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Engagement Sessions Are So Engaging!

ama mustard
I’ve been wanting to start an AMA – Ask Me Anything – series on this blog. So… let’s start with a very common question that I hear from pretty much everyone.

What’s the deal with engagement sessions?

First a story: Once, while getting a manicure, I over-heard a very disgruntled woman talking to her friends about how ridiculous engagement portraits were and how obviously the photographer was just gouging them (parents of the bride) for more money. She was really upset and it literally took all of my self control not to say anything to her. I knew that no matter how calmly, eloquently, or excitedly I explained the many benefits of having an engagement session that she would hold to her opinion. So instead I sat there, letting my hands soak in pretty smelling water, and really reflected on why I love engagement sessions so much. I encourage all of my couples to also book an engagement session with me when we first sit down over coffee or skype to talk about their wedding photography. Some couples already know that they want one, while others need a bit more convincing. …recall that I said encourage, not force, not demand, not guilt trip.

Here are the reasons that I encourage all of my couples to book an engagement portrait session:

  1. It gives me an opportunity to learn how you respond to the camera before your wedding day. Believe it or not people can get weird the second a camera comes out. Known as “camera awareness” and my mortal enemy, the concept is pretty straight-forward in that people can become awkward when they anticipate being photographed. An engagement session helps us break down that awareness so that you can get into the moment with your special person. It’s also really helpful for me to see how you naturally interact with each other, how you smile, if you’re a blinker, or maybe you have some bad selfie habits. These are all things that I really should know before one of the most important photographed days of your lives together.
  2. Learning vocabulary. An engagement session is measurably more casual than our portrait time on your wedding day. This makes it a great opportunity to learn some vocabulary and posing basics so that things can go more smoothly when we’re more pressed for time and everyone is full of wedding adrenaline. V-shape, turtle, compress, and “give me your chin” are concepts that I want to sit in your brain and turn into natural muscle memory.
  3. It’s an opportunity for you to give me feedback. Many couples have never had professional portraits taken before so they really aren’t sure what they want or how they work best with a photographer. All the pinterest boards in the world aren’t as good as actually experiencing something; this holds true for portrait photography. Too much direction, not enough direction; more candids, more formals, you see where I’m going. Again, this is feedback and expectations that we want communicated before your wedding.
  4. They’re fun! …and useful. An engagement session is your opportunity to tell your friends, family, and guests all about yourselves as a couple. Where you live, where you met, where you got engaged, what you like to do together, how you get all googly-eyed and silly when they look at you, express your style and interests, and maybe show off the fur babies. I tell my couples to think of these sessions as a date for three… you’re going on a date and I’m there to be your visual voice. Engagement sessions also offer visual variety and an important time stamp to mark the season and changes that will occur over the course of your engagement. Thinking about using a photo for your save the dates? Boom! Want to string up photos of the two of you, that aren’t just selfies, at your wedding reception? Bam! Gramma been wanting a portrait of her favorite grandbaby and bae? Done!
  5. Establishing trust and confidence.There’s one thing that makes any given portrait look a million times better… confidence. Unfortunately we live in a really critical culture where everyone is a hot mess for the internet to poke at your insecurities. 🙁 I’m going to do everything in my natural super powers to make you look your very best. Posing, lighting, helping choose outfits, etc I want you to feel great while you’re having your portraits taken and I want you to trust that I have my eyes on everything. I have a very light hand in my post-processing, I’d much rather fix something in person than in photoshop. Pro-tip: It’s software, not magic. I had an engagement session last summer that turned out beeeeeautifully! I found out later that they whole time the bride-to-be was reminding herself that her BFF’s engagement and wedding photography that I did the year before turned out great and to trust me. “She knows what she’s doing, she knows what she’s doing…” because lemme tell ya sometimes the things we need to do to make something look great, don’t feel great. 3D humans vs. 2D photography. Of course she looooooved her portraits and now she knows from her own experiences that she can fully trust me and she will look beautifully confident on her wedding day!

goofy phoenix arizona couple climbing a wall redhead bride to be with fiance cuddling in lamar missouri laughing and walking on oregon state campus love never fails summer engagement session cuddling at abiqua falls silverton oregon too cool for oregon state school engaged couple engagement session at the rose test garden in washington park portland oregon cuddling on a bench in lithia park ashland oregon military engagement session at evergreen aviation museum mcminville oregon offbeat bride and groom engaged at apple orchard eugene oregon

How to re-wear a bridesmaid’s dress


mixed wedding party wears purple mismatched dresses for summer chicago wedding

If you’ve ever been a bridemaid or MOH then you know what this title is all about…

Choosing a dress for your bridesmaid’s can be very tricky – what color? style? length? material? What if they don’t fit? What if a bridesmaid refuses to wear it? Who pays for the dresses? What if all the bridesmaids can’t afford the dress I want them to wear? What about shoes? The list goes on and on forever and ever…

One of the main complaints I hear from bridesmaids is that they’re expensive for a dress they’re likely to never wear again. No matter how stunning they are on the wedding day, for some reason they just look “too much like a bridesmaid’s dress to wear again”. …until now.

I’m here with three solutions to the bridesmaid’s dress dilemma!
1. Rent. The guys get to rent their suits/tuxes …why can’t the ladies rent their bridesmaid’s dresses? Over the last five-ish years a number of dress rental companies have popped up to meet this need and the ladies couldn’t be happier! My personal favorite is Little Borrowed Dress. They offer 6 styles in a wide assortment of colors both a party and floor length. All their dresses are made from chiffon AND they’ll even send a back-up size for free! Worried the color on your monitor isn’t the same as the color of the dress? Just ask for a few swatches to ease you mind. With Little Borrowed Dress it’s easy to let your bridesmaids pick what they’re most comfortable wearing. The best part? You don’t have to spend $200+ on a dress… $50-$75 will get you one of their dresses shipped with plenty of time before the big day!

Other companies that offer a similar product (though I haven’t worked with them directly) are: Rent the Dress, Vow To Be Chic, and Rent the Runway.bridesmaids in little borrowed dresses in summery poppy color


2. Skirt + Blouse combo. You heard me right, that bridesmaid’s dress doesn’t have to be a dress. Going with a skirt + blouse combo is almost guaranteed to re-worn as separate pieces give near endless possibilities for future events. This choice could also allow more individual expression among your bridesmaids AND help everyone feel their best if your ladies are a variety of sizes and shapes. These bridesmaids look so lovely and festive on the Oregon Coast for an overcast summer wedding. Their skirt + blouse outfits went with the homemade, DIY, intimate backyard event; while still feeling dressy and feminine. Since most of the wedding party (and guests) traveled for this special day, having clothes that were easy to iron was a huge advantage. Plus… skirts with pockets are super cool! skirt and blouse bridesmaids look so cute and festive on the oregon coast

3. Pick a simple dress in a timeless color. It can be really easy to get swept up in all the latest wedding trends and not realize that, like all trends, they’re temporary. Choosing a simple dress in a neutral/timeless color (black, grey, navy, or blush) will allow your bridesmaids to make simple additions to her dress for future events. Extra Petite recently created a video that was featured on Style Me Pretty that really showed how easy it could be to dress up or down such a dress. PS: I’ve decided that purple is also a neutral. Seriously, it goes with every skin tone, comes in a variety of shades from cool to warm, is appropriate for any season, looks great with other colors, is gender neutral, and looks great for both formal and informal events. Perfection! 

Restyling a bridesmaid dress with Extra Petite on Style Me Pretty | Long Haul Films Video Production from Long Haul Films on Vimeo.

Fireworks + Portraits = Hurry up and hold still.

Firework grand finale on top of the OSU parking garage with hugging couple

Three times a year there is a fireworks display at the Baseball field (Goss Stadium) on Oregon State University Campus. Normally the first one catches me by surprise and I’m disappointed with my lack of planning ahead. The display for the 4th of July is just a zoo so there’s no chance I’m even going to bother trying to take photos. …instead I go enjoy the display and secretly wish that I brought my camera anyway. This year I remembered that there should be another display, looked it up, and boom! I actually had enough time to coordinate with some friends to model for me and we had perfectly lovely weather. Yay!

All sources said that the display would start at 7:00pm. I thought this sounded a little early since sunset is at 6:30(ish)pm right now, but hey if that’s what time they want to do this thing then who am I to argue? So I asked Phil + Avery to be there at 6:30pm so we could get the best view from the top of the OSU parking garage and take some test shots. I did my research earily that week for the best settings to start with and tweaked it from there. I prefer to use minimal gear whenever possible – managing lots of gear is not my strong suit especially in an experimental setting – so I just had my tripod and a single speed light along with my Sony Alpha 77 and a 30mm f2.8 lens.

Well 7:00pm rolled around and others started to gather on the top level of the garage, we politely defended the space we needed, and people were pretty accommodating even though they looked at us like we were a little koo-koo. We could see the mortars set up on the grass below and as the clock ticked on and more and more people gathered we grew anxious, cold, and it became more difficult to keep people from standing directly behind Phil + Avery. We overheard someone say that they weren’t starting until 8:00pm and oooooooooh did that not sit well with me. Hahahaha, we started joking about all the things we could have done in the amount of time we had spent waiting for the fireworks… like in my case, eat dinner. The stadium lights finally went out and we had our poses ready to go.

First firework – waaaaaaaaay lower than I estimated. Quick move the camera!

October firework display on top of the OSU parking garage with happy couple

October firework display on top of the OSU parking garage with kissing couple

After a couple sets of fireworks I had them change poses, and again after a few more. Overall the display couldn’t have been longer than 3-5 minutes so I was actually pretty pleased that we got a total of 38 shots fired. All photos on this blog post are shot at ISO 100, 4 seconds, f14.

.Things I learned about photographing portraits with fireworks.

1. Bring an assistant + a flashlight. I ended up using my iphone light to give me some continuous light so that I could manually focus my camera. I also had my speed light off camera and fired it manually after releasing the shutter. It would have been really helpful to have another set of hands there to manage these things so I could concentrate better on the firework position.

2. Shoot wider than you probably want. This is mostly because the height and placement of each firework or set of fireworks will vary considerably. You don’t have enough time to chase them or recompose for each one as it happens.

3. Give your clients/models REALLY stable poses. I shot 4 second exposures and even the smallest movement will blur your subject. Make sure they know when you’re firing so they’re prepared to freeze!

4. Be prepared to wait + bring a snack. In this case they opened the baseball field at 7:00pm and did some activities, but didn’t start the fireworks til 8:00pm. We waited 90 minutes for a 5 minute show, luckily they’d already had dinner and I’m used to having to wait to eat until the job is finished.

5. Establish your composition ASAP. Use the first firework or two to really line up your composition. Once the show really gets going you won’t have time to recompose and reassess the firework location. Fortunately I was able to tilt my camera body vertical with my tripod mount without losing my general placement. I also aesthetically would have preferred the fireworks more asymmetrically balanced to one side of the frame.

ps Super shout out to Kennidy of being a trooper and being very patient with her folks while they did this project with me. 🙂

Watching the October firework display on top of the OSU parking garage

Watching the October firework display on top of the OSU parking garage

Watching the October firework display on top of the OSU parking garage

October firework display on top of the OSU parking garage with hugging couple

How to be the bestest Wedding Party member ever…

Bridesmaids + Groomsmen are a traditional staple to any wedding. This is an opportunity for the lucky couple to include those closest to them in one of the biggest days of their lives and an opportunity for you to ROCK it! Being a member of the wedding party comes with responsibilities, none of which should be taken lightly, and all of which can greatly impact the overall success of the day. So here’s a handy list of ways that you can help your BFF’s special day be as smoooooooooooth and stress-free as possible.

Help keep things on schedule…
This is your MOST important job. Usually, a wedding planner or venue coordinator will be make sure that everything is running smoothly, but it’s your responsibility to be present + ready ON TIME …hey, even a little early won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Be sure to get a copy of the wedding-day timeline from the coordinator or photographer the day before so that you’re able to gently nudge the appropriate people if things start to get delayed.

Run interference…
There are going to be A LOT of people who want to talk to the couple on their wedding day, but they need to focus on each other and guests. Wedding party members should serve as point people for questions (for example, “Where’s the restroom?” “Is there a guest book?”) or help move them away from anyone who might be causing stress or anxiety. The overbearing Great Aunt who just won’t let them get on with their family portraits… step in and help keep her occupied so that the couple can stay on time = less stress = more fun.

Hold stuff…
This one is more for the ladies. It’s important to have a small “emergency kit” on hand. Prepare a clutch filled with your essentials (phone, lipstick, dental floss, hair pins, needle + thread, etc.), assign someone to keep track of it during the ceremony and reception. Should the bride need any of the items during the wedding day, she’ll know exactly who to turn to.

Do the right thing…
The sign of a true friend is someone who will immediately pull you aside and tell you that you have food stuck in your teeth. And that’s exactly what wedding party folks need to do for the couple, who should look their best at all times. So whether it’s a lipstick smudge on the cheek, her dress is out of place, or a collar needs to be adjusted, help them fix it ASAP. The coordinator + photographer will be keeping their eyes peeled also, but let’s face it, there’s A LOT to keep track of and everyone can use a little help.

Help the bride go to the bathroom…
Again, this is one for the ladies. Going to the restroom in a big ol’ wedding gown isn’t easy – so she’ll certainly need an assistant or two to help. There’s no need to be shy here ladies – just get it done! Wedding Dress + Bathroom Hack >>> here.

Be a calming force…
There may be some stressful moments throughout the wedding day, and it’s your job to make sure the couple doesn’t get swept up in the potential madness. Arrange ahead of time which of your will be in charge of gathering family members for photos, pinning boutonnieres, getting coffee, etc. Scattering is the enemy = Planning ahead is your new bestie.

Maintain an attentive, happy expression during the processional, ceremony, and recessional.
There is nothing worse for ceremony photographs than grumpy looking faces. You probably won’t even realize that you’re doing it. Maybe it’s really bright, you’re hungry, uncomfortable, or maybe it’s none of these things and you’re just focusing on the task at hand. Either way do your best to remember the following tips for a happy looking wedding party: 1. Look forward to the couple whenever possible – not at the ground or photographer. 2. Don’t lock out your knees. 3. Smile. Enjoy the ceremony and all the wonderful emotions that go with seeing your friends tie the knot. 4. It’s totally ok to cry. …just don’t hold your breath.

Make sure everyone eats…
Eating may be the last thing on their minds during the reception, but it’s important that they do… promptly. If you arrive to the reception before the couple make up a pair of small plates for them so they don’t have to leave their table to get food. Help keep guests at bay so they have a chance to eat + relax without being interrupted. Don’t forget about yourself and your fellow wedding party member. 🙂

First on, last off the dance floor…
Bridesmaids and groomsmen act as the epitomes of “party people” throughout the celebration and serve as examples to other guests. You should be mainstays on the dance floor, but also listen attentively to the speeches and be present for the cake cutting and other important events. If a family member or table looks lonely be sure to include them in some conversation and thank them for attending.

Keep track of gifts…
Whether a gift table is set up or not, there is a strong likelihood that guests will be handing the couple gifts + cards throughout the day. A wedding party member should be assigned the role of “Gift Keeper,” making sure that all the gifts get to a safe place. Also arrange where the gifts will go at the end of the night and let the Gift Keeper load up the appropriate vehicle after dinner.

Until they shut it down…
If possible, wedding party members should be among the last to leave the celebration and should make sure any end-of-the-night details are taken care of before heading home.

Did your BFF just ask you to be their Best Man or MOH? Congratulations! Please visit my Dream Weddings page for information on booking Amanda Photographic for authentic, storytelling, and thoughtful wedding photography.