When I launched Blue Ridge Parkway Daily, I needed a shot of the Parkway which would be widely recognized. The most recognizable stretch of road on the Parkway is far and away the Linn Cove Viaduct. The Parkway is the most visited unit in the National Park System with 15 million visitors a year nearly doubling the 2nd place park – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 8 million. So the viaduct is photographed quite often.
It is counted as an engineering marvel and makes for an incredible scene. The double-S curve bridge hugs a boulder field on Grandfather Mountain. In fact, it was the boulders which caused the viaduct to be built. They were considered valuable ecologically, so instead of cutting into them, the road was built around them.
From the north end of the viaduct, several things come together to make this THE SPOT from which literally hundreds (maybe more) of Parkway photographers have exposed film or captured digital files. The graceful curves lead the viewer naturally into the scene. A large variety of deciduous trees cover the side of the mountain providing fantastic color in the fall. The boulders literally anchor the scene and tie the color of the viaduct to the scene. Two peculiar mountain peaks stretch out just above the viaduct giving the background some interest. And, almost as if placed there by a photographer, a small boulder sits in the perfect spot about 20 feet above the viaduct. The boulder opens the trees to frame the image and is an easily accessible perch from which to capture the image with a wide-to-mid range lens.
The result, as you can imagine, is that all photographers gravitate to this spot as though it were a huge magnet attracting their metallic cameras and tripods. They have to go to this rock or equipment mutiny will ensue. Cameras have been known to lock themselves up if the photographer passes this spot and refuses to go up and get this shot of the Parkway.
I have seen this scene grace the cover of more than one world atlas and with good reason. It really is remarkable. Check out this image search for a sampling of images of the viaduct.
So, what’s a guy to do? One of the reasons I’m an entrepreneur and a photographer is that I enjoy being creative. But how can you be creative with a scene that uncounted legions of other photographers have captured? (This is a question wedding photographers often face. It tends to be the same set of events week in and week out.)
6 Ways To Get Creative
Here are a few tips that I used to get what I believe is an exceptional and original image of one of the most iconic stretches of road in the eastern US.
Don’t be intimidated. I could have said “To heck with it. I won’t even try. I can’t imagine that I would get anything better or different than all the other great photographers have gotten.” But I didn’t. Think about it this way. You are a photographer because you have a God-given gift to visualize, frame, and record. And you have a background, experience, and vision that is peculiar to only you. You are a snowflake. There are no other “you”s in the universe. So it is quite likely that you will see something in the scene that no one else sees. I decided to climb the bank and sit on that rock and see for myself partly because I was predominantly a wedding photographer and would see the scene differently than a traditional landscape photographer might. Get off your bum and go.
The scene changes. When you are going to photograph a well-known location, you never know what might happen that will make your image unique and extraordinary. A bear might have crossed the viaduct, an eagle might have flown over, a shooting star, a rainbow, lightning, new trees may have been trimmed opening the view to something new. There are lots of things that could make the image unique. Go with the knowledge of the constants in the scene and keep your eye open for what will make it unique.
Let your mind go. I got up to the perch late in the day, an hour and a half or so before dusk. After a few exposures that were rather bland, my mind went quickly to what would happen as it got darker. It occurred to me as I sat there that I had never seen a dusk or night shot of the viaduct. Wow. Why not? This is a road after all, and what would happen when it got darker? Lights! (NOTE: I have seen a couple of similar light-streak images turn up in image searches for the viaduct, but only after I shot mine 3 years ago. Not saying they copied my idea, just that I had never seen this type of image before I shot mine.)
Invest the time. When I visualized this dusk shot I immediately called my wife and told her I would be later than I thought. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my wife and this was going to be a sacrifice. The later it got, the more I realized that this might take even longer than I thought. Cars were not coming by at regular intervals. I was just hoping I could get what I wanted and not have to come back another day. But I would have if I hadn’t gotten it on this day. I wanted this image.
Use your equipment creatively. For this shot I needed the car to get all the way around the curve so that there would not be a break in the steak of light. I counted the seconds on a couple of cars and figured I needed to be at a minimum 20 second exposure. That meant I’d have to use some filters to get there. I pulled out the regular neutral density filter and a graduated ND to darken the sky portion of the image and found that wasn’t enough. So I looked in my bag again. Hey, the polarizer might get me a few more seconds. Other landscape photographers would likely carry a lot of NDs, but I didn’t. So I used the polarizer for something other than what was intended.
Feel free to break the rules. Landscape photographers don’t usually have cars in their images. While you can’t see the cars, the lights are certainly there and this is probably a no-no for some photographers. But who makes the rules? While I wouldn’t carry this philosophy into other parts of your life, I would say that in photography nobody makes the rules. If you were to lean one way over another I’d say lean toward what your viewers want, not your peers. (Our Facebook page has over 39,000 fans and I have used this image as the profile pic from day 1. We average 10,000 views per day and at 3 years running, it has likely been viewed over a million times.)
I don’t know if you’ll like this image or not. That’s not the point. The point is that you can shoot a famous and overly-photographed scene like nobody else. Open your eyes and your heart and bless the world with your camera.
Eric McCarty is a photographer, inbound marketer, and founder of Blue Ridge Parkway Daily featuring Blue Ridge Parkway pictures. You can read his wedding photography post here on The Photo Argus – 8 Ways To Get Candids Without Being Noticed.
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