Against a cinematic backdrop of chrome and glass skyscrapers a couple embrace. Stood on the balcony overlooking the cityscape, the man and woman look like any other office workers. But then he slowly removes his glasses, flicks his tie over his shoulder and rips open his shirt to reveal an iconic red-over-yellow ‘S’ against a blue background. He lifts the woman in his arms and prepares to fly off into the ether.
No, it’s not a scene from the new Superman film, but a themed photo shoot featuring soon-to-be-married couple Alex and Karnis. Like a growing number of couples over the past few years, they’ve decided to get together with their photographer and create a pre-wedding memento. This concept, usually referred to as engagement shoots or e-sessions, has been increasingly embraced by couples. But what’s the point of it? And what implications does it have for wedding photographers and the traditional wedding photobook?
The idea of wedding photography has been around for decades. It’s evolved over the years to become a dedicated business, and today the decision over which wedding photographer to go with is almost as important as your choice of wedding dress or even the venue itself. For a whole day your wedding snapper will be with you constantly. They will be an omnipresent observer of very private conversations and interactions. They will capture moments. They will orchestrate moments. It will be intimate.
Getting engaged with your shoot
It therefore makes sense that you should feel comfortable with your wedding photographer. You want to feel – and more importantly, look – happy, relaxed and at ease in your photos. So some couples decide to do an engagement shoot as a sort of wedding dry-run, to help them feel calmer and more comfortable with their photographer.
Some couples opt for an engagement shoot as a chance to embrace their creative side. Like Alex and Karnis above, a lot of couples see the e-session as a way to pay homage to their favorite films, sub-cultures and sports. There are great examples of couples dressing up as characters in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or from Charlie Chaplin and Disney films. It’s way to explore their shared passions and create images with a lot more personality. This is great fun for couples, but also amazing for photographers, as they get to collaborate on exciting, challenging and creative one-off projects that test their skills as professionals.
The engagement shoot is also a way to get a great alternative album of you as a couple. No matter how talented your photographer is or how awesome your venue might be, wedding photobooks tend to follow a similar pattern. They’ll have a typical look and feel – you’ll most likely be wearing a white dress or groomsman’s suit for a start. The engagement shoot is a way to get a more relaxed and less formal wedding souvenir. It’ll be just the two of you, dressed down and feeling laid back. There’ll be no wedding party, no rigid itinerary for dinners and receptions; just you and the photographer.
Of course, where zeitgeisty trends lead, the cool-chasing crowd follow. Now that the wedding innovators have made the concept of engagement shoots popular, the early adopters are getting into it too. The world of weddings can sometimes feel like an arms race of bridal one-upmanship, with the battleground of better cakes, nicer locations and more glamorous honeymoon destinations fiercely contested. For many the experience of getting married – the timeline for which can easily last 18-24 months – might not feel complete if they don’t have an engagement shoot as part of the wedding ‘package’.
Fending off the backlash
Inevitably, there’s been a backlash to the engagement shoot phenomenon. The wedding industry really is an industry, and the engagement shoot is seen by some as just another unnecessary option that society will eventually expect you to pay for. Others simply see it as a maudlin, overly sentimental indulgence; something of questionable taste, and best avoided.
But there’s no pressure for any couple to pay for an engagement shoot. You don’t need an e-session. You don’t even need a super expensive wedding photography package. It’s your choice. As for the issues over the concept of the engagement shoot itself, well, it all comes down to context and taste. What’s the purpose of your shoot? Is it a syrupy, cringe worthy foray into vanity, or a fun, creative way to pay homage to your interests? Is it a schmaltzy indulgence or an alternative way to show some personality in a pre-wedding album?
The trend for engagement shoots shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. It’s not for everyone, but as a creative, alternative companion to the traditional wedding photobook it’s worth looking at. So if you and your partner are getting married and love, say, 80s-set rom-com The Wedding Singer, why not pay homage to Robbie and Julia in your own e-session?
About the Guest Author:
Emily Buchanan is a writer and blogger working for Howling Basset, a network of wedding photographers in Kent, UK. She’d cautiously call herself an amateur photographer and prefers to shoot with film. Follow Howling Basset on Twitter and Facebook
Photo credits – Joy Marie Studios