Most of our blog posts are of our couples’ weddings because we love sharing their big day with you! But lately I’ve seen so many brides-to-be on different social media groups asking for advice involving their e-shoots and bridals, or from clients wanting family session location ideas, so I thought I’d share some tips for how to prepare for your session! I’ll use the term engagements, because that’s mostly what we shoot, but it’s really useful for almost any type of portrait session.
Our brides receive our exclusive 80-page Bridal Guide Magazine that contains a lot of this information, in addition to how to create your wedding day timeline, how to deal with Paparazzi wedding guests, how to create your family formals picture list, and why you should do a first look. It’s something that we are constantly updating, so AMP brides, even if you’ve looked through yours, this post is still worth the read!
**Super important** try to avoid scheduling your engagements or bridals in the summer unless you ABSOLUTELY have to. You’ll be miserable. It’s so hot and humid that you’ll be sweaty, your makeup will run, and you won’t want to cuddle up next to another warm body. I’ve had some clients ask to end their hour long session after just 10 minutes due to being drenched. There’s a truth about photography that many people aren’t aware of: when you look at a picture of yourself, you remember how you felt when the picture was taken and that influences how much you like the photo. So if you were hot, sticky, and miserable during your engagement session you won’t love your photos. And we don’t want that! So try to avoid the summer months if at all possible.
Travel fees are listed at the bottom of the post.
Also check out Part One of this Series: What to Wear and How to Prepare.
Now, onto locations! There are SO many options in the Houston area! Some require permits and each one has a different overall vibe. Our favorites are:
Mercer Botanical Gardens, 22306 Aldine Westfield Rd, Humble, TX 77338
This is HANDS DOWN my favorite spot in Houston. If you’re looking for lush gardens, this is your venue. It is perfect for my light & airy style because it has lots of open spaces (which gives us great light) and I can create so many layers by shooting through flowers and around bushes. There’s no permit required, you just have to sign in. There are restrooms on site which make it a great place for outfit changes. It’s best on a cloudy or overcast day, but it’s still nice when it’s sunny. We may have to deal with a few other photographers, it’s a popular spot for family pictures, prom, and quinceaneras, but the park is so big that we just move into another spot for a few minutes. I can’t recommend this place enough! But one REALLY important factor is that, during some months, they close before the sun is low enough in the sky for us to shoot, IF it’s a sunny day. Remember, the LIGHT is the most important factor and we ALWAYS schedule engagements in the 1-2 hours before sunset or after the sun rises. We call that Golden Hour. Here are their current hours by season:
March 2 – Sept. 30: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Oct. 1 – Nov. 4: 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 5 – March 1: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Check the sunset time for the date you are interested in and make sure the park will be open a full hour before. we can always reschedule for a cloudy day if your heart is set on Mercer. If you’re not sure, just email Amy!
Brazos Bend State Park, 21901 FM 762 Rd, Needville, TX 77461
This place is gorgeous! It looks like it shouldn’t exist near Houston. There are endless fields of tall grass and giant live oaks dripping with hanging moss that are fun to shoot through, creating dreamy images with blurry foregrounds. There’s no permit required, only a $7 per car entry fee. This is a great option for shy couples because it’s usually pretty secluded. You won’t have crowds of people staring at you or bystanders in the backgrounds. But bring a pair of sensible shoes because we will be walking through tall grass, and some contain thorns.
***side note*** They currently allow photographers to shoot here without a permit, but that will quickly change if tons of folks start disturbing the area and being disrespectful. In fact, many of my fellow colleagues didn’t want me to put this one on here, for fear others would discover their secret location. Please remember, Leave No Trace, don’t use colored smoke bombs, confetti, or leave behind trash or props. All it takes is one bad apple to ruin this spot and get photographers permanently banned.
Eleanor Tinsley Park & Sabine Bridge, 18-3600 Allen Pkwy, Houston, TX 77019
This is a good option for couples who really love Houston but also want a bit of nature. It has both! From certain vantage points you can capture Houston’s skyscrapers in the background, but there are tons of little nooks that we can shoot in to make it look more like you’re in a true park. The scenery is constantly changing with the seasons, but springtime is the prettiest. Just a block away is Sabine Bridge, which is a great place for sunset photos. There’s no permit required, though Buffalo Bayou Park does require one. The images below were taken in the spring, when everything is in bloom.
Garages around Houston
If you want the option of the Houston skyline, there are several garages in downtown that are perfect for photos. Just know that MOST of them have security guards that will run you off in a matter of minutes, for liability reasons. It helps not to draw too much attention to yourself, so bringing giant lights and umbrellas, as well as props and pets, is a good way to get yourself evicted. One thing my clients can do, if they want both a garage location and a park, is to choose Eleanor Tinsley park, like the couple above, and I can take you to this garage nearby for the best of both worlds. It’s best to start at the garage and end at the park, if you want the best light.
Hermann Park, 6001 Fannin St
I sort of have a love-hate relationship with Hermann Park, but I’ll give you all the details anyway. Pros: It can be very beautiful, especially during the spring, and it’s a convenient location for most Houstonians. They typically don’t enforce permit requirements for most of the area, but if your photographer uses a flash set up, they might ask you to stop (we don’t use lighting equipment on portrait sessions). But it’s often crowded with amateur photographers -not hating, we all have to start somewhere- but people always leave their confetti, balloons, props, and trash behind, which is my pet peeve, if ya can’t tell. And there are going to be people in your backgrounds if you go on a weekend. The Mecom Rockwell Colonnade is a great meeting spot, and there’s tons of parking nearby.
Located near Hermann Park are McGovern Centennial Gardens and the Japanese Gardens, so I’ll lump them both into one. BOTH locations are beautiful but both require a hefty permit (one is $135 and the other is $150). I have had couples select Hermann park and then we pop into McGovern or the Japanese Gardens, but we have about a 65% chance of the attendant asking us to leave if we can’t supply our permit, though Japanese Gardens is the more lax of the two.
One thing to remember: depending on the length of your session and the weather that day, we need to shoot 1-5 hours before sunset. On overcast days we can shoot about 3-5 hours before sunset but on sunny days we shoot about 1-2 hours before sunset. The sunset time changes throughout the year and during some months these two parks close earlier. But if you want to use McGovern or the Japanese Gardens and they close before sunset, we can always finish our session at Hermann Park. Here are their hours:
Spring: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (March 13 to May 25, 2019) Summer: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. (May 27 to Sept. 2, 2019) Fall: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. (Sept. 3 to Nov. 3, 2019) Winter: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Nov. 4, 2019 to March 13, 2020)
Downtown Galveston/ Galveston Beach & Pleasure Pier, Galveston, Tx
One location, tons of options! Downtown Galveston has an old world vibe that, in some ways reminds me of my hometown of Macon, Gaeorgia or possibly a little of New Orleans. There are a lot of cool spots to shoot at. And just minutes away are the beach, the pier, and Pleasure Pier amusement park. A two hour engagement session could EASILY fit in each location. Choose Pleasure Pier if you’re a young, fun-loving couple that wants photos playing carnival games and smooching on the Ferris Wheel. There are entry fees for the Pleasure Pier park, but there’s no permit required for any of our Galveston spots. I love shooting under the pier and on the rock jetties. Just on the other side of the island is East Beach, which has more of a nature vibe, and less tourists.
Houston Arboretum, 4501 Woodway Dr, Houston, TX 77024
Not to be confused with the Mercer Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, the Houston arboretum is often a favorite spot for many of our couples because many they have a connection to it. Some even had their first date here! While we can get some fun images here, it’s not my particular favorite because the light isn’t as good as some of the other locations. You guys all know how I feel about light and why it’s so important to our light and romantic style of photography. In order for you to have good light, nice smooth skin that is the correct color, and bright images, your face needs access to light, usually the open sky. But when you are completely surrounded by tall trees that block that light, often you’ll have dark shadows under your eyes and nose, and the green from the trees will reflect back onto your skin. There are a few spots in the arboretum that a still good for pictures:
Rob Flemming Park, 6055 Creekside Forest Drive, The Woodlands
Rob Flemming is a nice spot for engagements during months where the sun sets a little earlier, since they close at 7pm. In the spring you might get lucky and capture a few bluebonnets. I’ve only ever been there once, in April, but it wasn’t so crowded as most places with bluebonnets.
Chappel Hill Lavender Farm, 2250 Dillard Rd, Washington, TX 77880
The thing about photography is, flat is often boring. Great images have depth and texture. Well Houston is probably one of the flattest places on earth, so we are always open for a drive to an epic location! Chappel Hill Lavender Farm is one of our go-to spots. While it is about 2 hours away, it’s a great spot for photographs because it’s in hill country. We have a special relationship with the owners and they don’t require you to pay a permit or even an entry fee. The lavender blooms in the summer, and bluebonnets in the spring, but it’s gorgeous the whole area year round. Several of the sessions we’ve shot here have been picked up by bridal magazines and wedding style blogs. A great option is to start here and then drive around the area and get different farms and landscapes.
Pedernales Falls 2585 Park Rd 6026, Johnson City, TX 78636
Pedernales is my new favorite spot because it’s perfect for photos. The light is amazing on both sunny and overcast days, it’s large and open, and the light colored stone is the prefect natural reflector so your skin looks like buttah. There are so many areas to shoot, both down next to the spring-fed river and higher up at the scenic overlook. Also crowds aren’t really an issue.
Hamilton Pools, 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620
Hamilton Pools is located near Austin and is a great option for those who want something different than your cookie-cutter park setting. It can be crowded and they close at 5:30, so it’s only a good option in the winter, when the sun sets earlier, or on overcast days. But because it’s in hill country you can also drive around the nearby area and pull off at scenic overlooks.
Enchanted Rock, Fredericksburg, Texas
Enchanted Rock is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s located near San Antonio, so there’s a bit of a drive. But if you want an epic location and images that will have all your friends and family going ga-ga over, then this is your spot! Enchanted Rock is one part granite mountain, one part desert, and has gorgeous sunsets. Every session we’ve shot here has been published by bridal magazines and style blogs. If you’re up for a road trip, so are we!
The Oak Atelier, 15475 Pin Oaks Dr, Conroe, TX 77384
Lastly, if you’re looking for an indoor location for your bridal portraits (or the PERFECT space for boudoir) I HIGHLY recommend the Oak Atelier. It has amazing, soft light, gorgeous furniture that you can sit and lounge on, and light brick white walls that help give your bridals a light and airy feel. It’s my favorite indoor location in Houston. Doing your bridals indoors means that you don’t have to worry about getting your dress damaged before your big day. Their rates are amazing, only $60-75 an hour. The best part is that, because it’s indoors, we aren’t limited to shooting at sunset. We can shoot anytime between noon and late afternoon. I don’t recommend this for engagement sessions though. Their new greenhouse is absolutely stunning.
These are just a few of the many locations in this area! We are always open to shooting in new spots, so if you have a suggestion, we’re all ears!
We do require a flat travel fee for the following locations: Brazos Bend State Park: $50 Mercer Botanical Gardens: $50 The Oak Atelier: $50 Rob Flemming park: $50 Chappel Hill Lavender Farm/ Hill Country - $200 Pedernales Falls - $350 Hamilton Pools - $350 Enchanted Rock - $400 Places that DO NOT require travel: Hermann Park Eleanor Tinsley Park Garages downtown Galveston beach Downtown Galveston Arboretum