I wholeheartedly recommend doing an engagement portrait session. What is an engagement portrait? It’s a portrait session with the couple, usually (but not always) at an outdoor location, most often in casual outfits, in most cases taking place well before the wedding day (usually within a month or two after booking your photographer).
The main purpose of an engagement portrait is, of course, to capture some nice photographs of you and your fiance, both just for the sake of having them, and to use for wedding-related things. But it also gives the three of us an opportunity to work together and get to know each other a bit more, plus helps get you used to being photographed if this is something you are not accustomed to or are very comfortable with. Think of it as a “warm-up” for the wedding day itself.
New Orleans is a perfect city for engagement pictures, and although most of the couples I photograph are also my wedding clients, I've also done plenty of engagement portrait sessions for couples who are getting married elsewhere but love this city and have a deeply felt connection to it.
Ideas for Using Your Engagement Portrait Pictures
Included in your session are the high-resolution, unwatermarked image files, which you can use for a variety of items for your wedding:
Signing book (a book typically consisting of a few dozen of your favorite images, with a photo on one side of each spread, and the other side being space for guests to sign and write messages of well-wishing to you)
Signing mat (a medium-sized print, such as an 8x10 or 11x14, set into an oversized mat on which guests can sign)
Prints on display at the reception (framed 5x7 or 8x10 prints distributed around the venue, on guest tables, by the bar, on the signing table, etc.)
When to Schedule Your Session
I typically do portrait sessions on weekday late afternoons / evenings, and we’ll want to plan to get started about one hour before sunset for the best light. The most comfortable times of the year for outdoor photography are Spring and Fall, although
Winters down here typically aren’t too bad either. If you happen to book me right before or during Summer, you might want to try to wait until late September or October for the engagement session if possible.
However, if your wedding is coming up too soon and you really need to get your save-the-dates out, or if Summer is the only time you and/or your fiance are available due to work or school schedules, waiting several months might not be an option. If a warmer time of year is the only choice for scheduling your session,
don’t sweat it (see what I did there?). We'll avoid being out in the direct sun as much as possible, and though it will certainly still be hot, it likely won’t be unbearable as long as you are dressed comfortably. That being said, we are all different in terms of how we react to relatively high ambient temperatures and humidity, with some people tolerating the heat fine, while others will sweat profusely, experience red blotchy skin, and be absolutely miserable!
So, if you or your fiancé fall into the latter category, an even better option for a Summer portrait is to do an early morning session instead, as mornings are quite a bit cooler than afternoons/evenings. Though this may sound like common sense, and even though I shift my daily exercise bike rides to mornings during these hotter months for this reason, it never actually occurred to me that this would be the ideal time of day for a portrait session until I had a destination couple
who had come into town for some wedding planning activities, and the only time they could do their engagement portrait before heading back home was an early morning. Because it worked out so perfectly, I now encourage other couples to do so as well
if uncomfortably high temperatures will potentially be an issue. Another benefit, particularly for French Quarter shoots, is that the crowds of tourists and bar hoppers will be significantly smaller in the morning, which gives us more flexibility on locations and also generally
makes for a calmer, less hectic (and more romantic) environment.
Engagement Portrait Locations
In the New Orleans area, the French Quarter is the most popular location for these shoots. There’s an abundance of visually interesting doorways, walls, and building façades that all make for excellent backgrounds, and make for very recognizable NOLA
For couples seeking a more natural setting, City Park and Audubon Park both feature lots of majestic oak trees, Spanish moss, lagoons, and bridges.
On the Northshore, Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, Fairview-Rivserside State Park in Madisonville, and Camp Salmen Nature Park in Slidell are beautiful locations to shoot at, though Camp Salmen's hours are somewhat limited.
But you are certainly not restricted to just these options. You might have a particular location in mind that has sentimental value or that you find visually appealing, such as your own neighborhood (or just some other neighborhood that you like the appearance of), a farm, your family’s hunting camp, a park where your
fiancé proposed, the beach, a favorite bar, and so on… I’m always open to my couple’s wishes, and enjoy shooting in new locations.
What to Wear
When it comes to outfits, I'm a strong believer that the most important thing is to wear what is comfortable and “you”. If you are a blue jeans and T-shirts kind of couple, don’t feel compelled to wear much dressier outfits just because you are having your picture taken. You want to look nice, of course, but you also
should not wear outfits that are so out of character for you that you feel awkward in them. Likewise, if you are both snazzy and fashionable dressers. The main goal is to capture images that represent who you are as a couple. And although the traditional
advice is for you to wear outfits that are similar in terms of how dressy they are, my view on this is that if you are known as being a couple where one of you is always wearing something fancy and the other is typically more casually dressed, it’s
not necessarily a bad thing to incorporate these differences into the portrait.
I don’t get too particular when it comes to making suggestions about colors, though in general more neutral or earthtone solid colors tend to work better than bold and bright colors and patterns. My main request is that you don’t both wear the same colored shirts,
as that tends to visually make the two of you subconsciously somewhat blend into one large shape (with two heads!) in the photographs.
Lastly, comfortable shoes are highly advisable. We’ll be doing a lot of walking, especially if we’re shooting in the French Quarter. If the shoes you would like to wear in the photographs are not suitable for walking, you should bring a comfortable pair
to change into as needed.
Some couples choose to do an outfit change, which is a great solution if you can’t decide between a fancier outfit and something more casual… do both! But some advance planning may be needed to ensure efficient usage of the time we have available and
to make sure you have a place available to change, so let’s discuss that beforehand if you are going that route.
Our Dog Come?
Absolutely! Dogs are often an integral part of a couple's relationship, so by all means bring this treasured family member along! A park may be a better choice for this kind of shoot than a more urban area. Chances are, you won’t want your dog included
in all the images, so you can simply secure the leash to a nearby tree as we shoot just the two of you. Alternatively, what couples sometimes do is arrange for a friend or family member to take the dog after we've done a few photos, or to bring the
dog to us when we're near the end of the session to do those as our final shots instead.
One Last Important Piece of Advice: Arrive Early!
On the day of your session, give yourself plenty of time to get there. This is true no matter where your engagement portrait will take place, but is especially the case for areas where accessibility and parking can be difficult, such as the French Quarter.
One reason is that since we will usually be shooting during that last hour before sunset for the best light, we have a specific amount of time to work with, so starting on schedule is very important, and as most New Orleans residents know, it almost always
takes longer than expected to get where you're going, especially with the traffic around that late afternoon time when we'll likely be shooting.
But secondly, and perhaps even more crucial, if your hair and makeup took longer than expected, and you are running late as you battle your way through traffic and struggle to find a place to park, all this is going to be extremely stressful and may even
result in a little quarrel between the two of you in the car, followed by a frantic and fast-paced walk to our meeting spot. It goes without saying that this might put a bit of a damper on your mood and temporarily make it more difficult for your
true chemistry as a couple to show, which will come through in your pictures.
So, I suggest that you do what I do, and plan to arrive in the area at least half hour or so before the portrait is scheduled to begin. If everything goes smoothly you’ll get there early and can relax with a drink in a nearby bar or coffee shop for a little while before we begin shooting, and if you happen to be running a little late, you’ll still likely be on time!