El Matador Beach Engagement Session - Malibu, CA - Hillary + Ethan


Growing up in a suburb of the north-metro-Atlanta area in Georgia, I was always ecstatic to visit the place my mom grew up - Savannah, Georgia. Every summer we went to Savannah and the nearby “don’t blink and you’ll miss it” island of Tybee where many of my great grandparents, aunts, and uncles once lived. I can recall so many summer days eating calamari at Fanny’s, grabbing ice cream on the pier, and walking down River Street. When I was about six, my aunt moved to California and soon after my mom, my sister, and I flew all the way across the country to come visit. When we arrived in California I was awestruck and immediately wanted to go to the beach! Despite it being super cold, I was convinced that if we got close enough to the beach that we’d be warm. After all, that’s pretty much the way it goes in the southeast! My little six year old brain nearly exploded when the surf of the Pacific ocean sprayed me in chilly water, and I still remember climbing up massive rocks, trailing behind my aunt and my sister. I have no idea which beach we visited - to be honest, I think we were in Santa Barbara. But the rocky beach and the cool water are something that still take me a little by surprise when I visit California beaches. Malibu - especially El Matador Beach - reminds me of my childhood adventure + the awe, wonder, and disbelief. It still gives me goosebumps to think about! It’s always so much fun to do El Matador Engagement Sessions because of the truly unique qualities about this spot. Photoshoots are popular here because it feels at once intense and peaceful, dramatic and ethereal, edgy and romantic. When I got started talking to Hillary + Ethan about their engagement shoot, they immediately knew El Matador was the place they wanted to do their photos and I was more than happy to oblige!

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El Matador is one of the three beaches that comprise the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach located on the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s gorgeous bluffs, coves, and arches draw hundreds of visitors each day. On the day of Hillary and Ethan’s engagement shoot, it was particularly crowded! On this warm summer day, families, couples, and friends covered what seemed like every square foot of sand. In LA, shooting at crowded locations is something I’m extremely used to (here’s a shoot I did at Griffith Observatory on a packed day when they had a telescope event!) it’s all a matter of maneuvering angles around the crowds to still provide an intimate experience. Ethan + Hillary were TOTAL CHAMPS! The water threatened to wash us all the way to Catalina Island . They got pretty soaked, and the wind seemed to be turned ALLLL the way up. But the key is focusing on each other - as long as you can tune out the crowds + a little chaos from mother nature, focus on letting your guard down — you’ll have a good time, and the photos will look great.

First we started off down along the coves and arches that El Matador is known for! These are super fun to explore for kids + adults alike -- and the photographers that accompany them! In addition to recreational beachgoers there are usually at least a handful of photographers visiting, so getting a spot at one of the coveted coves can be a little tricky + require some patience. We continued walking along the beach + I love the shots I got of the couple here, just walking and playing with each other.

We continued exploring the beach and had a really fun time - even with the wave-dodging and getting a little splashed (or a lot splashed). Before we headed up to shoot on the bluffs, we shot a bit on a blanket the couple brought from home with two of their favorite wine glasses and a special wine bottle momento from their proposal.

We did the second half of the shoot up above the water on the bluffs. I loved getting a mix of dancing, laughing, goofy and serious shots during this part! Ethan’s shirt echoed the sunset behind them and Hillary’s dress showed motion when they danced, plus the bold pattern really popped against the pastels in the background! These are great outfits to wear for an engagement shoot because they’re flattering, the couple looks super confident (and HAWT!) and they look like they paired them intentionally while still having a nice contrast in color + texture. 

At the end of the session, I asked if we could have a ten second goofy dance party, to which they IMMEDIATELY said YES! These are some of my favorites from the whole shoot! I always include at least a handful of shots that I think the couple will find funny -- even if I’m not sure anyone else will ever see them. In this case I was 100% wrong -- Hillary and Ethan used one of these shots on their Save-The-Dates and it made my heart SO happy!!! They even sent me on in the mail + OBVIOUSLY I had to put it on my fridge (right next to my dog’s doggy daycare report cards and a Hungarian blessing from my mother-in-law). I 1000% am so stoked to shoot their wedding next year - if it’s half as fun as their engagement session I know we’ll have a great time + honestly I just wanna see more of these dance moves at the reception!!!


I always come prepared to help make clients feel comfortable during their shoot (most clients even leave telling me it felt like hanging out with an old friend!) but here are three of my top tips for rocking your shoot if you’re planning an engagement session!

A few things to keep in mind for shooting at El Matador Beach:

  1. State Beaches typically require photography permits

  2. Parking can be limited - there is a small lot at El Matador, and additional parking can be found on PCH. Plan for extra time to find a space!

  3. Restrooms are limited - there are a few porta-potty style bathrooms, but I recommend changing in the car if you’re able/comfortable doing so instead. There will likely be other people on the beach! Especially so on weekends and around sunset. Don’t stress about 

  4. it though because you won’t be the only one having your photo taken!

  5. Alcohol is technically not allowed at El Matador Beach (but there are a few restaurants a few miles away if you want to pre-game!)

  6. The wind + the water can be kind of intense because El Matador has a kind of cove-like quality where the water comes all the way up to the rock. At high tide, there’s few spots you can go without getting wet! Plan your shoot not only around lighting, but around the tides too! 

Are you ready for your own El Matador Engagement Session? Contact me today and let’s get started!

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