One thing that photographers will tell you, is that we shoot a lot of images. Not very many people can go to a site, set up, take three or four photos and have that epic shot that we all aspire to have. Sometimes however, the shot that we want gets lost in the sheer number of images that we take. That is the story with my second best selling image of 2014, Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock. I typically would save the main image for last but in this story it needs to come first, since this is the tale of a full day of shooting, Sunrise to Sunset.
Let's rewind to fall of 2013, autumn is, by far, my favorite season to shoot. I love the fall colors in our mountains, and I am super motivated to go shoot during the entire month of October. I simply cannot seem to get enough photos with the bright yellows, reds and oranges, so I spend the entire month out shooting. I get up before sunrise to find a location facing east with an interesting foreground to give a subject to my sunrise, and I wait. I capture my sunrise and then head out as long as the light is good finding colorful ranges and vistas to add to my collection. I will hike to waterfalls when the colors should be changing at their specific altitude, and go all day if the lighting will allow. Then I find my sunset location and shoot until the sun has descended beyond the Blue Ridge and then I go home, sleep and repeat.
Needless to say, when I have days like that I will shoot hundreds of photos each day. So it is understandable that some great images may get overlooked when sifting through the days. Most of the time I will shoot for three or four days before even sitting back at the computer to process. I usually get home, empty all of the RAW images onto my computer and external hard drive for back up, and then head back out the next day. So when I finally do sit down I could have well over 1000 images to cull.
That was the case with Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock. I got out very early that morning thinking I would shoot at the popular Pounding Mill overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However when I got there, as is the case often in the fall, it was so foggy I could not see anything. I know that I took a photo with my phone that morning but cannot find the right one. This is from another day at Craggy but indicative of what I saw that morning at Pounding Mill. From the Car I could barely even see the sign for the overlook. So I waited a few minutes to see if the fog would lift and then heading farther South on the Parkway.
I went a few overlooks past highway 276 and found myself out ahead of the Fog and got a few nice shots, but the sun had already risen some. I focused on the foggy valley below and was quite pleased with so many of the images.
But the fog kept creeping in and I had to keep moving South.
I stopped to shoot a few images of Looking Glass Rock but the Fog was moving too quickly. I had to move again, I wasn't certain if I would get what I wanted, but I kept on trying.
When I finally got ahead of the fog for a few minutes, I captured this shot and a few others before the fog moved back in.
I decided to stick out this location and wait to see what would happen. The fog was moving so fast, I thought that maybe it will pass and give me some clearer shots if I just have some patience. One key to capturing great images is patience, I have spent hours at a spot before, just waiting to see what would happen. Fortunately I did not have to wait long and captured about 10 to 15 images with a clear view of Looking Glass and some pretty amazing sun rays. The first being my Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock photo. However when culling (narrowing down photos to edit) my images, I skimmed right past this shot. I focused on several of the other images that I captured the same day, (I will address that in a minute), and did not finally print this photo for sale until late March.
I still stayed and shot a little longer before venturing out to see what else I could find. This next shot distracted me from the above best seller because of the rays and shadows, but this is the first time I have shared this image.
I spent the entire day shooting after leaving Looking Glass Rock. Next I spent quite a bit of time around Graveyard Fields, this next shot was my best selling waterfall photo for the year, this is Second Falls at Graveyard Fields. I shot it from the Parkway with a zoom lens, the color was phenomenal that day.
I hiked down into Graveyard Fields too and took some shots at Yellowstone Prong, and the tunnel of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel that you hike through on the way in.
Once down on Yellowstone Prong of the Pigeon River, I found a few nice scenes and shot for about an hour before hiking back out to go adventure more. The prong is unique and beautiful right above Second Falls.
There are three waterfalls in Graveyard Fields but only two are readily visited. Upper Falls is the first, and amazingly enough, I have not photographed it. It is on my to do list though. Second Falls, pictured two photos above, is the most well known and easiest to get to. The third is downstream and is called Yellowstone Falls, it is the tallest of the three and the most inaccessible. The best way to get there is to hike up from the Looking Glass Rock overlook from Skinny Dip Falls. I have not done that one either, but will one day. You can view it from the Blue Ridge Parkway if you pull off North of the overlook before Graveyard Fields and walk up on a small knob.
After leaving Graveyard Fields, I ventured further South on the Parkway and got onto Highway 215 traveling North towards Canton. I stopped at Bubbling Springs Branch and took some shots from the trail head of Bubbling Springs Branch Cascades and the surrounding mountain.
Then I decided to descend the very steep grade to the falls and took a few more shots. There are so many waterfalls in this area, Bubbling Springs Branch also has three. This is the smallest and closest to the trail head.
It isn't much to get overly excited about, but still a nice little cascade. From there I drove further North on 215 to Sunburst Falls, this roadside waterfall is on the West fork of the Pigeon River. It is one of the lesser known roadside waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest.
From there I went down the mountain more towards Canton and stopped where another bridge crosses the Pigeon River. This nice little view would have been better a few days earlier when there were still leaves on all of those trees.
I decided from here to go back up to the Parkway and then down the other side to check on Courthouse Creek, I assumed without taking altimeter readings that the color would be the same on the other side of the mountain and that Courthouse Falls would be approximately the same elevation. I was wrong. I got a nice shot of the creek but didn't venture out to the falls since the color was still at least a week away on the South facing slopes at that elevation. This is Courthouse Creek about one quarter mile above the falls.
Since I was not seeing what I wanted here, back to the mountain tops I went. It was getting later in the day and I knew that I wanted to find a good sunset spot to end my day. I had, at this point, taken close to 400 photos for the day. I am one of those photographers that keeps all of my RAW files, (digital negatives, so to speak), so if I happen to overlook something nice, I can find it at a later date.
Once back on the Parkway, I shot a few more decent images and settled back at Looking Glass for Sunset, but from a different angle. This was one of the last shots I took before setting up for sunset.
Shooting Sunset at Looking Glass Rock is an atypical destination. From the Parkway looking at the Rock you are facing South, and there is not a good view of the setting sun. I was just hoping that the cloud formations would receive a color cast from the setting sun. Oh, what a day I had. I got my wish. The sun and clouds did not disappoint, I began to see that pinkish orange cast across the sky and was excited about what I captured. Even though this post is about my #2 best seller, the theme has been that of missing one image because of another. Since these were the last shots I took of the day, they were fresh in my mind. Therefore, I just did not go back and dig into the sunrise photos as much. This photo made it to #5 on my best sellers list. Many times last season, people purchased both of these images together due to fact that they were Sunrise and Sunset of the same day.
Sunset at Looking Glass Rock completely made me miss processing my sunrise shot. Thankfully, I went back and found it in March. Once I began printing Sunrise at LGR people commented on it at every show. For the season, I sold over 40 prints of it in 36 weeks. It is my best example of why I should always double and triple check my RAW files, you never know what you will miss. Even while writing this, I feel that a few of the images that I shared here are worthy of printing, maybe one will surprise me this year.