Gone are the days of stiff engagement portraits taken in a cheesy studio with a canvas background a la Monica and Chandler of Friends. Now, newly-engaged couples are opting for romantic photoshoots in scenic locations, from manicured gardens and rustic farms to white sand beaches and iconic landmarks.
So, once bae pops the question, you might want to start thinking about the photo that will serve as the official announcement of your upcoming nuptials. Navigating the locations, outfits, and poses can all get a little overwhelming, so we called in a professional for advice.
Jof Panlaqui of Joffoto is a wedding photographer based in Leesburg whose work has been featured in various national and regional wedding blogs and magazines. Personally, I heard of Jof through a couple of lovely blogger friends, and after seeing his charming photos on Instagram, I knew I had to work with him. My fiancé got down on one knee in May, and we scheduled our session with Jof just a few weeks later. The results were stunning, thanks to Jof’s expert tips and his personal approach to photography.
Before our session, I picked Jof’s brain about everything from color palettes to timing. Here’s his advice on how to have the perfect engagement session.
Finding a photographer
It might surprise you to hear that Jof doesn’t say yes to every client who contacts him. He says the most important thing for couples to consider when hiring a photographer is finding someone who matches your vision for the photos. Start by deciding what style of shots you want—do you prefer dark and moody or bright and airy? Do you want to have your shoot indoors or outdoors? You’ll want to look for a photographer who has mastered the right style.
One of the best ways to look for your photographer is through social media. Browse the Instagram feeds of a few candidates to get an idea of how your photos might turn out. Look for consistency in the shots. Most of Jof’s clients have been following his work long before they reach out to schedule a session. “Those are the ones that I definitely love the most because they are genuine, they like me, they like my work,” he says.
Still, you can’t beat word-of-mouth. Ask your engaged friends for recommendations and see if their photographer might be a good fit for you. Be sure to read the reviews of each candidate to see what you can expect from a session. Your photos will turn out best if you’re truly comfortable with your photographer, so it’s important to find someone who puts you at ease. Jof always meets his clients face-to-face, either on Skype or in person, before booking a session.
Choosing a location
Next, it’s time to pick the backdrop for your shoot. Many couples wonder whether they should go for somewhere sentimental and meaningful or a photogenic location that will look great in photos. Jof says there are pros and cons to each.
When a client comes to him with a special location already in mind—perhaps the scene of a first date or a spot that has significance to the relationship—he’ll try to work his magic to make it look good. If it’s a gorgeous location, great! If it’s not the most picturesque of spots, it may be a good starting point take a few shots and then walk a few blocks to a different backdrop. Or, it could inspire a different, more scenic location that will set the scene better.
If the couple doesn’t have any preferences to start out, Jof likes to recommends picture-perfect venues that he has shot at before. This way, he already knows the best spots and he can predict how the light will move through the area to be ready for each shot.
It’s always a good idea to think about what you plan to do with the photos. You might want to include the photos on your save-the-dates or display them during the wedding. If that’s the case, consider coordinating a shoot that has a connection to your big day, whether it’s a common color scheme or a location that matches the venue.
When to schedule the session
The timing for your session is key to great photos. Jof has a masterful understanding of lighting, and he loves to shoot at sunrise or sunset. If you schedule a direct-sun photoshoot in the middle of the day, you’ll end up squinting and sweaty in your final photos.
What to wear
Outfits can make or break a session, so don’t be hasty in your decision! Jof provides a detailed—and top secret—style guide for his clients, but he shared a few highlights with us.
He’s in favor of dressing to the nines for your session. “It’s a celebration, let’s make it a celebration,” he says. The end results will look more polished and eye-catching, which is great if you want these photos to be front and center for your nuptials. That being said, he does ask couples to bring two outfits—one formal and one casual. This ensures that you have variety and versatility in the end result.
For both the formal and casual outfits, Jof recommends opting for subtle, muted colors without prints. This will keep the focus on you and your fiancé, rather than your flashy threads. The looks should also complement one another, but they don’t need to match exactly. Ask your photographer if he or she has specific tips on outfits. Since Jof takes a hands-on approach to his sessions, he loves it when couples send him photos of the outfits beforehand to ask for advice.
Hair, makeup, accessories, the ring, nails, and props
Now for the details! While it’s up to each bride, Jof loves it when his clients get their hair and makeup professionally done. It takes the pressure out of getting ready for the session, and it gives you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera. Be sure you’re comfortable with your stylist so that you end up with a look that enhances your natural beauty, rather than glamming you up so you’re unrecognizable. Most photographers will be able to recommend stylists that they love working with for engagement sessions and weddings.
When choosing accessories, keep things simple. Ladies, go for one or two accessories that complement your outfit, rather than piling on your whole jewelry box. Guys, consider how your belts, ties, pocket squares, fun socks, tie clips, suspenders, and watches will look with your suit. You may even want to bring a few different combinations to switch it up during the session.
Of course, the most important accessory is the ring! Jof reminds his brides to polish the rock before the session so that it sparkles for those ring shots. Also, get your nails done, because your hands will be on display.
When it comes to props, Jof could take them or leave them. “They’re not really needed,” he says. Your outfit, your ring, and your location are the stars of the session, so props just tend to get in the way. That being said, if you have a really special item that you really want to include in a few shots, Jof is always willing to accommodate.
Posing and more
Since most of us are not runway models, doing a professional photoshoot may not come naturally. That’s completely okay! A great photographer will be able to bring out the best in you so that you look natural and happy in your photos. This means you should trust your photographer during the shoot. You’ve done the legwork to pick someone you love, so let them guide you. Something that feels awkward to you might look great on camera, so be open to trying poses your photographer suggests.
During sessions with Jof, he gives off the energy he wants to come across in his photos, so he might be jumping up and down or cracking jokes to make you laugh, or he’ll be a fly on the wall when he wants to capture a quiet moment between the two of you. “It’s not just taking the pictures, it’s making your clients comfortable,” he says.
If he feels the couple stiffening up during the session, he likes to break things up by asking them to shake it out. He’ll even go as far as posing himself to show clients how it’s done.
Avoiding Chandler Bing syndrome
Not to feed into stereotypes, but often the bride is the one who is spearheading the engagement session, and therefore most excited about the whole ordeal. If the groom is a little reluctant or uncomfortable, there are a few things you can do to put him at ease.
Jof recommends taking the time to explain why this session is important to you. Tell him what you’d like to use the photos for. Show him some of your photographer’s work and share why you love it. Include him in the meet and greet before the session so he can get to know the photographer. During the session, rely on laughter and playfulness to bring out your true selves and avoid the cringe-worthy forced smiles.
Communicating with your photographer
Your photographer will have plenty of ideas for your session, but if you love a specific pose or shot, don’t be afraid to share that! Jof is open to his couples sending photos of poses to try to replicate during the session. Ask your photographer if you can do the same.
Leading up to your session and during the shoot, you should feel comfortable communicating with your photographer. Ask questions and make suggestions, but also be sure to respect the creative integrity of the person you hire. Ultimately, they are the professional, so trust them to pull off the photoshoot of your dreams!
Have a blast!
At the end of the day, remember that this session is all about sharing your love with the world! It’s important to be prepared, but don’t get too caught up in all the details. Just be yourselves during the session. As Jof says, “Your future marriage is the most important thing to me, and I want your engagement session to be a time for you to just be yourselves and enjoy it. Have fun together. Laugh a lot. And I’ll take care of the rest!”
If you'd like to work with Jof or learn more about his photography, contact him via his website!
Stay tuned for the next Tie the Knot Tuesday to see all the gorgeous photos from our engagement session with Jof!