Let me guess: As excited as you are about having beautiful photos from your wedding day, you’re not exactly looking forward to being photographed. Am I right?
So, you’ve opted to do an engagement session. Smart choice! An engagement session can help you feel more comfortable in front of the camera and it will allow you to create some rapport with your photographer. (Hopefully, that’s me!)
But where should you have these pictures taken? What parks offer the prettiest backdrops? What spots don’t get too crowded? And what day/time should you plan to visit? Keep reading.
Here’s a list of my top 15 recommendations, and why I think they’ll make the perfect spot for your first experience in front of the camera.
Asbury Park Boardwalk offers a little something for everyone. From architecturally-interesting buildings to seaside restaurants and eclectic boutiques to easy beach access, this progressive area and beachfront promenade offers an incredible variety of locations to practice getting cozy in front of the camera. Though it can get a bit crowded here, there’s a good reason why we do 10+ engagement sessions per year in Asbury Park. It’s so FUN! And the fact that it offers both indoor and outdoor options for photos is the reason I’m giving Asbury Park top billing on this list.
Located in Middleton Township, Deep Cut Gardens offers 54-acres of manicured and well-maintained gardens and greenhouses. Though it is relatively small and can be crowded at times, there’s a reason it’s so popular for photos. It’s breathtakingly beautiful! There are some secret areas we like to use, and the twisting branches of their carefully maintained trees create a perfect backdrop for the couple looking for a natural, unique, and well groomed garden setting. Just avoid Fridays – especially in the Summer! *No permit or fee required, we pay a fee annually for a photography permit
When couples ask us for a location that has the great outdoors, flowers, and interesting historical architecture; Skylands Manor comes to mind right away. If you’re from the area, you’ve probably heard of it before, and your friends may have even had their wedding and/or engagement photos done there. Don’t fret though, your images won’t look the same as theirs! With so much variety in plants, trees, paths, arches, etc… There is plenty to choose from, but be prepared to walk! The sun always sets here at the perfect angle too.
*No permit or fee required, we pay a fee annually for a photography permit
West of Philadelphia, in the Brandywine Creek Valley, lies the wonderfully large Longwood Gardens. This American botanical garden offers so much more than gardens. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming how many stunning options are available for photography. The stunning indoor greenhouse is both massive and iconic. If it is going to rain on the day of your Longwood Gardens engagement session, have no fear – the greenhouse alone would provide enough variety for an entire session.
*Small entrance required along with a travel fee for Mike Zawadkzi Photography
For anyone interested in large scale outdoor art, and a creative environment for engagement photos, nothing beats Grounds for Sculpture. As an iconic location for the arts, this wonderfully varied series of backdrops makes for impressive visual impact, along with the perfect blend of greenery and nature. The large space also provides for variety, and privacy if you don’t want a crowd! As an added bonus, Grounds for Sculpture is right our Principal Associate Tiffany Lindner’s neighborhood, and she has a masterful level of skill working there. If you’ve decided to hire her for your wedding, you’re sure to get a special experience with her here. (Mike and the rest of the team are also willing to travel to Grounds for Sculpture as well!) Oh and we can’t promise it, but you might even get to see a Peacock!
*Entrance fee required
This hidden gem of a park is located right near the more well known Sandy Hook, NJ. Though the park is not a super well known hot spot for photos, don’t let that fool you! This almost 800-acre park boasts plenty of trails, trees, great sunsets, and a “secret red rock beach” on the Navesink River that looks like it’s out of Jurassic Park. This beach has been the setting of some of my favorite shoots over the years. If you like the “road less traveled” and somewhere that “doesn’t look like New Jersey” but you want it to be fairly easy to get to, this spot is definitely for you.
*No permit or fee required, we pay a fee annually for a photography permit.
If you’re looking for a downtown look and you don’t mind some walking, Montclair may be perfect for you. Montclair is one of Northern New Jersey’s most popular towns. It offers a variety of settings including many shops, restaurants with string lights, and crosswalks that give you a city feel, without a city drive. Parking can be a bit challenging, but is worth the extra effort if you love the look!
Looking for something with a little more New York flair? The Waterfront, located between the Hudson River and Newark Avenue, offers both sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline as well as access to the historic old New Jersey Railroad museum. Easy access, iconic views, and a variety of settings make this a dream spot if you’re a couple that loves a NYC skyline view.
Similar to the Jersey City Waterfront, Hoboken offers NYC views, and architecturally-interesting and historic backdrops that are as cool as they are eclectic. The charming cobblestone Church Street is a classic setting for New Jersey engagement sessions. There is also the historic railroad station, Stevens University, Washington St, and plenty of side streets filled with ivy and brownstones along the way incase there is too much foot traffic!
This small, well-maintained park boasts beautiful Revolutionary War-era architecture, a small garden and a wisteria-covered pergola that is ideal for engagement photography. My favorite feature is the most amazing light that filters through the trees in both the Summer and Fall. Although most photographers and garden lovers like to visit in the Spring to see the flowers in full bloom. Cross Estate Gardens is honestly pretty amazing any time during the year.
*No permit or fee required.
A historic estate is the crown jewel of Montclair engagement sessions. In the spring and early summer, lush purple wisteria cascades down from sprawling roots located across the balcony on the Van Vleck House’s mezzanine. The vibrant and well maintained gardens are a sight to see. This is easily one of the best locations for your NJ engagement photos.
*There is a permit + significant fee to use this location. It is recommended to obtain your permit many weeks or even months ahead of your session.
A staple town of Central New Jersey (We think Central Jersey is a thing) is most well known for its prestigious Ivy-League university. With ample grounds, and a wide range of jaw droppingly beautiful architecture, it is no wonder that Princeton University is a popular choice for couples looking for upscale New Jersey engagement photos. If you don’t want to spend the full engagement session on campus, there are also plenty of great downtown vibes close-by!
The ultimate historic (over 200 years old!) destination for engagement photography. A well known bridge with a pedestrian path connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey across the Delaware River. There are many eclectic shops, landmark historical buildings, fine dining, and a large theatrical playhouse. New Hope and Lambertville provide a unique look you won’t find anywhere else nearby.
This really unknown location is a hidden gem for the modern couple looking for an industrial look. It is a bit of a drive from most places in New Jersey, but the historic outdoor setting of an old silk mill gives off the perfect “Gangs of New York” vibes of the 19th Century, and a unique outdoor aesthetic. Think about the outdoor area of the Art Factory, but with a bit more variety and nature/bridges nearby. There is also a fantastic winery and ice cream parlor in the same shopping complex. We like this location so much that we used it for our team photo shoot!
Located in Marlboro Township, this massive park is filled with rolling hills, wide-open fields, and tree-lined hiking and biking trails. The park offers numerous romantic backdrops for a variety of outfit changes. It’s a lesser-known spot, so if you’re on the shy side, you can relax knowing that you won’t have a throng of onlookers watching as you pose. Maybe a biker or dog walker. Fair warning: Pack comfortable shoes! You’ll definitely get your steps in! After all, it’s called BIG for a reason…
*No permit or fee required, we pay a fee annually for a photography permit
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