How does this whole engagement photography thing work?

Knowing how to prepare for your engagement session is vital in getting the most out of your engagement photography experience.

There are going to be so many questions you have as this is no doubt your first time being photographed professionally as a couple.

You may now know what time of day works best, what to wear or whether you’ll need to know anything about posing!

READ MORE  What to wear for engagement photos

I’ll take you through it step by step! (And just to answer those questions above – sunrise or sunset, something comfortable that suits your personal style, and no – your photographer’s job is to pose you!)

Engagement photoshoots are a great opportunity to capture unhurried, beautiful images of the two of you. We’ll have much more time than on your wedding day.

You’ll get valuable experience getting comfortable in front of the lens and trusting your photographer. Even if you’re using a different photographer for your actual wedding day, it’s still good to get used to how it feels being photographed and the results you can expect.

As well as that, you’ll also have fab photos to use on your save the dates, wedding website, to make an album out of, or use on your wedding day display tables.

The same advice generally applies for ‘love’ shoots, not strictly at a time in your life when you’re specifically engaged. It could be when you’re simply dating, or already married as an anniversary session. I wanted to give you the full lowdown before you book.

For more details about our engagement photography services in the San Francisco Bay Area, please check out the introductory guide and fun welcome video at the link below! I can’t wait to meet you!

READ MORE  San Francisco Bay Area Engagement Photographer

So without further ado, here’s how the whole thing works.

oakland couple in fun engagement photography session by lake merritt

Have fun and be yourselves!

The process for booking your engagement shoot with me

  1. You check out my work, engagement blog posts and get in touch to receive my pricing guide.
  2. We will pin down a date, time and location for the photoshoot. Just let me know what days you can do.
  3. I’ll send you the contract and invoice to lock it in. Everything’s done online and is done before the shoot.
  4. Within a month of the shoot you’ll receive at least 65 fully edited, downloadable images, though the number is never capped at an arbitrary limit. Feel free to share with family, friends and on social media!
same sex engaged couple photographed at Corona Heights San Francisco

This is a joyful experience for the two of you. No awkward, unnatural posing.

What you should bear in mind regarding your engagement photography


Engagement shoot with myself or a team member last 1.5 hours, which is plenty of time to get creative, find amazing light and basically have a good time. If you want to add more time, you can do so in half-hour increments.

I find that working in a way that isn’t rushed leads to the most relaxed, spontaneous, joy-filled images.

I strongly recommend starting the session 2 hours before the posted sunset time on your desired shoot date. It could be a little later if we’re on the beach/coastline.

Starting a touch earlier than 2 hours before the sunset time is advisable in areas where the sunset appears earlier due to tall buildings, mountains, tree ridges etc. But generally somewhere within the last 2.5 hours of light is when we time engagement sessions.

I offer engagement photoshoots (and basically any non-wedding shoots) on weekdays only. Weekends are when I’m hustling getting those sweet wedding bookings, or taking a well-deserved rest.

As regards how far out to book, we’re flexible. The average is about 2 months. We don’t take on any new bookings that are less than 3 weeks out.

If there’s a special date you’d like, get in touch sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment. Generally, however, engagement shoots are flexible based on wedding commitments (which take priority) and weather.

sunset engagement photography near half moon bay

This couple lucked out with a gorgeous beach sunset at San Gregorio beach near Half Moon Bay for their engagement photos


Be sure to check out my thorough guide to my favorite San Francisco engagement photo locations. Of course, shoots are possible anywhere within the Bay Area!

READ MORE  36 best engagement photography locations in San Francisco

Some general advice:

Two locations are possible!

I define a ‘location’ as when you need to drive to get to it – if we’re walking around an area capturing different spots on foot, that’s still one location.

Remember, traveling time between location A and location B will still be considered part of the shooting time – ‘on the clock’ so to speak.

To make sure we have at least half an hour in each shoot location, the travel time shouldn’t be more than 20 minutes max between locations. Otherwise, this could negatively impact the quality of photos overall in order to keep to our guarantee of at least 65 delivered images.

how to choose location for engagement photos in downtown oakland

This couple chose a downtown Oakland location and Port View Park for engagement photos

What to wear

I’ve written a separate article about what to wear.

READ MORE  What to wear for engagement photos

Some couples opt for an outfit change, usually something dressier vs a more everyday outfit.

I encourage outfit changes because you get to showcase different aspects of your style and look.

Classic is a great choice, but if you’re more into edgier fashion or want to reflect something unique about you then that’s a wonderful option that we’ll totally run with!

Here are some creative ideas to get you going: dressing up in something that’s goofy and uniquely you? Cultural outfits that reflect your heritage? Coordinating outfits that complement each other?

My personal go-to is neutral or bold colors in simple styles without too much pattern which can be distracting. Jewel tones are a beautiful choice that always pop no matter what the environment.

Neutrals are an obvious choice that score highly for being timeless and keeping the focus firmly on YOU.

Did I mention I have a thing for pale, pastel colors too? Whatever your gender, pastels photograph beautifully.

Now a word on what to avoid: printed words and logos on your clothing. These kinds of trendy items date quickly and detract from you, the subjects of the photo.

If possible, avoid black or very dark clothing. It’s harder to make out shapes as dark tones absorb light, so you can essentially end up lacking definition. The photos may have less depth and dimension than with colors that catch the light.

You might also want to avoid shirts or dresses with a small repeating pattern such as checks or stripes. This can cause a visual effect known as moire, which is distracting.

choosing outfits for engagement photography

Red and black outfits for a redwood forest engagement shoot and traditional cross-cultural outfits for an urban shoot

Hair & make-up

You might choose to have a professional make-up artist and hairstylist create your look before we shoot.

I can give you recommendations of wedding HMUAs if this is something you’d like help with.

Whether you choose a pro, have a friend help out, or just do it yourself, remember you can go bolder than you would normally with color and coverage.

Make-up is different when you’re creating a look specifically for the purposes of being photographed. That said, a natural look also works well. Many of our clients are not super showy and prefer to look and feel like themselves!

Hair and make up before engagement shoot

Top row – Hair and make up by La Princesse Salon & Spa, Alameda, CA
Bottom row – Hair by @melaniebrownhair, San Lorenzo, CA

Props & planning

Some couples opt to have sentimental trinkets and objects being part of the shoot.

This could be anything from items related to a joint hobby, or a reminder of an inside joke, handmade details or something else sentimental or poignant.

You might also bring some props to make your wedding announcement or as ‘thank yous’ to send out after the wedding.

My own style tends to veer away from anything too cutesy. (“She stole my heart… so I stole his last name!”) Ugh, please, no!

Matching tattoos however… I love.

same sex engagement matching tattoos

This engaged couple brought a meaningful little ring-box and recreated their proposal. Also: matching tats! #yaaassss

Engagement rings

An important detail for many couples is their engagement ring.

Some people opt to get their engagement ring professionally cleaned prior to the shoot, which is definitely a good idea!

Now is a great time to capture your engagement ring while it is still shiny, and the metal doesn’t have any dings or micro-abrasions.

If you’d like to get special close-up photos of your engagement ring using a macro lens, please email me prior to the shoot. The lens is very heavy so I don’t bring it out to engagement sessions unless specifically requested in advance. Close-up photos of the ring is not available with associate photographers. Thank you for understanding.

capturing engagement rings in the bay area

Four very different engagement rings with unique stories to tell!

Relax and have fun

I always say to my couples, ‘it might be awkward… for like the first two minutes! After that I promise we’ll have a blast!’ Seriously, we’ll be golden!

You might think you’re alone, but almost everyone says that they are nervous around a camera. Either because they think they’re too shy, too awkward or just plain goofy. I wrote this article about how to avoid awkward-looking photos to help you feel natural during your session.

I’ve had couples almost cry when they see image playback during the shoot, it’s really special to see.

engaged couples joyful engagement photo collage

Capturing spontaneous moments of joy and love while you’re relaxed and enjoying yourselves!

A few more tips for your engagement session!

  1. Leave cellphones safely in the car (i.e not visible), along with any other things you don’t need to have with you. I can also keep your items with me in my camera bag that is on my back at all times. I move around a lot when shooting, so the only place I can really stash your items is on my back!
  2. Be on time for the shoot. If you’re late, we may run out of light due to the shoot being arranged to end right at sunset. You won’t get the full 90-minute experience you have paid for.
  3. I love it when couples incorporate their dog into their engagement shoot, but it works best when we can do some pics without the distraction of having to keep an eye on your pet. Send the pooch to the car or have a friend pick him up.
  4. No other parties (apart from pets) will be photographed as part of your engagement shoot. If you want to do a shoot involving your kids, parents etc, we can but I will send you my info about family photography.

Pin this graphic to your engagement shoot planning board!

Your complete guide for how to prepare for your engagement shoot! From what to wear, to when to shoot, and what to consider when choosing a location, there are so many questions you probably have. Engagement photos are worth getting right, and preparation is key so that you can get the most out of your engagement photography experience. Looking for a San Francisco Bay Area engagement photographer? Let's chat! #engagementphotography #gettingmarried #engagementinspiration | Zoe Larkin Photography


That’s about it, folks! Thanks for reading. If you are here because you’d like to book a shoot with me, please contact me!

engaged couple photography at sunset on ocean beach san francisco

Take me by the hand… there’s a bright future ahead

couple posing against a blank wall on their bay area engagement sho| the process of preparing for your engagement shoot with Zoe Larkin Photography

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How to prepare for your engagement session!

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