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Pro Workflow: How To Create The Perfect Engagement Session Experience

Photographing a couple for an engagement session can make or break how they feel about having the same photographer shoot their wedding. Sony Artisan Mike Colón is a world-renowned wedding photographer who knows how important it is to provide the perfect engagement session experience. We had him walk through his workflow from beginning to end for an engagement photo shoot that will keep your client excited through wedding day.

Sony Artisan and world-renowned wedding photographer Mike Colón shares his process for creating the perfect engagement photo session experience.

Before: Pre-Engagement Session Interview & Gear Selection

Before holding an engagement photo session, Mike Colón likes to interview the couple he will be photographing to learn more about them. This often takes place over the phone and gives Colón a chance to better prepare for the engagement session and sometimes even the wedding.

“At the pre-engagement session interview, I want to get a grasp on their expectations,” says Colón. “We talk about what inspires them and what they’ve always imagined for their engagement photo experience. I try to get their creative juices flowing to find out what it is that they want. Then we discuss details like what they should wear. I always suggest to couples that they wear something they feel confident in. I like to let them pick their own outfits and not give too many guidelines. Sometimes I’ll put together a style board or have them do one on Pinterest to have examples of what could work well.”

Colón also discusses the location and timing with the couple during the interview. He talks to them about the lighting situation and they work out the schedule for the day. They plan where they’re going to meet up and how much time will be spent at each location if there are multiple. They’ll also discuss time needed for outfit changes or hair and makeup touch-ups.

“I always encourage hair and makeup for even an engagement session,” says Colón. “If they feel really confident that they can do their own, then that’s fine. But I still push for professional hair and makeup because it does make a difference.”

The interview really sets the tone for the entire experience, and when it comes to photographing someone, especially for their wedding, experience is everything. (Read more about this in The PRO-Files: The Experience Is Everything.) Not only is Colón able to ensure the couple is comfortable and their voices heard, he also gets a better idea of the proper gear to pack in order to create the best images possible based on their preferences.

“Engagement session gear is much simpler than wedding day gear,” explains Colón. “I still usually bring my entire wedding bag to the shoot but leave most of it in the car for backup. I'll just pull out one camera and use it – usually my α7R III because I want the image quality combined with that resolution that gives me the ability to crop and maintain quality. So I go for my α7R III or my α9 most of the time.”

“I shoot almost everything on my Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master – that's my go-to engagement session lens. I’ll also throw together a little lens bag to take with me in case I want a wide shot or something. I just got the Sony 135mm f/1.8 G Master and have been bringing it because it’s extra special and gives me a little more separation. I’ll also bring my Sony 55mm f/1.8 because I really like the look of it wide open. I try to keep everything super shallow and have always bought fast lenses and shot primes to do so. I feel like those lenses separate my work from what someone would get out of their phone. It makes everything very three dimensional and soft. If we’re shooting in a super scenic area, I might also bring a wider lens like the 35mm f/1.4 G. I typically won’t go wider than that for engagement sessions.”

During: Getting The Looks

During the engagement shoot, Colón will have his shots in mind and carry the gear he thinks he will need to achieve them. If a different shot comes up and he needs another lens he doesn’t have with him, he can run back to his car to access his full wedding day kit.

“While I’m shooting,” Colón explains, “I have one card slot recording RAW images and the other creating smaller JPEGs as a backup. [Read more about how he sets up his camera to make sure his files are safe.] I typically won’t stop down too far – I’ll keep everything wide open. Even if I’m photographing a couple and one of them is a little soft and other a little sharp, I actually like that look. I like having one person that seems to be the subject and the other one a supporting subject. I’ll focus on the actor and mix it up so they both get coverage and are the focus for a few of the shots.”

Again, the way the engagement session shoot goes will set the tone for wedding day and so the experience is very important. Colón makes a point to work with the couple during the shoot to figure out exactly what types of photos they love the most. It shows that he cares about making them happy and allows him to further refine his approach for wedding day.

“The engagement shoot is an awesome time to get to know the couple and give them some experience in front of my lens. Not only is it a great way to warm them up for the wedding day, but it also gives me the opportunity to produce some images that they can view after and tell me what they like or dislike. This gives me a better idea for how to nail it on the wedding day, so it's a great warm-up session for them and for me.”

After: Culling, Editing & Sharing With The Client

Once the shoot is over, he loads the photos into Photo Mechanic to select his favorites. He tags them using the “1” key and uses the edit-in process, versus editing-out, meaning he pulls out the best shots instead of getting rid of the worst. He usually starts with around 3,000 photos and narrows it down to 600. He tries not to be too tight with his culling and includes some different angles since people have different preferences when it comes to photos of themselves.

Mike Colón Pro Tip: “When I go through the process of selecting my favorite shots, I start from the end of the shoot and work backward. I do this because when I’m shooting, I typically move to the next scene or look once I nail a shot. So if I edit front to back then my images keep getting better. I might have to go back to deselect some, but I’ve found that it eliminates a lot of the back and forth.”

Once he’s made his selects, he puts them into a folder called “Keepers” and brings the entire folder into Capture One. This is where he will do his color corrections, cropping, and straightening. He tries to use batch corrections where he can to keep the photos consistent.

“I try not to get crazy with individual corrections on every image,” says Colón. “I will do individual cropping and straightening on every image, but even if it's close and not perfect, sometimes I'll just move on. The way I talk to the client about it is, ‘look these are proofs. These are not the finished, finished images. I'm going to go in and Photoshop and retouch anything you select for prints to make them perfect.’ So I try to manage expectations like that, which alleviates a lot of stress and making everything perfect for the first round I present to them.”

He continues, ‘But I also understand that people share their galleries with their friends, and I want them to share their galleries. So I do try to get them looking nice and consistent, I'm just not going in super detailed on the retouching yet. Sometimes I will bring something from Capture One into Photoshop if I need to use the healing brush or spot tool to get rid of something random in the photo.”

Once he’s finished with the edit and all of the images are dialed in, he will do an export of the JPEGs into a folder called “Corrected.” Then he uploads them to his online gallery hosting company called passgallery.com and shares the link with his clients.

“There are a ton of options for the online gallery when you share it. You can watermark your images, decide who can access them and choose if you want them to be able to download high-res or low-res versions. I don’t really put many restrictions on it – I try to make it as easy as possible for clients to download and share unless they request otherwise. I usually leave off the watermark because it makes it hard to crop the image and just looks tacky. I don’t want people to think I’m trying to hold images hostage or make money off of prints later. That’s not really a big percentage of my income anyway. I want people to feel like my service is about me and my photography and capturing the moment for them to remember forever.”

See more of Mike Colon’s work on Instagram @mikecolon.


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