des moines, iowa and beyond

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Preparing for your Engagement Session

Sweet Beginnings

Hi Loves! I’m so excited to share that some of my friends have graciously agreed to guest post for me while I’m on maternity leave these next few months! Today, I am one day beyond our due date and as I pre-write this, have no idea what we are doing. Perhaps we have a sweet love in hand and maybe not. Either way, I am beyond grateful for these industry friends you will be hearing from in the coming weeks.

First up, my dear friend Val, of Val Marlene Creative. She and I worked on my second wedding together and it has been so amazing to see her grow over the years! She started her entrepreneurial journey as a wedding photographer and is now also a wonderful creative coach, stylist and encourager. I’m hopeful you’ll all soak in all of the wisdom of our guest bloggers and industry leaders – they are so knowledgable!

You’ve set your date, booked the venue, found the perfect fit in a photographer and now it’s time to start thinking about your engagement photos. But…you’ve never done this before! How on earth are you supposed to know what you need to know?! Friend, I got you covered.

I won’t sugar coat it – there are some decisions to be made (welcome to wedding planning, am I right?) but your engagement session is one of the few times in your engagement that you just get to forget about the checklist and just celebrate this season in your relationship! You’ll never have this season back, so make the most of it and have it captured well. 


When choosing your location, you want to consider the feel you want from your images and if there will be any sentimental values added by your choice. Some examples of sentimental settings would be a coffee shop where you often go on dates, or the place he proposed, etc… If you don’t have a special sentimental location in mind, typically I recommend that you start by deciding if you want to do both an Urban and Nature setting, or if you just want to focus the whole time in a city or vice versa. Once you’ve decided on that you’ll want to communicate with your photographer to see if they have location suggestions that fit your vision! Even if the locations they suggest are unfamiliar to you, or make you nervous, remember that you chose your photographer for a reason. You trust them and you love their images. It’s likely that they know something about that location that you might not have noticed before. We photographers see the world differently and you’d likely be pretty surprised at what crazy gems of locations we can see in the middle of nowhere! 


Next up is outfits! Typically I recommend that you choose two outfits. A lot of my couples will have one dressier look and one more casual outfit. You do want your outfits to be of equal formality. If the lady is wearing a long, flowing gown, the man probably should not be wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It’s fun to have a mix of formal and relaxed – and you really do want to be yourself as you make these decisions! Don’t feel the pressure to fit into a Pinterest mold – make your choices based on your love story, your personalities and have fun with it! You are more than welcome to do additional outfits – the change time will typically take away some of the shooting time you’ve set with your photographer, but that’s up to you!

What to Wear Ladies

First and foremost, it’s important that you to wear something you feel beautiful in. The truth is, if you don’t like how you look in your outfit at home, it won’t matter how pretty the setting and the image, it will be harder for you to love it. Choose pieces that compliment your figure and skin tone! I’ve actually curated a Pinterest board specifically to help you find your body type and read more tips for what to wear!

Second, although it may be uncomfortable, I would recommend letting your photographer know if there is a certain part of your body that you feel self conscious about. They can often photograph at angles that may help, but you should also dress accordingly. If you really don’t love your arms, I wouldn’t recommend wearing a sleeveless dress. If you’re conscious about your ears – make sure your hairstyle works for them. Scarves and jackets are great for chins, tall boots elongate a curvier figure and heels emphasize the feminine leg curvature. These are pretty basic ideas, but worth considering as you look at your options. 

Layers, accessories and detailed pieces photograph really well. Think pretty lace sleeves or necklines, fun strappy wedges, and statement jewelry. Jackets, scarves, bracelets, watches and hats. These all add dimension to your outfit, show personality and give something to hold for a really genuine, relaxed look!

Remember that your outfit will play a large part in the feel of your images. If you want a really soft, romantic look – a long, flowing dress with long, loose curls accomplishes that perfectly! If you’re not sure what type of outfit will get the look you’re hoping for, let your photographer know! Often they can help you with these decisions!

What to Wear Men

Men can follow similar advice as above, but truly do have it a little easier. Classically, men look really great in simple, button-up shirts with a dark jean or colored pant. Tailored pants, vests, jackets, skinny ties and rolled up sleeves all draw lines to really emphasize the masculine physique. Ladies love a man in a good suit, am I right? A low-profile dress shoe and feature watch really add to the masculine look as well. I generally recommend you stay away from tennis shoes and graphic tees. Layers, jackets, cardigans, patterns and darker colors typically work really well for bigger men. And I’ll say it again, I think every man just looks good in a suit – so you almost can’t go wrong there! 


I typically recommend that you avoid really bright colors like magenta pinks, neon yellows and oranges. There are definitely some exceptions to this, but for romantic, timeless images, neutrals and more muted tones photograph well. Don’t be afraid to add in a pop of color, though, if that suits your personality!

You may also want to consider that these images will be incorporated into your home decor and on your walls. If you decorate with a lot of bright and bold patterns, it might be best to stick to some neutrals with pops of color to coordinate into your design without overwhelming the room.

If you do wear a pattern, typically larger patterns photographs best. Tiny checkered patterns on a shirt often don’t show well and can create what we call chromatic aberration. You don’t need to know what that is per say, but it just makes the color look a little funny. 

Totally optional, but some couples do coordinate their outfits with their wedding colors for Save the Dates and wedding decor!


It’s important to distinguish between matching and coordinating. Matching black shirts with khaki pants may give more of an awkward 90’s family portrait or school uniform look. In contrast, a light blue button-up for the man with a navy floral dress for the lady coordinate really well and don’t look matchy matchy. Intentionally mixing your color shades so they contrast instead of match is another great example. So, maybe a light pink button-up for the man with a contrasting shade of pink dress for the lady.

It’s also good to mix your patterns and solids. If one of you wears a pattern, especially a bold one, the other should probably wear a solid to contrast. I will say, though, that sometimes it’s really fun to see couples mix patterns, especially plaids, stripes and florals. You just have to be sure the patterns work well together. 

​In the end, I want you to be yourself! If you love a simple black dress and heel, go for it! If you have a unique style, don’t be afraid to showcase it! Just because I might choose to wear a maxi dress with a jean jacket doesn’t mean you should feel pressured to do the same.

Some couples have chosen to incorporate elements into their images that represent their relationship or personalities. Some of these might be puppies (always welcome!!), coffee, blankets or even as large scale as airplanes! There is no pressure to bring anything to your session – but it’s absolutely an option! 


Your engagement session is a really great time to utilize your trial for makeup, hair, and even nails! I know that I personally could love my outfit, the location and photographer, but still never want to show a single image from a session where my hair was just not working, or I look exceptionally tired. I also know that I can get stressed when getting ready for a session because I just really want it to look perfect and sometimes I just can’t make my hair do what I want it to. So now, I schedule a blowout at my salon for a few hours before my session, because I know that will help me relax and feel beautiful in my images! Same goes for makeup and nails. Allow yourself to be pampered a little bit and really love your look for your session! 

Preparing Your Groom

A lot of Grooms can be a little nervous for the engagement session. For many men, it’s the first time they will have their photo taken (aside from iPhone selfies) since high school graduation! And we all know how those felt! 

I think it’s really helpful, as it is in most of life, to talk about your expectations and the session before-hand so that you’re on the same page. View this time as more of a date where your photographer will happen to be there documenting your relationship as you love on each other. Sure, they’ll be directing you where to go, and perhaps where to place your hands, but the end goal is to just have fun and capture your love!

Nobody expects you to be models or pro’s at the “nuzzle” in the beginning of your session, so please don’t feel that pressure! You’ll work together with your photographer and you’ll get the hang of it in no time! Promise! 

The Experience

Your engagement session is not just a couple hours of taking photos – it really is a time to love on each other and soak up this special (and fleeting!) time in your relationship! I think it’s really fun to make a day or an evening out of it and to take a break from the planning! Maybe that morning you could revisit the place he proposed or go out for breakfast and talk about marriage and what you’re most excited for. Or you could even go back through some of your favorite memories during your dating months!

You only get to do this once – so make the most of it! Make memories that you’ll love to remember as you look through your engagement images for years to come.

xoxo, Jenn (&Val!)

Don’t forget to connect with Val! website | instagram | facebook

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