Adventures Photographing The Blue Ridge Parkway Stories behind the photos, by Fouad Abou-Rizk

The Blue Ridge Parkway is my favorite place to photograph, day or night. I cannot count the number of times I have driven there in order to take photos.

I'm not a fan of hiking, but I'll do it if there's a great photo I can get along the way

I've been to most of the good spots and lookouts along the parkway within an hour south of Boone, some of which I've been to several times.

Stories behind the Snaps

I drove an hour and a half to photograph this place. This photo made it worth it.

Crabtree Falls is a one hour and thirty minute drive from Boone on the Parkway. I love photographing waterfalls, and at over 70 feet tall, this was on my list. On an October afternoon in 2015, after I got out out class, I got my equipment ready and drove to the Parkway. I took a few stops at different lookouts, but pretty much drove straight there. It was a pretty clear day, and eventually I got to the parking lot for the falls.

From there it was a light twenty minute downhill hike to reach the waterfall. There were about 15 people there, including a couple of other photographers. The leaves around the falls were mostly yellow, and a lot of them were already on the ground.

When I started taking photos, the setting sun produced terrible lens flares in my photos.

Soon afterwards, the sun set beyond the top of the falls and that was no longer a problem. I went around to each side of the waterfall to photograph it from different angles, and experimented with different shutter speeds at each spot. There was no golden moment, but looking back on my images, the golden light in this photo fulfilled my expectations.

This was the first trail I ever stopped at on the Parkway. I made a good decision.

In October 2015 I pulled off the Parkway as I was heading up in elevation towards Grandfather Mountain. The sign said Calloway Peak Lookout. There was no trail map, but I was curious and wanted to check it out. To this day I have never found a lookout on this trail. What is along this trail is a creek where there is often more rocks than water.

You have to challenge yourself to make it down the steep edge to get down to the creek, but this spot, only a few minutes from the road, was the first place I came to.

I thought it was incredible how these rocks were shaped and how the water flows around them; it seemed crazy that this giant, fairly flat rock was standing up straight in the middle of the creek.

This was peak color in October, and the leaves were oranges, yellow, and red, many still on the trees, and many were placed nicely on these rocks. It looks like an artist painted a beautiful place they imagined in their mind but have never actually seen. I have since returned to this creek several more times to photograph it. It is wonderful.

A 962 second exposure on my third try.
I went on a hike in the woods at night three times to this trail to get this photo.

The first time I went to photograph at this location, I wanted to capture light trails causes by a headlamp that my friend Kenny would wear. I discover that over a long exposure, the stars appeared to spiral around a central location in the sky. I was unaware at the time, but in the night sky, the stars spiral around the North Star, Polaris, with a long exposure.

There is a wide open clearing on the Sims Creek Trail that is protected from the city lights of Blowing Rock, as it is in a valley. Light pollution from cities can cause an ugly orange glow in photos of the night sky. I wasn't able to go for a super-long exposure facing North with Kenny, because it was really cold to not be moving around, just waiting for the camera.

My first try with Kenny, when I realized that the stars spiraled. A 154 second exposure.

I went back a second time with my friend Daniela to try to get this photo, but it was cloudy. It was frustrating to not be able to capture the stars, but we did play around with light over long exposures, so it was not a total waste of time.

Left, a 128 second exposure. Right, a 197 second exposure. The red light is from the back of my headlamp, the white glow on the ground is from it's front, and the white streaks are from LEDs.

I went back a third time. This time it was clear!

I had a lot of trouble getting this photo, the big one above with the stars spiraling around a central point. Possibly the most challenging aspect of photographing the night sky is focusing the camera. The night sky is so dark, that the camera sees mostly nothing, but some bright stars appear as tiny white dots in the viewfinder. The problem is, the camera doesn't know when the tiny white dot is in focus because it is so small and far away.

How do we fix this? Trial and error. It's no fun, but I just had to take a photo, check if its in focus, and refocus and try again if it wasn't.

I wanted to go for a 16 minute exposure. That exposure would also take 16 minutes to process afterwards, so I had to make sure all my settings were right. Plus, it was 1 a.m. and my buddy Jonathan wanted to be done.

I wasn't sure if it was in focus, but I couldn't fix it, so I just had to go for it and hope for the best. I began the exposure by setting my remote, and set a countdown timer on my phone for 16 minutes. Jonathan and I decided to walk around, going to the top of the hill surrounding the clearing. I was pleased with the results.

Created By
Fouad Abou-Rizk
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Photos by Fouad Abou-Rizk.

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