Balboa Park is one of my favorite locations for engagement photos! I’m all about making sure couples get lots of variety in their photos, and there’s so much Balboa Park offers in one location. Gardens, fountains, beautiful building exteriors, ponds, bridges, and more!
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I was so glad Erik + Kim chose to have their session here! These two are such a fun, bubbly couple. They found me through a random Google search and I’m so thrilled they did 🙂 We started their session at the Del Prado Theater, which has the most gorgeous doors and backdrop!
I loved Kim + Erik’s outfits they chose for their session. Long dresses are always fun because they add great movement, and we took advantage of that during Kim + Erik’s session! A classic suit is always a great look too!
My favorite thing about Kim and Erik is the way they make each other laugh! An engagement session is all about getting couples in fun, snuggly positions and helping their natural personalities come out! I so often hear couples say, “We’re not models!” and I can assure you, I don’t work with models! Just amazing couples 🙂
The light was super dreamy during this part of the shoot!
Balboa Park has tons of gorgeous fountains! I loved this one because of the string lights in the background.
This gorgeous structure is by the Spreckles Organ Pavilion. Absolutely love these pillars!
Not only are there a variety of Spanish-style buildings that make for great backdrops, there are gardens, fountains, ponds and bridges that are gorgeous settings for your engagement session photos. Read more below for all you need to know about Balboa Park engagement session photos!
Parking at Balboa Park is free, and abundant. Check out the link to Balboa Park parking.
When I’ve photographed couples at Balboa Park, I’ve parked in the lot near Spreckles Organ Pavilion OR in the street parking by the Casa del Prado Theatre.
You’ll need to know these if you have an outfit change! I have a few tips here.
First of all, download the Balboa Park app! There’s a section on the app which allows you to see all the restrooms in the park.
Secondly, make sure you park near a restroom. For instance, if you park at the Organ Pavilion Parking lot, there’s a restroom across the street that you could change in.
Some of the restrooms, particularly ones located in buildings, close around 5:00. Restrooms that are stand-alone buildings will be open later. If worse comes to worst, plan on bringing something to cover your windows and change in your car!
While many parks in Southern California require a permit, currently Balboa Park does not require one for photography! I believe this is partially because it is such a large park and it would be extremely difficult to enforce. This is a fantastic benefit to couples to be able to shoot in such a gorgeous location without added cost!
As long as you’re not impeding on guests enjoying the park and sticking to the outdoor spaces, there are no restrictions for photography.
There are certain areas of the park that close early. For instance, the Japanese Friendship Garden requires an admission fee and closes at 5:00 PM, with the last entry being 4:00 PM.
This will be of particular importance if you want photos in the garden during the summer when the photography time is likely to be later and you’ll need to change your session start time to accommodate shooting in this area.
If at all possible, I highly recommend avoiding weekends! Balboa Park is at peak busyness during the weekend and it will be much easier to navigate the Park and get clear backgrounds if you plan your session during the week.
Summer is the busiest time in general at Balboa Park. There are many more programs and summer events that draw visitors to the park. Sessions in the spring and fall will overall be less crowded for your engagement session.
Be as generous as possible when planning your time prior to your engagement session. If you’re getting hair and makeup done, plan on being finished an hour before your have to leave for your session – you never know what traffic will be like in Southern California! You’ll want to plan on some extra time to find parking and arriving 15 minutes before your session to get changed. Since I plan all my sessions based on the sunset time, it’s critical we start on time so you get a final gallery with lots of variety!
Because Balboa Park is large and you’ll likely want to cover a few different locations, I recommend starting your session two to two and a half hours before sunset.
Because there are a number of tall buildings, this can often mean the sun appears to set earlier than the stated sunset time.
Additionally, if you’re bringing more than one outfit, you’ll want to plan for that additional time to get back to your car and change.
If clear backgrounds are of particular importance to you, sunrise photos are also a good option.
Below are sample session timelines for one and two outfits! Note that I plan on arriving early and getting settled. If you have two outfits, I’ll set a timer on my phone to remind us to get changed!
Sunset 7:00 PM – Two Outfits
4:45 PM: Arrive / get changed
5:00 PM: Photograph outfit 1
5:45 PM: Change outfits
6:00 PM: Photograph outfit 2
7:00 PM: Session is done! Go get some dinner! (I recommend heading down to Gaslamp in downtown!)
Sunset 7:00 PM – One Outfit
5:30 PM: Arrive / get changed
5:45 PM: Photograph Outfit 1
7:00 PM: Session is done! Go get some dinner! (I recommend heading down to Gaslamp in downtown!)
I personally love an elegant look for an engagement session! I adored the outfits Kim + Erik wore for their session – a long gold dress and a blue suit! This was a gorgeous, upscale look that looked beautiful with the classical building backdrops.
In general, long dresses are very flattering on women and also look amazing if there happens to be some wind! They provide you with something to do with your hands (lightly holding onto the dress, even twirling!) during your session.
I recommend staying away from large patterns – solid colors look best and won’t date your photos.
Couples will sometimes bring two outfits, something elegant and something more casual. As I mentioned, it’s best to plan for an early start time so you have time to change. If you have a long drive, change once you get to the park so you avoid having wrinkles set into your outfits.
I also recommend removing phones from your pockets and smartwatches from your wrists. Smartwatches are very reflective and also have a way of dating your photos. I recommend bringing a small bag or tote for your personal items – I’m always happy to tote around my clients’ stuff throughout their session!
If you regularly wear a smartwatch, it may be a good idea to start taking it off when in the sun to avoid a wrist tan line in your session photos!
I’m a big believer in hair and makeup for your photos! Prior to getting engaged, it’s unlikely you would have had professional photos taken with your fiance. Getting your hair and makeup done for your photos is a great trial run for your wedding day and a way for you to see how it photographs on camera. It’s also a way to pamper yourself and one less thing to worry about for your engagement session.
When scheduling hair and makeup, it’s best to add in some buffer time and get ready earlier rather than immediately before your session. This way if anything runs behind or it takes a little longer than anticipated, you won’t feel rushed getting to your session.
You may be tempted to get some “color” for your session but I recommend against spray tanning, especially if you’ve never done it before and aren’t sure how it will develop on your skintone. I adjust all my photos so skintones look natural, and in the case of a spray tan, sometimes this means the rest of image looks “cool” when adjusting the photo so your skin looks great.
Below are a few locations I like to photograph in while in Balboa Park:
Casa del Prado Theatre – this building’s iconic doors are in shade in the afternoon, so it’s a good place to start. There’s street parking right at the theater.
Rose Garden – this is accessible on foot from the theater by crossing a bridge. It’s a good location near the end of the engagement session due to the direction of the sun. The rose garden is also next to the Desert Garden which has some huge cacti!
Botanical Building & Lily Pond – this is one of the more iconic buildings if you simply Google Balboa Park! It’s a good location during both sunset and in the evening hours; the building has nice exterior lighting and I like to bring in some off-camera flash to light up the couple if you’d like to stay a little later!
Spreckles Organ Pavilion – the pavilion has some lovely arches and you can also capture some of the sky if you’re here at the right time.
Bea Evenson Fountain – this is one of the larger fountains in the park. It’s close to the bridge where you’d cross to get to the rose and cactus gardens, so it’s a good stop before or after visiting those gardens.
Sunset photos at Balboa Park can be slightly more challenging compared to environments with fewer buildings. You can certainly get sunset “glow” in your engagement session photos, but if you really want more evident backlight in your engagement session images, it might be best to choose a location where the horizon is more easily visible, which will allow you to get some more of those classic sunset images.
If you’d like to stay an extra 20 minutes, I can get some fun off-camera flash portraits! Balboa Park has beautiful building and landscape lighting, which looks very cool in nighttime portraits.