A Whole Lot of “Not Exactly”

Fall Color at Laurel Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Marion, North Carolina

Several years ago, a well-known car rental company described how much better they were than the competition by using the line, “There’s Us, and There’s Not Exactly.”  We’ve used that line over the years to describe things that almost but not quite measure up to our hopes or expecations and feel like it aptly describes our last several weekends.  We’ve had a lot of fun but somehow it seems like this year – at least from a creative standpoint – we’ve been coming up a little short.

But I’m not complaining!  We just completed our third of four weekends chasing fall color.  We’ve had a great time, I’ve gotten some good photos and overall it has been a great adventure, but we were talking on the drive home yesterday about some of the ups and downs of our recent weekends.  Overall we’ve enjoyed ourselves, but haven’t come across that “Wow!” moment that can make a trip memorable, or that situation that makes you look back and think, “Man, I’m glad we were here!”  Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.  But that’s what keeps us coming back.

Morning along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the intersection with Virginia Route 97 near Galax, Virginia


Several of my co-workers frequently ask me on Monday mornings how my weekend was.  They know we’ve been on the go and claim to travel vicariously through our trips.  We have had “Chamber of Commerce Weather” for three weekends in a row, and while that is great for tourists it is a challenge for photography.  And I really sound silly complaining about beautiful weather!  It’s not that you can’t make good photographs on sunny blue-sky days, but it can be a real challenge between morning and afternoon “prime time” when the light gets harsh.  You can only photograph so many backlit leaves against a blue sky or so many sunstars, and I’ve done my share!  From a standpoint of enjoying our travels it has been great, but a few clouds here and there would be nice, thank you very much.

If someone would have asked me to give odds on 3 cloudless weekends in a row I would have had to say they would be very low.  So what do we do?  A little sightseeing, lunch at a new restaurant, a hike or maybe even a nap.  We never lack for something to do, it just doesn’t always involve a camera.

Morning light and fall color from Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Brevard, North Carolina


We typically like to maximize our time in the mountains in the fall, and most years we have either just taken a whole week off work or have taken every Friday or every Monday off, but this year we’ve used up just about all our vacation time and have had to limit our travel to the weekends, leaving town after work on Fridays and essentially just having all day Saturday and Sunday morning to get our shooting in.  Having fewer chances at the good light has limited our opportunities and our variety.

In addition, we simply don’t have an interest in the all-day photography “death march” so we build in time for other activities such as sightseeing and nice dinners.  The great thing about this time of year is that the more civilized sunrise and sunset times allow us to get a little more sleep in the morning and plenty of time for a nice dinner in the evening, but there is still only so much we can do!  We hope to get back to our usual habits next year.  I’m looking forward to a few more vacation days – a privilege of my tenure!

Fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Balsam Gap near Waynesville, North Carolina


With the exception of a fabulous show around Grandfather Mountain a few weeks ago, color overall has been spotty and in many places very muted.  It seems like elevation and orientation have been even more of a factor than usual this year, and we’ve been hard pressed to find the kinds of color displays we like to see.  A lot of this is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and we tend to pick a destination and work it, for better or for worse.  We prefer to work a smaller geographic area rather than spend a lot of time driving around chasing color, so combined with limited time that sometimes makes it tough to find the right mix.  We’ve found some pretty nice color though.

Sunrise on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Laurel Knob Overlook

Inspiration and Creativity

I’ve been pondering the “What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?” question for some time, and it sometimes rears its ugly head when I am out trying to find something to shoot.  I have traditionally been a Grand Scenic sort of guy but have recently been delving into the Mindful-Thinking-Intimate-Scenic realm and sometimes get myself confused.  Give me some trees and a little fog and I’m in heaven.  Big puffy clouds, sunbeams and a hillside covered with color and I’m in business.  Harsh, cloudless blue skies and Houston We’ve Got A Problem.  I’m exaggerating of course, but you get the idea.

Again, this is not to imply that I’m struggling, because I’m not.  We’re having a great time traveling and enjoying our time in the mountains.  I do get a bit discouraged, but it’s primarily due to the fact that I’ve not always been able to find something to put my personal “stamp” on.

Fortunately we don’t have a strict definition for what constitutes a “successful” weekend, and we certainly don’t measure productivity based on how many photos we take or how many “keepers” we get.  Any weekend not spent at work or doing household chores is a good one, and if we get to spend some time enjoying beautiful scenery, having a nice meal or two and generally spending some quality time together, that sounds like success to me.  And if I come home with a few decent photographs that is just icing on the proverbial cake!