The Engagement Session: How I Chose My Outfits

Choosing outfits for your engagement session can be tricky, because there are several things to think about at once. The main factors to consider are fit, color, and style.

When Ryan and I did our engagement photos (5 years ago, oh wow!), we wanted a cute but casual look. Something date night ready, but not anything too fancy. I wore dark jeans, a cute green top, heels, and my pearl necklace. Because my top was lighter, I wanted Ryan to wear a darker shirt. See how nicely our tops and bottoms contrast in black and white! 

Green can be a tricky color to wear if you're taking pictures in a park with lots of grass and trees, but we had the architecture of downtown Norfolk to balance it out. You don't want your clothing to blend in too much to the location, but you don't want clash with it either.

I also recommend having both a more casual outfit like this one, and a dressier outfit like the two I'll show you below. That way we have two different looks for the session!

(Photo credit: Rebecca Franklin Photography)




When we did anniversary photos in 2013, I thought through how our outfits would complement but still contrast both in color and in black and white (because I knew Chelsea is famous for her black and white images).

After looking through my closet, I knew that I didn't have the right piece for our session, so I went shopping. I was really happy to find this navy dress, because it fits me really well. Fit is so important, because I knew I didn't want to be constantly adjusting my clothing throughout the session and the dress draped in a really flattering way. 

Ryan and I chose his shirt to complement my navy dress, since it was the same color but a different shade. I tell my clients to steer clear of prints that are either really tiny or really big, but most plaid shirts like this one are perfect for adding a little pattern interest.

And then I added the green cardigan to keep it from being too much blue. Complementary colors! The cardigan also gives the session more of a fall feel (because fall is my favorite), and it is flattering on my arms. I wouldn't say I hate my arms by any means, but they're not exactly nicely toned either. And if a little sweater means that I won't have to look at a photo and say "my arms look terrible", then bring on the sweaters!

See how my dress and his pants are the darks, my sweater is a mid-tone gray, and his shirt is a light tone? That's tricky to see when you're looking at colorful outfits, but when you nail it, it's awesome!

A quick tip for figuring this out at home... lay out your clothing together as if you were wearing it (wrap your cardigan around your dress and layer your jewelry on top). Then take a photo with your phone and change it to black and white. (I recommend taking down the saturation completely instead of using a filter so the color tones aren't distorted.) This will show you if you have a good balance of lights, mid-tones, and darks or if your color tones are blending into each other too much.

(Photo credit: Bit of Ivory Photography)

While it wasn't a full session, Ryan and I had a few portraits taken at Easter. (Hello, bangs!) And while I was picking out the outfit based on what I wanted to wear for church, I also knew that we had planned to take some pictures at the park before the trees lost all their blooms. So I thought about our choices more carefully.

I love this little black lace dress, because it can be dressed up or down, but the lace doesn't show up well on camera, so I added the cardigan and scarf for some texture and color. Also, because my hair is really dark, I didn't want it to blend in with my dress. (This would even be a problem in color photos, so it's definitely something to consider for those with dark hair.)

Ryan asked what he should wear and I suggested a light blue dress shirt to match the pastel Easter tone of my sweater. (Again, complementary colors!) But since the color tones are the same, layering a darker sweater over it keeps the black and white photo from being mostly lights. (And since our skin tones are so light, that's something we want to balance, especially with my hair being so dark.)

And again, I didn't want any clothing that would bunch or pull or need adjusting during the session, so I chose a scarf instead of a belt, since the dress doesn't have loops to hold it in place.

If I had one criticism for this outfit, it would be that the bottom of my dress blends in to his black jeans a bit. That might sound a little nit-picky to you and you might be thinking that I'm getting way too scientific for just picking out clothes. (I never liked science, but a class on the science of clothes... I'd take that!) But don't put too much pressure on yourself to find the perfect outfit. Sometimes it's hard enough to find a dress that you like! But when you know the rules, you'll understand which ones are the most important to you. In this case, our main goal was to have an updated photo for my blog and profile photos, I wasn't as concerned about the bottom half of our outfits.

(Photo credit: Andrew and Tianna)

I also wanted to mention our height difference. Ryan is 11 inches taller than me. Take a moment to scroll back through the photos and see how short I look. I'm even wearing heels in the last photo. And that's ok! This is who Ryan and I are! So embrace the way you guys fit together, whether that means you barely reach the top of his shoulder or you two can stand eye to eye.

I hope this helps you think through the fit, color, and style of your clothing when you're choosing engagement session outfits. Because the right outfit makes all the difference!

Want to read more tips for your engagement session?
Choosing a Location
My Favorite Hampton Roads Locations
What To Wear
What Not to Wear
What Happens if it Rains
The Engagement Guest Book
Engagement Session Posing
The Purpose
Getting to Know Your Photographer
How I Chose My Outfits
10 Final Tips