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Engagement sessions always pose a special challenge for us, how do we create a wonderful but consistent experience for our couples while not always doing the same stuff, staying fresh and being creative? For us, we constantly look at our environment, where we’re shooting, and ask ourselves how can we incorporate what’s already there to add mood or interest to our images. In this particular moment we were walking on some large rocks near the ocean and we came across a puddle. The best part was the puddle was filthy, the water was brown and stagnate and there were even bits of who knows what floating around in it! A really romantic spot eh?! Ha! But, at the right angle anything can be beautiful even this gross puddle of water. It’s always a risk, because at the end of the day this could be a waste of time and the photo might not even be that interesting, but we challenge ourselves and ask, is the best picture you take on any given engagement session the one you always take or default to?

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How did you direct your subject(s)?

We knew we needed the couple to stand on one end of the puddle while we crotched down low at the other end but most of the direction came as we reviewed the first initial shots. We asked the couple to come close together and asked for them to stay fairly still as this was going to be a type of “silhouette” shot. This helps a lot since most of the time we encourage our couples to just “hangout” with each other.

Once they were close, we asked them to adjust their heads a little so from our low down perspective their heads looked aligned and we could see a good silhouette of their faces.

And that’s it, kept it fairly simple and the whole shot probably took less than 2 minutes to setup and take.

What did you say?

Alright so for this next shot, we’re going to try something a little different. We want to get a sort of silhouette shot, so you’ll have to stay fairly still. Let’s start by facing each other and holding hands. Alright now let’s get our faces a tad closer to each other. Perfect, now Vivian, can you tilt the top of your head slightly towards us? Awesome! We got the shot!

How did you compose your image?

Knowing that we wanted our couple to standout against the background, which in this case was a puddle, we chose to backlit the couple. Meaning we, the photographers, stood facing towards the brightest light, and our couple stood between us and that light. Since this was a sort of silhouette, we knew the subjects would be dark therefore the background had to be bright and clear of other dark objects. This would give us the best “cut out” and make them stand out.

Of course we typically follow the rule of thirds, keeping horizons, eye lines etc at different horizontal lines throughout the image but since we also wanted to include their feet at the top of the image, we bent the rules to quarters instead! The horizon and their feet were at the top 25% mark, hands holding at 50% and their heads at the bottom 25%. This is as balanced as it’s going to get! LOL.

How and what did you focus on?

We of course wanted their faces to be in focus but also their shoes and feet at the top of the image. Luckily we were able to get both in focus with a short depth of field and even though physically their feet and the stop we focused on in the puddle were about 4-5 feet (1.25-1.5m) away from each other. It worked because we were not focusing on a point on the puddle but rather a reflection through the puddle. Imagine if you had a mirror on the ground instead. And you had a rubber ducky sitting on the mirror. If you focused on the rubber ducky the reflections in the mirror would be blurry while the duck would be sharp. If you then focused on something that you could see reflected through the mirror, say your couple, and took the shot, they would in turn be sharp but the rubber ducky sitting on the mirror would be blurry. If none of this makes sense, go stick something on your bathroom mirror and try taking photos of it and reflections of things in your mirror and compare what you see! :)


How did you use the light in your image?

It was the end of the session and the sun was behind the clouds. We typically like working with lots of contrast so on a cloudy day we don’t get very much of that. Since it was the end of the session and we had already gotten pretty much everything we wanted this was a great time to experiment and try something new. The shot was little trickier than normal since it was an inverted reflection and getting the right angle was not easy. Didn’t help that it was getting darker and darker as we went! At the end of the day, I think it was worth it!

What was the gear & settings you used?

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Canon R5


Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L II





Shutter Speed






White Balance


How did you edit your image & what did you use?

Our preset is something we’ve tweaked around with for years and now it’s a monster, lol. For this image we applied our monster, brought down the highlights in curves to soften the clouds. Brought the WB up to 7000 to warm up the image and increase the saturation in HSL for the reds and oranges. We also added a radial adjustment mask around their heads to bring up the overall exposure and contrast. No photoshop was needed.

Software Used

Adobe Lightroom Classic


our own monster creation

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What challenges did you face?

Aside from the technical aspects our greatest challenge was having our couple face just the right way for the silhouette.

How did you solve them?

We find projecting a sense of calm and fun allows us to get our couples to do things they might normally find uncomfortable or awkward. In this case we needed them to stay fairly still and tilt their heads in just the right way. We knew this was going to be a challenge from the beginning so we prefaced by asking the couple if they were down to try something new! Once they were in, we told them it might seem a little weird and we might need them to hold their heads a certain way but that it’ll be worth it! As they’re invested in this now, they were totally in to do whatever we asked of them!

Can you share any last thoughts or advice?

We don’t know if you find this yourself, but sometimes the best shots are the ones that are outside your comfort zone, the ones you’re not sure will work and occasionally the ones you’re not confident in trying on a wedding day. As much as engagement sessions are awesome to get the couple used to your style and approach, it’s also a wonderful opportunity for you to learn as well. Try things you might not be confident in doing yet at a wedding and gain that experience at an engagement session. Do we know how to use a puddle at a wedding now?? Yes we do!

The Apartment Photography

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Hey! We’re Cat and Jeff, storytellers and visual artists from the Pacific Northwest. We’re a husband and wife photography team who are passionate about living life for today and capturing memories for tomorrow. Working with real people and creating meaningful connections is what drives our creativity and strengthens our love for what we do. We were also recently named International Wedding Photographer of the Year by IWOPTY 2019. Aside from photography, we’re total travel bugs, are crazy in love with our tabby Watson, love plants but can’t keep them alive and have a soft spot for fresh churros at Disneyland.

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