Photographing the Colours of New England and Appalachians

One of the upsides of my tour of the Canadian Rockies was that it coincided with the transitioning foliage colours along the east coast of America. There are other regions within the country that showcase this seasonal show of colour, but nothing comes close to what can be witnessed along the New England region of New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as certain areas along the Appalachian mountain ranges in North Carolina.

Nowhere else in the U.S has a higher concentration of Red Maple trees, and when combined with higher elevation and cool October frosts, make for a jaw dropping display of colours. Now, a lot of this is dependant on the fact that nature will play ball and deliver all of those variables on time. In this case, an unseasonal late burst of summer like conditions meant that the arrival of the colours would be delayed by a couple of weeks, resulting in less than desired peak foliage conditions.

Exploring the Presidential Range in New Hampshire

I stayed with my friends, Gary and Susan who I met in Patagonia in 2013 and others random encounters in Argentina and Thailand during our respective round the world adventures. During my time there, we made a couple of trips up to the Presidential Range within the White Mountains in the North of the state, where Gary had spent many years rock climbing and backcountry skiing during his younger years.

white mountains new hampshire

White Mountain Road

On of the defining characteristics of the area are the number of notches (also known as mountain passes). These notches are the result of thousands of years of glacial erosion, and provide one of the most scenic drives within the state, where both sides of the roads are flanked by exposed granite cliff faces or forests.

presidential range new hampshire

Mount Washington Auto Road

north conway new hampshire

Sunrise at Echo Lake in North Conway.

A detour to Maine

My time in New Hampshire also coincided with the rare Blood Moon in September. I haven’t had the greatest track record when it comes to full moon photography; conditions have usually been unsuitably overcast or raining. On this particular occasion, the weather was clear and perfect; however, where I was staying in Manchester, there were no interesting landmarks that I could compose the moon with in order to make an captivating image. That’s when we decided to travel interstate into Maine to try our luck.

The best thing about the New England area is that the states are relatively small, meaning it was only just over an hours drive to the coastline of Maine and the port town of York, where the Nubble Lighthouse is located.

nubble lighthouse maine

A composite of the phases of the blood moon over a four hour period.

It was my first time witnessing an eclipse, let alone a blood moon, so I was pretty excited and made sure that I had the right gear with me so that I wasn’t going to miss out on any opportunities. For four hours straight, we witnessed the moon ascend out of the horizon, over the lighthouse and arch its way into the sky. For a brief moment the moon eclipsed and the night sky went pitch black; revealing the starry sky, before re-emerging in an intense orange hue.

Getting nostalgic in Vermont

It wasn’t my first visit to Vermont. The last time I was in the state was in 1999, when I spent a winter season working as a lift operator at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort. While others chose to spend their season in the more popular ski areas of California and Colorado, I felt like going somewhere different; I guess not much has changed since.

stowe vermont sunset

It was good to come back to Stowe, without being covered in snow.

From the north of New Hampshire, the best route into Vermont to experience the peak foliage is via the most northern part of the state and then head south. My route from North Conway in New Hampshire was via the Crawford Notch, along Highway 302 then turning into Highway 3 into Northern Vermont.  If you take this route, be sure to stop into the visitor centre as there’s coffee, water (by donation), WiFi and the staff have all the information to determine where the best foliage is for that current time.

vermont photography

There are a number of ponds in Vermont; some clearly visible, and others I found by just looking at Google Maps and hiking to explore.

Once you’re in Vermont, turn off into Highway 105 into Newport and where Highway 100 commences. Highway 100 is the area that reaches peak foliage the earliest in the region. Continue along Highway 100, following the foliage along the rolling hills, past the wind turbines and into Stowe.

vermont waterfalls

Some places don’t require much hiking to get to. This stream is at Moss Glen Falls, about fifteen minutes from the carpark.

Plan in extra time in Vermont to allow for exploration

When planning your time in Vermont, don’t be fooled by the relatively short distances to get from one location to another. Along Highway 100, 12, 14 and 232 the distances may seem quite short according to Google Maps, but there are numerous side roads that may offer unique viewpoints, ponds and colours.

The biggest challenge for me was finding enough elevation in order to capture the scale from a top-down perspective, so I spent most days in search of a scene and then returning later that afternoon or the next morning. There are also a large number of ponds that offer protection from winds, providing the most surreal looking reflections.

kettle pond

Taken from the Owls Head Overlook in Vermont (State Forest Rd/Hwy 232)

The Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Of the 10,000 miles that I drove across America, nothing comes close to visual spectacular as the Blue Ridge Parkway. At over 700 km in length, the parkway runs through Virginia and North Carolina and is the most visited area that is managed by the National Parks Services.

Predicting the foliage in the area is a little trickier than for New Hampshire and Vermont, due to the variation in elevation. My advice is to arrive plan your arrival and check the various websites that provide regular updates on the foliage.

blue ridge parkway

Blue hour at The Linn Cove Viaduct. I returned to this spot three mornings in a row because I just couldn’t arrive early enough in order to get the right light conditions. This is a two image panorama shot in landscape orientation.

In terms of accommodation, Asheville is the best place to stay if you want a great balance between accessibility to the Blue Ridge and city with easy access to amenities such as restaurants and nightlife. If you want easy access to the key locations along the Blue Ridge such as the Linn Cove Viaduct, then it’s best to look at various camping options such as along the parkway or in the town of Linville.

Photography tips for the autumn foliage

Planning on photographing the colours of New England and Appalachians? Capturing the vibrant colours of the fall foliage isn’t rocket science, however there are a few tips that you should follow in order to take advantage of the small window of opportunity within the season.

Use a circular polariser: If you want reduce daytime glare and make those vibrant colours pop out without having to spend too much time with post processing, using a circular polariser will aid in achieving this.

linville falls, north carolina

A polariser boosts the colours in the foliage. It also allows less light through the lens, enabling a longer shutter speed to smooth out the water. Location: Linville Falls.

Get out early morning and late afternoon: The best light is going to be just before sunrise, especially when there is high clouds. For the entire time that I was along the Blue Ridge Parkway, there were no clouds in the mornings or afternoons, resulting in a very small window of opportunity for the best light. Once the sun appears over the horizon, then conditions will be too contrasting from the extreme highlights and shadows.

Find elevation: Try to find some high points so that you can shoot downwards to capture the foliage in the foreground, all the way to the background. My favourite location was at the top of the Rough Ridge located at milepost 302.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

blue ridge parkway asheville

Shot from the Linn Cove Viaduct, facing eastward to capture the undulations in the colourful landscapes after the sun had risen.

Try both shooting at wide angle and also zooming in: As a landscape photographer, the wide angle lense is on my camera body 95% of the time. For rest of the time, I’ll try shooting between 70-300mm. I will do this whenever I want to compress the image in order to bring everything closer and put the viewer into the scene. This is also handy when you may have a dull sky and you may want to focus on specific details in the scene.

blue ridge parkway foliage

I shot this at a 155mm focal length in order to zoom into the detail as well as “compress” the image in order to bring the distant mountains closer to the foreground.

Do your research: Nature has a way of being unpredictable, so be sure to monitor weather patterns for frosts as this will affect the rate of color change and where you may want to camp.

Use a tripod: This should be in the bag for every photographer especially if you’re shooting early morning and evening. It also allows you to take multiple images and blend them together in post. I never leave for a shoot without my tripod.

Have you been, or ever contemplated photographing the New England and Appalachians?

If you enjoyed any of my images, they are available for purchase as high quality prints. Click HERE for more information.

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