Best Locations for an Engagement Photo Session in Washington, DC


June 19, 2024

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There are so many locations in Washington, DC for engagement photos–from grand architectural marvels to intimate, cozy settings. Here are some of the best places for an engagement photo session in the city, each with its unique charm, ideal times, and other hot tips.

National Gallery of Art

Why It’s Perfect: The National Gallery of Art is a versatile location that offers both indoor and outdoor photo opportunities. The mini Louvre outside is playful and artistic, while the front and back entrances, with their gorgeous columns, provide a classical, timeless look. Surprisingly, you can also photograph inside in the galleries. Make sure you’re always being respectful of other guests and not interrupting their experience in the museum.

Best Time of Day: Weekdays are less busy, making it easier to get those serene, uninterrupted shots.

Permit Info: As I’m writing this, no permit is required for personal photography, but professional shoots might need prior approval. Always check their latest guidelines.

Union Station

Why It’s Perfect: Union Station’s iconic arches and bustling atmosphere create a romantic, lived-in feel. The architectural beauty combined with the hustle and bustle of travelers adds a dynamic element to your photos.

Best Time of Day: Early mornings or late evenings when the light is soft, and the station is less crowded, are ideal.

Permit Info: No permit is typically required for casual photography.

Your Favorite Restaurant or Bar

Why It’s Perfect: You’re comfy there, you’re regulars, you know the vibe. A personal favorite for engagement sessions is like Le Diplomate in Dupont Circle–offering a charming French ambiance and perfect lighting throughout the day. The vibe is intimate and personal, adding a touch of your shared story to the photos. Bonus points for the fries being so, so good. Bars can provide a cozy and intimate setting for engagement photos as well. The dim lighting and unique decor create a romantic and slightly mysterious atmosphere.

Best Time of Day: Afternoon sessions capture the perfect light and then you can venture outside for some golden hour pics, while evening can really bring the mood.

Permit Info: Always call ahead to get permission for a photo session, especially during peak hours to avoid disturbing other patrons. Being courteous about their schedule will go a long way. Weekdays around 3 PM, before the 5 PM dinner rush are best for a more relaxed experience, but busy spaces can feel romantic too.

A Hotel Suite

Why It’s Perfect: Hotel suites offer a private, luxurious setting perfect for vibey flash photos or intimate morning moments. Plus, in-room service can add a touch of elegance to your session.

Best Time of Day: Late afternoon to early evening, when the light is soft and flattering, is ideal. Pro tip? Book a hotel that has a rooftop view and allows for photography. The hotel may require approval if photographing outside of your room. When checking in, request a room that faces the sunset, or book a corner room with windows on two sides for beautiful natural light.

Permit Info: Ensure you have permission from the hotel management. This isn’t an “ask forgiveness” kind of situation. Imagine investing in an outfit, hair and makeup, a photographer, but not being able to photograph at a location. Plan ahead!

DAR Constitution Hall

Why It’s Perfect: The DAR Constitution Hall provides breathtaking views of the Washington Monument from its balcony, especially at golden hour. The stately columns and architecture give a European feel to a photo session.

Best Time of Day: Golden hour is perfect for capturing the stunning views and soft, warm light.

Permit Info: No permit is typically needed, but again, it’s always good idea to check with the venue for any specific requirements. There may be a scheduled event and you’ll need help from staff to access the venue.

Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral

Why It’s Perfect: This location offers a serene and picturesque garden setting with the majestic National Cathedral in the background. It’s perfect for those who love lush greenery and Gothic architecture.

Best Time of Day: Early morning or late afternoon when the garden is bathed in soft, natural light.

Permit Info: Yes, you need a permit to photograph here and there is also a fee associated. Plan ahead to secure the necessary permissions.

The Reach at The Kennedy Center

Why It’s Perfect: The Reach at The Kennedy Center combines modern architecture with beautiful views of the Potomac River. It’s an elegant and contemporary choice for engagement photos.

Best Time of Day: Late afternoon to early evening for the best lighting and fewer crowds.

Permit Info: No permit is generally required for personal photography, but always check with the venue to confirm.

Metro Stations

Why It’s Perfect: DC’s Metro stations, with their Brutalist architecture and unique vault design, provide a modern, urban backdrop for engagement photos. Stations like Union Station, Dupont Circle, and Metro Center are particularly photogenic.

Best Time of Day: Late mornings or early afternoons when the stations are less crowded. Avoid rush hours for a more relaxed session.

Permit Info: No permit is required for casual photography. For more extensive shoots, contact the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for guidelines.

Your Wedding Venue

Why It’s Perfect: You’re going to be that much more comfortable on your wedding day and if you have a venue that’s more sprawling, you can use this time to take photos in spots you might save just for your wedding day. Another bonus? A more relaxed or alternative look compared to what might be your wedding day outfit. Lastly…it’s pretty romantic. Bring a bottle of champagne if you’re permitted and cheers to the fun days ahead.

Best Time of Day: Obviously I have no idea because I don’t know your wedding venue, however, if you have a summer wedding, maybe lean towards a time of year that has different foliage (changing leaves, cozy indoor vibe, etc.).

Permit Info: Of course there may be a fee required. Check with your venue.

Let’s wrap with a few hot takes

A Note on Monuments: While DC’s monuments are iconic, they can pose challenges such as early call times or restrictions on photography. For a more relaxed and enjoyable experience, consider the locations listed above, which offer stunning backdrops without the hassle (read: 4 am hair and makeup call times).

Weather: While you can’t control the weather on your wedding day, you might be able to for your engagement session. I always try to advise my couples if I think the weather may be too hot for comfort or if we have a rainy day–rescheduling might be best. This should be an enjoyable experience, not a sweaty one.

Engagement Sessions Make for Better Wedding Photos: You’re not just there for website photos. Your engagement session is a time to get to know your photographer better, for them to get to know you, to get some experience in front of the camera, and even take a mental note of your posing preferences once the gallery comes back. Your wedding photos will only be better than your engagement session. This is practice, and hopefully, fun!



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