All images (c) Babb Photo
I remember vividly around six years ago, way before I had any aspirations to be a wedding photographer and, in fact, before I even owned my first ever SLR, an acquaintance had an engagement photo shoot around London.
My friends and I remarked that it was quite a strange thing to do and maybe the fact that the bride-to-be was American had something to do with it?! Generally, we thought, Americans are much more switched on about having the key moments of their lives professionally photographed.
Fast forward four years to my own engagement and I had not one but two engagement photo shoots. It wasn't a conscious decision. One was with a photographer friend who had asked to shoot my portrait anyway and then one was with the photographer who eventually photographed my wedding.
There was some gentle teasing from my friends and I totally understand why: it does seem a little self indulgent however I had valid reasons for jumping in front of the camera twice before I even walked up the aisle.
On the one hand, as a photographer, I think it's so, so important to experience the feelings my clients have when they step in front of my camera. Fear, nerves, worry about the viability of my double chin. Do I look fat? Am I pulling my camera face? Why didn't I have a large glass of wine before starting?
The issue of being on the other side of the camera isn't much of a consideration for most of my clients, though, so why do I think it's so important?
For most people the idea of engagement photography (or pre-wedding photography) is a bit intimidating at best and full on terrifying at worst. I offer it on a complimentary basis to all of my couples and some are, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little reluctant to take me up on the offer.
Of course couples want some beautiful pictures of them on their wedding day but why on earth would they want to prolong the agony and spend more time having photographs, away from the wedding?
There are loads of reasons why having an engagement photo shoot is an excellent idea but the main one is FEAR or the removal of it.
Many people are apprehensive about having their photograph taken by a professional photographer for one reason and one reason alone: fear of the unknown. They don't know what to expect. Will they be made to pull cheesy poses? Will they feel silly? Will they have to pull their fake-it-for-the-camera smile for so long that they feel like their face might fall off?
I don't do any of these things with my clients and about 20 minutes into the shoot, after I've spent time getting them to interact with each other naturally, or I've asked them to have a bit of a cuddle, or I've photographed them in front of a cool back drop they relax. We usually laugh a lot. They even start to enjoy themselves. Honest!
People also worry about the pictures. They don't like pictures of themselves but they forget that all of the pictures they've had of themselves to date have usually been taken by friends or family with little understanding of how to photograph people well.
An engagement shoot removes this fear too, as the quality of pictures produced by a professional photographer will be in a different league to the ones your friends tag you in on Facebook.
Couples who have had an engagement shoot know exactly what to expect on their wedding day and can focus their attention on actually getting married, instead of worrying about the pictures.
Of course there are other benefits to having an engagement shoot. Being engaged is an incredibly special time and it's really, really lovely to have a photographic record of that period. Or two photographic records of the period if you're me...
It can be really good fun to do something different and really romantic like heading off to an exotic or romantic location (Paris. Take me with you. Please!) or arranging a special treat, or you might just want to visit some places that mean something to you as a couple.
Either way I would highly recommend that you have an engagement shoot. The pictures will make great presents for your nearest and dearest too in the run up to your wedding.
From your photographer's perspective it's also great to be able to spend some time with you before the wedding, seeing how you are in front of the camera and what angles work for you. It's also brilliant to have a couple of hours to play around and stretch your creativity, as you very rarely have the luxury of that much time on the day of the wedding.
The shoot also really helps to strengthen the relationship between the couple and the photographer, as it allows you all a bit of extra time to get to know each other, and when someone is with you throughout the whole of your wedding or civil partnership day it's going to be much more enjoyable if you feel comfortable around them.
How do you feel about engagement photography? Have you had one/are you planning one? If you're a photographer, do you do them? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Laura Babb is a London Wedding and portrait photographer, providing quirky, beautiful and creative wedding and portrait photography services in London, Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire, the UK and beyond.