Photographing great moments between the bride and groom on their wedding day takes some preparation on the part of the wedding photographer as well as the chemistry that both the photographer and the bride & groom share. One sure way to build that rapport and get a sense of how the photographer likes to work and the comfort level of the couple is through the engagement photo session.
I personally like to spend the few hours with the couple on an engagement shoot, getting to know them as a couple and how they interact with each other and in public. Plus, they get the opportunity to work with me and see what I like as far as my style and how I prefer to direct them in a situation rather than pose them. I actually create a life situation and basically direct them giving them scenarios. I let the couple interpret what it means based on their own experience and viola, the magic moment is captured on film...ahem...I mean digital.
In this particular wedding engagement photo shoot photographed in Laguna Beach (Orange County), I basically created a scenario where the couple where stranded on a desert island and with each photo set-up, I gave them a scenario. From there, I let them interpret the situation and basically photographed them. In the above image to the right, the couple react to one of the situations I presented them, however, capturing their response was better than the actual situation.
Select a photographer that best suits your personality.
There are lost of wedding photographers in Southern California. If you do your homework, you'll be able to find one that you "click" with. This is important when it comes time for your wedding photographs and engagement shoot. So plan far enough in advance and meet all of your photographers in person.
Request an Engagement Session.
Even though you may not have it in your budget, it's a good idea to work with your photographer before your wedding day. Most Southern California wedding photographers include an engagement session in their wedding packages and some offer it as an a la carte item. But whatever the situation, try and work it into your budget.
Select a location that speaks of you both as a couple.
While some photographers will take you to a local park and not travel any further, your lifestyle engagement session is a reflection of you two as a couple. I have photographed couples at Disneyland, atop the ski lifts in Big Bear, on rooftops in Downtown Los Angeles at night, and the list goes on. If you prefer the park, that's ok, but if you want something that truly represents you as a couple and your uniqueness, then make sure your photographer is willing to go the extra mile. On the same hand, you may have to pay extra for travel and any admission fees.
Set a two hour window.
It is rare that it takes two hours for an engagement shoot, however, I have spent longer. Make sure your photographer is willing to accommodate you. Again, thee may be an hourly or travel fee, but it all depends on location and the photographer.
Ask for a warm-up shoot.
I typically spend the first 10 minutes just photographing the couple without giving any direction. I like to see how they react and their comfort level. It's also a way to get use to the camera if you, as a couple, haven't done any photo shoots in public before. Most photographers shooting digital will have no problem with this. If your photographer is shooting with film, then make sure there are no extra film charges for the extra shoot.
Ask for individual shoots.
During an engagement session, I like to provide the couple with a few individual images by themselves. It's nice to have these photos as they can share it with family and friends or each other. Ask your photographer if there's and extra sitting fee for this or if it can be included as part of the engagement session.
Bring an extra change of clothes.
I like to have my couples bring something casual and then something a step up from casual and sometimes something dressy. It provides the couple with two different "looks" and actually looks like they get more for their money in the way of actual images. Plus it gives them more to choose form in case the bride or groom didn't like one of the outfits. A side note: Make sure the location you are shooting at has a facility to where you can change.
Look for a mix of styles.
When you interview your photographer, see their engagement photos either online or in their books. See if they use a mix of photographic technique. While this may not be important to many brides and grooms, those that like something different may complain if they select a photographer that really doesn't use a mix of photographic styles; black and white, photo manipulation, etc.
Be yourself and have fun.
The engagement photo shoot is suppose to be fun, so have fun. I like to tell my couples that find themselves in front of a crowed, that they really don't know the people there and that they probably will never see them again, so who really cares whether people stop and stare. They are actually curious and a bit envious. So have fun and make the most of your engagement photo session.