1 year. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. Looking at numbers like that would make you think you have all the time in the world to get work done. But as I write this on the last day of 2013 I realize, with a very heavy heart, that I did not have enough time this year. I could have used a Super Leap Year that includes an extra 31 days, but then I probably would have just spent that time shooting more photos instead of processing what I already had!
This year I drove more, shot more, met more people, and worked more than ever before. It was an amazing year filled with adventure, writing, and photography. So, I pulled together my 30 most interesting photos from the year, the photos that tell a story about my career. These are 30 times in 2013 my photography career was amazing. I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed shooting them!
1. When it snowed…in Myrtle Beach.
2013 had been moving right along for over two weeks before I saw the weather report I had been waiting for: snow flurries in Myrtle Beach. I sat around all day with my camera gear ready to go, just waiting for the conditions to change. They didn’t change until well after dark. When I saw the first moments of the snow flurry begin, I drove as quick as I could out to the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk to capture this photo. It was 11PM, nobody was in sight, the wind was blowing hard and the temperatures dropping. Yet there I was, bundled up warm, rain gear on my camera, snapping away with the biggest grin on my face.
2. When one of my photos received 1,296 views…in a single day.
I check my Google Analytics a few times a week. It’s important to keep up with what is popular, how people are viewing your website, and the behavior of people on the site. Well, a few days after I posted this photo with a few more from the Shark Attack Miniature Golf in Myrtle Beach, SC I checked my analytics. This photo in particular had been viewed 1,296 times in a single 24-hour period! Then…I realized why. People who did a Google search for “shark attack” where finding this photo. I just hope they realized this photo was just a little bit staged…by the owners.
3. When these two kids stood in the middle of the street…with water guns.
During previous years a tradition had formed at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia: as the previous and current thru-hikers marched in a parade down Main Street, people would throw water balloons at them. But this year the higher-ups decided to ban the water balloons, instead suggesting people bring water guns. As I stood in the middle of the street waiting for the parade to begin, I noticed I was not the only one anxious for the soakin’ wet carnage to begin.
4. When I captured a photo of a rainbow…at 11:42PM.
My first trip to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, Kentucky, was in late May 2012. During this trip, everyone asked me the same question: had I captured a photo of the Moonbow? It was a year later before I would finally be in the right place at the right time to capture this event: a full moon, a clear sky, a churning waterfall, and a rainbow created in the dead of night. Note: for the skeptical, do you see the tiny stars at the top?
5. When I shot a photo people have shot a million times before…in a way nobody ever had.
Some locations have just been captured too many times, and the Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia is one of them. It is the most-photographed landmark along the entire parkway, and probably one of the most-visited. So what was I to do when I wanted to capture a photo that would stand out from the rest? Slap on my ND-9 filter, put the camera on a tripod, and shoot a 15-second long exposure in the middle of the day. The spinning wheel makes all the difference in the world.
6. When I asked a single question…and spent the next hour writing notes to all the answers.
When I visited the Museum of the Middle Appalachians in Saltville, Virginia, I had only one question for the museum director: what time period did the miniature replica depict in the history of Saltville? An hour later I had jotted down pages of notes about the salt works, Civil War, the creation of the American industrial revolution, natural gas, and more names than you find in a phone book. It was a wealth of information that I may find a way to use one day.
7. When I climbed onto a fire department ladder truck…and found myself 105′ above the ground.
In October 2012 the Abingdon Convention & Visitors Bureau in Abingdon, Virginia hired me to shoot photos around town, including some aerial photos. However, nobody wants the expense (thousands of dollars) of hiring out a helicopter, so the closest we could come was the fire department’s ladder truck. When I returned in 2013, I needed to take a trip once again to capture some of the same photos, but this time in the early Spring. The first thing the truck driver did this day: put me in the bucket and raise me straight up 105′, the highest the ladder would go.
8. When I shot photos of these guys and their toys…while I chatted with their wives.
People make photos better. That is a big fact in the world of travel photography. So when I needed photos of boating activity on South Holston Lake near Abingdon, Virginia, I went out to Washington County Park. I stood along the shore for awhile until I saw these guys having some fun with their toys. I started snapping photos with a honking big 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (it’s about 12″ long with the lens hood). About ten minutes later a woman politely asked what I was doing, who I was shooting for, the usual questions. She seemed a bit proud of her husband (the one on the inflatable) when I said I was a travel photographer. I sent her a copy of this photo a few weeks later. I wonder if she framed it for Christmas?
9. When I spent an entire night capturing the Supermoon…at the beach.
Shooting photos of the Supermoon is just a fun event. Each year about this time I mark my calendar with the biggest moons of the year so if I get lucky with clear skies I’ll be ready to shoot. But standing on the beach in Myrtle Beach shooting photos of the moon rising over the ocean may look beautiful, but it was hot and muggy all night.
10. When I bought my first fisheye lens…and ran out to a castle on the beach.
I had wanted a fisheye lens for awhile so I was more than a little excited when Fedex showed up in my driveway. I was supposed to be processing photos from a previous shoot, but instead I was out the door with my camera bag in hand just fifteen minutes after this lens arrived. I needed a tight, confined place to both test the sharpness of the lens and learn how to frame a fisheye photo. My solution: Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. I walked around the rectangular mansion five times before I finally went home to check the photos. I was not disappointed.
11. When I came across an unnamed beach…so I named it Deadwood Beach.
When I visited the Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, I found myself on a beautiful, secluded beach. You can’t swim here because of all the deadwood tree roots in the water, but it’s a beautiful place to read a book, listen to some music, or just take a day-long nap in the sun. When I asked the local manager if the beach had a name, she told me it was just called the Botany Bay Plantation Preserve and that the beach didn’t have a specific name. So…I named it.
12. When I came across this medieval looking dentist chair at a coal museum…and my teeth hurt.
Big Stone Gap, Virginia is known for quite a few things, but the one I was most interested in was the number of museums. The small coal town has five museums, each with its own theme. The Harry W. Meador, Jr. Coal Museum features loads of coal mining artifacts, machinery, and equipment, but also little items like this dentist chair and tool tray. My teeth hurt a little each time I look at this photo.
13. When I was the only photographer to attend the 50th Anniversary of the Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
I had heard of the Trail of the Lonesome Pine, but never seen the play myself. Performed during the summer months at the June Tolliver House in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, the play has been continuously performed for 50 years in 2013. When the organizers decided to have a big celebratory weekend, I decided I needed to be there to capture this historic moment. Sadly, I was the only photographer to attend since the local media decided it was not a big enough event. Notice how I’m using the fisheye lens I had bought just two weeks earlier?
14. When I needed a photo of an usher handing out programs…and I only had thirty minutes to shoot it.
When the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia hired me to shoot a few photos for the updated website, this was the first photo I had in mind. But it’s not nearly as easy to shoot as it looks. In order to get a completely black background, I had to use two strobes off to the side to light the people. But I only had thirty minutes to set up, get the photo, and get out of the way for the next performance to begin. As you can see…I got it.
15. When I discovered my childhood neighbor married the guy I played high school basketball with…and created a BBQ restaurant in our hometown.
Thanks to the powers of stalking that exists within Facebook, I had seen that Brett and Jill Wolfe owned a BBQ restaurant. While shooting photos on Main Street in Marion, Virginia I noticed a sign hanging in a window announcing the new location for Wolfe’s BBQ Restaurant & Catering. Two months later, I came back to capture some photos and enjoy some delicious food at this little locally-owned place co-owned by a girl I can remember riding a tricycle down my dirt-and-gravel driveway.
16. When I visited the Lincoln Theatre…and learned the hole had been repaired.
Marion, Virginia has come a long way since I grew up here in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I remember driving up the nearly-deserted Main Street, looking at the front facade to the Lincoln Theatre, that always said the same thing: “CLOSED”. I learned about local history in middle school and high school, but what I remember most about this historic theatre was the epic hole in the roof from years of disrepair. But as I walked through the theatre this year I was stunned at the beauty, the unique architecture, the impact of this historic place. Things have certainly changed for tourism in Marion; they have never looked better.
17. When I shot this photo of the White House…and found someone on the roof looking at me.
I decided to start a new tradition this year: for my birthday, I will take a long weekend getaway to our nation’s capitol to enjoy shooting photos that I’m not being paid to shoot. Since this was my first trip to Washington, D.C., I decided I had to get a photo of the White House. You are not allowed to set up a tripod within about 100′ of the fence around the lawn, so I stood a little ways back and started snapping my photos. It wasn’t until I got home a few days later and had processed the photos that I noticed something: on the roof of the White House was a man with a set of binoculars on a tripod…looking straight at me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up just a little bit. Next year…I’m gonna wave.
18. When I was sent on assignment to shoot photos of spoonbills…and found them nibbling on tail feathers.
I was shooting photos for the South Carolina Visitor’s Guide when I came to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. The park is known for the beautiful birds that come out to feed during low tide. But I had one very specific bird on my list: the spoonbill, a bird with bright pink feathers and, well, a bill shaped like a spoon. My first day was a complete bust, so I returned a week later and hit the jackpot. I watched as one, two, three, then a whole half dozen spoonbills flew in at various points to feed in the low surf. But as I watched the interactions, I knew these two were gonna be trouble. Sure enough, a few minutes later the older spoonbill on the right decided to give the younger spoonbill a good chomp on the tail feathers.
19. When I was the odd one out…while walking on a jogging path.
I’m used to being the only photographer wherever I go (except when I was just one out of hundreds of photographers in Washington). But it was a little different while I was walking across the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina. Wonders’ Way is a walking/jogging/biking path on one side of the bridge that allows people to safely cross the Cooper River. I parked at a gas station on the Mt. Pleasant end of the bridge, threw my photography backpack over my shoulder, and started walking. One jogger passed me, then two. Then a woman jogging with a stroller passed me. A bicyclist. An entire group passed me, jogging in the opposite direction. During my fifteen-minute trek to the top of the bridge I was the only non-jogger. Fortunately, I’m used to be the odd one out.
20. When I shot a photo of this paddleboarder…and she bought me a drink an hour later.
Another part of my assignment shooting for the South Carolina Visitor’s Guide was to capture a photo of someone paddleboarding. Murrells Inlet is a fantastic place for all kinds of water sports: kayaking, jet skiing, paddleboarding, and fishing. The first moment I stepped out of my Explorer I saw this woman paddleboarding along the water. I started snapping and didn’t stop for nearly thirty minutes. After I got the photos I needed, I took a little walk along The Marshwalk. On my way back, I passed this woman along with her sister-in-law and parents at a locally-owned bar. She offered to buy me a drink. Fortunately, I can drink a little while on this job.
21. When I came across this little locally-owned place in Bristol, Virginia…and returned every time I come back to town.
Some places just stick in your mind. Others stick in your heart. The first time I came to the Burger Bar in Bristol, Virginia, was on a food tour my friend Sara Cardinale was doing, Tastes of the Town Tours. I returned a few days later to speak with the owner, try some of the food, and shoot a few photos. Joe was one of the friendliest, hardest-working owners I’d ever seen in a restaurant…and the food was amazing. Since then I have decided each and every time I am in the area, I stop here for lunch one day.
22. When I thought I would have a cloudy, dreary day…only to find myself above the clouds.
I was supposed to spend the month of October shooting photos of the Fall Foliage in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. This year was rather drab, but I decided to spend one day at Grayson Highlands State Park in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. I left just a little before sunrise, so I couldn’t really tell if it would be a clear or cloudy day. As soon as the sun rose, however, I noticed the thick clouds beginning to form. Less than fifteen minutes from the park, I could not see any blue sky whatsoever. A little disappointed, I decided to drive up Whitetop Mountain to see what it looked like. As I took one final turn on the dirt and gravel road I suddenly broke through the cloud layer…and found myself above the clouds. I quickly found a place to park and started snapping photos. I didn’t stop shooting for nearly two hours when I saw a trio of Appalachian Trail backpackers coming up the trail. I waited…and I waited…and at just the right moment, shot the photo above. I jumped up and down with joy like a little kid.
23. When I spent an hour shooting this photo…and lost contact with my nose.
I had visited the Mill Mountain Overlook in Roanoke, Virginia earlier in the day. I knew I wanted a night-time photo, but it wasn’t until I saw the view for the first time that I decided I wanted a light trail photo as well. With my camera set up on a tripod and all bundled for warmth, I set the camera to continuous shooting 30-second exposures. Although base layers do wonders to keep you warm, they don’t keep you very warm when you are standing still. So I began pacing in long lines, back and forth, as the wind blew pretty wildly. By the time I had the photos I needed, I had lost contact with my nose.
24. When I found a life-size replica of the first cousin of my ninth grandfather…who was a blood-thirsty war chief.
My grandmother ha always been interested in my family’s genealogy. Earlier this year, she called me up one day to tell me a story about Dragging Canoe. When Tsiyu Gansini was a youth, he wanted to prove to his father he was strong enough to join a war party. To prove his strength, he attempted to pick up a canoe and carry it to the river. However, the best he could manage was to drag the canoe to the river, which gave him the name Dragging Canoe. When early American settlers signed the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with Cherokee leaders Dragging Canoe warned that any “settlement would be dark and bloody”, thus beginning the Chickamaugan War. So…for all those people out there who can trace their ancestry back to a settler killed in that war…sorry.
25. When I asked if I could shoot their photo…only to realize they didn’t speak a word of English.
During a return trip home in early November, I hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville and drove down to Brevard, North Carolina. This stretch of the parkway provided many places to pull off the road and enjoy majestic views. At one of these stops, I found a pair of motorcyclists taking a break. I thought this was make a great photo so I approached them, introduced myself, and asked if I could shoot their photo. The look they gave each other disturbed me at first. I felt like they were about to say a profound “no” when, suddenly, they began speaking in a foreign language. I can speak six languages well enough to get around the country and I can probably recognize at least another two dozen…but I did not have the slightest clue what language they were speaking. Or what they were saying. So…I just waved, walked back toward my car, and snapped this photo as they were leaving.
26. When I spent my Thanksgiving sitting on the beach…in the dark, for three hours.
It was the day after Thanksgiving. Most people were eating leftovers or perhaps enjoying the chaos of shopping on Black Friday. I, however, found a different way to spend three hours: sitting on a very dark beach listening to my camera go “click….click….click” every thirty seconds. I could have turned the camera ninety degrees to the right and gotten a much darker sky out over the Atlantic Ocean, but I actually wanted this photo for a reason. I am an advocate for the International Dark-Sky Association and their effort to reduce light pollution, so I pointed the camera across the mouth of the Cooper and Ashley Rivers toward Sullivan’s Island…and the Morris Island Lighthouse.
27. When I found a cozy, beautiful cafe…in a small town square.
One of the aspects I absolutely love about my job is meeting the owners at small, locally-owned businesses. In 2013 this became the sharp focus of my travel writing and photography career: locally-owned. I had visited Glade Spring, Virginia for the first time in my career early in 2013. The small town square was looking more alive than it had in decades with a new restaurant, artists guild, boutique shops, and plenty of “Coming Soon” signs. When I returned in December, I found the latest new business: Central Cafe. I returned the next day to meet with Chef Teri Jarnigan and later that night met with owners Ann and David Ledgerwood. After sampling some amazing pastas and beans, a large slice of cake, some great hot chocolate, and listening to some live music…well I went back to work and shot a few photos.
28. When I felt at home during Christmas…at the Martha Washington Hotel.
The Martha Washington Hotel & Spa in Abingdon, Virginia is one of those one-stop all-inclusive vacation packages. They have two restaurants, a day spa, indoor swimming pool, outdoor jacuzzi’s, a library, and a gift shop. You could potentially check into a room and never leave the premises for an entire weekend. Usually, I write about how you can easily spend a three-day weekend in Abingdon, or an entire week in Southwest Virginia, but when I saw the Christmas decorations you see above I suddenly wanted to stay. I could have spent hours in that chair reading a book…or taking a nap.
29. When I visited the Lighting of the Tunnel…three weekends in a row.
If at first you don’t succeed…try and try and try again. Although it only took twice to get these photos, I actually returned three times this year. It was the first time I visited Natural Tunnel State Park during their annual 8 Days of Christmas event, which includes the Lighting of the Tunnel. I traveled about two hours roundtrip to visit the park the first Friday I was in the area, but it rained the entire night. So, I returned the next Friday night to find beautiful clear skies, warm bonfires, and majestic views. I spent four hours shooting photos and I was the last visitor to leave. Then, I returned for a third weekend in a row on a first date because it didn’t get much better than this. It worked out great: I made money shooting photos there one weekend, spent the money on a date the next weekend.
30. And when I shot photos in Turn #3 at Bristol Motor Speedway…while sitting in the middle of the racetrack.
I could not have hoped for a more exciting event to end my year in photography. On the last available night I had before I left the area to return home, I visited Bristol Motor Speedway to shoot their annual Speedway in Lights event. I had been here when I was a kid, but I actually don’t remember it. I certainly did not remember two critical facts: it takes two hours to work your way through the lights, and you get to drive a single lap on the actual raceway. After I had gotten all the photos I needed, included the one above where I sat in the middle of the racetrack at the start of Turn #3, I returned to the middle of the traffic line so I could drive a second lap around the racetrack. I can’t tell you how fast I drove for fear I may get into some kind of trouble…but it was fast.