A Rainy Morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway

 August 21, 2016

Carpet of Clouds

Here of late, I have been wanting to get back out and do some photography.  My schedule has been quite busy and I have been tied up on my off days with other interests.  However, the time had come for me to grab the Tamrac and head out in search of some more sights to put in front of the lens.  The weather on Sunday was an interesting thing.  On one hand, it was nearly perfect for a long morning bike ride at home.  On the other hand, the mountains were looking pretty good for some dramatic skies, and the chance for some intimate shots under heavy clouds and light rain.  Since I had chosen the bike a few days before, I decided to take my chances in the mountains and see what I could get.

I started my day off very early with the hopes of getting a sunrise in before getting started on other subjects.  I was running a little behind and was hoping to get to Carol Gap which has a nice viewpoint to take advantage of low lying clouds which I had experienced on the way through Wilkesboro.  As I arrived on the Parkway, I came across a viewpoint near the Elk Mountain Overlook which gave the view that I was really interested in so I decided to abandon my original plan and see what developed.

I arrived a bit later than I normally would want to, and there was already a good deal of light in the sky, but we were still about 25 minutes from sunrise so I set up very quick and started to grab pictures.  The sky was moderately interesting with clouds, and there was an overall reddish tone to the atmosphere, but the clouds below really captivated me, and they changed constantly over the half hour I was there.  To make the best advantage of the light that was there, I used my ND Grad filter and nothing else to keep the sky from over exposing and losing the color that I was seeing.  While I got a large number of shots, the one that worked out the best between composition and exposure was the one that opened this entry.  It was the third shot of the morning after I had fine tuned the original composition to my liking.  I was really hoping for a better sky, but I have to work with what I am given.

As the sun came up, the light was lost, and the clouds below started to get very bright causing too much contrast.  It was time to move on to see what else I could find.  My ultimate goal was to scout Flat Rock Trail for a possible sunset on another day, but there was lots to see between here and there.


As I was headed down the Parkway, I came across a fallen tree that Toni had pointed out years ago on a Trek we did together.  I always look at this tree when I'm in the area, but it hasn't had that same magical appearance for me until today.  The way the clouds were rolling across the sky, and the early morning light on the field really captured my attention so I turned around and got the camera set up to see what I could do.  As I was building the kit, a herd of cattle started to approach from the other side of the field.  This was not overly alarming as there was a fence between me and them, but I wasn't really happy with the possibility that they would be walking through my shot.  While they were getting used to me being there, I set up several test shots for composition and worked on finding something different than I had done in the past with this tree.  I was having a real hard time with the exposure due to the sky, and having the cows walking in front of me constantly was not helping matters at all. I decided to move over to the other side and see if maybe I could incorporate the cows, but all they did was follow me around.

I decided to let that work for me, while I looked at other compositions.  When they all came over to my location, I quickly moved back to my original spot and found the field of view to be clear once again.  I was able to snap a few quick exposures with a 3-stop ND Grad attached to control the sky.  The moody feel of this image really appealed to me as it captured what I had been after with this tree since I had seen it driving by.  I wasn't done yet though...I had found another view I wanted from the other side, but the cows were still there.  I went across the street for a bit to see if they would lose interest.  They did in a few minutes and roamed on to the far side of the field, far away from the tree, and from me.

What Remains
Knowing that the sun was going to be coming up over my shoulder, I was interested to see how things would illuminate when the time was right.  As the sun peeked over the trees and through the clouds, I was met with a nice surprise.  There was a cluster of trees in the background with exposed trunks that made for a perfect counter element for the fallen tree. With the sun on them, they really popped from the greenery, so I re-framed the shot and got this grab with just a minute or so of light to work with.  With the ND Grad still attached, the sky exposed perfectly without being too bright in the clouds.

With this picture, I was pretty much done at this location.  I got back in the truck and headed South, looking for Flat Rock Trail.  The clouds had pretty much taken over the sky, and it was misting, at times heavily.  I was starting to think about doing some waterfall photography, but I wasn't really in position to do any new falls which was what I would want to do.  I knew I would be close to Linville Falls and Crabtree Falls which are both fun, but ones I've done a number of times in the past.  The same conditions that make waterfall photography so fun also work for intimate landscapes, which was what I was hoping for at Flat Rock.

Flat Rock Trail
When I arrived, the rain had all but stopped, but the clouds were still thick above me.  I grabbed my gear and started on the relatively easy hike.  At the beginning of the trail I found an interesting tree surrounded by the lush leaves of the rain soaked vegetation.  It was worth a shot or two, so I set the camera up.  I used my polarizer to remove the glare from the moisture and started to compose the simplest images that I could.  After I shot this one, I started to see a need to shoot vertical to show off the size of the trees that lined the trail.  I flipped the camera and recomposed.

Giants of the Forest

I think I kind of like this one a good bit better than the horizontal version.  The trail and trees work out great to lead the eyes through the frame, and the textures of the trees are a nice touch as well.  A nice cloudy and wet day is the perfect time to photograph the interior of a forest.  So much detail is able to be recorded.  I really like the lush green of the background as well.

As I continued on, I came to the overlook in a very short amount of time.  The view was pretty good from what I could see, but the clouds were too low, and lacked enough visual contrast to work for a shot at this time.  Checking on the directions, I think it will make a really good sunset spot that I am looking forward to sharing with Toni in the near future if scheduling works out.  As I continued down the back side of the trail, I came across another one of those scenes that always draws my eye...

Slowly Reclaimed
Starting years ago, I studied the works of Mark Lucock (an Australian Photographer) who was amazing at capturing scenes of decaying wood in a bed of lush vegetation.  I've often times tried to use this technique, but don't have much luck finding the right scenes to work with.  Today, I stumbled across just such a scene and had to take full advantage of it.  At this point, the rain was falling pretty heavily, and the wind was starting to blow.  For anyone that knows about photography, I'm sure you realize with the heavy cloud cover, my shutter speed was extended to a very long time.  In fact, with the proper aperture, I was shooting around 13 seconds.  In that time, the ferns were blowing around wildly, and blurring too much.  I wanted them reasonably sharp for this shot; so for the first time, I jacked my ISO up to around 800 in order to get my shutter speed in a more appropriate range.  This worked out well, and I was able to capture the image I have been after so many times before.  Fortunately, my camera handles these ISO's very well, and still produced a noise free image.

It has been a while since I've been out on a Trek where I've been really happy with the results, but this was one.  I didn't get as many images as I would have liked, but the ones that I got I'm really happy with, and feel like the trip was worth my time.  I'm actually looking forward to my next Trek, and hope that it comes along soon.

Be sure and check out my Landscapes Gallery and see the new arrivals, as well as some of my favorites from other Treks.