Engagement Sessions

Engagement Sessions

Engagement Sessions with Craig LaMere

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Engagement sessions are one of my favorite sessions to shoot for a few reasons. You get to use almost any shooting technique you want. You can shoot in natural light or in the studio. You can shoot with off-camera flash. You can shoot editorial style. Another reason I love shooting engagement sessions is because the clients are so in love. They want to show the world, and are eager to try about anything at the shoot.

The engagement session offers one of the best ways to build rapport and trust with your future bride and groom. It’s a fantastic calling card for future business. You have to do engagement sessions with a strict game plan, or they can get away from you. Let’s look at four big things to keep in mind when shooting future married couples.

Digital vs. Prints

One of the biggest gaps in photography is between shooters who are cool with selling digital files and those who are not. My studio is product-based. A tangible product is far superior to a digital file. As technology progresses, digital imagery is likely to become obsolete in its current form. Eight-tracks, cassette tapes and compact discs are gone. But digital images have a place on our menu. Engagement sessions for me, are one of the genres where digitals make sense for me to sell more than prints.

When I first started shooting, I was firm on not offering digitals to engagement and wedding clients. Without fail, each person who contacted me wanted to know about digital files. They all wanted them for their announcements. I would tell them the studio offers announcements. They would be so excited right up to the point of finding out what their investment would be on the 400 announcements they wanted. I lost a lot of business because I held tough to not selling digitals. Then I realized if I wanted to capture some of the business that was walking away, I would have to change what I was doing. I decided to offer digital files to my engagement sessions.

I implemented a per-file rate, with price breaks on volume orders. The files were formatted so they would only print up to an 8×12 before they started to break apart and pixelate. My clients could use the images for announcements and to print out images to place around the reception tables, but they could not use them to make large prints. I decided that if my clients wanted big prints, they would have to go through the studio.

Appetizer vs. Main Course

One of the other pitfalls I fell into was spending way too much time shooting sessions. When I started shooting engagement sessions, I treated them like a main course and not an appetizer. I had my clients bring three to four clothes changes and we would go to a bunch of locations. I shot 300 images per session. After culling the images, I was showing 100 to 120 images at the view session. What I did not understand was engagements are just a teaser to the wedding, and the wedding is the big show. I was putting all that effort and time into the engagement session and putting my clients through it all too; I found out pretty quickly that it was not the right approach for a couple of reasons.

One of the reasons this approach was bad was because I was asking so much of my clients. They were stressed out about all the clothes they had to bring. The time investment was hard on my clients. They would come to the studio all pumped up, and by location three, they were pretty tired. At the view session, they were overwhelmed looking at that many images; they quickly started to all look the same, so my clients started to second-guess. The biggest problem with my approach was that my clients did not want the number of images I thought they did. In my mind, I was shooting the session to sell an album, which at my studio would be around 20 to 30 images. My clients wanted just five to 10 images. I found that my clients didn’t budget a lot for the engagement because they were allocating the lion’s share of their money to the wedding and the wedding photography.

Nowadays, instead of four clothes changes, we do two. One is casual and the other is formal or semiformal. We go to two locations and we shoot around 60 images for the entire session. The session is an hour or less. At the view session, I show no more than around 40 images. My clients are happy and I’m happy.

Makes the Wedding Day Easier

I love shooting engagements, but the goal is to book and shoot the wedding. I look at the engagement as one of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful wedding shoot. I have shot weddings where the bride and groom had someone other than me shoot the engagement. But shooting the engagement is a fantastic lead into the wedding day for a couple of reasons. When you shoot the engagement, you establish a rapport with the couple. The day of the wedding will be crazy, and it helps when they trust you are going to take good care of them.

The engagement session also prepares you for their personalities and tastes. Time is of the essence at a wedding, and with nerves and stress levels so high, it is a huge advantage to know how the couple likes to be shot, how they take direction, if they like structure or if they are more in the moment. All these factors help you use the time you have to your best advantage.

Incentivize the Shoot

Because shooting the engagement is so important and because our end goal is to book the wedding, we use the engagement session as an incentive for clients to book the wedding. In some of our packages, the engagement session is built in. Or, if my client is at a certain spending level, I offer the engagement as a bonus after they have booked.

I know it seems strange to give something away once they have agreed to pay for it, but I know I’m going to do well with the wedding and I think it goes a long way for a value-added experience. Giving away a few hundred dollars is worth the word-of-mouth returns.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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