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The traditional posed engagement photo used to have just one purpose: to be submitted to the local paper to announce a couple’s engagement. But as the role of the newspaper has diminished in our lives, the engagement photo has taken a different direction, expanding into a full-blown photo session—complete with props, themes and exotic locations. Today’s engagement photo shoots have come of age and are fast becoming a must-do activity on a couple’s wedding checklist. Fun is definitely the name of the game, as photographers aim to capture the unique interaction, chemistry and personality of each couple. Fun, relaxed, candid and spontaneous are four words that define Lauren Brimhall’s (303-255-2410; laurenbrimhallphotography) approach to her many New Jersey-based engagement shoots, which she sets up in creative locales that are of sentimental value to the bride and groom. These sites include Liberty State Park in Jersey City, Central Park in Manhattan, and local gardens and arboretums. Couples are also opting for “destination engagement shoots” to locations as near as Long Beach Island and Cape May and as far away as Las Vegas, Miami and the Caribbean. Brooke Ismach of Studio Brooke in Manhattan (201-308-9186; studiobrooke.com) has photographed many New Jersey brides, and she says that parks, museums and other interesting urban settings in New Jersey and New York have been a regular part of her engagement shoots. But she does admit that location isn’t everything. “While a dynamic setting is great, the fact is that the background almost doesn’t matter,” she says. “The most important aspect is the chemistry that a couple has with each other and the photographer.” That being said, today’s engagement photo shoots are clearly achieving new levels of creativity and style. A recent photo session by David Salomone of The Studio Photographers in Millburn (973-863-2720; thestudiophotographers.com) was built around a Fifties vintage country theme, achieving the timeless effect of a painting (see photo at left and on previous page). While Brimhall’s whimsical Alice in Wonderland shoot for couple Erin Wilrigs and Matt Adamitis possessed a beautiful, film-like quality in response to the couple’s desire for a movie-themed session in advance of their wedding in Reading, Pennsylvania, this October. For couples with an edgier style, John Arcara Photography in Red Bank (732- 299-9537; johnarcaraphotography.com) offers its signature “RockStar :E: Session,” a high-fashion, celebrity-style engagement shoot involving lighting, hair and makeup, and music and drinks to help bring out the couple’s playfulness and ensure “that they feel like rock stars in front of the camera,” Arcara says. In addition to creating great pictures, these photo sessions also give you the chance to develop a rapport with your photographer before the big day. “Engagement photo sessions take away a huge unknown with your photographer, as they help the couple and photographer get to know each other better before the wedding,” Salomone adds. “An engagement shoot also ensures fun, professional shots of the couple that they probably wouldn’t get on their own after they’re married,” Brimhall adds. Couples who opt for these types of engagement pictures can rest assured that their investment will not be in vain. Many photographers now offer this feature as a standard part of their wedding package, and Salomone and Ismach see 80 percent of their clients choosing it. These images can then be incorporated into save-the-dates, invitations, guest books, magnets, wedding blogs, websites, life-size posters that can be signed at the wedding and even tiny images that florists can insert into glass vases during the cocktail hour. “Engagement shoots capture the start of a couple’s relationship and can really be a special and important piece of their history,” Ismach says. Whichever style you choose, have fun…and it will show.