Our Washington-area brides and grooms will sometimes ask us if they can bring personal items to their engagement shoots. These could be mementos from the early days of their relationship —stuffed animals, t-shirts or jewelry. In our time photographing weddings in Washington, DC, we have gotten all kinds of requests!
Similarly, many DC newlyweds want to incorporate special elements into their post-ceremony couples portraits. The getting-ready portion of a wedding day is often informal, so ensuring that personal effects make it into photos in meaningful ways can be challenging. Most marriage ceremonies are more structured, of course. However, many are too formal for the inclusion of things that are not directly related to the exchange of vows and rings. This is particularly true of most religious wedding ceremonies. A bride or groom might be able to wear something personal, but that is typically the extent of what is permissible.
Newly-married couples obviously have considerably more freedom during the portraiture portion of their big day. Though time can sometimes be a limiting factor, they can generally do whatever they want with their couples portraits. Brides and grooms can have their wedding photographers take classic pictures with timeless poses. Or they can ask their photographic documentarians to capture more candid images that reveal the newlyweds’ true personalities. Or they can opt for a mix of everything. As long as there is enough time, a wedding photographer in the Nation’s Capital can make all of it happen! So getting some shots with special mementos is always an option.
In our experience, Washington, DC, newlyweds tend to incorporate items with familial significance into their couples portraits. Though some brides and grooms want to include things from their relationship’s history, most want to memorialize family members who could not be present at the wedding. The most common request that we have received is to photograph new husbands and wives with pictures of late grandparents. Couples who ask for this want photos that celebrate their love and the importance of those who have loved them.
When we get these kinds of requests from our fiancés and newlyweds, our answer is always a resounding yes! We love taking pictures of couples — be they engaged or recently married — who find ways to personalize the images. Our goal as photographers of weddings is to use our pictures to tell our couples’ love stories. For us to achieve this, our cameras need to reveal who they are and what makes them special as a couple. This is a major reason why we eschew traditional posing as much as possible in our portraiture. An image of two people looking stiff and unnatural tells you nothing about them. A shot of them embracing spontaneously and laughing can make you feel like you know them.
Including items with special significance is a great way for fiancés or newlyweds to tell the viewer of their photos something about themselves. Those elements show some component of their personalities. If their couples portraits feature a picture of a deceased loved one, you know family is very important to them. If they pose wearing their favorite sports team’s jersey, you know that is a shared interest that binds them together. If their engagement photographer captures images of them wearing goofy hats, you know they enjoy the lighter side of life.
As you can see in the picture featured here, these brides-to-be wanted engagement photos with a pride flag. And as you can see in the image, we were more than happy to take those photographs for them. On the surface, including the pride flag might seem like merely a recognition that theirs was a same-sex wedding. That was true to a degree. But as we photographed them and got to know them better, we suspected there was a deeper significance. These two Washington, DC, brides had been together since high school. The early days of their relationship came at a time when they would not have been able to legally marry. So taking pictures with the pride flag was a recognition that their same-sex marriage celebration was not just about them. It, like many others, represented a win for their community. The pride flag celebrated that victory.
There was another reason why we loved that these future brides included a personal touch in their engagement portraits. Namely, it allowed us to get really creative with their pictures! In addition to being deeply symbolic, the pride flag also became an integral part of the composition of the shots. We took pictures of the two of them with the banner wrapped around them. We got stunning images of flag illuminated by the late-day sun and the brides silhouetted behind them. We also photographed them embracing while simultaneously extending the flash-lit flag in front of them. It was from that sequence of images that we selected the one featured here.
Said photograph was possible thanks to the location that they selected for their DC engagement photography session. Because one bride had proposed to the other in Great Falls Park, they wanted betrothal pictures near Northern Virginia’s famous cataracts. They also liked the idea of sunset portraits, so we suggested doing the shoot on the Maryland side of the falls. From the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park, you can see both the Western sky and the river.
After taking lots of pictures near the park’s principal trail, we started working our way toward Olmsted Island. Connected to the main shore by a series of footbridges, the island is an ideal spot for sunset engagement photos. It offers an unobstructed look at the sky and some rocky outcroppings for interesting photography angles. The areas around the bridges would also be perfect for pictures of couples in love. They are filled with lovely trees and beautifully textured rocks. Unfortunately, though, they are off-limits to visitors.
We did find one area at the beginning of the Olmsted Island Trail that was open to the public. It was ideal for a wide-angle shot from above the brides. We brought them down to some rocks near the river’s edge. We positioned an off-camera flash behind them and asked them to hold out the pride flag. Then we went up onto the beginning of the first bridge. From that angle, we got beautiful photos of them embracing behind the illuminated flag with just a hint of the river at the edge of the frame. They were unforgettable images because they included three important things about their relationship. The first two were the pride flag and Great Falls, for the aforementioned reasons. The last — and probably most important — was the love evident in their embrace.
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