Nicole & Austin

Nicole and Austin love playing cards. When I asked them if they had an idea for a shoot locations, they said they love travel and want to play some cards. Easy enough, right?! With Austin being Italian and us linking onto Nicole’s “we love to travel” comment, Renee Breanne Design (their planner) and I started dreaming up a beautiful European cafe look for them…vibing with an Italian Riviera…at one of our favorite Chicagoland wedding venues The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.

couple kissing on italian terrace


For Nicole to feel good, look good and look the part we needed movement in her dress, a rich fabric and neutral light colors. Since we were going for the Italian Riviera vibe, we wanted to channel a classic 1960s-current look. A white linen dress was a perfect choice. Nicole found this, shared this and sold us on it. For Austin, and all men we work with, we always look to create an approachable, structured look. (Part of our services is styling…always!)

All men look fantastic (guys, listen up here) in a well-fitted sport coat or suit jacket. We recommended a light, neutral (seeing a trend with us and the neutrals?), summer sport coat. Austin found a beautiful linen/cotton blend with a nod to summer seersucker, but the richness of a heavy linen. Loved that sport coat he chose. We paired his look with a couple accessories. A white cotton pocket square and a summer fedora (purchased at a Tulum wedding), because what man from the 60’s went to the Italian Rivera without a fedora. None. That’s how many.  

couple kissing
man in fedora


Working with Villa Terrace for weddings and engagements is a no-brainer. (I’d happily photograph every wedding in Milwaukee at this venue, shh, don’t tell). The beautiful arches, the ironwork, the terracotta, the clay tiled roof…there is quite literally everything to love. But! It’s not a cafe, it’s a decorative arts museum. (here’s a guide I wrote on Great Milwaukee Engagement Locations that you might like and a whole other journal entry about my obsession with Villa Terrace; there’s a lot of Villa in there).

The Villa Terrace courtyard is decorated with iron bistro tables that are as chic as they are sturdy. With a little help from the supportive Villa Terrace staff, we moved the tables from the courtyard, through the ballroom and onto the terrace and set the stage for our scene. 

drink cart with aperol spritz

couple kissing on veranda of italian villa
couple sitting in an italian cafe drinking aperol spritz

The Cards

The week prior to the shoot we spent sometime shopping online for some great “Italian cafe pieces.” First we started with an Italian deck of cards. I jumped onto Amazon and looked for Italian cards that I remembered from high school. Here comes an aside…I went to a Catholic school in the greater Toronto area that may as well have been in Italy (go Hall) – there were so many Italian kids. They all used to play these card games with these attractive cards: Scopa or Brisk (Briscola).

Scopa and Briscola are Italian national card games and I knew I had to have these cards for the shoot. Well surprise! Steph, searching Italian playing cards does not give you the right cards. I ordered two sets and neither were the right ones. Bummer. So all we got was cards with an “Italian” medallion on them and I felt ripped off, but we moved on.

couple playing cards on a balcony overlooking water

cards in man's hands
couple playing cards and drinking aperol spritz

Other Props

In the same Amazon box, we ordered some perfectly coral pink and white striped paper straws for our planned Aperol Spritzs, some bistro table tablecloths and a chalkboard tent for our bistro sign. 

The bistro sign was a bit of a funny (and fun) project. We looked up some Aperol-inspired art on Pinterest and went to town creating our board. I think if we did it again, we’d have added additional details to the sign, but not every cafe has an artist on staff, so we felt confident enough it was authentic to our mock Italian Riviera cafe (we should have named it!).

couple cheersing with aperol spritz

Shoot Day

The day of the shoot, everything was perfect. From her private collection, Renee Breanne Design brought her cocktail cart and all of the most beautiful stage-setting details. Our scene was working up to be perfect. We realized though that cafes have hosts and servers…and while things don’t get passed us too often, this one did. But guess what, when you’re dynamic and a team, you come up with effective solutions quickly. By the time we started shooting, I had Austin escort his riviera-ing fiancee to the bistro table of their choice stage left, while our server conveniently wearing a white dress shirt that day, tied a table cloth around her waist and showed up with her drink cart, ready to take their order in our Luxe Bistro Terrazza. Look out, this part of the shoot looked so authentic, I was dancing around, very very pleased.    

cafe scene in italy


We shot through this scene with a storyline; we always do. This helps engagement couples imagine themselves in a place that,  in turn, allows them to naturally move from poses to actions and movements. Static shoots can be very lame and uncomfortable. My goal as a photographer is to provide the inspiration and direction while the couple interprets in their own way. This gives the couple ideas of what to do, but allows for natural expression and movements that makes a tremendous difference on camera. This is how we get candid images that look perfectly orchestrated without looking posed.

couple kissing behind fedor on italian balcony at cafe
girl shuffling cards in italian cafe with aperol spritz on table

…and Action

First Nicole and Austin had their card game. Nicole won and Renee made drinks for the team. The Aperol Spritz cocktails had their moment of fame and we moved into some chivalry, flirting and ultimately an exit from the cafe and into a riviera engagement walk on the terrace and down the steps, taking in the views from Sopra Mare (learn more about Sopra Mare here) and allowing the day on the rivera to come to an end. 
We absolutely loved this shoot. Here’s what Nicole had to say about it.

Steph went above and beyond for our engagement photos! I simply asked if we could incorporate a card game as a prop to feel more personal to us. Then when we arrived to our session she was setting up a beautiful cafe scene to help elevate the photos.We could not be happier with how they turned out and how easy she was to work with! Now we get to look forward to how she will capture our wedding day!

couple sitting at italian cafe

couple kissing at a cafe

close up of hands while couple kisses
close up of hands while couple kisses
couple flirting on balcony in italy overlooking water

couple walking down stairs at italian villa
couple walking on terrace at italian villa
white and green hydrangea flowers on a large scenic property

couple running on grass at italian villa

couple sitting on iron veranda at italian villa

stone statue by dense green bushes
couple looking at stone statue among dense green bushes
couple kissing by stone statue among dense green bushes

black and white photo of couple walking at italian villa

rose bush on italian property
couple walking on grass with flowers in background

fountain at italian villa

statue of hermes in an italian villa courtyard

couple walking through italian courtyard

couple kissing in arched doorway
couple dancing in arched hallway at italian villa
couple walking in italian courtyard hallway


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