choosing the perfect time, location,
outfits & more!




I’m so excited to be working with you and I can’t wait for our time together during your engagement session! It’s totally normal to be a little nervous about your session. I always tell people that I still get nervous before having my photos taken – and I do this for a living!

I’m a big fans of engagement sessions for a few reasons. First, they allow you to get comfortable in front of the camera. It takes time for most couples to warm up to being photographed and understand how to pose and move. Timelines can be pretty tight on weddings days and 30 minutes may be all we have for portraits – which is why I’ve found that wedding day portraits turn out so much better when couples do engagement sessions ahead of time. 

Second, you can show your personalities in a more casual setting that is signficant to the two of you (and even include pets!). While they’re great for save-the-dates, I’ve taken engagement photos anywhere from a year in advance to a few weeks before the wedding. 

There is a lot to think about when it comes to planning an engagement session and since I get asked the same things over and over again and I love being helpful, I thought it would be the most beneficial if I put together a guide that walks you through everything you need to know. 

I’ll cover what to wear, whether to bring pets & how to manage them, location ideas and how to best prepare!

– Courtney 


When is the best time to take photos?

Engagement sessions can take place anywhere from immediately following a proposal to just a few days before the wedding. I’ve found that there isn’t a “good” or “bad” time to take your photos. I normally plan sessions based on a particular “look” a couple has in mind, spring flowers for example, or based on schedules. 

Sessions typically last about an hour to and hour and a half and about two hours before sunset. I prefer to shoot when the sun is lower in the sky to avoid harsh shadows and bright sun patches. Plus it’s the most magical time of day! The first two hours after sunrise is also an ideal time to shoot if we can’t make sunset time work.

I schedule sessions during what I believe is the best light of the day so that your photos turn out the absolute best – which means that it’s super important to be on time. If you’re late to an evening session, we could run out of light before I’ve finished shooting and if your session takes place in the morning, the sun gets more harsh as it rises which would make your session’s time cut short. If you are running late, please text me to let me know if you are going to be late. 


While we shoot most of our engagement sessions between April and late November, sessions can take place all year. Most of our couples choose a season based on the location where they want to shoot. 

A few things to keep in mind during each season: 


snowfall, hot cocoa and cozy coats

If you’re planning to take your engagement photos during the winter, keep in mind that your session may need to be rescheduled incase of rain, which is very common in the PNW. However, heading up to the mountains to do photos in the snow is highly recommended and makes for great photos! I recommend dressing in layers so that in between photos you can warm up. Make sure you bring a little extra makeup and tissues in case your nose begins running or turns red from the cold.


fresh flowers and sunny days 

Spring is my very favorite season to photograph in! I love the pops of colors, the fresh grassy fields and the beautiful sunsets.  When I schedule spring dates, I typically schedule both a primary date and a backup rain date just in case (you never know around here). Weekends are very rare as Spring is still a big time for weddings. However, Sundays are usually open. 


walks on the beach hand in hand

Summer is my busiest season (it’s wedding season in the PNW), so I have limited weekends available. The nice thing about a Summer engagement is that most of my sessions don’t even start until almost 6:30pm to get that beautiful golden hour. If you’re looking for those beautiful wild flowers that bloom, August is the best time to book!


colorful leaves and snuggling close

Fall is one of the prettiest times of the year and because of the beautiful colors, my schedule typically books up quickly! If you have your heart set on a Fall engagement session, we recommend scheduling it as soon as you book! And don’t worry, I always carry a clear umbrella just in case the weather changes. Rain boots are always a good idea to bring as well.


From Bellingham to Seattle ENGAGEMENT LOCATIONS

I love when couples choose a location for their session that complements their wedding and their style. For example if you’re planning a chic, elegant wedding, it may be fitting to take your engagement portraits among the classic architecture downtown. The best session locations are often meaningful places to the couple; however, I’m also happy to make recommendations. From ski slopes to lavender fields to apple picking and college campuses, the options for engagement session locations are endless!  Some of my favorite spots are right off the road. If you still can’t think of any place to get your photos take, I’m here to help. Below are just some ideas.


UW campus (staircase and library) 
A Winery (luckily there are  many)
Maryland State House 
Capitol Hill
An old mansion  

Mountain & Fields

Mt Si (I park in the golf parking lot)   
Rattlesnake Lake 
Artist Point 
Rosario Beach (Deception Pass) 
Discovery Park


Downtown Seattle
Downtown Bellingham 
Coffee shop and/or Bars (my favorite is Black Sheep and Camber)


Discovery Park 
Rosario Beach (Deception Pass) 
Marine Park
Juanita Bay (Kirkland)


Lynden (run down farms) 
Discovery Park 
Snohomish County 


Artist Point (Mt. Baker) 
Diablo Lake 
Mt. Rainier 

The above locations are all beautiful but I also love exploring meaningful locations with my couples!



When picking outfits I recommend keeping in mind the word “complement” rather than “match.” For example, if one of you is wearing a blue and pink pastel plaid shirt, the other  may want to choose a long, soft blue solid colored dress. It can also be a great idea to choose “color-families,” such as pastels or jewel tones. Do avoid colors that will blend in with the background of wherever you are going (don’t dress in a moss green if you’re going to be in a forest or in the mountains)

Generally couples pick 2 to 3 outfits for an engagement session: a more formal outfit, a casual outfit and a backup. I recommend saving your favorite outfit for later in the session, when couples usually feel more comfortable in front of the camera. And don’t forget to bring a few accessories! Statement necklaces/earrings, cute shoes, scarves and classic watches are great ways to add detail to outfits. Ladies, my favorite accessory is floppy hats. They photograph so well and look perfect dresses. 

Can’t decide which outfits to bring? Send me photos! I love to help. 


for the gents


You can’t go wrong with a suit and tie. Consider pulling out that suit you had to wear last time you were a groomsmen! Layer with a blazer and a fun tie – you can even wear jeans with this look. Bowties are always a good idea. 

Be careful not to match with your fiance. Pick a color that compliments their outfit as well. Softer, pastel colors tend to photograph better than bright colors but dark, rich jewel tones also photograph very well. Cozy sweaters layered over button ups are a great way to stay warm and stylish during the cooler months. 

Avoid t-shirts with logos or prints on them. They tend to be distracting. Stripes, however, are okay.

for the gents

Favorite Shops

Rent the Runway
J. Crew
Express (for men)

for the ladies

Wardrobe Tips

Heels lengthen legs but if your heels aren’t comfortable for walking, bring an extra pair of shoes to slip into in between shots. Since you get another outfit change, think about some boots to switch things up. Think about the locations we’re going to and ask yourself what is appropriate to wear there? Heels in a grassy field or in the snow? Probably not a good idea.

I love the way larger patterns photograph – just be careful not to choose a pattern that is too small – it may accidentally make your photo look a little too busy. To be on the safe side, solid colors are best.

Softer, pastel colors tend to photograph better than bright colors – especially since bright colors could reflect on your skin. Choose a color that looks good with your skin tone.

Make sure that whatever you bring, you feel and look great in it. 

for the ladies


Statement jewelry is a great way to add color or pattern to a simple dress. Lace and tulle look amazing in photographs. 

And dresses with lace sleeves are a great way to help slim arms. Depending on your location, you might want to consider a fit and flare or a flowy dress. I love flowy dresses as they photograph amazingly! They look great in walking and photos with movement. 

Brining a mixture of casual and dressy outfits is a great idea. It’s always great idea to have options. 

for the ladies

Favorite Shops

Rent the Runway
Shabby Apple
Fringe (local to Bellingham)

for the ladies

Hair & Makeup

Engagement sessions are the perfect time for a hair and makeup trial! Professionally done hair & makeup last longer than typical hair & makeup. They also tend to hold up better for humidity and wind. 

I have been doing engagement photos for over ten years and have found that it’s so important that you look and feel your best for your engagement photos – and if you’re planning to do a hair & makeup trial anyways, the engagement session is a great time to test how your hair & makeup look on camera. 

If you are like me and you don’t wear a lot of makeup, it’s still important to put some on so the camera won’t accentuate any blemishes or insecurities. Plus it makes my job so much easier! 

for the ladies


There will probably be times during your session when I’m shooting your hands holding or the engagement ring on your hand – which means it’s a good idea to clean up your nails before your session (this applies to the guys too!). Be sure to pick a color that will go well with your outfits you have picked out.


If your wedding is local, save the dates should be sent between 6 and 8 months before the wedding. For destination weddings, you’ll want to send them out 9 months to a year before the wedding. 

If you’re hoping to use your engagement photos for your save the dates, we recommend scheduling your session at least two to three months before you plan to send out your save-the-dates. Between inclement weather, editing, designing your save-the-dates and printing, two months is generally a safe amount of time to make sure your images and cards are ready. I also have set up a special code for you to save up to 25% off on save-the-dates through Basic Invite. When you are ready to check out, use the code: courtneybowlden.


My dog is a huge part of my life, which is why I love when couples choose to incorporate their dog(s) into their session. Keep in mind that bringing a dog along often means that we’ll need to choose a dog friendly location and the session may be a little longer than normal.

I recommend planning for your dog to be at the first part of your session and then either dropping them off or having a friend take them home. I won’t use your dog in every single photo so it’s also nice to have a friend available to hold him or her in between shots. 

If you’re going to bring your dog, I recommend exercising your dog before the session and bringing your dogs favorite toy or treats. Depending on your dog’s fur type, it might also be a good idea to groom them before the shoot and bring something to clean their hair off of just in case they shed on you during the session.

Ring Cleaning

I always try to take a photo of your ring during your engagement session – so it’s a good idea to have it cleaned or clean it yourself before your shoot! My favorite at home ring cleaner is the Baublerella Bling Ring Brush. You can find it on Amazon for under $20 and it’s the perfect size to fit inside your purse. 

Inclement Weather

what to do if it rains

It’s typical for me to schedule two engagement session dates. A primary date and a rain date. Having two dates helps me make sure that your photos happen in a timely manner. Coordinating schedules can be tough and I’ve found that the best way to make sure my couples get the look they have in mind for their photos is to schedule two dates at the same time (especially in Winter months). 

I’ll check in the week of your engagement session to confirm the time & location we’re meeting and the weather. I know it takes a lot of time to get ready for engagement sessions and it’s the worst to get dressed up and drive out to your session only to have it rain. Let me know what works best for the two of you – but if the weather looks like it won’t be great, I typically try to make the call at least 12 hours in advance

Do's and Don'ts

do and don’ts for perfect looking photos

After many years of photography, I have never seen a good spray tan. I know being pale doesn’t always make you feel pretty, but what’s worse is orange skin and streaked hands. Not to mention, you’ll be a different shade than your partner, which will be very noticable.

One thing you can do is use some good bronzer and make sure to add that blush. My favorite bronzer is Laura Mercier or Hourglass. Be sure to cover up any blemishes you might have (that’s including you too, guys!).


champagne is always a good idea


If you’re planning to bring props to your engagement session, I recommend including them only if they’re meaningful to you. Shots of drinking coffee at a local coffee shop would be cute if that’s where you met; however, a trying to fly a kite together when it’s not a part of your relationship may come off as contrived and cheesy. I have seen some very cute ideas, so if you’re needing more ideas let me know and I’d be happy to assist.



"What do I do with my hands"?

I hear this question all the time! When it comes to posing for your engagement session, you don’t need to worry about a thing! I’ll guide you through the entire process beginning with “poses” that are super easy and natural. If I tell you to do something that feels a little funny, it’s probably because I know it’s going to make the two of you laugh – and that’s the photo I’m actually looking for. The one helpful hint that you can *hopefully* remember is to just love each other and hold hands or always have one of your hands touching the other person (on their back, cheek, hip… you  get the point).  

During your session, I’ll keep an eye on your hair, makeup and outfits to make sure things stay in place and look great. I want you to feel as relaxed as possible and enjoy your time together! 

Destination Engagement Sessions

While I take most of our engagement sessions anywhere from Bellingham to Seattle, 
I’ve photographed sessions everywhere from Paris to Texas and Hawaii. If you have a location in mind that is significant to the two of you, let me know because if our schedules align, we might be able to take your engagement photos outside of our normal area. 

*Destination engagements are considered anything that takes more than 3 hours to get to.

Travel fees may apply depending on the location and our availability. 

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When to Expect Your Images

As soon as your session is over, it usually takes about a week or two to get the edited images back to you. Depending on the time of year, like wedding season, it can take up to 4 weeks.


I know that this guide is long and hopefully it covers everything you need to know to prep for your engagement session! However if there is something I missed, or you need a recommendation feel free to email me

See below for a video of what a typical engagement session looks like with me.