Why you should absolutely do engagement photos if they’re included in your wedding package

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Jill & Kevin 01
It's also an awesome excuse to practice your wizard duels. Photo by Wild About You Photography.

I didn't think we wanted engagement photos. My partner hates being the center of attention and has requested we try to find a wedding photographer who won't act like paparazzi. But a lot of the photographers I'm seeing have packages that include an engagement session.

I don't think we want to do them, even if they're free. What do people even use them for? Is there any reason to do them? -spacadet

So here's something weird about free engagement shoots: they're really not about the photos that are produced or what you do with them. They're about practicing.

Photographers who are smart often include free engagement sessions for their wedding photographer clients, because the “need to practice” issue is hugely important for both the photographer AND the couple! The couple needs to get comfortable both with being photographed and with the photographer… and the photographer needs to get comfortable with the couple's personalities, styles, and quirks.

This is especially true if your partner is camera shy. Those of us who hate being photographed can get really awkward around cameras, and are prone to doing things like always making the same terrified/frozen smile every time the shutter snaps. A good photographer will work to get both of you comfortable, and look for ways to make you relax and settle in so that they can capture more natural, honest expressions.

As for what people do with engagement photos, here are a few of the most common uses:

That said, even if you literally NEVER look at the engagement photos, the huge value of a trial run for both you and the photographer makes them completely worth your time. While I'd never suggest anyone feel like they need to pay extra for an engagement session, smart photographers include them in a wedding package — and smart couples take them up on the offer.

Oh, and if part of why you're hesitant to do them is because you think engagement shoots are all about contrived lovey-dovey poses, here are a few of our favorite engagement shoot concepts that we've collected in our Engagement Shoot Inspiration Pinterest board.

Hesitant about doing an engagement shoot?

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Comments on Why you should absolutely do engagement photos if they’re included in your wedding package

  1. I think engagement session photos are way cooler than wedding photos. No matter how you your wedding garb may be, the photos will always be photos from your wedding. I feel like engagement photos show off just a little bit more of you. They feel like glimpses at your everyday selves. I’m continually wishing I had more really nice, professional shots of myself, my partner and the two of us together. ’cause remember–just because it’s an engagement session doesn’t mean every photo needs to be of you both.

  2. I want to echo the “getting to know each other” aspect of the engagement session. When we had ours, the only thing we had to go off of was the impression we got as we were hiring our photographer. After the engagement session, we knew we had made the right choice.

    I also HATE my photo being taken, to the point that I am always the one behind the lens instead of in front of it. Getting used to be “papparazzoed” is definitely good for me as it allowed me to get the training wheels off before the wedding comes (in September). It also allowed me to see what kind of work would be produced from picture of us, rather than extrapolating what they could look like based off of other people’s photos.

    We also used one of our photos for our Save the Date magnets, which was an added bonus.

  3. I’m marrying into a family with an 11 year old with Asperger’s. It was important to help him and his older brother to feel comfortable with our photographer and it’s a big reassurance knowing that we all have a good rapport with her. Well, now all the guys (and the gal) are in a better position to cope with the big day. I now feel like our photographer is on my team to help me get through the day. Yeah, we got some really great photos too.

  4. Our photographer actually uses engagement photos as a chance to experiment with techniques. He is crazy busy with clients so engagement photos are his time to play around a bit too. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a total pro and our engagement photos look awesome. But he is still able to be more flexible and risky doing engagement shoots than wedding shoots and if he tries out a new technique and it bombs, he hasn’t just ruined your wedding photos.

  5. You’re totally on the money, Ariel! I gave a similar tip in my wedding submission. My husband and I recently got married, and though he isn’t camera-shy, he spends more time behind the camera than in front of it. We were completely surprised that he was stiff and awkward during our wedding-day portraits. Perhaps an engagement shoot with our photographer would’ve brought his self-consciousness to light and he could’ve practiced ways to be more relaxed. We also realized afterward that we should’ve practiced kissing for the camera! Oh well. Live and learn.

  6. Oh yes, I wish we had. We figured we were already engaged and so moved our engagement photo set to be a trash the dress. That was a mistake.

    Instead, after the wedding, we could not get her to call us back. We ended up finally getting the shoot almost a full year later as an anniversary shoot (not in the dress). The work was hastily and poorly done, because the photographer was just no longer interested in impressing us.

    Our photographer was nervous and awkward about my very mainstream, but not Christian religion, probably not a good fit for us. We would have learned that in time if we’d done the engagement photo shoot before the wedding. Had we had a practice we could have either replaced her, or helped her get more comfortable with who we are.

  7. Ahhhh I have so many emotions about engagement photos. Part of me really really wants them because I am a huge photo/scrapbook person and so more photos = more better in my opinion, but on the other hand I know my fiance is less than excited about the idea. Plus I’m conflicted about who should shoot the engagement session – I have a friend who is photographer who has very kindly offered to do them, but she won’t be shooting our wedding (I want her to be a guest and enjoy herself, not be working). Should I book a second engagement shoot with our wedding photographer? I’m worried that is getting a little close to crazy territory, but I also really like this idea of engagement shoots as “practice” for the wedding. I’m also worried booking a second shoot will hurt my friend’s feelings since she is just starting out – I don’t want her to think her photos aren’t “real” engagement photos. #overthinking

    • Would it be possible to do one session with your friend and then another session with your wedding photographer? If you have time, there’s no such thing as too much practice, esp. if your fiance isn’t really into it. And working with your actual wedding photographer beforehand will allow you all to get comfortable with each other. Being comfortable usually means more natural photos!

    • I would really recommend that you get them because your fiance is less than thrilled. My husband hates to be the center of attention. He does not like to have his picture taken, and he did not want to have his picture taken at the wedding let alone have an engagement shoot. In the end, it worked out so well that we did the shoot before the wedding. I can’t really call it an engagement shoot because we did it a year after the engagement and only three weeks before the wedding. We learned a lot about the photographer at that shoot, and he learned about us. We did a lot of funny pictures and just had fun with it. It would be good for you to have a practice shoot with the photographer, call it whatever you want. (I was able to get the photographer to give it to me for free because I bought a package with photography and video.) You can always use your friend for the “official” engagement shoot.

  8. Here’s another endorsement for this article, and I’ll add to the list of reasons why (because I also agree with the getting-comfortable bit). I was nervous for the engagement photo session, but to be honest, I think I remember it more fondly than the wedding photo experience. The day flies by and you’re flying around everywhere and getting pulled in 17 directions, so even the time we posed for some pictures at the wedding, I felt like it was a weird break from our reception and that we should get back to all our awesome guests from out of country. Not the ‘special moment’ by any means.

    As for the engagement shoot, we decided to do it at our venue because it’s in a park and we figured we’d have to plan a route to get over this big hill and craggy rocks to do the shoot by the lake. It was a cool spring day and we were in jeans, and super comfortable. After the first few pictures, we realized that it was really ‘just us’ – and the pictures show it. Our photographer had a suggestion that I should be on his right side so that my ring would show off in the pictures, which I thought was kind of dumb (hello, I see it every day, duh). Instead, my husband grabbed my hand, pulled it around his head so that I was mauling his face with my ring visible to the camera, and we burst into laughter: that was the best picture of our whole series, engagement and wedding combined: truly us, being us. So…long story short: DO IT!

  9. Glad to see more of these educational posts going viral- much needed for both B&G and the industry in general! Awesome post & photos selected!

  10. I 100% agree with this! We weren’t really considering doing engagement portraits, but our photographer includes one ‘other’ photo session with his basic package and I for sure didn’t want a bridal or boudoir session. We LOVED getting to know our photographer a little better and I really needed the chance to get comfortable behind the camera. Plus, seeing the gorgeous pictures helped reiterate the fact that he’s amazing and we are totally thrilled with hiring him for our wedding.

    The pictures (in cheap but nice frames) made awesome no-brainer low cost holiday gifts and we made a book from the photos to use as our guest book. We also used one of the pictures as our save the date postcard. Bonus, I finally have plethora of non-camera phone selfies of the two of us!

    • Yes! After getting engaged and looking through our photos I realized that 99% of the pictures of us are iPhone selfies, mostly holding alcoholic beverages while making goofy faces. Probably not save the date worthy…

  11. The engagement session was free with a booked wedding with the photographer that we chose. And honestly, we REALLY wanted to do one. And then we got super busy. And then I totally forgot to even book the engagement session. It was the wedding before I knew it and we hadn’t done it. Soooo bummed. It definitely would have been nice to practice getting professional pictures taken because it definitely felt weird for me when we were doing portraits. Fortunately, our photographer was really easy going, and we got some great, not-entirely-awkward pictures. But I really wanted professional photos of us that aren’t in our wedding outfits. Our wedding pictures are the only professional photos we have together! I think engagements photos are awesome because you have these really great quality pictures that capture every day you, instead of wedding day you. I’m definitely planning to get pro pictures taken of us soon, when we can afford it. But damn, I wish I had used my freebie!

  12. I have scheduled our engagement shoot the same day as the trial-run of my hair and makeup! Birds! Stones! The excitement of not having to primp and prep myself for a photoshoot! All around wins, if you ask me.

  13. I can definitely vouch for this. Our photographer wanted to do an engagement session, and we were like…”No. What would we use them for? We don’t want to pay for that.” Our photographer was so insistent though, that he gave it to us for free/included in our package. So we decided to do it…more like a “might as well since it’s included now”. And we were so happy we did. Here’s what we got out of our engagement session:

    – Practice!! We learned how to interact with our photographer, and he with us. We learned how to not be so awkward and posed. And when our wedding day came…we were much more prepared and were able to help everyone else who wasn’t used to the photographer adapt. I learned how to smile without being awkward!

    – Cool photos to use later for whatever. What did we use these photos for? Well, we’ll be putting them in with our wedding album for starters. They were also a part of our slideshow on our Honeyfund. Plus, when family members asked for a nice picture of us…we just get one from our engagement session. We’ll probably get a couple printed with our wedding photos to display in our house too.

    Anyways, if it’s included in your package…just do it!

  14. Can’t recommend engagement sessions enough! If you can, do them even if they are not included in the package. It makes such a difference feeling comfortable with your photographer and having some practice before your big day. You want to remember this day forever and look your best, not remember how awkward you felt being the center of attention!

    • One more argument for engagement photos:
      My friends had a photo guest book instead of just a blank book with lines to sign on, it was a whole photobook with lines interspersed with images and quotes and stuff. It was massively personal and something I can imagine curling up on the couch and revisting every anniversary, as compared to the traditional kind.

      OK one more argument: if you have a photographer friend who you don’t want to hire for your wedding (you want them to have fun as your guest), it’s a fun way to play with them and throw them some business.

  15. I couldn’t agree more! My fiance is extremely camera shy especially with PDA, so I knew we needed a chance to practice. Here’s what worked for us…
    We included my fiance’s daughter in the pictures so it was more of a family session.
    I let the photographer know how uncomfortable my fiance is, so she came armed with some activities that she could take pictures of us doing (just little funny things that helped us forget about the camera). She also was super quick and only took a couple of lovey poses.
    We didn’t worry too much about clothes. Or at least, I didn’t make my fiance worry about his clothes. He chose what to wear out of things he already owned (he hates shopping) and I picked out my outfit accordingly. That way, he was in charge of the tone of the session, which made him feel more comfortable.
    The more you communicate with your photographer, the better!

  16. We actually liked our engagement photos better than our wedding photos (no insult to our photographer–she was great). Our engagement photos are more relaxed, more natural, and more reflective of our everyday life (you know, when we don’t frolic through the woods in a white dress and tux). We were nervous but had so much that I’d love to do an anniversary shoot every few years just because.

    The engagement shoot also let us get a different photo setting. We got married at a park, so we chose an engagement-shoot location with more of an urban vibe.

  17. Just to provide the other side of the question, we actually negotiated the engagement shoot out of our photography session and saved a few hundred dollars.

  18. THIS THIS THIS!! Let me recommend this infinity +1

    I also HATE having my picture taking – mostly because I don’t feel like I’m photogenic. But our photographer insisted on a “get to know you” thinger and the result was amazing. The photographers got a feel for me, and what kinds of pictures I like, dislike, and the kinds of feedback I’m able to respond to. So he learned quickly that teasing my fiance and being 100% no jokes with me got the results that my fiance and I wanted.

    The pictures turned out way better then I had hoped!! And those great pictures really boosted my confidence, and made me feel less nervous at the wedding. And I LOVED my wedding pictures, they felt so natural and fun and in the end I was really glad I had agreed to the get to know you thinger…for me it was completely worth it

  19. Engagement shoots are so important as they take away the fear of the unknown. People who have one are always way more relaxed about being photographed on their wedding day. Do it. DO IT!

    And they can be really good fun too. On the day of the wedding things are always a bit rushed so you have more time to be creative at the e shoot.

  20. Um, wow! I’m the original question-asker. I didn’t realize a post had grown up around my questions.
    We didn’t end up having the engagement shoot because we live two states away from our wedding photographer and had a short engagement and small guest list (ie. no need for save the dates).
    We did interview three photographers to get the right fit, and just got our sneak peek back from our wedding last weekend. She did a GREAT job and we are thrilled. So for those of you who can’t afford engagement shots or think you won’t need them… you might not! And your wedding pix might come out as beautifully as ours did!

  21. As a wedding photographer, I offer complimentary engagement photo sessions in all of my wedding photo packages because, yes, I want to photograph the couple before the big day to see their quirks and what I have to deal with on the big day. It also helps us to get to know each other better as well as I will ACTUALLY recognize the bride and groom when I see them on the big day. For a few years I was not offering engagement photos, so the only time I would see the couple would be months to a year before the wedding day, so the only way I knew the bride was because she had the wedding dress on (but sometime she didn’t actually have it on yet, so I had no clue who she was in a sea of bridesmaids.) The same could be said of the groom–even if he’s wearing his tuxedo since the guys usually end up wearing the same thing anyway.

    Also, most of my couples end up using some of their engagement photos to put on display at their wedding reception. 🙂

  22. Our photographer made our sign-in book from our engagement photos. I wouldn’t know what else to do with them, but it was fun to be able to display them at the wedding in a useful way. Everyone could look at them if they wanted to (many people came and went out to where the book was to look at them), and we got a number of comments in the book about the wedding, the pictures, etc. I thought it was a great use for them. They also helped us get comfortable with the photographers (we had the two primary photographers for our engagement session… that way we were comfortable with either of them who might end up doing our day photography).

  23. Yes, yes, yes! Totally agree..
    1. They’re fun.
    2. They can be combined with a recce of your venue or similar.
    3. You realise that there aren’t going to be cheesy shots on your wedding day.
    4. You can use them for all sorts – stationery, signing mounts, guest books – so much more.
    5. Couples are noticeably more relaxed, much earlier on the day. This makes for even more super-duper photos 🙂

  24. I did engagement photos and strongly recommend them. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, I got a chance to train my photographer on photo angles I don’t like (as a plus size woman, I HATE side shots of me) and help him see ones I do. In addition to the cute and sweet ones, I had him do one I could use for my Linked In profile pic that was professional. I used that pic for 8 years until I had my photographer take pictures for my sister’s birthday and had him take a new professional picture.

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