I’m crazy about couples portraits. I think I was sold on being a wedding photographer after my first few engagement sessions. What’s not to love? Neither I nor the couples I first worked with had much of an idea how how to approach the session so we just, rolled with it. We walked all around town chatting and snapping sweet lovey, dovey photos. I never had much of a plan. You see, the couple you’re working with, no matter if they are engaged, married, or seriously dating get each other in a way that no one else gets them. Even before I knew how to pose, it was easy for me to observe that connection and try to do right by it. I had enough inspiration before pinterest and all that jazz.
Since those times however, I’ve seen engagement sessions get so… serious. There are props, “save the dates” to send, and wedding websites to build. These things are all great, don’t get me wrong! It’s fantastic that we are placing more emphasis and excitement on being photographed. However the industry puts a lot of pressure to get them done. It also has provoked many to question “why bother” and “who are these really for?” Certainly, your grandparents didn’t go climbing mountains to reach epic vistas or spend the afternoon skipping through meadows. Er, maybe they did but probably wasn’t photographed in order to announce they are getting married. Engagement photos aren’t necessary for a healthy marriage and certainly don’t prove to the world that you’re smitten with each other. So what’s the point? It wasn’t until I started going through the process myself that I realized the true utility of these photos.
Early on in the planning process I figured we’d follow a typical order of events (ring, relax, venue, photographer, engagement photos, etc. etc.) but that didn’t quite happen. Two moves, relocating the business twice, Ganer starting his job, and a few personal upsets meant changing and delaying our plans altogether. For the majority of our 2.5 year engagement we had no plan (as in no date, venue, photographer, etc.). After a while I just wanted to be married and had a date set with the judge at the local courthouse to make it happen. I think getting to that point really put everything in focus. Literally everything except for the license is a luxury. That is, a marriage is official after an officiant declares it so (and a couple folks witness it). So, we internalized that fact and decided to build from there. What luxuries could we afford?
Once our wedding plans were set into motion (3 months prior to the “I do’s”, mind you), we started deciding on what was important to us. And guys, an engagement session wasn’t one of them. That’s right. I’ll probably get into trouble for this but I have to be honest. Between planning and making sure my clients got their galleries in a timely manner, we did not have time nor the energy to climb mountains or gallop through meadows. Instead we had Ganer’s sweet and AMAZING sister (a non-professional, but killer instagram photog) snap some (awkwardly-self-posed) photos with our camera so we could have a few for the website. While I was editing, I felt the first sort of “click” in my understanding. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was seeing how cute we were, but I started crying. I really couldn’t remember the last time we had any photos of us that weren’t iphone selfies or ones we set on timer way early in our relationship. We had been basically hiding from the camera and starving ourselves of a joy that we so adamantly encourage and create for others.
Bring in our hero, great friend, and wedding photographer: Monica Muñoz. When she so sweetly agreed to photograph our wedding, we quickly bought her tickets from Santiago, Chile while they were still cheap. She opted for a bit of an extended stay and let us know she wanted to take engagement photos. OBVIOUSLY we agreed. Any opportunity to get more photos made by this genius! However it meant getting to New Orleans a little earlier and planning it out. But we had time, rightttt?!
Well, we bought our outfits on the way down to New Orleans and that shopping trip cost us a few hours. We got in really late and slept a few hours before picking Moni up. My body was experiencing a special kind of tired and excitement. I tried to nap before our engagement session but it was impossible. I tried to paint my nails but suddenly couldn’t paint without getting it all over my hands. I realized it was too hot for the outfit I bought. I threw on a dress I had packed but hadn’t worn in years. The humidity made my hair and unwieldy beast so I gave up on styling it.I drew on my cat eyes and that was pretty much the only part of my look I could rely on. All the while Moni chatted with me and tried to keep me relaxed.
Once we finally got out the door, we only had an hour of light left. Ganer and I had no idea where we were going to go. We hadn’t practiced any posing and we had no idea what to do with our hands! Many times I told Ganer to stop fake smiling. I was convinced we were going to ruin the shoot with all of our nerves and lack of a plan.
Then I remembered what I always tell my couples: “if you focus on how happy you are, you will radiate.” Oh and, “get a drink if you need to.” After a moscow mule and making silly poses with Moni, we loosened right up. We wandered around the city, chatting and snapping away. The night ended over jambalaya, wine, and Moni telling us about her beliefs about wedding photography. Ganer had so much fun that I think he wanted to keep shooting well after dark.
She showed us previews the next day that floored me with how awesome they were. They were truly pieces of art. She took photos that captured how we see each other. She let us work out our nerves on our own and encouraged us to be expressive, rather than posing. She experimented and wandered with us down streets neither we or she had ever been. I’m grateful that we were a bit of a hot mess at first because, well, when we aren’t acting like professionals we are kind of crazy people. We are so grateful to have been photographed by someone that appreciates that crazy.
After this whole experience, I’m all the more passionate about bringing engagement photos back to the basics. You should have couples photos made because you will be this version of yourselves for a small sliver in history. These photos will forever capture your love and personality as a couple. Your friends and family (present and potentially future) will love seeing you in this way. You want couples photos because you deserve to let someone else take the photos for once. Someone who will be not only a witness of your love but create for you an artistic rendering of what it’s like to be around you. You deserve to turn off the noise of planning and everyday life to really focus on this person that you’re crazy about. Maybe you’ll plan ahead and have more time for things like a hair appointment. Maybe you’ll create a guestbook with these photos or maybe you’ll only frame a few to keep on a shelf at home. Do what you can. Even if all you can do is show up to the session. You have memories to preserve and souls to capture and look, you may not be 100% ready for the session. It’s almost better if you aren’t. Take some pressure off yourself and don’t take these too seriously. Remember how happy you are, get as ready as you need to be, and maybe have a drink ;].
Below is a little slideshow of ONLY A FEW of our favorites. Please check out Moni’s picks over at her blog because she is simply AMAZING.