On our recent trip to the Carolinas Claudia and I visited the southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and what a treat that was.
Before our trip I asked my friend Charlie Cramer about the area, as I knew he’d spent some time there, and he told me he loved the southern stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and pointed me toward some good areas for dogwoods. He also put me in touch with his friend Nye Simmons, author of Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nye generously gave me some photography suggestions over the phone, as well as an advance copy of the Photographer’s Edition of Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was a great resource. I’m not sure when this edition will be available, but I highly recommend it to photographers visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway, both for the information and the photographic inspiration. And for further inspiration, check out Nye’s beautiful coffee-table book, Blue Ridge Parkway Celebration (see a preview here, or order from Amazon here).
During our first day along the parkway, while scouting for our workshop, it was raining off and on, and at higher elevations the road climbed into the clouds, where we encountered thick fog. It was interesting to stop at some of the viewpoints the parkway is famous for and not be able to see more than 50 feet. But I loved it, because interesting weather makes interesting photographs, and I relished the opportunity to photograph trees in the fog.
We soon encountered our first sarvis trees (also known as serviceberry). I’d never heard of these trees before Nye mentioned them, but they quickly became a favorite subject. Most of the other trees were bare at the higher elevations, but the sarvis were in full bloom, adding splashes of white and pale pink to the hillsides. They were particularly abundant around the Graveyard Fields area, where I got to photograph them in fog on that first day.
Later that day the sun started to break through the clouds. We stopped at a view of Looking Glass Rock, where I got out my camera to photograph the dappled light, and a rainbow appeared right in front of the rock (the photograph at the top of this post).
We spent the night at the Mount Pisgah Inn, with its fabulous views. The next morning dawned clear, and I drove about five miles to the Pounding Mill Overlook. I could see some fog in the valleys below, but a bank of clouds to the east blocked the earliest light, so it turned into a nice, but not spectacular, sunrise.
There were two other photographers there, and one of them expressed some disappointment about the sunrise and then left. Soon afterward the sun broke over the cloud bank and lit up the fog in the valley below. I used my 70-200mm zoom to photograph patterns of backlit mist and trees, and made some of my favorite images of the trip.
To me this was a great lesson in how expectations can be a photographer’s enemy. The photographer I met was hoping for something particular, didn’t get it, and left disappointed. I had never been to this spot before, and didn’t have any particular expectations, so I was open to whatever opportunities I found. There’s always something to photograph if you can drop your preconceptions and see what’s in front of you.
When we returned a few days later with our workshop group we photographed sarvis again at Graveyard Fields, this time with beautiful, late-afternoon backlight. The next day one of the students, who is intimately familiar with the parkway, led us to an area near the road that was carpeted with wildflowers. Now these carpets weren’t like the dense mats of poppies and other flowers that can be found in California, but rather a forest understory with many beautiful medium-to-small-scale scenes of leaf patterns and blossoms. I photographed some false hellebore leaves (see the photograph below) – a close relative of corn lilies, a common summer plant in Sierra Nevada meadows.
Our time along the parkway was all too brief, but we loved it up there, so we’ll just have to go back. It would be great to visit in the fall, or later in the spring when the rhododendrons are blooming. Then again, I’d be happy to return in early May to photograph sarvis again.
There are a few waterfalls along the parkway, but many more lower down, and we had a great time photographing some of them. But I’ll save those photographs for the next post…
– Michael Frye
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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.