Anniversary in the Mountains

Wednesday, Jan 10-Sunday, Jan 14, 2018

Winter Flurries
Each year, Toni and I try to get to the mountains for an anniversary trip.  During these trips I usually try to get out for a bit and get some pictures.  While we were in Jefferson for three full days, the weather didn't do us any favors at all.  I'm actually happy that I was able to get anything at all, and most of these are from the back deck of the cabin that we stayed at.

So, here is how it all went down.  First of all, we started off at the cabin that we had originally selected called Creekside Waterfalls.  Hmmm, sounds like something a photographer might enjoy, right?  Well, that wasn't the reason that we selected the cabin.  We wanted something smaller than we had been used to in the past, and wanted something in a slightly different area.  Turned out the area wasn't all that much different, and when we got to the cabin, it was a bit smaller than we were expecting.  There were some other small issues that were there as well, but nothing too terrible that we would be opposed to staying.  However, we have a great relationship with High Mountain Cabin Rentals, and they came through in stellar form.  Within the hour, we were actually upgraded to another cabin that they had available.  Off we went, and found that the new cabin, although a bit more expensive, was off the charts nicer.  We had found our new home away from home.

Of course, by the time we got the accommodations figured out it was too dark to do any photography.  That was no problem since I had the rest of the trip to play with the camera.

I checked on the weather for the following day and saw that there was going to be rain on and off for most of the day, and that there was not going to be much of a sunrise.  That meant that we got to sleep in a bit which was nice.  After we got up, we saw that it was raining pretty good.  Toni still wanted to out and do some shopping so we packed the camera up and headed out to see what we could see.

Clouded Ridge
We did a good bit of driving around and found a few things of interest, but the lighting was not right, and the rain was a little too hard for me to do much with.  After we did our shopping, we headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick drive.  The rain kept fluctuating in intensity, but it would never completely stop.  I had pretty much given up all hopes of getting any pictures from this drive and was just enjoying the scenery as we drove through the mist and fog.  Then I saw it.

Wait, what did I see just past the Grandview overlook?  I'm pretty sure it was a very prominent tree standing out in the fog.  Could I be that lucky?  I got the car turned around to go check it out.  As I came up on the scene the tree looked awesome, and the lighting was just right.  I had a great composition in mind already.  The only was still raining pretty hard.  The composition that I wanted was going to necessitate my 24-70mm lens which has a fairly shallow lens hood on it.  This would not protect the front element nearly as well as the one that I have for my long lens.  I about gave up on the shot until Toni reminded me that she was a Mom.  No....that's not what I meant.  I know she is a Mom, but part of being a Mom is she is always prepared for anything from a runny nose, to a ballistic missile.  She reminded me that she had an umbrella in the trunk.

Being a guy, I'm not a big fan of using an umbrella, so I don't ever think about them at all.  Since she brought it up though...  I figured the composition was good enough to give it a try.  I got out of the car and felt the rain pelting me in the face.  This was going to be interesting for sure.  I built the camera under the hatch of the car with the 24-70mm lens.  I didn't use a polarizer because I didn't see glare being much of an issue, and I wanted simplicity more than anything.  I got into position, and deployed the umbrella before removing the lens cap.  I had to have looked funny standing on the side of the road fully in the rain while my camera was under the cover of the umbrella.  I got the composition framed just as I had previsualized it, and released the shutter.

Commanding Presence
The exposure was a little off with some highlights that I didn't want.  I reevaluated the composition and framed it ever so slightly differently, and fired it off again.  This time, the exposure was spot on, and I had all the information that I needed to have according to the histogram.  Just in case, I did a few extra exposures just in case I had anything blowing in front of the camera at the time.  I was satisfied that I had what I wanted, and saw that rain was starting to blow under the umbrella onto the lens.  That was my sign to hit the road.

I had a total of five frames from this one tree, but knew that I had a winner out of that group.  There were no more pictures that day because the rain was just getting harder and harder.  I decided that Friday was going to be the best day for going out to get more pictures since the forecast was for off and on rain with clouds and fog.  I was excited about the prospects for the next trek.

Well, Friday came and it was pretty much a steady rain all day long.  There was no fog to speak of, and the lighting was just flat and lifeless.  I don't think the camera moved in the cabin all day long.  When we finally left for dinner, I didn't even take it with us.  By that time, the rain was so hard we could hardly see in front of the car driving.  I still had my tree picture so I was happy though.

Saturday was a completely different story all the way around.  It was single digit cold.  It was hold onto the railing windy.  But it wasn't raining.  It was flurrying, and there was some accumulation to be seen.  By this point, Toni was tired of me (I think I'm kidding) and wanted me to go out on my own to get some pictures while she stayed in the cabin to relax.  Ok, I'll give it a go.

I spent the next two hours driving around in a heavy flurry with gusty winds of near 40mph.  I wasn't having any luck at all finding anything to photograph.  The few things that I found fell into two categories.  First of all, the out in the open scene where I couldn't keep the camera steady, or grit from blowing all over the lens.  This was just too dangerous to try, and the subjects I found were not worth the hassle honestly.  The second category was the more intimate scenes where I had protection from the wind.  However, due to the nature of the area I was in, there was nowhere to pull the car over where it would be out of traffic.  Again, the scenes were not quite good enough for me to get creative with my parking.  In short, I spent two hours driving around to find basically nothing.  I still had my tree though.

Give Me Serenity
I returned to the cabin empty handed.  I was a little disappointed honestly, but it was no big deal.  I was there to spend time with Toni, and since she was staying at the cabin I didn't want to be out driving aimlessly alone.  It wasn't long after I got back that we had to deal with that ballistic missile I mentioned before.  It was then we realized that her cell phone wasn't able to make outgoing calls.  After we found out that the missile was a erroneous alert and a lot of fuss for nothing, she spent the next couple of hours on the phone with our cell provider.  While she was on the phone, I was looking out the back door at the mountains behind the cabin.  They had caught my eye as the clouds cleared from them earlier, but now the light was doing some nice things on the ridge.  The day long flurries had created snow capped mountains that made for a nice contrast to the bare trees in the foreground.

Since Toni was on the phone, I decided to put the camera together and see if I could work the scene a bit.  I wasn't thinking apparently and only put a jacket on.  I left the 70-200mm lens fitted to the camera and used no filters since the sun was to my back anyway.  This allowed me to use the lens hood which was a good thing since the snow was still coming down.  I started to pick out compositions as the light moved across the mountains.  After just a few minutes I remembered something.  It was cold!  No two ways around it, I was freezing my arse off.  I had grabbed a few shots and figured that I had enough so I went inside.

As I was about to break down the camera, I looked and saw that the light was doing other things, and I wanted to try a panorama shot of the ridge.  It was too clod to go back out there though.  I added a hoodie, and a pair of gloves and went back out in the shade to try this again.  I got the camera set up and did a mock sweep of the scene before setting the focus and exposure.  I fired off five vertical images at 143mm that would be later stitched together in Lightroom to create the opening image of this entry.  There was more depth than I had expected with the bare trees in the foreground blending into the more distant, softer textures of the mountain.  It was a nicer picture than I had though, and I was very glad that I had gone and tried this shot despite being very cold.

Snow Capped
Did I mention that I was cold?  Yeah, my skin isn't near as thick as it used to be.  But I still managed to stay outside for about 15 minutes and shot a few more images as the light danced across the mountain.  I even shot this one minimalist picture that showed three distinct textures with very little context.  Each section did have a blending element to the next which was one of those interesting things that drew me to the shot.  The mountains faded into snow which transitioned into cloud.  The thick cloud gradually blended with the blue in the sky to which it changed over to.  Each section has its own visual weight in the image that seems to work.

At this point, I was so cold I couldn't think anymore.  It was time to come inside and start cussing at the cold.  Well, Toni was still on the phone with the cell provider and all of a sudden I realized that me being cold wasn't so bad.  As I thawed out, I got the camera stowed away to warm gradually.  I had shot 20 some new images, and was hoping that a couple of them would come out well enough to keep.

When we got home, I started to cull the image, 33 in all.  I found that a good portion of the deck shots were actually pretty good considering.  They do hold a special place in my heart, so I was a little easier on the delete button than I normally would be.  The panorama worked out very well, and that would have been enough to make it worth my while.  However, there were a few others that showed decent potential.  While editing, I was really impressed with the tree I shot in the rain on the Parkway, and it is by far my favorite from the trip.  I couldn't help but think that it would be a great study in monochrome as well.

Commanding Presence in B&W
The black and white version captured everything that the color version did and then some.  I'm not sure which I like better, but I like them both enough, and I think they both stand on their own enough to include them both here.  The fog did an amazing job at allowing the tree to stand out from the crowd.  The element that drew me to the scene in the first place is so evident as well.  This tree is the only one with prominent branches that do diagonally.  The background trees are all quite vertical and boring.  This tree demands your attention whether in color or monochrome.

I've had more successful treks over the years, but this one was still one of the more enjoyable ones.  We had adventure, we had just about every weather pattern as the days went by, and had a lot of fun in the mountains!  We are already looking to go back, and I'm going to have to suck up my pride, and start carrying a small umbrella which made my favorite shot possible.

New Year, Old Cars

Monday, January 8, 2018

Impressive Stance
We are eight days into the new year and I have not been out with the camera since last year.  I would like to come up with a really good reason why that is, but mainly it is because I am a wuss.  It has been really cold for the last couple of weeks now.  I have just not wanted to go out and be miserable for no good reason, so I've stayed inside for the most part.  With all of this cold, it seems that everyone I know is out photographing frozen waterfalls.  The thought crossed my mind, but after the initial impact of seeing waterfalls frozen, they left me completely empty.  There was just not much that I really wanted to photograph with the frozen falls.  I'll leave it to the hundreds of other photographers doing just that for the past couple of weeks.

I decided to spend the first warm day (just above freezing temperatures) out with the camera, but what to photograph?  The forecast was for cloudy skies with freezing rain starting after lunch.  We know how I was feeling about waterfall photography, so that was out.  I was still having a lot of fun with photographing old cars, and I thought that I might go out and hunt a few of them down.  With the threat of bad weather after lunch, I decided that I needed to have a bit more guarantee of subjects since I was only going to have a few hours to work with.  It only seemed natural to head out to White's Service Station in Germanton for the morning.  I know that they have a bunch of vintage iron in the yard that I can play with.

Motley Ford
I got there about thirty minutes before they opened and the weather was great with solid overcast skies.  I was wishing there was a bit more texture in the clouds, but at least I didn't have to worry about high contrast sunlight as I was walking through the yard.  Since I know that the owner likes for photographers to "check in" with him, I waited until they opened to let them know that I was there and make sure it was still ok for me to walk the yard.  As I was waiting, I could see that the sky was opening up a little bit and the sun was starting to shine through.  This was not a big deal as it would add a little depth to my images to have some sun in the scene.  When 9am approached, I got out of the car and went to the shop.  It was still closed.

Hollow Scowl
I didn't have to wait long before somebody rolled up.  The few minutes that I was there though, I got cold.  I was already losing feeling in my fingers and was considering putting on my gloves.  I had a quick exchange with the guy who rolled in, and he checked with the owner to make sure that it was ok for me to take a scenic walk through the property.  He said that it was fine, and requested a card from me.  With that, I was on my way.  I grabbed my gear from the car and started walking.  It didn't take long before I started to warm up.  Unfortunately, that was because the clouds were gone.  I mean there was not a cloud in the sky.  This was no good.  Everywhere I looked, the lighting was all wrong.  I looked for cars in the shade which might have emblems to photograph.  There were very few of those around, and most of them didn't have good enough emblems to worry with.

Fender Jewel
I did come across one car where the sun actually made a great picture.  There was a fender ornament that had an opaque "V" in it.  The sun was back lighting the ornament and the graphic inside really stood out.  I worked with this for a good little while to get the right angle on it.  For some reason, I didn't want to fill the whole frame with this bit of chrome.  Instead, I wanted to place it within the frame and give some abstract clues as to what was being seen.  The end result was much more dynamic than just a straight on photograph of the main feature.  This was just one of the quirky images that I got from the day.

Honestly, I was really wondering if I was going to get anything worth while since the sky was staying pretty much crystal clear as I walked from one end of the yard to the other.  There were a bunch of really interesting cars to be seen, but the problems I was running into was the lighting, and the proximity of the cars to other cars.  In the cases where cars were grouped around other cars of a similar era I was good.  However, far too often, I was finding great cars surrounded by some late model vehicle, usually import.  This became very problematic, and with the light dictating the direction that I could shoot, I was really starting to lose hope.

Low Beams
In order to try and make the best of the situation, I spent a lot of time searching out compositions that I could do where these problems would not be an issue.  I've found that photographing headlights have been very rewarding when shooting intimate compositions of cars.  I did happen to find one that had a nice twin headlight arrangement under a sculpted fender that had a good deal of patina on it.  I struggled with how best to photograph this, and found that going high and shooting down made for the best composition.  I was able to anchor the image with the lights and use the spine of the fender as a bisecting element.  The sun was strong on the left side, while the right side was in the shadows from the body lines.  A nice tight crop with the camera and I was in good shape to include only what I wanted in the frame.

In an odd turn of events, I found a car that had no emblems left on it.  However, where the hood emblems had been, there was a nice ghost image cut into the patina.  Of course, this is an easily recognizable shape and for those who are familiar with the older cars, it is an image that you will understand.  For me, I love the textures of the rust and the hint of old paint where the emblems had protected the metal for decades.  Again, it was a quirky image, but one that I think turned out really well.

Sun Spots
In some cases it was the emblems that caught my eye.  In other cases it was the lack of emblems that caught my eye.  On this particular Buick, I found that the interplay between the emblem and the weathered trunk lid were the ideal subject to photograph.  I'm not sure how the trunk turned out like this, but the green on the car had faded off to one side, and within that area was a lot of surface rust.  The sun was hitting the trunk lid pretty hard, and that made the faded paint really change color.  There was a hard shadow from the emblem that gave it depth, and a little rusty runoff from the tail that gave it life.  The faded paint with the orange rust looked like a sun with some sort of winged ship headed for it.  I know, very geeky thing to see, but that was the image in my head after seeing this.  With a little careful use of the polarizer, I was able to capture this specific interplay between the ornament, paint, and rust.  Oh, and I had to shield the front element of the camera with my had to keep any lens flare from happening at that angle.

I had been out here for about 2 hours at this point waiting on the clouds to show up.  I was really starting to think that they were going to be a no show at this rate.  I continued to shoot for the conditions and looked for compositions that would work using the sun.  I found this old Ford which I have photographed before and it seemed to work with the sun.  I went ahead and started to look for compositions.  Because of all of the cars around it, I had to get in close and crop tight to the car.  At first I was not happy that the door was open, but after working on the composition, I realized that the door was blocking a '90's model Hyundai from my view.  I figured that the door was just fine where it was.  Because the sun was so bright, I didn't have to worry about my exposure with the sky.  Everything actually went very well without the need for any filters other than the polarizer.  I got down nice and low to avoid any of the cars that were in the background, and fired off some frames.

Light Textures
When I got done with the overall view, I started to look for intimate views of the car that I could shoot.  Of course, since this car had its headlights, that became a focal point for me almost immediately.  I got in nice and close and chose to focus on the pitted rust which was a nice contrast to the smooth glass of the headlight, and the marker light below was a nice contrast in tone that balanced out the tone of the headlight.  There was just a hint of paint visible which told the story of the car.  It was a simple image, but darned if didn't turn out nice!

Custom Patina
Speaking of patina...This car might have been pretty much completely rusted on the front, but the passenger side was still in pretty good shape.  There were even emblems still in place on the fender.  With that wonderful mint paint and vivid rust developing, I couldn't help but try for a shot.  I embraced the fact that the door was open, and used the curve of the skin as a geometric element to compliment the bit of wheel arch.  The rust provided a diagonal element that helped to frame the emblems.  It was a fun image to shoot!

Under the Shade Tree
The clouds were actually starting to roll in at this point.  I started to retrace my steps going back to compositions that I wanted to shoot earlier but had been unable to because of the sun.  The funny thing was, it was about 11am at this point, and the freezing rain was supposed to be starting in an hour.  Looking up at the sky, I was pretty sure that there was going to be no freezing rain falling today.  I was still rather skeptical about the density of the clouds as they were just starting to come in very thin.  It did give me the chance to shoot a few images with some blue sky interest which played well with the warm tones of the rust on the cars.  

Long Forgotten
Eventually, the clouds did come in as they were supposed to hours before.  This opened up lots of possibilities due to the diffused lighting.  That didn't mean that it was going to be easy though.  In this image of the same Ford I had been shooting from the front, I wanted to include the sky which had some nice texture to it.  The exposure latitude was too much for the camera though since the sun was actually behind the clouds just above the frame.  I opted to shoot one of two HDR photographs for the day to deal with that exposure latitude.  The other one that I shot was the opening image for this entry.  With four images, I was able to capture all of the information that I needed in order to create the image that my eyes were able to see.

Derelict Row
Now that the lighting was working for me, I was able to go and work some of the areas that I had wanted to before.  There is a trio of cars from the '40's that I have photographed before, but not quite this close in before.  I composed images that showed them all, and some that just captured the front clips of each.  That was the composition that I found most appealing for these cars because it gave a lot of visual weight to the Chrysler in the foreground, which still sharing the scene with the other two cars.  In the past, I would have stopped here, but today, I decided to work on these cars individually as well.

Mint to Be
I got down low to the ground to capture the front quarter of the Chrysler which was resting on the bumper.  It seems that the mint green that is on this car was a very popular color in the day.  Fortunately, it does look good with rust.  There are a lot of stories behind this fascia.  I can only imagine what it looked like rolling off of the assembly line some 70 years ago.  The chrome all shiny, and the mint green paint resplendent as it was on display in a showroom.  These days, it rests on its bumper because the wheels are long since gone.

As I continued to work around this trio of cars, I found that the backs of the cars could be accessed by climbing a short (and very loose) embankment.  I did just that and got into position to shoot the trunk of a (imagine this...) mint green Plymouth.  The rust on it looked as though it had been painted on by hand.  It was one of the more interesting patterns that I had seen in a while.  The nameplate stood out rather subtle in comparison to the chrome light housing over the tag mount.  It all worked together very nicely though.

Brushed Rust
Not wanting to stop photographing the rear of this vehicle, I moved over to the side to capture what I am starting to recognize as a genetic link to Plymouths of this era.  They all seem to have these same body lines that work so nicely in a photograph.  Of course, the hand painted rust under the mint green paint is always a treat for my eyes.  The hardest part here was keeping the camera steady on the loose dirt as I was slowly sliding back down the embankment.  Fortunately, I was able to hold everything together in order to make a few exposures on the back of this car.  While I was working it, the black car next to me really started to grab my attention.  The rust just looked amazing under the fuel filler neck.

Caustic Residuals
Before I slid down the embankment, I had to grab a photograph of this pattern.  It took a little doing to find a composition that worked well with the rear of this car.  There were so many complex lines and shapes.  I found that doing a close crop, anchoring on the bumper and the fuel filler made for the best composition.  There is still a great abstract quality with the image, and the patina is the star of the show.  We can file this one under the quirky images that I have been shooting today, but sometimes it pays to step outside of the box occasionally.

Mint Crackle
Since I was in a quirky mood, I went back to the car that had taken the spotlight with the group shot and started to look for abstract images to shoot on it.  In addition to the mint green paint, I was drawn to the lines created by the window trim, and the way that the paint was cracking.  I decided to focus on those elements for a while.  I tried both the portrait view which kept everything nice and compact, and then stretched it out to a horizontal composition that showed the swooping lines of the car.

Chrome Lines
There is just something magical about cars from this era.  They all have so much personality which just spills out into the camera.  They are just so much fun to photograph, and I just honestly can't get enough of them.  The patina on most of these cars just adds to the whole composition.  So many different textures to see on these old cars!

At the Yard
As the clouds came in thicker, I started to look for other images that I could shoot that included the clouds.  I found this beautiful old Buick (I think) sitting off to the side of the yard.  Of course, the grille was well over the top, and turned into a great focal point for several photographs.  One of the compositions that I worked on was a shot that highlighted just the grill as it looked over a row of cars from the early 60's.  The tree above the hood provided some much needed balance to the composition and this one turned out to be one of my favorites from this car.  However, the HDR image that opened this entry takes the prize as my favorite of all.

Earth Tones
One of the things that drew my attention to the car in addition to the grill was the embellishments on the fenders.  This was so upscale back in the day, but these days just screams "I want to put crap on my car to make it look faster".  The design of these old cars was just spectacular, and I hate that the current generation is cheapening the design elements.  This is what these are supposed to look like.  You can tell it was designed into the car from the beginning and they still look the part.  The deep green paint with the rusted patina work great together in stark contrast to the chrome that is still holding on all these years later.

Hood Scoop
Another testament to the design of the car can be found on the hood.  The original scoop is still there, although I have a sneaking suspicion that the 8 has fallen off at some point, leaving just the "V".  Either way, this was a pretty classy hood ornament that was recessed into the hood with an emblem below.  The deep surface rust around the chrome helps it to stand out in the picture.

Chrome Rows
At about 1pm, I decided to call it a day.  Looking at the weather, there was ice headed my way, and more rain after that.  Since I was about 30 minutes from home, I decided that I had better get home before the roads got bad.  I had about 80 frames in the camera so I was feeling pretty good about the day.  Despite the fact that the first half of the day was spent trying to wish the sun away, I had made the best out of the lighting situation.  I was expecting to have about ten images or so from the day.  You can only imagine my surprise when I got done culling and editing my images and found that I had 23 that I deemed worth keeping for the collection.  Yes, it was a great day, and not too bad for a first trek of the year.

The Year in Review

At the end of every year I like to look back at where my photography has gone, and get clues as to where it might be going.  This has been a particularly interesting year actually.  During the summer last year, I changed a lot of things with how I was doing my photography.  My outlooks changed, and my product changed.  I actually had a pretty decent sized renaissance in 2016 which has helped to shape 2017.  I was fortunate that the growth that I experienced has flowed throughout this year.

My personal badge
When it comes to big news, I would have to start out by detailing my "Badge on Thin Blue Line" series.  Even though it didn't even exist until June, it has been my most popular product for the majority of the year.  It all started when one of my clients asked me to do something special with an officer's badge that was leaving our department.  I was very hesitant to take on the job since it had been years since I had worked in a studio environment.  He convinced me to give it a try though, and I took the badge.  I spent days pouring over how to photograph the badge in a special way that wasn't just your typical capture.  In the end, I decided on using a clearance rack tie as a background and shot the badge to show every scar that is the story of the officer's career.  When I made the print and framed it, I knew I had something really unique and was excited to show it off to the client.

Of course, the delivery went well, and both my client and the receiving officer really liked how it turned out.  Since that time, I have had numerous orders for these one off photographs.  Even the Chief of Police with my department is among that list of clients.  I have extended my catalog to include two different badges from New York, as well as Crime Scene Investigator, and Telecommunicator badges from my department.  I am so excited that this project has taken off so well since June.  

Wrapped in Autumn
Breaching the Surface
Golden Falls
While the badge pictures are a wonderful source of getting a little pocket money, my main focus is still landscape photography.  My style is ever evolving when it comes to how I capture what I see.  This year has really been one of those years where I have learned to really focus on particular elements of the scene and fill the frame with what is important to me.  For the first time, I have started to isolate specific elements of the landscape in earnest, and that has really paid off in the long run.  I refer to this type of landscape photography as isolations, or intimate captures.  As you can see from the above pictures, this technique works equally as well on many different subjects.  It adds a certain abstract quality to the world that is around us.

By really focusing on specific elements of a scene, I have become more closely connected with the landscape around me.  I have always listened to nature and cared how it wanted to be photographed, but there were times that I got confused with how I read a scene.  If there was a tree that caught my attention, I would try and fit that tree into an entire scene.  That wasn't always what was being asked of me as a photographer though.  There were times when the tree was the picture, all by itself.  Now I'm much better at isolating just that one element in a photograph and doing justice to that particular subject.

Mossy Seat
I have found that this photographic technique is so effective, I have created a spinoff gallery room for "Woodland" photographs.  There is a completely different feeling to the photographs when you isolate just a portion of the landscape.  This has allowed me to enjoy more time behind the camera while on hikes through the forest.  I'm always spotting different scenes that stick out, and now I am better aware of how to photograph them.  I've become much better at listening to the world around me.

Pontiac Adornment
Speaking of isolations, I have even brought that into my automotive photography as well.  I have been very limited in the past trying to photograph old vehicles because I wanted to capture so much of them.  By seeking out details inside of the big picture, I am now able to really work a scene with an old car.  I've found that I am particularly interested in the emblems and other "bling" on the rusty surfaces.  I am able to pick out just those elements that I like and present them as an "autoabstract" picture.  This has opened up the field for my "Old Iron" photography because there are a lot of really great cars out there that aren't exactly placed in a photogenic location.  I now have a great option to capture them which only requires lighting to be addressed.  The background becomes irrelevant since the body panel and patina becomes the background.

Shadowed Ridge
Shooting intimate photographs isn't the only change that my style has seen this year.  I have also started to shoot multiple image panoramas that are stitched together in post processing.  This has opened up a huge (pardon the pun) new avenue for me when it comes to compositions.  Unlike with isolations, I am not trying to pick out the one single most important thing.  These are the times that I want to capture the entire scene to convey what I am really seeing on a grand scale.  To do that in a single shot requires a lot of extra elements, or negative space to be included.  If you crop those out of a single shot, you are left with a limited number of pixels which greatly reduces your ability to print the image at any respectable size.

Essential Layers
What a panorama does is allows you to stay close to the line of interest in your composition and include a lot of elements along that plane while eliminating the negative space or clutter.  Once stitched together (can be up to 8 or more images), the final rendering has enough pixels to be printed out big enough for nearly any purpose...certainly big enough to fill up a wall in a home.  There have been several times as in the picture above that I have seen a scene unfolding in front of me, but couldn't pick out a composition that conveyed what I was seeing because of too much clutter at the top and bottom.  By shooting a large swath of the landscape, I can focus on many of the larger elements, such as the way the light was affecting the mountain, or maybe a very wide cascade feature.  The extra, negative space above and below is eliminated forcing the attention right where I want it.

Serenity Pool


High Dynamic Range has also been added to my toolbox this year.  Like panoramas, this technique requires stitching images together.  However, it is not stitching a string of them together to create a larger print as with the panoramas.  It is designed to "stack" identical images on top of each other which were exposed with different shutter speeds.  This gives several layers of overexposed and underexposed images in addition to one that is "properly" exposed.  The benefit we see here is you can get an insane amount of detail in the shadows and highlights of a picture.  I will typically shoot a series of four to seven images to stack together to make a final print.  

In the case of the waterfall above, I have never before been able to capture this scene with a blue sky in it.  In order to keep any detail in the rocky wall, I had to blow the sky out.  If I wanted to keep detail in the sky, everything but the white water would be in murky shadows.  By going through an HDR conversion, I was able to get all of the tonalities represented here properly as my eyes actually saw it at the time.

The Ford above was just about as difficult to shoot.  It was a bright day, and the car was in the shadows.  For the color pallet, I wanted to make sure that I had an interesting blue sky to include.  Unfortunately, that meant that the car would be in the deep shadows sitting under the tree.  A cloudy day would produce similar results as well.  In order to get the car properly exposed as well as the detail inside of the garage, while keeping the sky under control, HDR was the only way to go.  I believe that this was seven shots all put together and then massaged in Lightroom.  The final image has detail under the hood, in the garage, and even in the white clouds above.  I credit this technique with winning an award with this picture in the Fall of the year.  Had I not been able to get the details right, the picture wouldn't have looked nearly as good.

A Bit of Drama
Speaking of contests, I have continued to participate in various types of competitions with other photographers.  Of course, I am wanting to win, but I have been doing these contests in order to learn more about my own photography.  It has been a great tool to aid in my self critiquing.  Early on in the year, I entered the American Landscape Competition as hosted by Outdoor Photography Magazine.  This was pretty scary for me since I've not done any online competitions before, let alone one hosted by a national publication.  I was able to select up to six images to go up against photographers from all over the world.  It was lofty, but I enjoy the magazine, and I wanted to see what would happen.  I selected a total of six images and submitted them.  I don't know how many were submitted overall, but I was not listed as one of the finalists.  Looking at the winners as they were published, I had no problems at all with the judging.  The winners were all spectacular and well deserving of the top slots.  It was, after all, a learning experience for me.  I learned about the formatting for submissions, and some of the considerations to look for in making my own selections.  It has nothing at all to do with your own favorite images, it has to do with what fits the theme of the contest, or the feel of the hosting publication.

It was mid Summer when I got the news that my images hadn't made the cut for the American Landscape Competition.  So when it came time to select my entries for the Dixie Classic Fair, I was really starting to second guess myself.  I wanted to enter one of the images that I had submitted to the magazine because I still thought that they were very good images.  I had to remember the lessons that I have learned though, and one of them was to submit images based on the theme and feel of the venue.  I knew that my rustic images worked well from the previous year, and figured that I would stand the best chance by submitting a couple of those again.

After a lot of debating, I decided on these two images which I had framed at my favorite frame shop, After 5 in Greensboro.  Both turned out wonderful, but I was thinking that my Black and White entry was the stronger of the two.  Both were entered in the respective professional categories and I waited until the judging to find out how I did.  I was elated to discover that both of my photographs had been recognized with ribbons.  My color entry won a first place ribbon, and in an odd twist, the black and white entry brought home a second place ribbon.  I found the first place winner in that category, and while it wasn't a picture I particularly liked, I could see why it won in the category.  Again, I turned this into a learning experience and realized what I could do differently in my selection for next year's contest.  They were obviously looking for more contrast in the scene with very pure whites and blacks over more of the image.  I can't complain at all with the second place recognition since a couple of months later, I sold this framed print to a new client who had seen it at the fair.

The Aqua Rapids
I decided to continue entering contests to expand my experience a little bit more.  The next one that I entered was at the beginning of Fall with my CNPA (Carolina's Nature Photography Association) group.  This was the annual members choice contest and the winners were selected by other photographers within the group.  I was able to enter six images across multiple categories.  I ended up entering five in the Tier 1 Landscape category and one additional one in the Tier 1 Trees category.  I opted for the Tier 1 category which is more or less reserved for winners of Tier 2 and those that are routinely selling their images.  Based on the rules, I could have entered in either tier, but wanted the challenge of going in all the way.  The voting concluded on December 1st, but the winners and runner ups will not announced until the annual meeting in 2018.

Gnarled Centurion
Around the same time, I also decided to enter another contest being held by Western NC Magazine.  This was a reader's choice contest and there were over 600 images submitted to the magazine.  I didn't know how the voting would work, or when it would start.  It was purely by chance that I stumbled on the website and saw that the first phase of voting was about done.  There were 100 images that the editors had selected for this first round of voting.  I was overjoyed to see that two of my five entered images had made the initial, juried, cut.  Unfortunately, I was unable to even vote for my own images over the previous two weeks since I didn't even know voting had opened.  Since you could vote once a day, I figured that all was lost.  However, at the end of that stage, those same two had made it into the final 25 images which were the contest finalists.  Honestly, I count that as a huge win for me.  Without me rounding up votes for my images, they both were strong enough to get pushed through by other voters.  For the next two weeks though, I voted for my favorite of the two, Gnarled Centurion each day.  What can I say, I would love to have either of these images bring home the top honors, but Toni adores this tree, and I wanted the win for her.  As of the time of this entry, the winners have not been announced.  I sit here patiently waiting for the issue to hit the newsstands in January.

Edit: 01-03-2018

  • Having just seen the final votes tallied, I'm a little sad to announce that neither of my photographs won the contest.  I got honorable mentions on both of them though, and they were still in the final 25 images out of over 600 which is still a win in my book!

Speaking of magazines, I have also submitted a full length article to the quarterly publication, Camera in the Wild (a CNPA magazine).  I've been thinking about doing some writing for magazines, and I figured I might as well try with a club magazine first.  I submitted my idea about "shooting for conditions" and it was approved.  It will be for the Spring issue, so I don't know how it will turn out.  At least I can say I tried, and hopefully I can say that I've had a photography article published in a magazine in the next few months.

In addition to contests and magazine articles, I also started to look at other outlets for my photography.  In a strange twist of fate, I found a very meaningful use for my photography by way of a work connection.  Our Child Response Initiative representative, Eileen Martin, was doing an internship with the Kellin Foundation.  As part of that she was facilitating a therapy group that involved healing through the act of photography.  The premise was one that I held near and dear to my own heart, so participating was a natural step for me.  Having suffered from a mild form of PTSD for years now, I have learned to self medicate through photography, and I had an opportunity to share that experience with the group.  I was invited in to do a presentation around the slide show that is attached here.  It went very well, and Eileen and I have already discussed the future of this program.  I think it will be a great opportunity for me to help others through photography.

Something that I have always done in my photography is used Facebook as a marketing tool to get my photographs out there.  I've been tweaking how I do things on Facebook for years to try and optimize the tool.  This past year, I have joined many different groups where I share my photographs as I capture them to gain a much greater audience as well as draw more viewers to my page, and ultimately to the website.  I would say that this has been a great success as I started the year off getting a reach of around 50 viewers on any given picture.  These days, it is normal to see between 3-7K views of my photographs.  I also have reached over 1,000 followers on Facebook from the couple of hundred that I had at the beginning of the year.

I also have an Instagram account which had an audience of about 150 at the beginning of the year.  In the summer, I decided that I would put much more effort into that account and spend more time cultivating that community.  I learned how the hashtags worked, and found that getting featured by the various hubs got my page a lot of exposure.  I'm still learning how things are working there, but have a nice system set up where I will post a picture or two each day, and will share it with about 15-20 hubs each time.  In about six months, I've increased my audience to over 500, which isn't too bad at all.

Social media has been a big draw on my time, and I can say that it has been very much worth it.  I have gained much exposure, and have been able to interact with potential clients on a personal level.  I've also made contact with numerous photographers that I have learned a great deal from.  There are even ideas floating around about me conducting a workshop on waterfall photography.  

2017 has been a banner year in my photography.  I have grown not only in exposure, but also as a photographer.  My images have matured quite a bit this year.  I'm rediscovering the "fine art" quality of photography, and capturing the images that I feel fit in that genre more and more.  I still have a lot to learn, but I can say this.  I had a huge artistic change in the middle of 2016 that really provided the direction for 2017.  I have a momentum built up from that which is still very strong and I am constantly seeing improvement that I expect to continue into the future.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has shown support over the years I've been a photographer.  It is that support that keeps me motivated to go out again and again to try and create that next great picture.  While my photography will always be for myself first and foremost, it does mean the world to me that others are enjoying my efforts.  Thank you, and I look forward to the coming year behind the camera.

Farmhouse Sunrise

Making a Better Mouse Trap

Tuesday, Dec 26, 2017

Mountain Meditation
For the last two months, I have been wanting to get to Big Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to work some of the water there.  You see, this is the only place I know of in this part of the country where the water has an aqua or teal color to it.  I've been fascinated with it since the first time I visited the hiking trails years ago.  Beyond the color, I have always loved the creek itself for all the different personalities that it possesses.  I've seen it in droughts, and just after flooding.  Each time has been something special, and I've always come back with images that I have been really proud of.

My plan was to get some Fall color matched with the cool tones of the water.  The problems that I ran into ranged from lack of rain, to lack of time.  You see, Big Creek is a full 200 miles from my house.  That is an investment in both time and gas.  I try to schedule my trips out there when I know I will have the time to make the best use of it.  With several extra days off of work, and the promise of some clouds, I figured that now was as good a time as any.

Teal Wash
My day started early, earlier than I really needed it to.  I woke up at 3:30am so that I could see Anthony and his family off after they had spent the last couple of weeks here from Hawaii.  They left at 4am to catch their plane, and I followed about an hour later headed the opposite direction.  I was destined to see the Tennessee State Line before hooking back into North Carolina into Waterville.  The trip was pretty boring, with just a little heavier traffic than I was expecting.

The weather forecast was calling for partly cloudy skies with about 46% coverage for most of the day.  From my history, that could mean anything from rain, to clear blue skies.  There was no way to know what was in store for me unless I just went out there to see.  When the sun started to come up, I was very pleased to see that there was a nice thick cloud cover above and the lighting was pretty much perfect.  At least for the moment.  I could see sections of blue sky back to the South.  The hope was that the clouds would stay overhead while I was working Big Creek.

Chilled Creek
When I arrived, the conditions were nearly perfect.  The water levels were up, and the sun was hiding behind the clouds.  It was shaping up to be a great day with the camera.  There were only a couple of other cars in the parking area, so that meant that I was going to have the trails to myself for the most part.  That was the icing on the cake for sure.  Big Creek has a tendency to get crowded during much of the year, so I was pleased to see so few hikers around.

The first order of business was to get my gear.  That was a little less than automatic like it usually is.  This was the first time I had used my new camera bag that Toni had gotten me for Christmas.  It was taking a bit to get used to, and it allowed me to actually carry my tripod on the side of it.  It didn't take but a minute to mount it and get ready for the hike.  Getting all of the buckles cinched was another matter entirely.  I had fit it the previous night, but I had only been wearing a t-shirt.  With the sub freezing temperatures, I was wearing quite a few more layers of clothing this morning.  That just meant that I was going to need to adjust the straps a little bit.

Before too long, I was on my way down the trail.  Something that I really liked about this Whistler 350AW bag was that despite it being heavier than my previous Tamrac, it was actually quite comfortable to wear.  Everything felt nice a balanced which made hiking with this bag a breeze.

Electric Falls
Something that I try to avoid here is shooting the same shots over and over again.  If I think I can improve on them, then I am happy to try, but after a couple of very successful Treks here recently, I didn't think I could improve on most of the compositions.  That meant that I spent my time looking for new and exciting compositions.  This can be difficult since it requires going to different vantage points for familiar scenes and locating completely new subject matter in many cases.

Since the trees were mostly bare, I set out looking for intimate shots of elements of the creek.  That way, I could avoid the bare trees that weren't adding much to the compositions in most cases.  Of course, when I could fit the trees in, I did just that.  My main focus was to capture the aqua color in the water which is what I just love about this creek.  My secondary goal was to make it to Mouse Creek Falls.  That particular attraction is located about two miles down the trails from the parking area.  In the past, I've missed out on getting that far down because it started to rain in one case, and the sun came out in another.  The last time that I had photographed it was during the drought.  It turned out pretty good, but I wanted to get it with more water flow.

Abstract in Teal
The trick to photographing Big Creek is to use a polarizer.  For the most part, I used my Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer which helped to increase the saturation in the water.  Depending on what I was shooting, I was using either my 24-70mm or my 70-200mm lens.  My goal was to hit between 1-3.2 seconds worth of exposure.  That was enough to get the water to blur like I like.  I shot some abstracts, and shot some full on compositions.  It was a day of trying new and different things.  I wasn't sure what I was going to have when I got home, but I was having a lot of fun moving around and trying different vantage points.

Something that I found very useful with my new camera bag was the fact that the tripod would secure easily to the side.  I thought that I would just use that for the main hike in, and out.  The reality was, I was using it between subjects to keep my hands empty.  This allowed me to be much more maneuverable than I had been in the past.  No longer was I stumbling along holding a bulky tripod in one hand.  I was able to use both of my hands to steady myself as I rock hopped, and went down embankments.  It was as if I wasn't even carrying my camera equipment, and that was really nice!  I can see this really helping me get to some locations that I have not been able to get to previously.  At least it will make getting to them much easier.

Creekside Lounge
While there are two named waterfalls along Big Creek, I've found that the cascades are in many cases more interesting to photograph.  There are so many boulder and rocks strewn about the creek bed that there is an abundance of cascades to play with.  I found myself looking for patterns in the cascades that lead to features on the opposing shore.  I found quite a few, but most had no organization to the pattern.  The one that I have included above, had a nice "S-Curve to the cascades and lead to the rock.  Had the rock not been an interesting shape, this probably would not have been as successful of an image.  As it sits, my eyes work completely through the frame following the cascades and then bouncing on the rock to retrace my steps.  It is a bit of a funky image, but one that I am liking a lot.

Midnight Freeze
When I got to Midnight Hole, my first inclination was to skip it.  I had shot a really great image there over the Summer and didn't think that I could top that.  However, there was a section of rapids just before Midnight Hole that I was working that kind of changed my mind.  You see, I was making my way along the shoreline getting closer and closer to the waterfall.  It was a view that I had not seen before.  There were a lot of rocks in the water, and even a couple of frozen twigs sticking out of the water.  My foreground for this waterfall has always been the pool, or the root system of a tree that was close to the pool.  What I was seeing here was something completely different.  I was liking it...a lot.  I decided to fit my long lens so that I could compress the elements and shrink the distance between the falls and the foreground.  It took some work to get the composition right, but I finally made it happen and grabbed a few frames.

I wasn't sure if I liked it or not though.  It wasn't until I got home and processed the images that I found that the composition actually worked very well for the waterfall.  It also gave some really good clues as to the time of year.  I had a splash of green above the falls, but the ice on the twigs tells a completely different story.  The more I look at this one, the more I like it!

Colorful Cascade
Cotton and Stone
One of the nice things I got to do with Big Creek is to play around with vertical and horizontal images of the same scenes.  The two compositions directly above are of the same section, just with a different composition.  They both have a completely different feel to the image.  They say different things, but you can see the benefits of trying different orientations with the same subject.  You can even compare the last one to Abstract in Teal and see what a difference a slightly tighter composition will make.  Again, there are two similar images, but each tells a different story, and has a different focal point.

Sunning Boulder
It is always a good idea to make use of the tools that you have.  I carry three
different lenses into the field each time I go.  As you can see, I really liked this section of the creek.  The color was very vibrant, and I spent a good deal of time here playing around.  I started out with my long lens, but decided to switch over to the 24-70mm, standard lens.  This allowed me the ability to open the shot up and get a completely different composition with the large boulder in the foreground.

Having easy access to my equipment is very important to me in the field.  One of the major complaints that I have had with my previous Tamrac bag was that in order to access my equipment, I had to place the back of the bag on the ground.  That doesn't seem like a big deal until you have to set it on the wet ground.  Then when you put the bag back on your have a wet back.  This Whistler bag has a rear opening compartment which means that the part of the bag that ends up on your back stays nice and dry...and clean.  It takes all of the hassle out of changing out your equipment.  I would have liked a bit more room to grow, but I do have enough room for what I currently carry, and that is good enough for me.

Fast Water
As I was getting closer to Mouse Creek Falls, I was seeing that the sun was starting to poke through the clouds more and more.  This was going to be problematic as it was nearing noon.  that would put the sun directly overhead and the highlights in the water would make for exposure problems.  I had a choice to make.  I could continue on with working the different rapids and cascades, or I could hurry on to the main falls and hope that it was looking good.  Since I had missed out on chances in the recent past, I opted to plow on and see if it was worth photographing before I worked any other scenes.

Emerging Shapes
I bypassed a couple of really good areas to shoot from, but I was comforted knowing that I had gotten good images from those areas in the past.  When I arrived at Mouse Creek, I was greeted by a water flow that I had never witnessed here before.  It was incredible to say the least.  I moved my way down the embankment, and built the camera with my standard 24-70mm lens because I wanted to capture some foreground interest to the falls.

Finding Your Way
I started with the self explanatory portrait shot and included some of the actual creek that was moving from right to left across the scene.  The rocks, shallow water, and cascades made for a very interesting foreground.  The colors in the water were incredible too.  I was very happy that I had skipped other compositions in order to get this subject.  I had never seen it quite this good before, and I was excited to work it for a while.  I tried a few different positions, and several different compositions.  I had thought I had a winner with the portrait shot, but I started to play around with a horizontal version as well, and found that I liked it even better.

Frosted Falls
The horizontal version brought the falls into an intimate composition that really suited it.  The viewer can see the ice which has formed along the edges of the falls.  This definitely gives it a sense of season, and adds a bit of chill to the image.  The power of the water is unmistakable and really helps to complete a dramatic composition.

About the time that I was shooting this one, the clouds were all moving out of the sky.  It seemed like in a matter of seconds the sky went from partly cloudy, to bright blue.  There were no more clouds in the sky, and the sun was now shining brightly.  My day was done, but it was after noon, and I was needing to get home anyway.  In about 4.5 hours, I had shot 131 frames of the teal water of Big Creek.  I had also gotten two great images of Mouse Creek Falls that actually changed my opinion of how good a waterfall it actually was.  I'll say it was a very good day behind the camera, and it was great to get back to Big Creek once again.