Me: What is that noise?.....Oh, it's the alarm. Starts to look at the weather in the mountains.
Toni: Are you going to get up and go?
Me: There are 30mph winds in the mountains today, and the wind chill is in the 20's. I should just stay home and curl up with you today.
Toni: You really should go. This will probably be the last day you can catch the leaves.
Me: Yeah, I guess you are right...Ugh
That was how my morning started at 4:15am. I really didn't want to get out of the bed, especially seeing the weather conditions in the mountains. The winds were up with 20mph sustained, and 30mph gusts forecasted. Not to mention that the temperatures were in the mid to upper 30's with a wind chill in the lower 20's. That was a complete shock to my system after being in the mid 80's just days before. But Toni was right, this was going to be my last good chance to capture the Fall colors in the mountains since peak was a few days ago. The wind would be better tomorrow, but I would lose the clouds which were forecasted to be about 45% coverage for most of the morning. This should provide me with some visual interest in the sky, and keep the sun diffused for a decent morning of photography.
|Holding Back the Day|
I started out headed South because I knew of a few really good places to capture a sunrise, should one appear. As I got close to Raven Rocks Overlook, I happened to catch sight of a fence to the left and I was pretty sure I saw a small patch of clouds over where the sun was coming up. This was an unknown vista for me, but it was worth turning around to check it out.
Sure enough, the clouds were actually coming over the mountain and rushing toward the horizon. If I timed it right, I would be able to get some good color this morning. I parked the truck and opened the door....then considered how badly I wanted to try a sunrise. Ultimately, I fought the wind, which was howling at this point. I spread my tripod out for maximum stability as I was having flashbacks from when I busted a lens due to a sudden gust of wind. I decided to keep my 24-70mm lens on, but I fitted the Lee filter holder in anticipation for using my flat filters.
I set up and tried to get the fence to contribute to the composition. I found that by getting really low, the fence became a prominent feature against the colors in the sky. The wind was really causing problems though, as everything was blowing around wildly. For this level of light, my shutter speeds were not fast enough to freeze the motion. Instead, I had to time my shots with the lulls in the wind, and hope that they stayed calm for the duration of the exposure. That never happened though. The color in the sky was good, and the clouds held promise, but weren't moving fast enough. As the sky started to wash out, I realized that when the clouds lit up with color, it would be too late for the picture that I wanted. I'm just not a fan of a white sky between colorful clouds, and the ground. So, I decided to cut this short in favor of what was developing behind me. The clouds were much more dramatic to the rear, and I wanted to make use of the wonderful lighting before it was gone.
The only problem was...I was getting numb. I could no longer feel my fingers, and my nose was running like a faucet. But I waited. In a window of about 3 minutes I had the light that I was waiting for, and I took advantage of it with several exposures to make sure I got it right. The composition was a little more difficult that I expected. I had set up a foreground, but there was a deep shadow that covered it, and with the wind, there was too much movement for my tastes. I had to crop in tighter in order to really focus on what was the most interesting. The change in composition was easier said than done with my numb fingers. Things like focusing became a chore, but the biggest issue was I was now switching lenses. For the composition at hand, I needed my 70-200mm. It was everything I could do to swap the lenses while keeping the wind away from the sensor. I was finally able to get the image that I wanted, seconds before the light faded.
However, in the world of photography, good light lasts just moments and then it's gone. With the sun quickly rising, I was losing out on the warm tones, and they were being replaced with very contrasty light. It was time to listen to my body and get back to the truck. It took some doing to get the camera put away though. I had no fine motor skills, and I could not tell what kind of pressure I was applying to buttons, and levers. I looked quite funny, but I eventually got it all broken down, and back in the bag. Then it was time to make use of the heater...on full blast!
Because of the distance, I needed some form of foreground interest. Fortunately, there was a nice split rail fence that I could use. I just backed up and framed the mountains in the vertical posts. My one issue was the wind was still howling, and the weeds in front of the fence were moving like crazy. There was no chance of freezing them, so I went ahead and embraced the movement. I stopped down the lens, and slowed the shutter speed to a speed that I thought would provide enough motion in the weeds to reduce their visual impact, but keeping them detailed enough that the eye recognizes them without having to examine the form. It was a fine balance!
The second element of this photograph is the light. The clouds were moving quickly in the wind and the light from the sun would illuminate various parts of the landscape randomly. I just sat there and made exposures when I thought the light was doing something special. For the most part, it was going across the nearest mountain, and would occasionally hit the one to the rear. For a moment though, the light hit both mountains, and also fully illuminated the middle ground for the first and only time. That was the shot I was wanting, and didn't even realize I was waiting for that formula.
Once again, it was time to fumble with the camera and put it back in the bag. I couldn't feel my extremities once again. I needed to find other vistas to photograph while the light was still good. I got turned around at this point, and started heading North in search of more color. I could see that the closer I got to the Rough Ridge area, the less leaves remained. I was hoping for better luck on the Northern sections of the Parkway.
|Confining the Blue Ridge|
After finishing this image, and trying another scene a short distance up the road (wasn't happy with the results), it was time to pack up the gear once again. I wasn't really sure where I was gong to end up, but things were going pretty well so so far. That is, if you forget the fact that my fingers were now tingling from exposure, and would not stop.
|Behind the Gate|
|Behind the Gate in B&W|
|Home Sweet Home|
With my 24-70mm lens, I gave it a go. Since the clouds were breaking up, I went ahead and fit a polarizer on my lens to help with the contrast in the sky. For being a cute little cabin, it is not that easy to photograph. There is not much in the way of foreground interest, unless you count the bramble off of the corner of the house. By opening up wide, I was able to get the sky in the frame, and also a shadow in the foreground. More importantly, I was able to get the Fall color that was present in the background of the house. The cool sky balanced out the warm tones of the trees and the cabin and made for a nice, and well balanced image.
|Home Sweet Home in B&W|
|Sticks and Stones|
After I was done here, it was time to head back home. It had been a very fun day on the Parkway. It might have been the excitement of fighting off the high winds, or it might have been the challenge of staying warm. I guess, it could also be the fact that I came home with quite a few new images to add to my collection. No matter how you look at it, I am glad that I followed Toni's advice this morning and went to the mountains once again.