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Up with the Overachivers: Virginia Tech photo campus tour

Virginia Tech's sprawling campus, nestled in the heart of Blacksburg, offers a picturesque backdrop for photography enthusiasts. In this blog post, we embark on a captivating journey to capture the essence of Virginia Tech through the lens of a camera. Our sunrise and sunset adventure will take us to iconic landmarks such as the football stadium, War Memorial Chapel, Torgersen bridge, and the serene Duck Pond.

Unlike many of our campus trips, this one is neither in the summer nor for a football game. We also spent four days in the area, allowing for multiple takes of given shots. The relaxed pace allowed for more planning and iterations and I think that is reflected in the quality of the resultant images.

It's impossible to start this post without some background (read: complaining) about our history with Blacksburg. In 2009, we drove from State College, PA to Orlando, FL to watch Penn State defeat LSU in the Capital One Bowl. As would become tradition, we made plans for way too many stops, the first of which was Blacksburg. I had heard great things about Virginia Tech and the area, so it seemed like a fun stop. Unfortunately, we didn't predict getting in late, everything being closed, all the students being gone and it being 0 degrees outside. And my photos were trash.

Dark photo of the front of Lane Stadium
What I considered a good photo circa 2009. Luckily, I got better at this.

But not to be defeated, I figured I'd get another shot when Penn State played Virginia Tech in football... in 2020. So yeah, that didn't happen either. At long last, we made our return in November of 2023 before leaving Virginia once again.

Virginia Tech in the fall created some unique opportunities and challenges in our photo journey. The trees were well into their fall change so it was critical to find as much colorful foliage as possible while excluding bare trees. The mountainous landscape creates some great views, but can also be challenging to line up correctly, especially when trying to place the sun. The campus is also very dense, so it's not always possible to back up enough to capture all of larger subjects in one shot.

In order to avenge previous failures, I started my photography at Lane Stadium and would come back at least once each day. Lane Stadium, nestled within the heart of Virginia Tech's picturesque campus in Blacksburg, stands as an emblem of spirited collegiate enthusiasm. Home to the Hokies football team, this iconic stadium radiates an infectious energy on game days, with its towering grandstands and iconic Hokie Stone exterior serving as a rallying point for passionate fans. Boasting a seating capacity that transforms it into a sea of maroon and orange, Lane Stadium becomes an electric arena where the roar of the crowd reverberates through the air. The palpable sense of community and pride within these stadium walls makes it not just a sports venue, but a living testament to the university's vibrant spirit and the unifying power of collegiate athletics. Whether bathed in the soft hues of dawn or illuminated by the glow of stadium lights during night games, Lane Stadium stands as a symbol of Virginia Tech's unwavering commitment to excellence, camaraderie, and the timeless tradition of Hokie pride. But most importantly for my purposes, it is accessible from the west, allowing for great sunrise views.

In what would become a reoccurring feature for this trip, the first morning of shooting was cloudless and dull, with the second spectacular. Blue skies are great, unless you're out taking photos. The second day there, we couldn't have asked for better skies. The orange and red sky mirrored that of Virginia Tech's school colors and created the perfect complementary image. Using the hills around the stadium allowed it to be shot from multiple angles, which was critical for getting the sun in the ideal spot.

What a difference a day can make

When the golden hour ended, it was time to explore campus. Nestled against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the campus is a sprawling tapestry of red-bricked buildings, lush greenery, and serene open spaces. Strolling along its pathways, one encounters a seamless integration of modern architecture and historic landmarks. The Drillfield, at the heart of the campus, serves as a vibrant hub for student activities, bordered by Hokie Stone buildings that exude a sense of tradition and collegiate charm. The Duck Pond, a tranquil oasis framed by weeping willows and frequented by ducks, adds a touch of serenity to the bustling academic environment.

With most of the campus facing west, I had to kill some time before sunset. Luckily, there are more than enough locations and statues to spend the day exploring. Statues of Frank Beamer and the HokieBird, as well as structures like Torgersen Bridge provided more than enough inspiration to capture the spirit of campus.

Virginia Tech does not lack for attractive landmarks

As sunset approached each day, my attention turned to the War Memorial Chapel and Burruss Hall. Each had the best views facing west, making them perfect for sunset photography. Unfortunately, being there on the weekend in fall meant that there were tons of students taking formal and graduation photos over all of the locations I was looking at. I can't blame them for having the same idea.

The key to getting my shots here was patience. The students would move around, so taking multiple photos allowed me to eventually have shots of each part of the structure I was looking at. A few quick edits at home and I was able to achieve the clean and serene look I was going for.

The War Memorial Chapel, a solemn and significant landmark on the Virginia Tech campus. The morning light bathes the chapel's façade in a gentle glow, accentuating its historic architecture and paying tribute to the sacrifices it represents. The chapel's surroundings offer ample opportunities for framing and composition, allowing you to convey the gravity of its purpose while celebrating the beauty of its design.

Burruss Hall, a prominent architectural gem on the Virginia Tech campus, stands as a symbol of academic excellence and institutional history. With its grand neoclassical design, the hall commands attention as the university's main administration building. The stately columns and meticulously crafted details evoke a sense of tradition and prestige, embodying the university's commitment to education and innovation. Adjacent to Burruss Hall, the April 16 Memorial serves as a poignant reminder of a tragic chapter in Virginia Tech's history. Dedicated to the lives lost during the tragic events of April 16, 2007, the memorial features 32 Hokie Stones, each representing a victim. The memorial offers a solemn and reflective space, encouraging visitors to pause, remember, and honor the resilience of the Virginia Tech community in the face of adversity. Together, Burruss Hall and the April 16 Memorial stand as integral parts of the university, encapsulating both its rich heritage and the strength forged through collective remembrance.

Because of the emotional significance of the Memorial, I wanted to be sure to make sure it could be featured prominently in the image. I accomplished this be setting up across the drillfield, where the higher elevation evened out the hill on the other side. Using a telephoto lens I was able to then get the building, memorial and sky in a single image.

The final note I want to make is about the HokieBird statues scattered about Blacksburg. Created by Gobble de Art, these incredible works of local art are very fun to hunt down, even though the website and online map is terribly out of date. We were able to find 34, but there might be 99(?) so hopefully the next time we come back the map is updated. Our kids loved them, so if you're looking for a family activity I'd suggest it.


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