The Ultimate Guide To Planning Your Pre-Wedding Engagement Session in 5 Stages

Planning for your engagement shoot or pre-wedding session can be a really daunting task, so where do you begin? Don’t fret – we’ve outlined everything you need to take into consideration below. There is no right or wrong order to follow when planning a pre-wedding session. Instead, these are suggestions to help make the planning for your shoot easier. If you’re still debating on even having a pre-wedding couples shoot, you might find my reasons to have an engagement shoot a useful read.


Gather & Discuss Your Ideas

This stage is really about getting some initial ideas and inspiration for what you want from your engagement shoot.

  • Discuss your ideas with your partner
  • Get some Inspiration
  • Discuss ideas with your photographer
  • Be Realistic about what you can achieve

Discuss Potential Ideas With your Partner

Grab a brew and sit down with your other half and discuss any potential ideas for your pre-wedding session. It’s helpful to jot down anything that resonates with you both. Whether it’s a specific style of shoot, potential locations, theme, or even what you want to portray in your engagement images. Remember, you both need to feel comfortable during the shoot, so discussing any potential ideas early on helps define comfort boundaries for you both.

Get some Inspiration

With your notes to hand, gather some inspiration from the likes of wedding magazines and blogs, Pinterest, and Google. Simple searches for ‘engagement photo shoot’, pre-wedding session or ‘couples portrait’ will bring up a whole range of different styles of engagements. Collect your favourite images or ideas together onto a Pinterest board dedicated entirely to your engagement shoot. You’ll soon see common reoccurring themes such as similar locations or styles appearing.

Discuss Your Ideas With Your Photographer

Make sure to collaborate with your photographer. By sharing your vision, such as a Pinterest board, a skilled photographer can offer invaluable advice on the feasibility of your ideas and highlight any practical considerations, including potential costs and travel limitations. Additionally, they maybe able to suggest appropriate locations. If you’re open to suggestions or feeling adventurous, ask them about their ‘would love to shoot’ list, which may feature unique ideas or locations they’re eager to capture.

Be Realistic

Lastly, be realistic that ultimately some ideas will just not be possible. You need to be realistic with your engagement shoot plans and listen to what your photographer has to say. Many of the images that I see my clients save are not reflective of what they can achieve. For example, they chose imagery from sessions that are in a totally different part of the world, with different natural light, backdrops and colours to where they actually live. Or they may choose imagery that is up the top of a mountain but then are not willing to trek there. If you really want a certain style or look, then be realistic that this may cost you in either effort, time, money or potentially all three.


Define Your Message & Styling

When planning your pre-wedding or engagement session, you need to consider the style of your shoot. By this I mean the general feel you want your pre-wedding or engagement session to have and the message you want it to portray. Having a clear understanding of the style of session you want and then working within this theme is very important to achieve great photographs.

  • Define the message you want your images to portray
  • Shape your style

When You Already Know Your Style

You might be lucky and already know the style of photographs you want and the story you want to tell. This will help you determine the location for your shoot, the outfits you will want to wear, and potentially what you can expect from your session.

When You Don’t Know Your Style

Don’t worry if you are not sure of the engagement photography style you are looking for or the story you want your pre-wedding photographs to tell. Skipping ahead and choosing a location or outfit may help you determine the theme and style of photographs that will be best.


Choosing The Location for Your Engagement Shoot

So what are the factors which you may wish to consider when choosing the location for your engagement shoot? Your photographer may already have made some suggestions, but below we’ll discuss some suggestions you may wish to consider.

  • It sets the scene to tell your story
  • Interesting backdrops make for interesting photos
  • Consider Locations that mean something to you as a couple
  • Consider locations you feel comfortable at

Setting The Scene & Telling Your Story

The location of your pre-wedding shoot can add a lot of meaning to your engagement photographs. It is a decision not to be taken lightly. Not only does it form the backdrop to your photographs, it tells people a little more about your story and who you are as a couple. It essentially sets the scene for your story. It should fit with the theme and style of the photographs you are after.

Interesting Backdrops Make For Interesting Photos

Locations with interesting backdrops make for more interesting engagement photographs. Locations such as beaches, woods, countryside, libraries, museums, zoos, and historical landmarks are ideal. They are unusual, normally full of interesting backdrops, and can give variety and interest to your shoot.

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Some of my favourite shoots have taken place in spots that didn’t seem all that pretty at first glance. Many a time, my couples have given me a strange look as they survey their surroundings. An overgrown farm or abandoned building can yield photos rich in texture and colour, that are unique. Just remember, you may need permission to shoot in some locations, especially on private land, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.

Consider A Location That Means Something To you

You may also want to consider choosing a location that means something to you as a couple and reminds you of your time together. These sorts of locations can really help tell your story and will have extra special meaning to you. Some examples might include:

  • where the marriage proposal happened
  • your home
  • the venue for your wedding
  • where you went on your first date
  • your favourite coffee shop

Consider A Location you Feel Comfortable At

For the nervous amongst you, I will tell you that you will be the most relaxed if you are familiar with the location you choose for your shoot. A relaxed familiar setting will help towards dispelling any photo jitters you may have. Why not consider your home for the shoot? – An intimate breakfast in bed, or weekend lounging watching a film, or a walk around your neighbourhood with a stop at your favourite café?

Here’s a follow-up tip – If you are nervous, having your session midweek may help. You’ll likely have far fewer crowds around and less chance of having unwanted people in your background or adding to the nerves.


Choosing When To Have An Engagement Shoot

So what are the factors to consider when choosing when to have your engagement shoot? Your photographer is always a great person to ask, but below are some suggestions you may wish to take into account when considering when to have your couples portrait shoot.

  • 6-9 months before your wedding is ideal
  • Avoid peak wedding season (April-September)
  • Is the look or feel you want season dependent
  • Plan your session around the Golden Hour

When Is Best To Have Your Engagement Shoot?

There is no hard and fast rule on this and ultimately this is a personal decision, but if you’re unsure, I always recommend reaching out to your photographer to discuss. I would say anywhere around 6-9 months before your wedding date is ideal. You want your engagement shoot to be an enjoyable experience all of its own. Too close to your wedding date and you’ll likely be caught up in wedding planning and chasing missing RSVPs or pulling your hair out over the fact that Uncle Bob has changed his meal selection for the fifth time. Too far from your wedding date and you’ll lose some benefits to be gained from having an engagement shoot, such as learning how to feel comfortable in front of the camera. Something to note is that if you’re planning on using the images for save-the-date invites, which are normally sent around 6-9 months before your wedding date, you may wish to plan your shoot a month or two prior to you sending them. This allows your photographer to edit the images and you have them designed and printed and ready in time.

Consider Avoiding Peak Wedding Season

If you’re considering an engagement anytime between the months of April to October, just remember you’re choosing a really busy time for most wedding photographers. It will be peak wedding season, and their schedules may already be pretty full. This means they may not have much in the way of availability, so you should take this into account. If you’re thinking of a session during this period, talk to them well in advance and recognise you may need to be much more flexible and work around their schedules during this period.

Consider The Season’s In General

When planning your engagement session, the season you choose can be a key factor especially if you want a certain feel to your photos. The colourful leaves of autumn or the beauty of a bluebell wood in spring are season dependant. The season you’re actually getting married can be an indicator of when to have your engagement session. If you’re having a summer wedding, a winter engagement session can provide a more diverse collection of images. For outdoor sessions, spring and autumn are ideal to avoid very hot or cold weather and still enjoy natural scenery. Indoor locations offer more flexibility so the season isn’t as important.

The Golden Hour

If you’ve not already come across this concept before, you’ll soon learn about it while working with your wedding photographer. It will probably be something your wedding photographer will talk about with you, especially when discussing planning your wedding day timeline. For photographers, light is the equivalent of an artist’s paint and as such, really important to them. There are two periods during a day most photographers consider to be the best for getting the most dramatic light and thus imagery. The first is sunrise, and the second is sunset.

Now few couples or photographers are too focused on the sunrise engagement session, so ‘the golden hour’ generally refers to the hour just before sunset. Planning your engagement session to account for this requires you to know exactly when the sun will set based on the time of year and the location for your shoot. Your photographer should be able to advise you on this. However, there are plenty of weather apps or websites that will give you the exact moment the sun will set. Armed with this time in mind, you should plan your session aiming for you to be on with your session when the golden hour begins.


What to Wear for Your Engagement Shoot

So this is actually a whole discussion in itself, and easily one of the most frequently asked questions I get. What to wear on your engagement shoot. I will not go into a huge amount of detail here as you can read more about it in the related post covering this topic, but here are my top considerations, as it is often something that many couples overlook.

  • Make sure you’re comfortable in what you are wearing
  • Make sure your outfits complement each other but do not consider this a time for matching outfits
  • Consider more than one outfit or look, but don’t go crazy.
  • Opt for classic timeless looks rather than current trends

Outfit Choices for Your Engagement Shoot

When preparing for your engagement shoot, selecting the right outfits is crucial to ensure your photos work. Aim for a coordinated look that reflects your personal styles while complementing each other, without matching too closely. Opt for classic pieces with a modern twist that are not only photogenic but also comfortable, allowing you to move freely and capture those spontaneous, loving moments. Remember, your clothes should enhance the love story your images will tell, so choose outfits that make you both feel confident and connected.

More Information

I’ve created a more detailed resource that specifically discusses the question of what to wear for your engagement shoot. This goes into more detail on the subject and my thoughts on what works and what doesn’t and why. It also provides links to relevent Pinterest outfit idea boards for both men and women.

The Ultimate Question

Always remember throughout the entire pre-wedding shoot planning process to ask yourself this one question.

Does this aspect of the shoot fit with the other aspects I have chosen, or do I need to change something?

For example, wanting a relaxed styling to your session at the local coffeehouse would not come across if you then rocked up in suits and evening gowns. Your outfits would not fit your surroundings and the style you are trying to portray for your session. Likewise, a very natural shoot in the countryside in winter, and you in shorts and t-shirts looking like you are heading to the beach will look strange.

Asked Questions

I can’t stress how important I think an engagement or pre-wedding session is to make sure you get the best from your wedding photography investment.

The reasons really are too many to discuss here in any detail, but you may find my recent post on reasons to consider having an engagement session a useful read. It explains in detail why I believe an engagement shoot is one of the most productive things you can do in relation to your wedding day.


My Engagement shoots typically last between 1-2 hours, but ultimately it really depends on several factors if this will be suitable for your specific session. This amount of time genrally allows for you to warm up, a few different feeling backdrops and an outfit change if desired. Your specific photographer can provide a more accurate timeframe based on your specific needs and vision for the shoot.

If you’re wanting to do something really epic though, you don’t want to go to all the trouble of planning it and then have to rush through the actual session itself. Likewise, if you know you’re going to be nervous and will need some time to warm up to the camera or for your photographer to really help you get comfortable posing, then book a longer session.

Your photographer will probably have a standard session advertised, but this will be a guide, not a rule, so don’t be afraid to ask their advice if you think you need longer or want a custom session. Just remember, this will be reflected in the price you will need to pay.

I get this one a lot. You want to look natural and like yourself, and rarely wear that much makeup on a day-to-day basis, so you’re asking yourself why would you pay for it other than on your wedding day? My answer is nearly always definitely ‘go pro’ – you won’t regret it.

Firstly, your hair and makeup can be natural looking if done properly and you communicate this to your make-up artist. Second, makeup and hair can enhance the features you love about yourself and tone down those you don’t.

Most of my clients that ‘go pro’ report feeling more confident in front of the camera, and that confidence will come through in your imagery. Going pro also takes much of the getting ready stress off your plate, not to mention it is a great opportunity to have a trial run with your Hair/MUA and helps them get a feel for what you like and don’t like.

While it’s not a necessity when planning your engagement session, professional hair and makeup does ensure that your look is polished and camera-ready. If you do choose to do your own, consider a trial run before the shoot day to perfect your look.

Props can add a fun and personal touch to your pictures. Whether it’s a blanket, a vintage bike, balloons, or something that signifies your relationship, props can help tell your story.

My honest advice though when planning a pre-wedding session is to keep things simple and bring as little as possible unless it is absolutely necessary for your envisioned shoot, such as a picnic hamper.

Leave anything you don’t need for the shoot at home or in the car. The last thing you want to do is have to put down bags, empty your pockets, or answer your phone every 5 minutes. It breaks the flow of the session the more you have to interrupt it to pick up/put stuff down.

The two exceptions to this are:

  • Those looking to wear specific shoes that might not be the most comfortable, but that look good. Taking a comfortable pair of shoes to walk in saves any broken ankles or discomfort.
  • Those who want to consider a second outfit change, though this can often be achieved simply through clever layering.

Your photographer will guide you through poses and shots, but the key is to interact with each other as you normally would. Focus on your partner, enjoy the moment, and your genuine connection will shine through.

Whilst I know some photographers prefer to pose couples (and there is a time and place for this), I personally like to acheive a more relaxed look on my shoots using prompts rather than poses where possible. Prompts allow you to choose what feels right in the moment to you both.

In the UK we are always at the mercy of our weather (even during summer), so there are a few options I’d say you can consider.

When planning your pre-wedding engagement shoot you should have a backup plan in case of bad weather. This might include choosing an indoor location close by or umbrellas or picking somewhere with some form of shelter.

Alternatively you can just embrace it, and as the saying goes “Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning how to dance in the rain”.

Some of my favourite engagement sessions are where it has rained and the couple have just embraced it. If the weather is really terrible, your photographer may advise you to reschedule for safety reasons, so you may wish to have this in mind when you consider how far in advance you opt for your shoot in relation to your wedding date.

Absolutely, of course. Ultimately though, the idea of the engagement shoot is that it is about capturing you as a couple, so if you want to include your canine friend, you should plan for your pupster to have a starring role, but not be the lead.

No photographer will include them in every photo, which is why it’s a good idea to have a friend or dog walker on hand to hold them between shots or take them away if it isn’t working out.

Dogs can really add stress to your shoot, especially if they would rather run through the woods than pose for their photo. To reduce any potential stressfor you or your dog when planning your e-ession , we recommend:

  • getting your friend or dog walker to exercise them on a nice long walk whilst you have your session, so they are calmer when ready for their starring role.
  • bringing them along for the last 10-15 minutes, when you’ll be more confident in front of the camera, and you can give them the attention they deserve or the very first 10-15 minutes if you think they will calm your nerves.
  • picking a location that is quiet and not crowded so they aren’t easily distracted

Some locations, especially private properties and certain public areas, may require some form or permit or permission for photography.

When planning your engagement portrait session it’s important to research and secure any necessary permits well in advance of your shoot day.

Yes, destination engagement shoots are a fantastic way to capture your love story in a unique or meaningful location. They really are some of my favourite sessions to shoot, and make it something unique.

Discuss logistics, travel costs, and any additional fees with your photographer in advance. It’s often not as expensive as you might think if done early enough in the engagement planning process

So there are quite a few I could list. The main ones I’d say are:

  • Not being themselves is a common mistake. It’s important to relax, be genuine, and enjoy the experience rather than worrying too much about posing or looking perfect in every shot.
  • Turning up on the day with no thought or not making any effort and following the advice above generally leads to regret. Espeically around the issue of clothing, hair and makeup.
  • Trying untested beauty treatments or fake tanning / sunbedding right before can leave your skin red and blotchy

Just be aware than engagement shoots in public places might attract attention. Focus on each other and trust your photographer to guide you. They can help you feel at ease and find quieter moments amidst the bustle.


A couple stands by a lake, smiling and embracing in a grayscale image; the man in a suit jacket and the woman in a sweater, capturing the tender moment of their engagement shoot.


I believe engagement shoots and couples portrait sessions are paramount to getting great wedding images. In fact I think engagement portraits are so vital that I advise all of my wedding photography clients to have one as standard.

My engagement sessions last for approximately two hours and my couples receive access to an online gallery where they can download and share the images with family and friends.

So what’s stopping you?

the artist

Jono Symonds is a Lake District Wedding Photographer & Videographer who describes himself as a visual storyteller. His goal is to create wedding imagery and film that stands the test of time and that is full of raw emotion and intimacy. He documents engagements, weddings and elopements, within The Lake District, Cumbria, while also journeying across the UK and the globe for destination weddings.

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So you said yes to the proposal, but now you need to plan your special day, but aren’t sure where to even begin. Luckily, I have created a series of resources for couples just like you. Enter your contact details using the link below. In exchange, we’ll add you to our mailing list and we offer you a step-by-step series of emails on how to plan the perfect wedding or elopement.

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Last Updated on 6 June 2024