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Some engaged couples ask for casual portraits of themselves to be taken in a location such as where they first met or dated, or a favourite walk or local beauty spot. This is a good opportunity to get to know the couple better, and hence achieve a more relaxed atmosphere on their wedding day. It is also be a chance for the photographer to find out to what extent the future bride and groom are comfortable when being photographed. Some people are natural subjects in front of a camera, and others are not. Engagement portrait sessions therefore offer the photographer a chance to discuss tactfully the basic principles of posing as bride and groom.

Although many couples opt for casual or reportage-style images of their weddings, many of the simple measures used to set up or improve formal or traditional portraits may still be applicable. Some of these are described in articles such as those on posing the bride. By the time the engagement portrait session is over, the couple should be reasonably adept in presenting themselves to a camera.

The engagement portraits session itself is usually fun for both the couple and the photographer. The atmosphere should soon become relaxed because there is no pressure on time and anything that does not work out can simply be redone.The most important aspect of the session is to have fun! Better photographs start coming when everyone relaxes and lets their hair down. So the couple might, for instance, be encouraged to tell how they met and explain some of the plans for their wedding.

Photographers should use engagement portrait sessions to build a basic photographic relationship with the couple. Such relationships are founded primarily upon trust, so start by opening communication channels and demonstrating that you are human. Show an interest in the couple and their lives, laugh with them and at yourself, sit on the ground, fool around, or whatever it takes. Then encourage the couple to wander off alone and ignore your presence. Invite them to behave as though no photographer was present. Watch them, and observe how they interact. It is not necessary to have their attention in order to create good images. Catch them in private conversation, teasing one another or maybe stealing a quick kiss. Buy them a coffee and watch and work from a distance as they interact.

After a suitable period, invite them to frolic around. Given an appropriate environment, ask them to run along the beach, perhaps chasing each other or holding hands, let them run in the water or splash each other. Alternatively, they might sit or climb on a fallen tree or farm gate, or lie in the grass sharing private moments. Eventually, they will be comfortable being approached more closely, and half-length or head-and-shoulders shots can be created. Get some good light from behind the subjects and hence in their hair. Let the wind blow their clothes around and and seek to capture their youthful exuberance in dynamic images.

It may be worthwhile inviting the couple to bring with them some suitable prop. Simple items such as a ball or a towel can be used in all sorts of creative ways. Clothing should be more or less whatever the couple prefer. It can be casual or more formal, and it may be worth pointing out that it is also very easy to change into something different half-way through the session. An engagement shoot is best kept casual so jeans, skirts and trainers are all possibilities. However, the couple should still look as though they belong together. Perhaps the most important consideration regarding clothing is for the couple to select garments in which they feel comfortable. Ask each of them to find something that is "you".

Broad colour and style guidelines are to:

  • avoid solid whites and blacks, but colour co-ordinate to some extent by choosing garment within the same colour family;
  • match tones to some extent - if one person wears bright or fresh colours, the other person should avoid subdued colours;
  • select solid colours rather than strong patterns, plaids, stripes, checks, prints or floral patterns;
  • avoid distinctive logos;
  • choose simple garments;
  • bear in mind that light and dark tones together create visual confusion, as they tend to bring one subject forward and push the other back;
  • avoid over-large or ill-fitting clothes because they do not generally photograph well;
  • use very light-coloured items and bright or bold colours such as red, purple, and orange with caution as they tend to overpower or draw attention away from the face;
  • avoid shades of colors similar to flesh tones such as light whites and pinks, or beige, tan or yellow;
  • bear in mind that darker hues tend to be more flattering and slimming;
  • achieve a similar level of formality - or the lack of it.
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