Some years are just better than others.
That's an unavoidable, universal truism, of course - not only in my field, but life itself.
It's that big ol' carrot and stick, the promise that each new year will be "better," revealing all sorts of "fresh and exciting" in my travels, and ultimately, in my work as well. It's that freshness and variety that motivates me and keeps me going.
In 2021, I did see a fair bit of "fresh and exciting," particularly in the first half. As for the rest of the year....well, maybe I'll look back at some point and find a few dark horses among the clichés, which were many - especially during autumn.
For now though, let's stick to "fresh and exciting," at least for myself anyway. These are my favorite images of 2021...
10) Parkway Flowers
This spot is frequently photographed during the rhododendron bloom in May and June - the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge over US 421 in Deep Gap, NC.
But this image wasn't even planned - I was actually on my way out to Virginia to catch an image at another frequently photographed spot. Passing by this spot though, I felt it would be worth the trouble, so I pulled out the big Nikon D4 and 17-35 lens to capture my very first image from here. As you'll see in the very next image I share, this shot might be cliché to some, but for me, it was new - and a chance to maybe put my own spin on things.
9) Mabry Mill Morning (link to order prints of this image here)
As alluded to in the previous image, this was the shot I'd been angling for when I made that brief stop on the Parkway in Deep Gap - the uber popular Mabry Mill, a bit further up the road in Meadows of Dan, VA.
But I've never captured the mill while the rhododendron were in bloom, so it was an opportunity for me to catch the mill in its spring wardrobe for the first time. It was also an excuse for me to stop by the Poor Farmer's Market just down the Parkway and snag some of their homemade apple pies, and to market my book "Seasons." Poor Farmer's Market is only one of two places in Virginia that carry my book, the other being Book No Further in Roanoke.
8) Abandoned Train Depot
My childhood home was located fifty yards from the center line of the old Atlanta/Fort Valley Railroad, a rail line established in 1889, and decommissioned in 1939. There's plenty of old artifacts and even train depots that remain along the path of that old line, and I found a few of those artifacts myself when I was a kid. Everything from old "Postal Telegraph" signs that were once a part of a train stop called Selina, to telegraph pole insulators. So naturally, railroads (especially abandoned ones) became a point of interest for me once I began my travels in earnest.
This summer I visited an abandoned train depot along a still active line, located in northeast Tennessee. I had the good fortune of finding railroad workers while I was there, and they gave me the green light to photograph this old beauty from all angles. I decided to edit the image to resemble a sort of faded color photograph. I also edited it in sepia tone, but I liked this result a bit better. The stories this old building could tell... Probably my favorite image from this summer.
7) Nature In The City
My original intention for this June day (just before the summer swelter kicked in) was to take in a minor league baseball game at lovely Fluor Field in Greenville, SC.
Only one problem. I'd gotten my dates wrong. The game was scheduled for Tuesday, not Monday, when I'd arrived. Oops...
So in classic "making lemonade out of lemons" style (whoops - a cliché), I sought out another place I'd never been to photograph - Falls Park on the Reedy River, a series of smallish waterfalls located smack dab in the heart of downtown Greenville. I just liked the odd juxtaposition of urban cityscape and nature, all in one frame. A lot of work went into bringing this current day view about, as an old highway bridge obscured the view of the falls until 2002. Falls Park was then created as part of a rejuvenation plan, restoring the natural beauty of this part of town and replacing the old highway bridge with a pedestrian bridge, where this image was taken.
6) Mystic River (link to order prints of this image here)
February 1 found me on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, taking in frigid temperatures, rolling fog, and ice forming on the trees - they all converged wonderfully here along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Loved the atmosphere I had to work with, tough to capture it in a way that does justice to what my eyes saw. This was the best result of several takes. This is also featured in the January/February 2022 issue of Blue Ridge Country.
5) Peach Fields Forever (link to order prints of this image here )
I'm always down for spring photography, and it couldn't come soon enough this year. Even with the overcast skies, the peach fields near Landrum, SC were a wonderful canvas of endless color. A passer-by stopped beside me as I was walking back to my car and said, "This sure is paradise, ain't it?"
It sure is.
4) Magnolia Reflections (link to order prints of this image here)
Speaking of spring photography, I had to wait a tad longer this year than normal. There was plenty of winter to be found, even well into April (and I'm foreshadowing here), so the blooms were literally on ice. This image from Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC was taken March 31, a full two weeks later than normal - and the blooms were still not at peak. I had taken a version of this shot during my first visit there in 2017, but I saw a better composition this time around, including more of the wisteria and towering oaks with hanging Spanish moss - and of course those lovely azalea blooms.
3) Spring Fields of Gold
I spent an awful lot of time in the Upstate of South Carolina and in Transylvania County, NC this past year, even teasing the possibility of relocating to that area. While that idea has been put to bed for now, I still enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and the dramatic views as the mountains transition to the foothills, and then to the Piedmont.
This is an April image I've kept on ice until now, yet I keep circling back to it - the symmetry of the trees and the first signs of sprouting leaves, the blue skies, and of course the flowery floor beneath it all. Those golden blooms may be weeds for all I know, but after a cold winter they were still a pretty sight...
2) Pinnacle Lake Autumn (link to order prints of this image here)
The one and only autumn image here among my favorites (the clichés were clanging hard throughout the fall, which is why I have shared so few autumn images from 2021 on social media), and this one came off the bench at the last second and salvaged an otherwise unsatisfying autumn shooting season.
This image finds me again in the Upstate of South Carolina at Table Rock State Park, on a mostly foggy November 11 morning. Just as I approached the lovely Gaines Lodge, that fog - and some of the low hanging clouds - broke, if only for a few minutes. This was shot from the back deck of the lodge, with a lovely view of Pinnacle Lake and a ribbon of fog and low clouds separating the base of the mountain and its peak in the distance. That "ribbon" makes this shot for me, as well as the colorful trees in the foreground, framing the scene nicely.
2) Maggie Valley Fireworks (Tie)
In a second place tie is this image from Independence Day in my hometown of Maggie Valley. As usual, I began my quest for capturing a fireworks display with grand ambitions. Since July 4 fell on a Sunday, many towns held their fireworks displays the day before. I gamely went along with it, picking out a new location, Lake Glenville. But I was in a bad position to capture anything worthy, as the fireworks turned out to be further down the road than I'd thought, so I came away empty.
But Maggie was holding their fireworks show on Sunday night, giving me a reprieve. I decided to keep things simple. In fact, I never even got in my car. I grabbed my camera bag and tripod and walked down to the festival grounds in Maggie Valley, enjoying the cool, crisp air, the thundering sounds and brilliant sights of the fireworks, and even capturing a nice frame or two, as seen here.
1) Tug of War (link to order prints of this image here)
A late April morning found me looking at the radar and noticing that snow was falling in the high elevations of the Smokies.
And Newfound Gap Road, the main highway that goes up and over some of those high elevations, was open for business. So of course I was game for an adventure.
It wasn't until after I'd stopped in Gatlinburg for a brief lunch and a refill of the gas tank that the clouds that obscured the frosty peaks around Chimney Tops had faded from view. It was then that I witnessed something very rare, even for this area. Fall foliage and snow? Been there, done that a few times, and it was quite a treat. But to see winter tangling with the blooming and greening trees of early spring? This was a new one for me, and I've lived here seven and a half years.
A handicapped visitor from New York watched the view from the passenger side of a car, totally in awe. "Ya know, I've never seen anything like this before. What a blessing!"
Neither have I, my friend, neither have I. This scene was the very definition of "fresh and exciting." This is what keeps me going, what inspires me, what motivates me to put all those miles on my old Honda Civic, approaching 500,000 miles and still chugging along.
And hopefully, I'll get to see more "fresh and exciting" in the coming year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y'all!