Engagement shoot, pre-wedding shoot, connection sessions. Whatever you call them, there is real value having a photo shoot with your wedding photographer before your wedding day.
One of the main benefits is that you will get to know your photographer and they will get to know you. Building trust is vital and knowing that you can all get along is important because you may be spending 10 hours or more in each other's company on your wedding day. The engagement shoot is a rehearsal for your big day. If you can't stand your photographer after an hour of your pre-wedding photo shoot, you'll hate them after four hours of your wedding day! If you have your engagement photo shoot three to six months before your wedding, as I recommend, then at least you have some time to do something about it.
Most people have never had professional photographs taken of themselves before. Even if you are an otherwise confident person and are proud of your body, you may feel a little nervous when a photographer points a big camera and lens in your direction and asks you to pose. A good photographer will help you to feel at ease and calm your nerves, which then leads to more natural looking photographs. It's far better to experience that learning curve at an engagement shoot rather than on your wedding day. It means that you can hit the ground running on the big day and the photos will be great right from the start.
You'll have the time to really study your pre-wedding photographs after your session, and think about what you like and what you don't, and works and what doesn't. You can then have a conversation with your photographer about photographing your wedding in a slightly different way. You may not like certain poses, while you might really like certain others. You may find that you like wide shots with lots of background detail or prefer close-ups. You can decide between formal, posed photos or candid, spontaneous photos, or a mixture of both. You might even change your ideas about your make-up or clothes for your wedding, based on the results from your connection session.
There is also a practical reason for having an engagement shoot. You can go on to use the photos for wedding things, such as printing on invitations, save the date cards, or even your Facebook profile. At my own wedding I had a signature board, which was a print from our engagement shoot mounted on a massive board which the guests at my wedding could sign. We then got that framed and it was a great momento of the day.
I always recommend that you choose a location that means something to you for your engagement session. It might be the place you proposed, a park you often visited while you were dating, or a beach where you have good memories of being together. Then, even if all you do with your engagement photos is print one out and stick it on your wall, at least you'll have a great photograph of you as a couple before you got married.
Can you have good wedding photographs without having an engagement shoot? Of course! But in my experience, you get the best wedding photographs when you have had pre-wedding photos.