With her June wedding fast approaching, Renay Dossick, like most brides-to-be, still has a long to-do list: send out invitations, get her gown fitted, and finalize her reception menu at the Ritz-Carlton. And like many grooms-to-be, Dossick's fiance, Scott Shaw, hasn't taken much interest in the details of their impending nuptials.
That is, until football entered the mix.
Shaw, 31, of Old City, is a diehard Eagles fan who hasn't missed a home game since he was a teenager. So when he discovered it was possible to take engagement photos at Lincoln Financial Field - for a $50 donation to the Eagles Youth Partnership - wedding planning suddenly became a lot more appealing.
"I've always hated taking photos," said Shaw, a certified financial planner. "But when I found out about people taking engagement pictures in their hometown stadium, I said 'We've got to go to the Linc.' "
Adieu, LOVE statue and Fairmount Park. So long, Rittenhouse Square and Boathouse Row. Everything about engagement photo sessions - from location to subject to style - is changing from traditional to original. Instead of kissing for the camera under a tree, marrieds-to-be are doing their thing in any number of places. And they don't include a fountain.
Sure, the iconic Philadelphia sites still rank high as photo settings, said Mark Kingsdorf, owner of the Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants in East Falls. "But today a lot of people want things to be more fun and personalized."
That means anything goes: sports stadiums, the gym, grocery stores, amusement parks, subway stations, golf courses, movie theaters, ski slopes, and even prisons. In many cases, the venues are charging for it.
Rebecca Barger, the Jenkintown-based wedding photojournalist who took photos of Dossick and Shaw last month, said she's seen clients become more creative in the last couple of years, and today about half of her couples want to talk about original ideas for engagement shoots.
"Years ago the engagement photo was the standard black-and-white mug shot . . . but nowadays people look at it like a mini love story using photographic images," she said. "Everyone wants their love documented. It somehow makes it more concrete."
One popular destination is Eastern State Penitentiary, where $125 buys an hour of time for an engagement photo shoot that gives new meaning to "the old ball and chain."
It's not clear what, if any, metaphor for marriage might be suggested by having your engagement pictures taken at an abandoned prison. But the backdrops at Eastern State are strangely beautiful, said Brett Bertolino, assistant program director for operations and special events at the Fairmount historic site.
"When you think about places to take your engagement photos, I don't think prison comes to mind," Bertolino said. "But Eastern State is really photogenic. There are 1,200 skylights, and the walls have lots of texture and color. It's the type of thing a Hollywood set builder would try to re-create."
Barger recently shot Danielle Kriger and her fiance, Mark Van Wert, at Citizens Bank Park, where more than a dozen couples each month pay $250 - in addition to photographer fees - to spend about an hour at the ballpark on a non-game day. Availability of the venue for engagement photos has spread quickly by word-of-mouth, said Kristin Zeller, coordinator of special events for the Phillies.
"It wasn't something we advertised or even thought of until someone called and asked if it would be possible," Zeller said. "But photographers are now recommending it to people, and we've been doing it a lot lately, maybe because people are excited about the season and the team."
Kriger, 23, of Somerton, said she and her fiance attend Phillies games together each Sunday and went to the World Series last fall. "We've dated since high school, and this has always been our common ground," said Kriger, who works in health administration.
Their wedding is not until March, but the couple wanted professional photos to use in a slideshow for their recent engagement party. They were nervous at the start of the session, but soon loosened up and enjoyed themselves. "And that's just what we wanted to do - capture a fun moment at the beginning of the rest of our lives."
Mike Allebach of Allebach Photography in West Norriton said these moments are best captured at any place where couples can freely express themselves. He recently did a session at the Trocadero Theatre using an LED flashlight to make the photos resemble a promo shoot for a heavy-metal band. Another bride and groom on his calendar are planning a pillow fight, complete with feathers flying.
"There is a whole subculture now that has sprung up around this idea of just doing your wedding your own way and not having to follow tradition necessarily," Allebach said.
Sometimes that means taking nontraditional photos in traditional places, said Pete Malone of 217 Photography in Langhorne.
"A lot of couples still want to do the standard poses in front of a pink flowering tree or at the Art Museum, and their families want that, too, so I try to do it in unique ways," Malone said. "You can shoot at the Art Museum for hours and hours and never see the Art Museum."
Likewise, Erica Siciliano, 33, said she wanted to capture the fact that she was getting married in the city where she grew up, but "without doing those cheesy City Hall shots."
So Barger shot photos of Siciliano and her now-husband, Jeff Slonis, that emphasize the darker gothic elements of the building, as well as taking gritty urban photos near Dumpsters in dirty alleys and in front of graffiti on shadowy subway steps.
"I wanted something timeless that I would actually like from an artistic standpoint," said Siciliano, a makeup artist and director of training for MAC Cosmetics in New York.
Bride-to-be Teresa Kelly said she was also turned off by the idea of conventional engagement photos. "I was looking at pictures of people kissing under trees, and I knew I would feel totally stupid doing something like that," Kelly said. "There will be enough pictures at the wedding of us smiling at each other, so I wanted something fun for our future kids and grandkids to enjoy."
Kelly and her fiance, Chris Smith, spent a recent afternoon with wedding photographer Joy Moody as they did what they do together on a typical weekend - shopping for wine and produce at Reading Terminal Market and cooking dinner at their historic family home in Fairmount. Then Kelly put on a cocktail dress, while Smith donned his cycling gear, and they took a stroll through the neighborhood with their beagle and Moody's camera in tow.
"It was cool to be in their space and their comfort zone," said Moody, who will shoot the couple's wedding at the Omni Hotel at Independence Park next month. "I know so much more about these two people because I spent the afternoon with them."
Photographers agree that regardless of location, the most important aspect of these sessions is the opportunity they afford to build a relationship with the bride and groom before the big day.
"I want that hour with my clients for us to get to know each other and to see how they react in front of the camera," Allebach said. "That way on the wedding day I know what to expect, and they are used to me snapping away."