#1156. The Blue Ridge Highlands of Virginia

By Henry Rinne | Travel Photography

Dec 03

Driving through this colourful fall landscape creates many photographic opportunities, but also asks an important question : life or swan song?


Fall colors have always presented an interesting dichotomy in terms of my photography. On the one hand, color has always represented life and energy. Isolating colors in photographs leads me to create marvelous, vibrant compositions. In the fall of the year, nature’s color emerges for us to enjoy and find beauty in the ordinary. The tree in July may be just ho-hum, but in October it turns in a fiery burst of reds and oranges.


Here’s my conflict—despite the fact that color reflects life and energy, autumn symbolizes the end of life and the inevitability of approaching death. Therefore, the grand show of color resulting from nature’s shedding of life leads the parade marching toward dormancy and death.


With these contradictory thoughts, I set out to photograph the fall colors in the Blue Ridge Highlands of Virginia and North Carolina. We were lucky to hit what appeared to be peak color at the higher elevations especially around Grayson Highlands State Park near Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia (5,730 feet; 1,746 meters). Driving the crooked roads in the rain through the rural landscape presents its own perils but ultimately rewards the eyes with fields of unharvested pumpkins, weathered barns, and, of course, brilliant colors.


Images need to be dynamic. Something in the form must create that dynamic in order to draw the viewer into the photographer’s vision—a vision of his or her inner life. I never expect an image to carry or evoke a specific feeling, but instead it must be about the dynamics of inner life, i.e., “what life feels like to the living” (as Susanne Langer stated).

These photographs were taken with Sony and Fujifilm cameras using Zeiss and Fujinon lenses and were processed in Capture One Pro.


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  • Dallas says:

    Henry welcome and what a wonderful post to start. I love fall/autumn the colours are to die for. The foggy colour images is such a gem, congratulations. Your images remind of some of Sean Bagshaw’s images. Hope to see more posts in the future.

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Henry, So glad you’re posting on DS, and with such lovely images! These hills and valleys–and the amazing forest that call them home–is my territory too, though a bit further north than you (we live in Lexington, VA), and I delight in your photos. Some may think them over-saturated, but not me! These are the colors I remember, even if I didn’t see exactly those vivid hues.

    On a more philosophical note, I don’t think of fall as dying. It’s a season in an endless cycle (endless to us at least, though not to the cosmos). Yes, Winter is coming, but then comes Spring! The vegetation is dropping leaves because they’re no longer useful during the cold, the trees are growing dormant or else dispersing seeds that will Spring up later. So I think of dormancy as a better metaphor than dying.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      As you would be well aware, Lad, autumn and winter are a time when trees hibernate. They are still “growing” – as the annual rings in their timber will eventually reveal, when someone cuts one down – but their growth slows, and the timber grown during this period is much harder than the timber produced during the burst of growth over the warmer months.

      No – definitely not a time of “death” – a time of withdrawing to a more secure state, for self-protection, before bursting with fresh growth in the next season.

      Hibernation is not just for bears! And Lad, I think of it more as hibernation, rather than dormancy. Tricking us into believing they are dormant, when they are in reality adding stronger, harder growth – growth that will later fuel someone’s passion for their timber, because of the extraordinary variations it produces in the grain of the tree’s timber.

      When you and I wrote about “bark”, we were only describing how this process affects the outside of the tree. But the same things are happening at much the same time, within the tree.

    • Henry Rinne says:

      Thank you, Lad. I tend to agree that dormancy is a more positive way of looking at the seasonal shift. After all, spring is around the corner with all of its rebirth potential.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Henry, you’ve just turned things upside down. Last week we had a very sombre report on autumn, and fall colours. This gives the lie to that – Pascal will now have to scout around to see if he can find similar displays, similar bursts of colour.

    Your photos remind me of some taken half a century ago by a man who – fortuitously – lived only about a kilometre from where I’m sitting right now. He was one of a bunch of guys I knew at the time, who took tens of thousands of photos of steam trains. Some ill-bred people used to laugh at this particular guy, because he was “poorly educated” and not all that bright. But he took the best photos of the whole lot of them – maybe that’s why some of them took to being rude about him?

    Like you, he had an uncanny knack for placing his subject matter – the steam locomotive at the very least, even if he couldn’t do it to the entire train – in a brilliant patch of sunshine, in the middle of a scene blackened by a heavily overcast sky. It punched the subject matter right out of the photo – it leaped up, at you. The impact was amazing! And he could do it over and over and over again – unlike the rest of his friends, who never quite managed it.

    And looking at your photos Henry, you’ve been achieving something remarkably similar – going after that sudden burst of sunshine while a blanket of thick black clouds passes overhead, with a hole in the middle to act as a monster flash gun, to give you one brilliant image after another!

    Ave, Caesar! [Literally – “hail, to the Emperor”!]
    And like so many others before you – sharing with me – with all of us, actually – photos of places I’ll never be able to see for myself. Which is surely what travel photography is all about, for most of us?

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    OMG – Henry, I was so busy admiring your photos and continuing my chat with Lad, that I nearly missed this – as I went to shut down DS and move off to my other emails, I spotted the title again! These shot are all taken in Virginia!

    While most people no doubt imagine that international travel really opened up for the masses only when the Boeing 747 was introduced in the early 1970s, humans have in fact always drifted all over the place.

    I’ve never been able to find out WHY this happened, or what on earth he was doing there – but one of my ancestors died in Virginia, in 1641 – faithfully recorded in a family bible, belonging (now) to one of my cousins, which has about a hundred pages listing all the births, deaths and marriages in that branch of the family tree from the mid-16th century (c. 1550) to the late 19th century (c. 1880).

  • Dave says:

    Beautiful and peaceful pictures
    Thank you for sharing them

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Welcome to DS, Henry! Your wonderful post reminds me of how much I love autumn foliage too! Those rich warm hues are our reward for “enduring” all that boring (to me) green during spring and summer. You have perfectly captured the look and feel of autumn in your beautiful images – kudos!

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