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How to Shoot an On-Location Engagement Session

Kristi Bonney used her Tamron SP 24-70 to capture a betrothed couple with the groom's vineyard as a scenic backdrop.

By Jenn Gidman
Images by Kristi Bonney

Lake Chelan Winery, located along Lake Chelan in Washington state, is a family-owned business that holds the honor of being the first winery in Lake Chelan Valley—and it's also where Kristi Bonney was able to use her Tamron SP 24-70mm VC lens to photograph a romantic engagement session for the groom, one of the vineyard's owners.

"I wanted people who saw these images to feel and see the love there, their connection," Kristi explains. "And it was easy to show that connection at the winery, because that's where the couple met and fell in love, working side by side in the vineyard. Everything about the locations in all of these pictures evokes some kind of memory for them. They have an emotional and physical attachment to it all."

Normally Kristi would approach an engagement session like this by scouting out the location a couple of weeks beforehand, walking around with the couple to find out the places there that have meaning to them. "But for this particular shoot, I was already quite familiar with the winery and the grounds because I've been there so many times," she says. "It was more a matter of finding out from the couple what parts of the winery were most special to them and then incorporate those locations into the session.

To get her subjects to relax during the shoot, Kristi used the same technique she uses when photographing any couple. "It's often the man who's reluctant to be in front of the camera," she says. "So I try to take the pressure off by telling them to go with the flow and not force anything. I just ask them to interact, look at each other, touch each other. I'll say, 'If you want to hold her close or kiss her, go for it.' By the end of the session, they're usually laughing and happy and they'll say, 'That wasn't so bad!'"

© Kristi Bonney

That's the approach Kristi took for a couple of initial photos out in the vineyard. "For this first image, where you can see the vineyard rows behind them, the groom was still nervous," she says. "But once he started interacting with his fiancee and coming in close, you can totally see how much he adores her, and how natural she is in front of the camera."

© Kristi Bonney

Because it was chilly when they took these photos (it was fall in the Pacific Northwest), Kristi asked them to bring a blanket or wrap that they had some emotional attachment to and that they could incorporate into some of the photos as a symbol of starting their new life together. "The bride brought along her grandmother's quilt, which I had her wrap around herself," she says. "Then I simply had him hold her close and asked her to look toward me while he stared out into the vineyard. The sunlight was behind them, which was exactly the warm, blown-out effect I was looking for. It's a light, airy shot that just exudes happiness."

As they moved around the winery grounds, they made a stop in front of the winery's cider house, where they grind the apples for the groom's separate cider brand. "He's very passionate about his cider, and that's one of the things she fell in love with," Kristi explains. "Plus they really wanted to get a photo in front of those big, beautiful doors. I took a few pictures of them looking straight ahead at me, then I asked them to look at each other. That’s when something interesting happened: As they turned their heads to look at each other, they actually readjusted their fingers and created a tension that wasn't in the other shots. When I looked at them, I could almost feel my own husband's fingers in my hand, opening and squeezing to readjust. It was such a lovely feeling to capture."

© Kristi Bonney

For other candid moments, Kristi sometimes "tricked" the couple. "I'd tell them I was just testing out my lighting and to just hang out for a few minutes and not worry about me," she says. "Often during that supposed downtime, when they thought I was testing my setup, I was really looking through the viewfinder for opportunities to catch those unscripted moments where they didn't think I was paying attention. That's how I got that black-and-white photo of them lacing their fingers together."

© Kristi Bonney

Converting to black and white for select engagement photos like this one allows Kristi to not only lend a classic, timeless look to her images—it can also eliminate distracting colors and play up other aspects of the photo. "You may look back on a photo 30 years from now and think, 'Oh wow, look at those colors we wore!'" she explains. "With a black-and-white photo, it won't ever seem outdated. Plus, with this photo in particular, I loved the play between shadow and light; using black and white really highlights that. It also accentuates the texture of her lace dress, which was gorgeous."

A photo in the groom's pickup truck served as a moving wrap-up for the session. "Every guy who runs a winery needs a pickup truck to get around," Kristi says. "And again, it felt like such a classic photo to me, so I converted it to black and white. It almost looks like I'm intruding, because it seems like we're glimpsing a private moment where they're snuggling up and touching noses. It was a sweet and intimate moment that I was able to turn into a sweet and intimate photo."

© Kristi Bonney

To see more of Kristi Bonney's work, go to http://kristibonneyphotography.com.