by Nigel Cooper
What is a pre-wedding or engagement shoot?
A pre-wedding shoot (sometimes referred to as an engagement shoot) is a photo session that typically takes place three to six months before the actual wedding day.
Most couples love doing a pre-wedding shoot, in fact they see it as a necessity. However, some couples question whether they should have a pre-wedding shoot at all and some even think it’s a waste of money, the latter choose, instead, to save this money and spend it on another area of their wedding. If you fall into the latter camp, I urge you to read on.
A pre-wedding/engagement shoot will actually help you in many different ways. For a start it will help you build a good rapport with the photographer, which is critical. After all the photographer is going to be spending the whole day with you on what is going to be one of the most important days of your life and it will be so much easier for the couple to relax and be themselves in front of the camera when they already know the photographer behind it. You’ll also get to know the photographer’s shooting style and it will give the photographer chance to know more about the couple: your personality, character, how loving and affectionate you are with each other, how formal or casual you are. The pre-wedding shoot will allow both the photographer and the couple to create suitable settings, themes, styles that will flatter and bring out the best in the photos during both the pre-wedding shoot and the actual wedding.
The pre-wedding shoots that I undertake are typically informal photo sessions that are shot either on location or in the comfort of your own home. These photo sessions are laid back and a lot of fun. Couples can choose where to go: a beach, forest, a cosy café or restaurant, a simple walk in the park, leisurely stroll through the city streets or perhaps the place where you had your first date, or first met.
As well as being a great opportunity for me, the photographer, to get to know you and to build a friendly rapport, it also provides a great chance to create some super images that you can use for: save the date, signing books, invites or even table names for example.
My pre-wedding photo shoots typically last around an hour, plus a drink afterwards to discuss your wedding plans further.
What makes a great pre-wedding photo?
There are many things that contribute to making stunning pre-wedding/engagement photos. For me, the photographs have to tell the couples’ story, while capturing all the emotion of the moment in a natural way. A famous photographer, Paul Caponigro, once said, ‘It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.’ This is so true and it’s something that I always aim to do when I photograph people, especially a couple about to be married.
A lot of couples have trouble coming up with a pre-wedding shoot concept, while others have firm ideas about it. Here I’ll guild you through some of the most popular concepts, the kind of couples they suit and how best to execute them.
The traditional concept is where you delve into the roots of your cultural heritage and display those cultural elements during the photo shoot. This cultural ‘look’ is suitable for couples that are planning to have a traditional style wedding.
With the traditional concept it’s a good idea to choose a location that shows the antique vibe of the culture you’re going with. Stick with traditional clothing attire but don’t be too glamorous and over the top at this stage, keep it simple and save the elaborate details for the wedding day. Depending on the style of the shoot it might be a good idea to talk to the photographer about black-and-white photos. Sometimes black-and-white images can look stunning and they can carry so much more emotion when there are no distracting colours, but there are some instances where black-and-white images might not work so well, such as a fun shoot at a fairground.
The glamorous concept means it’s time to break out the amazing dresses and grand picturesque locations to show off as much class and glamour as possible throughout all the photos. Couples who chose to go for the glamorous pre-wedding shoot are typically people who enjoy and embrace elegance, class and sophistication and feel comfortable in such environments.
For this type of shoot you’ll want to find stunning dresses that create statements in the final images: classic white or vibrant colours, this is where you can totally express yourself. For the location, iconic landmarks are always good, as are beautiful landscapes. The combination of a beautiful dress and a stunning location will result in a very glamorous look in the final images.
The casual concept is the opposite of the glamorous concept. Instead of stunning dresses and locations, the casual concept tones things down with a more ‘casual’ and modest approach.
There are many ideas for the casual concept. Some couples choose to re-enact what they did on their first date while others showcase their hobbies or things that they like to do. Whatever theme you chose, casual clothing is always a safe bet: a simple dress or blouse and skirt perhaps while your man wears a shirt and jeans perhaps, again, express yourself and wear what you feel most comfortable in.
The indigenous concept has grown in popularity in recent years. Like the photojournalism style of wedding photography, the indigenous concept pre-wedding shoot is like having your photograph taken candidly as you go about your activities.
With this concept the couple would choose to do something, a boat trip on a punt or a picnic for example and while they were going about these laid back activities they would trust the photographer to capture some really nice images.
If you feel uncomfortable in front of the camera or don’t like to pose then this indigenous concept could be perfect for your pre-wedding shoot as you can be natural and relaxed and just let the photographer get to work while not being too obvious. The photographer will still give you a few pointers and might speak up and suggest things during the shoot to help it along and to aid in achieving some super images.
The thematic pre-wedding photo shoot will have a specific theme that you and your partner will have chosen together. Couples that go for themed pre-wedding shoots typically go for a theme that evokes a general ambience such as vintage or bohemian or maybe something even more specific such as the roaring 20s or swinging 60’s for example.
With regard to the location, select somewhere that will match your theme; the same applies for the wardrobe. For example, if you decide to go for an old Wild West theme be sure to shoot it (pun intended) at a ranch-style location (maybe horse stables) while wearing suitable cowboy/cowgirl/folk-style attire. For vintage you’d want to choose an antique environment, again, with appropriate dress.
The Dos and Don'ts of Pre-Wedding Photography
Below I’ve outlined some important things to consider before your pre-wedding shoot takes place. Even though a pre-wedding shoot may appear to be a simple and effortless affair, they are not as straight forward as you might think so read the below tips as they will help you prepare for the perfect pre-wedding photo shoot.
Do your research
It’s of paramount importance that you do your research well in advance of your pre-wedding photo shoot: the location, wardrobe, concept and photographer for example.
First decide on the concept and theme and then choose a fitting photographer. When it comes to choosing a photographer chose one whose style you like and who works within your budget. It’s important to chose a photographer that you like, get on with and have a good rapport with and the only way to establish this is to have a face-to-face meeting – most professional photographers will be happy to accommodate this. When you meet the photographer discuss your concept and ideas and make sure the photographer is capable of delivering it in a way that you’ve envisaged in your mind’s eye. It’s important that you chose a photographer who understands and who sees your vision the way you do, and, who can ad valuable input and help get your ideas from concept to completion.
Don't forget about your partner
Brides can sometimes forget about their partner when arranging a pre-wedding shoot so remember that there will two people posing for the shoot. Discuss your ideas with your partner and make sure that he’s comfortable with your concept and ideas for the shoot. Some people are not entirely comfortable having their photo taken in such a manner. There is nothing worse than a grumpy groom who refuses to pose or go with it or who just looks bored or miserable in every shot. So, be sure to discuss this with him and make sure that he’s comfortable with it and the shoot will go swimmingly.
Pick a suitable time for the shoot
Pre-wedding photo shoots are typically shot 3 to 6 months before the actual wedding. This is close enough to the wedding date for you to be excited about it and thinking about it during the pre-wedding shoot and it will also give the photographer time to edit the images.
Weather is another consideration so the time of year is important, but then again, this will depend on the theme for the shoot and, of course, if it’s indoors then weather is not a problem. The time of day is also important, as a professional photographer myself I understand things like the ‘magic hour’ which is a term photographers use to describe the time of day that offers up the best light, about an hour or two before sunset. At this time of day the sunlight has to pass through more of the earth’s atmosphere and it yields a softer and warmer more romantic light that is flattering for portraits. However, different times of day will give a different vibe and feel to the images.
Unique pre-wedding location ideas
If you’re stuck for pre-wedding location ideas here are a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing. Of course it’s all about the theme and concept but these spots will hopefully give you some inspiration.
Monuments and historical landmarks can have their charms that will illuminate any pre-wedding photo album. Having recognisable, or iconic places, as backdrops will often bring life and a different mood to your pre-wedding images. The famous Wimpole Hall Estate in Arrington will certainly add glamour and sophistication while the American Air Museum at Duxford will instil a more vintage feel. A simple picnic along the river Cam in Grantchester is an ideal Cambridgeshire location for a casual pre-wedding shoot with a romantic feel.