Once upon a time, engagement photos were used to formally announce a couple’s engagement to the world. A posed photograph was positioned next to a write-up on the couple with wedding date details. Traditional announcements will never go out of style, but in this social-media savvy era, sharing your engagement with the world (or, more importantly, your world) is often done much more quickly — with an on-the-fly shot of the sparkly new ring or a candid of the couple. And while sharing that impromptu pic is exciting, taking the time to do engagement photographs with a professional photographer is a perfect way to get comfortable in front of the camera (and with your photographer) and capture the joyous anticipation that comes after a proposal.
The great news is that the format for engagement photos has evolved to be less formal and more fun. Here are our picks for Chicago photographers that will help you preserve those wonderful moments.
“We encourage couples to think about how they envision using the images and the value of having them,” says Andre LaCour of Andre LaCour Photography. It’s an approach to engagement photography that makes sense — and results in artful, emotional photos from their studio. While some couples want a simple beautiful shot for their save the date card, others are interested in professional photos in locations that hold meaning for them or want several changes of clothes and scenes. LaCour Photography lets your intent guide the session as they create timeless photos that capture their clients’ personalities as well as the emotion and romance of the moment. LaCour says, “We don’t typically use props like balloons or signs — most of our couples want a sophisticated and stylish look.” And while he likes the idea of an engagement session to calm clients who are nervous about being photographed, he says it shouldn’t be viewed as a practice session and that “couples should hire a photographer in which they have full confidence.” In LaCour’s case, that confidence has been earned through years of award-winning photography, appearances in magazines and his work mentoring aspiring photographers.
The second a camera is pointed at us, we behave differently, which makes the art of capturing an authentic moment a tricky one. With that in mind, Andrew Weeks of Andrew Weeks Photography says, “During an engagement session — in between the laughs, smiles and clicks — I’m always searching for the moment when my clients sink into each other (like they do on their couch at home) or steal a quick look at one another (maybe over an inside joke), or relax into a kiss (the kind they give when they come together after a long time apart).” Photographs of us being ourselves, in all of our glorious and beautiful imperfection, end up being the ones we treasure the most. Andrew Weeks Photography has a philosophy of focusing on what is real, without interfering with the actual experience of those moments. Weeks has spoken about his desire to create “time machines” — meaning photos that, upon viewing, transport you back in time to that day. Weeks produces flattering and gorgeous end-results with photos that evoke an entire story in an image.
Rebecca Ickes of Rebecca Marie Photography encourages couples to consider making their engagement photos uniquely personal. She says, “While our Chicago skyline is iconic and always fabulous, is the view from Lincoln Park actually specific to your story? Perhaps the rooftop of your building is more evocative of this specific moment in your life?” While brainstorming for these sessions, Ickes asks questions like “What’s your favorite thing to do for a date night?” and “What’s your favorite memory together?” and allows responses to guide the planning. That’s how she ended up photographing couples at a family cabin in Michigan, a pizzeria in Manhattan and the Louvre in Paris. Another perk to engagement sessions — in addition to gorgeous photos — is helping the couple become more at ease being photographed. Ickes says, “Come the wedding day, if things get a little crazed, I’ve already learned that if I ask them to wrap their arms around each others’ waists or lean a head into that cozy shoulder nook, it will immediately create a sense of calm for the two of them.” All of that planning and preparation results in a relaxed couple and beautifully candid shots that capture their connection.
Carolyn Beller and Matthew Goddard-Jones, the team behind the eponymous studio Beller-Jones work together to capture the personality and bond of the couples they photograph utilizing a journalistic style. At engagement photo shoots, they pay special attention to how their client couples move together and react to each other and use that knowledge to guide them in catching special moments on their wedding day where both photographers act as first shooters. Beller says, that at engagement sessions, “The couples also get the opportunity to see how we work. Inevitably, we hear ‘that was actually…fun!’ as if they had expected the session to be torturous!” Beller-Jones shoots are fun because they eschew rules in favor of experimentation and refuse to be hemmed in by “typical” poses and places. “Beautiful, memorable images only require two things: real emotion and beautiful light. I give very little direction but am constantly aware of the best angles and the best light so that people feel beautiful and natural,” says Beller. It’s this attention to what’s best for each couple creates an environment of trust and caring that ultimately results in gorgeous (and award-winning) images.
This boutique photography studio is in the business of creating family heirlooms. The pros at KingenSmith, run by husband and wife duo Rick and Heather Kingensmith, love to schedule engagement sessions for that “magic hour” right before sunset when the light is gorgeous and universally-flattering. In terms of locations, Heather Kingensmith says, “We like to photograph our couples in meaningful places like their neighborhoods, where they had their first date or got engaged.” The team recognizes that while there is so much joy in the months leading up to a wedding, there’s also stress and that engagement sessions can be a time for couples to relax with one another. “Being engaged is a very special time. Taking the time to connect and support each other as you prepare for marriage is one of the most important things you can do. With all of the to-do lists and timelines, it’s essential to stop for a moment and savor this time,” Kingensmith says. In fact, the studio tagline — “Savor now. Remember forever.” — is itself a gentle reminder to brides and grooms that KingenSmith is busy preserving their memories so that the betrothed couple can fully enjoy the beautiful moments as they’re happening.
Luxury photographer Dennis Lee loves capturing the special interactions between couples at engagement sessions — and to do that he first needs to put them at ease. He says, “The phrase I often say to clients who may be a bit nervous about the shoot is, ‘It will be a nice day together enjoying what you love but there just happens to be a photographer’. Once they hear that, they understand what we’re after and that it’s all about them.” In fact, Lee values comfort and trust so much that he goes to every wedding rehearsal to connect with his clients and meet those important in their lives. Dennis Lee Photography employs photojournalistic storytelling combined with fashion photography techniques to capture couples at their best and create a truly unique set of photos. His team focuses on locations and activities that are meaningful to the couples they work with. In addition, they offer magazine-quality retouching services, but Lee assures, “This is not the heavy-handed retouching you often see in wedding and portrait photography but rather what is used for top fashion magazines.”
Bob & Dawn Davis Photography & Design has a simple goal for their engagement sessions: to visually tell a couple’s story. To accomplish that, they ask questions about their pastimes, hang-out spots and personalities. The duo has photographed couples’ favorite activities (like being at home snuggled on their couch with their dog and popcorn, ready for a movie) and the places they met (for example, the back of a taxi cab); they capture these moments in a dynamic way that really shows the pair’s connection and personalities. Dawn Davis says, “If they’re quiet and shy, then we wouldn’t ask them to do crazy things. If they’re outgoing and love the camera, they may be up for something more adventurous — like shooting in a boxing gym using extreme angles such as a remote camera above the boxing ring for a different perspective. Maybe the bride is wearing pink boxing gloves, a cute ring robe, and high heels.” Because Bob and Dawn are so considerate of the personalities and preferences of the couples they work with, they’re able to build a high degree of trust and a strong rapport which leads to a more relaxed and comfortable wedding day. The resulting photos are beautifully editorial, romantic and authentic.
While engagement photos are typically an optional part of the pre-wedding proceedings, figPhoto considers them essential. Michele Gustin, co-owner of Fig Weddings and Fig Media, says, “We take this time to establish our principles as image-makers, supporters of our couples as they step into this quest of marriage. Technically, we do get to see which is their best side, but we also get to hear what they like and establish as a team how best to shoot the couple as we get their real time reactions to our work.” It’s a time for establishing trust and rapport and also for sharing ideas. In fact, figPhoto loves when couples have suggestions or send photos that they like. “It gives us something to shoot for — literally and figuratively — and we use their ideas as the mood board for our shoot. We love that kind of collaboration,” says Gustin. That’s evident when you view figPhoto’s portfolio of gorgeous and unique images. Their style is reflected in how their shoots vary, rather than in how much they look alike, as they’re skilled at adapting to fulfill each couple’s vision. “We take seriously that we are being included in one of the great journeys of their lives, how amazing is that!” says Gustin.
“Engagement photos are a unique opportunity to take photos that are less convenient on the actual day of the wedding,” says Emilia Schobeiri of Emilia Jane Photography. She has captured a couple making breakfast and toasting with mimosas, walking their dogs, having drinks at their favorite neighborhood spot, and even in a ballroom dancing class. Schobeiri likes to do one-half of the engagement shoot in a casual, active place like those mentioned, then the other half with more formal attire and locations. She says, “He can don a jacket and she can wear a dress if she wants (or two jackets, two dresses for same-sex couples) and we can choose a classic spot like the garden at the Art Institute or one of Chicago’s bridges.” But Schobeiri is also open if couples would like to forgo a planned shoot and just say, “Let’s go out on the boat for the afternoon.” The Emilia Jane Photography studio is also flexible enough to meet the needs of discerning couples who’d like to schedule “destination engagement sessions” at, for example, their family’s summer lake cottage or their grandparents’ Michigan farm. The outcome of all of this connection and consideration is a collection of photos that Schobeiri describes as “a conversation — a beautiful dialogue between the two of you.”
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