Natural Bridge, VA

I have two purposes in putting these pictures up.  First, it was the first time for quite some time that all three of us “kids” and spouses have all gotten together just to enjoy an outing together.  On 29 April – 1 May, we drove to, and stayed in, Roanoke, VA and then went to see the Natural Bridge and a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Second, I used this opportunity to try my latest cameras and prime lenses in what turned out to be a very trying situation.  It was a very bright day and most of the time we were in and out of shade, and it exercised the dynamic range of my E-PL2 while using the 14mm and the 20mm prime lenses.  In addition, there is a reason they call it the Blue Ridge Mountains … they have extensive blue haze.

I used LightRoom to develop these pictures and I shot all of them in RAW format.  Since I was using only my two prime lenses I also did some significant “zoom cropping” on some of them.  I was trying to see how well that worked so that I could determine whether I could “get by” with just one prime lens while traveling; i.e. my ultimate lightweight travel setup.  The following are a sample of pictures taken.  With one exception they were all taken with the Olympus E-PL2.

The first picture was at Luigi’s restaurant for our evening meal.  If you look carefully you will see all six of us in the picture, but since I was taking the picture you will only see my reflection.

ISO 1600, 20mm lens, f/2.8, 1/50 sec.

The next was taken on the drive back to the hotel.  This is the only picture in this set that was taken with the Canon S95.  The S95 did quite well.  I did take some other pictures using both cameras and you would not be able to tell them apart.

S95, ISO 80, 6mm, f/4, 1/80 sec.

The next two pictures were taken at breakfast the next morning in the hotel.

ISO 1600, 14mm, f/2.8, 1/40 sec.

ISO 1600, 14mm, f/2.8, 1/50 sec.

The next picture was taken on the walk down to the Natural Bridge.  It is a picture of the trunk of an ancient Arbor Vitae Tree.  When the tree died in 1980, it was 1600 years old and the oldest and largest in the world.  It is 56 inches in diameter.

ISO 320, 14mm, f/5.6, 1/80 sec.

The next photo is of the Natural Bridge.  It is a solid limestone arch, 215 feet high, 40 feet thick, 100 feet wide, and spans 90 feet.  The U.S. Route 11 highway runs over it (we drove over it).  The Monacan Indians called it “The Bridge of God.”  It was first surveyed in 1750 by George Washington and then purchased on July 5, 1774 by Thomas Jefferson.  He purchased it from King George III of England.

ISO 200, 14mm, f/5.6, 1/640 sec.

When you continue on the path under the bridge, you arrive at a reconstructed Monacan Indian Village which is based as close as possible on archeological information of how they actually lived.  The following is the inside of one of their homes.  The homes are dome-shaped structures covered with bark.

ISO 1250, 14mm, f/5.6, flash, 1/60 sec.

The next is of one of the docents who described how they lived around 1700.

ISO 1250, 14mm, f/5.6, 1/80 sec.

The next is of a gentleman with whom we discussed at length what they ate in the 1700s.

ISO 200, 14mm, f/5.6, 1/100 sec.

When you continue on up the path, it eventually ends at Lacy Falls.  The observation point is some distance from the falls so the following picture is a significant “zoom-crop”.

ISO 200, 14mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec.

After we returned to the visitor center we drove a short distance up to the Natural Falls Caverns.  The caverns are not large, have a few small rooms, and are mostly a narrow passage way deep, down into the mountain.  It is the deepest cavern on the east coast.

ISO 1600, 20mm lens, f/4.0, 1/8 sec.

After touring the caverns, we drove on to the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped at the Peaks of Otter lodge.  The following picture was taken on the path around the lake.  You can see a peak in the background.

ISO 200, 20mm, f/4, 1/250 sec.

The path passes by the Polly Wood’s Ordinary.  An ordinary is a travelers rest stop where they could get a hot meal, a bed for the night, and a place to stable their horse.  Her ordinary was moved to this site in 1964.

ISO 200, 20mm, f/4, 1/250 sec.

After we left the Peaks of Otter area we traveled on south back down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Roanoke, VA.  The first picture was taken at an overlook looking west towards WV (the far ridge line).

ISO 200, 20mm, f/8, 1/400 sec.

The next was taken at another overlook further south looking east.

ISO 200, 20mm, f/8, 1/500 sec.

We all had a good time and have decided to try and make such trips an annual event.

From a camera perspective, I found that the E-PL2 with either prime lens to be quite acceptable for similar types of travel.  I had a zoom lens in my bag at all times but never found a need for it.  Relative to:

  • Focal length:  I think that the 20mm prime lens would have served me well for all of my scenes and I will probably use it most of the time in the future and only switch to the 14mm when I need the wider view angle which might be needed when touring small town streets and markets, etc.  I will probably only use a zoom when taking pictures of wildlife, etc.
  • Dynamic range: I think I noticed for the first time that I would have gotten better image quality from my previous Pentax K-7, but I found it acceptable considering that I was shooting in an environment which severely stressed the micro 4/3’s sensor.
  • S95:  It turned out to be the most pleasant surprise.  I think that I could have gotten adequate pictures if I had only been using it … not as good, but possible in a pinch; therefore I will continue to take it as my back-up camera..
  • Carrying the camera:  I found that my neck strap was not comfortable.  It was a heavier one that was a carry-over from the K-7 that had been modified so that I could easily switch back and forth between wrist and neck straps.  I found that for this type of touring, in and out of cars, etc. that a neck strap worked better than a wrist strap.  This is especially true since the E-PL2 with a prime lens is very light and I did not notice the weight.  I will be changing back to my Domke cotton neck strap for future touring and only use a wrist strap when I’m always working out of a bag or pocket for infrequent shooting.



    Great set of photos John! I’ve been meaning to visit the natural bridge for some time now, I’ve just not had the opportunity to get down there.

    I think the tonal range of the Oly is fine, I think it displays it very well in the sunset photo taken in the vehicle. I’d also like to point out that the high ISO performance on your fist couple of photos looks very good!

    I think a 20mm on a m4/3 body is more than capable of capturing landscapes, although in some instances it might not be “wide” enough because of the crop factor.

    Great post!

  2. Katharine

    Enjoyed this post very much. We just spent some time in the Blue Ridge mountains as well. Stayed at Hotel Floyd in VA on our way to NC.
    My photos are totally amateur!