This engagement session reinterprets all those oh-so-familiar couple poses

Guest post by Marian Schembari
 | Photography by Malia Moss
trash can engagement photos alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
All photos by Malia Moss.

When my fiancé Elliot and I got engaged, we didn't have any plans to take engagement photos. But when we started our wedding research, we had a bit of a chuckle seeing the same series of photos again and again:

  1. Woman looking daintily up at her intended while he looks broodingly into the distance
  2. Couple holding hands in an awkward position so the shiny bling was obviously front and center
  3. Couple kissing on the beach with pre-wife lifting one leg and pointing her toes

…you get the picture.

barefoot male toes engagement photo alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

So, as a joke, we started talking about doing spoofs of these photos — some gender-swapped (how would Elliot look with his leg cocked while kissing me?), others just extreme takes on traditional photos (what if, instead of leading me gently down a grassy meadow path, Elliot was snapped dragging my body into the woods?).

Elliot and I started a Google doc for fun, highlighting our most ridiculous ideas. When my dear friend, Malia, saw the list, she insisted on taking the photos. She'd been a wedding and engagement photographer for 10 years and said she was tired of the familiar poses. So as our wedding gift, Malia followed us around San Francisco while we acted like idiots and Elliot posed as a traditional blushing bride. I don't think anyone has ever had more fun…

leaf bed engagement photos alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

engagement ring coffee cup alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

engagement photo reinterpretation alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

engagement ring on face alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

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Comments on This engagement session reinterprets all those oh-so-familiar couple poses

  1. The ring-on-coffee-cup is KILLING me, smalls. And I actually really like all the photos here – both “traditional” and your great spin. 😀

  2. I loved it. My husband is shorter than me so we have poses of him climbing into trees and standing on stuff just so he can give me a kiss. Also one in front of a time capsule with our newborn on top. :0

  3. This is single handedly the greatest set of engagement photos I have ever seen. I’ve been lurking on the site for about four years and was never moved to comment, but this? This deserves published admiration.

  4. The garbage can picture cracked me up. Typical engagement photos are SOOOOO cheesy!

  5. I love this! In my wedding planning stuff, the role of “bride” and how I’m “supposed” to act/be pictured/etc icks me (and often my fiance) out – hence why I love OBB. Nice way for this couple to turn it on its head!

  6. Your faces in the garbage can photo, OMG. And the one with your hand over his face! You two are awesome.

  7. LMAO! The trash can pic seriously made me laugh out loud. (And I woke the cat.) I’m thinking of playing with this idea for some wedding pictures, so I’ll have to post back if we do it. 😀 BRILLIANT!

  8. Hahahahh! I LOVE this! What a funny idea! I particularly love the one where he drags her on the floor…a fine exaggeration of the inspiration!

    • That’s one of my favorites too. Some people’s Pinterest comments on those photos really drive me nuts. One woman actually said, “I love the greater metaphor of the man leading the woman…”

      Someone hand me that trashcan so I can barf.

      • It works out well, then, that you visited one later 😉

        Love the photos so very much.

  9. Ahaha these are great. We did engagement photos about two and a half weeks ago–haven’t seen the photos yet since the photographer is slammed right now, but now I am NERVOUS they will come off cheesy. At the time I didn’t feel all that cheesy because he didn’t pose us much and let us mostly do what we wanted (though a few cheesy almost-kissing photos did get taken, can’t lie!) but now I feel like I missed a great opportunity! At least I got to wear exactly what I wanted (lots of black!) and leopard-print heels. The trash can and coffee cup photos had me laughing so hard.

  10. Hahaha. I used to live in a neighbourhood where a lot of couples would go to take their engagement photos. Always with the same poses. My now husband’s old apartment looked out onto an alleyway where couples would dirty their wedding garb to take their ‘edgy’ photos – by the dustbins.

    Was so tickled by this engagement shoot. The photos we’d witnessed put us off having any done but we’d have jumped at these. Btw, your fiancé makes a great ‘blushing bride’ ????.

  11. Love the gender swapping! I joked with my fiance that, rather than an egalitarian wedding, we should just swap everything to point out just how ridiculous some of it is. (Eg I wait at the altar, he’s escorted down the aisle to special music; “you may now kiss your groom”; “I now pronounce you woman and husband”) So this is right up my alley! (Even though we totally did cheesy posed engagement photos).

    Also particularly love the one of you covering his face.

  12. Certainly fun to do a twist on the classics, but there seems to be a bad habit in our culture of mocking and shaming people for doing things differently from us, instead of celebrating those differences — a form of reverse snobbery that creates ugliness where there need not be any.

    Offbeat Bride is a fabulous blog, but I’d gently suggest exercising caution about hurting traditional couples with the same judgement, ridicule and shame that non traditional couples are too often subjected to by mainstream wedding culture. Everyone’s preferences and traditions deserve respect — whether they’re mainstream, classic and tradition, or offbeat, alternative and counter culture.

    • I totally agree! Nothing wrong with wanting traditional photos or ceremony or whatever. In this particular instance, I like to think we were more providing “an alternative to” rather than “making fun of”. Plus, there’s something a little frustrating about wedding photography… We saw the same poses and themes over and over.

      We had never seen a satire done before so we just went out and had fun with it!

      • Marian, I would argue if you were attempting to merely provide “an alternative to” then you wouldn’t have juxtaposed your images with the originals. Your alternative engagement photos are unable to stand alone and have the same comedic effect.

        If you take away the original photos, your photos read as interesting / offbeat pictures of couples being silly and looking like they’re having fun. But instead, because you chose to show the original and your image making fun of the couples.
        Your images read as and attempt to be spiteful or shame couples who were just out to take some ,what they might have thought as, nice pictures.

        My hope is your wedding photos try and be creative and provide “an alternative to” without tearing down others.

        • Wow. I did some of these more traditional engagement photos in my engagement session, and I don’t feel “shamed” in any way by this post… mostly I just feel jealous. I wish I’d thought of this idea first!!

    • Faith, we have a long history of supporting couples all along the spectrum between traditional and offbeat, and I don’t see this post as snobby at all.

      In fact, I personally edited the post very consciously to ensure the original poses were NOT slammed or mocked — they’re referred to as “familiar,” nothing more. I think there’s room to put a playful spin on the ol’ favorites!

      • Ariel, if the original poses were NOT slammed or mocked, then they wouldn’t be shown next to poses slamming and mocking them….

        Try and keep it classy, off beat doesn’t have to be mean…unless it does then totally be mean.

        • Mike, it isn’t a “mockery” it’s “here was our inspiration photo” and then “this is our take on it with gender-bending”. I think you’re looking much too critically at this article. It is funny because the inspiration photos are ones that you see every single couple do, and their gender-bending takes it up a step.

          No one is asking you to like it, and you don’t have to, but it’s clear to me the post was not meant to be mean or rude or anything.

          I love tradition, but these photos are awesome, and I hope that when I do my engagement photos I can do something as cute and funny as these!

    • also, if a traditional person was to be offended by such things, they probably wouldn’t be roaming around this website anyway…

    • It really comes off as if the writer is mocking what are actually very nice poses/images. More so when their reinterpreted ones…I assumed were done on a tripod with a cheap camera…until Ire-read it and they mention their friend has been in the wedding business for years and took these…to my shock.

      I have done same sex engagement weddings where we have done some of these poses with two men and it came out beautifully….when done with someone who knows what they’re doing behind the camera and for those who want that look. But I don’t see anything wrong with having the originals for any couple.

      Sometimes I think rude people like this have no concept that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and should not be mocked for taste….more so when they obviously have none.

      • There was not a single negative thing said about the traditional pictures. Your comment was quite rude to the couple and the photographer – no reason for that!

  13. These are great! Some engagement photos are super cheesy, but I have to admit, I still want to take them whenever I find Mr. Right. I have to ask, where did you get those boots that you are wearing in the toes picture?! They are fabulous!

  14. This was truly hilarious- I particularly love the garbage can pose and the ring on the dirty coffee cup.

  15. The one with your hand over his face is my favorite. Love these! Looks like you guys had a blast taking them too 🙂

  16. I love unique engagement sessions and they make me happy as a photographer – but how is this post any different than sites/blogs that make fun of alternative engagements as being weird/tacky/etc? Different strokes for different folks, you know. Some of these make me cringe but I think most of them are fine. I have always admired Offbeat Bride as being a place that was open without having to put others point of views down and this post is not that. Also, IMO it’s not kosher there is no credit given to the original photographers – I guess since they’re being mocked it’s okay not to give credit but it’s still not cool. Sorry OBB – this is a post I’m not a fan of. Love you guys otherwise. 🙂

    • Hey Brandi! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, especially as a longtime reader.

      I consider myself pretty stringent about attribution, and in our editorial discussions about this post before publication, I decided that I was comfortable with the original photos being used since each image is only a portion of the final image collages. It feels like fair use, within the context of parody/satire. If any of the source image photographers have concerns about how the images have been used, they should absolutely email me.

      Sorry we missed the mark for you on this one — posts in our WTF category tend to be a bit more contentious than the rest of our content, but I stand behind having room on Offbeat Bride for some playfully opinionated stuff… even when they don’t always land quite right for some readers.

      • The fact that you’re admitting it’s satire makes it worse. You know that it’s making fun of other people and their photos – and you’re okay with that. I’m not used to seeing that kind of meanness on OBB. Bummer.

        • As if satire is always a bad thing?

          It is valuable to see the way that others perceive us and be able to see the humor in our own foibles (like a penchant for lovey-dovey photography [which I like a lot – some of the inspiration photos made me tear up] that others might find cloying). Honestly, this is a pretty darn Horatian satire:

          “Horatian satire, named for the Roman satirist Horace (65–8 BCE), playfully criticizes some social vice through gentle, mild, and light-hearted humour. It directs wit, exaggeration, and self-deprecating humour toward what it identifies as folly, rather than evil. Horatian satire’s sympathetic tone is common in modern society.”

          I mean, they’re making light of ENGAGEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY for heaven’s sake! It’s not like the issues at hand are serious life-and-death matters. Plus the author and editors went out of their way to make this as gentle a teasing as possible. Ease up a bit, people!

        • Satire or parody isn’t necessarily saying the original is bad. StarKid’s A Very Potter Musical and its sequels were obviously made by people who love Harry Potter. No one would bother making fan parodies like DM of the Rings or Darths and Droids if they weren’t fans of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars to begin with. Comics like Order of the Stick or Looking for Group would be impossible to write for someone who wasn’t completely immersed in Dungeons and Dragons and the like.

  17. I love the Trashcan pose best! It made me almost spray my coffee out of my mouth at work! You guys are seriously inspring, keep on being awesome!

  18. These are so brilliant! I started laughing out loud at the garbage can one and the hand in the face. But the toe one was the creme de la creme. I wish I was so inspired- I might have actually pursued engagement pictures! This is along the lines of the maternity pictures with the dude sporting his gut next to his wife. Fantastic!

  19. You look simply adorable Elliot!! Ha ha. Great Photoshoot. Looking forward to meeting you some day soon Marian.

  20. I love this idea!

    We did some of these pretty “traditional” poses at our wedding, and I wish we thought of this, it would have been fun.

    But, I still also really love my traditional, cheesy (so much cheese!) shots.

    If you can’t poke some fun at yourself once in a while, you are taking yourself too seriously!

  21. Love these!! I don’t think it’s intended to be mocking at all.

    For our photos, we interspersed pretty shots with dorky shots….like me giving him a headlock in a tree, us falling off a slide, and me lifting him off the ground over my back. Those are the ones that capture what we are actually like together more than “gaze longingly into each other’s eyes while dressed in our Sunday best”.

  22. If engagement photos are supposed to capture the personalities of the couple, I can’t imagine anything better than these.

  23. I love the one where the groom is just pointing to the ring. That’s awesome.

  24. This is magnificent. Seriously love it so much. My fiancé and I had a good laugh together 😀

  25. I think what I like most about these is that they clearly showcase your personalities while also showing (in some cases) a lovely backdrop. Most engagement pictures miss the point on that score; they wind up just being ‘generic couple in love’ because they lean on the typical or familiar. There isn’t anything wrong with this, but in pushing the norm, you have something that shows much more of who you are and what you’re about. And some gorgeous shots of the Golden Gate Bridge to boot. 🙂 Nicely done!

  26. this is absolutely fabulous!!!! what great humor!!!! Even with the gender twists they are great engagement photos and show a wonderfully fun and quirky aspect of life that too many couples are afraid to show. Well done!

  27. Ugggggh, I am so over people making fun of other people’s photos. Funny or not, it’s so mean spirited. I’m sure the people in those original photos don’t feel very good about having their images mocked. There are so many blogs now that exist to make fun of people’s photos or weddings. It’s not nice, and I’m disappointed to see OBB supporting it and glamorizing it.

    If these people want to do an untraditional session, then more power to them for thinking outside the box. But posting other people’s photos to mock them is over the line, IMO.

    • I don’t believe this is mean spirited or mocking. No one criticized the inspiration pictures. The very fact that the original pictures are all from different couples shows that this shoot pokes fun at what we accept as tradition – not at the couples, and not even at the pictures themselves.

      Have you ever seen man-ups? Men in pin-up-style pictures? Absolutely hilarious. Shoots like those serve as an eye opener about what we accept as “normal”.

      I think this shoot was adorable, tasteful, and yes, hilarious. I would hope that anyone who had a traditional engagement shoot would have the ability to see the humor and insightfulness in these pictures, rather than see it as an insult or criticism, because that’s not what it is.

      • I think everyone at OBB did a great job of using language that doesn’t mock the photos themselves, especially the use of “inspiration” and not “shitty traditional pose”, etc. I came into this post already expecting to get riled up about it (#photographerproblems) but found it charming and not particularly offensive.

        I think my only gripe, if I were to voice one, is that I wouldn’t be particularly stoked to see the pictures I took used as inspiration photos without crediting my work. Who knows, maybe a potential client sees this post and loves some of the original photos and wants to contact me but can’t? The lack of credit/citing for the inspiration photos is really the closest thing to bad form here, and I wouldn’t even go that far.

  28. Haha! Saw this on Good Men Project. You guys are hilarious. Great job exposing the sharply gendered nature of these photo shoots.

  29. I’d also like to see a photo of the groom-to-be showing off his big diamond ring in a reinterpretation! Or did I just miss that one?

  30. I love these photos, especially the ring on the coffee cup. That is probably my favorite. Why not pose with things you like, instead of doing what is “expected” and the “norm?” My boyfriend and I love coffee. We bond over coffee and really enjoy it, so that resonates with me.

  31. I LOVE the one of your hand on his face showing off your ring!!! These are great!

  32. LOVE- I have a couple kiddos and would love to do the family version- so many cute family photos out there I would love to do real life photos- you know- screaming/fighting kids- picking noises, tired and near tears parents

  33. I could not love this post any more – it’s impossible. So full of win!

    The dirty cup – the pointing to the ring – the TOES.

    Love. <3

    (and to the naysayers – lighten up. There's ever so much more important stuff that folks can get their panties in a twist about… have a little bit of fun – after all, it's just life. No one gets out alive… :P)

  34. I’d like to concur with and expand on something a commenter above mentioned — the key to the satire here is not the inspiration images (all of which are marvelously well-shot), but the attitudes they tend to represent.

    A couple common themes in them tend to be things like engagement ring fetishization (how big/sparkly/able to cut plate glass is her rock, and it’s always “her”) at the expense of the people and some very… traditionalist gender roles (which make me, at least, extremely uncomfortable).

    A large part of the humor of the shoot itself is that the couple intentionally addressed and subverted those roles. That satire then flows naturally into the piece of writing surrounding them (which I feel was very well-done and quite gentle).

    We’re not mocking photography trends or anyone who does/doesn’t choose to follow them. We’re exploring the (sometimes pretty messed up/uncomfortable/unequal) gender stereotypes of the industry and weddings in general.

  35. As someone who regularly read Offbeat Bride while planning my wedding, enjoyed an Offbeat Empire party, and was excited to read Offbeat Family when the time came, I was rather surprised to find that one of my engagement photos was mocked as “inspiration.”

    Marian, good for you that you and your fiancé are able to so clearly communicate your likes and dislikes with each other. You’ll need that when you get married. But for your sake (and the continuation of your personal relationships), I hope you both find a way to express your creativity and uniqueness during your wedding in a way that is respectful and has integrity, because you’ve certainly missed the mark here. Your blog would have hit it had you just included your intro—which clearly explains your “inspiration”—and your “reinterpretation” photos. Your personalities would still have come through and it would still be a satire, albeit one more a tad more subtle and tasteful.

    The true irony of your blog is the photo of my (now) husband and me that you chose to use. Had you actually seen the whole shoot, you would’ve realized that particular photo was not staged but rather taken while we were being playful and silly. We too wanted photos that reflected our personalities. There are others from that shoot that are more “traditional” and sure, taken out of context by someone who doesn’t know us, they could look cheesy. But the thing is, we took those photos for us. Not for you.

    Ariel, yes, you do have stringent policies at Offbeat Empire about using other people’s photos. Unfortunately, you’ve spectacularly avoided following all of your own guidelines. I particularly love that “Our goal is for the photographer or subject to feel flattered and rewarded by us featuring their work (never exploited).” Is it now? How you used these photos infringes on the photographers’ copyrights given that a) they never gave you permission, and b) they don’t know you used their photos. For that matter, I never gave you permission, either explicitly or implied, to use my likeness. You say you’ll take down the photos if the photographer asks, but again your policies acknowledge that they may not even know Offbeat exists, “Keep in mind that the photographer/subject may have never heard of the Offbeat Empire, so we need to be extremely cautious and respectful in how we feature photos.”

    So yes, you did take down our photo when our photographer complained. But you didn’t even apologize to him.

  36. The photos by the couple are funny, using other people’s engagement photos without their permission, not funny. I recall jezabel being very mean spirited about an offbeat couples decision to have a ‘vegan, kale’ wedding. How is this post any different? Justifying the use of the photos for satirical purposes isn’t okay. Love the off beat empire but the use of the photographs without permission is a concern particularly in the way they have been used.

  37. I echo the others who are concerned about the use of pictures of other couples without their permission. My wedding is coming up on April 12. I have already talked about privacy concerns with our photographer. Seeing this post makes me less inclined to have my pictures put on the web – anywhere. If it’s easy for a pic to end up on Pinterest, then reposted all over the web, no way.

  38. I too love Offbeat Bride and the related sites. I have to admit though, this post has given me a pretty uncomfortable twinge.

    Crediting/fair use/permissions: if these poses are so pervasive (and I agree that they are), I feel that someone could have found ones that DID have an identifiable photographer to use for the contrasting. That way, appropriate permissions could have been sought, and proper credit given.

    Secondly, I echo a few others here… while yes, the poses are most definitely funny for subverting the normal roles, but posting them side-by-side with particular traditional photos feels less like satire and more like mocking. Really, where is the line between satire and mocking? Is it not, at least in part, in the perception of the targets? (ie, if they find it funny, then cool, satire… if not, it’s closer to mocking). I know I would be pretty upset if I found my photo used in a context like this (offbeat or not).

    I dunno, as someone who was bullied as a kid, I feel like some of the responses here are waveringly close to the responses I got whenever I tried to call someone out on bullying: “Don’t take it so seriously, I was only teasing/kidding, it was just a joke, jeez!”

  39. Hey guys, thanks for all the feedback. We’ve opted to remove the inspiration images, which folks expressed concern about in terms of both attribution and privacy. I stand behind publishing this post, but I also recognize the concerns. I feel like the reimagined images stand up just fine as their own playful commentary on the gender norms and familiar shots we’ve all grown to love seeing in engagement photography.

    If anyone has any additional thoughts on the post, feel free to email!

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