How to Get Awesome Sunset Engagement Photos in DC
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How to Get Awesome Sunset Engagement Photos in DC

The allure of scheduling your engagement photoshoot at dusk is pretty obvious. The images that you will get of you and your future spouse have the potential to be downright spectacular. The two of you embracing in front of a sky lit up with purples, reds, oranges and yellows? Just talking about it makes us want to go out and have our own engagement photos retaken at dusk! Like we said, the reasons for doing sunset engagement photos are pretty clear. So we are not going to waste your time trying to convince you to book a session at that time of day. Instead, we will talk below about how you can ensure that you get the most of a photoshoot at sunset. Because what is the point of having sunset engagement pictures taken if they are not stunning?

So without further ado, here are five things you can to do make your sunset engagement photoshoot a success:

Schedule Your Sunset Engagement Photo Session in the Winter

If you do not mind the cold, then the best time of year for sunset engagement pictures is the winter. Why? Because the low angle of the sun causes the light to scatter more. And what that means is much more colorful sunrises and sunsets!

But what if a winter engagement photoshoot is not your cup of tea? Not to worry! Late fall and early spring are also options. You will get warmer weather without losing too much of the glorious colors.

Find a Location with a Good View of the Western Sky

Ok, let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way. You should be sure to select an engagement photo location that has a clear view of the sky to the west. Kind of a no-brainer, right? The trick, though, and the reason we mention it at all is that such a spot is hard to find near Washington DC. Because the ground rises quite quickly after you cross the Potomac River into Arlington Virginia, unobstructed views of the setting sun are rare. There are, however, a few good spots. And as experienced DC engagement photographers, we know every one of them. Here is a quick list of our favorites:

The Best Places for Sunset Engagement Photos in Washington DC

  • The Capitol Reflecting Pool. This iconic spot is ideal when the sunset is really spectacular and lights up most of the sky.
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island. The shore at the north end of this National Park offers glorious views of the setting sun. The reflection of the sunset in the waters of the Potomac River will make your engagement pictures doubly colorful!
  • Francis Scott Memorial Key Bridge. You have to be careful of the Georgetown traffic whizzing past, of course. But the elevation of the bridge gives a clearer view of the western sky than you will find just about anywhere else.
  • Georgetown Waterfront Park. A great place for sunset engagement portraits with a real DC feel.
  • Chain Bridge. A spot between DC and Northern Virginia that only insiders know about. It is far enough around the bend in the Potomac to be clear of the river bluffs in Arlington.

Search for Engagement Photo Locations with Small Hills

Once you have a short list of sunset photoshoot locations, narrow it down further by seeing which ones have little bits of elevation. Why does this matter? Because portraits at dusk are really stunning when the sky is directly behind you. And why is that important? Because if you are beneath the horizon line, you do not always stand out very much. The eye first goes to the bright colors and then hunts for you in the dark foreground. If you are up against the sky, by contrast, you are visible immediately. And to achieve this effect, you obviously have to be up above where your photographers are standing.

The image featured here is a great example of what is possible when you find a location with a little hill. We took it at a park during a destination engagement session in Germany. As you can see, the site had a small berm in it that ran parallel to the western sky. It turned out to be the perfect spot to get the couple up above the horizon line. We had them climb up onto the hill and walk back and forth while we took pictures. As you can see, the brilliant sky does not distract you at all from the most important part of the image: them.

Make Sure Your Photographer Brings External Lights

Capturing the full beauty of a colorful sky lit by the setting sun requires pretty dark camera settings. Even after the sun has set, the sky is still pretty bright. The problem is that the fading ambient light is not sufficient to illuminate you at the same time. So pictures in which the sunset is not whited out will have you shrouded in darkness. In short, for the sky to look right, your faces will not be visible. Don’t get us wrong! As you can see in this image, silhouette portraits can be gorgeous. But you are definitely going to want some pictures of your faces too!

The solution is to make sure that your engagement photographers bring some external lights along to the shoot. Then they can use that gear to illuminate you while getting the sky right at the same time. And the result? Pictures of your happy faces with a gorgeous backdrop behind you!

As an aside, it might seem strange and awkward to tell your engagement photographer what to do when it comes to the technical aspects of their job. But you know what? You are paying a lot of money for your wedding and engagement photography. That gives you the right to ask them to justify the artistic choices they make, at the very least. We certainly do not mind if you do that to us!

Start Your Engagement Session a Little Before Sunset

Photographing couples at sunset is an art. For many reasons, it is not the same as doing engagement photography at other times of day. This is a lesson we learned early on. We started our careers as nature photographers and honed our skills taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. In addition to the technical challenges we mentioned above, an engagement photographer also needs to be a bit of an amateur meteorologist. They need to know when the conditions are right for a gorgeous sunset, for example. And more importantly for you, they need to know when the sky will be its most colorful so that you can schedule your session around that.

We have learned from experience that the best time for sunset engagement pictures is during the half-hour immediately following sundown. Before that time, the sun itself still overwhelms any other lights in the sky. Yes, it is possible to get great shots before the sun sinks below the horizon. But the truly spectacular colors show up once the sun is gone. So schedule your engagement photoshoot for a little before sunset. That way, you and your photographers will be all set to go when the fireworks start.

Stay Until After Dark

If the window for sunset portraits is only 30 minutes long, then what will you do with the rest of your engagement photo session? Fortunately, the opportunities for beautiful portraits do not stop when the last lights disappear from the sky. Night engagement photos are every bit as unforgettable as ones taken at dusk. Though the two of you posing in front of a sky full of stars is not feasible close to the Nation’s Capital, you can still get gorgeous images of you with the city lights behind you. So make sure that your engagement session runs at least 15 or 20 minutes past nightfall.

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