Virginia Wedding Photographer | Sunrise Adventure Session in the Desert


I flew out to Phoenix in mid-April for a journalism conference. While there, I decided to stay on East Coast time and schedule several sunrise shoots so I could take advantage of the beautiful desert terrain that’s so different from what we see here in the Shenandoah Valley or central West Virginia.

Kat and Zane are cousins of a former colleague. After a conference dinner one day, Kat picked me up and drove me to her home in Buckeye about an hour outside Phoenix, where she and Zane are building a little farmette complete with three dogs, chickens, horses and lots and lots of saguaros.

We got up early the next morning and walked down their country lane to open land overseen by the White Mountains. Desert sunrises are beautiful. The dusty earth reflects light back, though, meaning that it gets bright very quickly — most of the session needs to happen in the 30 minutes before the sun rises and 10-15 minutes after. Mind you, that’s often how I do sunrise sessions anyway. But in the Shenandoah Valley, when the sun gets too high, we can just seek open shade. Obviously, there’s not a lot of shade in Arizona.

As I do more and more adventure sessions, I’ve begun to come up with a mental guide for things that work well and things that don’t. A few thoughts about clothing:

  • Flowing dresses are awesome and photograph really well, but you don’t have to wear one. I kind of love that Kat didn’t in this session. It made it a lot more casual and representative of how they would dress if they were just trekking around their property on a normal day.

  • Please women, for the love of all that is holy, wear flats. You can pair sandals or cute tennis shoes or ballet flats with dresses and these are so much more functional than heels or wedges when you are dealing with terrain that might include dust, rocks, uneven walking areas and scrambling. If you really do love those heels,wear them for only a few shots.These will by default have to be a little more posed since walking in them isn’t advised, or maybe even safe, on the top of a mountain or by a riverbank.

  • Sunrise is going to be colder than the rest of the day, especially up in the mountains. It’s also probably going to be windy. Unless we are in the height of summer I strongly advise bringing a coat to warm yourself up between shots or a blanket to snuggle in. It’s also nice to have a blanket to sit on for some shots.

  • No neon colors - please. Muted colors photograph better in general. Also try to stay away from big logos or graphic T-shirts.

  • Finally make sure you are dressing on the same “level” as one another. If one of you is wearing leggings and a t-shirt, then the other will look strange in dress pants and a button up.

If you want to plan an adventure session of your own, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I only have one more weekend available before mid-July!