Engagement Portraits :: My Philosophy on what the engagement session is ultimately all about.

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“If someone was considering to skip an engagement session, I’d tell them they will regret it! Building that relationship with your photographer, learning their style and poses, capturing that moment before the big day while you’re in the midst of planning, using your engagement photos for a guestbook.. I could keep going on with my list of reasons but I think you get the point!”
-Gayle & Shaun Gonsalves :: Married July 2015

Engagement portraits have evolved just as much as every other genre of photography has since the digital revolution. A couple used to get the portraits done to announce their engagement in the local newspaper and maybe for a couple of keepsake photos, but that’s  about it. I would guess that more times than not couples didn’t even do or consider doing an engagement session. Most of the time these portrait sessions were done in studio with little to no personality or emotion to them. It was just a simple portrait and back in the 90′s and earlier was the norm.

Fast forward to the past 5-10 years and engagement sessions are very mainstream and now you find more couples doing the engagement portrait ritual and less opting out. Why? I think its because as a society we have become photo addicts. Everything needs to have a photo attached to it. As a photographer I am totally OK with this trend and hope it continues but strangely when it comes to the engagement session the actual images are secondary to my main objective.
Now let me clarify that last line a little before you start questioning my reasoning. Yes, I am a photographer and Yes, I did just say the images were secondary to me when it comes to an engagement session. Does that mean I don’t try as hard to produce good images? Not at all. It also doesn’t mean that I purposely deliver work that I feel isn’t up to my skill set or the quality that I advertise on this site. Most importantly It doesn’t mean that my main motivation for the engagement session is profit. I give engagement sessions to all my wedding clients for free and they get all the final images from that session included. I don’t want to make money on that session. So, now you may be scratching your head and wondering “What is Christopher Cooke’s MAIN motivation with the engagement session?”  Well here it is….It’s the relationship. Its building trust and establishing a comfort level between me and my clients that in my opinion EXPONENTIALLY increases the quality of work I deliver at the wedding. I think the engagement session is one of the most important tools that I can use with my wedding clients to produce quality wedding images.

Typically I meet my clients for the first time at a Starbucks or another coffee shop about 9-12 months before their wedding. We sit, talk, they look at my portfolio, sample albums, etc. Its pretty much all business. I spend a lot of the time talking about my experience with other clients and my approach to the wedding day. When we have this meeting I’m in sales mode.  I want you to get to know me professionally.  Now think if that was the ONLY interaction I have with these people before the wedding. How comfortable would YOU be with me at your wedding? Sure you hired me for a reason, but with all the nerves and stress of the wedding day do you really think working with your photographer for the first time is going to produce the very best images possible? Or would having a portrait session with your photographer before the wedding were you get to know each other in a “photographic” environment and get comfortable with each other and my process help ease the nerves and awkwardness on the wedding day….

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“The engagement photos were a perfect way for us to feel comfortable in front of the camera. Even looking at the the engagement photos, I can see that as the day went on, we look more natural in front of the camera. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to get to know Chris better. I think getting to know your photographer before the wedding is so important. Because of the engagement session, I already felt like Chris was a friend when he showed up to the wedding, and I completely trusted him because he had already shown the amazing work he does through our engagement photos. Not only that, but already having built that relationship put me at ease and when he was putting me in different poses, I knew they were going to turn out great!”
- Ashley & Ross Gimbal :: Married August 2014

Enter the engagement session! For me, the engagement session is the perfect way to get to know my clients and build our relationship and their trust in me so that on the wedding day they have one less thing to be nervous about. I want my clients to know who I am, how I work, and what I’m thinking when I am with them taking their photos. Letting my clients see me as someone who wants their photos to be amazing not just because of my skill, but also because I know what makes them so wonderful as a couple , what makes them laugh, what makes them blush, and what makes them THEM. That is my motivation, that is why I offer engagement sessions in ALL of my wedding packages. I want my clients images to not just be great in a photographic sense but I want them to be personal, I want them to look at that one photo and remember why they were laughing or what I did that made them feel so comfortable. My goal is that on my clients wedding day the smiles they have on their faces in their photos are natural and sincere, their body language is relaxed, not tense or awkward, and that my clients know when I ask them to do something crazy or off the wall that its for good reason and they can trust me. When I get to do an engagement session with my clients that goal is so much more attainable. The wedding photos become a true representations of who the bride and groom really are and not just a pose that I told them to do. The photos are organic and true to life. They are not photo-shopped likenesses of a generic couple that anyone could have taken.

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“I would strongly advise couples into getting the engagement session. Not only does it help establish a relationship with the photographer but also allows you to be more comfortable taking pictures with one another. The photographer will see your true personalities and be able to create beautiful pictures that you will cherish forever.”
-Christina & Shawn Nicholas :: Married September 2014

I have been getting asked more and more by clients if they can omit the engagement session for numerous reasons. More times than not its because they have already had their engagement photos taken by a friend, other photographer, etc. Other times people ask to try and get a discount on the wedding photography package. With the first train of thought it brings me back to my main point. For me it’s not 100% about the images, its about the priceless relationship and comfort level that is established by doing the session. If my clients want to use the photos the other photographer took that’s fine, I get it, but people hire me for a reason and one of those reasons is that I know how to connect with my clients. The engagement session builds the foundation. For those who want to save a little money, I get that too, but I am not looking to profit from the engagement portraits. I don’t sell prints from the session. I offer one product from the engagement session and that is a guestbook which is also included in some of my packages.  So when it’s all said and done there is nothing for my clients to loose and everything to gain when they do the session. Sure it might take a couple hours out of a busy life schedule, but in the end the wedding photos that will be shared with family for years to come will be better for it.

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“I think that doing an engagement session did help my wedding photos. For one, my husband is a little self conscious of his teddy-bear shape. Doing the engagement photos helped him to know at what angles and poses he preferred to be photographed. It also help him to get to know our photographer. We had so much fun and goofed off so much that some of our goofy engagement photos were recreated on the wedding day. That camaraderie helped everyone to relax and have fun, not feel stiff and posed.”
-Erika & Edwin Nielsen :: Married September 2014

Keri & Thomas :: Married :: Napa Valley Wedding Photography

I’ve said it a million times, I love back yard weddings!! Keri and Thomas’ wedding was no different but the backyard they chose was a private ranch that overlooked all of Napa. It was AMAZING!! Then of course you add in my wonderful clients, their great taste in food and a classic car and its my perfect wedding! This wedding had it all, but I really cant say enough about Keri and Thomas. They are such a wonderful couple and totally made for each other. Their wedding was a perfect example of them. Nothing too over the top, or cliche, just good people, good food, and good times. I really enjoyed being a part of this great day even though the tacos werent brought out until after I left.:(Anyways please enjoy the photos!

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Elizabeth & Shane :: Married :: Olymipas Valley Estate Wedding Photography :: Petaluma Wedding Photography

I have been very lucky to be a part of many events for Elizabeth’s family. From weddings to family photos to senior photos, I have been there for a lot fun stuff. When Elizabeth hired me for her wedding I though I already knew what I was in for, but I really wasn’t expecting such a wonderful venue thrown into the mix. Olympia’s Valley Estate in Petaluma is AMAZING, I was on overload with all the places I had to work with for photos and at times I had to remind myself I was on a timeline!

Elizabeth and Shane wanted a nice family oriented, low key wedding and it was just perfect. Kai Squared Events did a wonderful job of embellishing this event in a way that let you know it was a wedding but made you feel like it was a family BBQ. Everything was inviting and comfortable yet elegant and special:)

I couldnt be happier that I was part of Elizabeth and Shane’s wedding. I have known them for so long and have really gotten to know them personally that it made the photos so much more meaningful for me. I really wanted to show off their personalities and the interests they have individually and as a couple. They are so wonderful together and just click as a couple. Its those little things that really make them not only wonderful clients but great friends!

Please enjoy the images!

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