How to Have a Documentary Style Engagement Session

Couple walking in downtown Charleston

I was so excited to take Karen & Xavier’s engagement photos ahead of their Wingate Place wedding day this upcoming fall. I firmly believe that every couple deserves to have a photographer they connect with and trust (especially since they spend more time with their photographer than anyone else on their wedding day!), and so it was amazing to connect with them right from our initial phone consultation. Karen and Xavier are both incredible people, and it was obvious to me from the start that their engagement session would end up being documentary style, simply because they came to their session willing to be open with me and let me in on the magic that makes them unique as a couple.

I always recommend an engagement session ahead of a wedding day, as it helps you get to know my posing style and what it’s like to work with me, as well as allows you to feel more comfortable in front of the camera–so that you can relax on your wedding day and not have it feel like an all day photoshoot! I met Karen and Xavier in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, where we wandered the historic streets and their genuine connection and absolute joy came to light in each and every photos they took. It is my privilege to spend time with couples in this way, to capture this chapter of their stories in raw, beautiful authenticity and show who they are as a couple.

I believe that documentary style photography, in general, is the natural evolution of a photographer’s posing style. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have traditionally posed photos, but instead means that a photographer is comfortable enough with the craft to be able to capture the in between moments: the space between the poses where the genuine personality and emotion comes out. The biggest necessity for documentary style photography is an ability to be spontaneous, go with the flow, and allow things to unfold as they were meant to.

I absolutely adore Charleston’s cobblestone streets, historic architecture, soft colors, and beautiful greenery and florals. It’s truly a photography dream for anyone to shoot, especially for me as a film photographer. There are certain settings that photograph absolutely beautifully on film, and Charleston is certainly one of them! It’s an incredibly romantic and vibrant place, and a perfect backdrop for anyone’s photography session.

My favorite approach is to wander around the French Quarter, finding tucked away spots and beautiful areas to gently guide my couples through poses and see what happens! It was so easy to photograph these two, because they were so open with me and allowed themselves to have fun. It’s hard sometimes for couples to open up in front of the camera, and so I have several points throughout my process to combat this and help them to understand that when the 3 of us create together, that’s when the magic happens!

Their session wasn’t about striking the perfect pose or adhering to a script; it was about embracing the spontaneity of the moment and allowing their love to shine through organically. As their photographer, my role was not to orchestrate their every move but to act as an editorial, creative guide, giving them instructions on what to do, talking to them all the while, and allowing the magic of their connection to unfold as I took their photos.

Tips for a Documentary Style Engagement Session

For couples seeking to embark on a journey of authenticity and intimacy through documentary style engagement photography, here are some invaluable tips to guide you along the way:

  1. Choose Meaningful Locations: Select locations that hold significance to your relationship or resonate with your personalities. Whether it’s the place where you had your first date or simply a spot that captures the essence of your love story, meaningful locations add depth and authenticity to your photographs.
  2. Embrace Spontaneity: Let go of rigid expectations and embrace the spontaneity of the moment. Allow yourselves to be fully present with each other, engaging in genuine interactions and expressions. The beauty of documentary style photography lies in capturing the raw, unfiltered moments that unfold naturally between you.
  3. Focus on Connection: Rather than worrying about posing perfectly, focus on connecting with each other emotionally. Engage in meaningful conversations, share inside jokes, and let your love for one another shine through. Authentic connection is the cornerstone of compelling documentary style photographs.
  4. Be Open to Direction: While documentary style photography thrives on authenticity, it’s also important to be open to gentle direction from your photographer. They may offer subtle cues or suggestions to help enhance the composition or lighting of a shot while still allowing the moment to unfold naturally.
  5. Embrace Your Surroundings: Incorporate your surroundings into the narrative of your engagement session. Whether it’s the bustling streets of a city, the serene beauty of nature, or the cozy ambiance of your favorite coffee shop, let the environment enrich the storytelling aspect of your photographs.
  6. Forget About Perfection: Remember that perfection is overrated. Embrace the imperfections, quirks, and idiosyncrasies that make your relationship unique. It’s these authentic moments of vulnerability and spontaneity that make for truly timeless photographs. Most importantly, come to your photography session ready to have fun! We live in a perfectly curated era of retouched photos, but I can guarantee you that those won’t be the most meaningful for you as life goes on.
  7. Trust Your Photographer: Your photographer is there to guide you through the process and capture the essence of your love story authentically. Trust in their vision and expertise, and allow them the creative freedom to document your engagement in a way that feels true to who you are as a couple.

Preserving Your Love Story

As Karen and Xavier’s engagement session in downtown Charleston shows, documentary style photography serves as a visual time capsule to truly preserve what this part of your life FEELS like. By embracing authenticity, spontaneity, and connection, it allows your photos to be pure magic and truly special. I would love to connect with you about preserving your love story in this way, click here to contact me about your Charleston documentary style wedding and engagement photography.

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