These photo stories are our absolute favorite to blog about. Lisa and Kevin booked us recently as their trusted wedding photographers for their big day next year, but as they were looking through our different creative sessions, they immediately fell in love with our Starry Night Sessions! These sessions are very unique for us and our couples, as we basically travel them to ‘dark-sky places’. These are rare locations around the planet that are so far away from the light-polluting communities and cities that you can look up on a clear night and still see an ancestral starry night above, typically featuring our own milky-way galaxy! I had a chat with Lisa and Kevin to talk about what the session entails, and their sense of adventure was a PERFECT match for this session! They both love to travel, and thought this would be a great excuse to take a vacation while capturing some one-of-a-kind engagement photos with us, while getting a chance to see a natural dark sky for the first time! As soon as they booked, it was time to start planning!
Through Steven’s extensive light pollution research, he recommended Eastern Oregon in the United States as a great location. The scenery in Oregon is incredibly diverse, plus the weather in the summer is MUCH more amenable compared to Florida. Eastern Oregon boasts some of the darkest skies left in the continental United States, and it’s only about 6 hrs away from the closest large city. We agreed this would be the perfect part of the country to explore, so we booked our tickets, hotels, rental car, and packed our bags! Let’s GO!!
We helped Lisa and Kevin establish a relative road map of all the places we must go :). Diversity of the landscape was important, but of course dark skies were a must. We all landed in Portland, and got a good night sleep on the first night after grabbing the rental car, and got ready for travel the next morning! We learned of a delicious breakfast place called Pine State Biscuits when we last captured a conference in Portland, so we fueled up there and got goin!!
We traveled out of Portland onto the Columbia River Scenic Highway, and our first stops were Columbia River Gorge Vista House, and Latourell Falls! This area of Oregon is known for their large and glorious waterfalls nestled in large green forests, which was a great environment for round one of engagement photos! A little hiking was involved, so Lisa and Kevin made sure to carry a change of shoes when we stopped for photo opportunities! This particular waterfall packs a lot of punch on the ground, so we had to keep our distance to keep from getting soaked!
We drove past a few more photo locations until we made it to Hood River, which is a charming small town right on the Columbia River, east of Portland! This was a great pitstop for lunch and supplies, and shout out to the delicious tacos at Love & Hominy Tacos!! Once finished with lunch, we pivoted south and started driving towards the desert region of Oregon! We passed some incredible views of Mt Hood along the way, but it was very apparent that we may have to deal with smoke in our photos. At the time there were some very large wildfires in Western Oregon, so our views were not as clear as they could’ve been. We were so lucky to still get some views of the snow caps and glaciers on Mt Hood, so we stopped at White River to make sure the mountain was center stage. We also met a sweet camper and his dog Scout, so of course cutie Scout had to cameo in a few snaps :).
After stopping in Mt Hood, we bee-lined to our first hotel for the trip, which was By this point, it was starting to get verrrrrry smokey, and Lisa and Kevin were ready for dinner, so we arrived to Bend, checked into our first hotel, Riverhouse on the Deschutes, in Bend, Oregon. Unfortunately, it got very smokey in this area; so much so that we had no chance of a sunset or good looking photos, so we went ahead and called it for the night and enjoyed a relaxing dinner and well-deserved beer at Bend Brewing Company, which was deeelicious!
Riverhouse on the Deschutes actually sits right on the river, and actually made for a great backdrop, and Steven wanted to take advantage of that before hitting the road. We grabbed a few photos in their pine forest landscape, then grabbed breakfast from the hotel before heading out to Eastern Oregon!
OH! And did we mention…when in Bend, make sure you stop at the world’s last Blockbuster video store! You will not regret the nostalgia and souvenir opportunity in there!! Once we started heading east out of Bend, there’s not much to see lol! The environment gets very dry and barren, so it made sense for us to just…drive! Our destination was a very small town called Frenchglen, population of twelve! This town is home to a very charming and historic bed and breakfast, a general store, and some incredible starry nights! This was home for us for the night, so once we unpacked, we drove around the area to get Lisa and Kevin more photo time with us. In general, engagement sessions are a fantastic way for a couple to truly get to know their photographer before the wedding day. Trust, personality, and friendship are so important to have between a couple and their photographer, since so many things can change on the wedding day that will require flexibility and quick thinking. Engagement seshs are a great opportunity to build that friendship and trust, while also getting practical experience posing in front of the camera! Honestly, with Lisa and Kevin, we were already friends by the time we boarded the plane, but Steven still wanted to make sure we schedule plenty of photo time in this session.
Now what also makes the Frenchglen Hotel so special is that they also prepare fresh breakfast and dinners, like a true bed and breakfast! We made sure to be back in time for the dinner bell, and they sure knew how to make us feel at home with that dinner!
Now here was the hard part, dinner was tasty, but this was Starry Night number one, so we had to high-tail it out of there to make it to our first location. We picked the Alvord Desert, which was a first for us. Before the trip, we used a bortle scale map to determine the ‘darkest’ sky spots in the state, and the Alvord Desert sits in the middle of one of them! What’s unique about this location is that once you drive onto the desert, you can pretty much pick any direction you like, and it’s all yours! It’s roughly about 5 miles wide, and 10 miles long, so it’s a very large playground! It was about a 1.5 hr drive from Frenchglen, so we unfortunately didn’t arrive before sunset, but to be honest, arriving in the dark was a pretty surreal and incredible experience. We remember at one point, when Kevin started driving on the desert, he was like yep, this just fulfilled our trip, ‘WORTH IT!’ We could see little spots of light from campervans, campfires, and flashlights in every direction, so we started driving south to get away from them so we’d be left in complete darkness. You need to be away from light to capture these sessions. Once we parked, I had Kevin turn the lights of the car off, and give ourselves a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to darkness. As we do with any Starry Night Session, Steven likes to reveal the night sky with a three-second countdown, so on the count of three, he had everyone look up at the same time, and we LOVED Kevin and Lisa’s reaction. There were more stars than you could count, and the glorious milky was glowing brightly in the sky. Kevin and Lisa noted how the milky way was visible from one end of the horizon all the way to the other. After stargazing for a few minutes, it was time to get to work! Michael and Steven took care of the lighting setup, and we captured a good handful of Starry Night portraits before the smoke started overtaking our sky.
To their knowledge, Lisa and Kevin had never seen a natural night sky this dark, which was so rewarding to us!! Traveling to a true dark sky sanctuary is one of the few remaining opportunities we have to experience now what our ancestors understood in the past! We were SO incredibly lucky that the smoke held off for most of this evening, otherwise we may not have been able to get as much as we did! There’s one detail we have to make sure that people appreciate about these Starry Night images we capture; there is NO photoshop involved. Each one of these photographs is captured in real time, requiring Kevin and Lisa to hold perfectly still as long as they can, so there’s no superimposing here! That is what makes these sessions so special to us; we take couples to an environment that remains naturally pure, something they may never have seen before, and let them stare at it while being photographed in such a unique way!! All the while, we are helping raise awareness to the benefits of reducing light pollution for our wildlife, health, and ability to see and study our own cosmos!
Kevin was very cautious on our drive back to the hotel, as we spotted so much wildlife, including owls, bats, jackrabbits, and deer! At one point, Kevin noticed that a rabbit was running alongside the car, to which he said, “holy crap I’m racing a jackrabbit!”. LOL! We will never forget the memories of this trip! We’ll leave our story here for now, as there’s even more to this Starry Night adventure with Lisa and Kevin. We hope they enjoy this sneak peek so far, more to come soon!