How to Have an Awesome Engagement Sesh :: Featuring Ally + Gabe

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Let's start with a cute and funny story :: featuring Ally and Gabe :: Just because. 
It's the weekend. I come to church Sunday morning after their engagement session, into Gabe. His jaw kinda drops, he never expected to see me there since frankly I had never mentioned that I too go to Substance LOL ;). Totally unintentionally this little fact became a really well kept secret. See, he didn't know that after our initial meet-up at the oh so lovely Vicinity Coffee, I (like a total creeper) looked them up on Facebook. That's how I figured out that they were part of the Substance internship program, and David (my husband) and I had been part of Substance for about 12 years at that time, almost since the very humble beginnings. I was going to mention this fun fact when we met up at the engagement session, but we were so in the moment and having so much fun that I completely spaced it!! So, when he saw me waltzing in on Sunday morning and we ran into each other, it was a "SURPRISE!!!!! Your wedding photographer goes to the same church as you!" kind of a moment. LOL! His face expression --- PRICELESS!!!! Wish I had my camera!!! :) 



Now that we got you all amused, moving on to the actual TIPS on maximizing your and your beau's session.

I get a TON of questions about what the wear, what not to wear, recommended colors, how to pick a location, how to not look like dorks, etc. If these questions are rolling in your mind as well, this one is for you! I'll try to go semi-chronologically, in the order I usually get asked. Ready? It will be a hoot!

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Unique Access / Meaningful - Pick something either near and dear to your heart OR something super unique that you have access to that no one else does - that's my suggestion, and these two usually intertwine. Do you have someone with a sail boat or a row boat that's just dying to let you use it? A vintage car or truck in the family? Rooftop access? A friend with a cool RV or an Airstream? A family property that we can frolic? A light and airy house or an apartment that you guys just moved into that contains all the coffee and furry blankets (i.e.: where the heart is)? You get the idea - what do you have access to that's unique that no one else has access to? This is how we have fun with it and it's usually the first question I ask!! 

Traveling anywhere fun? - Here's another idea that's a bit more on the fringes - if you happen to be going on a vacation coming up OR have had a favorite place that's somewhere else than the Twin Cities, talk to me!!! There might be a bit of travel costs involved, but I'm actually very game for travel and I'll see how we can work together to make a fun and unique thing happen. I also go on vacations and travel lots myself, so maybe we can combine dates in such a way things work just right! 

Around the corner? - Nothing comes to mind in the above unique access category? Don't fret, let's figure out what you're into next and what's just around a few corners.

Here's a bit of education on the vibe, because the vibe of a place will set the vibe for the session: 
Urban / Industrial? - This kind of setting will yield some more editorial type of shots. Simple backgrounds, neutral colors. If we do actually go into the city, there will be some "city" distractions and charm that will make it into photos (graffiti, parked cars, some street signs, possibly maybe people). I try to avoid as much distractions as I can, but it is the city. If this is your vibe, you know you like it just the way it is. 
Nature Lovers? - This one will be more intimate, surrounded by plants, grasses, trees, etc. The weather and Season change a place, so factor that in when thinking up your outfits. And, speaking of private/intimate - if you and your beau are really not much for an audience, but love the outdoors let's pick a park where we can venture off the beaten path a bit - ex. Rice Park in downtown St. Paul though pretty, can be surrounded with cars, strangers, homeless people, garbage cans, and so on. We might be better off going some place with a bit less action. Now, if you're on the flip side of this coin, and kinda love the hustle and bustle of the city (like the Urban peeps above but with a nature twist), that might be just the location for you. Knowing what you will feel most at home with will help us pick just the right location for your sesh.

Looking for example? Here's one - For Ally and Gabe Lebanon Hills was a park with special meaning - a place of many sweet moments, and good times, so they really felt at home there. That's kind of the goal - pick something either super pretty or something you're comfortable with. I'm made of suggestions if you need one, just let me know which side of the cities you're looking to stick with.


GO WITH THE FLOW - Don't get super attached to a single wall or background, or a tree (this one goes to weddings as well). Trust me to pick the right location based on the light at the time we're shooting, and what creative arrow strikes me in the moment. The spot in Ally + Gabe's engagement session was picked literally on a whim! I first told them to meet me in a specific parking lot, but when I spotted this gorgeous grassy hill on my drive in, I just had to start there! So, we met up in a different spot, and frankly it was the way I haven't seen or experienced the Lebanon Hills Regional Park before, despite having shot there a few times. When creativity strikes, just follow my lead. You won't regret it. I promise! 

OUTFIT TIPS - Above all wear something that you can move in, feel good in, and don't have to constantly adjust - that's just asking for stiff, uncomfortable poses. Wear something you can sit or roll in the grass in, run, be picked up, and have fun in. Whatever feels right in the moment, make sure your attire won't hinder any flirtation or interactions. If you're not the roll in the grass kinda couple, no worries, we'll find your own groove. You bring the mood, and I'll tune in and amplify. 

Oh yeah, and here are a couple articles of clothing I don't care for - 1. Wrap sweaters with tank tops underneath. 2. High heels. 3. Baby blues / baby turquoise
Many amazing photos have been tossed because the wrap sweater has moved away from the body while running or doing something fun, and exposing too much. Unless you are a size 0-2 and super comfortable in that tank top alone, wearing a wrap sweater or unbuttoned shirt with a tank is just asking for fat rolls (and believe me, I'm in this category too! And I'm a size 4-6. No wrap sweaters for me!).

As for heels - they're just too cumbersome so you can't go climb places and you're more stiff. I'm more of a move, groove, have fun kinda session gal. You'll have more fun if your footwear allows you to play. 

I really don’t care for light blues and light turquoise. Blue is a cool color. My editing is warm. Golden hour is warm. When you warm up a baby blue it’s no longer blue at all, more of a funky turquoise greenish that looks different in every shot. It ends up taking me more time to make sure your sweater looks somewhat close to reality than it should legally be allowed. ;) Wear earth tones. They photograph incredible! (ex. olive green, tangerine, ivory, brown, rust, military green, white, emerald, beige, black, dusty pink, etc. you get the idea).


"PLAY = Interaction = Reactions = Unexpected Bursts of Laughter =
= Alluring Smiles = Flirting = Good Times =

STYLE + ACCESSORIES - Personally, I'm in love with anything spunky and full of character - cold shoulder tops, off shoulders tops, hats of any sort! - floppy, slouchy, etc. fingerless gloves, flowy (solid colored or flowery) dresses, strappy sandals, lace up anything, buttons, lace trim or a lace back... You get the idea - I love details, textures, amazing tattoos, and anything that makes you, you, and gives us something to be playful with. Very simple outfits - ex. jeans + a solid black crewneck sweater sometimes can be fun, but there really isn't anything to play with, tug on, tease with, and Play = Interaction = Reactions = Unexpected Bursts of Laughter = Alluring Smiles = Flirting = Good Times = Amazing Photos. 

COLORS - Currently I'm obsessed with powder toned-down pinks like Ally (and Hali) wore*. Anything rust brown I'm basically coo coo over!! It really doesn't matter the color, though, just make sure it's something you love and that's well coordinated with the rest of the feel + works with some fun interaction-inducing accessories, and you'll look awesome! Personally, neutrals and layering are my jam, with gold accents, and that's what I'd recommend, but to each his own. If you want to wear a fire orange-red maxi dress, go for it! Just make sure that whatever the pop of color or pattern is, it's the focus, and everything else works together in harmony with it. 
On a what-not-to-wear note, stay away from anything that messes with your skin tone. Example: If you have some acne or redness in your skin, skip red / pink outfit combos, go for neutrals like shades of grey and beige mixed in instead (blues, browns and deep greens also work well).  
* FYI - At the time of writing this (April 2017) Express Factory Outlets is basically full to the brim of this gorgeous powdery blush pink - everything from dresses to cute tops. 

** I put a Pinterest board together with some outfit inspirations, so if you need more tips, you can head on over to my Couple's Outfits Inspiration Board

HOW MANY OUTFITS? - I generally say "one, but". The 'but' stands for accessories, and things you can throw on or change into quickly and on the go (so in effect it could be another outfit). If you layer, it's much easier to pop on another shirt (or a cute jacket) in a jiffy. A head to toe ensemble change basically keeps us from adventurously exploring, and ties us to your vehicle. I prefer to focus on getting you two comfortable, interacting and loosened up than showcasing various attires. Also, keep in mind that I want to 'capture the in-between', which might be the way you scramble over some rocks, with him gentlemanly giving you a hand, or carrying you down, in which case I am carrying all your stuff + carrying all my stuff. So, let's maybe minimize the amount of 'stuff' we're lugging along, but you are welcome to bring a variation to quickly throw on. 

PROPS ANYONE? - Accessories in a large way serve as props, because they are something to adjust, move, and tease with. That's why I love those fun little ways to create movement just by choosing a bit more spunky of an outfit or some quick-change outfit variations (example: different shoes + throw on a cute jacket). Blankets are generally great as well, because you can wrap in them, sit on them, dance / wrestle with them, etc. Just bring something that doesn't cover you with lint the moment you come within 2 feet of it. Please and thank you. Sitting in the grass simply rocks. Hot chocolate in cute mugs or bubbly can also create some super sweetly candid photos, just remember - as mentioned above - I'm carrying all your stuff for most of the session, so either pack it in something you don't mind showing in pictures (a cute, vintage picnic basket you can help carry?), and/or pack lightly into something like a backpack that I can lug along. 

MAKEUP - Getting your makeup professionally done is not a deal breaker, but I'd actually say go for it. Either that, or put a bit more effort into getting prettied up. For one, it will make you feel like a million bucks, for two it will make you look like a million bucks, so there really isn't a downside. If you're out of a product, places like MAC or Sephora will do a quick version of a makeover for you for free. Do be nice and buy something, though, those girls love makeovers but they get scored on their sales, so they'll be more helpful and spend more time with you if they know you have a purchase in mind (and, yes to false eyelashes!!! Always! MAC are best).
If you're going DaVinci on your own face, look up some YouTube tips for a smokey glamorous eye, and accentuate a bit more than you normally would for your daily makeup. It photographs better. 

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Below is basically the most important stuff in this entire article, so tune in, pay attention, absorb it all - this is the secret sauce to great photos


COME READY TO... PLAY, Dance, Flirt, Kiss, Hug, Snuggle, and show all kinds of affection towards each other. We will start with easy stuff that will get the excitement going and melt the jitters away (for both of us, since I get nervous too). Like a total dork, I bring a little portable speaker with me and blast some tunes. Music, I find, sets the tone and creates a hangout-type atmosphere, much like hosting a fine meal with great background tracks - it makes the conversation flow, it makes things feel less awkward. In short, I refuse to go anywhere without a soundtrack. 

MOVE MOVE MOVE.. and did I say MOVE? - The more movement we can create while you two interact, the better! Rock back and forth, run your hand down his shirt buttons, run your hand up and down her arm, touch both your faces (or take turns), playfully throw her hair in her face, pick her up, bump into him, tug on each other, swing arms as you walk, pretend to drunken walk, in other words - move move move. And to put it in layman's terms - basically what would you be doing if I wasn't there and you were on a date in the woods having fun together??? Don't overthink it! It's as simple as that! You wouldn't stand crazy frozen next to each other, fumbling for what to do what our hands if you were just hanging out, so why bring on that treatment when we're out together? The more you move the more natural the photos come out! If I keep having to tell you guys to move more, it will take my focus away from creating and capturing. So, put those hands on each other, make out a little, tease a little, flirt and PLAY! Let's create together! :) 

IF I'M QUIET FOR A MINUTE IT DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE DOING ANYTHING WRONG! - Sometimes I might be absolutely loving what you're doing and be focusing hard on capturing it just right and in many different ways, which takes loads of setting changes since I shoot in Manual mode. OR I might be getting an idea for the next thing I want you to do. Other times I might be seeing something unfold and I want to see what you do naturally. This is how some of my absolute favorite shots have been born - by observing and catching in action or re-enacting something rad you did you didn't even know was rad! So, don't overthink the quiet, if it happens, just assume you're on the right track and carry-on, keep having fun with it. 

TRY TO FORGET I'M EVEN THERE - If she's flirting with you and you're spending all your energy on tracking my camera, something is missing. It's the connection. It makes me the imposter on a moment that could have happened. You can't connect with each other and be completely focused on where I'm at. You actually have to pay attention to each other. The most beautiful photographs happen when you two get lost in the moment - be it a sweet and cute and cuddly quiet one, or a fun and exuberant one. I'm there to see how you two interact, so forget I'm there, and let me capture you as if in that old adage "Dance like no one is watching". Now that's magic! I promise it will make your heart skip a beat too! 

HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE A DORK, I get asked all the time - Deep breaths buttercup!!! I might know a few tricks to get you to look a bit better than in Grandma Marge's iPad snap. When you show up, try to bring the real you, bring the mood, be ready to move, groove, and play (oh wait, you've heard that one before?? Cool!) If you really want a practical tip - here's the best one I have - don't freeze or hold your breath, don't hold your reactions, and - you have two hands, and a few other limbs - go ahead, use them! Don't worry!! I'll be there to make some suggestions, I might adjust a thing or two if I want some different variation, so there's nothing to memorize. Let's create some imperfect (and yet maybe just perfect) moments together. THAT is not just what feels most natural, but it also is what photographs best. 

RESIST THE URGE TO BICKER - Yep, I said it. In YOUR hands you hold the key to awesome times and great photos. Remember, I'll be capturing your interaction, so keep it positive.
Girls - here's a little tip (file under marriage advice as well) ---Whether it's the way he smiles, or the way he spontaneously hugs you, squishing your boobs accidentally. In those moments when things aren't as picture perfect as you imagined, don't sweat it!!!! This isn't film era, I've got plenty of memory cards! Adjust, laugh it off, move on, try to enjoy his attempts at being charming, even if not quite Titanic-the-movie perfect. He'll be much more eager to play if he doesn't feel like you're scoring his every move. Being in front of the camera can be somewhat nerve-wrecking, so have tons of grace for each other.
Guys - As to not pick on your significant other exclusively, there are some tips for you as well. Guys can sometimes get stuck on "What do you want me to do?", and What do I do with my hands?" ---- RELAX. As long as you're up for anything, and use those hands, and lips, and manly arms of yours, you'll do fine. You know her, you know what quirky things get a laugh out of her. You know what makes you two tick, and you definitely know the art of 'making advances', if you didn't we wouldn't be here, the girl of you dreams marrying you. Let's simplify - you know how you love to hold her hand when you walk, you know how you like to hug her (each couple kinda has their unique way to do all these seemingly simple and unanimous things). Try not to question yourself or dwell on any gesture that doesn't come across just right. Laugh it off, move on, goof off, have fun, be charming. You've got this! 


Guess what, it's OK to fumble sometimes. Fumbling can be cute and endearing, as long as you are amused by it and laugh it off. As I mentioned - move, play, breathe, be in the moment, let go, take things in, be your quirky self, and use your beautiful body to express your unique connection. There's no right way or wrong way, and some of the instructions I give are a bit vague on purpose, because I want to see your interpretation of it. Oops, I just divulged a secret. Well, now you know - sometimes I try to trick you and see what you do with "it", so not every photo I take look identical for every couple ;) 

I think that just about covers it. I hope this is helpful, and puts you at ease, if just a bit. 
If you come up with another plaguing question, let me know, and I'll think of something witty to add in ;) --- Hope you've enjoyed the read! --- Ester

PS. Aren't these two the cutest???!!! - ALLY + GABE brought it!!!

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