Just say no to the clichéd entangled-in-a-wheat-field opp.
All right, guys—Instagram feeds at the ready. It’s time for a little engagement-photo bingo.
1. A close-up of someone holding a coffee mug, hand contorted so that her princess cut is in full view.
2. A couple kissing on a balcony in front of a skyline or lake or ocean or cliff (a view of any kind will do, really).
3. A couple standing in the snow wrapped in a Pendleton blanket.
4. “I said yes” or “I put a ring on it” or “future Mrs. Witherbottom” scrawled on a chalkboard/Starbucks cup/makeshift sign.
5. A close-up of hands held in front of a bunch of trees.
6. An uncomfortable dude in suspenders and a girl in a white lacy dress at golden hour, all “Oh, I just plucked this flower crown off a nearby weigela shrub.”
Do we rest our case? It’s almost a cliché to talk about how cliché engagement photos are. So we asked a couple of photographers who’ve mastered the art of the natural, not-a-Scrabble-tile-in-sight engagement photo to give us (and maybe a couple of our cousins) some advice.
Pinterest, suburbia, Bachelor producers: Take notes.
DO: Take a documentary-style approach.
“Having something to do helps to break away from stiff and overly posed images,” says Heather Waraksa, a wedding and portraiture photographer whose shots have been featured in Vogue and New York magazine. “One of my favorite engagement sessions was photographing [a couple] who were avid surfers. We spent the day in Montauk on the beach surfing, hit up their favorite taco spot, and caught the sunset.”
Or, if you have a trip planned, have a photographer shadow you for a day—gorgeous travelogue and non-corny engagement photos all in one go.
DON’T: Bring props.*
As much as we all can’t get enough of save-the-date chalkboards, living rooms inexplicably set up in fields, and custom Mr. and Mrs. mugs, this isn’t show-and-tell-everyone-you-got-an-Etsy-account. “I don’t think overly stylized shoots age well,” says Waraksa. “Keep it simple and leave the furniture in the house.”
*There are exceptions to this rule, like Samoyed puppies. Always add Samoyed puppies.
DO: Your homework.
Meet with your photographer beforehand and see how well you vibe—it’s all well and good to choose someone based on the number of Hadid sisters they’ve shot, but you and your partner need to feel totally comfortable on shoot day.
“I’m at my best when I’m not interfering or directing too much,” says Max Wanger, who recently shot Troian Bellisario and Patrick Adams’ camp-themed wedding. “When [the couple is] able to be themselves and feel like they aren’t posing for the camera, the most authentic and beautiful moments happen.”
DO: Pick a location that means something to you.
Whether it’s your first date spot, your family cottage, the café where you spend every Saturday morning, choose a location based on the role it plays in you and your fiancé(e)’s story, not how many refurbished barns are on the property.
“Don’t feel like you have to go the obvious route,” says Waraksa. “We all love Central Park, but I love choosing locations that resonate with the couple. When there is history to the locations you pick, stories and feeling come out in the photos.”
DON’T: Lie in a field of wheat.
Unless you are a wheat farmer or diehard gluten advocate, there is no reason for you and your betrothed to entangle yourselves in such a place. GTFO of the field.
DO: Embrace the abstract.
Look for a photographer that takes photos you want to hang on your wall, not just make your profile picture.
“The thing with engagement photography—which I really didn’t understand when I first started doing this—is to try to deliver an image that’s more like art than anything you might ordinarily expect,” says Wanger. “When I’m able to play with negative space, it gives me the ability to compose an image so it feels more abstract, interesting, and unexpected.”
DON’T: Upload an album of 117 photos of your chin nestled in your fiancé’s neck crevice.
We know, we know—you spent good coin on those shots, and you’d like all 812 of your camp friends, former group project members, and decade-old exes (NOT THAT YOU CARE THOUGH, RIGHT?) to see every incremental change in your wistful, future-gazing smize.
Remember, for every thrilled family member, there are five salty Facebook “friends” waiting to judge the shit out of your sunset piggy-back ride. Less is more. Pick your favorite(s), and save the rest for Mom’s slideshow.