A Guide for the Hopelessly Unphotogenic
Remus and I are both average-looking people; definitely not traffic-stopping gorgeous, but I don’t think anyone has ever been repulsed by either of our physical appearances. Yet for some reason, getting either of us to take a halfway decent photo is a struggle. Awkward smiles, stiff postures, ill-timed blinks, unflattering angles, and hair having a mind of its own are all common themes in our photos, both when posing alone or together (the fact that neither of us can smile on command without looking like a serial killer doesn’t help, either). Which is why when we first started shopping for a wedding photographer and the idea of doing an engagement session came up my initial reaction was:
I accepted the need to have our wedding day photographed, naturally, but the thought of engagement photos was horrifying. At the wedding there would be other things to do/worry about and plenty of people around to distract us from whatever the photographer would be doing, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about that day. Plus, all those extra bodies around meant there were more people to potentially have embarrassingly bad photos taken of them, so even if all the bride and groom shots came out poorly, we could still laugh at “the weird face your aunt is making here” or “what in the hell is my father doing in this shot?”.
But then I started thinking—and reading—about wedding planning and all its elements, and began to wonder if maybe having a set of professionally-taken photos of just the two of us not dressed in our wedding finery would be something we’d like to have. We could use them for our “save the date” cards and potentially in other parts of the wedding process, and at the very least always have a good Facebook profile photo. I would also be a time for us to meet our photographer before all the hullabaloo of the wedding day and let them get to know us (and how awkward we were likely to be to work with), as well as be a trial run for their services. If I came out looking like a deranged hunchback in the engagement photos, I would know we needed to hire a different photog for the wedding. And perhaps get me fitted for a back brace.
And as I looked over the portfolios of the photographers we were considering, I saw a continuous stream of engagement photos of couples who weren’t supermodels, but still looked great in their photos. That could be us! I thought. We could be a nice-enough looking couple smiling naturally at each other in front of some pretty backdrop!
When we found a photographer we both liked and she offered us a decent deal on an engagement session and wedding day package, I asked Remus if he would ignore my earlier declaration of “no way in hell are we doing engagement photos” and submit to the photo shoot, and he happily agreed (or said “um…I mean, I guess, if you really want to…,” but my memory’s fuzzy).
We were both a little apprehensive on engagement shoot day, and I’m not going to deny it felt really weird having a photographer follow us around and encourage us to “act natural!” when there’s absolutely nothing natural about having a photographer follow you around. But when she sent us the photos several weeks later, I was amazed at how well they came out. I had been hoping for maybe half a dozen usable photos, but she provided more than 100 shots that I wasn’t at all embarrassed by my appearance in, making me infinitely glad that we took the leap to do an engagement session, and solidifying that we chose our wedding photographer well (a big relief because I had no idea how I’d go about firing a photog if I had to).
So below are some potentially helpful/potentially pointless tips for other hopelessly unphotogenic people on how to take good engagement photos.
- Wear your own clothes.
If you’re already uncomfortable being photographed, don’t double-down on the awkward factor by wearing an outfit you’re uncomfortable in or unfamiliar with; now is not the time test drive that Rent the Runway dress you think might possibly maybe look good on you.
- Choose a setting that suits you.
While looking at photographer portfolios I saw engagement photos of couples lounging in an open field, holding hands while skipping through a forest, snuggling up in a camping tent in broad daylight, and playing peek-a-boo around a sculpture (you know…like you do…). Remus and I were doing none of this nonsense. If we were going to be photographed, we were going to be photographed where we were comfortable, doing things we actually do. So our first location was a bar. A very nice, ornate bar that was the setting for our very first meeting. We also chose some outdoor sites around Chicago—hoping our January photo shoot would allow for some outdoor shots—like the bridge we regularly cross when heading downtown and in front of the Chicago Theatre, an iconic landmark from the place where we live. Every location we hit were places we’ve been to multiple times before, so there was no environmental unfamiliarity to deal with.
- Think of things to talk to each other about before the shoot.
Part of the ludicrous “act natural!” instruction of being photographed involved us trying to ignore the camera and simply interact with each other. While this worked some of the time, most of the time we were simply talking about how awkward we felt being photographed. If I had to do it all over again, I would come up with conversation topics or stories to share beforehand, so when we were told to “act natural!” we’d have things to naturally chat about.
- Be prepared to make out in front of a stranger. A lot.
On our way home after our engagement session ended, Remus commented, “I think that’s the most we’ve ever made out in front of another person,” and he was right. Having photos of you kissing is inevitable in engagement and wedding shoots, so just find a way to deal with it. We got complimentary champagne from the bar that was our first location, which helped, so maybe try that.