Engagement Prep Guide

Now, let's get into the details.

I’m so excited for your engagement session! Doing engagement photos isn’t just about getting images for your save the date cards. These photos will be timeless, because they will capture you and your honey in a more natural, relaxed setting. Plus, engagement sessions are a fantastic way for us to get to know each other a little better before your big day. We’ll test out some poses and I’ll get to know your personalities a little more, which will make your wedding day photos go a whole lot smoother. I’ve created this guide to help you get the most out of your photos, and by the time you’ve read through this, you'll have all your questions answered and feel more than ready and prepared for your session. Then I’ll take care of the rest! Your only job is to be yourself, laugh a lot and let me create photos you’ll love forever. I can’t wait to get you in front of my camera!

I photograph engagement sessions using only natural light. I do this because this type of light makes for some stunning photographs! I begin all portrait sessions approximately two hours before the scheduled sunset during “the golden hour,” when the light is the dreamiest. To get the most out of your session, please plan a buffer when getting ready so you can arrive a few minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. I’m only able to shoot when natural light is still in the sky, so I’ll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down. If you’re wearing two outfits, save your favorite one for the second half, and if you’re wearing one, arrive in that.

This guide will help you prepare. I am also here for you to contact with at any time. If after reading this guide you still have a question please feel free to email, text or call me.

Wardrobe: "What will we wear?"

The hardest question everyone asks themselves after booking a photo session is: "What will we wear?". I totally understand! And I'm here to help! 

When you start styling your session, I suggest starting with the bride to be and then working out from there. Whether you want to purchase all new clothes, or you want to use that dress you love, it's a great place to start. Then you can pull your colors and textures and build up from that starter piece. Another good starting point is to think of the colors in your home (these images will be on your walls after all) or maybe your favorite color, then go from there.

Things to keep in mind:

  • comfort: We'll be moving around on our adventure, so make sure you put yourself in something that moves with you and isn't itchy or too tight.
  • accessorize it: hats, scarves, jewelry, blankets, headbands, suspenders, etc. All these things, in moderation, are a great way to add another layer of your style into your session.
  • patterns: Mixing patterns is a great way to add interest to your photos, but too much can become distracting so pick one or two items and have the rest of the family in solids.
  • textures & layers: Layers add texture and textures add interest. Denim, chunky knits, lace, cords, etc. I love the way a chunky cardigan looks. Or a denim shirt tied at the waist. These are all great ways to incorporate your style.
  • color: make sure the colors you choose compliment each other. Colors that will stand out best are muted, earthy tones. Some examples are: cream, blush, grey, whites or khaki. A little pop of color can be fun. Some examples are: mustard yellow, mauve pink, dark blue, hunter green, dark reds/oranges. Then there is always the dramatic black dress and suite for something more fancy or editorial.
  • editorial look: Bring a little extra something with you! Fresh flowers bring an extra "wow" factor to just about any shoot. Other fun and over the top items might be: balloons, bicycle basket, tree swing, tent, picnic blanket, champagne, wagons or sand toys. Whether you want to incorporate larger items like classic cars or bikes, or smaller ones like blankets or hats, even planning for just one extra styled item could be a fun way to make your session more unique.
  • MAKE IT YOUR OWN: this session is about you! And it's so important to make sure that your family's personality shines through in every aspect. 

Things to avoid:

Giant Logos: shirts that have giant logos on them can distract from your beautiful faces. Just say no.

neon colors: just say no to hot pink and lime green... on that note the whole family in red can cast red hues to your skin.

Matchy-Matchy: matching outfits are super cute, I know, but they can also seem very redundant and dare I say boring. Having different colors, patterns, textures, etc is super important to create interest and diversity in your family's images.

Avoid Small Patterns and Thin Lines: This one is strictly business. Small lines and patterns will often cause the moire effect in photos and it's something we need to take extra steps to avoid. There are a few small adjustments I can make in post processing to fix this, but there isn't much. Thicker lines and plaids are totally fine! But, try to avoid too many distracting patterns. You want to wear your outfit. You don't want your outfit to wear you.

No self tanners!!! I know ladies you look so good with your skin tan, I too enjoy a good tan, but placed next to your family members, with their normal skin tones.... you will standout for reasons you will not like. To hit this home I will go ahead and share my own personal story... I am olive skin but my babies have all been little whities.... I looked forward to baby photos with my first girl (and last baby) for the entire 9 months she was in my belly.... I wanted to do all the things to look my best, so yes, I tanned.... we looked like Pocahontas and Snow White.... if Snow White had blond hair hahaha. So don't say I didn't warn you and stay away from changing your skin color until after the pictures.

Places to shop:

  • Zulily, Nordstrom, Anthropology,Charolette Russe, Buckle, American Eagle, JCrew, Gymboree, MiniBoden, Dollcake, My Little Jules, Janie & Jack, Next Direct, Macy's, Target, Forever 21, Gap, Old Navy, TJ Maxx.


Make it personal. Choose a location that is unique and special to you; somewhere that stirs fond memories or inspires wanderlust. No location is too far, no adventure too great. Think outside the box and challenge your imagination. I love fresh, new ideas and am happy to rendezvous somewhere off the beaten path in order to create beautiful memories for you. Paris, Napa, New York City, Italy, coastal

California ... just saying.

Have an open mind. I think the BEST locations are places that are meaningful to you both. Do you have coffee at a cute shop every Saturday morning? Let's go there. Was your first date at a donut shop? Perfect! Obsessed with Chick fil-a (me too, btw)? CHICK FIL-A it is! Do you love camping together with your Jeep? Let's do a campfire + Jeep shoot! Of course we can always do a romantic overgrown field as well. But, I think including something unique like this adds so much variety to your session.

We can go ANYWHERE. Literally anywhere. Want a waterfall shoot? LET'S GO! I'm open to all of it. I have couples that live in San Diego just like me, but we drive 2 hours to do their session in the mountains. Listen, I am so down. Let's adventure together. If you ever considered eloping somewhere amazing for your wedding but chose to do a more traditional, local wedding instead then sometimes doing something adventurous for your engagement session can be the perfect compromise.






Whether your passion is sailing, traveling or your pup, props can enhance the shoot and breathe life into a photograph.





Styling For Her

Go all out. This is the perfect opportunity to do that trial run for your wedding day style. Hair and makeup is just as important as your fashion choices. Do your trial with your makeup artist the day of engagement photos. Get your nails done. Go the extra mile. If you look good, you'll feel good and confidence is key. You want to feel comfortable with the way you look. You want your engagement images to look more editorial? Bring a little extra something with you! A freshly-picked bouquet for you to hold, or fresh flowers to put on something else, like a bicycle basket, tree swing, picnic basket, car bumper or rowboat, is a fun way bring a little extra romance to everyday objects. Try on your outfit several times. Run around in it. Make sure it's comfortable in all kinds of positions because these will not be static poses. You want to make sure everything stays in the right place and all body parts that you would like to keep hidden, remain hidden.


Have you thought about rocking a romantic gown, tulle skirt or flower crown but just never had an occasion for it? Remember: there is no such thing as "too dressed up" when it comes to your portrait session, so don't be afraid to have fun (are you seeing a theme yet)! If you don't want to add a permanent piece to your collection, a lot of clients love Rent the Runway for their session because its such an affordable way to feel like a million bucks. Other clients love having a great excuse to bring a new permanent piece (or two!) into their closet!


Dresses and skirts look the most stunning because they really flatter every female body. I recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session and saying yes to the dress or two instead. Long, full-length, flowy dresses and skirts look amazing on camera because they bring extra movement to the photos. Especially when juxtaposed with nature, like the dessert, forest, plains or beach. Consider soft fabrics like chiffon or tulle which allow for beautiful movement in the images.

Expecting Mothers: If you are expecting, I always recommend floor-length gowns or maxi dresses. The dresses create the best silhouettes to flatter your figure and really highlight your bump. A lot of expecting mothers love to incorporate flower crowns or headpieces as well.

Flattering Features

In my experience, every woman, regardless of her shape has an area of her body that she’s self-conscious about, so recognizing what area that is in advance is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos.

Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. You could also bring a cute jacket, blazer or cardigan along, too. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera, so I recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is a set of slimmer-looking arms.

Heels elongate women’s legs, making them look fabulous. Closed-toed heels in particular look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your feet show. These little tricks make all the difference!

Quick Tip: Bring a pair of easy-to-kick-off flats to wear when moving from place to place in between photos. Your feet will thank you later!

Hair & Makeup:

Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most clients checklists because it looks great on camera and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. This is the time to treat yourself! whether its lash extensions or a blow out, professional hair and make up will give you a boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. If you are working with a makeup artist have them apply your makeup in natural light, if possible, so it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, thats the type of light we'll be shooting in, so it will give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera.

REMEMBER: No spray tans! I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even if it is a few days prior, it tends to photograph orange even when it is applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully and naturally.


When choosing colors for your outfits, we recommend selecting lighter tones and more muted shades. By avoiding ultra-bright, bold colors, it will help bring all the attention to your faces and let the eye focus on the way you feel about each other. The camera loves shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light neutrals like heather gray, creams, leather brown and white. That softer color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments. 


As you’re coordinating your outfit with your fiance’s, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palettes coordinate, but don’t necessarily “match.” You should each aim to wear a different dominant color, but stay within a similar color palette family. So if you’re wearing a blush dress, soft blue earrings and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a navy coat with gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square. Now he has his own dominant color (navy) while still incorporating a few touches of your color palette. Most of our brides choose their dress first, and then put together their fiance’s outfit based on that. That’s why we have a section for each of you.


Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even a few days prior, because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully and naturally.


Get your ring cleaned. YAASSSSS. This is the day that we show that baby off. So, get it nice and sparkly for the occasion. I will always try to get a shot of the ring on its own and on your hand during your engagement session. Your ring will be center stage, so give yourself permission to get it cleaned and your nails done, too! To make your ring really sparkle in photos, have it professionally cleaned by your jeweler ( They will clean it for free !) or use appropriate jewelry cleaner before your session.



Men look most striking in a well-tailored suit. If he doesn’t have one, now’s the perfect time to invest in something he’ll wear for the rest of his life! The best part? It’s a lot less expensive than you might think! While custom suits can cost thousands of dollars, some of the most well-known brands have off-the-rack suits in their stores for a fraction of the price. Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong complement to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye.


Next time you walk by a store like J. Crew, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, trust us when we say that it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you both a lifetime. Adding another layer will bring extra dimension and visual interest to your photos. Blazers, vests and coats up the level of any look. If the temperature permits, he could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!


Long pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from his legs and feet and place it where you want it: on the face you fell in love with. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts, sandals and jeans at home, too. Suit pants, dress pants or colored pants work best. Brown leather dress shoes complement almost every look, whether he’s wearing a full suit or a blazer and colored pants. Ties, bowties, pocket squares, colored socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests and watches are sharp complements to any suit. If you bring two suits to the session, you can start with a traditional necktie and belt, then switch to suspenders and a bow tie for your second look. If two suits are too stressful, no problem! One look will do the trick! You can still mix and match accessories to complement both of her dresses without doing a full change during the session. So, either way, you win.


Most men aren’t overly excited to take photos for one to two hours, because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to you. Take fifteen minutes to educate and empower your guy. Tell him why you chose me and my style of photography. Show him your three favorite images that I’ve taken, explain why you love them and express to him how much it means to you. Trust me, once he knows it’s important, he’ll light up the camera for you! The most common thing I hear from guys before photo sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t think they’ll be good at it. By the time I’m done, though, they can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!

After Your Session

Don’t forget to plan a dinner date. You’re already going to be all dressed up! Why not take advantage of it? I know the wedding planning process can feel all-consuming, so take some time after the session just for the two of you to relax and have some fun together.


I just gave you a lot to think about. I created this guide to help make your engagement session experience something you’ll look back fondly on for years and years to come. At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you select won’t matter nearly as much as the memories you make together. Your future marriage is the most important thing to us, and we want your engagement session to be a time for you to just be yourselves and enjoy it. Have fun together. Laugh a lot. And I’ll take care of the rest!

Questions? Remember...

If you need anything at all, I'm just a call or text away. I'm happy to help you choose outfits, offer opinions, and location scout! I hope this guide was helpful in explaining the process and preparing you so we can capture your love story. Text or message me with thoughts or ideas. I am here to help you!


on Instagram @nikkihildebrandphotography

Engagement Session Checklist

  • Set date, time and location with Nikki
  • Review guide for style tips 
  • Schedule hair and makeup appointments 
  • Choose your outfits 
  • Get your nails done 
  • Clean your ring 
  • Pick a fun post-session date night spot
  • Pack a bag with: 
  • Flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
  • Outfit two/three (Optional) -including shoes, accessories, props, etc.
  • Touch-up makeup
  • Water bottle & possible champaign or other prop beverage
  • Coat or cover-up (for colder sessions)

Outfit Styling and Inspiration made easy!



Style & Select results can be used in many different ways.
As a visual tool to help you pull basics from your own closet, as a guide when shopping locally, as a personal shopping tool to easily purchase a few key pieces from your Result Email.
I will send you a private code for your session.

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