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Michaela & Casey’s Engagement Portraits at Patuxent Research Refuge

An engaged couple is standing in the middle of a field with trees in the background, capturing stunning engagement portraits at Patuxent Research Refuge.

Michaela and Casey’s engagement session turned out to be an adventure in itself, marked by a bit of serendipity and a lot of patience. Finding me for their (then) upcoming wedding through a simple Google search, they weren’t initially keen on an engagement shoot. But as the wedding day approached, Michaela felt it might help ease her into being the center of attention on her big day — she’s was right and this is exactly why you should do an engagement session, even if you don’t think you actually care about those photos. I digress though.

Michaela & Casey’s deep-rooted connection as high school sweethearts was obvious, giving a natural rhythm to their interactions and a fun effortless tone to moving through different arrangements.

Our first plan was to have the session at McCrillis Gardens in Bethesda. However, the weather had other ideas. Twice we had to reschedule due to rain, which was a bit frustrating but also added to the anticipation. For our second attempt, I suggested switching to the Patuxent Research Refuge, thinking its more open skies would offer better lighting than the dense canopy at McCrillis Gardens. Ironically it rained again anyway, even as we were heading to the session, leading to another reschedule.

When the day finally arrived, it seemed all our patience paid off. The weather was mild, and the sky conditions around sunset were just right. Meeting outside the main visitor’s center at Patuxent, in an area of the parking lot covered in solar panels, we were all in high spirits. Since Patuxent is first and foremost an active research facility and its primary function is not for the recreational enjoyment of visitors, we took extra care to respect for the location and the wildlife.

We began our session near the visitor’s center, strolling through the natural butterfly garden, and then ventured around a meadow of tall grass. Staying mostly on the stone pathways was a practical choice, keeping us clear of the late summer wildlife and insects. There were moments, like when we paused for shots on benches, where the beauty of Patuxent’s nature-centric aesthetic really shone through.

One image that particularly stood out to me was of Michaela lounging on a bench, framed by the natural field of tall grass. The low sun sliced across her long red hair, highlighting her striking eyes. Casey, with his medium build and dark curly undercut, complemented her perfectly in every shot. Their shared interests in nerd culture, live video games and anime, adding an undercurrent of playfulness to their interactions.

We wrapped up in the butterfly garden, dotted with yellow flowers and sunbathed trees just starting to show signs of fall. With the area now enjoying the soft shadows of the tree line, I captured them standing in the spacious footpaths, but used an angle that created the illusion they were waist-deep in a meadow of flowery tall grass. It was a fitting end to a session – not just through a physical space, but through the various stages of planning, rescheduling, and finally, capturing moments of love and companionship under the perfect sky. I think this session turned out to be a lot more than just a day to practice.