Photographing Appalachian Mountains: Humpback Rock
Photographing Humpback Rock
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway
Best time of year to photograph: Year Around
Subject Focus: Landscape, Nature, Sunrise and Sunset
Mile Maker: 5.8 on The Blue Ridge Parkway
Distance: 2.0 miles out and back
With views to the north, east and west, Humpback Rock provides photographers a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and is a great location to photograph both sunrise and sunset.
(East, 19mm, F/16, 1/20 sec, ISO 100)
Located at mile marker 5.8 along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the trail head for Humpback Rock is super easy to access. There is no park entrance fee, and the parking lot at the trail head has plenty of parking spots. Since Humpback Rock is located so close to Interstate 64, and because it is short hike with an amazing view, Humpback Rock is one of the more popular hikes in central Virginia. The trail is short but steep, gaining over 800’ over the course of the mile from the trail head to the top of the rocks. The trail is well maintained and very easy to follow. To reach Humpback Rock, just follow the blue blazes at they lead from the parking lot to the rock outlook. Once you reach Humpback Rock, there are plenty of places for you to spread out along the rocks, which is great because unlike most other hikes I’ve done in Virginia, I have never had this view to myself. No matter the time of day or weather conditions, which includes snow, there has always been a group of people with me at the rock outcropping. UVA students love to hike Humpback Rock at sunrise, so your best chance to have the view to yourself is at sunrise when UVA is on a break. Luckily, this massive greenstone outcropping is so large that it is easy to compose your image to exclude the other hikers, if you choose to do (click here for essential landscape photography tips).
(North, 70mm, F/11, 0.4 sec, ISO 100)
Humpback Rock’s 3,080’ outlook offers photographers some outstanding views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. The view to the north is of the Afton Mountain and the Southern District of Shenandoah National Park, the east captures views of the gorgeous rolling Piedmont Hills as they lead toward Charlottesville, and the view to the west overlooks the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Cellar Mountain and Elliott’s Knob. The view to the south looks down along the Blue Ridge Parkway as it winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains toward Wintergreen, but it is blocked by the summit of Humpback Mountain. There are a few areas on which you are able to scramble to get a southwest view, if desired. Once at the top of the rocks, take a few minutes to scramble around the rocks to find a great composition (click here for landscape photo composition tips).
(East, 55mm, F/16, 1/20 sec, ISO 100)
The rocks can be used as a foreground element. Photographers are able to capture multiple layers of the Blue Ridge Mountain ranges rather than just one or two ranges when looking north toward Shenandoah. The exposed greenstone on top of the outlook works well as a foreground element or a leading line, which can help add layers and depth to your image. The wide range in views makes finding and photographing the perfect light easier. Photographers are not limited to only facing one direction, allowing photographers to take full advantage of the light in almost every direction. Humpback Rock allows photographers the ability to take advantage of different types of light (front, side, and back) cast on the mountain ranges to capture the pictures they envisioned without hiking miles to a new location and possibly missing the perfect light. This is also a perfect spot for photographers to capture stunning sunrise and sunset pictures year around because of the view from the northeast to the southeast and the northwest to the southwest.
(Northeast, 16mm, F/16, 1/30 sec, ISO 100)
Once you are done enjoying the views, follow the trail back down to your vehicle. If you are photographing sunrise or sunset, remember to bring your head lamp.
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