We often say that an engagement photo shoot is a chance to get comfortable in front of the camera—so why do one if you’re already a pro?! For Stephanie Hill of The Style Bungalow, the answer was simple: She wanted another chance to explore her wedding location (Mérida, Mexico) with her fiancé, Pedro, and photographer, KT Merry.
Stephanie met KT at a photo shoot before she and Pedro were engaged and admits that —after, first being intimidated and then intrigued by the famed photographer!—she whispered, “KT, I secretly dream of getting married in Mérida one day…Miami is great, but Mérida is magical. If he proposes, should we do it?” Without hesitation, she said “yes." A few months later, after Pedro proposed in Positano, Italy, it was time for Stephanie to make the call: They were getting married in Mérida, and KT was shooting it!
Why Mérida? “It was the first city we traveled to as a couple,” Stephanie says. “We were less than one year in and madly in love.” Mexico is also a special place for Pedro and Stephanie separately: Pedro’s family lived there for 10-plus years when they left Cuba, and Stephanie visited often while growing up in Texas. She adds, “Let’s just say Mexico is a special place to us and one we cannot wait to share with our closest family and friends!”
Meet the Expert
Stephanie Hill is the founder of The Style Bungalow, a blog that highlights fashion, design, and travel. She is a former professional ballerina and now calls Palm Beach, Florida home.
The couple plans to wed in Mérida this November—after an intimate wedding at the church where Stephanie’s parents were married in Miami—but invited KT down for a weekend of exploring ahead of time. This trip, Stephanie was in charge of planning the itinerary—in the midst of planning the actual wedding and renovating her apartment, she adds with a laugh—and the pressure was on to pack in her favorite spots, as well as visits to possible rehearsal dinner venues and, of course, their wedding venue.
Keep reading to see more of Stephanie, Pedro, and KT’s whirlwind weekend in Mérida, Mexico. With Stephanie’s eight (!!) looks, a number of dream locales, and KT behind the camera, these engagement photos may just have you planning a wedding in Mérida—or, at the very least, booking a pre-wedding photo shoot there. That said, Stephanie’s tips, tricks, and fashion advice hold true no matter your location. Take a look for yourself below!
“KT encouraged us to dream up a shoot so that we have photos to share with family, friends, and on our website (before the wedding!) and also in our future home,” Stephanie says of taking engagement photos. “We will cherish these photos forever—plus, our parents are very happy [with them]. If you can do it, do it! You and your fiancé will have so much fun planning it.”
Thanks to her previous trips to Mérida—the most recent, to select a venue!—Stephanie was prepared to make a shot list of the locations she wanted to visit during their engagement photo session. That said, if you’re not familiar with the location, she recommends doing a day of scouting or relying on your photographer to do so. “I always recommend, even when traveling for my job, to spend at least one day scouting locations,” she says. “We scouted each location in advance, which was helpful!”
The first stop on Stephanie’s schedule was Casa Lecanda, a boutique hotel that’s housed inside a 100-year-old restored home. While she isn’t technically getting married here, Stephanie says she wanted the property, with its lush garden feel and elegant white archways, to be a part of her wedding experience. She says, “I thought since I’ll be traveling back-and-forth quite a bit between now and the wedding, and need a rehearsal dinner venue (yes, my wedding is this year)—why not make Casa Lecanda my home away from home?”
For her engagement photos, Stephanie says she wanted “classic looks that could transcend time.” In total, she had eight looks—and, while different, her signature style was present in each. “Being Latina, I love embracing the romantic spirit of my Hispanic heritage, the sub-tropical hues of South Florida, and bold yet feminine pieces that are classic and timeless,” she says. With each outfit change, Stephanie also stayed true to her signature beauty look, wearing her hair down and adding a pop of color with an orangish-red lip (that matched her nail polish!).
In her first look—an Ikat printed dress by Andres Otalora, paired with Jennifer Behr earrings—Stephanie posed for photos at Casa Lecanda, then slipped outside for some portraits in from of the Cathedral of Mérida (it dates back to 1500!). “Sharing Mérida with others has become a treat for us,” she says. “Some people love it, like my mom who tried to extend her trip when we visited in July. Some people hate it because it’s small, quiet, and requires time and multiple trips to truly see and experience it. I always say, 'If you like tourist attractions, Mérida isn’t the place for you. If you like spontaneity, old world charm, and bit of romance, Mérida’s your town.'”
Look two called for an adventure to Mérida’s centro, or downtown. “With a spark of old-world charm, lots of surprises, and pops of luxury blended intricately together into a small, romantic town in the Yucatan, it’s easy to fall under Mérida’s spell,” Stephanie says. For exploring, Stephanie wore a bright yellow skirt with a white blouse and a straw shopping tote. Throughout the day, Pedro wore a number of pieces from J. Crew, Ralph Lauren, and Ferragamo.
When choosing a location for engagement photos, Stephanie says, “Don’t be afraid to go off-the-beaten-path and find beauty in otherwise different locations.” She took this advice when selecting her destination wedding venue. “I personally love places that are old yet full of character, like the hacienda we’re getting married in,” she says. “Not only will be creating and opting for unique choices may potentially save you money, but it will also give your guests an unforgettable experience—one they’ll never forget!”
Next, the couple visited a private hacienda that dates back to 1730. “From the high ceilings to a private church to an abandoned sisal factory, this hacienda was full of old-world charm and Yucatan character,” Stephanie says.
While on the property, Stephanie modeled a floral midi dress (featuring muted shades of yellow, green, and red) by Andres Otalora, a Colombian designer, that she found on Moda Operandi. “I specifically wanted to feature a Colombian designer while I was in Mexico since my fiancé is half-Colombian,” she says. “I love supporting Latin designers, so I opted to wear mainly Latin designers during the shoot.”
While not photographed, the couple and KT also took a trip out to their wedding venue—Hacienda Tekik de Regil, about a 40-minute drive from Mérida—to assess the lighting, which will help them draft a schedule for the wedding day's events. “Natural light is so important to me,” she says. “I highly recommend doing this if you can!” They also met with their wedding planner, Baku Eventos, and discovered locations they’ll shoot for the wedding while there.
Speak with your photographer, planner, and venue coordinator about lighting prior to making a timeline for your wedding day or scheduling an engagement photo session.
“When my friends ask what photographer they should hire, I say, 'the best you can afford!’” Stephanie says. “KT has been able to lend her advice ono so many visual elements like lighting, schedule of events, and even furniture selection. Experienced photographers, especially KT, know what translates and what doesn’t.”
Rocking yet another Colombian designer, Stephanie blended in with the private hacienda's palms in a palm-printed skirt from Agua de Agua Bendita (available on Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi, and Intermix). She paired the skirt with a plain white t-shirt, gold chandelier earrings—and her signature lip.
While in this look, the couple explored different locations around the property—and Pedro tried a few takes on his look (posing for some photos wearing his checked jacket, and some more casual shots without). Stephanie says the shoot, while scheduled, was in many ways unscripted. “Not only is KT wonderful, easy to work with, and intuitive (always one step ahead), but her willingness to collaborate is humbling,” she adds. “A few times I asked her, ‘Are you sure you like this location?’ And she would just say, ‘Yes, I trust your aesthetic, Steph.’ Hearing those words come from such an established photographer, one whom I’ve looked up to for years, was invigorating.” Reflecting on the shoot, KT says that’s what it’s all about. “Mérida is stunning and diverse and exploring it through Stephanie’s eyes was incredible,” she says.
Before sunset, Stephanie changed into her fifth look: another design by Andres Otalora that felt like a transition into more evening attire. The gown’s yellow hue perfectly contrasted with the hacienda’s muted exteriors, while coordinating with the warm tones of Pedro's attire.
For fashion, Stephanie recommends avoiding trends, if possible. “You don’t want to look back and regret your styling decisions ten years from now,” she says. “Wear clothing that’s classic and comfortable and also appropriate for your destination.”
Throughout the trip, Stephanie says they explored cocktail bars, discovered new restaurants, and even experimented with KT’s plant-based diet. In November, they’ll incorporate some of what they discovered in their wedding celebrations. “I’m learning how important it is to make our wedding personal to us,” Stephanie explains. “Little details like incorporating local Yucatan flavors into our menu, tile motifs from Mérida into the wedding design, or hiring a Cuban orchestra (true story) to honor our families’ heritage make it even more special.”
I’m learning how important it is to make our wedding personal to us.
Back downtown, Pedro swapped his slacks and jacket, while Stephanie slipped into a silk gown by Black Iris.
Stephanie cinched her dress with a velvet ribbon in a deep burgundy hue, making for a beautiful contrast in color—even in black-and-white photos!
Next stop: Coqui Coqui L'Épicerie Mérida Residence, a famous boutique hotel—of the same name as the Yucatan perfumery—that has only two rooms. For this reason, Stephanie and Pedro took advantage of the intricately designed common spaces.
"The perfumery has a special place in my heart and my fiancé now wears the Tobacco cologne, which has become my all-time favorite scent," Stephanie adds. (What better reason to take photos there, right?!)
Before heading upstairs for the main attraction—just wait until you see the hotel's bathrooms!—the couple snuck in a few photos in front of a gallery wall of botanical prints. (Stephanie has a similar gallery wall set up at her apartment in Palm Beach, Florida.)
If you're a lover of interior design, consider taking portraits in a space that represents your dream design aesthetic. Another idea? Pose for photos in your home!
As mentioned, the room's interiors are quite remarkable. Stephanie took a cue from the black-and-white design, renting the “Silence Of Asia Floral Dress" by Johanna Ortiz from Nova Octo for $400 (it retails for $1,750).
Notably, Stephanie avoided a geometric print and instead opted for a floral design with a black base to contrast the mostly white space. She also accessorized with gold jewelry to complement (without being matchy-matchy!) the room's dramatic curtains and gilded accents.
After a long day, it was time for Stephanie and Pedro to kick off their shoes and pop some bubbly.
For her final look, the bride-to-be opted to wear white! Her pick? The “Sevillana Tan Sonriente Fringed Dress” by Johanna Ortiz. Again, she rented this dress, paying a $400 rental fee instead of the $2,8850 retail price. "Nova Octo is an upscale rental service that's perfect for brides needing the perfect party look,” she says.
Stephanie’s final piece of advice: “Don’t worry about ‘posing,’ and be natural,” she says. “Some of my favorite pictures were mid-kiss, my fiancé whispering funny (and, inappropriate, I might add) things to make me laugh, dancing (and tripping) or me fixing his shirt. An engagement session should be fun; not stuffy and over staged.”