“I wasn’t expecting it to be, but that was actually a lot of fun!”
I hear this phrase a lot from our couples after their engagement session has ended. And every time, it’s music to my ears.
Of course, one of the main reasons we photographers provide engagement session services to our couples is to document this special season of life before their wedding day is here and marriage begins. We also know very well how important and useful an engagement session can be in developing rapport and trust with clients, strengthening our relationship with them and getting them comfortable and confident in front of our cameras prior to wedding day. A well executed engagement session is absolutely key in providing an exceptional overall experience to our clients. Today I’m sharing five practical things that you can do to create a comfortable and meaningful experience for your clients at their engagement session.
1. BECOME A STUDENT OF YOUR CLIENT
Providing a comfortable experience to your clients begins well before the date of the engagement session – it actually starts at the consultation. Each time I meet or speak with a potential new client, I take some time immediately following the meeting to jot down any and everything that I can think of that we talked about…how the couple met, when they got engaged, where they grew up, special family members they are close with, what band they were thinking about booking for the wedding…anything! I place it in a temporary file and if they book with us, I transfer those notes into their client file that I can refer back to (and add to) throughout their time as a client with me. Immediately before the session begins, I like to review their file to have some potential talking points to direct conversation. For example, if the bride mentioned at the consultation that she was planning to take a trip to New York to go dress shopping, make it a point to ask her about the trip, who went with her, what her dress looks like, etc.
Remembering specifics about things your couple has mentioned in the past will go in a long way in making them feel special and show that you really care about them as a couple and not just about getting paid.
2. ANSWER QUESTIONS BEFORE THEY ARE ASKED
The majority of our couples have never been photographed professionally before and are usually at least a little nervous leading up to their engagement session. It’s important to us that we do what can to calm those nerves and begin to develop trust prior to our time with them. A great way to do this is to help them through the planning of their session by providing helpful information and answering their questions before they even have to ask. We recently created a photography planning booklet that we provide to each incoming couple that has been extremely well received (we started with a template from Katelyn James). While I truly believe the investment of the time and money you will spend on this project is beyond worth it, if you aren’t quite ready for that, I would suggest creating a simple PDF to attach in an email or at minimum, a link to a blog post with tips, etc. (here is one that we created in the past).
Suggested topics to include:
- What to expect and general tips
- What to wear/clothing inspiration
- Recommendations for a hair and makeup artist
- How and when to schedule their session
- How to choose a location
3. SET THE TONE
The first ten minutes of arriving…before you even begin shooting…are some of the most important, as they set the tone of session. Here is a quick breakdown of the flow of how I begin things with my couples.
- Shoot the breeze – How was your day? Was there much traffic getting here? Where do you live? How is planning going?
- Ask them how they are feeling about the session. Give them the space to express if they are nervous and then speak to any hesitations they may have.
- Share a little of my heart behind why I shoot engagement sessions.
- Assure them that most couples feel awkward for the first 10 minutes, but then it will get easier and more comfortable.
- I assure them that I will direct them on where to go and what to do. However, I encourage them to not “get stuck” (i.e. keep moving and talking) and just enjoy each other.
4. MAKE IT MEANINGFUL
When a new client books with us, we send a small welcome gift to say thank you and to let the couple know how genuinely excited we are to be working with them. In the package includes some sweet treats, as well as two little booklets that we instruct them to hold onto for their engagement session. As their session date approaches, we ask the couple to take some time to think of 10 things that they love about the other person and to record their answers in the booklets that we provided. At some point during the session (usually more toward the beginning), we put on our long lenses, get back and allow the couple to go back and forth reading to each other what they have written about their partner. Not only does it create a memory for the couple and gives them a keepsake from their engagement, but it creates genuine emotion and connection between them. This activity always goes over well and has become one of my favorite parts of the engagement sessions we photograph.
* Note – this year we created the “This Is Worth Fighting For” letterpress booklets seen below through Igloo Letterpress, but in the past we had been using the “Reasons I Want to Marry You” journals from BHLDN. Unfortunately, it looks like they are sold out. After a quick search, here are some other leads to purchase similar booklets/journals if you’d like to incorporate this activity into your sessions as well:
5. GIVE DIRECTION
I can remember WAY back when Geoff and I had our engagement pictures taken. I was a nervous wreck the entire time, as I had no idea what we should be doing. Mostly, we just stood there awkwardly peck kissing over and over again and saying, “I love you”. Y’all, I’m legitimately cringing as I remember this! And that is exactly the reason why we think it’s highly important to provide direction for our couples during their engagement sessions. The last thing I want for our couples is to look back at their engagement session images, regardless of how pretty they might be, to remember how awkward they felt.
For us, the goal is to make them look and feel as though they aren’t posing, even though technically, they most often are. We want to create images for our couples that are natural, authentic and emotional, but very rarely does that happen without some guidance and encouragement for what they should be doing. While we do have our go-to more traditional poses that we frequent, our shooting approach is to create a space for them to genuinely interact in an easy and lighthearted way. Our secret weapon to achieve this is through the use of simple, fun prompts.
So there you have it! From here, I want you to take action, friend! Tell me, which of these are you going to commit to implementing in your next engagement session? Leave a comment below if you need some accountability!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Except it’s not…because it still feels hot as blazes out there. Okay, that’s a little dramatic…it’s not hot as blazes, but I am still sweating when I go outside. Come on, October! Get yourself together and give us those chilly-in-the-morning-and-perfect-in-the-afternoon temps us Fall fanatics have been living all year for!
Things to look forward to in October (and fun things that are already done because I blog my goals mid-month!):
+ Hair day! My once a year cut and color day. It’s the best day.
+ 2nd annual Raleigh trip to spend a long weekend with my dear friend (from way back in college!) and her family.
+ Host our kid’s besties for an afternoon of Halloween cookie decorating.
+ Carolina Balloon Fest to watch the hot air balloons take off. We try to take the kids to this each year and we all love it.
+ All of the other pumpkin things – make pumpkin bread, pumpkin patch, carve pumpkins, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.
And my goals for the month:
Personal – October
+ Get the kid’s Halloween costumes together. Boone wants to be a Minecraft character (surprise, surprise), Crew wants to be Cruella de Vil…and I think I want Grey to be a chicken.
+ Sell furniture items in my garage.
+ Do fun “me time” things in my evenings that don’t involve work – Finish Chasing Slow, find frames for my hallway photo project, read my Autumn Magnolia Journal, figure out how recover my pillows using a no-sew method.
Business – October
+ Host Fall giveaway (it was so fun…I’m thinking about doing another one geared toward creative business owners in January!)
+ Organize my business paperwork. Still needs to happen.
+ Write one new business related blog post.
+ Begin the email list course I purchased at the beginning of this year.
It was 10 years ago this month that I photographed my first wedding for pay. I was equal parts excited and terrified…I knew nothing! Goodness, what a ride the past decade has been. Travels and clients and opportunities and failures. Lessons and triumphs and set-backs and growth. I’ve seen our business hit some really high highs and some incredibly low lows. And after 10 years, I’m grateful for both the good times and the hard times of this journey.
Today I am reflecting on those highs and lows and am sharing the top 10 things that I can attribute to having made it 10 years and counting as a wedding photography business owner.
1) Set Goals.
2) Look Back.
Looking back at where I started and seeing how far I’ve come is always great for me on the days that I struggle against the lies that I’m a terrible photographer and have no business doing business.
3) Develop Friendships.
Past clients turned friends. Wedding vendors. Fellow photographers. So many dear friendships have come from this business and have made it the richest of experiences for me. Having genuine people in my corner that just get it and that I can laugh with, commiserate with and ask for and share advice with. It’s one of the sweetest bonuses of business ownership that I am so grateful for.
4) Continue Your Education.
I’d be foolish (not to mention, arrogant) to think that I know it all. There are always new areas of photography and business that I can grow in. Continuing my education in my industry and craft has always been a priority to me…whether that be through in person workshops or online education (both paid and free). I intend to keep a posture of learning for as long as this business exists.
5) Remember Your Why.
Quite a few years ago I was overworked and was struggling through a season of burnout and was feeling uninspired. I was at the point that I could take pretty pictures like the back of my hand…but something was missing. If I was going to keep going, I needed to rediscover the purpose in this work and rediscover the truth that the photographs I make with my camera really matter. With Geoff, I took some time to dig a little deeper into “the why” behind this work that we do…why I started doing it in the first place and why I continue to devote a good portion of my life to it. From there we put some words to paper and developed our core purpose: “to create art that matters and genuinely care for others”. That purpose is never far from my heart when I’m photographing our couples.
6) Develop Your Boundaries.
In 2009 we photographed 32 weddings. Which also meant shooting 32 engagement sessions and around 10 bridal portraits. Granted, that was before we had kids, but even so, it was just too darn much. I can vividly remember the constant stress and panic trying to keep my head above water in that season to deliver a great experience to everyone. My health suffered and my marriage suffered. And eventually, I went through a phase of serious burnout.
Balance and breaks and rest and scheduling and boundaries and limits and saying no and rest. All of it. Y’all, pay attention…because it’s important if you want to last long term and simultaneously have a healthy and joyful life. Take the full maternity leave. Determine your workdays and shooting days. Take the vacation. Say no when you know you should. Regularly rest. Schedule days off. Do it. It matters.
7) Fix Your Focus.
My first year in business was when I shot any and everything. Weddings, kids, dogs, local music and improv groups, newborns. Everything. I even did a shoot for HazMat that first year! While I enjoyed this exploratory stage of determining what I was both good at and loved to photograph, I knew that fixing my focus on one thing to specialize in was what would propel me forward the quickest.
8) Keep What Matters Most #1.
What matters most to me in my life is that my marriage is healthy and thriving and that my kids feel loved, secure and cared for. Because these things are #1 to me, they must consistently come before my work. These are my priorities and my energy and time must reflect that. For me, it’s choosing to take a “mama day” and a “family day” each week. It’s pre-deciding to date my husband each month. It’s showing up for the school events even when it cuts into my already shortened work week. By no means do I do this perfectly…and it often means I have to pick up the work slack by working many weekday evenings…but it’s certainly what I’m striving for.
9) Just Keep Swimming.
When you get less than perfect feedback from a client. When you miss a deadline. When you’ve got emails you’ve never answered from months ago. When you have more work to get done than hours in the week. When you don’t get chosen for something you were really hoping to be chosen for. When you think you nail a potential new client consult, but then lose it to another photographer in town.
You just keep swimming. You let yourself feel what you need to feel, learn what you need to learn from it…and then you pick yourself up off the ground and you walk forward. You keep perspective that nothing is the end of the world…and you just keep going.
10) Build Your Support Team.
There is NO way I could still be doing this work without a team of people to help me. My biggest help has always been Geoff. He made my first logo (and about a million design projects thereafter). He came with me to those first weddings when I barely knew how to use a camera (which, I don’t recommend, by the way!)..and then he never stopped coming. He gives me ideas, is a sounding board and helps me solve problems. He has always been my biggest encourager and supporter. Gosh, Geoff. You are so good to me and I love you. I digress! Others that have been such a huge help to me through the years….those that have cared for our children when we were working – nannies, sitters, family and teachers. My housekeeper. CPA and bookkeeper. Graphic designers and web designers. Studio managers and interns. Bottom line, I couldn’t have lasted this long doing this alone. Investing in and enlisting help from others has been paramount.
BONUS #11 and a fall giveaway!
Keep the Fun In It.
Continuously engaging in the fun and creative parts of my business have been of utmost importance in combating burnout and being able to make it in this business long term. I keep my hands in the things that set me on fire and that I love to do! And along the same vein, sometimes I choose to do things in business “just for the fun of it” and not because it impacts my bottom line or increases my following. For me, gift giving is fun. It’s definitely my top love language. I love giving gifts to my clients, vendors that we work with closely and my employees. And sometimes, I like to give random things away to strangers through my Instagram account. Sure, I might get a few extra followers from it, but mostly, I like to do it because it’s just plain fun. And it’s fall y’all. So let’s do a giveaway!
When our team was making decisions about the items we should give away, I knew I wanted them to be centered around supporting some of our favorite small, creative, product based businesses…and many of them are from some pretty great female entrepreneurs. You aren’t going to want to miss this!
Join me tomorrow, Tuesday – October 3rd, 2017. I’ll be giving away a new item every hour, on the hour from 8am-5pm EST through my Instagram account. See you there!
Follow me HERE to participate!
Y’all it took us nearly a year to get our studio space together and ready to meet with clients after moving into our new home. SUCH a process! But, it was worth the wait, as we love it. Thankfully, the wall color and flooring was just what we wanted as is, so we really just needed a new light fixture, some updated furniture and fresh decor pieces. I’ve included the sourcing information below (with direct links for some items…many items were purchased during Black Friday). Enjoy taking a look around our new studio!
Seating Area Sources
Chairs – Target
Coffee Table – Atlas Wood Company
Succulent and vase – IKEA
Light fixture – World Market
Rug – Joss & Main
Workspace #1 Sources
Desk – Overstock
Chair – Target
Frame ledge and frames – IKEA
Wire paper holder – Container Store
Storage Area Sources
Cabinet – The Depot at Gibson Mill
Glass jars – Target
Stackable trays – Target
Workspace #2 Sources
Desk – Restoration Hardware
Desk lamp – Target
File folder holder – Target
Monitor stand – Target
Chair – Sleepy Poet Antique Mall
Letterboard – Letterfolk
Curtains – Target
All frames – IKEA
Plants and pots – IKEA
Keys – Vintage
My little sheep turned seven in August, but I didn’t want to miss out on sharing a few pictures of him, as well as his birthday video that his daddy made for him (as he does for every child on every birthday…because he’s the best).
While I’m so grateful he is healthy and growing, I would be lying if I said I isn’t hard to see him living through this last bit of his littleness. This boy is a treasure. He is one part crazy, hyper and full of energy and another part sweet, kind and compassionate. He loves playing sports, his brother and sister and Minecraft (hence the zombie picture at the end). He’s an awesome kid and Geoff and I are so happy he is ours!
Adorable Beka and Kevin were married this past spring at gorgeous Claxton Farm in the mountains of North Carolina. Y’all, that backdrop never gets old no matter what time of year it is!
We really loved these two (Kevin is a professional speaker; Beka is in real estate!). They are kind, loving, passionate and just plain fun. We so enjoyed getting to know them through their planning process and had the best time photographing them on wedding day.
Many of these images shown here *almost* didn’t happen due to a CRAZY storm that flew in. While they initially weren’t planning to do a first look, they decided at the final hour to go for it, as the radar was showing high chances of rain in the hour after their ceremony. And goodness, did it STORM!
Congratulations, Beka and Kevin!
Venue – Claxton Farm
Hair/make up – Lola Salon & Gallery
Dress designer – BHLDN
Groom/groomsmen attire – Calvin Klein
Florals – GloryTree Flowers
Invitations – designed by the bride, printed by Cards & Pockets
DJ – Mike Gay
Catering – Claxton Farm
Cake – Cakes by Gray