Marissa + Nico | Joyful Lake Merritt & in-home LGBTQ+ engagement

July 23, 2019
sweet lake merritt oakland LGBTQ engaged couple by pergola

Originally published on Equally Wed alongside wedding images from Studio XIII Photography.

featured on equally wed blog

The story

“I am a trans guy with a beautiful lesbian girlfriend.” – Nico in his email replying to my Facebook ad, seeking trans love stories & education.

Marissa (lesbian; she/ her) and Nico (transgender man; he/ him) are an Oakland couple with a LOT of heart. I met these two beautiful souls while I was doing this personal project to connect intentionally with a couple where at least one of the parties identifies as trans.

I couldn’t have been happier to meet these two back in February 2018.

We sat down for coffee at Farley’s East in Oakland and the couple happily chatted away about so many aspects of their story. How they met, became aware of each other, meeting each other’s families, the unique challenges they face and joys they share.

Since meeting we’ve had coloring-in sessions by the lake and shared a few meals together, including at their home which was so special.

Nico and Marissa met doing what they love most: giving back to their community. Nico was looking for volunteer opportunities and came across HYPE: Horizons Young Professionals for Equality. HYPE is a community of queer young professionals that aims to make philanthropy fun, accessible, and easy.

At the time, Marissa was chairing HYPE, and they met for coffee to talk about Nico getting involved. Nico instantly fell in love with Marissa’s brilliance and dedication to social justice. They became close friends and leaned on one another during the difficult times of the 2016 election.

Soon after, Nico asked Marissa on a date to the theater to see the Lion King. That night, they talked for hours about their goals and aspirations. Since then they have been pursuing those goals together as a couple.

The proposal

The couple got engaged in New Orleans at Funding Forward, an annual conference of Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

They were at the famous Nola music institution, Vaughan’s. It happened to be one of Marissa’s favorite places in the world, and the couple had been there many times together while in New Orleans. Marissa says Vaughan’s changed her life and deepened her love for music immeasurably.

Nico got on the microphone in front of everyone and asked Marissa if she would let Vaughan’s change her life once again. And she said yes!

For Marissa and Nico, being in love and saying yes isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a lifelong affirmation and I’ve seen in my interactions with them how they seek ways to renew their love.

One of the many ways is with a story book that Nico produced for Marissa. It is filled with pictures and talks about how much Nico loves Marissa and the personal and unique details of their relationship.

The couple hopes that one day they will read this sweet book to their children.

The shoots

We shot in two parts over two separate days. The first was in Oakland by Lake Merritt. We started out at the Gardens at Lake Merritt – a beautiful and not very well-known secluded garden. It also has the most beautiful bonsai garden!

We used the giant palm fronds and the stunning cactus garden as backdrops for Marissa and Nico’s love. I also love emphasizing the grandeur of nature by using a wide lens and getting my subjects quite tiny in the frame. I also mix in some more intimate photos too, of course.

We stumbled upon various cool locations around Lake Merritt and ended up near the Pergola. A mixture of some careful planning, some scouting finds and some random, serendipitous settings. Just the way I like it!

The light was so beautiful that day, and these two were full of laughs! I barely needed to make them laugh – they entertained each other so authentically. Meant to be! Their arms were just made for one another =)

For the in-home portion of the shoot, we started out in the kitchen with a couple of different activities – chopping vegetables/ meal prep and cooking being one, and flower arranging being the other activity.

It gave them something to do while I snapped away at the two of them who are utterly un-selfconscious.

A few more pictures on the couch, as they caressed and chatted and, naturally, made each other laugh. I asked them to swap poses which I often do with LGBTQ+ couples, making sure they are comfortable being in the role they’re in. I try not to put them into ‘gendered’ poses at all.

Then in the bedroom they leafed through the book that Nico made, and you can see how many giggles it elicited! Nico makes Marissa laugh so much, it’s incredibly cute to see!

The couple tied the knot just a couple of months later as they knew they didn’t want a long engagement. Everything about this couple speaks of a shared passion to help others, compassion, unbridled joy, constant fun as well as practicality, mutuality and a deep respect.

Marissa and Nico it was an absolute joy getting to know you and photographing your beautiful queer engagement! I am so glad you were intrigued by my ad enough to let me ask my questions and take your engagement pictures!! Thank you so much for opening up and letting me into your world in way that was vulnerable, brave and beautiful.


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Looking for an LGBTQ-friendly Bay Area engagement photographer? Thinking about doing an in-home engagement session, or combining it with your favorite locations near your home? I travel all over San Francisco & beyond for engagement sessions and weddings, and I shoot all love.

If Oakland is your jam, I have a guide to my fave engagement shoot locations to help spark ideas.  I’ve photographed all over the Bay on beaches, in forests, ice cream parlors, formal gardens, in the middle of the road, in homes, windswept mountains, rivers and valleys. Let’s chat about where your story will take us!

PS Want to read more about the whole process of booking & preparing for your engagement shoot? My short guide is here! Get in touch to receive my up-to-date pricing guide & full information.



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Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco-based wedding photographer & fine art graduate originally from London. She specializes in photographing intimate weddings for joyful, free-thinking couples. Zoe creates raw, personal images that evoke a range of emotions, combining documentary photography with a stylized edge. Her work has been published on Offbeat Bride, Equally Wed, Catalyst Wed Co, Love Inc Mag among others. She adores simplicity, kindness & Earl Grey. Zoe is an equality-minded vendor that celebrates diversity in all its forms. Read more about Zoe here