The engagement photo has come out of the studio and into its own.
This month, my husband and I will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary. That’s a long time to be married, to be sure, but not long enough for us to have forgotten the day we traveled to Haddonfield, N.J., to take our engagement photographs.
I had my hair cut and styled for the occasion, and Hal and I were casually dressed in clothing we liked, but neither of us had given much thought to where the photographs would be taken. We were both a bit surprised when Ed Quinn of E.G. Quinn Photography (still in business!) took us to a park that overlooked a cemetery. Despite the sobering reminder of where we were headed someday, the photographs turned out well, with no hint of the graveyard, and we used one of the photos on our wedding invitations as we had planned.
In spite of the strange location choice, it turns out that Quinn was ahead of his time. Jenkintown-based wedding photographer Rebecca Barger says that for many years, engagement photography consisted of formal black-and-white head-and-shoulders shots taken in a studio for the sole purpose of accompanying a newspaper engagement announcement. It was only after the advent of digital photography that engagement photo shoots began leaving the studio for just about any place that helps to tell a couple’s story or elicits an emotional reaction from them.
I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little jealous of couples that are able to choose where their pictures are taken. For example, Rachel Silver, 26, and Garrett Barten, 32, who got married May 26 in Center City, did their engagement shoot in their pajamas in a room they rented in the Hotel Monaco. The couple, who live in Miami Beach, used Wayne photographer Sarah DiCicco.
Silver explains how the idea came about: “Neither of us liked the idea of walking through the park and holding hands, smiling awkwardly.” Instead, they thought about what they enjoyed doing together and decided it was spending time in their pajamas with Yosi, their Chinua. It’s not unusual for the couple to get home from work and put on their pajamas at 6 p.m. “We love our downtime together,” Silver adds.
Her mother, Ivy, of Center City, not only loved the idea but suggested the couple have a pillow fight, too. “We’re silly, playful people,” Silver says, pronouncing the engagement photo shoot “so much fun,” even though feathers flew everywhere — so much so that they borrowed a vacuum cleaner from a hotel maid so that no one else would have to see the way the room looked.
“What other time in your life could you have a pillow fight and have someone photograph it? It’s an excuse to do something fun and different and get it captured in a unique way,” Silver says. The couple framed some of the photographs and used a photo of Yosi taken during the shoot on their RSVP envelope. Of course, they could also have used some of their photos for their Save the Dates — had they sent them.
For Renay Dossick Shaw, 28, and Scott Shaw, 34, their engagement photo session was a chance to pay homage to Scott’s lifelong love of the Eagles. Scott’s grandfather has been a season ticket holder for years, and Scott has not missed an Eagles home game in about 20 years.
Rebecca Barger photographed the Queen Village residents at Lincoln Financial Field on the playing field and in the tunnel the Eagles use to access the locker room.
The Eagles-themed photo shoot was Scott’s idea, and Renay felt he deserved it. She says, “Weddings are about the bride. I picked out everything else. [The photo shoot] was his one thing, his idea and it turned out really great.” Eventually, the couple hopes to tell their 4-month-old daughter, Sophia, about the day they spent at the Linc.
The strangest request Barger ever received for shooting an engagement came from a goth bride-to-be. The woman wanted to have her shoot in a mortuary. Barger ended up passing on the idea, but not because of the location. “She didn’t have clear expectations,” Barger says of the goth bride, “and I thought I would not be able to meet her unclear expectations.”
Some couples have a good idea of where they would like to take their engagement photos; others may need a bit of guidance. If couples need an assist, Barger tries to elicit information from them that will reveal their favorite place. For example, if they spent a lot of time commuting through 30th Street Station during their relationship’s formative year,s that might be a good spot to use. If they lived in New York, she might take them there, or to one of the many nooks, crannies and interesting spots Center City has to offer. She has also done shoots at the universities where couples met, favorite coffee shops, Morris Arboretum and, of course, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Gene Smirnov also tries to get engaged couples to reveal themselves to him so that they can go to a place that is important to them — perhaps where they grew up or met — because it “creates a little story and helps them be more comfortable.” He photographed one couple at Hershey Park in honor of one of their significant dates. Smirnov even hopped on a roller coaster with the couple to film them.
Sometimes, when couples get comfortable, unexpected things happen that can make for good photographs. Smirnov remembers a well-dressed couple he photographed in Northern Liberties who engaged in an impromptu pushup contest on the street as he clicked away.
Recently, photographer Brad Gellman got to see what happens on the other side of the camera when he participated in his own engagement photo shoot with Carly Gordon, whom he married in August. Gellman and Gordon spent about an hour and a half with their photographer near the biking and running paths on Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park overlooking Manayunk. Gordon had originally wanted a wedding at a vineyard, but when that proved unworkable for their large guest list, they settled on a woodsy engagement photo shoot as a compromise.
Gellman was pleased that the photographer put Gordon at ease, wasn’t pushy and let the couple have fun and be relaxed — all things he does when he is taking the pictures. As Gellman points out, the engagement shoot is the perfect way for an engaged couple and their photographer to get to know and trust each other before the wedding. It also can be instructive about the angles couples like and whether or not they want to repeat the same make up and hairstyle or decide to whiten their teeth.
Of course, whether the photos take place in the Magic Garden, the zoo, the historic district of Philadelphia or someplace else, the objective is for couples to end up with beautifully lit photographs that demonstrate their affection for each other.
Gail Snyder is a Chalfont-based writer who loves looking at wedding photographs. This article originally appeared in Simchas, a Jewish Exponent supplement.