Cinematic and Candid photo of newly engaged couple crossing the street in downtown Columbus. The young couple is wearing a white dress and a black suit.

Getting really cinematic and candid engagement photos may seem daunting but it’s really not as hard as you may think. I know what you’re thinking- “I’m super awkward but I want to have photos that feel like me while also simultaneously feeling like they could have been stills out of a movie”. Great – you’re in the right place.

I know, I know. Having your photo taken can be very awkward and for most people it’s the first time they have ever had professional photos taken of them as a couple. Let me just say – there’s no expectation in general for how you “perform” when having photos done. The photos you have taken are a reflection of your connection and nothing more so there’s no right or wrong way to do it. However, I know it does make a big difference when you feel more prepared for the experience, especially if you’re looking for a more cinematic and candid aesthetic. 

I aim to make sure every session is unique to the people I’m photographing but there are a few rules of thumb that I have found which make the photos turn out better across the board so I’ve shared them below.

Please note that this is what works best for me as a photographer, my shooting style, and my brand. There’s so much gray area when it comes to photography and these suggestions are aimed to guide -not be hard and fast rules. More than anything it’s my sincerest hope that you have a positive experience in getting your photos done and you like the outcome/ end product.

So let’s get to it! 

The solid foundation for getting cinematic and candid engagement session’s starts with the a theme. So let’s pick the vibe for the shoot. This really rounds out the rest of the experience and allows us to achieve a certain aesthetic which is key for that cinematic and timeless look. Essentially we are beginning with the end in mind. Because if we know what we want the photos to look and feel like we can plan everything else around that. 

Most people cannot imagine straight out the gate what they want their photos to look like which is why we go with picking a theme or a vibe and work from there. That can look like picking a generic or broad theme like urban, outdoorsy, or cozy in home session. It can look like picking an activity to do that will serve as the theme – bookstore, coffee shop, getting ice cream, going ice skating…etc. I LOVE this one because it allows us to not only pick a feel for the shoot but also gives you something to do and you feel less awkward during the session.

The primary goal is to establish a story or narrative of the photos because then we can put ourselves in that space. If you know you want a summer picnic vibe – we can pick a location, props like blankets and charcuterie, outfits, and poses that tell the story of a romantic summer evening. 

When in doubt check out Pinterest! I often turn to Pinterest before I go to a session and plan out visually what I’m trying to achieve. But my most successful client sessions come from clients who’ve done this themselves before the shoot. You don’t have to pick anything intricate or overwhelming – but pick a general theme and we can get started from there. It can be as simple as denim jackets against a white wall and lots of laughter. If you’re still in doubt – reach out to your photographer. Most of us love love love to help with this part of the process. 

Cinematic and candid engagement photo of a couple walking up stairs in an urban setting. There are deep shadows framing the couple at the bottom of the staircase.

2. Location Scouting & time of day

Once you have an idea of what the overall feel of the photos is going to be – picking a location and time of day is next. The location can really make or break the narrative effect you have going towards getting those cinematic and candid shots. For example if you want mountain or outdoorsy energy you wouldn’t plan your shoot for the middle of an urban area and vice versa. Don’t stress about this too much if you don’t have a definitive theme. There are a lot of neutral spaces that can lend to lots of different feelings with different props, outfits, lighting, and posing. The most important thing is going to be selecting a location that makes sense for the feel you’re hoping for.

I spend lots of time location scouting while I’m out and about and most other photographers do this as well. Sometimes we even intentionally plan out time to scope out new spots. You would be shocked at some of the places I shoot at regularly that would never seem like a good place to shoot photos but really lends well to the aesthetic my clients are aiming for. 

Time of day is a big deal for natural light photographers – which is a good portion of us. I will do studio sessions or flash photos if that calls for the aesthetic my clients are hoping for but for the most part I rely on the sun. The light, the direction it’s coming from, the warmth or coolness of it all impacts your photos a LOT. For example if you wanted a session in a field with nice golden sun flares you could not achieve that aesthetic in the middle of the day where the sun is overhead and casting a lot of shadows across your face. If you wanted a sweet and soft feeling you would not go to a tattoo shop in the middle of the night for that. There’s a time and place for all things and this is an area that your photographer should be an expert in. Once you pick your theme, brainstorm with your photographer on locations and time of day that will be best to match the vibe you want.

Bonus tip! If you want to see where the sun will be for your session you can use this sun tracking website.

Cinematic and slightly blurry candid photo of gay couple walking hand in hand along the beach.

3. Pick a good outfit

Selecting a good outfit for your session cannot be understated. First and foremost it builds on the theme of narrative that we have going. Once you have our theme and location in mind you can move on to building outfits that make sense. Back to the romantic picnic example you would probably want to pick something that was flowy and gave a sense of the breathing. You’d want to pick fabric that allows for movement and for you to sit or lay down since that’s the theme of the shoot. Depending on the overall desired aesthetic you’d probably want to avoid dark and saturated colors and opt for colors that make the session feel bright, neutral, and light hearted. The opposite would be true if you wanted a grungy session in a tattoo shop. Are you starting to see where I’m going with this? 

The second and arguably the most important thing about your outfit is that you’re comfortable. This is the secret of all secrets with photography but if you’re not comfortable it will show up in your photos. So make sure you pick an outfit that FEELS good to you. That means it fits you how you want it to, it can move with you, you can sit or stand in that outfit, and it’s reasonable for the time of year and location. You don’t want to wear a sundress in the middle of winter where you’ll be shivering and you don’t want to wear heels if you’re going to be walking down a big embankment to a waterfall. 

Lastly the most important thing is that you pick something that doesn’t detract from the point in having photos done. You want the focal point of your images to capture your connection. Unless it falls in line with your theme I discourage you from choosing an outfit that has lots of busy prints and saturated or neon colors. Not only are deeply saturated colors harder to edit – they tend to cast colored light onto your skin. If your fiance wears a bright red shirt and you stand next to him -your face is going to be red.

I always recommend to my clients to wear neutrals such as white, khaki, beige, navy, denim (preferable either really light or really dark washed), and black. Less saturated colors like olive green, burnt orange, mustard yellow sometimes work well, it just really depends on the environment. You don’t want to wear a green dress and stand against a tree line that’s all green because you’ll blend in- so just think about that when choosing your outfits. Again this is an area most photographers love to help with because we know beforehand what to expect.

This is such a good tip and sometimes the most overlooked one. People often imagine photography sessions being stiff and awkward and lots of looking and smiling at the camera. That’s the opposite of what we want to do for your engagement session – and if that’s what the kind of experience you’re looking for – you’re probably in the wrong place. There should be a few good photos of you smiling at the camera so you have options for your save the dates or things like that. But most of your photos if you want them to have a cinematic and candid feel should be about the two of you connecting. 

Having a good theme will take away some of the awkwardness and give you something to do. Not to keep on about the picnic example but if you did choose that theme you now have a blanket to set out, snacks to eat or feed each other, wine to pour into glasses, poetry books to read each other. You can play with her hair while she lays with her head in your lap. There’s so many options of posing / suggested prompts that will help you feel connected to the moment and to each other and that will inevitably bring out that body language required for the aesthetic you’re looking for. 

Couple running through the woods while laughing

5. Let go and trust

Often the hardest part for clients at first is to trust what their photographer is asking them to do. Especially when we give you a prompt that feels incredibly awkward – so weird in fact that you both burst out laughing until you’re nearly crying. And guess what!? We just got authentic photos of you laughing without having to force it – ta daaaaa. It’s like a magic trick – except sadly it’s not. It’s just a good photographer who can anticipate human reaction and emotion and help you create that moment instead of forcing it. 

This goes without saying – but I’m gonna say it anyway. You should look at your photographer’s portfolio prior to booking with them. If they have lots of photos of people in the moment, laughing, kissing, carrying on – then they have experience in coaching people to get those photos. So you can trust that – yes you – the seemingly most awkward human in all of existence can get photos that look like that.

You know how I know? Because this is exactly what sparked my photography career. I wanted photos of my husband and I that looked real and authentic but also felt joyful and intimate and steamy. I was so nervous that we could never achieve these things because we are so clumsy we regularly injure each other by accident. But after a few tries we realized – dang we can take some cute photos. Not every photo we take is a good one but that’s why you hire a photographer. They can sort through and only give you the best of the best. 

So if you want some cinematic photos that feel straight out of a romance film but think you’re too awkward to make it happen – I’d like to make it my personal challenge to prove you wrong. Use these tips and come back to me if I’m wrong (; 

Check out some of my other engagement session here!


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