choosing the perfect time, location,
outfit & more!
A NOTE ABOUT THIS GUIDE
I’m so excited to be working with you and can’t wait for our time together during your engagement session! It’s normal to be a little nervous about your session. I always tell people that I still get nervous before having my photo taken – and I do this for a living!
I’m a big fan of engagement sessions for a few reasons. First, they allow you to get comfortable in front of the camera. It takes time for most couples to warm up to being photographed and understand how we pose. Timelines can be pretty tight on weddings days and 30 minutes may be all we have for portraits – which is why I’ve found that wedding day portraits turn out so much better when couples do engagement sessions ahead of time.
Second, you can showcase your personalities in a more casual setting that is signficant to the two of you (and even include pets!). While they’re great for save-the-dates, I’ve taken engagement photos anywhere from months in advance to a few days before the wedding.
There is a lot to think about when it comes to planning a session and, since many couples have the same questions, I thought it would be the most beneficial if I put together a guide that walks you through everything you need to know.
I’ll cover what to wear, whether to bring pets & how to manage them, location ideas and more!
– Rodney Smith
A NOTE TO
I get it. Having your picture taken for 1-2 hours might not be in your top-10 favorite things to do during your downtime. And at first you might feel sort of awkward being in front of the camera. But I think you’ll find that by the end of the session, it’s a lot easier than you thought, and you even had a little fun. I look forward to it because it’s a great opportunity for us all to hang out a bit before the wedding day.
TIME & LIGHT
Is there a "good" time to take photos?
Engagement sessions can take place anywhere from immediately following a proposal to just a few days before the wedding. I’ve found that there isn’t a “good” or “bad” time to take your photos. I normally plan sessions based on a particular “look” a couple has in mind, spring flowers for example, or based on schedules.
Sessions typically last about an hour and a half and when I can—I love to begin sessions about two hours before sunset. I prefer to shoot when the sun is lower in the sky to avoid harsh shadows and bright sun patches. The first two hours after sunrise is also an ideal time to shoot.
I schedule sessions during what I believe will be the best light of the day – which means that it’s super important to be on time. If you’re late to an evening session, we could run out of light before we’ve finished shooting and, if your session takes place in the morning, the sun gets more harsh as it rises.
While I shoot most of my engagement sessions between April and late November, sessions can take place all year. Most of my couples choose a season based on the location where they want to shoot.
NORTH CAROLINA ENGAGEMENT LOCATIONS
I love when couples choose a location for their session that complements their wedding. For example, if you’re planning a chic, elegant wedding, it may be fitting to take your engagement portraits among the classic architecture at the Biltmore Estate, while a local park or flower-filled fields may be more fitting for a couple planning a more rustic affair. The best session locations are often meaningful places to the couple; however, I am also happy to make recommendations. From ski slopes to azalea gardens (at Biltmore) to apple picking and college campuses, to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Grandfather Mountain…the options for engagement session locations are endless!
CLASSIC & ELEGANT
Moses Cone Manor
An old mansion
Old Brown Mountain Road
South Mountains State Park
WATERFALLS & FEATURES
Blue Ridge Parkway
Local fields, woods, streams
Sailing / Boating
The above locations are all beautiful, but I also love exploring locations that are meaningful to my couples!
Destination Engagement Sessions
While I take most of my engagement sessions in the North Carolina mountains, I am open to shooting at any location that is special to you (Charleston, coast of Maine, Fort Worth…). If you have a location in mind that is significant to the two of you, let me know because if our schedules align, I might be able to take your engagement photos outside of my normal area.
Travel fees may apply depending on the location and my availability.
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My dog is huge part of my extended family, which is why I love when couples choose to incorporate pets into their session. Keep in mind that bringing a pet along often means that we’ll need to choose a pet friendly location.
I recommend planning for your pet to be at the first part of your session and then either dropping him or her off or having a friend take them home. We won’t use the pet in every single photo, so it’s also nice to have a friend available to hold him or her in between shots.
If you’re going to bring a pet, I recommend exercising your pet before the session and bringing your pet’s favorite toy or treats! Depending on your pet’s fur type, it might also be a good idea to groom them before the shoot.
TIPS FOR LOOKING YOUR BEST
When picking outfits I recommend keeping in mind the word “complement” rather than “match.” For example, if the groom-to-be is wearing a blue and pink pastel plaid shirt, the bride-to-be may want to choose a long, soft blue dress. It can also be a great idea to choose “color-families,” such as pastels or jewel tones.
Generally, couples pick two outfits for an engagement session: a more formal outfit and a casual outfit. I recommend saving your favorite outfit for later in the session, when couples usually feel more comfortable in front of the camera. And don’t forget to bring a few accessories! Statement necklaces, cute shoes and classic watches are great ways to add detail to outfits.
what to do if it rains
It’s typical for me to schedule two engagement session dates. A primary date and a rain date. Having two dates helps make sure that your photos happen in a timely manner. Coordinating schedules can be tough and I’ve found that the best way to make sure my couples get the look they have in mind for their photos is to schedule two dates at the same time.
I’ll check in the week of your engagement session to confirm the time & location we’re meeting and the weather. I know it takes a lot of time to get ready for an engagement session and it’s the worst to get dressed up and drive out to your session only to have it rain. Let me know what works best for the two of you – but if the weather looks like it won’t be great, I typically try to make the call at least 12 hours in advance.
When I can, I always try to take a photo of your ring during your engagement session – so it’s a good idea to have it cleaned or clean it yourself before your shoot! To clean at home, soak your ring in warm water with dishwashing soap for 20 to 40 minutes. Then gently brush the stone with a soft toothbrush, rinse and repeat if needed. Don’t forget about your hands and fingernails! Neutral tones are best for nails. You might want to treat yourself to a manicure prior to your engagement shoot.
something fun, something classy
If you’re planning to bring props to your engagement session, I recommend including them only if they’re meaningful to you. Shots of drinking coffee at a local coffee shop would be cute if that’s where you met; however, trying to fly a kite together when it’s not a part of your relationship may come off as contrived.
"What do I do with my hands"?
When it comes to posing for your engagement session, you don’t need to worry about a thing! I’ll guide you through the entire process beginning with “poses” that are super easy and natural. If I tell you to do something that feels a little funny, it’s probably because I know it’s going to make the two of you laugh – and that’s the photo I’m actually looking for.
Throughout your session, I’ll keep an eye on your hair, makeup and outfits to make sure things stay in place. Clear or neutral nail polish often photographs better than bright colors. You want people to focus on you and not your nails. I want you to feel as relaxed as possible and enjoy your time together!
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t get dressed up all that often. Which means that the day of your engagement session is the perfect occasion for a date night (or brunch, if your session is in the morning!)
The engagement session is another part of celebrating your love; and heading off to dinner is a great way to end the session!
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When to Expect Your Images
As soon as possible after your session is complete, I’ll complete global edits. It normally takes about 7 to 10 days to complete. I do additional retouch edits for any images you purchase. Unless there is a holiday closure, you can expect to receive your engagement photos between 3 to 4 weeks after you finalize your selection.
I know that this guide is long, but hopefully it covers everything you need to know to prep for your engagement session.
The next step is for us to connect!
The best thing is to schedule a time to chat on the phone, on Zoom, or in person.
You can book in a time using the calendar below.