It’s not exactly an obsession, but one of the things I look for when we travel (other than lighthouses and covered bridges) is train stations. They are generally very easy to spot, as their architecture tends to be quite unique. They are usually, but not always, located next to railroad tracks. Sometimes they are still active passenger depots, but more often than not have been converted to offices, civic centers or meeting halls. I’ve seen some that are police stations, city halls and even restaurants. Most heartbreaking for me is when I see one in disrepair. It takes a lot of money to keep these places up, but they are an important part of history and I love to see them being used and maintained.
This past weekend, Kathy & I paid a long-overdue visit to one of our favorite day-trip destinations, Chateau Morrisette on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. Those who know us well understand that most of our favorite destinations involve something to do with food and wine. Chateau Morrisette is one of the largest wineries in Virginia, and also happens to operate an award-winning, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. Chateau Morrisette has both food and wine!
Our timing worked out that we were able to have a nice dinner, proceed to one of my favorite sunset destinations for photography, and return to the restaurant for dessert before starting the drive home. How hard is that?
The Saddle Overlook is a few miles north of the winery in an area called Rocky Knob, and is so named because the “saddle” is a low area between the two peaks of Rocky Knob. It has both easterly and westerly views, so depending on the time of day there are frequently interesting things to photograph. Most of my time there has been spent at sunset. The west view has an interesting panorama of the valley and Buffalo Mountain in the distance, but as with most sunset locations it is most interesting when conditions result in a nice sky.
When we first arrived at the parking area there were a few cars, mostly families returning from an earlier hike and a few people just hanging out in their cars. No obvious overload of photographers like some of the more popular spots in North Carolina. Not too much was happening in the sky, and with a general absence of clouds I knew that the best photographs would likely come after the sun had set.
The parking lot has a really nice view, so it is possible to just sit in the car and watch the sun go down. And I could have simply set my camera up in front of the car so I didn’t have to go far. But preferring to work alone and having been at this place before, I have a favorite spot down the hill and off to the side so I can get out of the way of the “tourists” and generally avoid the chatter that inevitably happens when the “drive-by cell phone photographers” start filtering in right at sunset.
Things happened pretty much as expected, and as soon as the ball of the sun sunk below the horizon, the engines started firing up, car doors slammed and in 5 minutes the place was practically deserted. Figuring that it was probably safe to retreat to a spot closer to the car before it was too dark to see, I gathered my gear and headed back up the hill toward the car to complete my evening’s work. I set up my tripod again and framed up a few more shots.
Pretty soon I hear a couple of guys behind me that were looking at the image on my LCD and commenting on the great color I was getting. One guy walked over and started asking me questions and repeated his comment about the nice color I was getting, and I explained that even though it was dark, there was a lot of color in the sky until well after the sun goes down, but that most people miss it because the best color often happens after most people have packed up and left. That they think the sun crossing the horizon is the “main event.” He seemed surprised to hear that but agreed that based on what he saw on my screen it must be true. Seeing is believing! With that, his buddy announced that it was time to go, and he ambled off with a “nice talking to you” and was gone.
I never mind chatting photography with an interested observer. I probably didn’t make a convert, but hopefully I spread a little knowledge. It interests me though the most people just don’t take the time to look, or to think about the things that we photography nuts take for granted.
We made a quick stop in Abingdon, VA on the way from Bristol to Bardstown, KY. I’m pretty sure I have been in Abingdon at one time or another, but we wanted to check the place out for a potential long weekend visit.
Of course because there is a train station there – actually two, a freight depot and passenger depot – it gave me a good excuse to stop for a few photos.
According to my metadata we were stopped for less than an hour, so our stop is hardly representative of what there is to see and do there. Abingdon has a large arts community and is known as being the home of the Barter Theatre and the Virginia Creeper Trail, and the Appalachian Trail passes close to Abingdon.
Abingdon is about 3 hours by car, at least the way most people would go, but about 4-5 hours for those who like to take the scenic route. Definitely close enough for a weekend or even an overnight visit. We’ve got it on the list for a return!
I particularly enjoyed looking at this photo as wallpaper on my computer desktop and wanted to share. Enjoy!
On our recent adventure to Kentucky, Kathy & I decided to break up the drive by spending our first night in Bristol – but is Bristol in Tennessee or Virginia? As it turns out, it is a town in both Tennessee and Virginia!
Many folks – including me for a long time – had always thought of Bristol as being in Tennessee. But the state line runs right down the middle of State Street, so the businesses on the north side are in Virginia while those on the south side are in Tennessee. And both sides of town have their own city government. Interesting!
What attracted us to Bristol to cause us to decide to stop there? Well for one thing they have a very nice train station, and there is some interesting history in Bristol, particularly related to the early roots of country music. We made a quick overnight stop and managed to hit some of the highlights, and now we’re talking about a return visit, when we can spend some more time seeing more of what is there. It was a nice town to visit and we hope to get back there soon.
I really love fall because it is a great time to travel and take photographs. But the hard part about fall is that we do a lot of traveling and take a lot of photographs! I was already a few weeks behind on processing my photos from the last two weekends, and then this weekend I went and took another 1,000 or so photographs, so I’m even behinder now than I was before. But we’ll slow down a bit in November and December, so with any luck I’ll have some time to get caught up on my processing and my writing. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but that’s the plan.
Over the weekend of 10/19-10/21 we headed to Roanoke, VA to spend time with our good friends Steven and Cheryl. One of the things I had been looking forward to was visiting their Farmer’s Market, which is right downtown, in the Market Square area. There is a block-long section of street that has been permanently set up for local farmers and craftspeople to display and sell their goods. It was quite an experience, and for me it was a real photographic treat. And all I did was shoot vegetables! I could have make an entire day photographing people, although many of them were not nearly as photogenic as the food. 🙂
I’ve not spent a lot if time at farmer’s markets, although I certainly need to do more of it. The quality of food for sale is much better than that found at even the better local grocery stores. Most if it is truly local, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you buy was picked just a few days before you bought it. We always tell ourselves that we don’t buy enough produce to make it worth the trip, but I think there’s a lot to be said for buying fresh and for buying local.
The fall colors were coming into their own while we were there, and I’ll try to follow up with another post on that subject in the next few days.
I have a number of friends who seem to be able to race home and see who can be the first to process and post photos from their weekends, but I don’t seem to be able to come close to that, so I don’t care to waste much effort trying to compete. In the mean time I’m currently trying to download and process another batch of photos from our two latest adventures. One of them was for a paying client today, so I’ll have to give those photos a higher priority. But I’ll get back to these soon, so stay tuned.
Special thanks to Riverstone Organic Farm from Floyd, VA for allowing me to shoot their vegetables!
Kathy & I recently visited Roanoke, Virginia to visit with our friend Steven Norris and attend the opening of a gallery show that Exposure Roanoke is having at a gallery there. We had visited Roanoke many, many years ago, and had good but fading memories of the place. We had been intending to return for a long time, and this gave us a good chance to go.
We didn’t have a lot of time there, but we stayed at the Hotel Roanoke, which gave us easy access to the downtown area. With the expert guidance of Steven & Cheryl we visited some of the downtown highlights on Saturday night, and I returned for a little shooting on my own on Sunday morning, before meeting up with our friends for the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Hotel Roanoke.
Roanoke is a railroad town, having grown around the success of the Norfolk & Southern, now Norfolk & Western. A lot of coal moves through Roanoke. With a population of just under 100,000 with 303,000 in the MSA, it’s a happening place without the sprawl and congestion of larger cities. Situated right near the mountains and The Blue Ridge Parkway and an easy drive from Charlotte, it’s a place we need to spend more time visiting, especially with friends there.
Despite the amazing number of railroad tracks, there are numerous bridges and pedestrian walkways, so getting around is easy. Our hotel had a walkway right across from the entrance, so we could be in town within minutes of leaving our room. And with the exception of going out to the gallery, once we parked our car we didn’t need it again until we left. My kind of place!
We didn’t visit the Transportation Museum, deciding to spend our limited time seeing more of the town. We did visit the O. Winston Link Museum on Sunday afternoon and learned the story of Link and is railroad photography. The Link museum is a fascinating place, located in the former N&S passenger depot. It’s definitely a must-visit for any photography and/or railroad buff.
The Taubman Museum of Art is across the tracks from the Link Museum, and provides an interesting architectural contrast with much of the older architecture in the area. I got the impression that there were only two opinions about the place most residents considering it either a hideous eyesore or beautiful. In my opinion there’s no point in making an art museum look like a Wal-Mart, so I guess I would fall into the “beautiful” camp. I’d vote for spending my tax dollars on it.
We had a nice weekend in Roanoke, a wonderful visit with Steven and Cheryl, and hope it isn’t another 30 years before we return for another look.
Kathy & I headed to Roanoke, VA this past weekend, and as we often do we took the “slow way,” stopping at Mabry Mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 177 in Virginia. There’s a little restaurant there and some of their buckwheat pancakes are “just the thing” if you like that sort of thing.
The mill itself is probably the single most photographed thing on the Parkway, so I don’t even aim my camera in its general direction these days, unless there is something really special to shoot. After our sumptuous breakfast we took a few minutes to wander the grounds before heading back up the road. They were setting up for their weekend demonstrations, and I got a couple of nice shots in the blacksmith shop.
Here are a few photos from Mabry Mill to satisfy the curious until I get the Roanoke photos processed.
Kathy & I spent this past weekend visiting friends in Roanoke, VA. More on that later.
Sunday afternoon we were walking around the downtown area, when a thunderstorm passed through. Taking refuge under the overhang of the City Market, we were right across the street from Billy’s, a restaurant we had stopped at for cocktails and appetizers the evening before.
The girl in this photo is a hostess at Billy’s. During the height of the downpour, she pulled up in front of the restaurant in her car, and one of her co-workers from inside came outside under an umbrella and handed her another umbrella through her car window. She then drove around to the side of the building to park. Sensing a possible photo opportunity, I maneuvered into a position I thought might be suitable, and waited for her to come down the sidewalk. As she approached the front of the building, I lifted my camera, took this one shot, and she immediately covered her face with the umbrella and that was it. But this is the shot I was looking for, and the expression on her face makes it for me.
The photo itself is probably not a big deal, but what excites me the most is that I envisioned the scene, saw it coming and made it happen. The fact that I only got one shot is interesting, but I only needed one, right?
More to come on the rest of our wonderful visit with good friends, but I wanted to share this one before I go back to working on the rest of my photos. I’ve got a few more!
Kathy & I spent the Easter weekend in Shenandoah National Park, meeting up with our good friends Bill and Cathy from Ohio. We stayed at Skyland – which they now call “Skyland Resort,” presumably to appeal to the upscale Washingtonians – that is actually an historic mountain lodge operated for the National Park Service by Aramark. The rooms are rather rustic, but the restaurant is decent and reasonably priced. It’s a beautiful location for a weekend or a week, as it is one of only two lodges in the park, and the only one open this time of year. Big Meadows Lodge is our favorite, but it doesn’t open for the season until May. There are miles of hiking trails accessible from right at Skyland or within an easy drive.
Kathy & I have stayed at either Skyland or Big Meadows numerous times over the years, and I traveled there with my family when I was a kid. I have numerous fond memories of the place from all of our visits there. One of the things we have always liked the most is that once you are in the park you have always been pretty much removed from civilization. At the lodges there are no room phones, most of the rooms don’t have televisions and until recently the cell phone coverage was non-existent. Both lodges have managed to add wireless internet in the main buildings, but there is no coverage in the rooms and cabins. For many this is a huge inconvenience, and I saw a number of people schlepping their iPads and laptops to the dining room at meal time, but it was exactly what I hoped for. Kathy refers to this as being “off the grid.” I call it the way to take a vacation!
I made sure that my iPad had plenty of reading material on it – not a problem since I have managed to accumulate quite a backlog – and spent the entire 5 days in “Airplane Mode.” I did have my phone with me, so I was able to get my e-mail when I wanted it, but since most of the places we went either didn’t have cellphone coverage or were places I wouldn’t want to be talking on the phone anyway, I just left the phone off until we got back to the room. I left the laptop at home, figuring that I had plenty of memory cards and knowing that I wouldn’t be taking the time to work on any photos. I spent some time reading some technical papers on some of the new features of my camera, as well as looking through the manual for things I might have missed. Interesting stuff, right? Scoff if you will, but there is sometimes some good information to be found in the manual!
This wasn’t a photography weekend per se, as it was arranged as a way to meet up with our friends, Shenandoah being about equidistant for both of us. But being a guy with a new camera there was a fair amount of photography to be done. I didn’t get up early or stay out until sunset, and for the most part the skies were crystal clear blue and it was very windy, so it was not ideal for the kind of shooting I usually do, but I did manage to put a few shots on the new gear.
When I got the new camera, my first shooting opportunities involved conditions that allowed me to try out the stratospheric ISO capabilities, so for this trip it was nice to slow down into a “normal” ISO range of 100 or 400. I used the tripod for a few shots but mostly carried the camera and a single lens while we hiked, shooting random nature shots along the trail. I also carried the X10 for a few shorter hikes, since it is ideal for those times when I don’t want to carry a bunch of gear but want to have a camera with me.
Most of all, the weekend provided me some time to get familiar with some of the basic functions of the camera. It’s got a new (to me) focusing system and a few new controls to get used to. It’s actually pretty intuitive, since I am familiar with the Canon menu layout from my previous cameras. I got used to it pretty quickly and now feel like I am almost to the point where I can use it as intuitively as my older cameras. While the new 5D has some interesting new features, I tended to stick to the basics, preferring to learn how to use it in “regular camera mode.” There will eventually be plenty of time for playing around with the in-camera HDR, multiple exposures and picture styles, but for starters I just want to be sure I know how to take pictures with it!
Now that I am back to “reality” I have been working on trying to get up to speed on processing the files in Lightroom 4. I’m finding that a lighter touch is required in the new process version in general, and while the files from the 5D are very nice, I am trying to figure out how to get the new process version set up to produce files that look the way I want them to look and that I am happy with. All of my old presets are essentially obsolete, and simply duplicating the settings from the old version end up way too contrasty, oversaturated and – interestingly – too dark. I’ve been playing around with a custom Tone Curve that, when combined with some other settings, tends to get the files back to where I want them. I don’t think it’s a matter of the camera underexposing the files as much as it is just that the standard settings are somehow darkening the files, especially in the mid-tones. I haven’t had a lot of time to search the usual message boards, so I don’t know if this is just me or if it is a common issue. It’s probably me.
Anyway, I’m back in gear for a few weeks, getting ready for the next big adventure. By then I expect to have my workflow up to speed with all of the “bugs” worked out of my processing. I’m teaching a Lightroom class on May 5, so I definitely need to be up to speed on Lightroom 4 by then. I think a little more work will just about get me there.