Pumpkin Spiced Fall

After getting the new Nikon Z7, I was excited to experience fall colors in Virginia. This area has a lot of diversity to the landscapes, and I wanted to put the camera through its paces while exploring some of Virginia’s best offerings.

In total, I drove several hundred miles to each end of the state - from Southwest Virginia and the New River Valley, to the coastline of Virginia Beach - to capture these fall photographs. I promise they are also scratch and sniff… should smell like pumpkin spice!

We’re now entering the long winter months, where the photography can be a little more challenging, but there’s another Scenic Traverse Photography adventure on the horizon. Stay tuned for more great explorations soon.

Which is your favorite?


A Handful of Bridges in Prince William Forest

Winter can be cruel to photographers, so I'm spending the last days of fall capturing the remaining warmth and bright colors before the grey gloom of winter arrives.

Prince William Forest Park is one of the many national parks within a short drive of Washington, DC, but it is one often overshadowed by parks like Shenandoah, Great Falls, and Assateague. It has been a number of years since I've been to the park, so I grabbed my Nikon D850 and set out to see what sort of hidden gems I could find to mark the end of the fall season.

Prince William Forest has a number of small streams that snake through a lightly hilly forest. On this particular day, the park was relatively empty, and I came upon a few bridges that I thought were ideal for photography subjects.

I used my Nikon D850 and Nikon 24-70mm / 14-24mm lenses to capture these images. I am still getting used to this new camera, but find myself getting more comfortable with it by the day.

This tree next to the bridge was not that golden when I started walking around the bridge, but a beam of sunlight came through the forest canopy, lighting this tree up in a beautiful golden light

Over the river and through the woods

This single tree really stood out against the yellow leaves in the background

The wires on this suspension bridge create a nice composition element

I stood in the water (with good boots) to get a long exposure of the creek running under the bridge

Another bridge at the edge of the Prince William Forest scenic drive

At the Corner of Color and History

With a weekend of beautiful weather, fall color, and a new Nikon D850, I set out to capture some of the wonderful sights in the area. One of my favorite go-to's for a great shot is Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. This small city, which is also part of the National Park System, sits at the intersection of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Harper's Ferry is incredibly picturesque, but my favorite spot is on top of the Maryland Heights overlook. It has been several years since I've hiked the 2.5 mile trail to the overlook of the town, so we set out with the dog for a hike and a view.

The trail to the overlook has the following profile: uphill, followed by extreme uphill, then a stretch of straight uphill with a tease as though it will go back downhill before going uphill..... In other words, by the time I reached the top, I was more focused on my jello legs than I was on the photography.

Thankfully the view brought me back to the task at hand quickly, and I took the following images before the knee-breaking downhill journey. 

This was also my first serious outing with the new Nikon D850, and a chance for me to see how it held up in real-world landscape shooting. So far so good! There are certainly some notable differences between the D850 and Leica SL, but I'm leaning to embrace my new camera.


Finding Local Inspiration: Fall on a Farm

Fall has officially started on the east coast of the United States! Temperatures have finally mellowed, pumpkin spiced everything is available for sale, and the trees are starting to show their fall colors. So last weekend I headed out into rural Virginia to get a few images in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One thing I often hear from new photographers is that they don't have anything to photograph, and they can only travel once or twice a year. That sentiment represents a lack of creativity! There are photographs to be found everywhere you look. So today I'm sharing over a dozen images that were all taken within a 300 foot radius of a farm house in rural Virginia - all made on the same day (although taken at different times to reflect changing sun conditions).

You don't need need to travel to exotic locations to make some photographs, and I challenge you to find some local inspiration in your back yard!

A white picket fence surrounding the property lines. 

A white picket fence surrounding the property lines. 

Playing with reflections and silhouettes in the window. That's actually my mom sitting at the kitchen table.

Playing with reflections and silhouettes in the window. That's actually my mom sitting at the kitchen table.

A shed sitting along the edge of the property.

A shed sitting along the edge of the property.

A pile of fresh leaves on the lawn

A pile of fresh leaves on the lawn

Two ladders leaning up on the side of the workshop

Two ladders leaning up on the side of the workshop

Peeling paint on the side of the shed

Peeling paint on the side of the shed

Playing with the high contrast late afternoon shadows on the leaves

Playing with the high contrast late afternoon shadows on the leaves

The view from the back of the property

The view from the back of the property

Looking over the fence toward the neighbor's farm

Looking over the fence toward the neighbor's farm

The tree in the front yard

The tree in the front yard

A workshop with an old horse-drawn carriage in the back

A workshop with an old horse-drawn carriage in the back

A pile of leaves on a table in the yard

A pile of leaves on a table in the yard

The Fall Aspen Hunt

I just returned from another incredible photography expedition, this time to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I had a number of photographic goals for this trip, one of which included capturing the changing colors of the aspen trees in Grand Teton.

Turns out it wasn't so easy. I had several ideas for what I wanted the final image to look like, but finding trees that were cooperating with my vision was more challenging than expected. The aspens that made a nice composition hadn't yet experienced the change of color that I wanted. The colorful trees weren't located in an area yielding a great composition.

After five days of hunting, I finally found some aspen clusters on the edge of the park boundary where I captured the following compositions. It was incredibly rewarding to finally discover a few aspen stands that had the mature golden yellow leaves that I wanted! 

Shot with the Leica SL.


Quick Shot: Elakala Falls Adventure

October 27th.... this trip was all about fall colors. Autumn is in full swing around northern Virginia, so I decided to plan an extended day trip to really capture the great colors. Instead, I got snow......


I decided to head to Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia. I'd been there earlier in the year and thought the waterfalls would look great surrounded by bright orange and red trees. In anticipation of great colors, I'd purchased some new 35mm film that I could take with to shoot both digital and film of the colors. Unfortunately, when loading the film into the old Minolta, the film advance lever broke, so it was a digital only kinda day. 

This morning:

I set the alarm for 6am and rolled out the door with Davis, West Virginia as the destination. The weather was expected to be chilly, but pleasant. I loaded the car with all the essentials and a pair of knee high rain boots. The boots were in case I wanted to wade into the water, but not soak my feet.

The drive: 

With each mile that ticked by on my odometer, I was getting more excited. The further into the Shenandoah region I went, the more vibrant the trees became. My mind was racing with all of the possible shots I could/would take in short order. 

The final leg of the drive takes you up a steep mountain and past a series of power plants (gotta have your West Virginia coal)! Although they aren't "pretty" subjects, I enjoy driving next to these power plants and wondering if that plant supplies my electricity at home.  

Right as I clear the power plants, I look around and realize there are no more colors. 

Just gray

Not even pretty gray

No leaves

and SNOW! 

If I wasn't just 10 miles from my destination, I might have stopped and done a u-turn. My car flashed the snowflake symbol that apparently indicated I'd left a pleasant fall day and arrived abruptly in winter. 

I decided to keep the hope. Maybe, just maybe, the park was in a "safe area" where the leaves where still clinging to trees, despite the drop in temperature and recent snowfall. 

The disappointment: 

My prayers were not going to be answered by the photo gods today. The park was like the surrounding area - every tree (that wasn't evergreen) was naked. But I didn't drive all that way to come out empty handed, so I shelved the original plan and started a backup. 

Elakala Falls: 

This was my favorite spot during the last visit. The falls aren't "technically" accessible from the base, but years of explorers have made a crude trail down the side of a cliff to photograph the falls from below. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how wet it would be at the bottom of a waterfall, so I was stuck shooting from the rocks during my last visit. This time, however, I packed my rain boots so that I could wade into the river to get the shots I wanted. This comes with the obvious risk of falling or having your equipment take a swim, but it's worth the risk! 

Despite the recent snow, there was enough sun to melt any snowfall around the falls themselves, so I could take the photos and "pretend" I wasn't resting my backpack against snow.  

This shot: 

To get this shot, I pulled on the rain boots and slogged out to the middle of the stream. I had to be careful not to let the ice cold water get into my boots as I stepped and had to avoid dropping the camera as I teetered from rock-to-rock. After getting tangled in a fallen branch and almost having a catastrophic spill, I arrived at my destination for this shot. 

I wanted the viewer to know this photo was taken from mid-stream, and I think I successfully achieved that look by actually being mid-steam when I took the shot! I also wanted to take a long exposure to make the flows and stream really flow. There are these swirling pools in the steam and I positioned the camera to catch the swirls from the frothy water. 

This image was taken with my Nikon D800 & Nikon 24-70mm lens with an ND8 neutral density filter. It was taken at ISO 100, f/22 for 20 seconds! 

Next time:

I'm coming three weeks sooner! I'd rather have pre-autumn leaves than no leaves at all! 



Quick Shot: Shenandoah River

Welcome to fall! I love visiting new sites to photograph, although those trips are sometimes less productive than trips to places I've been before. That's because I like to visualize my work in advance, which is very tricky with a place I've never laid eyes on before. 

With the fall colors setting in, I decided to throw the dice and explore someplace new. Earlier this year I purchased an annual pass to visit all of Virginia's State Parks. I've certainly earned my money's worth with the pass but there are several parks I hadn't visited. Amongst them was the Shenandoah River State Park. 

This park sits at the base of the Shenandoah National Park, about 1.5 hours from Washington, DC. It's a decent sized park, but certainly much smaller than the adjacent national park.

One of the highlights for visitors is an overlook that offers a great view of the Shenandoah valley and the river passing through it. This view was accentuated by the bright fall colors on this clear Sunday afternoon. 

The fall colors are hanging around for another week, so be sure to go out and see them before they are gone. Should make for some more great photography!