There are so many changes going on in my life right now and I have to admit that I kind of got lost in the spell and magic of enjoying life as a newly-wed that I’ve kind of ignored this blog. I’ve been trying to find time to consolidate and finish all wedding entries which are long over-due as it has been four months since our wedding. Now before the grand finale of sharing our wedding photos, I believe this entry is in order since based on my experience as a recent bride, there isn’t really much resource available for this topic of pre-wedding photo shoots especially. If you’re a bride-to-be, like I most recently was, pre-wedding shoots can be some serious pressure. To make life easier for you, I’ve drawn up a list of some tips I have (based on experience) to make your own pre-wedding/ engagement shoot experience as pleasurable and as fun as possible.
You see, I always loved checking out engagement shoots. I have to say, even before getting engaged, it’s been a guilty pleasure of mine to follow both local and international wedding photographers and keep myself up-to-date with the pre-wedding sessions they upload ever so often. There’s just something so beautiful to see how love is in the air and I have to say a dreamy aspect to seeing two people in love and that love materializing in a photograph. After I got engaged, I realized that the pressure is actually real and there is a lot involved in planning an engagement shoot. It’s apparently not as simple as showing up and posing as there are actually a lot of elements involved. I have done four pre-wedding sessions in as varied locations as possible and here are some useful tips and tricks I’ve picked up in the process which hopefully could be useful for brides-to-be out there…
First off, you might be wondering, what is a pre-wedding shoot? A pre-wedding shoot also known as an engagement session or pre-nup photo session as they are also often referred to is a photo shoot that usually takes place three to six months prior to a couple’s wedding day. Recently, couples have regarded pre-wedding photos as a necessity although some still opt not to have one. Personally, Yan and I decided we wanted a couple of engagement sessions (actually four to be exact as we collaborated with a number of photographers) because aside from wanting to document our romantic journey to the aisle (these photos will live forever and as early as now, I can envision it being shown during our silver and golden anniversaries), these shoots are actually a great way to build rapport with your photographer before the big day and to feel somewhat at ease with the camera as it helps you learn what will flatter you and your groom and what you are and aren’t comfortable with.
I find that what makes a good engagement photo set is whether or not the pictures can tell the couples’ story and how well their emotions can be captured by the lens of the photographer. There are a lot of elements and aspects involved behind planning and executing a successful shoot and here are some that I’ve found to be useful for me:
Disclaimer: The tips and hacks in this list are based on the personal perspective and experience of this bride. These are some useful lessons I picked up along the way and should be treated as such. Not all necessarily apply to everyone.
1. Come up with a pre-wedding concept.
There are so many concepts and ideas when it comes to planning your shoot that at times, it can be overwhelming and so difficult to choose. A simple search in Pinterest (every bride’s best friend, I tell you), can probably result to endless possibilities that in can actually be confusing. To narrow it down, categories that you can take into consideration can usually be divided up into: classic/traditional, casual, glamorous, candid and thematic. A useful tip that I would have when it comes to selecting which one applies for your shoot is asking yourself these questions: a. What is our couple style? b. Will it go with the theme and look of our wedding and c. It is logistically feasible to be executed?
It is important to ask yourself these questions because personally, I find it that it will be stressful in trying to make a concept fit just for the heck of it without considering these important questions. Since you are investing time, energy and funds for a pre-wedding shoot, I think you might as well make it as cohesive as possible.
2. Location, location, location.
Once you’ve come up with a concept, the next thing is to pick a location. Where you shoot your pre-wedding photos can actually make or break your shoot. Having shot in both local and international locations, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t so much of how exotic a destination is to make a shoot successful but more of how meaningful and accurately the place relates to you as a couple. The important thing is that you choose a location that tells your story as a couple… it may be a setting that is memorable and that makes sense to the both of you or you can choose a place that conveys your couple style- whether it be an indoor or outdoor space. For our shoots, Yan and I chose places that appealed to us- not just aesthetically but on a more personal level.
3. Decide on a photographer whose style and range suits yours.
This is where Instagram stalking will help especially since photographers now upload content on their accounts to serve as their portfolios. For our shoots, Yan and I worked with different photographers. For our first shoot, I chose Noel Salazar of Quirky Creatives because I saw how at ease and natural they seemed to be able to capture their couples and that was something I wanted to have for our first shoot. It also helped that Quirky Creatives was rebranding then and that Yan and I were the perfect couple to represent that elegant quirk they were trying to look for in a potential couple. We worked with Benjie Tiongco for our main pre-wedding photoshoot in Japan as we were huge fans of his work and because we trust his vision (so much that we actually booked him to as our wedding photographer too.) It is important to trust and feel at ease with your photographer for your big day which is why I am so happy we did an engagement session in another country with Benjie. We got to spend a couple of days in a foreign country with him for our shoot and I have to say, there’s nothing like traveling with someone to form a special bond and after the trip, Yan and I were so comfortable with Benjie already and considered him not just our photographer but as a friend. Most wedding photography packages nowadays offer a pre-wedding shoot and I strongly recommend couples to take advantage of this option when booking for a photographer. For our next shoot, we booked Chestknots because after scrolling through their portfolio, we loved their work and knew that like their company tagline, we wanted our modern minimalist photoshoot to be: Organic, Dynamic, Endearing. Basically, we knew we could only trust them to pull off our concept which was something new at that time since not a lot of pre-wedding photoshoots had a minimalist theme. Having different photographers with different styles and creative visions definitely added on to the excitement and anticipation for each of our shoots. I consider Yan and I especially lucky that they were all professional and fun to work and shoot with.
It will also help to meet with your photographer/s of choice before the shoot because aside from helping in putting your nerves at ease, there are certain things that a photographer can see that you and your groom to be haven’t considered at all. This is why it helps that you choose the right person for the job. I highly recommend choosing a professional photographer like Noel, Benjie and Jay-jay who have had countless experience in shooting couples because this is a skill that takes time and I noticed that wedding photographers who are well-versed in pre-wedding shoots are more meticulous with the details and other specifics like how to direct your and your fiancé when it comes to poses. Not just anyone with a D-SLR qualifies as a professional wedding photographer and these people actually invested lots of hours and weekends honing their craft.
4. Strike a pose.
Try to search the web and Pinterest for pegs of poses you want to do and show this to your photographer. Set some time to practice poses and angles with your fiancé. The usual poses you can practice and choose to adapt during your shoot include but are not limited to the following:
FOLLOW ME TO
HEAD ON SHOULDER
HAND ON CHEST
HEAD ON CHEST
GAZING AT YOUR S.O.’s FACE
THAT MOMENT BEFORE A KISS
HANDS ON WAIST
CASUALLY TAKING A STROLL
WHISPERING SOMETHING TO YOUR S.O.
HAND ON CHEEK
CHEEK TO CHEEK
…those are the standard but there are many more that your photographer can direct you to do…
5. Taking it to the next level with your outfits.
-Set the theme or look of the shoot and dress for your surroundings.
-I would suggest preparing 4-5 looks for your shoot with probably two back-up outfits just in case. Stick to a cohesive color palette and choose pieces that will show off your best assets.
– Choose clothes that are elevated compared to your normal day to day wardrobe. Alter the clothes to fit you. I know a common practice now is to make use of safety pins and double sided tape and while these help, it can only do so much. Photographers and more so videographers (if you’re shooting a pre-wedding video as well) usually shoot from all angles and it will be noticeable if the fit is off.
– Choose compelling fabrics that can add drama to your shots. I would suggest making use of chiffon and fabric that can be draped and that can move and sway easily especially if you are shooting outdoors.
– You don’t have to match exactly with your significant other but try to find commonalities with your looks. For our shoot, Yan and I actually tried our options one by one and took photos of our looks. From there, we paired our different looks to see if they go together and complement each other on camera.
– For brides: Don’t invest in shoes except when you really have to. You may rationalize giving in to your inner Carrie-Bradshaw but those 5-inch heels usually don’t help when it comes to proportion and it will be an ordeal to walk in. Unless you are going to be showing your feet, shoes also won’t be of much emphasis especially under a long gown. It helps to have a couple of pairs but make sure they are comfortable, easy to move around in and appropriate. (Useful tip: for shoots on location, make sure to bring flats or slippers that you can use while moving from place to place. Just wear those heels when shooting .)
– Accessorize but don’t excessorize. This is when “just right” is of utmost importance. Add standout jewellery but in moderation. Keep your arms and fingers clean- you don’t want to upstage your ring.
– For grooms: Suit it up. A couple of suit options will always help. Other must-haves include: crisp and ironed shirts in a variety of colors, slacks, a selection of neckties, bow-ties and pocket squares to add variety to your looks.
– For grooms: Show your personality by adding details that are unique to you. A great way of doing this, for example, would be using statement socks or a unique accessory (watch, pocket square, bow tie or cufflinks for example) that hint at who you are.
– For grooms: A safe selection of shoes to wear include loafers, black dressy shoes and brown shoes. Black can be used for formal and dark-colored suits. Use brown for navy, gray, brown or khaki outfits.
Now where to get clothes? I understand that not everyone has an unlimited supply of gowns and fancy outfits and it would simply not be practical to have gowns made just for a shoot. While I am one of the rare few who collect gowns (to a fault) which is why it wasn’t a problem for me to find outfits, I understand that this hobby of mine doesn’t necessary apply to the rest of the population which is why it can be troublesome, not to mention one of this biggest hassles to come up with a photoshoot-worthy wardrobe. But do not fret as I am listing down some options you can visit:
a. Hire a stylist.
I would recommend this for couples who prefer to trust someone professional in handling their clothing options. Some stylists offer pre-wedding shoot styling and other offer packages which extend to wedding day styling (meaning you have a trained eye who can help you even as you search for your perfect wedding dress). These stylist will handle your look book, your pull-outs and making sure the clothes will actually fit you and your groom and even take care of your accessories. The only downside to this is cost since it is an added expense but if you can set aside something in your budget, I would definitely recommend having this to make things easier for you and your groom. Notable stylists I would recommend in the Philippines are Lifestyles by Feliz, Jeff Galang, Aisa Ipac.
b. Get chummy with your wedding gown designer and explore options of “pulling out’ clothes from them for your shoot.
I was lucky enough to have an amazing wedding gown designer (Francis Libiran) and other designer friends who I have patronized through out the years (Julianne Syjuco and Kristel Yulo) who’ve been all so accommodating and allowed me to pull out from them for my shoots. They even scheduled fittings for me just to make sure the gowns I am borrowing would look perfect on me. Based on experience, if you ask your wedding gown designer nicely, I am sure they might have a dress or two from previous collections that they can loan out to you free of charge as long as you take extra care of it and return it damage-free after use. The downside to this option is that most gowns come in sample sizes and aren’t always alterable to fit your precisely so you have to more or less be close to sample size to get to enjoy this perk.
c. Scout gown rental stores.
This is another option I am so happy is making a comeback since there are more gown rental stores popping up in the country with a wide selection to suit different looks, styles and body types. Again, this is where Instagram comes in handy since I’ve encountered a handful of gown rental profiles at the height of my wedding planning Instagram browsing phase: #gownrentalph… I didn’t really get to have first-hand experience on this yet but one of the downsides I guess is that it can be quite costly too (you pay full deposit which is refundable after return of the gown with no damages of course) and you only have the clothes for 3-4 days after which you have to return it or else pay an additional fee per day (which is also not ideal if you’re doing an out of the country shoot).
d. Use the friend card.
We all have friends, for sure and most of our friends have a formal gown or two, especially with the influx of weddings and formal events happening left and right. If you have really nice friends who are very magnanimous and who you feel very comfortable with (preferably those in your BFF-circle), you might explore the option of borrowing a particular gown from them that they wore to a specific occasion and probably won’t be wearing again for a very long time.
e. If all else fails, have your pieces custom-made.
This applies especially when you have a particularly unique theme in mind or if you really want to get the exact look you’ve envisioned. Again, this will probably cost the most out of all the options but think of it as an investment especially if you have other formal events to attend in the future. Think of it this way, you’ll have a lot of friends in the near future tying the knot and you’ll make R.O.I. before you know it especially if you social calendar is looking busy. A useful tip to be as cost-efficient as possible is to aim for separates that way you can mix and match for different looks for future use.
My final tip is to enjoy. At the end of the day, the biggest takeaway from this experience aside from the gorgeous photos is that you get to make new memories with your groom-to-be. Always remember that you can plan for your shoot and your wedding at that as much as you can but if you don’t enjoy the process, you might look back on all of this in the future and have regrets which is why it is of utmost importance to make this as positive an experience as possible. Getting married nowadays is quite a whirlwind and it can take up so much time and effort. Ultimately, remember that this is a nice bonding experience for you and for your groom and it is a unique experience you can make beautiful memories from. Based on experience, I have to say that the road to saying “I-do” isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and there will always be things that might need fine tuning. No amount of planning can control extraneous variables from happening so you might as well enjoy the ride and smile for the camera!