Unlike all previous years I went to Shenandoah National Park 3 times in October. I think all other years I've only gone once, usually on or about October 20th.
This year I went in very early October and there was no fall color, just green. And on this visit I hiked up Hawksbill Mountain, and that was also a first. I've always taken the easy approach to SNP and shot from the road, from the overlooks and walked very very little, almost not at all exploring. But this year was different, and the hike and views were good. It was a bit of a scouting trip to see what the views would be like, as well as a good day of exercise, hiking with ~3 cameras, ~4-5 lenses, and a tripod.
Then I went back on Saturday October 22nd. The fall colors were late arriving, and according to the SNP fall foliage reporting page, it was here finally, in gloriously fine colors here, there, and all over... It was much better on the 22nd, but it was also very windy. Like, 50 mph windy, so a good bit of the turned leaves were blown off. The SNP site did it's report on the 21st, and probably described views of foliage that had subsequently fallen from the trees by the time I got there. But as with any day out in nature, exploring, and hunting for cool images it was worth it.
My new found routine was to get to SNP ~45 minutes before sunrise (6:30am-ish) and then drive along Skyline Drive and see what the sunrise might do and pick a spot. The sunrise wasn't as spectacular as past ones, mostly cloudy but still great to be out. And I just checked to see what the images looked like from sunrise in my edited folder, and there was nothing. So I checked my lightroom app to see what happened and it was ok, and I did bulk edit hundreds of RAW files in to TIFs and then in to HDR TIFs. I do that in bulk to save time and see what comes out, and then if I like an image either post process that HDR file, or start over the process it fresh with unique settings for that group of source files. Part of what I was disappointed with from the files is that due to the wind and slow shutter speed I used a lot of the images have motion/blur and that didn't seem appealing at least so far...
Anyway, I shot as normal for much of the morning, and was among a number of photographers all shooting sunrise from the same overlook. Then after a little bit everyone had left and I was the only photographer still there. At this point I realized there were probably many more images to be had if I just slowed down and looked for different things, and kept an open mind.
I shot leaves gathered in the corner of one part of the stone wall. I hopped over the wall and shot some of the trees, leaves, rocks, etc. I shot the road with the wall, and used the wall and it's graphic line to lead the eye in to the image... And then I started to also focus on the wall and the smaller details. There were a handful of vines and growing plants on the wall itself.
When I go shooting to a place like SNP I bring a lot of gear, multiple bodies, multiple wide angle lenses, a zoom or two, and occasionally a macro lens. The below images was taken with a D4 and 24-120mm f/4 lens. I've had the D4 for a while, and 24-120mm is new to me, and I got it used less than a year ago - it has a nice smallish aperture, and good close focusing distance. As I was playing around, I realized I could get the background blur to have the color of the leaves and that would complement the stone wall and vine in the foreground. I like the resulting image, and managed to get some other varieties of the same theme later in the day with different plants and background that I may still share.
If there's a point or take away from this blog post it is to keep looking and exploring, and be open to seeing images that you didn't plan on taking or didn't immediately reveal themselves. And also don't just go with the crowd - I could have easily left the overlook and moved on when I noticed everyone else had done that.
Searching for something different I started to explore around the overlook for something other than the big views:
After sunrise and this area, I drove south on Skyline Drive and then hiked Hawksbill Mountain. I took this image after being up there for a while (HDR) and posted it already to flickr...
Updated with more images I processed and shared after writing the above post: