Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Style an Engagement Session

Planning your engagement photo session can be like planning a mini wedding! We all see those fantastic looking styled engagement sessions on wedding blogs and wonder, how did they put that together? Some hire professional stylists to make their shoot look great. BUT with some ingenuity, man hours, and creativity you can put your own together and it will come out looking great! I thought I'd share my "engagement shoot how-to" with a step by step of how I put together my engagement session.

Step 1: Come up with a theme inspiration.

There are countless options of what type of engagement session you can have. Do you want it to be outdoors or indoors? Outdoors it could be in nature or in a city. Indoors could be at home with your pets or in your kitchen cooking. You could take them where you first met, for instance at a college campus. Or, you could have an action engagement shoot- biking, playing touch football, rock climbing, etc. I've even seen an engagement shoot where the couple splatter painted a canvas (and each other)! The possibilities are really endless! So think about what would best represent the two of you and then search out some inspiration images. You can see my picnic inspiration here.

Step 2: Choose your location

Just like a wedding, an engagement session needs the perfect location! It will at the least be the backdrop of your photos and could even be the focus (aside from the two of you, of course!). Perhaps your location is obvious to you once you've decided what your inspiration is. For instance, if you want your photos taken at home- there you go, location hunt over! But, if you want a city feel- do you want to go to a big downtown? Or, would you prefer a smaller, hipper downtown area? If you want your pictures taken outside in nature, do you want it in a field? A park? By a lake? In a forest? Or, in my case... in an orchard?

If you're not sure what would look best to pull off your vision, go scouting! That's how I came across the beautiful orchard we got our pictures taken in. I scouted all around the Metro-Detroit area for a grove of the blossoming pink trees to no avail until I did some internet research and headed a bit up north. That's where I found Blake's Cider Mill and the orchards on their premises! Don't forget to keep an open mind. You can always find something that doesn't fit your original vision but it might be something even better! It happened with me! We even drove by some lavender fields that I considered using (but ultimately decided against) that could have sent me in a whole different direction!

Here's the picture of Blake's Cider Mill orchard in the spring:

Step 3: Choose your "soft goods"

This step isn't always applicable. If you're walking through a big city, meandering through a forest, or having a splatter paint fight it's likely that soft goods won't be necessary! But, if you're having a picnic, setting up a romantic dinner, pitching a tent, or snuggling at home soft goods will really add to the scene you're setting and reflect your personal style. For me, our soft goods were our picnic blanket, pillows, and the fabric inside of the picnic basket. The picnic blanket we used was a quilt made by my beloved Great Grandma Houck. It is a subtle light blue with a hand stitched pattern. It worked perfectly because it was natural looking, didn't have a crazy pattern to distract from the orchard, is one of our wedding colors, and obviously has a sentimental meaning. I also really love the scalloped edges.

Once the blanket was decided on, I went hunting for fabric to add a hit of style to our picnic area. It can be daunting to head into a fabric store and try to settle on just one or two. The main things to focus on are choosing complementary colors with interesting patterns. Since the blanket was understated I was able to kick it up a notch with the fabric! I am very into Moroccan design right now so I knew I wanted to try to find a pattern that reflects that. I found two fabrics that I absolutely love! They don't really "match" but it's more important that they go together and seem like they're part of the same story rather than match exactly. 

The two work together because they have the same color story pulling them together- deep jewel tones and the navy links the two. Also, the Moroccan print has a repetitive bold pattern while the colorful print is more random. This makes them go together without competing. 

The pillows we used (I don't have a picture of them by themselves) I was lucky enough to find in my own home! My living room colors are decorated in similar (or exactly the same...) colors as this shoot so I just swiped my favorite two frilly pillows from my couch!

Step 4: Personalize and add character items

It's important to include items that mean something to you and that help add to the story. Some people bring maps from places they have traveled, knick knacks from around their house, a locket from their grandmother, balloons, umbrellas, I've seen it all! Adding items into your e-session give it a fuller look and create a more "real life" setting. For our picnic, obviously the number one item to find was the basket!

I found this basket at Michaels and it's perfect! I wanted an open basket so we would be able to use my fabrics and be able to see the contents inside. I've always been a dark wood over light wood kind of gal so this basket was right up my alley!

As far as the items to go inside the basket, I wanted them to be easy for me to get together, look like we could really be using them at a picnic, and have some sentimental value as well. (I personally never understand those picnic engagement shoots that have 3 typewriters, an old bike, a pile of books, and 10 teacups... I mean, who uses those things on a picnic for 2?) 

For our picnic I grabbed the wine holder my good friend Deirdre got us as a housewarming present, the basil olive oil I got in Israel, my Paris mug, a loaf of bread (not pictured), and bottles of orange soda and root beer. Each of these items could be used at a real picnic and mean something to me (we love ourselves some root beer and orange soda!). We also included a bouquet of flowers I picked up on the way because everything is prettier with flowers! And of course, I added a link to our wedding with the yarn and glitter letters I blogged about here.

Now, all together they look something like this:

Step 5: Choose your outfits

Lastly, you have to choose your outfits, makeup, hair, and accessories! You both want your looks to fit in with your surroundings and engagement session story, and reflect your personal style. You want it to be something that's stylish but not so trendy that you look back at yourself 6 months later and think ?????

I decided to go with a flowy Lauren Conrad dress from Kohl's because the colors went with the soft goods, the pattern wasn't too busy, and it looked like something I might actually wear on a picnic with J. I had considered a couple of more structured dresses but ultimately, the LC dress fit more with the theme.

I also chose a black v-neck sweater that I have had forever, always loved, and knew was flattering with my skinny jeans. For J- we went with a purple button up shirt to go with my dress (such a good guy for wearing purple, isn't he?) and a relaxed plaid button up that he loves to go with my black sweater. My makeup I did as naturally as possible and I decided to straighten my hair because I'll be wearing it curly for our wedding so I wanted to show variety in our picture together. 

Alright, that's it! A 5 step process of styling an engagement session! Oh, you want to see the final product? Ok if you insist! 

 All of the above photos courtesy of


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