I shoot over forty-five weddings a year and all of my packages include Engagement Photos in Los Angeles area. In this article, I put my favorite spots in the area that I collected in the past 10 years.
The most common question after signing the contract with a photographer is,
“Where can we shoot our engagement session?”
“Can you recommend a place for our engagement photoshoot?”
This is not an easy question, and is often hard to describe, being that California is immensely beautiful. I discuss the many venues with my clients and show them images from previous shoots. So I thought it would be nice to make a list with personal comments and recommendations for anyone who wants to learn more about the best venues for engagement photo sessions around Los Angeles.
Table of Contents
First of all, let’s talk a little about what we are looking for:
- Variety of unique backgrounds
We are looking for a place with a variety of backdrops. You don’t want to get to a location and take pictures with only one background/tree/building/pier. For example, there is a stunning engagement location in Laguna Beach with a beautiful lighthouse, but that is all there is.
We don’t want to spend a lot of time driving around. We want to take as many amazing photos as possible. We are also looking for a place that allows wide panoramic shots, closeup, and medium as well. It’s always better to have a good mix.
- Lots of shade
We are looking for a place with big enough shade that can allow us to do close up shots. To get nice and smooth light, it’s preferable to have your faces under a shaded area. I’m not saying cloudy days are ideal or that the whole location needs to be in the shade, but there has to be a few areas. Harsh shadows are not flattering and softer light creates a more intimate atmosphere.
- Easy access/parking
The perfect place will have easy access. The maximum distance we can walk from the car is about 15 min. Most of my couples are using props on locations or have outfit changes, which means carrying an additional bag from place to place for 1-2 hours. It would be great to take pictures with Bridge to Nowhere in San Gabriel Mountains but is a 3 hour hike from the parking spot, by the time you get there you’ll probably be exhausted and you hair and makeup might not be perfect by then.
- Not crowded
We definitely don’t want a lot of people on the background. Is best if the chosen place is not very popular and has a parking lot, a combo that is not easy to find.
If you really want to shoot at the Santa Monica Pier I would highly recommend to do it early in the morning or during the workweek (better both). Keep in mind that most tourist places are overly-crowded during the weekend and chances are that’s exactly the only time you have to do an engagement shoot.
With all this in mind, let’s keep going 🙂
I always try to keep it personal for my clients and make sure that we choose a place that relates to them. For the past 4 years, I think I visited pretty much all engagement venues. There are still a lot of nice places out there, but here is my personal list of the best engagement shoot venues.
A few things you might not be thinking when doing the engagement shoots
- This is your time to practice before the wedding day – poses, etc.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the engagement shoot. On your wedding day, the last thing you want to think about is how to pose to look your best. Engagement shoots are great for practicing natural poses, staying close to each other, different holding and hugging poses, and so on.
I always do my best to provide direction for all poses. So when you’re on the shoot with me, we always quickly talk through the pose and then begin shooting. It’s maybe 20 extra seconds, but it pays off every time when I deliver the engagement shoot images. If we just do random stuff for 2 hours, it won’t be as good as planned poses at great venues.
- How well you plan the props makes a big difference
It’s often in the little details. The props can be anything from “Save The Date” boards to balloons, picnic setups, or anything really. I will cover the different props and provide some suggestions on the places to buy those in a separate post.
- If you’re late for the sunset shoot, you’re missing out on the best light.
Half of all my engagements usually start late because of traffic, someone not being ready on time, etc. Things happen, no doubt about that. We can plan the shoot for weeks and it’s always a pity when traffic is the main reason we don’t start on time.
I always recommend buffering extra time for the road. The images you’ll get from the shoot will depend on when we start shooting and how long of a session you book. Most of my engagements are 1-2 hrs long. So if you’re 45 minutes late, that only leaves you with… well, less time for getting the images you really wanted.
- Be ready to get wet if we’re shooting on the beach
I would say half of all my couples prefer to do engagements on the beach. To make those more fun, I often ask the guys to take their ladies and spin them around or walk side by side from the ocean to the coast. Both of these are a sure way to relax more in front of the camera and get some pretty unique moments.
3 types of engagement photo locations
|Beach (rustic)||Landmarks / City||Parks/Gardens (rustic)|
|El Matador State Beach|
Montage at Laguna Beach
1000 Steps Beach
Santa Monica Beach/Pier
Crystal Cove State Park
Leo Carrillo State Park
Downtown Los Angeles
Art District Los Angeles
Pasadena City Hall
Doubletree Suite Santa Monica
Sony Pictures Studio
|Malibu Creek State ParkGriffith Park|
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden
Corral Canyon Park
Terranea Resort Palos Verdes
1. El matador state beach
“+” It’s a small beach in Malibu with a stunning view and beautiful sunset. I discovered this place 4 years ago and it was pretty much empty back then, nowadays it’s gotten very popular. On a small piece of land you can find a lot of different places and backdrops. There is a cool staircase that I like to use. Also there are 2 big rocks that create a big shade (it’s very important for light on open locations). Sunset it’s incredibly beautiful there as well. I always prefer to start shooting 40 min to an hour before sunset so by the end I can capture all beauty. The only similar place to that is Montage at Laguna Beach.
“- ” We have to keep track of tights at this location. Sometimes water goes almost to rock walls and it makes the photoshoot hard overall. Also with high tides we don’t have full access to the beach.
“=” Stunning place! Highly recommend it to everyone.
2. Montage at Laguna Beach
“+” Very nice locations with a great view around a hotel. It’s great that we can combine pictures in the green park and beach as well. There are rocks pretty much everywhere which creates a nice texture and backdrops, specially closer to sunset.
“-” It might be a little crowded, especially during summertime. It used to be a good spot but nowadays with everyone doing selfies around we might have to form a line 🙂
“=” if you live close by or in OC and you want a beach background this is one of the best choices.
3. 1000 Steps Beach
“+” Another great location in OC with a little different mood from Montage. It’s more relaxed and it has more of a California vibe and backdrops. I would recommend taking a look at the pictures and see if that’s something that appeals to you.
“-” Coming from the name. It’s about 600 steps to get there, and it might be crowded.
“=” Great alternative to Montage. Probably the most California place in OC. It does look like a film set from 80s.
4. Malibu Creek State Park
“+” One of my favorite locations overall. It combines very well with El Matador beach and since my most common package includes 2 hours of engagement photo shoot works perfectly! Another reason why it works so well is because one of the most popular requests is: forest or filed with a nice panoramic view (even better if we can get the mountains) with a beach. And El Matador Beach and Malibu Creek State Park is the best combination I have found so far. These places are about 25 min apart and there is not much traffic in general.
“-” It’s quite hot during summer time, with temperatures up to 100-105′ degrees. Also there is 15 a minute walk from the parking lot to the actual shooting locations which totals to a 30 min walk, not bad isn’t?
“=” Most common and my favorite location (still) specially if you are doing a 2 hour engagement shoot.
P.S. Keep it’s not possible to include both of these locations in one hour 🙂
5. Griffith Observatory
“+” Personally I love this location and if you crazy about astronomy this is the place for you. I love the panoramic view of downtown from the top, its architecture, and the Hollywood sign view. Also, it’s one of the most recognized locations of LA.
“-” Have to check carefully hours of work before heading there. It’s better to shoot during the workweek because it’s often crowded and parking might be not that easy.
“=” If you want a view to downtown Los Angeles and you like architecture this is a place to go.
6. Griffith park
“+” If you are looking for a more casual look and at the same time want it to look like Central Park from New York, Griffith park might be a good option. There is also a unique place called Train Museum and it goes very well with a traveling theme.
“-” It has a lot of different areas to shoot and there is no specific address for them, which sometimes makes them hard to find.
“=” If you are looking for a park with no one around or this place is relatable to you then it’s a great location.
7. Downtown Los Angeles
“+” There are a lot of different options in downtown but here is my favorite route. I like starting out at the Disney concert hall which usually takes 30 minutes, then go to Los Angeles City Hall and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and there is also a very nice new park called Grand Park LA. Once done with those spots there are 2 choices for the grand finally. Drive 5 minutes to the Vista Hermosa Park and get a stunning view to Downtown Los Angeles or stay at Grand Park LA and get few night shots with its fountains (which have a very cool illumination at night time).
Also, there are a few nice spots next to the Grand Central market, but I would recommend to stay closer to the Disney Hall.
“-” Parking is not that easy. It’s a popular shooting location which means it might be crowded.
“=” If you looking for a city mood it’s definitely place to keep in mind.
8. Art District Los Angeles / Downtown Los Angeles
“+” If you looking for something more edgy this is a place for you. There is a lot of Portland/Denver style coffee shops, graffiti on industrial walls and other cool textures. If you prefer to wear jeans and leather jackets on your engagement shoot this is the place for you. All the photoshoots I’ve done here have been very distinct, there are a few places to consider. The 4th street bridge, graffiti around Merrick st. and The Pie Hole coffee shop. It’s more of a place where you are walking around having fun while taking pictures.
“-” There are no downsides. It’s just a different mood, and particular lifestyle.
“=” Perfect place for hipsters, bikers and creative guys.
9. Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden
“+” If you like greenery, different plants and parks that’s one of the best places in Los Angeles. It has many different sections with cactus, bamboo and other threes which I can’t even pronounce. There are different amazing areas. They also have a gorgeous victorian style house with pretty unique palm tree next to it that grew pretty much horizontally. They have series of bridges and even small waterfall (too small).
“-” Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden charges about $50 for a photography permit. (I personally think it’s worth it).
They close before sunset which means we can’t really catch at the location.
It’s always crowded on weekends and almost impossible to have a clear background.
It’s very hot during summer.
“=” If you like greenery and want to have is as backdrop this is the place to go. If your wedding venue happens to be close by it’s also fitting for wedding party photos.
10. Venice Canals
“+” There is nothing like the Venice Canals in the world. This place in it’s own league, nothing really to compare, super romantic and you can find absolutely unique bridges and incredible houses. The other great thing it’s very close to other landmarks and it’s close to Venice Beach, Santa Monica, good coffee shops and more. Light is always great, the sun sets from the beach and it creates absolutely beautiful backdrops.
“-” It’s the kind of place that you like or not, depending on the look you’re trying to achieve.
“=” Great choice for romantic couples and for someone that wants to have a little bit of city in their pictures as well as beach.
11. Venice Beach / Venice Beach Pier
“+” One of the most famous places in Los Angeles. If you want to cycle around, have a lot of fun, walk by the loud beach and a bit of eccentricity this place is for you, it’s part of it.
“-” Always crowded. 24/7, 356 days a year. But this is part of scenery.
“=” You are very energetic person. This culture is close to you and you like everything bright photos.
12. Santa Monica Beach
“+” This is very unique place, it’s bright, colorful, and very energetic. It’s also the official end of the road 66. I did one photoshoot here at 6am on a Monday and that was the only time when it wasn’t crowded.
“-” Always crowded but that’s part of the scenery.
“=” If you want to show your pictures to people outside if Los Angeles that will be the best place.
13. Doubletree Suite Santa Monica
“+” One of the best indoor locations in Los Angeles. Very modern, it has a lot of nice backgrounds that will work very well with a cocktail dress or a nice suit. It’s very posh and classy, if that’s something that you want you have to consider this place.
“-” Their photoshoot permit is about $200 (last time I checked)
“=” If you want to wear a cocktail dress and suit for your engagement shoot this in one of the best places.
14. Pasadena City Hall
“+” One of my brides told me once that this is the best example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture style in the Los Angeles area. If you want something like that this the place to go. I also like how colors and light works here, it gives a very smooth and romantic tone to the photos.
“-” A popular wedding venue and it can often be occupied with wedding parties, especially on weekends, it’s better to shoot here Monday-Thursday. Also, it’s good to shoot for an hour or so but can be easily combined with Pasadena bridge or Colorado st.
“=” If an architecture theme is close to you and you want beige and light to dominate on your photos that’s definitely place to consider.
15. Malibu Pier
“+” If you want to do the Santa Monica Pier, but is not classy enough for you then the Malibu Pier will be absolutely the best choice. They have a few coffee shops and it’s usually not crowded; especially during the work week. It is also relatively easy to access the beach. Besides (in my opinion) is good that it’s not as common as the Santa Monica Pier.
If you do more than an hour photoshoot this place might not have enough options. Some photographers can work it for 2 hours, but I’m usually shooting fast which menas that this places falls short on backdrop optios.
If you do 1 hour photo shoot I would highly recommend it.
16. Calamigos Ranch
“+” It’s a beautiful rustic venue, and they have a lots of props on the side. They have snooke pool (where else in the forest you can find the snooker pool?! 🙂 they have nice walls, cute signs around, pretty bridges and even a boat, everything is close by in distance.
“-” Price. From what I remember they require an $800 fee or, its free if this happens to be your wedding location. But don’t trust me and give them a call to double-check pricing.
“=” If you have additional budget and you love the venue to do both for engagement and wedding that’s very good way to go. But at the same time do you want to do your engagement and the wedding photos all in one place? What I did with a client was to discuss where we were going to shoot the engagement and where to shoot the wedding so we didn’t use the same spot for both.
17. Abbot Kinney Blvd
“+” This is a very interesting place, if you’re already thinking about it, you probably don’t need my opinion here 🙂 it does dictate the mood and composition. I cannot shoot here as I usually shoot in any other location, but that is the unique thing about this place. It’s more like you are together along with the crowd it’s that kind of mood. There are a few nice coffee shops where were you can just seat in front of each other and drink the perfect cappuccino. There is a small [[cuz??]] you streets where you can walk and hold hands. The people around will give us an interesting background. They are usually very well-dressed which is not a [fence very unusual for] US 🙂
It’s crowded all the time and is going to be hard to find a place where we can take pictures just the two of you, most likely there will be people on the background at all times.
It’s a very nice place with very specific mood, easy to come by and get its surroundings like Venice Beach. As I mentioned before if you really want this place you probably don’t need anyone’s opinion.
18. Long Beach Shoreline village
“+” This venue itself is huge, with a lot of nice backgrounds. Such as lighthouses, nice colorful stores and bridges, you can easily spend more than 2 hours here. The unique thing about it is that is not crowded during the work week especially during winter months. Any other place like that will be packed with people year around.
“-“The only downside I can think about it if you prefer more the saturated colors this place not going to work for you, this is where you’ll find colorful backgrounds. Plus is far away from other locations so there is no way to combine it with let’s say a forest or a different vibe.
“=” It is very good place and is among one of my favorites. If you have history or is meaningful to you as a couple I would highly recommended it.
“+” If you met each other at UCLA this place should be number one on your list or if you just like Romanesque Revival architecture or your wedding theme is Harry Potter, this is a place for you. There are plenty of spots to take a pictures, small parks, trees, and buildings. At the same time if your engagement photoshoot is over 2+ hours you can get few shots from Venice beach or Santa Monica as well. Since it’s about a 30 min drive.
“-“You need to check UCLA’s schedule before you go. I went once; an entire area in front of the main building was occupied by a music festival.
“=”Very specific place, more relatable to a couple’s story. If your story is connected to UCLA this is the best choice.
20. Palos Verdes
Malaga Cove Plaza in Palos Verdes
“+” A very good example of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Pretty much all of Palos Verdes can be described like that. It’s very small but you can do a lot of different spots here and backdrops. Also there is the Malaga Cove Library which we can use as well. If that’s not enough we can combine it with Terranea Resort or Terranea Beach.
“-” It’s a very classy venue itself and if you want to do something more casual is not recommendable.
“=” These places offer the opportunity to dress up more. If you want got get this kind of feel this is a place for you.
21. Terranea Resort or Terranea Beach
“+”This is one of those places where you can wear a shirt and tie with dress shoes at the beach and it’s not going to look strange. Also, is not very common place for an engagement photoshoot and for some guys it’s very important. These 2 places are very close to each other and complement very well.
“-” Sometimes it’s a little crowded with hotel guests and it’s kind of small. However it does work for one hour engagement photoshoot but probably not longer.
“=” Unique place with its own mood. If you feel like you want to stay stylish and fancy on the beach this place is for you. Also if you live close to Palos Verdes it’s convenient. If all of the above applies to you then this is the perfect area for you.
22. Ritz Hotel
“+”Absolutely unique view of DTLA and is the kind of place that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, the view it’s just stunning. At the same time it’s quite hard to get tons of pictures from there but you really need just one amazing one that you can print on a big canvas and everyone will be blown away. [[are you talking about the rooftop? Because you dont quite say it, or a balcony area?]]
“-“Quite expensive. Contact the Ritz directly but it’s approximately four digits.
“=” It’s all about this one picture that will tell a story to your friends, kids and grandkids to come. An inspiring one (and probably will cause a little bit jealousy as well).
23. Sony Pictures Studio
“+” Another place that is hard to get to and as you can see that is the same couple. Nick is my hero! He did it! Twice!
It’s a dream world really. If you are crazy about film (and if you’re not, this place will make you). All of our dream movies and shows are here: Ghostbusters, Breaking Bad, Alice in Wonderland, etc etc..
“-“Hard to get a photoshoot permit but it looks like it’s not impossible.
“=” If the movie theme is close to your heart that is definitely a place to go. Just to be there is quite an experience.
24. Leo Carrillo State Park
“+” A rocky beach next to el Matador beach, a very good alternative. Not as crowded and has a little different mood to it. Very easy access to the send?, a couple of arches where you can hide from the world and meet the sunset.
“-” Hard to combine with anything else but at the same time this place has it’s own little forest next door.
“=” More of getaway feel. If you don’t want the 2 hour drive 🙂 this is a place for you.
25. Pirate Tower
“+” Known pretty much by locals only and because of that even a more exciting place to go. Doesn’t look like anything else in the LA area. You also have good access to the beach and few good spots for the sunset photos.
“-“Long drive unless you are in the Laguna Beach area. Will not work for a 2 hour shoot. It’s just too small with few options. We also have to check tides to see if we can have access.
“=” Very unique spot. It feels like that, and it looks like that. Everyone will ask you where this was and it’s your right not to tell 🙂
26. Crystal Cove State Park
“+” In my opinion this place is for someone who wants to tell the story about themselves, to show all emotions and not let place take any attention away. Is very peaceful and quiet without much going on on the background but that’s a good for a clear backdrop. Also, this place has a nice easy access to the beach so you don’t have to drive far if you want to combine rustic place and the beach.
“-” There is no big rocks or breathtaking sceneries but at the same time the whole area has a nice and smooth mood.
“=” If this place is close to you and you want to be the center of attention while having a nice background this is a place for you.
27. Queen Mary
“+”Say “Hello to DiCaprio” because is basically a bigger Titanic. This place is as specific as it can get, I personally love it. The history of the Queen Mary is longer than this blog post. The way it looks is simply stunning. I am personally fascinated by its history and everything that related to the Titanic is a hell of a story for me and the Queen Mary it’s the closest piece to it.
“-” It’s hard to shoot here because of its uniqueness, shapes and architecture is completely different from anything else. It does grab a lot of attention to itself.
“=”Simply in one word; Titanic. If you crazy about it, let’s go!.
28. Dockweiler beach
“+” I’m always looking for rare gems like the Stephen Shore and this is my #1 choice. I have a very specific plan for this place and one day I’m going to do a great photoshoot there. This is very hipsterish, where you can just walk by the beach with no one around, take a break for lunch and then make a fireplace by sunset. For me personally it’s a very romantic place and the amazing thing about it, that is not very popular, I hope it stays that way 🙂
“-”There is no landmarks or anything like that, no rocks or views from magazines.
“=” It’s very relaxed, a lifestyle place that will complete you. Is a good frame for your story as a couple.
29. Huntington beach
“+” Very bright and colorful with a lot of spots to shoot. You can feel the surf theme around you, find a bunch of cool graffiti, nice coffee shops and bars, with a very nice pier asuring great views. If you close to this place is because you’re probably already in love with it.
“-” It’s very dynamic by colors and backgrounds. You are not alone there at any moment really, it’s very close to Santa Monica mood.
“=” Pretty much as always it’s all about your preferences. If you are very energetic, outgoing couple and you leave somewhere close by that’s a very good choice.
30. Union station
“+”Specifically for a traveling theme, it also can be used as additional location when shooting in DTLA. I currently don’t shoot much in downtown because of all of the construction and it doesn’t really work as well as it used to back in 2014-2015. I’ll keep updating this to keep you posted.
“-”Always a crowded location, not good in the lighting department.
“=” If you venue is in DTLA or you love this architecture, have a travel theme, or something from the 60s like L.A. noire theme it’s a good choice. Otherwise I would stay away from it at least for now.
31. Japanese Garden
“+” Absolutely unique place. There is nothing like that in the LA area from what I know. We have Huntington Garden in Pasadena but it’s hard to get the photoshoot permit.
“-” It’s small place and works better close to sunset time since they don’t really have any places under shade. They also changed working hours and how they are open only until 3:30 which means we have to start the photoshoot at 2pm and it’s a hard light to work with.
“=” It’s a great pace if you have Japanese inspired theme in mind. Usually everyone likes it but for me it doesn’t really work well with their hours and light. You can’t really beat sunlight unless you have a big crew.
“+” The Urban Light is our landmark. It’s a great spot to compliment the other engagement venues. Such as the Santa Monica pier or Griffith park, depends from your idea.
“-” This Urban Light is about all you have in the area
“=” There is few other spots like a floating rock or the small LACMA park, but in my opinion its still an additional spot to something bigger unless (!) you meet each other at LACMA and it’s completely different story for you.
If you willing to spend more time and money there are a few other places worth to consider. I am also going to try to give my estimate for this locations so you can figure out if that’s something for you. My opinion – yes you’re spending more time and money but you getting an absolutely unique memory for you and your future generations. You will be making this one at a completely different level than everyone else. Maybe I’m putting too much into it but imagine the kids of this guys looking at their pictures. How inspired they would be to stay on the same level or achieve something even better. They are not going to be proud of your Michael Kors 🙂 They would be proud of you, and how you made the history of your family.
Yosemite national park
I have been many times and I am still amazed by this place. Ansel Adams made a career from Yosemite, so I think it has more than enough spots for me. It feels like I can just put all the pictures from this photoshoot here and it will speak for itself. I do not try to look at them from an iPhone 🙂 They have to be printed on large canvas or in the book. My couple ordered a 16×12 album to put them together. It’s simply amazing and 100% it worth doing it. I personally prefer between June – October because the roads to Taft Point and Glacier Point are open. Each and every photoshoot here is absolutely unique. I have a plan for both summertime and winter time scenarios. First time it took me 3-4 hours on google maps to make a good plan. It’s not the kind of place where you can figure out everything on the spot.
How much time do we need for that – 8 hours. Cost around $1000 (2017 prices).
A very special place for me, I love this desert romance mood. We are very lucky to have this place close to us. I love that you can combine so many charismatic spots in relatively short time, still having same colors and mood. What I notice is that is very sensitive to wardrobe and it’s actually great. You can play around quite a lot and when you make it right it will look like a cover of a magazine. It is also scalable, you can do this in 4 hours you can extend it up to 8 hours. There is enough spots to play around.
How much time do we need for that – 4-8 hours. $500-$1000
Crest forest highway
Surprisingly there is not many people doing engagement photoshoots there but I love this place and I think I found the way to photograph it right. You can look at the pictures and let me know in comments if I’m thinking too good about myself 🙂 This place is very tricky to photograph. You really have to scout this location. For me it was easy because I know pretty much every corner here 🙂
Another amazing place that is not far away. There is couple places where you can do absolutely amazing pictures that doesn’t look like anything else. It’s common place for advertising companies and music videos as well. Really hard to explain its amazingness, its way better to look at the pictures 🙂
Talk about an epic photoshoot, a butterfly preserve will blow you away, with loads of welcoming little friends to decorate your frame.
Corral Canyon Park (?)
Who doesn’t love hiking in LA? In this spot you can combine the best of both worlds, the mountains, with a scenic view on the sea.