Are you having a wedding on a budget? Or do you just want to preserve a few before-the-big-day moments in a photo session? Either way, going the DIY route is a totally do-able option — as long as you follow a few guidelines. We asked Meg Messina, a San Francisco-based photographer, to share her secrets for going behind the lens.

For six of her best tips,


Photograph at the Right Time of Day
"This is the simplest tip, because it lets natural light do most of the work for you. When the sun is directly overhead or high in the sky — say from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — it creates harsh, unflattering shadows. Shooting before or after will give you fewer shadows and a more even glow. Use morning light for a beautiful cool tone and late-afternoon light for a look that’s warm and soft. If you have to shoot mid-day, make sure it’s cloudy or overcast — or find a big spot of shade."

Pick Your Wardrobe Wisely
"His-and-her sweaters? All-denim outfits? Bad ideas. The goal here is not to match but to coordinate your clothing. Choose colors that complement each other and avoid patterns that clash. And most importantly, stay away from logo tees. You might love a band, but your engagement photo is not the place to advertise."

Use Flash to Make Your Photos Pop
"It’s very common for flash to be too strong — wiping out details and creating ugly red-eye. But when used correctly, your on-camera flash can add a nice glint to your photos. The surrounding light may cause your flash not to trigger, so first, set your flash to 'on' instead of 'auto.' Next, tape a small piece of tissue paper over the flash. The paper will act as a diffuser, softening the light just a bit before it hits your face. Make sure the tape itself does not cover the flash or you’ll be left with weird shadows. Now take a few test shots to determine how close to stand to the camera. Find the correct distance and angle and this little burst of light will add a beautiful glint to your eye."

Use a Digital Camera With a Self-Timer
"If you have a friend willing to press the shutter button, that’s great. But a self-timer and a tripod (or a safe flat surface) will work just fine. Unless you’re more experienced, stick with digital so you can see what you’re getting and make adjustments as you go along. The first step is to frame the shot on your fiancé from behind the camera, leaving room to one side for you to jump in. Set the self-timer and be ready to get in place as soon as you press the shutter button. A self-timer is a great way to eliminate the stiff posed look some photos have. There’s no time to pose because you’re running into the frame!"

Don’t Skimp on Printing
"If you want high-quality prints of your photos, take the files to a high-quality printer. There’s a huge continuum of photo printers, from drug stores to high-end labs, and something in the mid-to-high range is the way to go. Drugstore printers use machines and lower quality ink and paper. Since they’re dealing with a larger volume of customers, your prints may lack the attention to detail that make them look great. A high-quality printer will use better materials and trained professionals who make adjustments to the image before running it through the machine. They may also offer retouching services, if you need to remove a blemish, an under-eye circle, or whiten your fiancé’s teeth. Even if you decide not to have prints made, labs can improve photos before you email them out or post them online. "

Have Some Fun and Show Your Personality
"This is the most important tip of all. Your engagement photos are meant to capture your personalities as individuals and as a couple. Find a way to show that in your setting, activities, or expressions. For example: was your first date in a photogenic spot? Use that spot as your background. Do you love backpacking or camping together? Photograph yourselves in a tent. Are you both complete goofballs? Take a photo with your eyes crossed and tongues sticking out. Whatever your version is, know that you’re not confined to a perfectly posed smiley photo. So create a photo that is unique to you!"

Photograph courtesy of Meg Messina Photography