Photography Guide to Shenandoah National Park - Central District

For over ten years, Shenandoah National Park has been my escape. Reachable from the District of Columbia in less than two hours, I have spent countless days and nights wandering its trails and photographing its peaks, valleys, and skies. This photography guide is the product of years of research and exploring this beautiful section of the Appalachian Mountains.Packed with tips and over 30 images (with camera settings for every photograph) in over 40 pages, in this guide I show you the best spots to make engaging and memorable photographs of the stunning Central District of the park.

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Thousands of reasons to fall in love with Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935. Skyline Drive, a two-lane road, runs north and south the entire length of the park. Motorists can stop and take in the views at over 75 overlooks along the way. But the park is so much more than that.

The park is situated along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia with the Shenandoah Valley to the west and rolling hills of the Virginia piedmont to the east.

Over 500 miles of trail run through the park, including over 100 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail. There are trails that will take you to the park’s highest, rocky peaks and to its flowing waterfalls in lush forested valleys below. There are rare plants and wildlife galore - birds, deer, snakes, and, if you’re lucky, American Black Bear.

And if that doesn’t keep you busy enough during the day, the park gets dark, too. Very dark. It is one of the darkest places on the east coast, which makes it a perfect location to observe and photograph the night sky.

What's in the guide?

There are three districts that make up the park. This guide exclusively focuses on locations in the Central District, which lies between Thornton Gap in the north and Swift Run Gap in the south.

The Central District offers several beautiful sections of trail to hike and stunning peaks, valleys, and waterfalls to explore. Some of the best waterfalls and summits in the park are in the Central District, including the highest point in the park, Hawksbill Mountain. Big Meadows, a wetlands area near the center of the Central District, provides countless opportunities to spot birds and mammals, especially deer and the occasional black bear. It is also home to rare species of plants and insects.

The guide has five sections: the overlooks, mountaintops, waterfalls, plants and wildlife, and a short section on the night sky. In each section, I offer what I think are the most photogenic features within the Central District and provide tons of my favorite images to help kickstart your creativity.

I explain the different trails that lead to locations and provide compositional advice for once you're there on location. And if you are having trouble deciding where to visit in the park, I provide recommended locations based on the time of day for each season.

Who needs this guide?

My goal is to make visiting the park more manageable for a photographer who has not spent much, or any, time there. And hopefully those who have spent a lot of time in the park can pick up a thing or two, too.

I include camera settings (ISO, aperture, shutter speed, focal length) for all of the images in the guide to show those who are newer to photography how I made each photograph. And I provide tips and compositional advice for locations, too.

I hope you enjoy the guide and your visit to the Central District of Shenandoah National Park! 

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