The National Portrait Gallery is a rarity in the Nation’s Capital. It is a hidden gem of a location for beautiful engagement photography in the middle of a city filled with iconic buildings and famous sites! Located in Washington, DC’s historic Chinatown neighborhood, the museum is a little off the beaten path. But it is well worth adding to your list of potential stops for your engagement or couples portraits!
The vast majority of the good venues where you can have your portraiture done — the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the White House, the US Capitol or Theodore Roosevelt Island — are known around the world. They are great for your giving wedding and engagement pictures an unmistakably Washington feel, of course. Nothing says Washington, DC, like a photograph with one of the city’s famous landmarks in the background.
You and your future spouse want a little something more, though. You might want the Washington flavor that the monuments and memorials give your photos. But at the same time, you might also want something that sets your portraits apart from the rest. You might want elements that are as special and unique as your love. That is what a venue like the National Portrait Gallery gives you.
As part of the Smithsonian Institution’s network of museums, the National Portrait Gallery is without a doubt a Washington icon. But it is also a little bit off the beaten path, meaning it gives every couples portrait taken there a distinctive look and feel. So having your engagement photography done in that museum gives you the best of both worlds!
The desire to create an art gallery in Washington, DC, dedicated to showcasing portraits of the most famous and historically significant Americans dates at least to 1886. That is when the president of the Massachusetts Historical Society began trying to establish an American version of the National Portrait Gallery in London. For a variety of reasons, the project never got off the ground, and the creation of a portraiture museum in Washington languished for decades. Though wealthy Americans continued to donate their private portraiture collections to the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. government in the hopes that a National Portrait Gallery would be created, it was not until Washington’s historic Old Patent Office Building was threatened with demolition in 1957 that the museum project gained real urgency. The National Portrait Gallery was officially founded in 1962 and officially opened its doors to the public in 1968.
What is particularly nice about the National Portrait Gallery, in the opinion of these DC wedding photographers, is the way the museum is arranged. The gallery shares the Old Patent Office Building with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and each institution has one long hallway on each floor with smaller rooms adjoining them. The smaller rooms were designed to hold specific installations or series of portraits, and the doorways leading from the main hallways into the spaces are great for framing fiancés who pose inside.
As you can see in this particular image, putting a pair of future spouses inside one of the little rooms and photographing them through the door gives an unplanned, unposed and real feeling. That is an effect these DC wedding photographers strive to create whenever we pick up our cameras. So venues like this are perfect for our approach to wedding photography. We simply asked the couple to go sit inside the room, look at the portrait hanging on the wall and feel free to cuddle and snuggle each other, while we stood outside and took some beautiful portraits of them that looked completely natural.
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