Long exposure of the sunrise in Thurmond, West Virginia. This is where a typical Spring rafting trip begins for the Lower New River Gorge.

Introduction to Long Exposure Photography

To achieve the unique look to this picture requires a few things. First, you’ll need a neutral density filter. An ND filter is a piece of black glass that reduces the amount of light that reaches the sensor of your camera. The advantage of this is to allow you to open the shutter for an extended period of time without overexposing the image.

Second, you’ll need an intervalometer. An intervalometer is an apparatus which plugs into your camera and allows you to do numerous things with the various settings. In this situation, it allows you to set the shutter speed for a length of time which is more than the camera’s maximum setting of 30 seconds. This image was a 300 second-long exposure.

Another filter I recommend is a circular polarizing filter. Reflected light tends to desaturate colors, especially the blues and greens of nature. A polarizing filter allows you to eliminate reflected light from reaching your camera sensor. Much of the light in nature is reflected off the leaves in the environment, as well as the atmosphere which creates our blue sky.

Additionally, a circular polarizer reduces glare caused by sunlight reflecting upon the surface of water. Most of my photography takes place beside a river. In this situation, you’re definitely going to want that. The reason the polarizer is circular is so that it can be rotated to filter the light rays at whatever angle they are being reflected.

Finally, you’ll need the right kind of clouds. Since we have no control over that, we’ll just have to leave that up to a little bit of luck and timing. The only way to get better at that is to continually watch the weather and practice often. This is what I’m working on now.

long exposure thurmond wv sunset

Spring Raft Guide Training

One of the reasons this location is important to me is because it reminds me of a pivotal moment in my life.

Spring is a special time for me in the New River Gorge. This is the time of year when I trained to become a raft guide in 1997. After my accident and discharge from the Army in 1992, I was left wondering what to do with my life. When I heard about raft guide training in West Virginia, I knew that was the answer.

The year was 1994 and I was working in the summer as a lifeguard for the city of Columbus at Maryland Pool. It’s located not far from East High School, which is pretty close to Bexley, the small city where I grew up.

It was the end of summer and I was talking to my friend, Beth about her plans for college and I said: “well, I guess I’ll just see you next year.” To which she replied, “I’m not coming back next year. I’m going to West Virginia to become a raft guide.”

At that moment, the needle on the record of life made a scratching noise and came to a complete stop. Everything around me quit moving and came to a simultaneous pause. Silence fell upon the Universe.

I remembered my very first rafting trip down the Snake River in 1985 with my family on a vacation to Wyoming and asked her “So, are you just going to fly out to Wyoming and become a raft guide?”

“No. West Virginia.” She went whitewater rafting every year with her family in West Virginia. She asked her raft guide how to become a guide and he told her about training.

raft guiding-upper railroad new river 1997

Photo of me raft guiding through Upper Railroad Rapid on the Lower New River Gorge in 1997. I was working for Mountain River Tours rafting company, based out of Hico, West Virginia. Photo by and courtesy of Whitewater Photography and Terry Ritterbush.

raft guide living 1997

Raft Guide Living, 1997. My friend Travis and I in front of our summer homes at the Mountain River Tours campground. Living out of a tent was a great experience. Photo by my friend, Doug Ludwig, who lived in the “Tent Mahall” next door.

Raft guide training takes place in the Spring. Most people come from Virginia, West Virginia or, like myself, Ohio. Every weekend we went rafting on Saturdays and Sundays. We learned all kinds of unique skills like how to read whitewater, how to upright a flipped raft and how to get a stuck raft off of rocks.

It was a truly unique experience. Every weekend I enjoyed those rafting trips, hanging out with my new friends around the campfires and just genuinely happy about the next stage in my life.

There were a few reasons I enlisted in the Army. One was adventure and travel. I have always loved being outside and out in the natural environment. That’s where the Army trained to fight and that’s where I wanted to be. Additionally, I wanted the camaraderie or culture of a group of like-minded people. At the time I didn’t realize it, but those two things were what raft guiding replaced in the loss of my Army career.