I have a lot of couples ask if they can bring their dog(s) along to their engagement session for a few photos. I end up photographing a lot of pups and yet, ironically, I don’t have any pets of my own! When it comes to photographing dogs, while I don’t have any experience as a pet owner, I do have a lot of experience as a photographer and I rely heavily on that to get the best reactions from both the animal(s) and the humans.
Here are 5 tips if you plan on having your dog in your engagement photos:
1. Be realistic. What I mean is that animals are similar to children; they have short attention spans and are usually really excited to be in a new place (grass! trees! water! new smells! adventure!) with new people (me…with an exciting “toy” that I’m looking through that makes clicking noises). Expect that the first few minutes will simply be letting your dog explore a bit and get used to what is happening. Your dog may not look at the camera. Your dog may not want anything to do with your beautiful family photo. And that’s okay! Those happen to be my favorite photos! Play with your pup and let me capture real life for you. The imperfect is what makes it perfect.
Their first date was in December of 2017 and it was also the first time they met in person. He recalls being a little nervous at first, but mostly because he was afraid there would be awkward silence. As it turned out, the date went really well. They talked about their families, what they wanted in a partner, if they wanted kids, and a lot of other topics that, for some, might seem too deep for a first date, but for them, was just the confirmation they needed that they were a perfect match.
That first date led to many more dates and just a few months into their relationship, they were madly in love. Samantha describes realizing that what she felt for Zach was so genuine and deep. “[This wasn’t] the puppy love that everyone has growing up when you are dating someone and you think you are in love, but the love that is true and honest and so real that it almost knocks you off your feet.” Zach says that for him, it happened over time. “I started to know once we went from seeing each other every few days to every day. When, when we would spend a day of two apart, I would start to miss her and I knew I wanted to be with her and spend more time with her. Shortly after, we moved in together and it felt natural, like I was home.”
He proposed a year ago, May 14, 2019. “It was a Tuesday. Sam was working from 2-10 that night so I made plans to meet up with her dad and ask him for his blessing to marry his daughter. After he said yes, I had planned on waiting a day or two before asking her. However, on my way back to Cedar Rapids, I decided to do it that night. I stopped at the store and bought a bunch of candles, champagne, and some other supplies. Once I got home, I set up with candles all over our bedroom. I made a little sign for our dog, Max, to wear that said, ‘Will you marry my dad?'”
“When I got home,” Sam says, “I walked in through the garage and all the lights were on in the living room and kitchen, but I couldn’t see Zach. So I said, ‘Hello?’ and Zach yelled from the bedroom, ‘I’m upstairs!’ The door to our bedroom was closed almost all the way and when I opened the door, there Zach was, down on his knee with a ring box in his hand with hundreds of candles all over the room and our sitting on the bed with the sign around his neck. Zach started talking and I honestly don’t know what he said because I said, ‘Yes!!’ and hugged him before he could actually ask me to marry him! It was everything and more than I could have dreamed of. It was so simple and so perfect and intimate.”
Sam describes Zach as being kind and loving and easy going and Zach says that Sam is outgoing, loving, caring, and confident. They are both looking forward to seeing all of their loved ones and enjoying the food at their wedding, but most of all, “finally being able to be married to Sam” and “getting married to the love of my life.” They are a sweet couple who trusted me with complete confidence even when we had to make some last minute changes to our locations due to the crowds at the lake. I am so, so excited to get to celebrate with them this October as they finally become husband and wife!!!
Completely unknown to each other, they had long tailgated in the same lot, had a bunch of mutual friends, and grew up going to the same places. It wasn’t until one of Taylor’s friend got ahold of her phone and decided to send a friend request to “a cute guy” on Facebook that their worlds collided. “I was sitting at work when I got a Facebook message saying, ‘Did we meet this weekend in Des Moines and I just don’t remember? I feel like I would definitely remember if I met you.’ I opened that message and was so confused. Who is this guy and why is he messaging me?! Then I saw the notification that said “Stanley accepted your friend request.” My what?! Nooo, I did no such thing!” Taylor says. But despite the little prank of a friend request, they kept the conversation going and soon found out all of their could’ve-met moments in life!
It wasn’t until they had already been talking for quite some time and hung out a few times that they realized they should probably go on their first official date. Taylor describes that first date. “That night, I realized the true depth of our relationship. I knew I enjoyed talking with him, he made me laugh, and I could see a great relationship with him, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized I truly needed this person in my life. He made me feel at peace with who I was and where our relationship was going.”
“Talking to her and being with each other in the moments came super easy so I was never too nervous after the first time we met so each time after that I just felt at ease and everything came so easily,” Stanley adds. Stanley proposed this past August with a sweet proposal that brought their relationship full circle. “Over the last few years we had started going to FryFest in Coralville on the Friday before the Hawkeyes opening game, so it had kind of become a tradition. On the day leading up to it and on the ride down from Cedar Falls, we had talked a lot about our friends and everyone around us getting engaged lately. I had purposely tried to throw her off the track that I planned on proposing soon. After getting down to FryFest, we went right in and I was somewhat stressed out because we were late getting there.
“So I hurried us around the booths in the convention center and she was starving at the time and needed to get something to eat from one of the vendors outside. After hustling her up to get some food, I told her I wanted to go drive by Kinnick Stadium and take a look. (It was a bad excuse at the time, but I was flustered and just needed some reason for us to go get in the truck and start driving to where I planned on proposing.) She was thrown off by this and confused since the plan was to watch the concert and enjoy the activities surrounding Fry Fest. After getting in the car I drove straight to Myrtle Lot, which is where we have always tailgated and has become a really special spot for us. After getting there I told her I was just planning on turning around in the parking lot and she was getting upset since the people taking money to park in the lot were there and collecting money to get into the lot. I was able to get in and I parked the truck. After driving over to the spot where I had kissed her a few years prior in the very beginning of our relationship, I got out and asked her if she thought this was that spot and she thought it was. So I pulled out a chalk stick and wrote our initials down on the concrete. She thought that it was really cute, but I don’t think she realized that I was about to propose because she had started to turn to head back to the truck so I had to grab her hand and stopped her. That’s when I got down on a knee to propose.”
“I cried a lot of happy, ugly tears,” Taylor says. “But I made sure I said yes through all of the blubbering!”
We got to shoot Laura & Matt’s snowy engagement session just 2 days shy of the one year anniversary of their first date. They had met online, but they both felt so drawn to each other, it was only a week later that they met in person at Pullman’s for lunch. “I knew I wanted to meet [her] in person, and soon. I was very happy she wanted to meet so soon too. I felt the butterflies even more than I normally felt when meeting a new woman and when Laura got there, the butterflies increased. She was even cuter in person! After we got past the normal meet and greet things, we kept talking about anything and everything that came to our minds and really got to know each other well. After three hours of fun, engaging conversation, it was time for Laura to leave. I didn’t want the date to end,” Matt said.
“I walked away knowing I would never have a first date again,” Laura recalled. “I called my mom and told her to get the invitations ready. I just knew. I had known about halfway through the date. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is the man God created for me.’ I told him not even two months after being with him that I was going to marry him and he was over the moon. I still remember his grin.”
Once they knew they were going to get married, Matt’s first thought was to propose in Disney World. They were already excited to be going there for Laura’s work conference so it only made sense to him to propose too. “After I got the ring from our jeweler (which was a close call getting it done in time), I knew everything would work out. I planned to propose in front of Cinderella’s castle and have the Disney person taking our pictures.”
Laura knew it was coming–in fact, I had talked with them right before they left and I had told them to text me a picture afterwards!–but she said she was still surprised and overjoyed. “I cried with happiness because it was such a beautiful moment. I was bouncing and smiling and I just wanted to hug him. People were clapping for us and just writing this, makes me cry those happy tears again.”
I love finding out what my couples admire most about each other. It’s always such an intimate look into their relationship beyond just “we love each other.” Laura said, “That he cares so much about what is important to him. His faith and the way he looks at and love me are what I really admire. He makes me feel very cherished and isn’t afraid to show emotion or talk about feelings.”
In turn, Matt said, “Out of all the attributes I love about her, the one I admire most is her drive. When she puts her mind to something, she will not stop until it’s done. I’ve learned a lot from her about this and feel like I’m becoming a more driven person because of her.” He also went on to add that she is the most loving person he knows and is sweet beyond measure.
They knew they wanted snow for their engagement session and so we had to reschedule from a few weeks ago when we were supposed to get snow, but instead got only ice. Thankfully, I was pretty sure that by the end of January we’d have snow and so rescheduling was pretty easy. It was definitely cold out (hello 30-degrees!), but they were such troopers and I just adore how their love shines through in all the photos!
It was a quick little weekend trip down to Arizona for Alice and Abhijeet’s engagement session, but it was the loveliest time of year to do it! (My flight out of Iowa left in the morning just a couple of hours before ice and snow hit and I spent that afternoon hiking in the sunshine and high-60-degree weather.) As I’m writing this, I’m bundled up in a hoodie, drinking coffee, and my toes are cold.
Alice and Abhijeet met online. Their first date–at The Living Room, where we started their engagement session–was on a Sunday. “He picked me up at my house and we went to dinner. We sat and talked on the restaurant patio for 6 hours. Eventually, they closed and they had to ask us to leave. Even though we come from totally different cultures, we found that we have a lot of the same values. Three years later and we are finally engaged!”
As for the proposal itself, Abhijeet asked her to be his wife this past September. “We were supposed to go to India at the beginning of September, but we decided not to because of flight costs and the fact that I could only take a week off of work. Since we were not going anymore, my parents came to Phoenix for ten days to visit. Abhijeet and I had been talking a lot about how we wanted to move to the next step sooner rather than later. I knew he had a plan, but was getting antsy. We went to Sedona with my parents and rented an AirBNB. The morning we had to check out, he and I went on a hike. I could tell something was up because he was acting nervous and he brought a back pack with him. We were barely talking while we were walking. He stopped because he wanted to take a picture and then I was looking at a mountain and he got on his knee and said, “Well, Alice…will you marry me?” I have no idea what exactly I said, but I said yes at some point! We video-chatted his family on the way back and then when we got to the house, I didn’t say anything to my parents and waited for my mom to notice the ring. She saw it within 30 seconds of looking at me and started bawling. My dad wondered, “What’s wrong?” Then he also realized and said, “Do we have something to celebrate?” It was nice to share that moment with my parents. It was so so special.”
I was so excited to meet Alice and Abhijeet! We’ve been doing lots of email communication and planning for their wedding this fall in Iowa, where Alice grew up. And while they are from different parts of the world–Alice from Iowa and Abhijeet from India–they have both lived in the Phoenix area for many years and so I particularly love that for their engagement session, I could capture them in the place they call home! The other bonus to the location was that we could include their dog, Hilton, for a few photos.
We flew into Puerto Rico on Thursday and got up bright and early Friday morning to head to El Yunque, the national rain forest that takes up a large chunk of land on the eastern side of Puerto Rico. It served a dual purpose since we wanted to hike there and we were also going to be doing part of Nicole & Braylen’s engagement session there in the afternoon. A few trails (and one waterfall that I was particularly hopeful to see) were closed off from lingering hurricane damage, but most of the park was open and accessible so we started the day with a hike up to Mt. Britton Tower and then hit as many other smaller trails as we could. All throughout the day, I was scouting for locations to take pictures later on. We got hit several times with outbursts of rain–being in a rain forest after all–sometimes torrential, sometimes misting, but thankfully, it all cleared out by late afternoon when we were taking these pictures.
We ended up with 3 different spots that I wanted to use: a true trail in the rain forest, an old lodge building that Kevin stumbled upon after venturing further than I did on a muddy trail, and a bridge over what used to be–many years ago–a swimming pool in the forest! Logistically, my biggest issue was (ironically) the same thing I deal with here in Iowa: the early sunset. Because we had just flipped back from daylight saving time the weekend before, sunset was happening at 5:45ish and as soon as it sets, it gets dark quickly. So we started the session in the rainforest (where we’d need the most light) and then ended it at the beach (where we’d have open access to the sun and the sand acting as a natural reflector). And all in all, despite the fact that we had to play it by ear just a bit, it ended up being absolutely perfect and so so beautiful!
As a little sidebar: I have couples ask me all the time when they should do their engagement session and I always say that there are zero rules about that! This is a perfect example. They wedding was on Sunday and we did their engagement session on Friday afternoon. The only time that you absolutely must do your engagement session 6+ months in advance is if you want to use photos for your save the date cards. Otherwise, it’s all fair game! The best way to think about your engagement session is that it’s a practice run for you. I get to see how you two interact with each other (the goal, of course, being that I’ll be able to capture you most naturally); you get to feel how I direct you in and out of poses and all of that works together to make for a smoother wedding day when you have already practiced and are old pros at it!