A photographer's guide for what to wear to your engagement session

We get this question so often that we knew it was time to put together a thorough guide for what we recommend you wear to your engagement session. 

Our very first and most important tip is this: these are not hard and fast rules. We have photographed many people in our career thus far, and we feel it's helped us gain great insight into what photographs well and what doesn't. However, style is personal. What we wear is the ultimate expression of who we are. So, never feel restricted by some blog post or some magazine about what you should or should not wear. Always do you! Seriously!

However, we'll be honest. We know how it feels to be photographed, and we know how we personally respond to photographs of ourselves. The first thing you'll do when you see a photo of yourself is assess how you look. You could have the sweetest expression, gorgeous setting, and your partner could look perfect, but if you notice something wrong with your outfit or your hair, it's going to be hard for you to love that photo. So it's super important to really put thought into the outfits you put together for a photo session.

Rachel Lee & John coordinated their outfits wonderfully. Rachel Lee wore a pretty summer dress in a color which was perfect for the setting, with a pretty chunky necklace. Though you can't see it in this particular shot, her makeup is flawless. John wore dark denim jeans and a button down shirt, complementing Rachel Lee's outfit without being "matchy."

Rachel Lee & John coordinated their outfits wonderfully. Rachel Lee wore a pretty summer dress in a color which was perfect for the setting, with a pretty chunky necklace. Though you can't see it in this particular shot, her makeup is flawless. John wore dark denim jeans and a button down shirt, complementing Rachel Lee's outfit without being "matchy."

Ashley & Ty's outfits for their spring downtown Raleigh engagement session were perfect for the setting and time of year.

Ashley & Ty's outfits for their spring downtown Raleigh engagement session were perfect for the setting and time of year.

Step 1:  Consider your location & time of year.

We have photographed in all sorts of locations, from beaches to farms to cities. As you can imagine, what might look great against the backdrop of downtown Raleigh in fall won't necessarily work in Emerald Isle in the summer. In a city setting, a dressier, "out on the town" look is best.  Example: for the men in a city setting - dark, dressy jeans, a nice belt and shoes, and layering a button down under a blazer is great.  For the ladies in a city setting, a classy cocktail dress or dark, dressy jeans with high heels, solid colored blouse and pretty accessories would look great. Coordinating colors with one another is perfect without being too matchy.

But what about the waterfront or the beach? Believe it or not, the obvious works:  colors like navy, cream, white, and khaki always work well. But don't feel limited by those choices. The beach is a neutral canvas, so there are few colors that won't look good there. If you want to be especially southern, consider dressing your guy in a bow tie and finding a way to incorporate seersucker.  Summer dresses and maxis are very pretty out on a dock or on the sand.  Be aware that wedges can be easier to wear on a dock as heels can get stuck!  Many of our clients like to start a session on the waterfront somewhere like Beaufort or Morehead City, and then finish at the beach. For this reason, we recommend bringing multiple outfits - a dressier option for a dock setting with a more casual option for the beach.

Lauren's dress is a great example of breaking the "no pattern" rule. It was a quintessential southern coastal style, and her pretty gold dangling earrings and bracelet work well. Chris' shirt color, khaki slacks and brown belt were a perfect complement.

Lauren's dress is a great example of breaking the "no pattern" rule. It was a quintessential southern coastal style, and her pretty gold dangling earrings and bracelet work well. Chris' shirt color, khaki slacks and brown belt were a perfect complement.

Step 2:  Stay away from crazy patterns.

This is a general rule that I think can be broken if you're careful. In almost every case, we advise against chaotic patterns on clothing (and any large logos), and here's why: every photographer's goal when creating a portrait is to draw the viewer directly to the subject's eyes/face. This is why you will find that we favor solid colors or gentle patterns. Brightly contrasted patterns can be a distraction - you want the reaction to your photographs to be, "wow, that couple looks GREAT!" rather than "wow, look at that shirt!"  All that being said, we have had clients who have successfully broken this rule, especially because they followed Step 1 and carefully considered their location and the time of year.

 

 

 

 

Kelly & Cody are ECU Pirates, and Cody is a former ECU football player - this was perfect!

Kelly & Cody are ECU Pirates, and Cody is a former ECU football player - this was perfect!

 

 

 

Step 3:  Get personal.

While we almost always caution against those crazy patterns and big logos, there is one exception. Incorporating something meaningful to the both of you - like a t-shirt or jersey of your alma mater - is such a sweet idea. Get creative with it!

Step 4:  Cover up.

This is another very general rule that we think can be broken, to an extent (we'll get to that in a minute). However, when considering the length of a dress, the length of shorts, or the length of sleeves, longer is almost always better. And tops, of course, should never be too low cut. It's not because we want you to hide your hot bod, but for pretty much the same reason we dislike crazy patterns - having a lot of skin showing can be a distraction from your eyes and face. Why do we think this "cover up" rule can be bent? Your session location matters. Unless it's winter, it doesn't make sense to take photos on the beach in jeans and a sweater. Pretty summer dresses, shorts of appropriate length, and tank tops can all be pulled off very well for summer engagement sessions by the water. 

 

 

 

Step 5:  Accessorize.

Love Katelyn's bracelets and Brandon's belt. Accessories can help speak to your personalities.

Love Katelyn's bracelets and Brandon's belt. Accessories can help speak to your personalities.

Accessories always boost any outfit. For men, a nice watch, a classic belt, or even a bowtie are great options. For ladies, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces can complement a look. Be sure to balance your accessories, if you wear big, dangly earrings, you might want to skip a necklace and wear a bracelet instead. If you're wearing a chunky necklace, you may want to choose simpler stud earrings and skip the bracelet.  (P.S. Dogs can be accessorized too!  If you bring your fur baby to your session, a special collar or even a doggie bow tie are SO cute! We even had a couple who brought their two dogs and dressed them in bride & groom outfits, adorable! Can you tell we have a soft spot for the fur babies?)

Step 6:  Get your hair did! (And makeup too!)

For my girls who just aren't a fan of makeup, I totally hear you. And if makeup just isn't your thing, then don't feel you must wear it. But do consider that there is a reason that TV personalities and actors do wear makeup (and a lot of it) - it just works well on camera. Makeup can be a great way to highlight your best features. I'm personally a huge makeup person (and Ulta loves me for it). Even if you don't have your makeup professionally done, we do recommend wearing a little more than you usually do. It takes more to "show up" on camera. No matter what, though, don't feel you have to try a new makeup look or hairstyle that doesn't feel like "you." But if we were spending $$$ on a photo session, we'd want to look our absolute best.

And a few other tips you may not have considered:

- If there's a color you know just makes your eyes pop, THIS is the time to wear it.
- During your session, we'll have you in many different poses. Some will be seated, some will involve having your arms lifted around your fiance's neck. If your outfit is restrictive or would be uncomfortable in certain poses, it may not be ideal for your engagement session.
- Get plenty of rest the night before your session!
- Try to avoid alcohol the night before as well - it doesn't have the best effect on your skin. Drink lots of water instead!
- Don't make any drastic changes to your hair prior to the session, or even before the wedding. You don't want to end up with a cut or color you're not happy with right before having portraits taken.
- Don't think you must tan, and don't try any new self tanner before a photo session (we know those can turn disastrous). Fair and natural skin tones photograph beautifully (trust this super fair girl). If you do tan, watch for tan lines, and definitely don't burn!  This goes for the gentlemen as well: so often we see guys fresh from a fishing trip or off the golf course who wore sunglasses all day and have super obvious tan lines on their faces!  Please, please, please don't do it!
- Anytime you get close to the water, you're almost guaranteed to be dealing with wind and humidity. And that usually doesn't jive well with perfectly curled hair. Be prepared by bringing a brush and a hairband. Being able to run a brush through your hair and pull it back in a pony tail can help on a windy day.
- Speaking of humidity (and heat), bring powder and other makeup items for touching up just in case you start to glisten.