Advice & Planning

The Art of an Authentic Engagement Shoot

The Oklahoma sun sets on a cowboy wearing a 10-gallon hat and holding hands with his fiancée, who dons a silk gown covered in sheer, embroidered tulle, and a horse affectionately nuzzling her cheek. This image graced our screens and we have never questioned livestock as part of an engagement shoot less. The image captures profound authenticity, as does the rest of the engagement shoot by Dallas-based photographer Jennifer Yarbro.

“Garrett’s family works and lives on the ranch, and has for many years. Maggie and Garrett love the ranch, they were getting married there, so it was the perfect backdrop. It also provided us opportunity to explore favorite locations to revisit on wedding day,” Jennifer says. And the horse? “That was her horse, actually. I love including fur babies, or horse babies, because I want to fully represent a couple’s life together,” she says.

authentic engagement shoot

authentic engagement shoot

Set the Scene

Jennifer regularly captures couples in familiar environments or participating in typical activities because it eases their romantic spirits. “That’s the idea, after all: their romance,” she mentions. Initially, a couple may not have locations in mind and are overwhelmed by the task. “I usually guide the conversation with, “What do you do for fun? There is always something couples don’t realize they could do, creatively,” Jennifer says. She mentions a couple whose favorite date night activity is seeing movies, so their engagement shoot ended up in the groom’s vintage car at the Ennis drive-in theater. Familiarity always pays forward, especially when couples aren’t used to posing intimately together.

Dress for Success

Once the location’s set, wardrobe should be established to fit the couple and their environment. “I tell couples to start casual and dress progressively fancier as we shoot,” Jennifer says. Usually two to three outfits allows enough versatility. “I’ve had couples show-up with eight outfits in their car for me to help choose. I think it’s always better to over-prepare, but knowing outfits ahead of time can help me visualize what looks pair best in each shoot location,” Jennifer adds. Her general rule of thumb: “Dresses and flowy skirts read more feminine in photos. Usually the bride wears the statement piece and the groom dresses complementary,” she says.

authentic engagement shoot

authentic engagement shootauthentic engagement shoot

Liquid Courage

As the shoot begins, Jennifer eases the couple into the process. “For most couples, I wait 15-20 minutes before shooting close to their faces,” she says. Beginning with natural movements like walking and holding hands, she gives space and time for the couple to come into their own. If that doesn’t calm the anxieties, she suggests a little liquid courage. “If somebody is uptight (usually men, no offense), I suggest enjoying a beer or glass of wine beforehand—no more than one to two. I have seen this put couples in a better frame of mind,” she suggests.

authentic engagement shoot

authentic engagement shoot

Fly Solo

“Before I wrap up a shoot, I always check to be sure we got everything the couple hoped for, but most of the time they look to me for that guidance,” Jennifer remarks. Trusting the photographer’s aesthetic and creative vision is crucial to the process. Unlike wedding day, the engagement shoot has no distractions and no audience—and she recommends keeping it that way. “The engagement shoot is for the bride, groom, and photographer, so I highly discourage bringing somebody else along. It’s an intimate time full of kissing each other and being silly, so leave the friends and parents at home,” she says.

authentic engagement shoot

Thank you, Jennifer Yarbro, for all imagery and shared expertise on this post. For more wedding planning advice and tips, check out The Latest.

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