Leah O'Connell

client tips, families, local

Favorite locations for family photos in Charlottesville

I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

Education and articles for family photographers

TOp categories

FAQ's and guidance for stress-free family and newborn sessions 

Essays, letters, favorites

Highlighted family and newborn photography sessions

Over the past 10 years, I’ve photographed families all over the Shenandoah Valley, but these are some of my top favorite locations for family photos in Charlottesville.

Locations are always one of the first and biggest decisions to make when planning your session, and many families are surprised to learn that there’s a lot more that goes into choosing this spot than some pretty scenery!

Other things to consider for your family photo location:


When shooting in public places, I recommend early morning or sunset sessions to avoid crowds and bystanders. Also, it goes without saying – light is key and those are prime times for flattering light. (There are always exceptions though, like in this mid-morning session at Chiles Peach Orchard!)


It’s important to keep in mind things like close parking and safety, especially for families with young kids. Nobody enjoys dragging kids (or a pregnant mama) for a mile to get to a secluded spot. I also opt to stay away from overlooks or rocky hills that may be scenic but are not friendly environments for playing.

I want your photos to be awesome, but to me, that doesn’t necessarily mean epic. Awesome can exist right on your kitchen floor or your kids’ bedrooms, too. I always encourage families to choose locations that offer lots of flexibility and feel natural to them.

Here’s a rundown of some of my favorite locations for family photos in Charlottesville:

Your home!

  • Vibe: Casual, intimate, and personalized to your style!
  • Great for: ANYONE, but especially families with kids 2 + under
  • Features: not restricted to golden hour for lighting, comfortable, no travel time, best for incorporating pets, not weather-dependent, easy access to snacks 🙂
  • Prime seasons: IDEAL choice for winter sessions, but great any time of year!
  • Cons: If you hate your home, let’s get outside instead.

Ivy Creek Nature Area

  • Vibe: Rustic, diverse, and very open
  • Great for: families with little kids, seniors, and large families… basically anyone.
  • Features: Large open field, wooded trails, white barn, creeks and bridges, and even a peek at the blue ridge mountains.
  • Prime seasons: spring, summer, fall
  • Cons: no pets allowed!

Beaver Creek

Vibe: Scenic, natural

Great for: outdoorsy families

Features: view of the mountains, dock and lake

Prime seasons: all seasons!

Cons: It’s pretty crucial to stick to golden hour here due to lack of open shade. If you have little kids, choose a late fall or winter session here in order to hit an earlier sunset!


  • Vibe: Urban, funky, fun
  • Greate for: families who are moving and want to capture a piece of their city, families with kids 3 and older, high school seniors
  • Features: Variety, texture, bold colors – I love suggesting an ice cream stop or sweet treat break to incorporate into a shoot here to fully embrace the family fun
  • Prime seasons: A great choice for winter sessions, but an option year round!
  • Cons: Must be willing to work around the crowds or schedule for outside of peak mealtime hours


  • Vibe: Classic, traditional
  • Great for: alumni or military families who want to capture of a piece of their story through location, extended families, basically anyone 🙂
  • Features: private gardens, rotunda and lawn, brick walkways, columns,
  • Prime seasons: any!
  • Cons: It can be crowded in the fall on weekends because of students and football game traffic, but we can generally work around it by utilizing more private spots around grounds.

These are just a few of my top favorite locations for family sessions, but of course, I have a secret stash as well for all my families to find the perfect spot!

Interested in taking an adventure with me for some fun and natural family photos this year?? Reach out here so we can get started planning!

You might also like :

What to wear for outdoor family photos when it’s hot

Tips for including your dog in family photos

What to wear for fresh 48 photos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.