Engagement Session at Baylor University
In March 2022, I spent a weekend with seven fellow photographers at the inaugural Bloom Photography Retreat hosted by Anna Kay Photography and Emily Anne Photography. The first day focused on introduction, education, and a family session led by Emily. The second day included not one but two mini engagement styled sessions led by Anna.
The engagement sessions focused on posing couples, ways to help couples relax in front of the camera, and photographing in harsh light. Anna took lead on posing the couples and giving direction while the retreat participants moved in and around to get a variety of shots from different angles. The first session began at 10 am which is already later in the day then I normally photograph clients. The second took place at 11 am. Photographing so close to noon was a new experience for me. It was a great opportunity to test, practice, and learn in in what is a risk-free session. Knowing that the clients were going to receive a full gallery from the lead photographer, meant that the retreat participants can make mistakes. That freedom really allows you to take more risks than you normally would and get creative.
Let's Talk About Light
I usually photograph clients early in the morning (within one hour of sunrise) or during golden hour (one hour before sunset). This is when light is "soft" -- the shadows are softer because the sun is at a lower angle and the light has to travel further through the atmosphere than if it coming from were directly above you. Golden hour gets its name from the beautiful warm soft light that occurs as the sun is about to set. Those long red and orange wavelengths are stronger at that time of day than the shorter blue wavelengths. The light is also diffused more so the shadows aren't as harsh. As the sun continues to set you're left with all the blue hues and this time of day is called "blue hour" -- though it doesn't usually last a full hour here in Texas.
Around noon, if you are standing in direct light your clients will have shadows under their eyes, nose and lower lip. These shadows aren't usually flattering so you have to position clients in ways that either avoid those shadows or embrace them. One way you can do this is having your clients face the sun (i.e., looking up with their eyes closed) or standing among strong shadows to play with contrast (i.e., sitting in shadows of a stair railing). Another way is place your clients in shady areas (wall of a building, under trees, under a canopy) and have them facing towards the light source.
What Time of Day is Best?
The answer is up to YOU. Whether you have photos taken in golden hour, blue hour, or mid-day is a choice of aesthetics, logistics, or availability.
If you want those warm tones and beautiful backlit images, you'll want to aim for golden hour in the evening. [If you want light and airy images (not my editing style) a little earlier in the evening works best.] If you're looking for something a little edgier or with more contrast, mid-day photo shoots are perfect.
If you have little kids, the best time of day for your photo session (in my opinion) are going to be the golden hours. Whether its the morning or evening, shooting when the light is soft from multiple angles is the best way to assure your photographer is able to get great photos of your kids no matter where they are at your location. Kids like to run around and explore and move. Unlike adult couples who will stand exactly where you tell them and look where you direct them, kids are more likely to go where they want. Family photographers love letting your kids have freedom during a session. When your session takes place at golden hour it means your photographer isn't worrying that kids are no longer in the shade or are facing the sun. BUT if its just you or you and your significant other, you can really chose with what fits best with your style, location choice, and availability.
Sometimes you have to pick a time of day that works with your schedule OR the opening/closing times of your ideal location. If you location closes at 6 pm in the summer, you won't be able to get golden hour photos (which begins after 7 pm here in Texas). You may need to work around your work schedule, kids' schedules, or choose based on what your photographer has available.
Just know that any time of day works for photos. Its just a matter of picking a time that works best for YOU.
For this 30 minute session, our wonderful couple met us at the Mayborn Museum on Baylor University's campus. In a normal session, a couple and their photographer would have been able to explore more of the grounds in 30 minutes, but when you have 8 other photographers learning and taking turns photographing, there is less time for exploring. We utilized 3 spots at the museum: the entry, under the trees, and the side of the building. Each of these areas had unique challenges and different light to work with even though they were all in shade.
The museum's building is beautiful with its red brick, columns, and tall windows reflecting the blue sky. But it was brightly lit and had large posters in bright green advertising their dinosaur exhibit. That distraction in the background (which none of us wanted to spend hours photoshopping out) meant we couldn't place our couple directly in front of the building. Instead we had them stand off to the side. We used the shade of the columns to keep our subjects evenly lit and avoid squinty eyes.
One of the main challenges at this spot, for me, was the space available to the photographers. There wasn't a lot of room where I could go to without getting in the way of another photographer or no longer having flattering light on the couple. I'd move a few inches to the right, and could no longer see their faces. I'd move a few inches to left and there would be a trash can in the background.
This spot allowed for the photographers to spread out a little more and get creative with our angles. The main challenge was the very bright background. Knowing how to properly expose in this type of lighting situation comes with education, trial and error, and practice.
I love a red bricked building. And I'm a sucker for beautiful windows and doors. I loved that we got to place our couple alongside this amazing facade. Using architecture is a great way to frame your clients and create interesting compositions. The main challenges for this spot were the colors and reflections. Having that much red brick meant that all that red is reflecting onto your clients. But the color and intensity is different for the areas that are in full sun and those that fall in the shade. But that's something that gets worked on more during post-processing. During the shoot, the biggest challenge was the reflection in the windows. All of the photographers had to stand off to the side and watch (or take photos at a different angle) while one photographer stood directly in front of the couple and window. And being the interested and curious people we are, we kept inching closer and closer to the person photographing to see what they were seeing. Woops.
The last challenge of the day? The wind. Oh my was it windy! But sometimes you just have to embrace it and let is blow your hair or dress because that movement cannot be replicated on a non-windy day. It is magical. So if your session takes place on a windy day, be ready to let your hair down!
Location: Waco, Texas
Lead at Session: @annakay.photography
Assist at Session: @emilyannephotography
Photos by Oh, Tannenbaum Photography
Read what its like Behind the Scenes at a Photography Retreat by clicking here.
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Laura Tannenbaum is a San Antonio family and portrait photographer. She loves capturing real life, loving moments between loved ones and showcasing personalities. To learn more about Laura visit her About Page.
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