I haven't fallen off of the world, and I haven't given up on photography. I know that it has been a very long time since I have written about a trek here....a full month to be exact. Its not for lack of trying though. You see in the month of March, we had ice storms about once a week which made travel difficult. There was also the fact that if there wasn't ice falling from the sky, the sky was a very blank blue which I don't care much for, especially in the Winter months. Add to that, I was still working a full time job that prevented me from going out on the few days that I would have been able to. Actually, I was able to head out a couple of times during the month, but conditions weren't right, and my creativity was lacking on those treks.
After many frustrating days, I looked at the weather this morning and saw that we were in for another sunny, blue sky day. While this is great for the average outdoor activities, it just won't cut it for photography. I started to check different locations with the same outcome. When I clicked over to the area of Boone, I saw building clouds starting at about 4pm. Hmmmm, this might be the break that I was hoping for! I made the quick decision to head out to the mountains for an afternoon trek, and hopefully ending up with a sunset in the mountains. I loaded my gear up in the truck after making a quick check of everything since the camera had been asleep for a full month. By 1:30, I was on the road headed West.
As I was traveling to the mountains, I was starting to see some clouds...even earlier than was forecasted. I started to get all excited, which was a nice change of pace from my last two attempts where I found myself more frustrated than anything. I started to think about what I was going to photograph along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Honestly, I just wasn't sure what I would find. I was relatively familiar with the area I was going to be in today (Between US421 and Rough Ridge), and knew that there were a lot of different opportunities along those miles. I decided to wing it and just see where the clouds took me.
When I first arrived at the Parkway, I turned to the South (my only choice due to road closures) and found an overlook that I have passed countless times before. It happens to be the location of my first trek to the Blue Ridge Parkway back in 2005. I could see some clouds in the area, and the sun was in the right location so I decided to stop and give it a go. I was hoping that this would jump start my creativity as it had in 2005 when I first set up a camera here. I found myself drawn to the same hill as I was back then, only this time there was one less tree standing. I worked a couple of different angles until I got what I thought was the best composition I could create with what I had.
|The Hill in B&W|
|The Weathered Gate|
|The Weathered Gate in B&W|
After I had worked the scene to my satisfaction, I decided to move on and see what else I could find. After working the fence with the old gate, I was geared to looking for more fences along the Parkway. Fortunately for me, this is something that the Parkway has in abundance. It wasn't long before I spotted another fence which I had never photographed before. It caught my eye because of how the light was falling on the trees and there were three lone trees which were standing out from the crowd. This was worth getting the camera out for and seeing what I could do with it.
|The Tree of Us|
|The Tree of Us in B&W|
|Change is in the Air|
|Change is in the Air in B&W|
I stuck around and tried several different variations of this scene until I decided that I had about all I could manage from it. It was time to move on down the road and see what else I could find to aim my camera at. It took a little bit of driving this time because the clouds were in some very specific places in the sky. I drove back and forth over a few sections in an attempt to find a landscape to put under a patch of clouds that really caught my eye. I was unsuccessful in that endeavor, and the clouds broke up after about 30 minutes.
There was a barn near Price Park that caught my eye. I have photographed this barn on a few occasions before, and have found it to be a really good composition when the yellow flowers start popping up around the fence. Those flowers were not there today, but the sun was in the perfect position to illuminate the barn, and with the green coming back into the grass, I thought that this would be a good time to give it another frame or two.
|Little Red Barn|
One of the little tricks that I learned about photography years ago when I got started was that I should always look behind me and to the sides when I am working a subject. Often times, you get tunnel vision with the first thing that you see and that can cause you to miss an opportunity which is right under your nose. This was one of those times. When I was satisfied that I had enough examples of the barn that I should be able to choose a really good one, I started to look around. What did I find you ask? I found another lone tree with a fence. The problem with this was it was a good ways away beyond another fence. I was going to need some long reaching glass for this tree, but the sky was too good to pass up.
|Defiant in B&W|
I had high hopes for a good sunset since the clouds seemed to be the most interesting in the Western half of the sky. If I could just get lucky enough to have the sun dip below them and illuminate them from the bottom I would be able to capture some stunning color. I just needed to find a place where I could showcase that color to the fullest. I had planned on going to Thunder Hill Overlook which I had worked several sunsets from before. I knew what elements I would need to include to make an interesting composition, and it would make for quick work setting things up. The only problem with that plan...It would seem that everyone driving on the Parkway had gotten the memo that this was the place to view the sunset from. There were about a dozen cars in the parking area and there were people sitting on the rock that I was hoping to use as the foreground interest. This wasn't going to work at all. Fortunately, I had seen an interesting view about a half mile South of the overlook. I quickly went back there knowing that I was running out of time before the light show was going to start.
I was looking at the scene with both human eyes and the eyes of a photographer. You see, our eyes have a much wider exposure latitude than a camera does. I could see all the detail in the landscape as well as the colors in the sky. I knew though, how the camera would perceive the image. To document that fact, I snapped this shot with my phone and it does a pretty good job at showing what a camera is capable of picking up. So, how did I expect to capture the image that I was seeing before my human eyes? Simple, I was going to have to use filters of some sort to help control my exposure. I could also take several different images and merge them together in post processing...but for my photography, that is cheating and I choose not to do that. I much prefer to use filters at the time of the capture.
Here you see what I was seeing after fitting a Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse ND Grad filter. This filter is specifically designed for capturing sunrises and sunsets. Half of the filter is clear, while the other half is a neutral gray. Unlike my other ND Grad filters, it is darkest at the dividing line, and then tapers off to very light by the top. The logic here is that the brightest part of the scene is likely going to be right at the horizon where the sun is, but you don't want the top of the sky to render as dark which is what happens with a typical ND Grad. My reverse grad was the only filter that I needed attached to my 24-70mm to render the scene just as I previsualized it. As you can see from the histogram, I am able to get a complete range of tones with only the sun blowing out, which is perfectly acceptable for this image.
|Peace in the Valley|
The sunset that I was hoping for did not materialize unfortunately. The clouds continued to move towards the sun, eventually covering it and blocking it at the horizon. While I would have loved to have seen an explosion of color over this valley, I have to say I am rather pleased with how this image turned out. It was fun getting to use the reverse grad again since it is a relatively new filter in my collection. I'm really starting to see the benefits from it every time I use it.
With the sun down, it was time to head home and start the processing of the images. As you can see, I have a bunch of these images which have been rendered as monochrome. Sometimes it just works out that the compositions work just as well without the aid of color. There is a certain classy appeal to a black and white image, and I'm always happy when I shoot a strong enough image that it will work without color. With 12 images added to my portfolio, I think this might be the most successful trek that I have taken this year. I'm really glad that I decided to chase the clouds, and will continue to do just that when it comes to when and where I decide to shoot.