Prepare for your engagement session!

April 11, 2018
napa valley engagement photography shoot with tiny people under large tree

So… you’re engaged?! Congrats!


Being engaged is a wonderful time in your life. You don’t get to say ‘my fiance…..’ for very long, so enjoy it! Engagement photoshoots are a great opportunity to capture unhurried, beautiful images of the two of you while you anticipate the next exciting chapter of your story. For most couples, it’s their first time being photographed by a professional, so it also counts as valuable experience getting comfortable in front of the lens and trusting your photographer!

While we’ll be talking mostly about engagement photoshoots in this article, the same advice generally applies for love shoots, maternity shoots and anniversary shoots.

Our engagement shoots last 1.5 hours, which is plenty of time to get creative, find best light, play, laugh, joke and be yourselves joyfully without having to worry about a THING! We find that working in a way that isn’t rushed leads to the most relaxed, spontaneous, joy-filled images.

I wanted to give you the full lowdown before you book, and if there’s anything that’s not addressed here please get in touch.

So without further ado, here’s how the whole thing works. You’re engaged, you find me and you’re interested in taking things further. What happens next?

oakland couple in fun engagement photography session by lake merritt
Have fun and be yourselves!

The full lowdown… in brief.

  1. You like what you see (why, thank you very much) and have already checked out our pricing information.
  2. You get in touch, we arrange a phone call or informal meeting to see how we click.
  3. You decide you’d like to go ahead, then great! We will pin down a date, time and location for the photoshoot.
  4. Once we have this information we will send you our contract and invoice. You sign online and pay the amount due before the shoot.
  5. We shoot! And have a blast!
  6. You’ll receive at least 40 fully edited, downloadable images, delivered in a sleek online gallery within about 4 weeks (2 -3 usually). 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.

Everything you need to know.



Engagement photoshoots are available on weekday evenings and span the ninety minutes leading up to sunset. There may be more leeway in the winter months however so keep this as a general rule of thumb. The reason for this is to avoid possible harsh light/ shadow contrast that may be more apparent during the middle of the day.

As regards how far out to book, that is totally up to you. The average is 2 months. If there’s a special date you’d like, do try to get in touch ASAP. I try to accommodate last minute bookings schedule-permitting, but bear in mind you will need to complete the contract and pay the fee in full before shoot day!

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


Because of my generous time allowance, two locations are totally 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, this is 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, so shouldn’t be more than 20 minutes’ drive, so we maximize the shooting time.


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

Some couples opt for an outfit change, usually something dressier vs a more everyday outfit. I love outfit changes because you get to showcase different aspects of your style and look. Something classic is a great choice, but if you’re more into edgier fashion then let’s run with that! It’s fun to think creatively – Dressing up? Cultural outfits? Coordinating outfits? (Notice: coordinating, not matching!)

My personal preference is bold colors in simple styles without too much pattern which can be distracting. Also avoid printed words and logos on your clothing, as the eye is drawn there and these kinds of items date quickly.

Did I mention I have a thing for light, pale, pastel colors too. 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 without much definition, and it looks very flat.

You might also want to avoid shirts/ dresses with a small repeating pattern such as checks or stripes. This can cause a visual effect known as moire, which isn’t the nicest.

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 hair stylist see to you looking your best before we shoot. I can give you recommendations if this is something you’d like help with. You can definitely go bolder than you would normally with color and coverage, as this looks great on camera. And bold eyelashes, please, if that’s your jam!!

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 (Instagram), San Lorenzo, CA

Props & planning

Some couples opt to have particularly important objects be 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 to your story. Matching tattoos… I love. If you have a particularly elaborate idea for a shoot please let me know so we can plan this together. My own style tends to veer away from anything too cutesy, like ‘his and hers’ or ‘happily ever after’. I’m basically allergic to anything cheesy. Sorry. Likewise if I suggest something during planning that you aren’t comfortable with, just say no, kids.

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 to many couples is their engagement ring which I photograph carefully with my macro lens which is specially made for capturing small things! 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, sans wear and tear.

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!’ The people I work with 99% of the time have never had professional photographs taken. You might think you’re alone, but almost everyone says that they are worried they will pull their silly camera face, or that they will freeze in front of a camera. Once we get those first two minutes out of the way, we’ll be golden! Seriously, I work with people just like you all the time and I will act sillier than you and do everything I can to take away those initial nerves. I also regularly show you what I’m capturing on the back of my camera so you can see for yourself you’re in good hands! I’ve had couples almost cry when they see image playback during the shoot. In a good way, natch!

engaged couples joyful engagement photo collage
Capturing spontaneous moments of joy and love while you’re relaxed and enjoying yourselves!

A few more miscellaneous tips.


  1. Leave that cellphone in the car, along with any other things you don’t really, really need. We will be skipping along lots of locations and there’s nothing worse than unsightly pocket bulges (ahem) and bags that we cart around, only to have to hide them behind a rock every few minutes so they aren’t in the frame. 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. Unfortunately if you’re late, we may run out of light due to the way the timing has been arranged to end right at sunset. You won’t get the full 90-minute experience that you’ve paid for and deserve!
  3. I love it when couples incorporate their dog into their engagement shoot, but to have Fido there for the whole shoot may be a little distracting. Let’s do some pics with your furry friend, then send pooch back to the car. No other parties (apart from pets) will be photographed as part of the shoot.

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


All images and words © Zoe Larkin Photography 2018