Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
Anyone who’s ever spent time in the Charlottesville area knows how much natural beauty there is here. And no one knows better than natural light photographers like us how incredible this area is for portrait sessions! Of course, our couples are always the subject and main focus of our photography, but a gorgeous backdrop certainly never hurt!
We know that with dozens (maybe even hundreds) of options to choose from, narrowing things down to find the perfect location for you and your special someone can seem impossible. So let us help! We’ve photographed hundreds of portrait sessions at dozens of locations in Central Virginia, but in the last year or so we’ve narrowed in on just ten locations as our absolute favorites. We’ve shot more than 60 engagement and family sessions at just these ten locations alone! So in no particular order, here’s our list of the best Engagement Photoshoot locations in Charlottesville.
James Monroe’s Highland is an absolutely beautiful location that really plays to the natural beauty of Charlottesville. A session here with us will have two prominent features as the backdrop to your photos: the first is wide open fields with panoramic views of the mountains. The second is the long driveway lined with 100-year old trees!
Although Highland asks for a small fee to rent the space for a session, we think that it is absolutely worth it! Our favorite part about Highland is how incredibly accommodating they are when it comes to sessions outside of their business hours, and we’ve developed a great relationship with the team there. During most of our sessions at JMH, we have the entire property to ourselves!
The Market at Grelen serves as a tree nursery and orchard during the week, and doubles as one of Virginia’s premier wedding venues on weekends! Like many of the locations on this list, The Market asks for a rental fee to staff the property when shooting outside of business hours. However, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth in beautiful vistas and sunsets!
There are two general locations on their flagship property: the Market itself and “Bloomfield”, a hilltop ceremony site that features a beautiful old wooden barn and panoramic views of the mountains! Keep in mind when scheduling at Grelen that they’re about 45 minutes from downtown C’ville (further than some of the other locations), and we’ll have to work around their (very busy) wedding schedule.
For the truly adventurous couple, Blackrock Summit is the way to go. The rugged boulder field that fills the summit is perfectly balanced with the rolling mountains in the distance. It’s one of the most breathtaking views that we’ve found in all of Central Virginia!
However, we said adventurous for a reason. The summit is about 1/4 mile from the nearby parking lot, so you and your fiancé should be ready for a brief hike on your way to your session! On the bright side, this location typically isn’t crowded at all, and scheduling a session here is easy, as long as SNP is open to the public. We do ask for a modest travel fee since a session at Blackrock adds 3 hours of travel for us, not to mention the entrance fee!
King Family Vineyards is one of our favorite wedding venues in the area. If you’ve ever dreamed of dancing your way across a wide-open field as a sunset settles over the Blue Ridge Mountains behind you, KFV might just be for you.
King Family also asks for a small session fee, and coordinating with their hours can be tricky in the summer months when the sun sets well after they close. Shooting during their “Wine Wednesday” events are usually the best option during these months since they’re open late!
Raven’s Roost Overlook is another area we highly recommend for a session with a more rugged and adventurous vibe. The beautiful panoramic views and textured rock surfaces make for some very romantic-yet-outdoorsy photos. Since Raven’s Roost is also much closer to C’ville than Blackrock Summit and doesn’t require any hiking, we ask for a much more modest travel fee to shoot near Virginia’s most-photographed tree!
However, its convenience can also be its downfall – it’s become an incredibly popular spot to watch and photograph the sunset, so we often have to work around groups of people, as well as other photographers and couples. We don’t recommend Friday or Saturday evening sessions here for this reason, especially in April, May, September and October!
Nearly 100 years ago, Swannanoa Palace was the closest thing that Virginia had to an Italian Villa! Although close inspection shows that the years haven’t been too kind to the estate, it’s still open for photoshoots by appointment. However, since the site has incredibly high upkeep, they ask for one of the largest sessions fees out of all of these locations.
However, if dramatic views and breathtaking architecture are your thing, this location about 30 minutes from C’ville might be perfect for you two!
Pen Park is a very easy, very accessible spot that has no fee or closing time. We’ve shot engagement sessions there in every single season, and have gotten beautiful results each and every time!
Because it’s a park, we may have to work around groups of people who are already there, so it isn’t the best option if privacy is important to you. However, it’s still a great option for sessions, and our favorite location within the city itself.
If you have any connection to the University of Virginia, we don’t have to tell you how special the Lawn is. Like all the other free options, it can sometimes be a bit crowded, depending on the time of day and time of year (especially while students are in town Sept-Nov and Feb-May).
However, even in the busiest of seasons, the gardens lend some privacy on an otherwise crowded evening! Because the Lawn is open to the public, it’s another location that’s easy to schedule for, especially outside of the academic year.
Although Boar’s Head Resort is our most recent discovery on this list, it’s a really unique place to shoot! Along with the classic open-field vibe found in many of our other sessions, there’s also fields of tall grass and water features to add a little something extra to your session.
Boar’s Head is another location that doesn’t ask for a shooting fee, and is totally flexible with their shooting. Because of that, it’s quickly become one of our more popular shooting locations!
If you’ve ever visited Barboursville Vineyards before, you know that there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in Virginia. The Jeffersonian ruins lend a rugged elegance to the photos, but there’s also plenty of natural beauty to be seen!
Barboursville is a great option for history buffs, wine lovers, and anyone who wants a really unique feel to their photos. They’re also SO easy to work with and – just like Highland at the top of this list – are often gracious enough to give us the run of their venue during a session, but with no venue fee!
If you have any questions about any of these locations, or would like to talk with us about scheduling your own Charlottesville Engagement Session, click here to contact us! Thanks for reading 😊