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Engagement Session Style Guide

A style guide for all of you newly-engaged couples to help you prepare for the best session evaaaa. This guide is also helpful for every-day couples (engaged or not!) that are planning on getting pictures taken! Want to see more pictures, check out my galleries here! Want to book a session with Sarah Michelle Photography, contact me here!

Couple about to kiss on a downtown urban rooftop

So, you're ENGAGED!

The excited emotions of forever having a Netflix and chill buddy, pizza partner, and your own personal cheerleader are starting to set in. You’re in a state of bliss for about a month—and then the wedding planning starts. There are likely a million and one things running through your head. When do I need to order the dress and tux? Should we do real or fake flowers? Indoors or outdoors?! I have to feed all of these people?! And what about the centerpieces?!?!?! If you’re like me, these things don’t stress you out; they excite you. I loved planning my wedding and seeing it all come together. But I also had a two year engagement period and plenty of time to plan. You could either be the opposite of me and hate the planning, or it feels like you don’t have enough time.

And then, in the back on your thoughts, there are the engagement pictures. “How can I possibly have time to plan an engagement session with all this other stuff going on?!” That’s where I come in. As your professional photographer, I am here to help make this process as easy and seamless as possible. While I will still need your help and consultations, I am here to help carry the load when it comes to pictures.

In this guide, you will find:

  • Tips on planning your engagement session

  • How to make it unique to you

  • What to wear

  • What NOT to wear

  • What to expect during your session with Sarah Michelle Photography

This is in no way a rule book. At the end of the day, what you choose to wear and where you choose to go will still be awesome!

Couple embracing in a lake
Couple snuggling close together


Key Points:

  • Consider lighting. I love golden hour, which is the first and last hour of sunlight of the day. This is when the light is golden and delicious, dreamy and comforting. It creates fresh and fun photos!

  • Try to plan the session at least 7 months before the wedding if you plan to use the images in your Save the Date’s (which go out ~6 months beforehand).

  • Rain is not the end of the world! Unless there’s thunder and lightning. Then it's a no-no.

I love using natural light during engagement sessions. I can work with mid-day and harsh light, but my favorite time to do sessions in during the Golden Hour, which is the first and last hour of daylight when the sunlight is golden and dreamy. This light tends to be flattering on everyone and compliments every skin tone. I also enjoy Blue Hour, which is the light visible right after sunset that has a more blue-hue. It’s soft and romantic. I don’t carry around a lot of flash equipment, because my style is not flash-heavy. But I do always have one with me incase it gets a little too dark.

If you know you want to do a golden hour session, keep in mind the sun sets much earlier in the colder months, and sets much later in the warmer months. So keep that in mind when choosing a date, and if you have to take off work or have other commitments after the session.

My engagement sessions are usually 1 hour long. No, we won’t be taking pictures every minute of this time. When planning golden hour session, we will generally start 30–45 minutes before golden hour is set to begin.

Gorgeous couple hugging during golden hour sunset

Couple kissing under umbrella on a rainy day


I cannot stress this enough: Rain is NOT the end of the world! As long as there's no thunder or lightening, your images will still turn out perfectly! I’m not afraid to get a little wet for a session. As long as the rain isn’t heavy, I will usually plan on keeping our scheduled time. We can also do indoor locations–like coffee shops or ice cream parlors! Rain does not ruin engagement photos. We all want the golden light, but we know that here in the South, that isn’t always possible. It's usually cloudy and rainy when you want the sun the most, of course. If you for sure do not want cloudy or rainy photos, be aware of which months tend to have the most rainfall. I don’t mind rescheduling due to rain, but my availability is constantly changing so I can’t guarantee a reschedule in time for your Save the Date’s. But I will work with you the best I can to make sure we get some pictures!

Couple dipping and kissing for an engagement picture


Key Points:

  • Think of a location that is unique to you and your fiancé.

  • Choose a place where you’re in your element and comfortable.

  • Don’t be afraid to do something fun and exciting for your session.

Think of somewhere that fits your personality as a couple and the vibes y’all have. If you’re city folk, hiking through the woods might not be your element and your discomfort will show in the images. If you hate people and being in the city stresses you out, let’s not plan on meeting downtown. It is possible to get the best of both worlds depending on where we go. Say you’re a mixture of both. Let’s go to a local park that has those nature vibes, and the city is a short stroll or drive away.

When thinking about locations, also think about extra curricular activities you and your fiancé like to do. Do you like picnics in the park? Let’s do it! Do you have weekly ice cream dates? Let me join this one time. Coffee shop chilling? Let’s go. I want to capture your relationship, no matter what that is. This engagement session should be unique to you. Of course I can just take you to some of my normal spots and we’ll still get bangin’ photos, but if there is anywhere we can incorporate a little bit of you, let’s do it.

Couple having fun on a carousel in Chattanooga, TN
Couple dancing on an urban rooftop downtown Chattanooga, TN
Couple snuggling in nature scenery in Chattanooga
Couple snuggling on some rocks in a creek


Key Points:

  • Something you feel comfortable in.

  • Coordinate and complement each other, do not match.

  • Dress on the same scale.

  • Have more than one outfit! One casual, one fancy/chic.

  • Skip the spray tan.

  • Avoid hats and logos

  • Ladies, nothing boosts your confidence like professional hair and makeup!

If you need some inspo and you're on Pinterest, check out my Pinterest Boards with loads of ideas! This board is mixed with my images, and other photographer's images that I have found and L O V E D!


Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in. Don’t wear a super cute outfit that you’re NOT comfortable in, because it will show. Get you something that makes you feel GAWJUS (or handsome, depending on who’s reading this!) and comfortable. If you prefer wearing lose-fitting clothes, don’t wear something tight. And vice-versa. I can’t capture those genuine smiles and laughs if you’re subconsciously worried about your outfit!

Comfort is key for photos. And if that’s at home in your sweats, we can do an in-home lifestyle session! I gotchu. Literally, this session is for you and I am down for anything.

Couple hugging and spinning around

Coordinate, don’t match.

Not sure what to wear or how to coordinate? Shoot me some pictures of outfits you’re considering and we’ll do this together! Ideally, you don’t want to mix patterns. Don’t wear a striped dress if your man is wearing a plaid shirt. I had one couple where the girl wore a striped skirt, and the guy wore a plaid shirt, and that worked. BUT ONLY because the stripes weren’t up front, up against the plaid, in pictures.

Wear colors that coordinate with each other. Greens and browns and blues... oranges, reds, and yellows. Not sure what goes together? Shoot me a picture!

When selecting colors, avoid bright and bold, neon colors. Stick to lighter pastels or deep muted tones paired with neutrals. These tones compliment your skin tones and don’t distract viewers from you and your fiancé. Pastels and muted tones also compliment nature better than ultra-bright and neon colors.

Couple snuggling and touching noses

Dress up or dress down?

Casual or fancy–that’s up to you! I usually recommend at least one outfit change to we can have a refresher. Some couples opt to have a casual outfit first, and then change into fancier attire for the end. Most of my sessions are in the evening, so they’ll go enjoy a nice dinner while dressed up! #datenight

But if fancy isn’t your thing–no worries. Don’t feel pressured or the need to dress fancy. Again, comfort is key. Whatever you choose, dress on the same scale. Don’t show up in a black tie dress if your fiancé is going to wear jeans and a tee shirt.

Couple slow dancing for engagement photo
Guy checking out his fiance during engagement session


I don’t know about the other ladies, or gentlemen, out there–but I feel most confident when I walk out of my hair salon with my curls and blow-out! Add in some professional makeup and my confidence will be through the roof. So ladies, I urge you to get professional hair and makeup done for your engagement session. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with how you normally do your hair and makeup, but we all love getting pampered and having that extra volume and false lashes! Gentlemen, I’m not sure what most guys do to their hair, but if throwing some gel in there or throwing it up into a man bun is what boosts your confidence, DO IT! I don’t suggest getting a new haircut right before the session. What if you don’t like it? -10 points for confidence. Stick to something you know you like.

Couple snuggling close with guy kissing girlfriends head
Couple walking and laughing through christmas tree farm

Styling Tips for Her

Do you have a fancy jumpsuit or a romantic gown and a killer pair of shoes but just haven’t had the chance to wear it? Well lemme tell you something: I would LOVE to see you in it. There is no such thing as too dressed up for your engagement pictures. Throw on that jumpsuit with those sexy heels, and let’s have some fun!

Do you want to dress up but don’t want to add a new permanent piece to your closet? There’s a company called Rent the Runway that let’s you rent outfits to wear and then return them! That way you can feel like a million bucks without spending a million bucks! If you do want to add something to your closet, I will gladly be your excuse. ;-)

I highly recommend long and flowy skirts or dresses. They photograph nicely with movement and flatter every body type!

Don't forget to get that gorgeous ring of yours cleaned, and spice it up with a manicure!

SKIP THE SPRAY TAN: “But, Saraaahhh?!” I know, I know. You want to look glowing and tan for pictures. But I promise you, you won’t look tan. Pictures are weird like that. Spray tans tend to photograph orange, and thus, you will look orange in your pictures. So for that reason, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even a few days prior. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully and naturally!

QUICK TIP: Bring a pair of flats to wear in between locations and while walking - your feet will thank you!

Engaged Couple on a dock at sunset

Styling tips for Him

Alright gentlemen. I know most of you are being forced to take pictures, but I promise we will have FUN! Most guys leave my session with a big smile on their face! If you’re the type that loves getting snazzed up and taking pictures with your fiance, then sit back and enjoy the ride.

I’ll just come out and say it: men look the most dashing in a well-tailored suit. If you don’t own one, there are now rental companies where you can rent a stellar suit. Check out I would suggest solid shades of gray or navy, as they are a strong compliment to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye.

If a suit isn’t “you” that is A-OKAY! Aim for long pants, of any color, and a nice button down shirt. I suggest long pants and closed-toed shoes for men, because they draw attention away from your legs and feet and place it where you want it: on that charming face of yours! So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts and sandals at home.

Details, details, details! Ties, bowties, cool socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests, and watches are sharp compliments to any outfit. And don’t be afraid to layer it up. Cardigans and fitting jackets are just as sharp. You can still mix and match accessories to compliment both of your fiance’s outfits without doing a full change during the session. So, either way, you win.

Couple about to kiss during engagement session


Key Points:

  • This will be fun with lots of movement!

  • Maybe a little bit of awkwardness, but that’s okay.

  • Timeless photos that show your genuine relationship.

My motto for sessions is: “It’s not about posing, it’s about playing.” My sessions are fun, energetic, and not traditional. There’s a big movement in the photography industry that’s moving away from posed, forced smile pictures to more candid, true-emotion pictures. And that’s what I’m doing. I don’t want the posed, fake-smile you, I want the real you.

During my sessions, I give my couples prompts and cues that are meant to invoke a natural and candid reaction. I want to see those real smiles and genuine laughs. And when you look back at the pictures, I want you to be able to see your happiness. The beginning will be a little awkward, not gonna lie. But as I start getting a feel for you and as you warm up to the camera, it will come more naturally. You’ll forget that I’m there with a camera, and you’ll actually be having fun. There will be running, skipping, prancing, dancing, and piggy back rides, if you’re up to it. ;-)

Of course, I will start with more of the basic poses just to warm you up to the camera. And to be honest, we still like those “smile at the camera” shots, we just don’t want an hour long session of just that. So, come prepared with a good attitude and ready to have some fun with the love of your life. And me. :-)


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