An Anniversary Getaway

January 18-22, 2014

This was a very productive trek that wasn't even designed as a trek.  Every year Toni and I celebrate our anniversary by going to the mountains and staying in a cabin just like we did for our honeymoon in 2011.  This was our third anniversary, and now the second time that we stayed at this cozy little cabin just outside of West Jefferson, NC.  An interesting factoid, in the years that we have been married, I was only an active photographer for the first year.  I did a little photography on our honeymoon, but for the anniversaries that followed, I wasn't interested in photography in the least.  Fast forward to this year....with my photography entering back into our lives, Toni suggested that I bring along the camera for this trip.  While that wasn't going to be my main focus, I could hardly disagree with the logic.  It was going to be like old times again!

I figured that we would get out and do a little bit with the camera, but I wasn't really expecting much in the way of trekking on this trip.  Plus, I was a lens down since my 70-200mm telephoto was still at Canon being worked on.  It actually was being shipped back while we were gone, and arrived at the house a couple of days before our return.  Without that lens, I was restricted to only two lenses, which fortunately were my two most used lenses for landscape work.  I took everything and figured if I could get a picture or two I would see that as gravy on what was sure to be a most enjoyable trip with Toni.

The weather forecast was all over the place for our stay there.  We were looking at clear days, cloudy days, cold days, REALLY cold days, and some snow days to boot.  This should be exciting!  We arrived at our secluded cabin right on time on Saturday the 18th.  We got in and got settled in for the afternoon and evening.  I wasn't really thinking much about photography, but had noticed that there was snow on the ground, and being located in Winston Salem, I knew that snow pictures were few and far between  for me normally.  I figured that my best bet would be to get up early in the morning and do some exploring on foot around the neighborhood which was far from developed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The alarm rang very early, and I just wasn't quite ready to get up.  The dark sky looked totally overcast which was going to kill my only idea for a photograph (a shot looking up at the cabin from the road below).  I decided to roll over and go back to sleep.  That was an easy decision since Toni wasn't interested in going out in the snow with me that early in the morning.  Try as I might, I was not able to get back to sleep, so I went ahead and got up to go explore a little bit.

Freshly Fallen
I was having a hard time finding anything that really excited me photographically.  My idea for the cabin shot wasn't going to work as I had intended.  I was left with no clear idea of what to work on.  I just walked aimlessly up the road and looked at the different vacant lots.  In one of them, along the driveway, I found a nice little rock sticking out from the snow.  There was a fairly fresh red leaf right next to it as well.  The driveway had a nice leading line, and I could see the sky which had some clouds in it.  This was starting to develop into a composition.  I quickly got the camera set up with my 24-70mm lens.  I added a color intensifying polarizer as well as a 2-Stop soft edge ND-Grad filter to control the sky.  I'm not sure why, but the white balance in the camera was having a hard time resolving the light.  It was showing a very blue color cast in the LCD.  Figuring that it was just cold, I snapped away, knowing what I was seeing in front of me, and knowing that since I shoot RAW I could adjust the white balance later to more accurately show what I was seeing.

It wasn't until I got home and started to fine tune the white balance that I was able to see the image as I remembered it.  The color intensifying polarizer did exactly what I wanted it to do.  The sky now popped with warm tones against a blue background.  Thanks to the graduated ND filter, the snow was still properly exposed, and what I had captured was actually the tail end of a colorful sunrise which was ever so faint in the sky at the time of capture.

I continued to walk around for a bit and found a handful of other subjects to capture.  They were not all that exciting though, and ultimately they got cut and left in the recycle bin on the computer.  I was having a hard time getting inspired.  After about an hour, I headed back to the cabin.  Before I went inside though, I walked around to see what views I had from the deck.  While they were not my customary views, I did see some moderate potential, and for the moment, the sky was looking pretty good.

Bird's Eye View
I managed to pick out a relatively tall tree to use as an anchor and counter balance to a distant mountain and open range on another hill.  I was able to set up the shot without switching lenses.  The lighting was pretty good and did not require the ND-Grad, only the color intensifying polarizer.  It took a few frames to find a composition I could live with, but I think the vertical orientation suits this scene quite well.  I was very lucky that the trees still had some red leaves which added a nice warm touch to an otherwise cool image.  Because of those tones, I was able to have a well balanced image.

With those images taken, it was time to get back in the cabin and warm up.  I had shot quite a bit of "film" for my short walk.  I knew that most of it would be throw away images, but I was pretty happy that I was able to get out and give it a try.  I figured that was going to be it for the day, and was ready to settle down to enjoy some relaxation time with Toni.

While we ate breakfast she suggested that we go out for a little while and see what was around us.  Her main reason was a little more utilitarian than that though...she had run out of Chap Stick and needed to get some more (it was an emergency!).  She pushed me to take my camera gear and I reluctantly agreed with her.  I figured we might run into something interesting, and I would hate to miss out on a good picture.

After we replenished her Chap Stick supply, we started out on a Sunday drive with an unknown destination.  We drove for miles and miles it seemed.  The lighting was not all that great, but I was enjoying the mountain scenery as was Toni.  I was dead set on finding some old barns or old cars to photograph, but she was wanting some more landscapes since I haven't been doing many of those lately.  I was looking for those as well, but tend to enjoy them more after Spring hits.  However, I have learned to trust that little voice that sits to the side of me in the truck, and she was feeling landscapes today.  As we were driving down a winding road she spotted a rock and pointed it out to me.  I was in the middle of a tight curve and couldn't see it, but figured that she might have something.  I knew I wasn't coming up with anything interesting!  I turned around, and found the rock.  I could see some potential in it, but wasn't convinced.  I got out of the truck anyway and walked over to it.  The wind was howling....the gusts were about 20-30mph, and with the wind chill it was feeling like single digits.  Oh well, we were out here now, and Toni wanted landscapes.

Solidarity in B&W
 After getting the camera set up, and before my fingers went completely numb, the clouds started to do some very interesting things.  I quickly set up several different compositions that showcased the rock that had caught her eye.  What I was seeing was some very deep blue in the sky with some expansive clouds full of texture.  This was going to work out!  I still had my color intensifying polarizer attached, and was not able to add any other filters because quite frankly, my fingers were not working very well at all.  Fortunately, the exposure was well within the latitude of the camera and I was able to capture some nice tonal ranges.  In fact, there was so much tonality in some of the images that I was able to render my favorite in black and white as well as color!

A Gentle Breeze
The wind was still howling, and I could not feel my arms, hands, or feet at this point.  However, I wasn't convinced that I had captured everything that there was to capture.  I was very happy that I had listened to Toni and stopped at this rock.  I was starting to feel its potential as the sky moved around it, and I was able to work on different shooting positions.  I found another angle that gave the rock some nice front light with some very tall trees in the background.  The sky was still primarily blue in that direction with some puffy clouds.  It was worth a few exposures I figured.  As I was setting up, the sun came out and bathed the foreground in a nice warm tone (thanks to the Singh Ray polarizer).  I quickly finalized the shot and released the shutter.  I got the moment that I was after, and it was a fleeting moment to be sure!

After that composition, I decided to call it quits.  I pretty much numb from head to toe at that point, and was having a very hard time manipulating the camera.  I loaded everything back up and Toni and I started back towards town.  she was hungry so we stopped for lunch in Jefferson.  While we were eating, she suggested that we continue down the road that the McDonald's was on in search of more to photograph.  She is so cool, and so supportive!  We set out for an unknown destination.  I could see a lot of barns along the road, but none of them yelled out to me with the current lighting.  Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  Could it be?  Was it what I thought it was?  Is it even possible? was a group of old buildings along the side of the road complete with barns, homes, and a small stream!  It was cluttered, and bunched together, but the cool factor of it being on the side of a mountain was too hard to pass up.  Toni even gave it a 60% thumbs up.  I pulled into a church which was beside the driveway leading into the "compound".

Hillside Farm
Looking at the property, I couldn't imagine that anyone lived there, but just in case I didn't want to infringe on anyone's privacy so I stayed at the entrance to the driveway.  I set the camera up and started to make some images using only a polarizer with my 24-70mm lens.  After about 3 frames, I saw a man come out of the white house making his way toward me.  Hmm, I guess somebody does live there.  We introduced each other, and he gave me full permission to photograph around his property.  He told me that he had lived there all his life (he was born in 1942), and this was the family tobacco farm years ago.  He told me about who lived in the house which is up on the hill to the right, and told me about the old barn that was caving in at the top of the hill.  He even told me about the stream that floods every spring when the snow from the mountain melts.  It was a very informative conversation to say the least, but most importantly, I had free reign to photograph on the property!

Mountain Mansion
From the road, one of the most interesting parts of this property was the large house up on the hill.  You can see from the angle of the foundation just what kind of slope this farm was on.  I just couldn't get over it!  The stream was pretty much dry today, but there was a little trickle of water running down the mountain.  As an added photographic bonus, there were some very small waterfalls along its path.  I worked every composition that I could muster with the confined space I could work in.  I found it it very difficult to make simple compositions of the buildings, but was able to find some very creative ways of isolating the interesting elements that I was after.

Window to the Past
I really liked the stream that went through the property, and I tried several different compositions to make it work.  This was one that I wasn't really convinced I would like, but it turned out quite good when I saw it on the computer.  The stream is the most important part of this shot, but the window is the visual anchor.  The eye candy is the barn in the distance.  Everything really worked out well here, and the title brings it all together I think.  I tell you what, I was in hog heaven on this hill.  Even though I was having a hard time keeping my footing, and compositions were a creative exercise...I was having a blast here!

Divided We Fall
As I was working on the compositions involving the stream, it became very apparent to me how this very definitively cut the property into two halves.  Toward the back end of the property it was almost a division of home and work with the houses on the right, and the barn on the left.  The only safe crossing was courtesy of the bridge that had been built across the stream.  Of course, the title was a natural with the division in the land, and the current state of the structures.

Abandoned Project
Abandoned Project in B&W
The Reality of Time
Probably my favorite structure on the property was the old barn at the top of the property.  There were lots of little details about this one that made it stand out.  Most obviously, it was falling in on itself, while one side was still very much in tact.  If you look closely, there is a pile of timber there that appears to have been left to help shore up the weak side some time ago.  I guess that project wasn't started in time, and the side fell in.  Another little detail that caught my eye was a rock that was in close proximity to the the building.  There was even a little plant growing out of a crack in the rock that gave a nice pop of green in front of the image that I was composing.  It wasn't until after I was done editing the picture that I really figured out why I liked this shot so much.  It was all about time.  The rock is a constant through time, while the plant is fleeting.  The barn was built with longevity in mind, but age has taken its toll on the old wooden structure.  Yes, the barn was there long before the plant, but the rock existed before either, and will most likely remain long after the barn and plant have changed.

Hillside Barn in B&W
After what I think was about an hour and a half, I made my way back down the mountain and thanked the owner one last time before packing the camera up and loading it back in the truck.  It was time to head home as the light was quickly fading away.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I was tickled to say the least at what I had captured the day before.  I would have been happy if I didn't pull the camera out another time while we were in the cabin.  Monday, we had plans to go into Boone and do some shopping.  Toni suggested that I bring the camera.  I figured that it wouldn't hurt to do just that...just in case.  We made the short trip into Boone, and ultimately Blowing Rock to get some shopping done.  We had a great time, and we finished a couple of hours before sunset.  That was enough time to work on some pictures before dinner time.  I had seen a barn on the way up that I had wanted to photograph before, but had never given it a try.  The problem with this barn is that there are all sorts of buildings all around it that really make for a difficult composition unless you want to include stores, commercial buildings, or a brick house in the frame.  However, I figured I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.  I scoped it out quickly and decided that I could work a composition that included the trees in order to block some of the surrounding clutter.

Framed in B&W
I found out rather quickly that using the trees was a good idea and it helped me isolate the barn.  My main problem now was there was absolutely no character to the sky.  It was just a blah blue, but I was here, and I meant to photograph this barn.  Fortunately, the trees helped to give me a little texture to the sky which really helped my compositions.  In fact, the trees had a lot of character on their own.  While I was fighting with the barn, Toni directed my attention to a tree beside the vacant house behind me.  The sun was hitting it just right, and it was creating a nice warm silhouette against the blue sky.  I pointed my camera that way, and worked on several compositions.

Naked Surrender
 What I found was a nice and intimate shot of the tree seemed to work out the best.  A full on view was nice too, but there was no denying the impact of the close in shot.  Toni and I just loved the warm tones against the cool blue sky.  Bare trees are a natural at this time of day!!!

In the Shadows
After I was satisfied that I had the tree, I directed my attention back to the barn.  Thanks to my compositional choices with the bare tree, I was now looking at the barn in a vertical perspective.  Huh....this might just work.  I was now showcasing another tree, but not as a primary element this time.  It was a secondary foreground element for the barn that I was really wanting to be the focus of the image.  All of a sudden it all came together, even the shadows that seemed to be creeping up from the ground trying to envelope the old barn.  This was the shot that I wanted from this barn, and I don't know why I didn't see the portrait orientation before, but I'm glad that I had the vision for it now!

When the barn was done, it was time to head back to West Jefferson to get some dinner and get back to the cabin for some more relaxing.  I might have just photographed one location today, but I was pretty sure I had a few good images from my short time there.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Toni and I awoke to what we were expecting to be a snowy day.  Instead, there was no signs of snow at all.  Oh well, we were planning on staying around the cabin anyway after a couple of days of driving around.  We had a lazy breakfast and watched some television as it was starting to flurry outside.  Before long, the snow was starting to stick and the sky was starting to do interesting things.  Still wanting to photograph the cabin we were in, I felt that this was my chance.  After we had about 2-3 inches on the ground, I grabbed my gear and went out in the driveway.  Because it was still snowing, I had to act quick since I was using a 2-stop soft edge ND-Grad filter to keep the sky at bay and show the delicate colors I was seeing.  Every second I had the camera set up, I was getting more snow falling on the filter.  I had to make a concentrated effort to keep it shielded, and to keep any snow wiped off.

Winter Getaway
I wasn't out there but about 5 minutes.  I tried several different compositions, but I settled on this one.  What I love about it is the overall cool color tones thanks to the blue sky, and white snow covering about everything.  There are two distinct pops of warm tones that balance everything out.  The cabin obviously, and the small tree with the leaves still attached bring a nice complementing element to the composition.  The framing is loose enough to allow the trees room to "grow" and breathe which gives this image a very airy feeling.  I'm really happy that I was able to get this image and continue with my tradition started on my honeymoon of photographing the cabin.  Now that I had the image I thought would work, I quickly headed back to the warmth of the cabin to let the camera dry off, and to clean up the filter.

Winter Storm Approaching
While I was thawing out, I could see that the sky was doing some really cool things on the other side of the cabin.  It was still snowing, but I figured that I owed it to myself to run outside real quick and give it a try.  I kept the camera set up like I had it, but swapped the soft edge filter for a hard edge ND-Grad.  I tried several different locations before I settled on this composition.  I think that it really describes how the weather is in the Appalachian Mountains....We went from a nice clear blue sky, to some fluffy clouds, followed by some dark gray snow clouds, all in a very short amount of time.  That is part of the fun, and frustration about living out here.  The weather is constantly changing, but that is part of personality of the region, and Toni and I embrace it!

That pretty much sums up the photographic end of my anniversary trip.  Toni and I had a great time, and we can't wait to get back there soon!  Thanks for reading all the gritty details of how my images came to be this week, and I hope that you enjoyed them!

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