Making the most of your session :: engagement photos

Engagement sessions aren't usually met with too many questions, aside from what to wear and where to shoot (always important decisions!). And really, when it comes to planning a fantastic engagement session, there are no hard and fast rules, since there are many different ways to make your engagement session a success. 

But first, there's something important to address - sometimes couples really don't know why they should do engagement photos at all, or how it will benefit them. They might see an engagement session as just an additional cost and item on the To Do list. So I'll begin by explaining why everyone should have an engagement session, and how it's so, SO much more than you might realize! :)

Why should I do engagement photos? We'll get photos at the wedding!

Aside from the fact that they are super fun (seriously), there are three main reasons I strongly suggest that couples do engagement photos. 

The first is that it's a really great way to get to know your wedding photographer (aka, me!)  before your wedding day, and get a little practice relaxing in front of the camera. It's also helpful for me to have that extra time photographing and getting to know each of my couples, to see what they're like together in general and while being photographed, and be able to really communicate that through photos - every couple is unique, and that extra time getting to know one another lets me really see what makes you two you. Also, the majority of people are not overly eager to jump in front of the camera, but when you're able to get to know me and experience how easy it actually is to be my subject and relax a little about the whole process (because you've seen how awesome you look in your engagement photos!), it will make you that much more comfortable on your wedding day, and you'll be able to be comfortable and relaxed despite the tight timeline and everything going on. It benefits both of us to have that experience before showtime on the big day. :)

The second reason you should do an engagement session is that - while your wedding is going to be spectacular, and is an incredibly important event - it's not the only part of your relationship worth celebrating. You aren't just bride and groom, you're two people, who have formed a really special relationship and who live real life together, and your engagement session is the perfect time to focus on this. Not a big (wonderful) event, but two people. Who you are together. The reason the wedding is happening. An engagement session is a chance to just relax and spend time being a couple and capturing the love you share, with no time constraints and no stress and no one interrupting to wish you well or remind you that it's time for the next event. It's different than the wedding day, and the perfect complement. 

The third reason engagement photos are important is that you'll use them! Many couples use them on a save-the-date, but even if you don't, engagement photos are perfect for displaying at the wedding (often near the gift table, seating chart, guest book, and other details), or at an engagement party, or for gifting to parents and grandparents. Engagements are special occasions in their own right, and so worth documenting and celebrating! There's nothing quite like the excitement that comes with getting engaged and the anticipation of officially beginning the next stage of life as a married couple. 

And... there's actually a fourth bonus reason to do engagement photos: they're included for no additional cost in each of my wedding collections (except for the elopement collection). ;)

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Making the most of your engagement session

So, now that you know why you should do engagement photos, here are a few ways that you can make the most of your engagement session. These aren't rules in any way, just ideas for how to get photos that you really love. If an idea isn't for you, that's totally fine! An engagement session is supposed to be about who two people are, and that's going to look different for everyone.

  • Choose two outfits
    Sometimes, you'll only want one, and that is completely fine. But this is the session when you have plenty of time and flexibility to switch it up partway through, so if you have any inclination to have a wardrobe change, do it!
  • Plan a Date
    If you're struggling with deciding on a location, it might mean you should change your approach. Instead of picking the most beautiful spot in nature, you can choose a location that's meaningful to the two of you, or plan your perfect evening out together. Maybe you love getting ice cream and walking the boardwalk at the beach. Maybe you love taking your dog to the park together. Maybe you love hiking or biking together, or spending the day at home cooking or watching a movie, or getting coffee and exploring a new area. Seriously, any one of these dates would make for a fantastic engagement session. You can't go wrong finding an activity to incorporate and planning your session around that. 
  • Get your hair and makeup professionally done
    This is by no means a requirement, but your engagement session can be a great time to 'try out' a hair and makeup artist that you are considering. It's not going to be quite the same look as your wedding hair and makeup of course, but it is a great chance to meet someone, see if they'll be a good fit for your wedding day, and also have your hair and makeup professionally styled for your photos. If it works out schedule-wise, it's a win-win!
  • Be yourself
    Yes, this sounds totally corny. But it's true, and really important! Are the two of you goofy together? Then you should be having fun and laughing during your session. Are you romantic and snuggly? Then snuggle each other and show that! Do you totally hate PDA? Then tell me and we will find the perfect balance for you - your photos will show you love each other, but there are plenty of ways to show that besides more physical touch than you care to show in public. ;) I am not here to make couples all look like some imaginary Engaged Couple that exists in someone's imagination or maybe on Pinterest - I am here to tell your story, to show who you two are together, and to celebrate that. Whatever exactly it looks like. Your session should reflect two individual personalities coming together as one awesome couple. Come prepared to act like yourselves!

I hope knowing why engagement photos are so important - and how to have an incredible session - can help you as you plan and prepare for your session day! Never hesitate to get in touch with me for specific questions. I'm here to make your experience stress-free, easy, and fun! :)

Making the most of your session :: the official newborn session guide

Newborn sessions are one of my all time favorite types of sessions. Truly, it is an incredible privilege to be able to document the welcoming of a new person and the celebration of new life. No other life event holds quite the same mixture of joy, exhaustion, and completely overwhelming love!

Newborn sessions are - aside from weddings of course - also the type of session that my clients have the most questions about and that can be the most stressful to head into without enough information. It is SO important to me that all of my clients feel relaxed leading up to and during their sessions, but especially families who have just welcomed a new baby. The postpartum state is not one that needs any hint of stress added to it!

While most of the other types of sessions I photograph are essentially met with two questions (what should we wear and where should we do our session?), I think newborn sessions deserve a more comprehensive guide. So here you go. :)

{P.S. Did you know that you can book a half price maternity session with me if you book a newborn session as well? Get in touch for more information!}

newborn session guide hannah mann photography

Scheduling Your Newborn Session

Ideally, your session will take place when your baby is between 3-10 days old. This gives the family time to come home from the hospital and begin to settle into their new routine, but is soon enough that baby is still very much in the ‘newborn’ stage - tiny, sleepy, curled up, and snuggly. Once you have welcomed your baby, contact me at your earliest convenience and we will pick a date for your session. Generally, mornings are best for baby’s schedules (and other siblings’ moods) and for the brightest light in your home. However, this is not the case for every family. Keep in mind the patterns of your baby and the rest of your family, and when the light is brightest in your home, and that will determine what time of day will be best for you.

Note: Sometimes circumstances prevent scheduling a session in the 3-10 day timeframe (such as a NICU stay, a difficult delivery or recovery, etc.). While I wish wholeheartedly that your little one’s arrival is as uncomplicated and easy as possible, do not worry if your session must be scheduled for a later date. Even as babies begin to outgrow the newborn stage, your photos will reflect the same love and joy that you have felt all along. The session should take place at a time when you are ready to enjoy it, not at a time when you feel pressured to fit it in to an overwhelming season.

how to have a perfect newborn session

Day of the Session

The session itself will typically last one to two hours, based on the number of feedings and changes that take place, and if there are other siblings to work with. We let baby determine our schedule, and the pace is relaxed and natural. Above all, I want my clients to feel peaceful and to enjoy their session. Babies are uncooperative at sessions just as often as they are well behaved, and our time is built to allow for that. Spit up, dirty diapers, dirtied outfits, crankiness, etc. - none is reason to stress. As a mother of almost three, I have had all my good planning ruined too many times to count! And as your photographer, I want your session to be a sweet memory of a special time, no matter what baby throws our way. This is not a time where you need to put on a show; it is a time for you to enjoy the ones you love most.

And please, please keep in mind that your house does not need to be clean for me. The last thing you need to worry about is having a clean house for me! If we need to, we will move things as we go. I want you spending time with your baby, recovering and resting, and getting yourself ready for our session. I am well versed in the struggle to keep a clean house (for me this is always, not just after having a baby!), so just relax. :)

making the most of your newborn session

What to Wear

First and foremost, you should be comfortable in whatever you choose to wear. Your clothes should reflect your taste and who your family is. Within that overall principle, here are a couple of recommendations for you to help ensure the most beautiful photographs.

- Avoid bright or dark colors, for the whole family. Your baby’s skin is delicate and the tone is easily affected by the surrounding colors. Instead, stick with light colors, neutrals, and pastels, as they will not overpower your little one. Think snuggly, cozy, and soft.

- Plan your wardrobe ahead of time, even before the baby is born. Once baby arrives, getting together a wardrobe or making a last minute shopping trip will be the last thing you'll be up for doing! And while a mama's belly will shrink after giving birth, her general size won't change much in the first week or two, so it's safer to stick with something that can be worn pretty late in pregnancy and that is a forgiving fit and style. Most of all mamas, make sure you feel good in what you're wearing! Loose fitting shirts, tunics, and dresses in soft colors will look perfect. 

- Dress baby simply and comfortably. Think soft cotton clothes - onesies, a swaddling blanket, or simply a diaper with or without a cover. Accessories such as hats or headbands can be a sweet way to add personality and style without overpowering a tiny person, but keep them somewhat small and simple. Definitely stay away from stiff clothing like jeans, fluffy dresses or other more formal attire because it distracts from baby’s soft skin and delicate features - these types of outfits are best for an older baby or toddler.

A note for mothers: I know firsthand the temptation that too many women face to feel self conscious or critical about their body’s postpartum state. While some women love the changes they have experienced with pregnancy, others simply see the extra weight, the lingering bump, and the fatigue. If you are in that second set, please know that no matter what you think you see, you are beautiful! You have just been part of the greatest miracle - bringing forth life - and there is nothing so beautiful as that. I always take care to pose clients in a natural and flattering way, and I encourage you to not waste a moment of your time worrying. Instead, I hope you can relax and celebrate the amazing job you have just done, and know that you are in good hands!

hannah mann photography san diego newborn session guide

Frequently Asked Questions

- What is the best location for my session?

Almost all of my newborn sessions take place within my clients’ homes. This is usually the most comfortable and convenient spot for a family with a new baby. Your home does not need to be amazingly decorated or immaculately clean - in fact, please don’t spend time cleaning before our session! You have plenty of other more important things to be doing in these first days after welcoming your new child. If you have a simple couch, bed, or nursery setting - even a blank wall with a clean floor - we can easily work with that setting. My favorite images are often of the family snuggled on mom and dad’s bed or simply standing near a window. Which brings me to the most important thing your home needs: n atural light. While you don’t need huge windows to get good lighting, every once in awhile a home has small windows, lots of surrounding shade, and dark decor, and this may not work well. If you have any concerns about your home environment for your photo session, let’s talk! Do note that good artificial lighting does not work well for a session - I typically turn off all lights and open all windows for the most beautiful results.

If you do not want your session to take place in your home, or if your home does not seem well suited to a session, we can pick an outdoor location, a friend or family member’s home, or any other location that feels right for your family.

- Do you provide props and/or backdrops?

The short answer to this is no, I do not, with the exception of a simple muslin swaddling blanket. While there are talented photographers who specialize in newborn studio photography with fancy baskets, special wraps, miniature beds, etc., I am passionate about lifestyle newborn photography, where the family as a whole is celebrated. There is nothing more special to me than the family that a precious new baby is welcomed into, and photographing newborns in their families’ arms and in their new world is what my heart loves to do. I still absolutely ensure to capture photos of your newborn on his or her own since these are very important, but they typically take place in baby’s crib, on mom and dad’s bed, in a family member’s arms, etc. Our environment isn’t a backdrop, it is real life, and real love.

- What kind of retouching do you do?

Every one of my photographs is individually edited and inspected in detail. My goal in my art is to show what is real, in its best and most beautiful form. In light of this, my general rule for retouching is that I remove things that heal (such as blemishes), and I leave things that are part of a person’s wonderful individuality (such as scars, birth marks, moles, etc.) I never manipulate a subject’s size or shape - including slimming down a belly or arms or a double chin. I ask my clients to trust my posing and artistic vision, and my sensitivity toward the things they may feel uncomfortable with.

Most newborns have scratches, tiny pimples, or other imperfections that stand out in a photo if not retouched - their skin is so sensitive and delicate in the early days. I generally edit out these types of marks, as they will not stick around more than a week or two in most cases, while I leave birthmarks unretouched. If you have individual questions or concerns about what may or may not be edited about your newborn, please feel free to speak with me to address them!

- Do you offer nursing photos?

I do! For clients' privacy, I do not display these images online without explicit permission. However, breastfeeding is a beautiful relationship between mother and child, and I am happy to capture images of it if you are interested.

making the most of your newborn session san diego

Making the most of your session :: how to look and feel amazing in maternity photos

I've been wanting for a while to start blogging some tips for clients - brides and grooms, families, everyone - but thanks to a busy fall (seriously, it was wonderful and I appreciate you all more than you know!), I am just now finding myself with barely enough time to blog more. I have so many clients who have never had professional photos done before or who haven't had them in years, but even if my clients do have photos done faithfully once or twice every year, I certainly don't expect them to be the ones with all of the knowledge about how to put together the perfect photo wardrobe, what to do when your kids are going nuts during a session, how to feel comfortable in front of the camera, how to plan for and select the perfect prints and products, how to put together a wedding timeline and a family shot list, etc. Especially for brides and grooms - I mean, usually the goal is to only get married once (right??), so most couples have little or no experience planning a wedding! And guess what? That is completely fine! After all, it IS my job to not only take great photos, but to take great care of my clients and prepare them to have the best experience possible. ;)

So, that brings me here. Part one of a many part series covering some of my most frequently asked questions and other helpful tips, in order to give you peace of mind about your wedding or photo session. I'm not really sure what to call this series and I totally hate trying to come up with catchy (corny) names for things, so this series has no official name, but you'll find plenty of helpful advice and any guides I publish over time in the blog category 'advice + client guides' (see the top of the blog post for this label, or check under the 'archives' menu at the top of the page). I'm keeping it simple over here!

And so, the first topic we're going to cover is.... looking and feeling great in maternity photos. I'll be doing separate posts on engagement, family, senior, and newborn session wardrobes, because they're all different, and weddings will have plenty of posts of their own, but at the moment I am trying to get together my own wardrobe for my own maternity photos so that's what we'll start with!

What to wear for maternity photos

First and foremost, I have to start with this: expectant mamas, I know many of you probably feel large, uncomfortable, and maybe kind of like a whale - or at least I'm guessing many of you do since that's how I feel and how I've heard plenty of other women say they feel. In this culture of the fitness obsessed, six pack abs, and tiny skinny Instagram mommies who are in a bikini at two weeks postpartum looking more in shape than I've ever looked, let me just say, I totally get it. If you feel glowing and full of life and totally comfortable in your pregnant body, that's wonderful, and I wish every pregnant mama could! But personally I've been thinking for days about what to wear for my photos, looking at everything in my closet hoping I don't have to buy something new, and in the process reminding myself how I fit in so little, how much weight I've gained, how I want to hide certain parts of me that look way chubbier than I want them to, etc. Believe me, by baby #3, I really really get it! And going out in public and being subjected to the opinions of total strangers who think they have the right to comment on how small or large you are, how you look, etc.? Just makes it that much more wonderful, huh? 

Why am I going on about all of this? Because I want you to know that as someone who has struggled with insecurities about my pregnant body (or anything else you want to name, ha!), I know how to photograph yours. I know what to highlight, I know what to minimize. I know how to convey the beauty of a woman who is growing new life and giving so much of herself to another in this difficult but miraculous journey of pregnancy. Basically, I'm going to make you look fantastic. Whether you feel it or not, you're going to look it. I promise! You already do, and I will portray your beautiful self in its absolute best light.

Okay, so now that you know you can trust me, because I've been there and done that pregnancy thing (three times now) and because I know how to show off how amazing you actually do look, there are still a few things you can do on your end to make your maternity session experience the best it can possibly be. 

  1. Wear something that makes you feel great. (Duh.) Maternity sessions are not the time to try to squeeze into something that doesn't currently fit or flatter, or to just decide you're going to work with what's already in your closet even though you don't really like it or feel good in it. If you don't have something you feel great in, for goodness' sake, just buy something! Your photos are an investment, in remembering this truly special time in your life, the effort and energy and everything else you've poured into growing a child, and the last weeks of the life in your family before it expanded. It's really important that you treat your wardrobe choices as part of that investment. This does not mean that you have to buy something expensive or buy new outfits for your significant other or the entire family. Chances are that they already have something that will work great, and their bodies aren't changing on a daily basis. So focus first on yourself and finding something you feel beautiful in, and the rest of the wardrobe will easily be planned around that.
  2. Wear a flowy dress. Okay, this 'rule' can totally be broken with amazing results. But in general, a flowy dress is going to look absolutely spectacular on a pregnant mama, and will be beautiful in photos as well. If you just love tight dresses and want to rock one, go ahead. Can't part with your jeans? That's fine. But for the light and airy and feminine look I love and specialize in, a flowy dress is going to serve you really well. And a big bonus? You don't have to shop for one in the maternity section, which means you have a lot more options! From cheaper options like Forever XXI, TJ Maxx, and Charlotte Russe, to more moderate or expensive options like Free People, Anthropologie, Nordstrom Rack, Asos, and Urban Outfitters, you have tons of adorable options to make you feel fantastic. Also, it's fine if your dress is a little tent-like and doesn't hug your bump - I'll pose to flatter it, and draw your dress in around that bump in the perfect way. Wearing something loose does NOT mean that you'll look like a blimp! If you do go with something tight, a flowy kimono or open sweater over the top can look adorable. And if you love your jeans, a soft, loose feminine top will look amazing.
  3. Choose the right colors and patterns. In general, for all photos (not just maternity sessions), I recommend soft, neutral, or muted colors, and softer/smaller patterns. Bright colors and large/bold/graphic prints tend to distract from the subject rather than complement the subject. Of course, there is always a time and a place to break these rules, so if you're really wanting something that it seems like I've recommended against, send me photos and let's chat! I also usually encourage clients to wear lighter colors rather than darker colors, since I think they photograph so beautifully, but I happen to looooove wearing black and dark colors so I kind of break that rule myself all the time. ;) 
  4. Show off what you currently feel great about. Maybe your bump really is what you love to draw attention to. Or maybe you still feel great about your legs. Whatever it is, pick one thing that you love, and dress to enhance that. It doesn't mean you need to show lots of skin (showing more skin does not make you look skinnier in photos - just like covering up does not make you look larger), but focusing on a feature you really do love can help you figure out what will make you feel great.
  5. Don't compare or compete. I feel like from the time you get pregnant, it seems way too many people have an opinion on whether your bump is big or small, on whether you've gained too much or too little weight, how you're carrying, what you should name your kid, how you should give birth, how you should parent, and the list goes on and on and on and on and on. Then add in Instagram (which I love in so many ways, but hate in a few) and Pinterest and the internet in general, and you've got insta-famous fit moms telling you how they've had the perfect pregnancy and avoided stretch marks and only gained 10lbs and popped right back post-birth and everything else. For your own sanity, shut those voices out, or you'll go crazy. This whole motherhood thing is hard enough as it is! So don't look at photos of other moms and feel like you need to hide a massive bump, or worry about your weight, or whatever. Your maternity session is for YOU and your family. That's it. You're going to look fantastic. And decades from now - gosh, even months from now - you won't be remembering the voices you have to currently work to drown out, you'll be staring at those photos with tears in your eyes thinking how your babies have grown up so fast, and how for all the difficulties of pregnancy it was truly so short and so worth it, and how that pregnant you looked so beautiful and so excited to meet your precious child. And the blessing it is to be able to carry a healthy baby, when so many women long for it and are unable to? That is one humbling thought to keep me grateful and focused on the immense good in this process, particularly when I'm feeling like an ungrateful whale who can't tie my own shoes.
  6. Don't forget hair + makeup. If you can budget it, getting professional makeup, or both hair and makeup, is wonderful! Makeup artists know just how to do their thing to enhance your features perfectly for photos - it's totally different than doing everyday makeup! If you prefer natural, and want light or no makeup, go ahead and stick with what makes you feel beautiful and what is true to who you are! But if you are someone who likes getting done up for a special occasion, and if it will make you feel good, either hire a professional or look up tips specifically for doing makeup for photos, and have fun! Remember, if you choose to do your own makeup, and typically wear a moderate amount or less, makeup that seems heavy compared to normal will most likely not look heavy in photos at all. So don't be afraid to go a little out of your comfort zone, and take a few iPhone snaps of yourself or something to see how it photographs! 
  7. It doesn't have to be all about you and the bump - or it can be. If you want a maternity session with just yourself, I'm always game! One of my favorite maternity sessions, recently featured on 100 Layer Cakelet, was just the expectant mama, a simple white dress, and a pretty outdoor location. But often, my clients want to be less the center of attention, and the session is really a family session with a little extra focus on mom. Whatever way you would like to approach it, whatever you're comfortable with, is perfect!
  8. Talk to me. As your photographer, I am seriously here to help you through this whole process. If you've got everything nailed down and don't want or need input, that is totally fine! But if you do have questions, I'm here to answer them and guide you through your wardrobe planning, location selection, and everything else. If that means texting me photos from the dressing room, or sending me different outfit combinations you're considering, or meeting me a few minutes early and bringing a couple of options to the session - any of that is totally fine, and I really enjoy being able to help out and make the process easier and less stressful! Don't hesitate to reach out, even if it feels like you have a thousand questions. I love the planning as much as I love the photographing, and how every piece comes together to create a look to suit each individual.
what to wear for your maternity session

Well, that's it for part I of this series. I'm sure there are questions out there that I haven't answered (and I purposefully haven't gone much into coordinating family outfits yet, since that will be its own post), so if you have anything else I should add to this, let me know in the comments! 

Above all, pregnant mamas, know that you are gorgeous, and that that will shine through in your photos. So relax, go easy on yourself, ask for help if you need it, and let's make some beautiful memories of one of the most fleeting stages of motherhood. 

how to look and feel great in maternity photos