a starting aperture of something like F4 so you have some wiggle room in the aperture if you need more power from your lights in certain spots.

the point is, its perfectly plausible and attainable to use 2 lights, even by yourself.

Right. Just carrying them is a pain in the butt :)

Man, you nailed it!

great tut ... i just did an engagement shoot and second Danny over there.... its too dynamic to have two light... and having two asst. thats money....

We explain this a lot in the full tutorial, you simply have to price your work so that you can return a profit. If each assistant costs $20 per hour, and you want to use two (I only use one, except in this tutorial because we did have extra hands on set), then your engagement shoots need to be priced out enough to afford the $80 for 2 assistants for 2 hours. I never work without at least 1 assistant and to charge $40 extra in a shoot for that luxury is something I find a lot of value in....and my clients love the images that much more. But I agree, having 2 lights is usually overkill but if you are having to shoot at night or have that "portfolio couple" in front of your lens, then it's totally worth it.

:( if i could only afford it.

Really nice Patrick! I have shot just a few engagement shoots and I noticed a couple things you mentioned that could dramatically change the images I am capturing Just added a simple light set up to my gear with a 430exii so hopefully I can play with that more while I shoot some senior sessions in a few weeks. Thanks for the excerpt from the DVD and appreciate it!!

"Stroby" <~~ is that a word?

Also, Pat needs a haircut.

"stroby" comes from the Latin "flashy" means to appear overly lit by artificial light. And yes, it's getting too warm for this mop top.

NICE Patrick!!! I will buy the DVD soon..... i have a few lawyer bills first....

Really want to buy the whole dvd for some time but can´t really spend that much money in one go.

Can´t you guys have a xx% off on the dvd for a few days or so ;) then I would probably be able to buy it and probably a lot more people too.


I really enjoyed this tut. I think it should be said that if you're serious about wedding photography then you should be investing in yourself. This is commercial wedding photography, not your typical 4 hour shoot of a ceremony and reception. I started shooting small weddings using a rebel back in the day. With good a good understanding in photography and editing you can produce great images. Now that was years ago and I now use a full frame but with camera knowledge and some creativity, you can achieve great photos. Many of my assistants are not photographers, some are interns, friends, and the occasional family member. At the end of the day they just need to understand simple commands of move forwards and backwards. I think this was a great tut and great use of lighting.

will this be available on physical dvd?

It's a digital download so no DVDs. This means you can download it instantly without waiting for shipping and you can have the files in true HD quality which is higher than DVD (it's actually Bluray quality). You are free to burn the files to your own DVDs if you want or load them on iphones, ipad, laptops, computer, smart TV, etc.