Words by: Jess Lackey
For many couples, engagement photos are the first in a long line of family photos and special moments to come. They are a snapshot of a moment in time, documented forever, accurately capturing the beautiful, authentic love and unique relationship between two people.
The photos themselves become mementos, revisited for years. The images are used in save the dates, sent to dear friends and family, shared on social media and displayed in homes.
Often, the engagement photo session is the first time the couple will take professional photos together. The session will also offer the couple a small a taste of what of the wedding day will be like, as they prepare to be the center of attention on their special day.
Now, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a photoshoot! And anyone who’s revisited high school photos knows (help us all) selecting on outfit that won’t cause a cringe reflex years down the line can be daunting.
Let’s alleviate some of that pressure and take a deep dive into some expert advice on what to wear, what to do and what to avoid for engagement photos.
Confidence and Comfort are Key
How you feel inside is reflected on the outside, so when selecting an outfit, pick something that reflects your best, most confident, powerful, authentic self. “Your attire plays a BIG role in your overall confidence,” said Erin Busbee, fashion expert, influencer and owner of Busbee Style. “Clothes impact how you feel. How you feel will affect how you look in the photos,” Busbee inferred. “If you are wearing a sleeveless top and you are self-conscious about your arms, you won’t feel great and that will show. ONLY pick clothes you feel amazing wearing.”
Do you have a specific part of your body that you love? Then select clothing that accentuates the parts of yourself that you love most. Show it off! Strut your stuff and shine like the authentic beauty you are!
Being comfortable goes in hand in hand with feeling confident. “Ask yourself if the outfit is comfortable? You want to feel confident and be able to move freely in your clothing,” Busbee added.
Most importantly be yourself! If suits aren’t your thing, leave ’em! Go for a more causal, classic look. If you feel most like your true self when you glam it up, then go for formal. Or find a comfortable place in-between. You’ll never go wrong when you’re true to you.
Compliment and Coordinate
Wearing matching clothing might be cute for holiday cards but when it comes to engagement photos, coordination is key. “You want to coordinate with your partner but not overly match,” said Abie Livesay, professional photographer and owner of Abie Livesay Photography. “You’ll want to complement each other, based on the style that you’re wearing,” Livesay advised.
Our experts recommend coordinating color schemes and the overall theme of your attire with your partner. “If the groom-to-be is wearing a blue and pink pastel plaid shirt, the bride-to-be may want to choose a long, soft blue dress,” suggested Lisa Marie Wright, professional photographer and owner of Lisa Marie Wright Photography. “It can also be a great idea to choose ‘color-families,’ such as pastels or jewel tones,” Wright suggested.
Overall, we say keep it in the color-scheme family and avoid matching too perfectly. Let your color-coordinating creativity fly!
Patterns, Textures and Layers
There is a time and place for trendy patterns and generally speaking, that time is now, as in right now, as in probably not relevant (or flattering) 10 years down the line. Instead of incorporating a fun and funky pattern that will likely go out of style in a few seasons, shift your focus to layers and textures. “Patterns are too busy and perhaps too trendy,” said Kristin Holbrook, style expert and owner of Two Skirts contemporary boutique in Telluride. “Mixing denim, suedes, silks, cashmere and even faux fur in the winter says luxury and timelessness,” Holbrook explained.
When it comes to fall and winter textures, Busbee suggested incorporating things like a fuzzy Angora sweater with leather pants or a suede jacket. In the spring or summer, she said could play with eyelet, lace or pleats. “Textures photograph beautifully,” Busbee noted.
“Layering will also add dimension and interest, just keep in mind that you don’t want to add bulk to your body. Keep your layers slim and streamlined,” she advised.
Timeless Style > Fast Fashion
While it may be tempting to don the latest and most edgy style trends, our experts recommend selecting attire that is timeless and classic. “These are the photos you will look at for decades to come and show your children and grandchildren. It’s very important to keep your looks timeless,” Busbee explained. “As tempting as it might be to bust out the giant puffy sleeve top, resist the urge and opt for something streamlined and classic instead.”
Keep it simple and uniquely you. “You don’t want to wear something really trendy that will look dated in a decade,” Busbee emphasized.
Lean into the Landscape
The great outdoors offer exquisite, natural light, and in our case here in Telluride, it also provides breathtaking backdrops and larger-than-life landscapes.
Our experts suggested looking at the time of year, location and the natural features of the landscape to help guide you in your color selection, style and theme. “I really think it’s important to let nature’s color palette lead you,” Livesay offered, noting that couples should consider the colors present in nature at the time of the shoot. “If it is September and all of the aspen trees are blowing up yellow, obviously you’re not going to want to wear yellow, or even cream, or anything that is going to make you disappear into the background.”
Whether in the mountains, on the beach, playing in the snow, walking in the park or keeping it casual in your backyard, your backdrop will play a big part in establishing the mood and theme of your shoot. “Your scenery is like a third person in the photo,” Busbee noted. “It’s almost as important as the two of you.”
With these thoughts in mind, it is important to not only coordinate with your partner but with your landscape as well. “Don’t wear a daisy print dress on the dandelion filled valley floor,” Holbrook advised. “Wear clothes that complement the majestic surroundings, simple and solid.”
Personal Passions and Activities
Couples who play together, stay together, and embracing a shared love for special interests and activities is a great way to showcase a couple’s unique relationship and special personalities.
“The [photoshoots] that I think are the most memorable, the ones that are my favorite images, are when people incorporate activities, so it becomes more than just pictures to them at the end,” Livesay shared. “It becomes more of an experience.”
If you and your partner share a love for activities like skiing, sailing, horseback riding, gardening, or even drinking fine wines and nibbling on cheeses, feel free to express yourselves and incorporate your passions in your photoshoot. The more you incorporate your own personal touches, the better!
One thing all of our experts agreed on is keeping your color scheme simple, natural and timeless. “You may be tempted to wear bold colors or prints, but I suggest opting for neutral, solid colors instead,” Busbee recommended. For fall and winter seasons, Busbee suggested rich jewel tones like sapphire blue and emerald green, as well as brown, camel and chocolate tones. For a more muted palette, Busbee recommended sticking with beige, gray, navy blue or black. “You want your relationship and love for each be the highlight of the images, not your tropical print shirt,” she said.
In the spring and summer, Busbee suggested leaning toward lighter or pastel colors like white, beige, blush, pink or baby blue.
Wright also suggested sticking with neutral and natural color schemes. “When choosing colors, I recommend selecting lighter, neutral tones and more muted shades. Bright, bold or neon colors can tend to be distracting,” Wright explained. “You can never go wrong with colors like cream, taupe, camel or light gray,” she added. “The camera loves shades of soft pinks and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light-colored neutrals. A softer, more pastel-leaning color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments.”
Our pets are our family, and some couples may opt to include their beloved fur children in their engagement photos (pause in preparation for cuteness overload).
Anything that adds more personality to the shoot is a win but be sure to have very real expectations when working with your fuzzy BFF. “I think one important thing is to have realistic expectations,” Livesay advised. “Some dogs or pets will sit and they’ll listen to me if I make funny noises for them and others do not care and they want to chase down squirrels,” she explained. “Be realistic about what your dog is capable of.”
It is also important to have a plan for what your pet will do and where he or she will go when you’re ready for the focus to shift back to just the two of you.
We recommend coordinating with a friend (not furry) to bring your pet to the shoot, snap a few shots, then whisk them away for the remainder of the session. Also, be sure your friend (again, not furry) doesn’t stick around for the shoot, because, well, that could get awkward and it may be difficult for partners to act natural in front of a crowd.
It Takes Two to Make
a Thing Go Right
Our experts agreed that two is the perfect number of outfit changes for your engagement shoot. “Getting into too many more actual outfit changes, you’ll end up eating up too much of your time changing, especially if you’re out in the elements or out in the wilderness,” Livesay explained.
Wright suggested that couples incorporate a more formal outfit and another that is more casual. “I recommend saving your favorite outfit for later in the session, when couples usually feel more comfortable in front of the camera,” she suggested.
As for shoes, we recommend that in addition to the shoes you’ll wear during the shoot, bring another more comfortable pair for walking around and commuting from place to place. Also consider and prepare for other elements like snow or rain.
Whether it’s a necklace, belt, bracelet, earrings, hat or scarf, Wright explained, pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can add great visual interest and bring some extra dimension to your images. “Choose one or two that don’t compete for attention when paired together,” she suggested.
As a rule, our experts advised to be yourself when it comes to your engagement shoot, so when thinking about accessories, consider what pieces will best reflect you and your personality. “If you are known for statement necklaces then wear them!” Holbrook affirmed. “If not, then stay classic and simple.”
If you are feeling adventurous, statement pieces can offer a pop of color and excitement to your images. If you’re sticking with very neutral colors, consider incorporating a bright pocket square or super fun heels to add some vibrancy and emotion to your photos.
“Statement necklaces, cute shoes and classic watches are great ways to add detail to outfits,” Wright noted.
Have a Plan
Some people are planners and some people just close their eyes and jump right in. Whether you are a planner or a jumper, our experts suggested that you go into your engagement session with a pretty solid plan.
Livesay recommended that you and your partner sit, even for just 10 minutes, to discuss your expectations for the shoot and how you hope the photos will turn out. “Making sure the couple is on the same page is a great starting place,” Livesay said. “If one is wildly uncomfortable, doesn’t want to do things, doesn’t want to go anywhere and is not comfortable in high grass, it becomes an argument for the day and it distracts from the point of having fun and making images,” Livesay explained.
She also advised to stay off Instagram. “So many people focus on Instagram and wanting to recreate something they saw,” she said. “I really love authentic moments and not trying to recreate another couple or another photographer, another moment. I think, let’s try to create our own,” she expressed.
Not everyone likes having their picture taken and that’s okay, you don’t have to be outgoing or like being the center of attention to enjoy your photoshoot. You just have to love the person you’re standing next to. Get comfy, take some deep breaths, shake off any jitters you and turn your focus to the love of your life and this beautiful journey on which you’re both about to embark. And maybe try to have some fun, too.
“If you partake, I would have some champagne beforehand,” Livesay suggested. “Relax a little bit and just think about it like this; ‘I get to hang out with my love and hug and laugh a bunch for the next hour to three hours.’”
Above all, be yourself and let your love shine through. “Natural smiles and poses will translate into the best, most authentic pictures you will both cherish for years to come,” Busbee concluded.
Special Thanks to our Experts
Abie Livesay is a Telluride-based documentary wedding photographer serving Telluride and abroad. She uses natural light and a minimally invasive approach to photograph real weddings of real people. With more than 14 years of photography experience she is focused on authentic connections with her clients to create and guide them through a relaxed and fun photography experience.
Of the past 15 years of Lisa Marie Wright’s photography career, she’s spent the last seven focusing on photographing luxury weddings in Telluride, CO and beyond. Having gotten married in Telluride’s Elks Park, and engaged on the gondola, she considers it the highest privilege to capture life-lasting memories for couples who truly appreciate this spectacular wedding location nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.
Erin Busbee created Busbee Style in 2009, offering styling services to empower women to be their best, most stylish selves. In 2014, in an effort to share her styling secrets with more women around the world, she started a blog and YouTube channel, reaching hundreds of thousands of women over 40.
Kristin Holbrook has been the owner and buyer for Two Skirts for it’s 20 years in Telluride. Born and raised in NJ, she was drawn to the ski life in Colorado 25 years ago. She has a degree in English Literature and Art History from UVA and is a mother of two boys.