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! 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, maternity shoots and anniversary shoots. I wanted to give you the full lowdown before you book.

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 informative pricing guide.
  2. Next we’ll arrange a phone call or informal meeting to get to know each other.
  3. We will pin down a date, time and location for the photoshoot. Just let me know what days you can do.
  4. I’ll send you the contract and invoice to lock it in. Everything’s done online and is done before the shoot.
  5. Within a month of the shoot you’ll receive at least 50 fully edited, downloadable images – basically all the keepers! 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


My engagement shoots 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 totally 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 utilizing the ninety minutes leading up to sunset. If you want to start a little before that, that might be advisable if we’re in an area where the sunset is earlier due to tall buildings or mountains. But generally somewhere in the last 3 hours of light is preferable.

Alternatively, sunrise shoots are also a great idea for spots that are typically too crowded by sunset time.

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 with my family.

There may be more leeway in the winter months however, if you can only do weekends. I like to be flexible to suit your schedule.

Also with the winter months, it may be totally fine to shoot any time of the day as the sun is not super strong (and it may be overcast or have even light all day long).

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 sooner rather than later.

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  Best engagement photo locations in San Francisco

Some general advice:

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 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.

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 doll you up to look your best before we shoot.

I can give you recommendations 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 should definitely 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. 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 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!

I photograph your ring(s) carefully with my macro lens which is specially made for capturing small things.

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.

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!

The people I work with are not models.

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 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 tips for your engagement session!

  1. Leave cellphones in the car, 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 deserve!
  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 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 or your parents, 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

How to prepare for your engagement session!

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