How To Capture Authentic Emotion at Engagement Sessions

POSTED IN : Photographers, Shooting & Workflow

We absolutely LOVE that all of our couples have such unique stories and personalities – we wouldn’t trade this job for anything – but photographing so many different types of personalities can also be challenging, right?


Wouldn’t it be so much easier if every one of our couples responded the same way to our jokes?


If they all looked great in the same type of poses?

If their senses of humor all clicked perfectly with ours?

If every groom thought that Jeff’s monkey dance was super awesome and NOT totally lame?

The truth is that we have to connect with each of our couples on a level that makes them comfortable and allows them to relax, but it’s not easy discovering what those levels are when everyone is so unique.


But over the years, Jeff and I have found that there’s one commonality between our couples that we can bank on. They love each other.


They want to spend the rest of their lives together.

They’re planning a wedding and they’re preparing to make a unique and lasting commitment to each other.

As ordinary as that sounds, it’s actually a pretty remarkable thing.

And when it comes to photographing a lot of different couples, this is one thing that in almost every circumstance we as wedding photographers can rely on.

So Jeff and I like to get in touch with that emotional side of our couples when we photograph them, and we like to call this connection, “Emotional Grounding.”

What Does Emotional Grounding Mean?

Emotional grounding is essentially ‘grounding’ our subjects into the current moment by giving them permission to feel their core authentic emotions for each other in that moment.


Sounds totally hippy, right? Totally. But believe me, it’s not as weird as it sounds.


It’s not even as emotional as it sounds, so bear with me a bit as I bring it all around.

For this post, we’re focusing on the engagement session as a way to introduce emotional grounding.

(We also use this method during weddings and talk about it here, so read that next.)

Emotional Grounding at the Engagement Session

When Jeff and I meet a couple at the engagement session, they’re lives are usually insanely busy.

I’m making a global statement here, but most couples are working full-time jobs, going to grad school, planning a wedding, maintaining social lives, and juggling a mountain of life responsibilities while trying to pick the perfect outfit for the engagement session and somehow staying connected in their committed relationship.

This is the baggage that couples are carrying into the engagement shoot.

It’s a lot to handle.


By the time the session arrives, engagement photos can unfortunately become just another piece of luggage that gets thrown into the life/wedding mix.


Our job as photographers is to bring our couples back to earth – to strip the baggage off of their backs and bring them back to their core feelings for each other.

In other words, we need to remind them of their love for each other.

So when a couple arrives at the engagement session, Jeff and I begin the session by “grounding” them into that love for each other.

Just before we start shooting, we tell them that we realize that there’s probably a lot going on in their lives right now.

At this stage of the wedding plans, they’re probably not getting a lot of time to just to hang out with each other without wedding stuff being involved.

But then we tell them that that’s the beauty of the engagement session.


The engagement session is the one item on the long list of wedding to-dos that doesn’t require them to actually DO anything.


We’re going to create gorgeous photographs of them no matter what – it’s a guarantee – so they’re job for the next couple of hours is to forget about photos and just hang out with each other.

That’s it.

The evening is blocked off, the phones are in the car, the outfits are perfect, and the hair and makeup is beautiful.

They don’t need to think, they don’t need to make any wedding decisions – all they have to do is be with each other.


His job is to love on her and her job is to let him. And the more they do that, the better.


We’re not going to host a therapy session or anything like that – we’re photographers, not counselors for Pete’s sake – but they are going to do a lot of touching, hugging, and kissing for the next few hours while we pose them, and that’s enough to make anyone feel super loved.

And finally, here’s the key statement that we tell our couples just before we begin the engagement session:


We tell them that the goal for the session is for them to leave feeling more in love with each other than when they arrived.


If that happens, then we’ve done our job.

Every Reaction is Different

It’s remarkable how different couples from all walks of life respond to this simple and chill style of emotional grounding.

It’s like a switch gets flipped on in their hearts as they leave their layers of life in the car.

It’s incredibly disarming to be given straightforward permission to live in the moment with the one you love, especially while planning a wedding.


We’ve given them the gift of time together when most of their wedding plans are taking away from it.


Our couples don’t all react the same way to this, and that’s part of what makes it artistically inspiring .

Many couples get giddy and happy, excited to get cute and cuddly with their honey. Others get reflective, some get super relaxed, and a few just get downright emotional.

But all of them get a little more REAL as the session moves along.

We’re not looking for any emotion in particular, and we’re definitely not hunting for tears. This isn’t a method of manipulating our couples into crying. That’s totally missing the point.

Instead, we want to lead them into their emotions that already exist.

It’s the simplest way to introduce all of your unique couples into a photo shoot.

Just by starting off with their current emotions in mind, we’ve found that it’s easier to connect with a range of different people on a deeper, more authentic level.

This isn’t a new way of doing things – it’s definitely not revolutionary – but if you’re looking to bring out more authentic emotion in your shoots, then this is a great method to throw into your toolkit.

Check out part two of this series on Emotional Grounding, and learn how we implement this into our wedding days!




Hi there! We’re Jeff and Erin Youngren, a hubby and wifey wedding photography team in San Diego. We shoot together. We travel together. We dream together. And we believe the best thing to hold onto in life is each other (+ a great glass of wine…)

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