As stunning as sunset engagement portraiture can be, it is not always easy to do it. We do not mean from a photographic point of view. With the right tools, we can easily give you pictures so beautiful that your friends die of envy. We have been photographing sunrises and sunsets for years and know how to incorporate them into engagement pictures. No, the challenge is the part that no Northern Virginia wedding photographer can control: the sunset. Ensuring that you have the right backdrop for stunning portraits at dusk is not as easy as you might think.
Before each of us became a DC wedding photographer, we developed and honed our skills through nature photography. As we alluded to above, a lot of that involved getting up very early and taking pictures of the sun rising over the Nation’s Capital. Nearly every morning, we would go to the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia, and point our cameras at the eastern sky. (As an aside, that spot is the best place in the metro area for sunrise engagement portraiture. The sun comes up behind the most iconic parts of the DC skyline, giving your photos a lovely bit of local flavor. So if you are a morning person, give it a thought!). Anyway, day after day of photographing the sun waking up has given us a great understanding of the conditions that make for an epic sunset. More importantly for you, we know how to maximize the chances that you get a gorgeous tableau for your portraits.
With that in mind, we would like to offer you a few suggestions of things you can do to get the most out a sunset engagement session. As with everything we recommend to future clients, these are not meant to put any extra pressure on you. Please know that you can always leave everything to us. We are seasoned professionals who will make sure you get the portraits you dream of. These tips are simply meant as a guide if you have specific ideas about the type of portrait session you want. So without further ado, here are some tips for getting absolutely epic sunset portraiture.
The tricky part can be finding a place in the DMV that has a clear line of sight. The topography of the metro area is such that the land rises as you move west. So the same river bluffs that make the Netherlands Carillon a primo spot for sunrise pictures make sunset pictures inside the District of Columbia a challenge. There are a few locations that work well, though. The view of the sky from the steps of the US Capitol, for example, very nice. That spot has a couple of added benefits, as well. The lovely pool between the iconic building and the National Mall gives your DC wedding photographer the opportunity to get really spectacular photos of the sunset reflected in the water. And if all else fails and the sunset does not work out, you will still get great engagement portraits in front of one of DC’s most famous landmarks. Not a bad Plan B, right?
The best options for that kind of spot inside Washington, DC, are naturally in Northwest. The Georgetown area, for example, has several spots with the necessary elevation. The Key Bridge and Chain Bridge both offer great views of the western sky. They both have the bonus benefit of giving you shots in front of one of the DC region’s most defining features: the Potomac River. The area around the Washington National Cathedral is another great option. It is close to the highest point in the District (in nearby Tenleytown) and offers as unobstructed a line of sight as possible.
Northern Virginia offers an even broader range of possible sites, once you get past the Potomac River bluffs that rise up into eastern Arlington. The wineries at the outskirts of the metro area are particularly good locations. Bluemont Vineyard, for example, has a terrace that looks out to the western sky (and over the lovely Northern Virginia countryside). As you go further west and up into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the views only get more spectacular.
For the sky to light up spectacularly behind you, the conditions need to be just right. For starters, there need to be clouds. Without those, there is nothing for the setting sun to illuminate. The sky just turns a bit orange by the horizons, but you do not get the dazzling colors of a really gorgeous sunset. There cannot be too many clouds, though. An entirely overcast sky will lead to a very disappointing sunset. The most crucial factor, though (and this is the really tricky part), is having the clouds in the right place. If they are too far from the horizon, they will very briefly turn a delicate pink before fading to darkness. In our experience, photos of them do not look that special. If the clouds are too close to the horizon, though, you will not get much of a sunset at all. The sun will backlight them, leaving the side facing you gray to black. They will also prevent the sun’s rays from illuminating many of the clouds higher in the sky.
Unfortunately, even the most detailed weather reports are not going to give you this kind of insight beforehand. The particulars of any specific day are just unknowable So your best best is just to look for a day slated to be “partly cloudy” and hope for the best.
To make sure you are getting the most of that period, we suggest starting your session at least 30 minutes before sunset. That gives you (and us) plenty of time to prepare for the part that matters most. Once the sky starts lighting up, you and your future spouse will already be relaxed, in the flow of the session and comfortable with having your pictures taken. Any nervousness will be gone, and you will feel like professional models who look fantastic in every shot.
This is even more true when it comes to sunset sessions. As we mentioned above, weather is a tricky thing. We have no way of knowing whether a sunset is going to be great on any particular day. Even with all of our experience photographing sunsets, we sometimes do not even know whether a specific one is going to wow you until minutes before it happens! And you know what? That is ok. We are still going to get portraits that will grace your mantel for decades to come. The period of time just before and after sunset is what is called “the golden hour,” meaning the light is especially indirect and flattering. That means that any portraits we take of you are going to look spectacular, beautiful sunset behind you or not.
We hope these suggestions help you in planning your engagement photo session. If you would like to hear other tips for getting the most out of your engagement shoot or want more information about booking a session with us, please do contact us!Northern Virginia Wedding Photographer (9), Virginia Engagement Session (6).
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