Why should we do an engagement session?

If you’re like most people (myself included), being in front of a camera is cause for major anxiety. It’s totally normal to be nervous when so much attention is focused on you. Doing an engagement session gives you the opportunity to settle in to the feeling of being seen, and to do it with the person you trust most. And, engagement sessions are a great way for us to get comfortable with each other. So much of a good portrait is dependent on the relationship between the photographer and the subject. Starting early with an engagement session will give our relationship a head start for your wedding day.

During (and after) the engagement session, we’ll be able to figure out what angles are most flattering for you, and I’ll keep that in mind when photographing your wedding day. Feedback from your engagement session will help me understand how you prefer to be seen, and what feels most natural to you individually and as a couple.

One of the most important reasons for an engagement session is it will give me a better idea of  your personality as a couple. And because we can get any initial awkwardness out of the way at the engagement session, your wedding portraits will feel very natural and effortless so you can focus on being with each other and enjoying your day.

Engagement photos don’t have to be cheesy. I’m the first to admit that the majority of the shoots you see online are trite or cheesy. I think a lot of that ‘cheese’ comes when the ideas, locations, and wardrobe aren’t true to the couple (ie, inspired by “Pinterest” rather than real-life.)

I prefer to photograph couples doing things that they’d actually do on their own, like go to their favorite café or make brunch at home. This way, the images are a real depiction of who you actually are at this point in your life—what you like to do, where you like to spend your time. It becomes less about photos for your ‘save the date’ than it is about capturing a slice of your life right now.

Your story is unfolding, and your engagement session should be both a celebration of one chapter ending and the excitement of a new one beginning.

©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Dale wanted to show Scott some of her favorite Big Island locations that she frequented as a child.

Where should we shoot?

The more authentic the location is to who you are as a couple, the more meaningful the photos will be in the future. I like to think that I can shoot anywhere—there is always something interesting to create in any space. Depending on the location you choose, the time of day may factor in more heavily. We can definitely discuss your ideas and come up with a great shoot timeline.

Questions to ask when deciding on locations:

  • Do you have a favorite café, museum, or getaway/ resort? Similarly, is there a favorite beach or park that you have? Maybe it’s where you first met, or the place where you decided to go hand-in-hand through life together. Any location with sentimental value is going to make the shoot more meaningful.
  • Do you often lounge together in your living room listening to records, or have a tradition of making brunch every Sunday together and reading the paper? These are the kinds of authentic activities that I love photographing, and that will give your kids (or your future selves) an honest idea of who you were at this point in your life.

A note about location permits: the tv and film industry has trained Southern California businesses and locations to be hypervigilant with photo shoots, in regard to both liability and the potential for income. Many places will require a permit for an engagement session, and fees can range from $50 to hundreds of dollars for a single location. I’m happy to help brainstorm other options with you. Small businesses, large parks, and personal residences are ideal for engagement shoots if you are trying to avoid purchasing a permit.

©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Jorge & Sharon met in Santa Barbara.


©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
They chose Santa Barbara City Hall for photos because Jorge loves architecture and the building exemplifies the feeling of Santa Barbara for them.

What time of day should we shoot?

I almost always prefer to do the shoot a few hours before sunset. The light is quite beautiful at this time of day and if you’re planning any outdoor shots, this is the time to do it.

With outside or exterior locations, the time of day is of the utmost importance. Ideally we’ll shoot in a shaded area, or in the few hours before sunset. The light is gentler in those situations, which make it easier to get incredible skin tones and gorgeous hair. Shooting in the late morning through mid-afternoon is a little more difficult due to the harsh sun directly above (hello, raccoon eyes.) Plus, it can get warm in Southern California, so high-noon is best left for a lazy poolside lunch and cocktail rather than a photo shoot.

©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
While the time of day matters less for interior locations, it is still important. We achieved the dappled light on the wall behind Dale & Scott by shooting when the sun was lower and coming through the trees outside a large sliding glass door.


©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Dale and Scott outside, about 45 minutes before sunset. Depending on your location, this “golden hour” light starts about 1-2 hrs before sunset.

What should we wear?

In the same way that the location should be authentic to you, so should the wardrobe choices. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dress it up a little—just make sure that you are comfortable in what you’re wearing and it makes you feel like your best self. It’s also a fun time to splurge on that outfit or dress you’ve been lusting after for a while and just needed an occasion.

  • Choose your colors so that they coordinate with each other, but don’t worry about matching exactly. (In fact, try to avoid matching exactly.) Ensure that the dressiness of your outfits is similar to each other (ex: if she’s wearing a ballgown, he should be wearing a suit. Likewise, if she’s wearing cowboy boots and a sundress, he should also be dressed more casually.)
  • We almost always have time for two outfits, so if you would like to do one dressy outfit and one more casual, you’ll have a nice variety of final pictures. Because none of us are all just one thing, doing both a dressy and a casual photo can represent multiple sides of your personality and add authenticity to the overall portfolio of images.
©2009-2012 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Wes is a huge SF Giants fan…


©2009-2012 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
…and Tiffany loves crisp, tailored looks. Why not do both? Marriage is all about compromise, right?


  • wear colors that flatter your skin tone
  • wear clothes that move. Long, flowing dresses work really well.
  • think about texture as a unifying element in the clothes, along with coordinating colors.
  • bring a couple different options if you’re not sure what to wear (or feel free to text me some different options before your shoot.) I usually spend the first 15-20 minutes talking with the client about what outfits go best together, and it’s a nice way to ease into the shoot.
  • think about layers and accessories. We can always pare down once we start shooting, but sometimes it’s nice to have a few more clothing items/ accessories to work with.
  • think about having your hair & makeup trial the day of the shoot. You’ll feel pampered and look great, and your stylist can change things up a little so that the style is slightly different from what you’ve planned for your wedding day.
  • get your nails done—chance are there will be a photo or two of your hands and that pretty sparkly something on your left ring finger…
  • bring props if the prop is meaningful to you. If you both love biking on The Strand, maybe we do a photo set with you on your bikes at the beach. Or if your Sunday tradition is to read the NY Times in your neighborhood park or cafe, definitely bring a newspaper to use as a prop. I can help you brainstorm other ideas if you like!
©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Dale’s dress allowed her to climb trees and hike through rainforest, but still looked feminine and put together. The kind of fabric you choose to wear can make all the difference.


©2014 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
A beautifully draping dress doesn’t look out of place in a rainforest because of similar tones in the flowers and forest floor.


  • wear very strong patterns, graphics, or logos. While patterns can work, graphics and logos are almost always distracting and can “date” the photo in the years to come. **Though there are exceptions to everything– see Wes & Tiffany’s ode to the SF Giants above.**
  • wear clothes that make you uncomfortable or don’t fit well. We’ll be moving a lot so you should feel like you can walk and sit and be somewhat mobile. (This may mean you bring an extra pair of shoes for walking.)

How should I prep for the shoot the day and week before?

(This applies to both girls and guys!)

  • Don’t stress! It’ll be fun! You can ask friends for tips on what worked for them, but remember—all you really have to do is be yourself.
  • Drink lots of water and stay hydrated for pretty, glowy skin.
  • Try not to get too much sun in the week leading up to the shoot. If it happens and you get a little red, no biggie—just be sure to have your makeup artist even out your skintone.
  • Reducing your salt intake in the days before the shoot will help avoid water retention/ bloating.
  • Definitely make sure you’ve had enough to eat on the shoot day. We will be moving constantly throughout the shoot and the last thing you want is to crash or get hangry. Bring a small snack if you think you’ll need it.
  • Make sure your clothes are pressed/ steamed. Often, clients will wait until we are at the shoot location to change into their outfits so that the clothes aren’t wrinkled from the drive over.


What should I expect on the shoot day?

  • We will usually spend a few moments when we first arrive chatting and talking about our plan for the shoot. We can also go over any wardrobe questions.
  • It’s totally normal to feel a little awkward or uncomfortable when we first start shooting. Trust me, almost everyone feels this way, myself included. Just expect that it’ll happen and that it will pass, and then you’ll start to have more fun. The truth is, it’s a great experience to have with your partner. (An adventure!) You’ll be doing something together that you probably aren’t familiar doing, and many couples have told me that they’ve felt even closer at the end of the shoot.
  • I’ll spend some time directing you, and giving you activities to do (like walking, talking to each other, etc.) rather than posing you formally. If we are photographing an activity like making brunch or walking through a record shop, I’ll just give you subtle directions to ensure that you look your best while doing the activity. I’ll probably stop you when you do something super gorgeous, and ask you to do it again or to “hold it” so that I can grab the shot. Because you’re hanging out with your future husband/ wife, you’ll be having a great time and those times when I ask you to “hold it” will be coming at you pretty frequently.
  • Depending on where you’ve chosen for your location, we may walk a little bit from place to place, or we may hang out in one area. Be prepared for walking, standing, and sitting.
  • Also be prepared to interact with your environment. If we’re at the beach, this may mean getting wet or sandy. In a rainforest, it could mean a little dirt, sitting on trees, or maybe even a few mosquitos. Think of it as an adventure and you’ll be just fine. : )
  • …And maybe a little PDA, too. I’m not talking about full-on making out (unless you want to), but showing your affection with each other is definitely important—even if it’s just how you look at each other.
  • Inside jokes are totally ok, and definitely encouraged. Most of the time I’ll be a meter or two from you, and I love seeing your natural reactions when you talk with each other or make little comments between shots. This shoot is all about you, not me, and I promise that I won’t think it’s rude if you need to take a minute to just be with each other and reconnect.
  • The most important thing is to relax and enjoy yourself. This should be a fun date for the two of you, and you’ll have plenty of time to get close and create new memories from this experience.
©2009-2012 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Lisa and Markus are both very active, and they had no problem getting wet and sandy for our shoot. Interacting with the environment is a great way to make your photos seem more “editorial” and less posed. Plus, it gets you out of your head and you’ll have more fun!


©2009-2012 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
Lisa and Markus had to wade through the shallow water to climb up onto the rock.


©2009-2012 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved


©2009-2012 Michelle Kunz, All Rights Reserved
PDA is not required, but totally encouraged 😉

What should I expect after the shoot?

You could be a little tired or totally energized depending on what kind of shoot you chose. You’ll probably be feeling extra-close to each other. And, you’ll still be looking gorgeous with your hair/ makeup done. Definitely take advantage of all this, and killer outfits you’re wearing, and go for a nice dinner. Wedding planning can be a lot. Post-engagement shoot dinners are a nice way to reconnect and relax, because – hey! — you just checked off one of the major “to-do” items on your list.

When I get back to the office, I back up your files and prep the photos for your online gallery. The gallery is typically available within 2-4 weeks, and you’ll be able to share the password with friends and family and order high-quality lab prints from the gallery. Your final images will be delivered via download link no later than two weeks after your gallery is live.