We’re so excited for your engagement session! Marriage is the best! You have such a fun journey ahead! We want you to know that we’re honored to be your photographers and humbled that you’ve trusted us with the responsibility of helping you create memories you’ll look back on and cherish for a lifetime. We can’t wait to celebrate with you on your big day and be at your side to capture all the memories you’ll make with each other and the people you love most. But first, let’s talk about your engagement session!
As photographers, we believe your engagement session is one of the most important parts of the pre-wedding process for four reasons. First, it gives us a chance to spend time together and get to know each other better before the big day. Second, it gives you a chance to get comfortable in front of our cameras so you’ll know exactly what to do and be posing pros by the time the wedding rolls around. Third, it gives you a set of beautiful images that you can use for save-the-dates, your wedding website, prints to display at the rehearsal dinner or reception, frames for your wall in your new home together and so much more! Most importantly, it gives you a way to freeze this special time in your life. A chance to pause, take a deep breath and relish in this season together. You’ll be husband and wife for fifty plus years, but you only get to be fiances for a short little window of your life! With your engagement session, we want to help you slow down long enough to remember this short, sweet season of life for years to come.
Our goal is simple: for your session to be as fun and stress-free as possible! That’s why we’ve created this guide just for you! The following pages will help you get the absolute most out of your photos. By the time you’ve read through it, you'll have all of your questions answered and feel ready and prepared for your session!
This guide is packed with our best tips, tricks and insider secrets for scheduling and styling your engagement session –– and everything in between. Your only job is to be yourselves, laugh a lot, have fun and let us do the rest! We can’t wait to get you in front of our cameras and we’re so excited to see you soon!
Scheduling Your Session
We photograph engagement sessions the way we like to be photographed ourselves: outdoors, in natural light, because we love images that are clean, bright, fresh and timeless. Images that look and feel like you. That’s why we begin all of our sessions 1-2 hours before the scheduled sunset –– during the magical “golden hour” –– when the light in the sky is the softest, dreamiest and most flattering.
You can use a sunset calculator online to determine the scheduled sunset for the date and location you’d like to do your session. Then, just subtract two hours to figure out your approximate session start time. If you’re wearing one outfit, we’ll start your session about 90 minutes before sunset. When scheduling your date, it’s important to remember that the sun sets much earlier during the colder months of the year and much later during the warmer months, so make sure to factor that in when choosing your engagement session date –– especially if you’re taking off work or have evening plans afterward. We always recommend going out for a fun date night afterward since you’re already dressed up!
Our weekends fill up fast and far in advance, but our weekdays are much more flexible. So if you’d like to do your session sooner rather than later, scheduling mid-week is the way to go!
Example Timeline #1
Sunset 7:00 p.m. - One Outfit
5:30 p.m. Arrive
5:45 p.m. Photograph Outfit 1
7:00 p.m. You made it! Go on a hot date!
Example Timeline #2
Sunset 7:00 p.m. - Two Outfits
4:45 p.m. Arrive
5:00 p.m. Photograph Outfit 1
5:45 p.m. Change Outfits
6:00 p.m. Photograph Outfit 2
7:00 p.m. You made it! Go on a hot date!
Planning Your Time
When you’re planning "getting ready" time before your session (scheduling your hair, makeup, etc.) please give yourself a lot more time than you think you'll need. Make sure to account for things like traffic, getting lost and parking, so you can prevent unnecessary stress, arrive a few minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. We’re only able to shoot when light is still in the sky, so we’ll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down!
Choosing the Location
The location of your portrait session is completely up to you! As you’ll see throughout this guide, most of our couples love showcasing the natural beauty of our home state to give their out-of-town guests a fun preview of what to expect when they travel here for the wedding. For most of our sessions, outdoor, open-air environments are always our first choice. We love shooting in wide-open natural spaces because the light is divine, especially during golden hour. There are great options all around the state, so even if you've never seen us photograph in a specific place before, we’re always up for exploring a new spot together!
Think Outside the Box
When it comes to choosing a location, don't be afraid to think outside the box! We encourage you to brainstorm unique places that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you (or someone you know) have access to an amazing location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a beautiful private estate, family ranch, exclusive country club or luxury resort. Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around with people in your personal and professional network. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with! If something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! You can also consider Airbnb or other property rental sites. In the past, our couples have secured permission to shoot in some pretty incredible places!
If you need some location ideas and inspiration, we have plenty! Check out our Instagram @shariannamariephotography of our blog. If there’s a certain session you really love, just let us know which one and we can go to that location!
Your engagement session includes our travel time anywhere in Phoenix and surrounding areas within 50 miles. If you’d like to go somewhere else in Arizona, we’re up for the adventure! If you’d like to shoot outside of the city, like in Sedona, for example, there will be a travel fee to account for the extra hours of drive time there and back, the time required beforehand for us to scout locations and the overall longer session time. For destination sessions, we allow three hours (instead of two) so we have enough time to drive to multiple scenic spots.
We've done engagement sessions from Mount Lemmon, everywhere in between and even in San Fransisco, too!
If we’re already going to be in or near an area you’ve always dreamed of doing your photos, and we can coordinate our schedules, let’s set it up! We’d love to meet you somewhere beautiful and make it work! If you’d like us to meet you in a destination outside of Arizona for your engagement session where we don’t already have plans to visit, just let us know and we’ll send you a custom quote.
Styling Your Session
If you want your engagement session images to look and feel a little more editorial, we recommend bringing a few small, simple props with you, like fresh flowers to hold or a blanket to sit on. If you want to set up a picnic or incorporate another special element into your session, just let us know! Maybe you have access to some larger props that have a real “wow” factor, like a boat, classic car, vintage bicycle or hot air balloon. This is the time to dream a little bit and decide what really feels like you! Props aren’t a must by any means. Some of our couples love them and go all out. Some pick one or two items to bring. Others stick with just their outfits –– and that’s great, too! The most important things you need to bring to your session are love and laughter. We'll take care of the rest.
Dress It Up
Have you been eyeing a gorgeous dress, but just never had an occasion for it? This is your chance to do it up! Remember: there’s no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your engagement session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to spend a ton of money adding a new permanent piece to your wardrobe, a lot of our brides love Rent the Runway for their engagement photos because you don’t have to spend a lot to feel like a million bucks. Plus, you can send the outfits back when the session is over. Some of our brides love having an excuse to go shopping and purchase a new permanent piece (or two!) for their wardrobe –– and that’s okay, too! Whatever works for you!
backdrop, so even though it might seem counterintuitive, soft pastel, muted colors like soft pinks and powder blues still look great! And, remember, regardless of the setting, you can never go wrong with neutrals!
Say Yes to the Dress
There's nothing more romantic than a long, flowy dress. Dresses and skirts tend to look most stunning on camera because they really flatter the female body — which is probably why the red carpet is always full of so many dresses and not very many pantsuits! We recommend choosing long, flowy dresses or skirts because they’re flattering on all body types, look amazing on camera and bring extra movement and dimension to your photos. Maxi (or floor length) skirts and dresses will give us the best “twirl factor,” add more romance to your walking photos, and look especially gorgeous when juxtaposed with nature, like the desert, forest, fields or beach. Cute, shorter cocktail-length dresses or midi skirts photograph beautifully as well. Our brides who choose to bring two dresses will sometimes choose one of each! We recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session, and saying yes to a dress (or skirt!) or two! You won't regret it!
One or Two? It’s Up to You!
Most of our brides who choose two outfits will bring one “wow” dress, and then another shorter cocktail-length dress or midi/maxi skirt for a more casual “us on a date” feel. But if you want to bring two “wow” dresses and forgo the more relaxed dress altogether, give yourself permission to do it! The camera loves runway-esque apparel and so do we! Remember, though, you don’t have to bring two looks if it’s too stressful. If you’d rather just stick to one fabulous outfit, that’s fine, too! One look that you love will be so much better than one outfit you love and another you’re not very excited about. So, whether it’s one or two is really up to you!
If you’re having a hard time making up your mind, feel free to shoot us an email with pictures! We’d be happy to help you narrow down your options or give you our opinion about what will look best on camera!
Style Tips: For Her
When choosing colors for your outfits, we recommend selecting lighter, neutral tones and more muted shades. Bright, bold or neon colors are distracting and take the focus away from where it should be: you two and how much you love each other. You can never go wrong with light neutral colors like cream, taupe, camel or light gray. The camera loves shades of soft pinks and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light-colored neutrals. That softer, more pastel-leaning color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments –– and especially complements the desert!
Coordinating the Looks
As you’re coordinating your outfit with your fiance’s, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palette and wardrobe pieces coordinate, but don’t actually “match.” You should each wear a different dominant color, but stay within a similar color palette family. So if you’re wearing a blush dress and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a navy coat with gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square. Now he has his own dominant color (navy) while still incorporating a few touches of your color palette. Most of our brides choose their dress first, and then put together their fiance’s outfit based on that. That’s why we have a section for each of you!
Flattering Your Features
In our experience, every woman (regardless of her size or shape) has an area of her body that she’s self conscious about. Recognizing the areas you’re self conscious about when selecting your outfits is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos. Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. If your dress has shorter sleeves (or no sleeves) consider bringing a cute jacket, blazer, cardigan or pashmina to incorporate into your look. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera. For most women, skinny straps actually make arms look BIGGER. So we recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is slimmer-looking arms. If it’s colder outside, we suggest bringing a warm coat (the longer, the better!) to wear when we’re not shooting so you don’t freeze in your dress.
For shoes, keep in mind that heels elongate women’s legs and force constant tension in the calves –– which makes them look more toned. Closed-toes heels, in particular, look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. You can never go wrong with a pair of neutral pumps! If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your toes show. Lastly, make sure to bring a pair of flats to wear when moving from place to place. Your feet will thank you later!
Make a Statement
Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images. Whether it’s a necklace, belt, bracelet, earrings, hat, or scarf, bringing an accessory or two can bring great visual interest to your photos, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention when paired together. For example, if you go with bolder earnings, you might want to choose a more humble necklace, or maybe even no necklace at all. Fresh florals in a crown or bouquet can be a really romantic touch as well!
Go Pro: Hair & Makeup
Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most of our brides’ engagement session checklist because it looks amazing on camera and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. You’ll have these photos forever, so this is the time to pamper yourself! Whether it’s lash extensions or blown-out hair, professional hair and makeup will give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light (if possible) so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light we’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of our brides feel like their makeup is “too much” at first, since it’s more than they would wear on a normal day, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it just right for the camera — and our brides always love the final result. If you need a recommendation for hair and makeup, we work with the best in the business and have a go-to team! They’re sweet as pie, talented as heck, unbelievable professionals and wonderful people. You’ll LOVE them! Just let us know and we’ll send you their information. We know they’ll take good care of you!
Clean Your Ring
Your ring hand will be featured in a lot of the photos, so if you have time before your session, we recommend getting your ring cleaned and treating yourself to a manicure.
Skip the Spray Tan
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, we recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session (even a few days prior) because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph most beautifully.
Tops & Bottoms
The same way that a dress is the most flattering silhouette for the female body, a blazer, sport coat or suit jacket has the same flattering effect for men. You can’t go wrong with a dress shirt, slacks and a blazer, or a well-tailored suit.
For colors, we recommend neutrals and soft, warm tones that complement your bride’s look. When selecting your pieces, we recommend choosing a different “weight” for the pants and coat. So for example, navy pants (darker) and a heather gray coat (lighter). Or gray pants (darker) with a soft powder blue shirt (lighter).
When selecting a suit for photos, the most important part isn’t the price. It’s the fit. For men, it’s critical to have a suit jacket that fits snugly (but not too tight), and pants that are the correct length and don’t have too many breaks. Just like high heels make women look taller than they are, bunched up fabric stacked on top of a man’s shoes makes him look physically shorter than he really is. If you already have a suit that you like and want to wear at your session, make sure to try it on a few weeks beforehand (with the shoes you’ll be wearing) so you have time to make alterations if needed.
If you don’t have a suit, now’s the perfect time to invest in something you’ll wear for the rest of your life! The best part? It’s a lot less expensive than you might think! While custom suits can cost thousands of dollars, some of the most well-known brands sell really nice off-the-rack suits for a fraction of the price that, with a few alterations from a good tailor, can be made to fit like a glove.
Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong complement to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye, so stay away from too strong of prints, and opt for solids instead.
The next time you walk by a store like J. Crew or Banana Republic, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you both a lifetime. Adding extra layers will bring additional dimension and visual interest to your photos. If the temperature permits, he could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!
It’s All in the Details
Long pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from his legs and feet, and place it where you want it: on the face you fell in love with. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts and sandals at home. Suit pants, dress pants or colored pants work best. Brown leather dress shoes complement almost every look, whether he’s wearing a full suit, or a blazer and colored pants. Ties, bowties, pocket squares, colored socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests, and watches are sharp complements to any suit. If you bring two suits to the session, you can start with a traditional necktie and belt, then switch to suspenders and a bow tie for your second look. If two suits are too stressful, no problem! One look will do the trick! A lot of our grooms wear one suit and just change their dress shirt and/or pocket square/tie. Other guys wear one pair of pants and change their jacket. You can still mix and match accessories to complement both of her dresses without doing a full change during the session. So, either way, you win.
How to Prep Your Man
Even though taking photos might not be his favorite thing... YOU are! Most men aren’t overly excited to take photos for two hours, mostly because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to you, which is why we recommend sitting down together for fifteen minutes to educate and empower your man. Tell him why you chose us and our style of photography. Show him your three favorite sessions that we’ve done, explain why you love the photos so much and express to him how much this session means to you. Trust us, if he loves you, he’ll bring his A-game and light up the camera for you! The most common thing we hear from guys before portrait sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t feel like they’ll be good at it. By the time the session is over, though, most guys can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!
Fashion Tips: For Him
After the Session
Don’t forget to plan a dinner date for after your session! You’re already going to be all dolled-up! Why not take advantage of it?! We know the wedding planning process can feel all-consuming, so take some time after the session to relax, have some fun together and celebrate this season of your life!
Even though we’re so excited about your wedding, the thing we are MOST excited about is your marriage! One of the best pieces of advice we can give you is this: never stop dating each other. So if you ask us, your engagement session is a great excuse to plan a date night!
Photo Delivery Timeline
1 Day- Sneak Peek
The day following your session, we’ll post a sneak peek of one of our favorite photos from our time together on our Facebook or Instagram account –– so keep an eye out for that! We’re so excited for you to see how beautiful you look through our eyes.
4 Weeks - Blog Post
About 3 weeks after your session, we’ll post a blog with some of our favorite highlights at https://shariannamarie.net/blog/
- Full Gallery
Once your film comes in we will set up a reveal session to view your images. Your retouched, high-resolution images will be available for purchase during your reveal session, but should you choose to book a wedding package, all of your images will be included complimentary. You can share the link with your family and friends, post to social media and more! We recommend changing the lock screen on your phone first :) Also, don’t forget! Your gallery comes with unlimited downloads for you and anyone you share the link with, as well as the option to purchase prints from our professional lab and have them drop-shipped straight to your door. If you prefer, you can also upload the digital files to the retail lab of your choice (we recommend mpix for that) and print them there.
One Final Note
We know we just gave you A LOT to think about! Don’t panic :) Just take it one step at a time. We provided an Engagement Session Checklist for you on the next page to help you stay organized and on top of things! But if you have any questions at any point, please know we’re here for you! If you’re deciding between two dresses and can’t commit, no problem! We’re here. If you love two locations but can’t make up your mind, no worries! We can help with that, too. If you need a recommendation of any kind, we’re on it! Remember, we’re just one email away :)
At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you wear won’t matter nearly as much as the fun we have together and the memories you make as a couple. The style choices you make will definitely enhance your photos, but the most important accessory to bring with you is joyfulness –– which is the one that makes the biggest difference in your photos anyways. You don’t need to have prior experience in front of the camera. Just show up with a smile and we’ll take care of the rest :)
Lastly, above all else, we want you to know that you (as people) are the most important thing to us. Your marriage matters most. So if there’s ever anything we can do to serve your relationship today, tomorrow, before the wedding or years down the road, please know that we’re here for you and our door is always open. Our marriage is one of the biggest blessings of our entire life, and even though we don’t know everything, we’ve learned a lot in the past 5 years that has helped us have a healthy, intimate, thriving, fulfilling, adventurous, on-fire marriage –– and we’re passionate about helping other couples have that, too. Because marriage isn’t the ball and chain or handcuffs our current culture parodies it to be. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do… because it causes you to be the best you you’ll ever be.
We can’t wait to see you soon!
-Shar & Brian
1. Follow the link in the email we send to schedule a date, time and location
2. Schedule hair and makeup appointments
3. Review Style Guide for outfit inspiration
4. Choose your outfits (drop off at dry cleaner if needed!)
5. Get your nails done
6. Clean your ring
7. Pack a bag with:
- Flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
- Outfit two (including shoes and accessories)
- Touch-up makeup
- Water bottle
- Coat or cover-up (for colder sessions)
- Pick a fun post-session date night spot and make a reservation