Adventurous Maternity Session in Shenandoah National Park

Adventurous sunrise maternity session in Shenandoah National Park. Sami and Joe hike Blackrock Summit — a beautiful hike off of Skyline Drive near Charlottesville.

I don’t shoot a ton of maternity, family or newborn sessions, but occasionally I’ll take them on with the caveat that I still won’t do a lot of posing. Instead, we focus on what I always try and focus on -- relationships, environment and drawing out authentic interactions. 

Sami and Joe are trying to visit every national park. She decided that she’d like to do her maternity photos while on their babymoon to Shenandoah National Park this summer and got in touch for some adventurous maternity photos. 

We picked a location off Skyline Drive that has beautiful views but isn’t terribly hard to hike to. However, the summit is pretty rocky and does require some scrambling. Fortunately, Sami and Joe are troopers and I had actually shot an engagement session at this location the week before, so we were able to navigate the terrain relatively easily.  

Sami originally wanted waterfalls for her maternity photos, but I had concerns about trying to navigate wet rocks while both of us were pregnant (I was 37 weeks at the shoot and she was 32). So we decided to do a sunrise session at Blackrock Summit instead. 

I’ve talked about this a lot, but sunrise in Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite experiences. Often fog lingers in the valley and so you get this layered effect of fog, mountains, sun that is one of the most beautiful things in the world. 

And it’s always different. Every time I watch a sunrise in the park, the light shows off the Blue Ridge in a new way. It’s truly an experience worth seeking. 

Sami and Joe garnered a couple different kinds of light for their session. We started out before the sun came up, with fog drifting past. Then the fog began to burn off in a beautiful golden glow and, finally, after we were “done” shooting and were hiking back down to the car, I saw these gorgeous light beams threading through the trees, giving us my personal favorite images of the session. 

Usually when I'm photographing, I incorporate a lot of movement into what I ask couples and families to do. But with maternity it’s a little more difficult -- especially with flowy dresses, because if the dress isn’t pulled taut against the belly, the mom-to-be just tends to look...mountainous. I honestly figured this out by taking self-portraits and trying lots of different things in the weeks leading up to this shoot. 

So I told Sami that throughout the shoot, just to keep a hand somewhere on her belly. Is that totally natural? No -- I certainly don’t feel natural when my hand is on my stomach all the time. But doesn’t it look amazing? Yes -- these are some of my favorite Shenandoah pictures of the year. 

Interested in booking your own maternity session? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Clothing

Flowy dresses can be gorgeous, but you don’t HAVE to wear one. Leggings, t-shirts and a kimono work really well too. They also have the added bonus of making you look pregnant without having to hold your belly the whole time!

If you do opt to wear a dress, choose a maxi dress -- for most of us, toward the end of pregnancy, legs and ankles can get a little swollen and maxi dresses are very forgiving. 

As for design, solid colors tend to work a little bit better than outfits with a lot of florals or patterns. Patterns do an awesome job at disguising bumps and lumps, but this may be the one time in your life you want to draw as much attention to your stomach as possible! 

Timing 

Maternity photos are typically taken between 32 and 37 weeks. Around 32 weeks you look pregnant but still have energy. After 37 you’re risking running into your due date and, speaking from experience as someone who is currently full-term, putting on anything other than that one pair of yoga pants and a maternity tank is a feat worth celebrating, much less getting dressed up for photos. 

Partner and/or Family

You can totally bring your partner or kids to your session, and we will treat it more like a couples or family session + bump. Or you can book a session that you use solo as a treat to yourself. In the latter case, it’ll be more like a portrait session (think senior photos but way less awkward) and can be a time you use to just to breathe and take it all in while commemorating this milestone in your life. 

Location

Like all of my portrait work, typically I either shoot somewhere that requires a little bit of a hike, like Shenandoah National Park or the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in your home. Either location can work well, so be honest with yourself about how you’re going to feel as a third-trimester pregnant lady. Have you remained active in your pregnancy and a short hike isn’t that big of a deal? Or has pregnancy been tough on you physically and staying home in loungy clothes would be a better choice? And if you want the best of both worlds, you can always do an adventurous maternity session and then an in-home newborn session when your little one is earth-side =).