Nearly everyone who has picked up a camera knows about the “golden hour” for portrait photography. Professional DC wedding photographers and amateur shutterbugs alike are aware that the best lighting is at dawn and dusk. It is when the sun’s rays are at their gentlest and most forgiving. Brides and grooms always look their best when bathed in the indirect light of a rising or setting sun. And that makes it worth getting up early or staying up late for an engagement or wedding photo session.
It is not just the soft light that makes taking pictures at dawn and dusk so appealing for a Washington, DC, wedding photographer. Photo shoots at those times of day also offer the possibility of dazzling backdrops. An image of a couple embracing in front of a beautiful sunrise or sunset is hard to beat. The oranges, reds, yellows, blues and purples of clouds lit by the sun can turn an ordinary portrait into artwork.
That was the type of picture we were hoping to create during the engagement portrait session featured here. We brought the couple to the Marine Corps War Memorial and Netherlands Carillon before dawn for the photo shoot. As we have mentioned elsewhere on this website, those are the best locations in Washington, DC, for morning photography sessions. They sit on a river bluff next to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban DC. Because of their location, those monuments provide a clear view of downtown Washington. Seen from the Netherlands Carillon, the US Capital, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial line up in a lovely row. The cherry on top of that tableau is that the sun dawns over Washington directly over those three landmarks. Brides and grooms looking for backdrops that are both stunning and Washingtonian will find few better than this.
The morning we took this particular picture, the sunrise was, unfortunately, a bit of a disappointment. One of the ingredients necessary for a magical sunrise is enough clouds for the sun to illuminate. The sky on the day of this engagement shoot was lamentably clear.
The lack of a dazzling sunrise turned out to matter very little in the end. A good Washington, DC, wedding photographer knows that there are plenty of different ways to create memorable images. In this case, it just meant taking advantage of something else the sunrise was offering us. The quality of the light as the sun rose over the Nation’s Capital was absolutely fantastic. It literally put the golden in golden hour. The sunlight gave the entire area around the Netherlands Carillon in an almost ethereal yellow-orange aura. As we saw how the fiancés looked in that light, we immediately shifted the focus of our photographic efforts.
For starters, we stopped trying to get Washington’s famous landmarks in the background. The sunlight in the east was bright enough that we would have lost the aforementioned glow in our images. We also opted for more tightly focused compositions. The orange aura also tended to disappear in wider-angle shots. In closeup images, by contrast, the couple positively glowed!
Once we made these adjustments, we started getting some beautiful wedding and engagement photos. The one featured here was probably our favorite. The lighting is perfect, with the future spouses enveloped in a soft golden glow. We also love the posing and the body language of the future bride and groom. It was quite cold the morning we took this picture. April in the Washington, DC, metro area is a month with highly variable weather. DC wedding photographers can get the balmy temperatures of spring or the cold winds of winter during shoots in that month. Unfortunately, we got the latter for this photo session. We adjusted to this by having the bride-to-be wear her future husband’s coat. We also asked the pair to hug each other very tightly to keep warm. That created an added layer of intimacy that looks great on film.
Location: Netherlands Carillon, Arlington, VA 22209.