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.
I‘m so thrilled to offer online galleries for my clients! The gallery system I use, Pass+, is the #1 sharing solution for photographers and has been leading the photo industry for years with its technology and ease of use. (For first time users, keep scrolling; this post will show you how to use it!)
Years ago, I stopped using discs and USBs because I believe this is the safest, easiest, and quickest way to get images to my clients. I’ve been using online galleries since 2012 and absolutely couldn’t be happier with the seamless integration with social media and on-the-go mobile devices. Who doesn’t want to have convenient access to their photos right on their phone?
After your engagement session and, again, after your wedding when your photos are completed, you’ll receive an email with your gallery invitation. This gallery is for you to use both for your own viewing and also to show off your images to your friends and family. You may download your images (on your computer and also on your devices) and order prints and canvases directly through your gallery.
I‘ll never forget the time I entered the bridal room at the start of the day and the bride had every single item to be photographed set aside on a table, ready for me to photograph. She hadn’t forgotten a single detail. I have told her numerous times since that day how much I appreciated that. Because the truth is that wedding days are chaotic. Sometimes the bride and her ladies are traveling from the salon to the church to get dressed and they don’t have everything in one place. Sometimes the best man, in all his well-intentioned foresight, already confiscated the rings for safekeeping that morning, not knowing that I’d need to photograph them. Sometimes the bouquets have been delivered to somewhere other than the getting ready location, maybe the church instead of the hotel. There’s just so many pieces that can be misplaced.
And while those detail photos are gorgeous, they serve a bigger purpose than just being pretty on a blog post. I recognize that you, my clients, have paid a lot of money for those gorgeous full-suite invitations, the personalized gown hanger, the brand new bottle of perfume, the jeweled peep-toe heels. You have a lot of sentimental value attached to the family heirloom jewelry, the veil that Grandma sewed, and the piece of lace from Mom’s wedding dress that was hand-stitched into yours or wrapped to your bouquet. These are the little details of the day that don’t necessarily show up in portraits, but they are no less valued in the memory of the day. And since the entire purpose of my job is to help my clients remember, it’s important to me to help you remember even the small parts that aren’t center-stage during the day.
While I do remind my brides multiple times before your wedding days what to have and where to have it, I realize there’s a lot going on and sometimes things just get misplaced. One time, I beat the ladies to the final getting ready location (they were still coming from the salon), but was told that everything was there, ready to be photographed. It was such a calm, ideal situation. I had the room to myself to start photographing all these gorgeous details before makeup bags and dress bags and people started filling the room. I got everything photographed before the ladies got there. I felt awesome. Only when the bride went to put on her shoes did I realize that I had photographed the wrong pair of shoes!! A bridesmaid’s pair of shoes had been left in the room instead of the bride’s! Thankfully, I caught it and was able to grab some quick shots of the shoes before having the bride put them on, but it’s little things like that that make a big difference in the timing flow of the day. (We certainly don’t want to get behind on the timeline at the very beginning of the day!)
Here’s a list of items I ask my brides to have ready to be photographed when I arrive:
wedding rings (all three: engagement ring, her band, & his band)
invitation suite (save-the-date, invitation, RSVP, envelopes, programs, etc.)
borrowed & blue items
Once I arrive on the wedding day and say hi and give out hugs, I get started with photographing those items. I can maximize my time if everything is set aside and ready for me to grab. Sometimes, if the room is crowded, I’ll take them to another area or I’ll set up a little space to do detail shots right there in the room. But the most important thing is that if I have everything from the start, I can swap things out as I go and photograph quickly, not having to break to find missing pieces or make sure I have everything. And if I can maximize my time there, we’ll have more time for photos of people! It’s a total win-win for everyone!
So what’s the best way to make sure everything is where it should be? Assign the task to someone you absolutely trust who is very responsible. Maybe your wedding planner, a personal attendant, one of your bridesmaids, or a good friend who won’t need to be getting hair and makeup done that morning! The easiest way to organize everything is to put everything (including the shoes; only excluding the gown and veil, of course) in a small bin! Then you’ll know that everything is in the same place, ready to go!
Now that you know what to have ready, let’s look at some other detail photos and how I shot them!
I’ll often grab a bridesmaid’s or mom’s dress to use as a background for the detail shots. Since those dresses will definitely be keeping with the color scheme of the day, they’ll tie in the wedding colors while also adding some texture! The background in this photo of the bride’s earrings was the mother of the groom’s dress!
This next photo was in the bride’s childhood home by the fireplace. You can see where the stone ledge of the fireplace hearth drops off in the very lower left corner of the photo. To add texture and interest to the photo, I pulled in her bouquet on the right and a beaded clutch she had.
This is one of my favorite rings shots ever and it’s by far one of the simplest shots I’ve set up. The writing in the background was the envelope liner of their invitations, a beautiful script of their names.
This ruffle background was actually a tablecloth on the cake table. Everything was held in the same venue so I was able to use reception elements like that tablecloth to add interest to the detail shots!
I loved the bold hues in this bedroom. That green looked gorgeous behind the creamy wedding gown and shoes!
Adding loose pieces of floral elements is an awesome way to make a uninteresting photo really interesting! Ask your florist if you can have a few of the loose stems they don’t end up putting into the bouquets! I love using them in the detail shots!
This was a marriage booklet of the bride’s grandparents that they signed on their wedding day. Because of it’s significance, I wanted a shot of the bride holding it, but I also wanted a photo of just the book so I placed it in front of the bride’s bouquet.
Here’s another example of using a dress for the background.
In an ideal world, I’d have clean, white shelves in every getting-ready suite, but it’s only happened this one time.
I love the visual here of the classic invitation suite against a blue background against a floral background. There’s a lot of things happening in the picture that stimulate the brain and make it say, “Ahhhh, something about this looks nice.” It’s the soft variety! The floral pattern is a rug and the blue pattern is an ottoman.
For this shoe shot, I grabbed all the bridal bouquets and laid them in a semi-circle to create a background that would make these shoes pop!
Not everyone has access to a dress form, but this is a fantastic way to make your gown look glorious! Gowns aren’t meant to hang up; they’re fitted to be worn and they look best when they’re on! Using this form gave the dress it’s ideal shape for photos. In the paper suite photo on the right, I was able to use some floral elements (that fern) mixed with some confetti (that would later be used for their exit) against a board that had been covered in coordinating blue fabric!
I used a bridemaid’s gown for the navy background on the left and the bride’s bouquet for the earring photo on the right!
Silk ribbon is one of my favorite ways to add something special to photos!
This is another one of my favorite ring shots and I simply balanced the rings on the bride’s beaded clutch. If you look closely in the groom’s wedding band, you can see me. More importantly, you might also also see that I was in a narrow sunroom in the bride’s childhood home. There was lots of stuff around, but the light was great there (makeup was also being done in this room due to the large windows to the right) and all I needed was a small space for these little detail shots.
I really hate having everyone’s eyes on me. When Kevin and I got married, my two biggest fears were walking down the aisle and eating in front of everyone. I couldn’t get around the aisle walk, but I ditched the head table without question. Our reception venue was set up so that there’s a built in stage where everyone sets a traditional head table; indeed, it was built specifically for wedding head tables. When I said we wouldn’t have a head table, the venue coordinator was confused. “But, what will you put there?” she asked. “I don’t know. I mean, if something has to be up there, then put the cake up there!” I said.
So that’s what happened. The cake sat high above our guests in all of its beautiful, delicious glory while we casually sat around a regular round table with our friends. This was back in the day before Pinterest and Instagram. Facebook was around, but you had to have a college email account in order to be on it. Wedding blogs weren’t a thing and only really fancy, rich people had that first iPhone. I didn’t know we had other options for a head table so I just made it up as we went, knowing only what I didn’t want.
And it turned out to be perfect for us. My one sister (a bridesmaid) had just had a baby + two other young boys so she sat at a table next to us with her husband and my parents so that she could easily attend to my infant nephew, while they all helped with my other nephews. My other sister (also a bridesmaid) sat at our table with her now-husband. Kevin’s two brothers (both groomsmen) sat with us as well as his two ushers and the wife of the one who was married. My personal attendant also joined us, which brought us to exactly 10 people at our table. It was unassuming and relaxing and exactly what we needed.
Now, I get that not everyone wants that same experience. And that’s okay. But you should at least know there are options.
A traditional head table is what you’ve always seen at weddings. Sometimes it’s on a riser or platform, sometimes it’s not. (If you have a choice on the riser/platform, I highly recommend having your head table on ground level so I don’t have to shoot up at you during toasts!) It’s a long table with the bridal party sitting on the back side facing the guests. The bride and groom sit in the center with the ladies on the bride’s side and the gentlemen on the groom’s.
A sweetheart table is a small table set just for the bride & groom to sit at (thus the name). The bridal party is seated at regular tables with family members and significant others.
A harvest table (also called a king’s table) is the last option and, in my opinion, the best. (I’ll tell you why in a minute!) A harvest table is set up similarly to a head table, but the key change is that the table settings are wrapped all the way around the table so that you are all facing each other.
So you might wonder why the harvest table is my favorite? Aside from the fact that it’s sort of what we did at our wedding (the concept at least), here are 5 reasons that I believe the harvest table is the best way to make the most of your reception dinner.
Eat without an audience. Have you ever watched someone eating? Unless they’re a baby taking their first bites, it’s not something that’s generally cute. You have paid to have a delicious catered meal and you deserve to eat it in peace. Do yourself a favor and enjoy your food without being on display.
Enjoy dinner conversation. If you’re at a head table, you can only converse with two people, one on each side of you. This applies to every person at the table. They’ve got two conversation choices for the entire meal. And it can’t be a true conversation because the person on your left can’t converse with the person on your right so you spend the whole time going back and forth between the two just as they are doing with you and their other side. In making a case for a harvest table, you suddenly shift everyone around and conversation can flow across and back and forth more freely.
Cease the magnet effect for a bit. As the one wearing a bridal gown, you transform into something you’ve never quite experienced before, at least to this extreme: a magnet. You are a visual magnet, a conversation magnet, a hugging magnet, and a photo magnet. Everyone wants to look at you, talk to you, congratulate you, and take a photo of or with you. And as wonderful as it all is–truly a part of the day that will make you feel so special–it is also a bit exhausting, especially if you are even a little bit introverted. By being on the same level as the guests and facing in towards your friends, you allow yourself some freedom from The Magnet because guests will look (they always do), notice they can’t see you very well for this time, and return to eating their dinner and conversing with those at their own table.
Choose your company. I’ve seen harvest tables done many ways, but first you should know that you can pick your company! It’s not limited to groomsmen on one side and bridesmaids on the other. You can invite significant others to join (not yours, obviously he’s already there, but your bridal party’s); your parents & grandparents are welcome; personal attendants, ushers, bring them too! Of course, this will all be limited by the size and how many people you can fit at your table, but think outside of the box and invite the people you want to share this amazing feast with.
Allow for more interactive photos (specifically during toasts). I had a recent bride who, after seeing her full wedding gallery said to me, “I didn’t expect to be so wowed by the toasts pictures relative to other images, but they are some of my absolute favorites. Love how they show the genuine personalities of our closest family and friends, and love all the laughter. [The image below] makes me sooo happy!” The secret to that was her and her groom had a harvest table. Half of the images I was able to get during their toasts would’ve been impossible to get had they chosen a head table, simply because of how people were arranged and the angles I could shoot from. From a photography standpoint, it makes all the difference.
When my husband got me an Apple Watch for a gift, I started to protest and roll my eyes. I didn’t need a fancy watch. I didn’t want a fancy watch. And mostly, I didn’t like how it looked. I like gold linked watches with clean faces and pave diamonds around the outside. The Apple Watch was unnecessary.
But…I started using it and I loved tracking my workouts with it. I loved being able to put my phone away and still get text messages on it. I loved being able to see my calendar and that led me to, finally, falling it love with it on wedding days.
There are a few ways you can use your Apple Watch on wedding days, but I’m going to simply show you how I use mine, specifically in regards to the photography timeline.
While I typically have the “color” watch face on regular days, on wedding days, I change the face to “modular”. This is very strategic for my wedding timeline. The modular face is laid out like this:
Current event or upcoming event
Time of sunset
You can customize all of those, with exception to the time display. Again, this is the layout works for me.
The week of the wedding, I have several tasks for myself, including cleaning my gear, charging my batteries, reformatting all of my memory cards, and making sure everything is in my bag and ready to go. This is when I prep my timeline in my Mac Calendar. (I wait until this close to the wedding day in case there are any last minute changes to the timeline.)
On a computer, I open up my Calendar app and go to “day” view and enter in all of the events of the wedding, including when we need to leave. Each timeline item is a separate “event” and I can customize it to alert me as well. I don’t always use this feature, but it’s particularly nice when I’m photographing the bridal party, for example, to have the alert on my watch that I have 10 minutes to finish up bridal party before moving on to family photos.
The time of sunset that shows on my watch face is particularly helpful for those sunset photos in the evening. I list sunset photos in the timeline (ideally 30 minutes prior to sunset), but know that I have very little control over the actual flow of the reception so knowing the exact time of sunset helps me make a quick decision if I see some downtime 45 minutes before sunset, let’s say, and know that I won’t get that downtime again for another 30 minutes. I can make the call to go out a little early rather than miss it completely.
Hope that helps! If you’re on the fence about an Apple Watch, I cannot recommend it enough for wedding days. It has many obvious bonuses the rest of the week, but it really does much more than a traditional watch when it comes to keeping me on time while photographing a long wedding day.
For those wondering, I use this band from Amazon in gold 38mm.
When it comes to an engagement session, most brides-to-be suddenly panic over what to wear. It’s typically the first professional photo session the bride and groom have ever had together and these photos will often be sent out as their save-the-dates or, at the very least, framed on their bedside table. So, eek, what to wear?
Here are a few things to consider:
Coordinate without matching. What I mean is if you are both wearing a green tops and jeans, you’ll look like you are coworkers in uniform. Instead, opt for a mixture of patterns and accessories to blend your color choices without looking exactly alike.
Accessorize and make your outfits your own! Scarves, bold necklaces, and fun shoes are always welcomed! This most often applies to the bride, but grooms can accessorize too! I’ve seen some pretty amazing shoe choices coming from the guys!
Most patterns are okay, but try to stay away from graphics. If you’re wearing a pattern (like plaid), make sure it’s not too loud or distracting.
I’ll remind you to empty your pockets both at your engagement session and on your wedding day. You wouldn’t believe the things that come out of pockets, but ultimately, phones, key chains, lip gloss, etc. can all be seen as an outline in your clothing. I’ll have my camera bag that you can throw stuff into and a lot of brides will carry a clutch with some of those quick touchup items, like lipstick.
Two outfits are ideal. Most couples will have one more casual and one dressier outfit. This will give your session two different looks. I recommend starting with the dressy outfit first.
Make sure whatever you choose to wear is something that you’re comfortable in! I’m not talking just heels versus flats, but rather something that you would otherwise wear. If you never, ever wear dresses, you probably don’t want to wear a dress for your engagement session. It won’t look like you. Dress in something that you like and that you feel comfortable wearing.
Clean your ring. I often photograph the engagement ring when you’re changing between the two outfits and the cleaner the ring, the brighter the bling.
An engagement session is a great time to do a trial makeup/hair run! You’ll be able to see exactly how your makeup looks on camera before the wedding day and you’ll feel extra pampered and pretty.
Heels elongate a female body. If you wear heels for your session, you may want to bring a pair of flats to slip into if we have to walk through any tricky spots to get to where we are going to photograph you.
Lastly, relax. You look gorgeous and you’re with the love of your life. We’re going to have fun, trust me.