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Are you planning a romantic day at the museum? Why not add a photoshoot? Our stunning galleries make the perfect backdrop. 

We’ve spotted everything from engagement shoots and elopements to daytime dates. (If you join us for National Gallery Nights, you can experience a more traditional evening date, too.) 

We spoke to some local photographers who frequent our museum for their shoots. Here are six professional tips for taking stunning pictures with your special someone.

Light streams through the East Building Atrium skylights while Alexander Calder’s hanging mobile and Ellsworth Kelly’s Color Panels for a Large Wall form the backdrop for this couple’s photo by Perscilla Curley.

Perscilla snaps an action shot of a couple strolling through the halls of the West Building.

1. Come to the museum early

The photographers all agreed: come as soon as the National Gallery opens at 10:00 a.m. You’ll avoid having people in your pictures and getting in the way of other visitors. Even better, come on a weekday morning.

A couple shares a smooch in front of the East Building’s terrace windows, framed by David Smith’s Circle I and captured by Perscilla Curley.

Sophie Lasher finds moody, atmospheric light in an alcove on the West Building Ground Floor.

2. Decide on a location

Our campus is big: in addition to the East and West Buildings, there’s also our outdoor Sculpture Garden. It can be hard to cover all that space in one session, so follow our photographers’ guidance to narrow your options.

“The West Building (my personal favorite) looks like a setting from a romantic comedy montage date scene with classical art and gorgeous landscapes. It’s perfect for moody, cinematic photos. The East Building is focused on contemporary art. It has bright lighting and is great for editorial photos.” — Perscilla Curley

Different parts of our buildings have different light. Find the effect that best suits the mood of your photoshoot.

“One of my favorite things to do is create variety through different lighting scenarios. For example, snuggling up next to a window and soaking in the natural light will give your subjects a different glow than they have strolling through the galleries!” — Sophie Lasher

A close-up in front of an abstract painting by Philip Guston in the East Building. Photo by Sophie Lasher.

This pair gazes at one another in front of Claude Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil. Photo by Ashton Sotiro.

3. Connect with art—and each other

Works of art can do more than serve as beautiful backdrops for your photos. They can be a starting point for a pose or a moment to reflect on what you cherish about your partner.

“I encourage my couples to explore and identify pieces of art that they’re drawn to, and then pose them in a way that reflects the mood or style of the art around them. It’s important that I allow my couples to explore their own personality, and let the beautiful space provide them with inspiration.” — Ashton Sotiro

“While going through the museum, look for a of art that reminds you of your partner and tell them why it reminds you of them. During this moment, let your photographer snap away. You will have a sweet moment and a sweet photo to remember it.” — Perscilla Curley

Three prompts for great poses

Photographer duo Dejia and Markus Davis share some amazing ideas for creating emotionally expressive scenes. Flip through the photos to discover their tips.

All photos are by Dejia and Markus Davis. 

Twirl your partner in the middle of the room. 

Pretend you’re on a first date and finally built up the nerve to kiss. 

Dance like no one is looking. 

Dejia and Markus Davis snap a kiss from afar in a West Building stairwell.

A couple rests on a bench in one of the West Building Garden Courts. Photo by Ashton Sotiro.

5. Don't forget the architecture

Nearly every photographer we spoke with emphasized that the architecture of the National Gallery lends itself to some incredible photo opportunities. In particular, staircases make for dramatic frames, as does Leo Villareal’s glittering Multiverse in the Concourse walkway. Don’t forget the West Building Rotunda and Garden Courts. These spaces offer towering ceilings, natural light, and greenery. One photographer recommends taking a long shot with these features.

“It seems counterintuitive to create an intimate moment by putting distance between your subjects, but it leaves room for context and a loving gaze across the distance! A great place to try this is one of the museum’s many beautiful doorways and eye-catching architectural spaces.” — Sophie Lasher

Sophie Lasher captures a couple in the West Building Dutch galleries.

6. Above all, make it a date

Keep it in perspective: the point isn’t just to document your relationship, but to enjoy your romance.  

“Treat your photo session like a date, not just a photoshoot. This is how to get photos that feel authentic to your relationship.” — Perscilla Curley

Discover more romance

Banner image by Perscilla Curley

February 09, 2024