Get the picture

Photographers talk about how to get the perfect engagement photos

Benedickt and her fiance, Nate, posed for their engagement photos at  he beach where he proposed.

Taylor Benedickt and her fiance, Nate, posed for their engagement photos at  he beach where he proposed.

courtesy/Taylor Kern

Anyone who uses social media has probably noticed a specific type of post standing out between the car selfies and eerily specific advertisements—the adventure engagement photo. Instead of the usual prom-photo poses or unflattering camera flash, your friends are suddenly bathed in magical light, looking very much in love, surrounded by a stunning mountain/forest/ocean backdrop.

Professional engagement photos can be as elaborate as a West Coast roadtrip or as simple as a backyard stroll. However, couples hoping to have the perfect pics should know what goes into making them happen.

“Documenting this part of me and my fiancé’s life was important to me—and doing it in a way that spoke to our relationship,” said Taylor Benedickt, who had her engagement photos taken in September. “So, like, I could go to Tahoe and take pictures where there’s a pretty background, but, to me, telling the story of who we are in this moment of our lives is important.”

Benedickt, who is herself a wedding photographer, knew that she wanted her photos taken somewhere that had a meaningful connection to her relationship, so she chose the coastal town of Brookings, Oregon, for her backdrop—the same place her fiancé, Nate, had proposed to her a few months earlier.

“Choosing the location was important for me,” Benedickt said. “Choosing what we wore, what we were doing, like, I wasn’t going to make a big deal of something that [wasn’t important]. And that kind of goes back to what I promote to my clients as well, is that, you know, be yourself and show your authentic self.”

Rather than opting for an elaborate shoot, Benedickt hired Taylor Kern, another local photographer whose work she was familiar with, as both her engagement and wedding photographer. Kern followed her and Nate to Brookings, where they hiked down to the beach and took photos until well past dark. Benedickt saw the value of the trip as another way to make memories with her fiancé and her wedding photographer, instead of just paying for pretty pictures.

“It was worth it for the memories we got for the photos, and also just connecting with Taylor,” Benedickt said. “She is going to be capturing, like, one of the biggest days of our life. Being able to have those experiences where, you know, she saw the funny moments or vulnerable moments, it brought us closer, and it makes me want to trust her more to capture that important day of ours.”

Benedickt said having a personal connection both with her photographer and with her own clients is important. In the sea of competition for wedding vendors in Reno, the last thing she wanted was an impersonal experience motivated by the bottom line.

“When you’re choosing someone, you’re looking at their work and what they offer, but you’re also looking at their personality, because personality is what’s going to set you apart and your product apart,” Benedickt said. “Personalities don’t always go well together, and that could be a big problem on your wedding day, especially with a photographer, because they’re the person you’re going to spend the most time with during your day.”

Making things click

Kern, who has been photographing couples and weddings for the past three years, also agrees that making a personal connection with her clients is a must—you could say she only works with people she considers her friends. Feeling mutually comfortable with her clients, Kern said, is as important to the final product as technique, so couples should prepare for a potentially intimate interview process.

“We schedule our shoots five months to six months out, sometimes, and then we start prepping it about four weeks prior,” Kern said. “And so, I just start asking them like, ’What’s your vision? What would explain you? Like, does your fiancé like motorcycles? Do you guys like hot springs? What kind of people are you?’”

Even though she is informal with her couples, often bringing beer and firewood along to shoots, getting the right shots on a specific day in a specific place requires a game plan. Still, she said, a little spontaneity can make for better photos—and more fun.

“Sometimes I’m just like, ’Oh, this is a really pretty area, let’s pull off here,’ and that’s kind of what makes it more adventurous,” Kern said. “And I really read my couples and see if they’re the type of people that like to do that, because some people are very much the planners, and they need an exact place where we’re going at all times.”

Most of Kern’s clients find her through Instagram, she said. The platform is vital to her business as it’s the only form of marketing she has invested in, and many of her clients come to her with a specific idea they have from their feed. Most requests revolve around a feeling of authenticity, as opposed to the formal poses and generic settings of traditional wedding aesthetics.

“I feel like engagement photos in the past have been in studios or just, like, the idea behind them was not who their relationship was,” Kern said. “I think that now it has broadened … and you could do that with just you two and your home that you just moved into that’s really special to you, or to tell a story behind your engagement photos.”

Picture perfect

Social media is prone to exaggeration, though. Jeramie Lu, a commercial and wedding photographer and owner of Hatch Studio, said that sometimes the happy couple can look a little too perfect—and they very well might be.

“The other biggest thing that couples need to realize is that not all photos posted on Instagram are from real weddings or engagements,” Lu said. “They’re called ’styled shoots’ that are super popular right now, and I hate them.”

Lu said that certain photos couples find online could be more for the photographer’s benefit in terms of social media likes. They can set up unrealistic expectations of what a typical couple’s time and budget will allow for.

“Imagine taking a beautiful girl you know, and you know this beautiful guy, and they don’t even know each other,” Lu said. “You hire them. You guys go to Yosemite. You do an amazing engagement shoot because they’re professional models. You’ve got six hours to do the shoot. You’re waiting for the location to happen and you create this amazing shot, but then you throw them on your website, and all of a sudden you call these engagement or wedding shots.”

Styled shoots often use an entire team of off-camera vendors to produce a certain look, ironically making them the opposite of the authentic, minimalist experience most customers might have in mind.

“It’s kind of like reality TV compared to real life,” Lu said.

Choosing the right photographer and setting is important if Insta-worthy pics are on your engagement agenda, because the going rate for most photographers can be upwards of $500 an hour. Lu said choosing a photographer is not an area where you want to scrimp, however. If there’s a particular photographer’s style that ticks all the boxes, Lu said reaching out to him or her directly is worth the asking price.

“Just hire that photographer, even if it’s a little bit more, rather than trying to make somebody who doesn’t do that style mimic that style,” Lu said.