A magazine cover spread in American Heritage Magazine story on the North Alabama Hallelujah Trail with multiple pictures of churches.

The North Alabama Hallelujah Trail

By Sheri Oneal

I love shooting editorial assignments and travel photography is by far my favorite thing to cover as a photographer. When the folks at “American Heritage Magazine” contacted me for a travel assignment photographing churches along what’s known as the North Alabama the North Alabama Hallelujah Trail, I couldn’t resist!

American Heritage Magazine Story

My goal was to spend two days traveling through northern Alabama photographing as many of the 100+-year-old churches along the North Alabama Hallelujah Trail as I could in the given time. Having never heard of this historical trail of churches I was extremely excited about the two-day travel assignment. I did as much research online before hitting the road on my expedition.

The North Alabama Hallelujah Trail

The Hallelujah Trail consists of thirty-two landmark churches throughout parts of Alabama that are all at least 100 years old, are still in their original site, and are still holding services. The trail winds its way through sixteen counties in the northern part of the Appalachian Region of Alabama. Some are designed by architects and others by church members themselves.

On a limited client budget, my assignment was to shoot as many churches as I could in the two days of travel. I put a plan together to best utilize my time with all of the miles I needed to cover trying to contact the churches in advance. With an Alabama state map in hand, I plotted the best route along the trail to visit as many churches as possible.

My choices were based on churches with the most interesting architecture and history. There would be no downtime because I didn’t want to waste any daylight hours knowing it would be a challenge driving alone in rural areas. In the end, I was able to photograph twelve churches within the allocated time for my assignment.

A magazine spread pg 26-27 in American Heritage Magazine  story on the Hallelujah Trail with multiple pictures of churches.

In a strange turn of events, it so happened that the week I was assigned this photoshoot, Hurricane Gustav blew through the southern part of the US. It was not until around 6:30 PM of my first day of travel that I realized how hard it was going to be to get a room for the night. Due to all the evacuees heading North from the Gulf region, all of the hotels were maxed out. After going to literally every hotel in the town of Decatur, Alabama I could not find a vacant room after my long work day.

I was hot, tired, and ready to sleep in my car (although not happy about it). I really needed a shower and something to eat. I tried one last hotel before giving in to the realization I might need to find a safe parking lot to sleep in for the night. I walked up to the check-in counter of this last hotel and asked for a room. The handsome young man sitting behind the desk replied, “I am sorry miss, we are full.” 

I smiled and said, “You know I have heard through some music friends of mine back in Nashville that most hotels keep a few extra rooms open for special reasons. I would be really grateful if you could check and see if there might be one available. I don’t care what it costs. I have been working on an assignment all day and really don’t feel safe sleeping in a strange town alone in my car with all my gear. Would you please check for me, otherwise I need to ask for permission to sleep in my car in your parking lot.” 

With a smile, he went to the computer typed in a few lines, and said….”OK miss, I think I have one left.”

I was relieved to have gotten a room for the night, took a long shower, and got a good night’s sleep.

A magazine spread pg 28-29 in American Heritage Magazine story on the Hallelujah Trail with multiple pictures of churches.

I left the hotel right before sunrise and had a wonderful day of shooting the 100+-year-old small-town churches. It was fun to see these beautiful hidden gems with very kind staff members in each church I visited.

In one area, I drove through I came across this really old run-down row of apartments in the town of Courtland, Alabama.  I drove by them 3 times scared to get out because there was a little store with a lot of rough characters hanging out about 2 blocks up the road. On the third pass, I decided to stop, get out, and quickly take a photo of the intriguing structure. It took all of 3 minutes and I was in my car, doors locked driving away. As always these random shots while shooting an assignment often get lost in the mix. 

Overall my North Alabama Hallelujah Trail assignment for American Heritage Magazine was one of my most memorable assignments as an editorial photographer. Anytime you get paid to travel it is a blessing in my book!

A magazine spread pg 30-31 in American Heritage Magazine story on the Hallelujah Trail with multiple pictures of churches.

I love what I do and feel so fortunate to be able to live my dream as a photographer. I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share and stay tuned for my next adventure…

*NOTE All Sheri Oneal blog posts are ©2013 by Sheri Oneal. Any use of photos or content must be agreed upon in writing.

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