Photography has always been a hobby of mine, so when my kiddos were born, I wanted to make sure we had professional pictures taken regularly. Though I don’t love the process of coordinating all our outfits, deciding on the best location/time, and attempting to make my hair/makeup look put together while chasing my children around a park, I’m always glad I made the effort to do it.
Outdoor photos are especially nice, and Des Moines is lucky to have so many fantastic outdoor locations. But I also feel like EVERYONE decides to take photos in the same few spots: The Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Des Moines Art Center, and Water Works Park.
These are all fantastic locations, but I don’t want my family photos to look exactly like everyone else’s. Raise your hand if you’ve taken photos in the Des Moines Art Center’s Rose Garden.
As we head into the toasty summer months, here are five local photo spots you might not know about.
5 Des Moines Family Photography Spots
Drake University’s Reflecting Pool and Agora
Find it: Located just off of Forest Avenue, across the street from Drake Stadium and nestled near the Cline Hall of Pharmacy and Science and the Herriott Residence hall
This is one of my favorite photo spots in town. I’m a Drake grad and most of my four years on campus were filled with construction, but by my senior year they had completed this beautiful, well-landscaped area off of Helmick Commons complete with a small fountain, reflecting pool, large stone paths, and stone-covered walls and columns.
We’ve done photos here three times: for our wedding, and for each of our boys’ 6 month pictures. I think it has the perfect balance of architectural features, landscaping, and water. There isn’t a ton of shade, so it’s probably best used in early morning or late afternoon/evening light. And if you go during the summer when school isn’t in session, it’s bound to be fairly quiet.
Ewing Park Lilac Arboretum
Find it: 5300 Indianola Ave., Des Moines
Lilacs are my FAVORITE flower, so this Des Moines park is a must-see for me every spring. Peak time for lilacs is late April or early May, but this expansive park has plenty to offer year-round. The park is HUGE, so you can go almost anywhere in it and find your own slice of peace and quiet, which makes it perfect for photos. There are lots of large trees in addition to the lilac bushes to provide plenty of shade no matter the time of day. There are also plenty of benches and a small gazebo that makes an ideal spot for a family picture. I’ve only explored bits and pieces of this park. I’m sure it has a LOT more to offer.
World Food Prize Hall of Laureates and surrounding gardens
Find it: 100 Locust St., Des Moines
The Des Moines Public Library-turned World Food Prize building has been lauded for its restoration, and the exterior gardens are equally impressive. Tall trees along the perimeter help set this garden apart from its bustling downtown location, giving it a bit of a “secret garden” feel. Meandering sidewalks are lined with well-manicured shrubbery and flowers, each leading to well-placed resting areas with fountains, statues, and benches. If you’re into architectural backdrops, the stone of the building itself lends to an interesting backdrop for photos.
The Red Bridge, Downtown Des Moines
Find it: Just south of Court Avenue along the Principal Riverwalk
Formerly the Union Railway bridge built in 1891, this walking bridge was was revamped in 2005, then raised again in 2017. It’s part of the Principal Riverwalk project. It’s a fantastic spot to get photos with an interesting architectural backdrop while enjoying the relaxing sound of the rushing Des Moines River below. You can also snag bits of the city skyline or Capitol Building in the background depending on the angle. It’s another full sun spot, so early morning or evening sun are probably best.
Jester Park Natural Playscape
Find it: 11407 N.W. Jester Park Drive., Granger
This off-the-beaten path spot can be tricky to find. Follow directions to Jester Park, then consult the park map once entering the grounds. It’s worth the trip! It’s a solid 25-minute drive from the North end of town, so leave plenty of time for travel if you’re planning photos here.
The outdoor play area is nestled near the elk and bison herd viewing areas on the north end of the park. Once there you’ll find a beautiful combination of outdoor vistas, careful landscaping, and natural elements like stone and wood. There’s a reflecting pool, several wood arbors, a metal butterfly chair, stone paths/walkways, and so much more. It’s hard to describe, but absolutely worth checking out. It’s currently at the top of my photo-planning location list.