One of my favorite formats for intimate weddings looks like this:
Sunrise first-look in Shenandoah National Park followed by an intimate evening ceremony and reception with your closest friends and family.
That was the plan for Ciera and Harrison’s wedding: Shenandoah National Park first-look, then a reception at the Wool Factory in Charlottesville.
But the weather had other ideas.
Rainfall at sunrise is pretty unusual in Central Virginia, but it does happen.
More commonly, it’ll rain overnight, take a break in the wee hours of the morning, and then start again around 9 or 10.
I always tell people you’re more likely to get fog than rain in the morning, and rain than fog in the afternoon.
But Ciera and Harrison were two of the “lucky” few who ended up with a 98% chance of heavy rain all night and all morning.
So, the day before their wedding, I called Ciera with this observation, “There’s really no point in getting up at sunrise if you aren’t going to get a sunrise and will just get wet.” So we made a new plan.
Instead of splitting their coverage into two sections (AM and PM with a break in the middle) we shifted to continuous coverage, starting at around noon.
A note about split coverage: if you book 6-8 hours with me for your intimate wedding or elopement I am happy to accommodate splitting that time in order for us to take advantage of the loveliness of both sunrise and sunset. I should add that I am among a minority of photographers who do this – most photographers prefer to schedule one continuous time frame. But I really love capturing the best possible natural light, so I like to offer my clients the possibility of split coverage.
In addition, when you are planning a wedding that includes an adventure component, splitting your coverage kind of hedges your bets.
The weather is rarely the same at sunrise and sunset in Central Virginia. So whatever you get in the morning will likely be different in the evening. For instance, on Ciera and Harrison’s wedding day it was absolutely pouring at 6 am, but was bright and sunny and lovely at 6 pm.
Anytime you are venturing out into a national park as part of your wedding day, you’re going to have to view it as a bit of an adventure. And you may have to be flexible with either the timeline or the location if weather doesn’t cooperate.
Just remember that whatever happens is part of your story. And that story is beautiful and, as your photographer, I will tell it beautifully no matter what.
And sometimes being flexible helps things fall into place.
That happened in this case.
After raining HARD all morning, it stopped raining just as we headed to the park.
In fact, it totally cleared up leaving behind big, puffy clouds with sun streaming through.
It was beautiful.
Harrison came to the park already dressed. But Ciera put on her gown by their truck and then walked out to see her groom-to-be for the first time.
We started at Baldface Mountain Overlook. This is one of my favorite spots on Skyline Drive. It features a large, flatish rock that can be used for portraits, a ceremony or, in their case, first-look.
We had been planning on doing a hike, but honestly I’m glad we didn’t, because Ciera’s dress would have been a little hard to hike in.
Instead we drove down Skyline Drive stopping at several overlooks. We also ventured into a picnic area to take advantage of the fall foliage.
All in all, they had about 20 guests and rented a beautiful Airbnb in Afton for the group. This rental includes a farmhouse and two cottages that can either be rented together or separately.
After their first-look, we drove back to the property to get ready for their ceremony. The morning in Shenandoah left Ciera’s dress somewhat wet, but Ciera and her mom solved that problem with a hairdryer.
Sarah Canon, owner of Makeup by SAC, twisted Ciera’s hair into a new updo and her mom and sisters helped her get dressed again.
Meanwhile Harrison hung out with his friends and family in the kitchen.
Even if you are planning a smaller wedding, you can still include any traditions you want in your day. Ciera chose to do a first-look with her dad. She wrote him a letter and they were able to share a moment together before the ceremony.
They held the ceremony in a field beside the farmhouse with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. There was no setup, just the family in a semicircle around the couple. A friend officiated. Ciera’s dad walked her from the house down the long “aisle” of open field and to Harrison.
They exchanged vows, rings and cheered.
Afterward, we took family formal photos and ended with a few more couples portraits before heading into Charlottesville for their reception at The Wool Factory.
The Wool Factory is a newer venue in Charlottesville. It features two upscale restaurants and event spaces that can accommodate groups from 20 to 350. An onsite ceremony space can accommodate 220.
The vibe is “industrial,” featuring exposed brick and beautiful, large, original windows.
Ciera and Harrison rented “the workshop upstairs” for a lovely reception centering around a special dinner.
They began with first dances. First Ciera and Harrison, then a father-daughter dance and finally a mother-son dance.
The Best Man and Ciera’s sisters both gave toasts. Her grandfather had written a poem when she was born and her mom added onto it for her wedding day. Everyone cried.
Then they cut the cake as well as a groom’s pie.
They ended the night with a delicious multi-course meal from the chefs at the Wool Factory.
The Ultimate Small Wedding Planning Guide and Checklist