Shenandoah National Park is full of beautiful hikes, but Mary’s Rock is one of my favorites. It’s beautiful for both sunrise and sunset, but you don’t have to get on Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway to access it so it’s a great option for late fall-early spring engagement or couples sessions. (Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway often close due to snow and ice in the winter and into mid-spring.)
It also boasts a nice flat area at the top and would make a beautiful spot for a hiking elopement with up to 10 guests. It is moderately difficult, though, so I generally only recommend it to couples who are already pretty active or are up for the challenge.
It’s also a pretty popular hike in the summer so once we get past March it’s a better choice for sunrise or the weekday than sunset so you don’t have to share the spot with a bunch of through hikers (it’s right off the Appalachian Trail) or families!
I met both Briana and Brian in middle school. Brian and I ran cross-country together and Briana and I went to a week-long wilderness camp when we were about 13, but it’s been years since I’ve seen either one of them. It’s always surreal for me to reconnect with people from a past life — especially two who’ve I met separately and are now together!
Most people are pretty nervous about their engagement photos — being in front of the camera is kind of a weird experience. So I like to start shoots by taking some wider angle shots, directing the couple to walk towards me or along the ridge line and letting them get comfortable before I move in closer. Throughout the shoot, I generally start wide and move in close and then out again, taking a variety of angles of the same pose or prompt, which allows for different light, vibes, and variety even if we are only shooting at one location!
Weather in early spring can be unpredictable — especially in the mountains, but its unpredictability also makes for varied light conditions and photographs. On one day, the same spot can be filled with golden light, on another, puffy clouds fill the horizon, on another intermittent rain has caused fog to fill the valley. So even if I’ve shot at a location many, many times before, weather and time of year always makes it different.
For Briana and Brian’s engagement, we got some beautiful classic golden light for sunset. Because the light filters through the rocks at the summit, before the sun goes down, light at the top can be quite contrasty as seen in the earlier photos. But once the sun sets, there’s about 15-20 minutes of even, warm light that is some of my favorite to play with.
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