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  • Writer's pictureRachel Curry

Chasing Light in the Shenandoah Mountains

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

It was still pitch black outside. Stars lit up the frosty, cold sky, and I was laying in an iron rod framed bed inside an old plantation house built in 1890. My mom chose this Airbnb for 13 of our family members to stay in as we celebrated my older sister's wedding in a nearby mountain city - Front Royal, Virginia.

I hadn't opened my eyes yet. My ears were still ringing from the music and the aroma of bonfire mixed with s'mores still lingered in my hair. Then, I heard it - rain. That perked me up. And next, instant disappointment. I flashed open my eyes, sat straight up and pushed aside the sheer drapes next to the bed overlooking the front lawn. Yep. It was pouring and today was the last day we'd be in Shenandoah. Why did it matter? Because I had a sunrise shoot planned on Skyline Drive - Virginia's National Scenic Byway that runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. So, basically all things encompassing every photographers dream. A major highlight of the trip. Alas, the rain was smacking the roof almost as loud as the creaks in the wooden floors of that house.

I jumped out of bed anyways to see if my sister, Josie, and brother-in-law, Scotty, were still up for being my models. "It would be a miracle," I thought. They'd been up so late and were running on maybe 4 hours of sleep. I knew they had every reason to bail. Ugh... I slowly crept down the rickety stair case and tiptoed to the parlor-styled bathroom near the kitchen to find my sister standing in front of a mirror curling her long hair. "Josie, I thought you'd bail!" Unphased, she sleepily stared forward and replied "We'll give it a shot. It's all good" Instant relief. I galloped back up the musically creaky stairs to find my husband still passed out cold. So, like any good wife, I flipped on the antique lamp that sat on the nightstand by our bed and whispered "babe... it's raining. I need your help. Can you hold an umbrella over me while I shoot? I can't do it without youuuu" He didn't budge. Dead to the world. "AUST!!!," I whispered loudly. "The sun is about to rise and it's go time... I need your help!" He mumbled something, curled into the fetal position and threw the sheets over his head. "Greaaaaat," I thought. I gave him five more minutes. He ultimately caved and said "Okay... I'll help." I knew I was being obnoxious, but I couldn't pull it off without him and he knew that. Plus, there was NO way I'd bring my Canon 5D Mark IV into pouring, cold rain.


Husband was awake and getting dressed. I searched the house and found two old umbrellas hanging in a random coat closet. Then, we all crept out the front door onto the covered wrap around patio lined with intricate vintage rocking chairs and tables. The local house cats scurried up to us and "meowed" (begging to come inside) as the rain was still making music on the rooftop. Shocked by the wet, frosty mountain air, we made a run for our rental car - a soccer mom van (no shame), and made a beeline for the mountains - guided by the moonlight.

After stopping by the local Dunkin' Donuts (priorities,) we entered Skyline Drive and were completely entranced as we navigated through the twisty turns of the Blue Ride Mountains. The rain had miraculously lightened and after only a few minutes of driving, we arrived at the most scenic overlook with the most PERFECT diffused light. I said "stop here!!!," grabbed my camera, jumped out and we all stood there in awe as we took in the fall foliage covered mountains blanketed with wispy, white clouds that danced on the peaks and rested densely into each valley.

We shot on the overlook for a while. I loved how the mist looked and Austin was such a trooper. He stood over me with the umbrella and followed my every foot step as I ran in circles. Husband of the YEAR!

Here are a handful of shots from the overlook session:

After about 45 minutes of playing around, we drove to a forested area and the rain started to really down pour as the natural light was quickly fading. I knew we had to be quick. Especially in a dimly lit area...

And by the time we were finished shooting, her hair was all wet, which I think, made for a super cool look. After this last shot, we hauled butt to the car and did the "touristy" thing by snapping a few in front of the National Park sign.

Proof that I was actually, there right!? All this to say - thank you to my sister, bro-in-law and husband for making this shoot possible. I couldn't have done it without you. The rain, mist and fog created such a beautiful dynamic, and I couldn't be more pleased with how these turned out! I'm so appreciative to have a tribe that supports my passions.

Where is your favorite place you've ever traveled or shot? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

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