An engagement is usually one reason why couples find themselves posing, playing, and flaunting their love behind a professional camera. If you plan and prepare accordingly, this pre-wedding photo session can be fun and functional, producing beautiful images that are perfect for Save the Dates, framed portraits, and other wedding photography needs while capturing your essence as a couple. Plus, learning how to pose and stay natural is good practice before taking photos on your wedding day. To help you get started, we’ve tapped two of the top San Francisco Bay Area wedding photographers—Monica Roy and Todd Rafalovich—for insights on the best engagement photo locations in San Francisco.
How to Choose the Right Location for Your Engagement Photos
To make the most out of your San Francisco engagement photo session, select a place that’s not only photogenic and aesthetically-pleasing but also meaningful to both of you. “We want the engagement shoot to portray who the couple is,” Rafalovich says. “We like to ask clients that if a magazine were to describe who they were, what title would they be? Vogue? Outdoor Life? Then, we tailor the engagement shoot around their answer.”
Roy recommends choosing a location based on activities you enjoy, interests you share, or favorite places. “Love surfing? Pick a beach,” she says. “Into cool architecture? Pick an urban area.” Of course, you can also choose a destination based solely on the backdrop—and San Francisco has many iconic options.
Once you’ve made your decision, dress appropriately for the setting. “For example, formal attire fits with the regal architecture of the Palace of Fine Arts but would be out of place at a beach or other natural setting,” Roy advises.
From there, schedule your hair and makeup trial on the same day as your engagement shoot—and above all, relax. “From my background in fashion, I really work with helping couples loosen up and create natural yet flattering poses,” Rafalovich says. Roy agrees that relaxed is the way to go. “Above all, we want engagement photos to look natural.”
Read on for our top 10 picks of the best engagement photo locations in San Francisco to help you start your pre-wedding activities on a high note.
“Nothing says San Francisco like ornate, colorful, Victorian houses, and the most famous—Painted Ladies or Seven Sisters—are right across from this park,” Roy says. “It’s also essentially one big hill, which makes for interesting portrait angles.” A great place for a photoshoot—and a picnic while you’re at it—Alamo Square Park features the stunning San Francisco city skyline as its backdrop.
2. Baker Beach
Famous for its spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach is a mile-long stretch of shoreline below the cliffs of the Presidio that boasts panoramic vistas such as the Marin Headlands and Lands End park. “This is a very popular portrait session [location]—for good reason,” Roy explains. “Where else can you get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from a beautiful, accessible beach?” Rafalovich agrees. “The Golden Gate backdrop is iconic,” he says, “and shoots well early in the morning.”
3. China Town
“If you love murals, small alleys, vivid reds, and cultural experiences, this one’s for you,” Roy says, noting that San Francisco’s China Town is the oldest in North America and covers 24 blocks. “Established in 1848, it still retains old-world charm.” The iconic Dragon Gate on Bush Street marks the entrance to the neighborhood which brims with storefronts, teashops, eateries, and decorative flourishes, making it one of the best locations for engagement photos in San Francisco.
This beloved San Francisco landmark is located in the eastern end of Golden Gate Park amid the lush, picturesque gardens of Conservatory Valley. Home to 1,700 species of plants, Conservatory of Flowers is a photogenic fantasy of wood and glass that earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Rafalovich says that Golden Gate Park is a “great engagement shoot location with its shaded areas, open space, lakes, flowers, and spectacular colors.”
5. Crissy Field
One hundred acres of beautiful beaches, pristine hiking trails, and airy open spaces make Crissy Field—a former military airfield—a gorgeous destination for photoshoots. “This location offers views of both the San Francisco city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge,” Rafalovich points out. Picturesque sidewalks and boardwalks connect the different areas, and the Crissy Field Center—an environmental education center—is located on the south side of the field.
The Ferry Building is best known for its elegant 2-story structure, with repeating arches and clock tower, situated on the stunning San Francisco waterfront. A working ferry terminal, the landmark also features a vibrant marketplace and makes a bustling backdrop, and fun location, for an engagement shoot. “The grounds around the Ferry Building offer a great San Francisco skyline, views of the Bay Bridge, and amazing architecture,” Rafalovich says.
This quaint, California coastal town in San Mateo County is a California state gem, featuring gorgeous beaches and a historic downtown overflowing with shops and restaurants. Edged by forested hills, Half Moon Bay is situated just short of 30 miles south of San Francisco and is home to an array of parks, playgrounds, and hiking trails. Rafalovich says that Half Moon Bay has a “wide range of backdrops, including dramatic trees, fence lines, and beautiful sunsets.”
Another location featuring beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Legion of Honor is a world-famous museum featuring Beaux-arts architecture imitating the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur located on the Left Bank in Paris. The setting is sublime: Rodin’s bronze sculpture “The Thinker” resides in the museum’s Court of Honor and the grounds feature rolling lawns, quaint fountains, and a brilliant reflecting pool, making it a stunning backdrop for an engagement photoshoot. “The Legion of Honor has great light and shadows,” Rafalovich explains, “and works well for more formal attire.”
“One of San Francisco’s most iconic locations, the Palace gives an elegant European vibe with its grand, classic architecture,” Roy describes. Notable for its Greco-Roman colonnades and elevated central rotunda, the monumental Palace of Fine Arts is situated on a lagoon that’s home to swans and fringed by eucalyptus trees, making it one of the best photography locations for engagements, weddings, and beyond. “It features great colors and photographs well in any weather and any time of day,” Rafalovich adds. It’s also considered one of San Francisco’s top wedding venues.
Artist Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in San Francisco‘s Presidio is a fantasyland of sinuous eucalyptus branches stretching more than 1,200 feet in length. “This part of the Presidio has 60,000 odd trees that the Army started planting in 1880,” Roy says. “Start your engagement session in the late afternoon to capture the beautiful shafts of light filtering through dense foliage to make the whole area glow.”
Marilyn Oliveira is a writer, editor and content creator whose work has ranged from editing Inside Weddings magazine to launching the content section of Evite.com. She co-founded the website LuxElope.com, introducing the concept of luxury elopements to the wedding industry. A California native and UCLA Bruin, Marilyn loves seeing live theatre and attending outdoor movie screenings, as well as hiking local trails with her dog, Vita.