#1338. The Foot Bridge

By Lad Sessions | Travel Photography

Jan 16

There’s an old railroad bridge over the James River downstream from Glasgow, VA, that has been repurposed as a pedestrian link for the Appalachian Trail; it’s also a great inspiration to photographers. It’s called the Foot Bridge not because it’s a footbridge, though it is, but because it’s named after William T. Foot, who was quite active in AT activities with his wife; the couple were known as “The Happy Feet.”


On a clear (and chilly) mid-December day, my friend Ted Burrowes and I set out to cross the Foot Bridge in order to view the aftermath of the Matts Creek fire in November that burned over 11,000 acres, mostly just leaf litter, bushes and the occasional dead tree.


Fortunately the fire was blocked from further expansion by the James River on the East and the Blue Ridge Parkway on the South. But it did produce voluminous smoke, which mostly drifted East due to the prevailing winds.

Matts Cfreek Fire

“Mostly,” I say, except for one day where it nearly occluded the sun where we live.


We never made it to Matts Creek. Instead we were arrested by the light. The air was still, the river calm, and the illumination truly amazing. I believe in the old adage of taking a picture whenever and wherever the light is great—a picture of anything will look fine, but if you’re lucky you’ll be in a lovely place in that lovely light and it will be stunning. I also believe in “serendipitous satisficing”: making something good enough out of surprising fortune. These images are the result.

The bridge is fairly long for pedestrians, but solid and secure.


While not exactly handsome, on this calm day it yielded some nice views from underneath.


We walked across the Foot Bridge and for a short distance along the river. The light silhouetted the tall trees, making a fine filigree against a vivid background. But I was most taken with the serenity of the river.


While we were returning across the Foot Bridge, we had another piece of good photographic fortune: a very long coal train from West Virginia rushed across the river on the “new” bridge just downstream, which has rusted to a fine patina.


The Foot Bridge was constructed on the old railroad footers and affords a good view of the current train tracks.


Meanwhile, looking back across the river, the trees were a treasure. Mostly sycamore along the river, and denuded of leaves, their ghostly branches and trunks were reflected almost perfectly in the still waters of the James. This is a small sample from my hyperactive shutter-finger, differently-processed in ON1 to produce different looks.


Well, Ted and I didn’t walk far on this cold December day, but we had a wonderful adventure nonetheless. May you be as fortunate!


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  • Allan Dew says:

    Lad these photos are beautiful. I especially like the sycamore shots under the bridges and the one of the people walking across from the far side of the bridge. I’d say you and your friend had a very successful day. Bravo!
    All the best

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Lovely images, Lad! I’m especially drawn to the last five images – with number 4 being my absolute favorite. With such a beautiful spot it would be hard to not come home with lots of winners. But it takes a discerning eye like yours to put that special something in each image. Kudos!

    • Lad Sessions says:

      Thanks Nancee. I would agree with you on favorites. There’s something about the intricacy of tree branches–especially reflected in still water–that captivates me.

  • Robert A Sessions says:

    Fun walk with you, brother. I especially like the first train photo and then all the shots of the sycamores on the far bank. It’s amazing how many lovely photos you can get of the same scene from the same place: a tribute to your gear and to your imagination.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Thank you Lad for sharing this story. Beautiful images of a lovely place – fortunately not totally ruined by the fire.

    • Lad Sessions says:

      What I saw of the aftermath was that the fire consumed mostly leaf litter and dead trees. Most of the forest was unscathed–or rather, only slightly scathed!

  • John Wilson says:

    Nicely Done Sir. A true “Backyard Gem”.

  • Des McSweeney says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this read particularly the mirrored trees above and below the waterline. Bravo

    • Lad Sessions says:

      Thanks Des. I love the intricacy of the branches, and when they are doubled by reflection I’m doubly entranced.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Extraordinary. Extraordinary photos, Lad. Thanks for sharing them. And for the chunk of local history, too. I loved your first shot – you were pushing your luck, getting it all sharply in focus like that!

    The sequences with the reflections of the trees – and the sequences of the train approaching, then crossing the bridge. Amazing.

    You could wallpaper an entire room, with these photos, Lad!

    • Lad Sessions says:

      Thanks Pete. Glad you liked them. (But my study is already festooned with photos on nearly every square inch.)

      In the first shot I was using my 16-24 zoom, which does have considerable depth of focus.

      The tree photos are my favorites; I like the intricacy of branches, and reflected branches doubles my pleasure.

      I have another train image I should have included: a 0.6 second shot of the train just as it passed, that has a ghostly image of a pickup truck parked behind it (in focus). The gap between coal cars was acting as a shutter!

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        “The gap between coal cars was acting as a shutter!” Ha ha – maybe you could sell that one to the camera industry – they’ve all been looking for new shutter mechanisms, lately!

  • PaulB says:


    Once again your images show that local does not mean boring. You do have the knack of finding interesting subjects where ever you are.

    Well done!

    • Lad Sessions says:

      Thanks Paul. I like to explore a place thoroughly, and since I spend most of my year here, that’s the non-boring local that I like. The thing is, there’s always something interesting!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thank you, Lad, for sharing!
    Especially the tree photos!
    The previous comments have said it all…

    My personal tree favourites are the very first and the last of them.
    (I guess it’s partly because there is less colour on the shore to distract me from the almost b/w trees.)

    • Lad Sessions says:

      Thanks Kristian. In some of the tree photos I purposefully desaturated the images in post processing (in ON1) to emphasize the intricate structures. Somehow I’m more taken with the ones with a bit of color, as opposed to completely B&W.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Agreed, Lad!
        Also I think the shore needs some mark, as e.g. a little colour – I feel it emphasises the trees.
        It just seems I prefer a little less colour than you… (so it doesn’t pull in the eyes to hard).

        • Lad Sessions says:

          Sometimes I share your preference, Kristian; other times I delight in color, often on the vivid (if not wild) side.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Serendipity… and serenity 🙂
    You nailed it, Lad!
    On top of the ghostly beauty of your images, it’s not often we can see absolutely perfect reflections like these on water!

  • Mel says:

    Thank you Lad. The tree photos are haunting. I can imagine discovering one of these images sketched by hand, with a fine ink pen, in a Neil Gaiman story. One of the working ideas of DearSusan seems to be, You never know what a walk will reveal to your lens. Which makes me think of Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away” — “And tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what tide will bring in.”

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    P.S. to Pascal: « The Bridges of Madison County » is one of my favourite movies… small world, I just re-watched it recently!

  • Jon Maxim says:

    Hi Lad, I enjoyed all your images. But the trees just happened to hit one of my soft spots. I have always been fascinated by the interplay of trunks and branches of deciduous trees when they are “hibernating”. By using water reflections you are doubling the pleasure. Absolutely wonderful.

    A technical question – I notice you use ON1. Is there a particular reason you use it over other processors?

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