A Place Worth Going Back To

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Stories & Expeditions | 2 comments

I was headed from Ashville, NC, to Culpeper, VA. A stretch of very picturesque countryside. I wanted to do some landscape photography along the way, so the question was, “What places should I explore?”

This was back in 2011. I was just getting into landscape photography and hadn’t done much exploring yet. So, I decided to reach out to Ian Plant. “Where would you recommend I go to take epic landscape photos while driving north on I81 through Virginia?”

I couldn’t believe he actually replied. A pro photographer like him, replying to a random email subscriber? To this day, I love to reply to emails from random email subscribers because of that one simple email I received from Ian.

“Check out the Blue Ridge Parkway”, or something like that, was the reply.

I knew the BRP existed, but I didn’t know much about it back then. So, on Ian’s recommendation, I decided to take it.

And drove a full 200 miles on it in one single day! I never thought one could get tired of driving curvy roads. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s possible even for a West Virginia boy.

I’ll never forget the first main overlook I came across after winding up the Parkway from the Interstate. It was simply awe-inspiring. All I wanted to do was sit there and soak it all in. And I was just learning how to capture it with a camera. Ian always talked about including foreground subjects to create a sense of depth, so I remember experimenting with that. This is the first photo I ever took on the Parkway:

110521_James Staddon_6727 Canon EOS 40D, 70 mm, 1-500 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

The first of many thousands.

110521_James Staddon_6828 Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 11, ISO 200

110521_James Staddon_6997 Canon EOS 40D, 55 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.5, ISO 100

110521_James Staddon_7130 Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1-30 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 200

After a couple hours of driving and stopping, driving and stopping, I took a hike down to Apple Orchard Falls.

110521_James Staddon_6853 Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 0.5 sec at f - 22, ISO 100

110521_James Staddon_6894 Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1.0 sec at f - 22, ISO 100

110521_James Staddon_6927 Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 4.5, ISO 400

I spent 10 hours on the Parkway that day. I know now that I probably could have saved myself a lot of time if I had known more about the effect that mid-day light has on a photo. But I was learning. And though most of the pictures I took that day I am not proud of, they definitely bring back good memories of my first encounter with the BRP.

And the BRP has certainly been a place worth going back to! Especially the area around the Peaks of Otter.

A couple years later, knowing it would make for a picturesque drive, I drove through the area with my sister, Esther, on the way back from a homeschool convention in Richmond.

140611_James Staddon_2084 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 40 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

140611_James Staddon_2078 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 40 mm, 0.6 sec at f - 22, ISO 50

When a family in the same area asked me to do a photography workshop, I was like, “Hey, I know where to take you guys!”

140802_James Staddon_9475 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 28 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 400

In 2016, I did another workshop there. This time we actually hiked to the top of Sharp Top!

161028_James Staddon_1326 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 17 mm, 1.3 sec at f - 22, ISO 50

161028_James Staddon_1221 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

161028_James Staddon_1397 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 17 mm, 30.0 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

Now it’s 2021. And it’s time to go back! Join me for Summer in the Shenandoah Photography Field Day on August 5. Let’s see what kind of photos we can get this time!

Field Day - Shenandoah VA

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  1. Christian H.

    Amazing region of God’s beautiful countryside! I love it out there.

  2. James Staddon

    You’ve been able to spend some time out there then?


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