Where to Stay When You Want an In-Home Session in the Shenandoah Valley

In-home engagement session with dogs. Charlottesville Virginia wedding photographer

Hannah and Russell’s In-Home Session + Dogs

At the beginning of summer, my husband Austin and I drove over to Lexington, Kentucky, with our four dogs. The real purpose of the trip was to photograph Hannah and Russell’s in-home engagement session. But en route we stopped at a Kentucky state park we’d never been to, did some swimming in the lake, hiked around and then headed downtown to the Distillery District to sample some beer (Austin) and locally made ice cream (me), eat tacos from a food truck, and get dinner at a local restaurant. 

When we travel, we pretty much have two main objectives: find new outdoor spaces to explore and eat from as many locally-owned restaurants as possible. We discovered Lexington offers  amazing options for both of these goals – we’ll definitely return there!

After tacos and ice cream, Austin dropped me off at the home Russell and Hannah have renovated together while he took the dogs to a multi-acre dog park for an additional romp.  

Russell and Hannah are big music people -- Russell comes from a long line of bluegrass musicians and is an incredible banjo player himself. So their session featured music, wine sipping, and two pups, Miles and Dewey, who tried to crash as many shots as possible. 

What if I want an in-home session…NOT in my home?

I shoot a lot of in-home sessions in the winter, but they are great at any season. They’re good options for couples with dogs or other pets, because these family members are most comfortable in their own environment with few distractions. 

In-home sessions are also really good options to celebrate anniversaries or for people who are nervous about being photographed out in public where they might have an audience. 

One worry I hear often:  What if my home isn’t pretty? 

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. In-home sessions are really about capturing a relationship. I tend to shoot pretty tight and work primarily in one room with the best natural light and the least amount of clutter. 

But if you want the feel of an in-home session without the chaos of being in your actual home, consider renting a VRBO or airbnb and making a long weekend out of it. There are all kinds of magical spaces available. 

Picking a Vacation Rental for Your In-Home Session

A few things to consider when picking a vacation rental that you want to use for your in-home session: 

  1. Does the space have a lot of natural light? 

  2. Is the inside mostly wood paneling? (Wood paneling can throw an orange glow on light-colored skin in particular that isn’t super flattering.) Painted walls are a better choice -- preferably painted with neutral colors like cream, grey or soft blue. 

  3. Does the rental have a “no visitors” policy? Some don’t want outside guests on property even for a couple hours, so it’s best to check before you book. 

  4. If you are booking in the winter, are there ever any access issues to the property in the event of snow?

  5. If you are hoping to bring one or more pets, does the owner allow them? Many don’t, so make sure you check!

Here are a few unique spaces that would be AWESOME for in-home sessions that I’ve found near Shenandoah National Park -- one of the locations I shoot at the most. These properties would also work well for couples eloping and looking for a place to stay for a long weekend =). I didn’t go digging for it, but a few on this list do permit pets and others it would be worth asking about if you fall in love with the location. 

Shenandoah National Park -- South Entrance (Charlottesville/Waynesboro)

If stone cottages that look like they might belong in Europe somewhere are your thing, check out this fairytale vacation rental for two near the south entrance to Shenandoah National Park https://bit.ly/2Z7B1SI

If you’re looking for a luxury experience with a view, the Iris Inn in Waynesboro has some gorgeous new cabins with BEAUTIFUL natural light. You can check out some recent photos of those cabins at this Airbnb listing https://bit.ly/2ZalyRP, or view the older video on their website  dating to the time they were first being built. 

Looking for a rustic experience that still includes running water and AC? You might want to consider a night or two in a yurt! https://bit.ly/2Pa6LSR

This is the only town-located lodging I’m including on this list, but the boho decorating vibes in this apartment are so on point, it’s well worth considering if lots of color is your jam. https://bit.ly/2HjJYxy

Shenandoah National Park -- Central District (where I shoot most of the sessions for my clients coming from Richmond, Washington, DC or NOVA)

If you’re fascinated by tiny homes, you might want to check out The Getaway -- a vacation rental company that has properties up and down the east coast, including Stanardsville, Virginia, near the Swift Run entrance to Shenandoah National Park. These adorable container-type rental properties are dog friendly (for a fee) and include all of the essentials you need for an awesome weekend away. https://bit.ly/2sTojor

I know I put a yurt in the section above, but this one is too cute not to include as well! This is a working farm that advertises: “Yurt. Goats. Mountains!” If that doesn’t make you want to take a look, then maybe the pool and hot tub will. https://bit.ly/2L5v8LU

Ever wanted to stay in a treehouse? This one is situated on Massanutten Mountain and features views of the Blue Ridge, a wood-fired stove, and a little more of a “rustic” and eco-friendly feel. https://bit.ly/2U4G4Ol 

This place may be on the large side for two people, but it has been beautifully renovated, has an amazing upper deck to watch the sunset on, tons of natural light, and would be an amazing place to kick back if you’re looking for a self-sustaining getaway with a kitchen that’s close to several hiking areas. https://bit.ly/31ZKkBs 

Finally, this list would be incomplete without including this Airstream rental. This spot isn’t available in the winter,  but in milder seasons it would be fun, funky way to relax on a working farm. https://bit.ly/2PabaoS 

George Washington National Forest

I’m making a section just for this cabin because it features a full wall of glass and I’m obsessed with it. It’s just over the border in West Virginia and is pretty secluded, but it is GORGEOUS and does allow pets on a case-by-case basis. https://bit.ly/2Pa9RGt