Engagement Session Guide & Inspiration

The engagement session is one of my favorite parts of our time together because it gives you both a chance to be in front of my camera before you get married, which is going to make your wedding day experience feel so smooth, seamless, and comfortable. Not only that, but we get to create something so special together. You’re going to be married for over fifty years, but you only get to be engaged for this short period of time. I’m so excited to capture the only time in your life when you get to be each other’s fiancés. I created this guide for you, and packed it with all my best secrets for getting the best out of your engagement experience, so let’s dive right in!


Date & Time

I’m a natural light specialist because I believe that natural light, from the sun and its reflections, creates photographs that feel fresh, timeless and true to you as a couple. All of my engagement sessions are scheduled during the two hours after sunrise or the two hours before sunset (aka golden hour) because that is when the light is the dreamiest. Remember, depending on the time of the year, the sun may rise and set much earlier or later, so make sure to factor that in when choosing your engagement session date, especially if you’re taking time off work or have evening plans afterward. For sunrise sessions, if you’re wearing two outfits, wear your favorite one first. If we’re doing a sunset session, save your favorite outfit for the second half! 

Special note: Some locations in the DC area have hours we have to abide by or are indoors and don’t need to take place during the sunset/sunrise timeframe. I’m happy to accommodate time for those particular situations!

QUICK TIP: My weekends fill up first and far in advance. You can get a Fast Pass to the front of the line by scheduling mid-week. I have availability on Most Tuesday & Wednesdays.

Location, Location, Location

The location of your engagement session is up to you! The first thing to decide is whether you’d like to feature something specific like classic DC monuments or the great beautiful Chesapeake Bay in your session. Many of my couples want to showcase the natural beauty of the DC/MD/VA area to give their out-of-town guests a fun preview of what to expect when they travel to their wedding. I especially love shooting in greenery-filled parks! There are so many great options around the region, and I’m always up for exploring a new spot together. 

This is the time to think outside the box! I encourage you to brainstorm unique locations that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you, or someone in your personal or professional network, can secure permission to a location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a private estate, country club, or resort. Maybe it’s a family farm, upscale hotel, or even an a boat! The sky is literally the limit! Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with. Plus, if something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! My couples have secured permission to some pretty amazing places in the past. I have some great go-to locations around town that we can always use, too! 

Listed are just a few ideas for engagement session locations! In the DC area, some locations require the couple to secure a permit or permission, and in some cases those permits require a fee. I am happy to help with acquiring the permit but do require couples to pay the fee. Any permits/fees are noted!

DC Locations

  • Georgetown Waterfront
  • Georgetown (city streets)
  • National Mall (Lincoln, Jefferson, Tidal Basin, DC War Memorial - scaffolding may affect what location we use!)
  • Kennedy Center
  • Library of Congress
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Meridian Hill Park
  • Franciscan Monastery (Need permission)
  • Washington National Cathedral (Client must acquire permit: $250)
  • Eastern Market
  • National Arboretum (Client must acquire permit: $450)
  • Union Station
  • Capitol Hill (city streets)
  • Yards Park
  • DAR (Need permission)
  • Spanish Steps (in Kalorama)
  • American Pharmacists Association
  • Pierce Mill Park
  • Your home?!
  • Your neighborhood!?
  • Your favorite coffee shop?!

Virginia Locations

  • Old Town Alexandria (city streets)
  • Great Falls (rocky, greenery, waterfalls)
  • Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (Need permission)
  • Scotts Run Nature Preserve (greenery, trail)
  • Green Spring Gardens (greenery, flowers in bloom at times)
  • Manassas Battlefield (country field, greenery)
  • Wineries (Stone Tower, Bluemont, Bull Run – Permit required)
  • Breweries (Vanish, Dirt Farm)
  • Holmes Run Stream Valley Park (greenery, trail)
  • Seven Oaks Lavender Field (Specific dates for peak bloom)
  • Burnside Farms (Specific dates for peak bloom - sunflowers)
  • Bon Air Rose Garden (greenery, flowers in bloom at times)
  • Bears Den (mountainous views)
  • Skyline Drive (mountainous views)
  • Your home!?
  • Your neighborhood?!
  • Your favorite spot together?!

Maryland Locations

Montgomery County

  • Great Falls
  • Downtown Bethesda
  • Glenview Mansion
  • Sunflower Fields (Short window of peak bloom)
  • Needwood Park
  • Montgomery County Fair (when fair is in town)
  • Seneca Creek State Park
  • Agricultural History Farm Park
  • Pike and Rose
  • Brookside Gardens (Need permission)
  • Your home!?
  • Your neighborhood?!
  • Your favorite coffee shop?!

Annapolis/Baltimore

  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Need permission)
  • Naval Academy
  • Downtown Annapolis
  • Centennial Park
  • Federal Hill
  • Fell's Point
  • Cylburn Arboretum (Client must acquire permit: $95)
  • Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens (Client must acquire permit: Fees apply)
  • Sherwood Gardens
  • Your boat?!
  • Your home!?
  • Your neighborhood?!
  • Your favorite coffee shop?!

Other

  • Baker Park (Frederick)
  • Sugarloaf Mountain (Frederick)
  • Local Vineyards
  • Assateague Island
  • Ocean City
  • Downtown St. Michaels

If you’d like me to meet you in a destination outside of DC/MD/VA for your engagement session where I don’t already have plans to visit, just let me know and I can get you a custom travel quote.

Coordination & Styling

As you’re coordinating your outfit with your fiancé’s, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palettes coordinate, but don’t necessarily “match.” You should each aim to wear a different dominant color, but stay within a similar color palette family. So if you’re wearing a blush dress, soft blue earrings, and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a navy coat with gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square. Now he has his own dominant color (navy) while still incorporating a few touches of your color palette. Most of my brides choose their outfit first, and then put together their fiancé’s outfit based on that.

Choosing Colors

When choosing colors for your outfits, I do recommend selecting shades based on where we are doing our session. 

In natural settings (forest, parks) and city streets, lighter tones and more muted shades fit beautifully. The color of your clothing won’t challenge the color of the setting (think green leaves or changing fall leaves or red brick buildings)! 

In settings like the DC monuments or the beach, where we’re surrounded by white marble or white sand, bright bold colors really allow you to stand out and give your images something extra!

The camera loves shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light neutrals like heather gray, creams, leather brown and white.

Outfit Changes

Most of my brides who choose two outfits will bring one “wow” dress, and then another shorter sun dress or cocktail dress for a more casual “us on a date” feel. Many brides feel like they want something cozier, too, so they’ll wear a sweater and jeans paired with some booties and a scarf – or something that shows off their edgier side like a casual dress matched with a leather jacket and cheetah print leather wedges! The options are endless!

Remember, though, you don’t have to bring two looks if it’s too stressful or you’d rather just stick to one fabulous look. Just one outfit that you love will be so much better than one outfit you love paired with another you’re not very excited about. So, one or two? It’s really up to you!

Styling Your Session

Want your engagement images to look more editorial? Bring a little extra something with you! A freshly-picked bouquet for you to hold, or fresh flowers to put on something else, like a bicycle basket, tree swing, picnic basket, car bumper, or rowboat, is a fun way bring a little extra romance to everyday objects. Whether it’s larger items like classic cars, or smaller ones like blankets or hats, even incorporating just one extra styled item could be a fun way to make your session more unique.

So, he’s just not that into it?

Most gents aren’t overly excited to take photos for an hour or two, because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to you. Take fifteen minutes to educate and empower your guy. Tell him why you chose me and my style of photography. Show him your three favorite sessions that I’ve done, explain why you love them and express to him how much it means to you. Trust us, once he knows it’s important, he’ll light up the camera for you! The most common thing I hear from guys before engagement sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t think they’ll be good at it. By the time we’re done, though, they can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!

Style Tips for Her

Dress It Up

Have you thought about rocking a sequined gown, long flowy skirt, or a trendy jumpsuit but just have not had an occasion for it? This is your chance to do it up! Remember: There is no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your engagement session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to add a new permanent piece to your collection, a lot of my brides love using Rent the Runway for their engagement photos. Other brides just love having a great excuse to bring a new permanent piece (or two!) into their closet!

Long flowy dresses and skirts look amazing on camera because they bring extra movement to the photos. Especially when juxtaposed with nature, like the forest or beach. Cute, shorter-length dresses photograph beautifully as well. Recently, I've seen more and more jumpsuits and midi rompers - they photograph really nice, too!

Flattering your Features

In my experience, every woman, regardless of her shape has an area of her body that she’s a bit self-conscious about. Recognizing what area that is in advance is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos.

Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. You could also bring a cute jacket, blazer or cardigan along, too. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera, so we recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is a set of slimmer-looking arms.

Heel's elongate women's legs making them look fabulous. Closed-toes heels in particular look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your feet show. These little tricks make all the difference! 

Make A Statement

Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images. Statement necklaces bring a lot of pop to the photos, while smaller, delicate necklaces ones are not as noticeable on camera. Belts, bracelets, and earrings bring great visual interest, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention.

Go Pro – Hair & Make Up

Professional hair and make up is on top of most of my brides’ checklists because it looks amazing and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. Professional hair and makeup tends to give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera and it photographs like a dream. If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light, if possible, so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light we’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of my brides feel like their makeup is “too much” at first, since it’s more than you would wear on a normal day, especially when it comes to false lashes, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it just right for the camera — and my brides always love the final result.

If you need a recommendation for hair and makeup, I work with the best in the business and have worked with some awesome artists! They’re sweet as pie, talented as heck, unbelievable professionals and wonderful people. You’ll LOVE them! Just let me know and I'll send you their information. I know they’ll take good care of you! 

Skip the Spray Tan

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even a few days prior, because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully and naturally. 

Style Tips for Him

Suit & Tie

From James Bond to Don Draper, men look very striking in a well-tailored suit. If you don't have one, now’s the perfect time to invest in something you'll wear for the rest of your life! The best part? It’s a lot less expensive than you might think! While custom suits can cost thousands of dollars, some of the most well-known brands have off-the-rack suits in their stores for a fraction of the price. Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong will complement most outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye.

Mix It Up

Many of my grooms love to mix a suit coat, blazer, or sport coat with a different pant color.  It adds some extra visual interest, and can be more fun than wearing two full suits in a row. I'm a big fan of this fresh take on a timeless classic.

Layered Look

Next time you walk by a store like J. Crew, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, trust me when I say that it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you a lifetime. Adding another layer will bring extra dimension and visual interest to your photos. Blazers, vests and coats up the level of any look. If the temperature permits, you could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!

In the Details

Long pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from your legs and feet and place it where you want it: on your handsome face! So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts, sandals and jeans at home, too. Suit pants, dress pants or colored pants work best, especially when paired with closed-toe shoes. Brown leather dress shoes complement almost every look, whether you're wearing a full suit or a blazer and colored pants.

After the Session

Part 1:

Don’t forget to plan a dinner or brunch date! You’re already going to be all dressed up! Why not take advantage of it? We know the wedding planning process can feel all-consuming, so take some time after the session just for the two of you to relax and have some fun together. You deserve it!

Part 2:

It will take me 2 to 3 weeks to cull, edit, upload images to the gallery, and deliver your images! I will try my best to give you sneak peeks of your images throughout those two weeks. If you need images quicker due to a deadline, please be sure to let me know before we schedule your session so I can give you an idea of if I can make that deadline or not (if I’m shooting a couple of weddings and a couple of engagement sessions right around the time of your session, it may take me closer to the 3 week mark, but if I only have a few other things in my editing queue, it should be feasible)!

One Final Note

I know I just gave you a lot to think about. I created this guide to help make your engagement session experience something you’ll look back fondly on for years and years to come. At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you select won’t matter nearly as much as the memories you make together. Your future marriage is the most important thing to me, and I want your engagement session to be a time for you to just be yourselves and enjoy it. Have fun together. Laugh a lot. And I’ll take care of the rest!

Cannot wait to work with you!

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