The Lower Trails at Stone Mountain

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A New Day
There is a lot going on in my life right now, and quite honestly, I thought that I would be tied up all weekend long taking care of things at home and getting ready for the new truck.  Well, that was before I really started to look at the forecast.  Rain...rain, and more rain.  That kind of prevented me from washing the cars.  I had also manged to get the new sliders prepped during the week for the new truck, so I wasn't going to have to do any painting...wouldn't be able to anyway with the cool, and humid days.  With Toni fully into studying, my day was getting a little more free than I had thought.  Late Friday, I started to look at the weather for a possible day behind the camera.


Photographers love the fog.  It adds so much ambiance to the pictures, and helps with isolating elements in your shot.  I was excited to see fog was in the forecast, and started to think about where I could go to take full advantage of that fog.  The first place that came to mind was Stone Mountain because there were a lot of areas where I could try some woodland photography with the fog.  I also had a lot of options about what to shoot depending on what the weather actually did.  Knowing that the park opened up at 7am, I started my day at about 5 when I woke up.  After checking to make sure that Toni didn't want to join me, I got ready and grabbed the camera.

It was a dreary drive to Stone Mountain, with drizzle, and some low level fog in the road.  This didn't really bother me since I was wanting just this type of weather for my morning photography.  The plan was to park near the old homestead at the main parking lot.  I would try and get a few shots of the old buildings in the fog, before working on some of the trees that were set apart from the rest of the wood line.

As I got into the park, the fog seemed to lift which bothered me a little bit.  The clouds also seemed to be thinning out.  Well, that was the beauty of Stone Mountain...I could choose the upper trails and capture some grand landscapes with an interesting sky.  But I was getting ahead of myself.  It was still pretty much dark, and I was having to wait at each gate before the rangers opened them up.  It was about 7:10 when I finally arrived at my destination.

I grabbed the camera bag and tripod and started off down the service road that leads to the old homestead.  As I was walking, it looked like there was a street light ahead...but I knew that there were no lights here.  I picked up my pace a little bit, and quickly figured out that there was actual color in the sky!  This was amazing, because it is so rare that I see an actual colorful sunrise when I am out with the camera.  I was almost at a full run now trying to get to the homestead.  I was running lens options in my head and trying to figure out the best composition before I even got there.  I knew that the color would be fading quickly since the sun was already above the horizon by this point.

Soft Ripples
I ran past the old structures because I could tell that there would be nothing great using them to start off with.  The gold was going to be in the trees in the field just beyond the homestead.  I found the trees I wanted, and got the tripod set up quickly.  I pulled out the camera and swapped in the 24-700mm lens, and left the filters off for the sake of time.  I composed my first composition (opening picture), and dialed in the  I checked the histogram to make sure I had all the information I needed before changing my position for a new composition.  I wasn't going to have a sky like this for long, and I wanted to take full advantage of it while I was here, so I moved all around with a quickness.  Each time, I composed quickly, and dialed in the best exposure I could before releasing the shutter.  There were no retakes here, just lots of different compositions.  I was really hoping that I was getting some good shots, because I couldn't tell in the LCD as the pictures were reviewed.

That is the thing that I hate most about the settings I shoot with.  With everything dialed down from saturation to contrast, the image review always looks very flat and lifeless.  The LCD image is only good for checking composition and focus.  The histogram tells me if I nailed the exposure.  But how the picture is going to look, I rarely have any idea until I get home and process the digital negatives.

In a Haze

I kept working different compositions as the colors in the sky were fading away.  When I finally worked my way up close to the one lone tree that I was wanting to get, the sky had all but faded away.  There was just a hint of color in the clouds, so I went ahead and shot the picture.  The LCD review looked very blah to be honest, but I knew that I hadn't clipped any of the information.  I had high hopes that I could pull the color back out of the sky when I got home.  Sure enough, I was able to reproduce exactly what I saw with my eyes when I got home.  I also saw this being such a strong composition with the bare tree, and the fog softened background that I decided to do a black & white conversion on it as well.  While I really loved the color version, the mono rendering has a certain moodiness to it, that I can't stop looking at.

Vulnerable in B&W
When the sky was done with its light show, I started to look around for other things to put in front of my camera.  While there was a good deal of blue in the direction that I had been shooting, I found that the clouds were coming back behind me.  The old homestead was starting to look really nice with the fog settling in the mountains in the background.  There was also a bright spot in the sky well off in the distance.  I thought I would head back over that way to see what I could do with the rustic side of Stone Mountain.

Pastel Paradise
I have tried so many times to photograph these buildings with varying levels of success.  I haven't been tremendously happy with any of my attempts though.   This was mainly due to the display signs that are out in the front of each building.  They are very hard to shoot around, and give the compositions a less than authentic feel.  As it so happened, the sky was looking rather interesting back toward the parking lot, which would make my shooting position on the back of the property.  I had never even considered shooting from back here before, but the sky gave me no choice at all.  I set my camera up, and started to dial in a composition.  It was harder than it appears because there were only a few things that I wanted in the frame.  It took very careful positioning to make this shot happen.  Again, I was using no filters...I was still just too excited to bother with going back in my bag.  I wasn't seeing any real need for any filters as the exposures were very well contained in the 5D.

When I was satisfied that I had what I wanted, I started to look around once again.  The sky was getting kind of bright in the direction I was shooting, so I turned my attention back behind me.  I was starting to feel like I had a bad case of ADD.  When I saw the clouds above Stone Mountain, I rushed back over to the other side of the field so that I could SQUIRREL!!!  So that I could get the bare tree at the base of the bald.  The fog was looking really good, and the sky had a lot of interesting textures to it.  This one, I set up to shoot as a black and white from the get go.

Against All Odds in B&W
The whole setting was moody, and each element fed off of the next.  I was seeing this one in monochrome as I shot it, which is a trick all to itself.  Of course, the camera was still shooting color, as I want all of the digital material to work with when I process the image.  There is also the side benefit that I can process the image as a color picture as well.  It just so happens that I really liked it as a color image as well, and thought that it stood on its own merit in full color...even if rather subdued.

Against All Odds
When I was satisfied with that composition SQUIRREL!!!!  I went back over to the other side to shoot more of the homestead.  Having had such excellent luck with the one set of pictures, I decided that it wouldn't be a terrible idea to stay on the back side of the property for the next set of pictures.  I wanted to get a barn which I normally don't photograph.  However, the fog behind it gave an interesting backdrop which I thought warranted a few exposures.  By shooting from this side, I also had the ability to use the fence as a leading line.

Split Rail
When I finished up with this barn, I realized that I had been onsite for right at an hour.  Really, it was only 8am?  I had shot some 40 frames in that hour.  I had so many compositions that I knew that I had at least four keepers out of this batch.  Little did I know that this hour was probably the most successful hour I have had behind the camera when it comes to the number of images I wanted to keep.  I was really feeling good about my decision to come to Stone Mountain this morning, and I was looking forward to continuing my hike into the woods.

Wooden Medusa
It didn't take long before I came upon my favorite tree just off to the side of the trail.  I think I photograph this tree each time I visit, just hoping that the lighting will be different, or the greenery will be more vibrant.  Today, I just wanted to shoot it to try processing it through Lightroom for a change.  The composition is always a fun one, but the lighting wasn't stellar today.  That didn't stop me from working this amazing root system one more time.  The end result has a lot of qualities that I really like, so even though it is a repeat subject, I found one that I wanted to keep.

Beautiful Obstructions
Even though the clouds were starting to give way to sunshine, the stream that flowed beside the trail was mostly in the shade.  That was good, because there were several different sections that I decided were worth a shot or two.  This one particular section was deep in the shadows, but the water flow was too much to pass up.  I dipped off of the trail and set up for this shot.  I still had a polarizer on from the previous tree, so I prepared an ND filter, but turned out that I didn't need it.  I was able to dial in a 30 second exposure with just the polarizer on the lens.  I thought that might be a bit much, but I gave it a try.  It was perfect!  The water turned to milk, and there was still plenty of detail where it was rushing around the rocks.  Even though this section was quite small, I found a lot of goody in it, and was able to shoot several different compositions before moving on down the trail.

Soothe My Soul
It seems that I will always enjoy moving water when it comes to my photography.  There is just so much character to it, and it is like a happy surprise to see how it renders in a still photograph.  These intimate shots of flowing water are especially fun since the rocks are left being the only thing that is captured as a sharp, clear object.  It just adds to the story, and that is just what I want to see!

Water in Motion
I continued down the trail with the intention of checking out the base of the Stone Mountain Falls.  When I got there, I was a little disappointed at how things looked.  There was not going to be a picture there least not by me.  There was just no angle that looked photogenic today.  In fact, there has been only one day that I have actually liked how the waterfall looked, and that was when it was slightly covered in snow.  That was a pretty sight!  Today just wasn't the day.  I turned back around and stopped off at this one little cascade that caught my attention just before getting to the main waterfall.

I looked at the setting and decided that the best way to capture this section would be to isolate a portion of it with my 70-200mm lens.  I swapped that on, while keeping the polarizer attached to the front element.  It took some doing to find the composition that I liked, but after a lot of moving around, I settled on this one.  It was nice and simple, without much in the way of visual clues as to the scale of the shot.  I'm counting on that to help bring the viewer in a little more deeply.

As I continued down the trail, I kept my eyes out for anything interesting to photograph.  I found this one tree that had a single branch curving off to the side.  I pondered it for a moment to see if there was a way to photograph it that made sense.  I saw a moss covered stump just beyond the tree, down a slight embankment.  There was also another moss covered tree kind of between the two elements in distance.  With some careful positioning of the camera, I was able to get the stump to line up beneath the arc, and position the other tree to the right to complete the frame.  The composition is not something that I would normally shoot, but I have to admit that I like how this one turned out.  It is worth noting that when I came upon the scene where this tree was, I said to myself "A good photographer would be able to come away from this area with a picture."  I guess I kind of guilted myself into shooting this picture...not that I'm complaining.

I started to really look for the detail shots along the trail as this was not something that I was used to doing.  It helped that I now had my long lens on, which is much better for picking out details in the middle of clutter.  What I came upon next was an old tree with some very interesting decay in the trunk.  It was interesting enough that it caused me to set the camera up in an attempt to get a close up abstract of it.

Fallen Angel
When I got home and started to edit this picture, Toni came in and took a look at it.  She saw angel wings in a state of decomposition.  Hmmmm, I could see that.  Maybe that was what drew me to this view.  Well, she definitely helped me name this one, that is for sure.  I don't do a lot of this type of photography, but occasionally, it is nice to venture out and try something different.  I'm happy with the results on this one for sure!

I continued on my way back where my adventure had started some 3 hours ago.  When I got back to the field, I started to look at the trees to see if there were any other shots that I could take.  I actually found one tree that was kind of interesting, if not for its shape, for the fact that it was set in the middle of a bunch of bright green.  That kind of color in the middle of January was not exactly normal.

Feeling Your Age
The dormant tree, with the lichens on it really posed an interesting dichotomy with the lush greens behind it.  The yellowed grasses below told a story of a different season.  Here I had an old tree stuck between what appeared to be vibrant and fresh, and long dormant grasses.  There was just too much going on with this picture on a mental level to delete it... so, here it is.  It is up to the viewer to decide what the age is, much like it is up to the person to decide how old they feel.

Quiet Thoughts
After all of that deep thinking, I needed to sit down and reflect for a bit.  Lucky for me, I found a bench beneath another standout tree along the wood line.  I actually tried to shoot the tree without the bench, but the composition was seriously lacking something that the bench provided.  So, I kept the bench in the frame, and worked on positioning it just so.  What I really like about this picture is the bench provides a sense of scale to the tree, and to the image as a whole.  With that scale, there is a new importance given to the tree which I think makes the image.

And, speaking of trees.....

The Origin
Right beside the main home of the historic site is a really great tree.  I've seen it every time I've come out here, but haven't directly photographed it before.  For some reason, I was feeling a little daring today, and decided to compose a shot or two.  I left the long lens on the camera and framed it vertically.  This emphasized the height of the tree, and allowed the fence to be used as a counter element.  The greens and reddish browns behind the tree made for the perfect backdrop as well.  But something wasn't quite perfect about this framing though.

As it turned out, the tree had enough vertical elements to solidify that part of the composition.  I wanted to elongate the fence a little more and to do that, I needed to flip the camera back to horizontal.  Once I did that, the composition made a lot more sense to me.  Now, don't get me wrong, it is not that I don't like the first picture.  Quite the contrary.  I really like them both, but the story that is being told is completely different between the two.  For where my mind was at the time, the horizontal shot just makes more sense, and has a better balance.  The vertical rendition has more drama to it though, and more excitement.  With such a simple movement of the camera, so many different emotions can be called upon.

By this point, my emotion was....tired.  I had been out for nearly four hours now, and had taken just shy of 100 frames.  With my creative energy spent, it was time to get back to the car and head home.  It was an amazing day at Stone Mountain.  I missed Toni, but I'm glad I came out today.  It as one of the better weather days I've had for landscape work in quite a while.

Exploring in Wilkes County

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunshine Beneath the Clouds
After yesterday's road trip with Toni, I was all ready to go out and photograph some barns and old cars.  I didn't do it yesterday because we were on a little bit of a schedule, and Toni never really feels comfortable going with me when I'm going onto people's property.  I just put a couple of places in the back of my mind for later trips.  I didn't quite know that the later trip would be the following day.  There was rain in the forecast, so I wasn't really able to get the vehicles cleaned up as had been my original plan.  Toni was at work, and I was kind of looking for something to do.

My creative energy had been zapped on Saturday with all the different scenes that Toni and I worked, so I wasn't really looking to go out with the camera.  However, the weather was nearly ideal for shooting barns and old cars.  It was pretty much like it was yesterday.  I debated with myself for a while, and finally decided that I might as well go and try to get something while the weather was good.  I keyed in the location on Absher Rd that I was wanting to start with after seeing it yesterday.  The trip wasn't that long, so I went ahead and loaded the truck.

The trip was uneventful, and I actually went a slightly different way to get to my destination, so I got to scout some other things along the way.  The problem that I was having, was I just wasn't feeling all that creative, so I was very proficient at talking myself out of stopping and pulling the camera out.  I kept telling myself that I was going out with a destination in mind, and that was what I was wanting to do.

Well, I passed by a service shop on the side of Traphill Rd that had a very nice collection of old cars in the back.  They were closed, and there were signs up all around that advised against going back there.  Well, I left a business card with the hopes that they would call me back some day, and I could get permission to be out there at some point.  It was a quick sideline, but at least I was starting to feel a little creative.

When I got to my destination, I pulled into the driveway and went up to the door.  I knocked, but there was no answer.  There was smoke coming out of the chimney, so either they were ignoring my knock, or they were busy doing other things.  Either way, I was not getting any permission for the property today.  I didn't wait around too long as I have been met with armed home owners too many times in the past, and didn't want to freak anyone out.  Well, I looked around at the potential, and decided that it would be worth a return trip at another time.

Nestled in the Trees
Well, my day wasn't going well at all.  I had been out for about 2 hours and had not found the first subject to photograph.  I tried going into Stone Mountain where I had seen a really pretty tree fallen in a field...but that didn't really catch my eye today.  I started to just drive around and get lost.  I honestly don't know where I was for most of this trip.  My GPS would not pick up, and there were very little road signs.  As I was starting to get a little bummed, I happened to see a small house tucked into an alcove just off of the road behind a fence.  It was not my normal cabin, but the way it set beneath the trees caught my eye.  I went ahead and pulled off the road, and pulled the camera out.

As I was setting it up, I really wasn't sure how it would turn out, but I figured I was here, might as well.  I started out with the 24-70mm lens so I could try and get the feel of the size of the trees in the background.  I just wasn't really getting excited about the compositions I could shoot due to some obstacles in the yard, but I kept on trying.

Deserted Stables
I finally decided to move my attention to the stables that were to the right of the property.  I was not happy with any composition on that subject, and made the decision to chuck the 24-70mm back in the bag and try my 70-200mm to get some isolations.  That seemed to work out much better.  I could pick out the details I wanted in the stable, and omit a lot of the other clutter.  I liked the right half of the stables, as there were horses' names above each of them.  The chains, the wood textures, and the different wood finishes seemed to work together in this image.  Now, I was starting to get in the right frame of mind to shoot this scene.  Armed with the long lens, I directed my attention back to the house once again.

The Vast Woodland
Still wanting to capture the trees, I worked on several compositions that included the trees.  The problem was, there was just no balance to the image.  Then I decided to isolate a portion of the house, rather than capture it all.  That was the trick!  I was able to get the scale of the trees, and use the house as a focal point.  I was definitely getting in the swing of things now.  I started to adjust the composition to see if I could add more drama to the scene.

Front Porch Swing
By using the driveway as a leading line to the porch, I got a really nice draw to the eyes.  There was a lot of detail to look at on the porch, but the red roof of the barn to the rear, called for your eye's attention.  This allowed for the your eyes to be pulled away from the house and into the trees once again.  The diagonals here make for a strong image, but still has the vertical impact of the trees.  While this is not necessarily in my normal wheelhouse, I was liking what I was coming up with, and more importantly, I was getting the creative bug back.

The Storm Clears
I got back in the truck and commenced to driving around once again.  I was seeing road signs, but I still had no idea where I was at.  The sky was starting to do some funky things as well.  I thought that I was about to be looking at a bright sunny day, which would change my plans dramatically.  Not wanting to shift gears just yet, I found an old hay shelter sitting right in the middle of a field.  The sky was looking really good above it, so I decided to stop and make use of what might be my last subject of the day.  I went back to my 24-70mm lens because I really wanted a nice wide angle to bring in the sky.  It was after all, the real subject of this photograph.  The shelter was just a focal point, a compositional tool, so to speak.

Simple Shelter
As I played around with the scene, I found that the opposite side of the shelter was actually a better subject.  It also worked well with the mountain in the distance.  The roof was almost like a leading line.  The sky was still really cool, and the good news was, the clouds were building back again.  Since I was unable to get any closer to the barn, I decided to pack up and keep it moving.  I was now fully ready to find something great to photograph.

Well...I was ready, but nothing I drove by worked out.  I would see a barn from the road and start to chase it down.  By the time I found it, I decided that it was not quite as photogenic as I had thought from a distance.  I was really starting to get discouraged with this hunting game that I play when I do my rural photography.  Since I still had no GPS, and was pretty much lost, I decided to stay lost.  Only now, I was starting to go down dead end roads to see what was tucked away from the motoring public.

Setting Roots
As I came around a bend in the road I saw it.  There was a perfect old Ford sitting there beneath the trees.  There was even a small pine growing beside the fender.  This was what I was looking for!  I got out and started to frame compositions using my 70-200mm so that I could avoid getting the distant sky in the compositions.  While the clouds looked great, the sky would just show as white beyond the trees, and I wanted to avoid that as best I could.  I was very fortunate that there were only 2 cars on this road for the 30 minutes I was there.  For the most part, I was shooting from the middle of the road.

Spider Web
Time Well Wasted
Since I had the long lens fitted, I thought I would go ahead and get some isolations on the truck.  I really liked the blue door, and the rusty patina on the truck.  The little pine tree was also a really nice addition.  I found a few compositions that captured all three of those elements.  Before packing things up though, I decided to swap out to my 24-70mm lens and try some other angles on this truck.

Hand Painted
Long Way Home
I'm learning that I really should be trying multiple lenses on the same subjects more often.  The different focal lengths always give a different feeling to the photograph.  These last two are much more open than the first ones.  Not that one is better than the other, just a different way to capture the scene.  After that 30 minutes had passed, I figured I had shot the goody out of this truck.  Also, for some reason in the middle of backwoods Wilkesboro, I was listening to Jason Derulo and Snoop Dogg being blasted from a bass heavy car stereo at the house to my left.  I wasn't sure what that meant, but I figured I would probably do better to head on.

It was starting to get late, and I was needing to find my way to a GPS signal to get home, but I couldn't resist that one last dead end road....Sounds like the beginning to a horror story doesn't it?  Well, this was anything but a horror story.  It was the icing on the cake of the day as a matter of fact.

Always Happy
As I came around the curve, I saw a bright yellow VW Beetle on the side of the road.  Man was it bright!!  There was no tag, and there was a lot of dirt and rust on the body.  It hadn't been derelict for long, but it had enough neglect to be a subject for my camera.  Plus, there is no other car that is quite as identifiable as these little Bugs.

I pulled over and got the camera out.  There was a house nearby, but this was well off of the property.  Since it was right on the side of the road, I didn't worry too much about asking permission.  As I was setting up the first shot of this car, I heard a 4-wheeler starting up.  Yeah, I knew what this was going to be about.  I hurried to try and get the first shot done, but I wasn't quick enough.  He pulled up behind me and asked what I was doing.  I explained that I was taking pictures of the car.  He advised that he knows people like to "lift things" from over here, and he wasn't wild about anyone who stopped.  With the camera set up, it was pretty obvious what I was doing, and he reluctantly gave me his blessing to photograph the car.  With a parting "There are video cameras watching you" he went back to the house.  Ok...I wasn't going to hang out here long, and I made sure that I was very obvious with what I was doing so as not to alarm anyone.

Slug Bug
The clouds were absolutely amazing above the Bug, so I had to make it a point to get a composition or two that highlighted those clouds.  From the rear it was easy to do.  I had difficulties from the front though.  There was a boat, next to a building right off the rear corner of the car.  There was just enough space for me to shoot the rear driver's quarter, and a tight shot from the passenger's front quarter.  That helped to keep things quick, which was good.

Sunshine Beneath the Clouds in B&W
When I was processing the images once I got home, I found myself wondering what this car would look like in a black and white rendering.  Ironically, it was the color that drew me to the photograph, but the monochrome version has so much more drama to it.  There is a different feel to it as well.  I am almost thinking that I like this version better than the color.  Regardless, it was this Volkswagon that really came through on today's road trip.  I'm glad that I stumbled on it when I did, and really glad I didn't get chased off of the property!

Once I was able to find a GPS signal, I was on my way home.  I still don't know exactly where I was, but I ended up on Hwy 18 going through N. Wilkesboro.  I'll have to remember this area as there are a lot of great subjects.  It is just a matter of waiting for them to ask to be photographed.  I also have leads on two other places in the area that could be quite promising.  For now, I have 15 pictures that I have deemed as keepers from today's outing.  Not too bad considering I wasn't even feeling like going when I started.

A Road Trip With Toni

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Swirling Embrace
What's the weather going to be?  What do I feel like shooting? How much time do I have?  These are the normal questions and parameters that I have to consider when grabbing the camera to head out on a trek.  Today was a bit different, and wasn't even really designed to be a photography day.  You see, I am currently in the process of building a new truck that will be used as my photography adventure vehicle to replace my trusty Toyota Tacoma.  As it turns out, part of what I am doing while waiting for the new 4Runner to be delivered is getting the necessary parts delivered, or picked up.

One of the items that I was wanting to incorporate on the new truck are sliders which are like nerf bars, but designed to be structural to the truck.  They provide protection for the lower areas of the truck, and are designed to kick the rear of the vehicle out, if it gets too close to an obstacle.  I don't intend on using them like this regularly, but they will be nice insurance for me.  Their main purpose will be steps to get up into the seats.  Anyway, I digress.  I chose to buy local and went with Budbuilt, which is located near Lenoir, NC, about an hour and a half from home.  To save a few hundred dollars in shipping, I decided that I would take the Tacoma out there and pick them up when they were ready. 

I hate to waste a trip anywhere near the mountains, and when I found out that they were done Thursday afternoon, I called them up to see if I could come get them either Saturday or Monday.  Well, they were nice enough to let me come by on Saturday, which worked great for me.  They picked 11:30 for the pickup, and since they were coming in special for me, I had no problem working around their schedule.  That meant that I had some time in the morning, and time in the afternoon to play with.

I started to formulate the plan on Friday for how I could get a little bit of photography fit into this road trip.  My first thought was to head out to Table Rock, and hike that trail.  When I looked at the map, it was too far out of the way.  Looking at the locations, I found that Stone Mountain and Hanging Rock were reasonably close to the route that I would want to take, so I went ahead and picked those as potential candidates...then I looked at the weather.

There was going to be rain, and clouds all day long.  Well, this actually worked out great for both of these locations since I could shoot waterfalls at either one.  Stone Mountain had the added benefit of a couple of easy views to get to that would look great under an ominous sky.  The fact that it would put us closer to Budbuilt than Hanging Rock would, meant that Stone Mountain would be the destination.

Knowing that I had a good chance of being gone for most of the day, I wanted Toni to come along with me.  She actually said that she would, which was great!  She was even fine with waking up before 6am in order to get out to Stone Mountain with enough time to work both a waterfall and a landscape scene before having to be on the road again.

When we woke up, I looked at the weather, and it hadn't changed much, so I really felt like this was going to be a great option for the morning.  As we were driving down the road, the clouds were up much higher than the forecast called for, but at least they were thick enough to block the sun.  Right as we entered the park, there was a fog that started to envelop the truck.  Well, my landscape idea was out, and I was starting to wonder if the waterfall would pan out.

A Tortured Soul
The further we got into the park, the more the fog lifted.  The sky was still pretty blah, so I tossed the idea of shooting the bald of Stone Mountain.  My other plan was to revisit Widow's Creek Falls which I had been to not that long ago.  My purpose in returning to this waterfall was that I wasn't exactly thrilled with the flow of water the last time I shot it.  Having had a pretty good snowfall recently, and some more rain, I thought that the water flow would be much better this time.  I also had some different compositions ideas that I wanted to try.

After getting the camera gear out of the truck, Toni and I made the excruciatingly long hike to the waterfall.  It took all of 2 minutes...well, it would have, had we not stopped.  For those who have been following my blog, you will know that Toni loves tree pictures, and the odder the tree, the better she likes it.  Well, I saw a good candidate for a picture standing all along in the woods just off of the trail.  There was no time like the present to pull the camera out and see what I could do with it.  It also helped that I had just recently seen a video from a woodland photographer, and I was looking to try some tricks out.

I used my 24-70mm lens for a moderate wide angle field of view.  I added a polarizer to remove any glare caused by the wet vegetation and help to saturate the colors.  I then started to pick out compositions that I liked with the tree.  To help it to stand out from the rest of the trees, I shot at f/5.6 which is rare for me to do since I usually like a very large depth of field.  This worked though, and helped to make the tree jump out from the rest of the woods.  It created a good bit of depth to the picture as well, which was a nice bonus for me.

When we continued on to the waterfall, I found a good bit of brush in the water that was stuck at the different rocks along the way.  I'm fine leaving a certain amount of debris in places as that is nature, but there were some branches that were bigger than I was.  They were really messing with the picture.  I was left with three choices.  1) I could abandon the shoot because the scene was too cluttered, 2) Clone the branches and debris out in post processing when I got home, or 3) Make use of my waterproof boots and do some cleaning up of the scene.  Well, I wasn't going to give up on this waterfall today, and I don't like relying on Photoshop to "fix" my photos, so that meant I was going to do a clean sweep of the different pools that I would be including in the photographs.

It didn't take long, and was actually kind of fun figuring out to get some of the branches that were slightly out of arm's reach.  Nothing like finding some other branches on the side, and using them to reach out and grab something in the water.  It didn't take but a few minutes and I was up and running once again.

Toni and I started out on the left side of the waterfall, and one of the first compositions that I shot turned out to be the best from this side.  The opening photograph captured everything that I found interesting about this scene.  It required nothing special, other than keeping the same polarizer on the 24-70mm lens.  The lighting was excellent, and there was no breeze so, everything was tack sharp in the photograph.  One of the things that I really enjoyed about this picture was the swirl at the lower right.  Of course, that part didn't show up when I was composing the shot, but with the long exposure, it was there...and in a big way.  That is the really fun thing about long exposure photography.  You will usually end up with things that the naked eye can't really see.

A Widow's Sorrow
Not wanting to take too long on this side, we moved over to the opposite shore to continue working on compositions.  This side is one that I am more familiar with shooting, and there are a lot of variations that can be shot.  I started off using the small water slide as a foreground, leading back along the various changes in elevation.  There are so many textures with this composition, and I find it very visually interesting.  There was also another one of those long exposure surprises right beside the water slide.  While not perfectly organized, it does bring a little drama into the scene, and helps give a little balance to the image as a whole.

At this point, Toni and I decided to take a quick break and try a little side project with the camera.  I'm not going to get into too many details, but I'm working a little bit on my portrait abilities incorporating the natural landscape.  We tried that for a little while, and I have to admit, I had a lot of fun, and am looking forward to processing those pictures later.  We didn't linger too long as time was approaching that we were going to have to get on the road to Lenoir to get my sliders.

Our Little Secret
There was still time for one more composition though.  I moved up a little closer, and selected a few elements that I could make a foreground.  These included a mossy rock to the right, and a little small water slide to the left.  The rest of the composition seemed to come together almost perfectly.  Oddly, this might be my favorite composition from Widow's Creek Falls.  It is intimate, while incorporating a fairly large section of the landscape.  This makes it very inviting to the eyes, and the lighting was spot on!  I would have loved to stay a bit longer, but in order to get to Budbuilt in time, we were going to have to get on the road.

The trip to Bud's only took about 1:15 minutes or so from Stone Mountain, and I have to admit, I found a lot of really good stuff that I wanted to stop and take pictures of.  However, there was not going to be enough time, and Toni doesn't really feel comfortable when I go knocking on doors to get onto properties.  I just made mental notes of what I saw along Absher Rd, and decided that I would come back there at some point.  There were a couple of places close to Bud's that I decided to swing back around to check out as well.  It didn't take long to pick up the sliders, which are about 45LBS of pure brute strength.  I'm really excited to get these coated with bedliner and get them on the new 4Runner when it comes in about 10 days from now.  Once I got all the nick knacks to get them mounted, and a few window decals...oh how I love window decals, it was time to get back on the road to revisit a few places.

A Touch of Gray
One of the things that really caught my eye, was about six miles from Budbuilt.  I had first seen the white tree over a slight hill.  The tree really stood out to me, and when I saw the red barn at the bottom, I knew that I wanted to get a picture.  This was the first place we went back to.  It was well off of the road, and beyond a fence.  I wasn't going to be able to get close to it at all.  I figured out that the only way I could hope to photograph this scene was to have the 70-200mm lens fitted.  This time, I added an intensifying polarizer, to really make the colors pop.  I tried a few different compositions, but finally decided that a typical landscape orientation worked the best.

Even though I was really after the tree, the portrait orientation lacked visual drama.  It also shrank the barn in comparison.  Having the frame horizontal, and a strong element vertical, made for visual tension.  Placing the vertical element of the tree close to the edge of the frame, allowed me to really emphasize the branches of the tree, which connected the tree to the barn.  The similar shades of gray between the roof and the branches also linked the two elements.  It was in this composition that the entire picture had a cohesive balance.  It was even so good, that I overlooked the fact that the barn was actually quite new.

I didn't stay here long because, quite frankly, I didn't have much option on how to shoot this barn.  The exposure was overly simple with the flat lighting that I was working with.  Everything in the frame rendered as a mid tone on the histogram, which meant that I had a ton of information to work with when I started to edit the picture.  There were a few more places that we drove past that I gave a second look, but none of them really jumped out at me.  The lighting was good, but there just wasn't the right feel for what I was after.  I will be back in the future though, as there is a lot of great subject matter out there!

We decided to grab a quick bite to eat in Wilkesboro, and then head to Hanging Rock where I wanted to photograph two different waterfalls.  The first was Tory's Falls, which I have not visited in several years.  The other was the Upper Cascades which I had shot recently, but wanted to see it with more water.  It took a couple of hours to get to Hanging Rock, which left us with a couple of hours to play with before the park closed.

Since there was one waterfall I had not shot in a while, that was the one that we decided to hit first.  Tory's Falls is a quick hike from an off property parking lot.  This is a really long waterfall, with a lot of cascades.  It has a very small watershed though, so unless we have had near flooding conditions, it seems to be just a trickle most of the time.  Honestly, I was expecting a little more water than we got, but it was better than I've seen it in the recent past.

I moved out to the only shooting spot available, and set the camera up.  I had previsualized a nice wide angle shot that incorporated the rock that I was standing on, and a small bush just beyond it.  This wasn't going to work out today since the water flow was a little low, and the wide angle would make the waterfall appear much smaller than it actually was.  This was going to be a job for my 70-200mm lens once again, with a color intensifying polarizer fitted to the front.

Trickling Cascade
Tory's Falls still is not one of my favorites, but it does have some interesting qualities.  There are a lot of textures to look at between the water, moss, trees, and the rocks. The deep saturated colors of the mineral deposits on the rocks give it a little bit of character as well.  The cascades are very interesting, as they drop from a veritable stair step of rocks.  Even so, the lack of water doesn't live up to the potential of this waterfall.

The plan was to continue on to the Upper Cascades from here, but there was only about an hour or so left by this point.  We could have made it, but honestly, I was about out of creative energy, and the sun was trying to poke through the clouds.  I just didn't feel like working another waterfall after this experience with Tory's Falls.  It was time to work our way home, so we did...but we took the long route, just in case.

We didn't find anything else, but that really wasn't a problem at all.  We had driven over 300 miles, been to two state parks, picked up parts for my new truck, and explored miles and miles of back roads.  It had been a very productive day, and a very fun day with Toni by my side.  I hated for it to come to an end, but she needed her rest for going into work tomorrow, and I was done with driving for a while.

Anniversary Trip to Boone

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Each year, Toni and I head to the mountains for our anniversary.  This year was about to be different though.  With some other commitments happening in the same week, we decided to cancel our normal vacation and stay at home.  She kept the week off from work, and I gave back all but Wednesday so that I could spend the day with my bride.  When Tuesday rolled around, Toni mentioned that she had things under control with school, and wanted to go somewhere for the day.  We quickly decided that we would make a day trip to the mountains, more specifically--Boone, NC.

Boone holds a special meaning to the both of us since we were married at the Crystal Wedding Chapel just outside of Boone.  It was a great day, and we have returned in some form or fashion to the mountains each and every year since.  It was a nice treat to be able to go back to where it all started this year.  Of course, being in the mountains after a snow storm would necessitate bringing the camera.  Fortunately, Toni understood, and agreed to either go with me, or let me go out alone in the morning to get some pictures.  This was going to work!

It was going to work until I really looked at the weather.  Nothing but full cloud clover and rain off and on for the day.  Well, I was going to give it a try since I was there.  At least I really enjoy photographing in the clouds.  The rain...not so much though.  I set out after we ate breakfast shortly before sunrise.  Toni remained in the hotel room and worked on some of her projects and school work.  It was raining, but not too bad.  Even though it was pretty cold, the roads were fine and I had no issues getting to the Parkway.  However, once I turned off of 421, I was shifting into 4WD for the needed traction to make it.

Top of the Morning
I wasn't expecting anything in the way of a sunrise this morning with the clouds so dense, so when I saw the sun poking through, I was elated.  I slid into the first vista I could find.  I have photographed from Grandview a number of times in the past, and have gotten some really good sunrise shots.  However, I typically use a medium focal length to capture the scene.  I didn't have time for any extra setting up this morning, so I left the 70-200mm attached.  I didn't even bother with any filters before I attached the camera to the tripod.  I found the right location and framed a quick shot.  I focused really fast, and dialed in the exposure.  Snap....I got one good frame with the sun between the clouds before it faded above them, washing the color out.

Sunrise Sneak
Not one to be satisfied with a single rendition of a scene, I started to look for other interesting points at the overlook.  I was still shooting with my long lens which opened up a lot of different possibilities for me since I was normally going for a wide angle approach.  I started to pick out valleys that formed leading lines.  I actually found one that worked really well, and I found it as the sky was starting to light up once again.  It was almost like a second sunrise, but fainter.  The sky was very much overcast save for that single sliver of light.  I worked that sliver since it was placed perfectly above my leading line.  I started with a nice vertical orientation to really accentuate the line, but thought that there was just too much other good stuff in the scene to avoid taking a horizontal shot or two, as well.

Morning Silence
There was something magical in the textures of the rolling hills.  The splash of color added some really good visual interest as well.  But, as I have come to learn...the light changes quickly.  It wasn't too long before the sky was all monotone once again, and I was left with very little of interest in the scene.  I was very happy that I had been at the right place at the right time to capture this unexpected sunrise though, and to have had the time to work a few different compositions was a nice cherry on top!

After packing up the camera, I got back in the truck for another edition of slip and slide down the Parkway.  It was just a matter of taking it slow and steady, while looking for another scene to photograph.  As I was looking over to the right, I saw some nice mountains with low clouds moving past them.  This was going to be my next scene, and I was rather excited about the possibilities for this one.  I got everything out of the truck and started to look at what I was working with.  I decided that I needed to swap out the lens for my 24-70mm to allow me some flexibility with the foreground.  I again chose to avoid any filters since the lighting was so even already.

Winter Textures
I started off with a nice wide view of the whole scene.  Normally, I am not a fan of snow that is melting to this extent, but in this case, it really worked.  You could see the rows from working this field, and it added to the textures I was seeing with the soft clouds, and the bare trees.  I really liked the low cloud that was passing by under the distant mountain that added a bit of drama to the scene as well.  I liked a lot of the aspects of this scene, but I wanted something in the foreground to really give it a sense of scale.

Slight Chill in the Air
This was where the 24-70mm lens really shined.  I was able to back away from the fence, and go kind of wide to incorporate the fence.  The melting snow helped to give me some visual differences in the field which kept things from being quite a static.  I was able to line the fence posts up with the slight sweep of the terrain, to help frame the mountain caught in the mist.  The sky was a little ominous as well, which helped with the overall mood of this image.  By this point, it was starting to rain a little, and I was not going to be able to stick around much longer.

Keeper of the Field
In keeping with the desire to have a strong foreground, I moved up to one of the fence posts, and kept the lens rather wide.  The single fence post made for a very prominent visual anchor, and complimented the mountain in the background.  The barbed wire and the snow provided a nice diagonal element as well.  This is probably the strongest composition of the three, but I wasn't able to really fine tune it due to the increasing rain.  It was time to load up and find another location.

I feel like I did a lot of driving at this point.  I wasn't fast though.  I fact, I was rarely out of 2nd gear as the Parkway was getting increasingly worse with the rain falling.  Even though the temperature was above freezing, the rain falling on the ice and slush on the road was starting to glaze a little bit.  There were a few times that the truck got a little squirrely which rarely happens in that truck.  The clouds were getting thicker, and I was not seeing much chance in getting any more pictures.  Thinking back to the hourly forecast, I was looking at the real rain starting in about another hour.  I figured that it was time to get off of the Parkway, and go elsewhere to hunt for some pictures.  This was a great day for finding barns, and that was what I was looking to do at this point.

Through the Ages
I wish I could remember exactly where I found this barn, but I know that it was at the base of a very steep hill.  Fortunately, the roads throughout the county were in great shape and I had no issues at all with them.  I had seen a lot of nice barns that I wanted to photograph, but they were just not really in the right setting.  That is the hard thing with barns...all too often, they are situated right under power lines, or next to houses, or have the brand new farm truck parked next to them.  I had seen a ton of barns in that category today, and I was about to lose hope in finding a good one for pictures.

However, I happened to see this green metal roof in the distance that caught my eye.  Normally, I don't like new roofs, but this one looked different.  As I pulled up close to it, I saw that it was at the base of a slight hill, which had a small cemetery on it.  There wasn't anything really close to it, and the sky above looked pretty good.  All of the major ingredients were there for this picture, so I pulled off of the road and got the camera out.  Once again, I fitted the 24-70mm lens with no filters.

In my haste, I hadn't seen the power lines that were draped over the road next to the barn.  I was going to have to get to a different vantage point to be able to capture it without the lines in the shot.  Fortunately, the driveway was inset into the fenced perimeter about a truck's length.  I was able to get in there, which turned out to be the perfect location to shoot this barn.  As I was setting things up, I noticed that one of the horses in the field had started wondering about me.  He was working his way toward me, which could be a good thing, or a bad thing.  I would have loved to have had the horse in the frame as a foreground element, but if he stopped in a bad location, I would have to either accept the composition, or clone him out.  I don't like cloning, so I fired off a quick shot before the horse got into the frame.  It worked out, and the exposure looked like a winner in the histogram.  However, I stayed around to see what the horse would do.

Through the Ages in B&W
Well, I was rather disappointed to find that the horse was a little shy. He stayed right next to the barn on the right side for most of the time I was there.  This was not a good location for him to be since he wasn't big enough to constitute an element, but was big enough to constitute a distraction.  He did finally move, and walked around to the other side, behind the corral.  This proved to have the same problems, so I was unable to use any of those pictures because the composition was just not quite right.  At least I had the original shot which worked out very well.  In fact, it turned out so well, that it screamed for a monochrome conversion which I think turned out even better than the color version!

A Soft Glow
On the way back out of the valley, I happened to see a really nice scene unfolding to the side of the road.  The clouds were starting to break up a little bit, and despite it being late in the morning, there was a soft glow coming through the clouds.  Fortunately, I found an overlook (well, a small turn out) to park.  I didn't even really consider the composition all that much, and just pulled the camera out.  I started off with the 70-200mm lens and got some shots with that just in case the lighting changed.  After I was satisfied that I had gotten the light, I started to look for some specific compositions.  What I found was not going to work with the current lens, so I swapped in the 16-35mm lens which didn't quite do what I wanted it to do, so I backed down to my standby 24-70mm lens.  this one did exactly what I wanted...

Ghost Stories
I normally try to avoid cutting the tops of trees off, and I will also try very hard to get the base of the tree in the frame as well.  This was not going to be one of those times.  I found that cropping in close to the nearby tree provided just the sense of depth that I needed to the scene.  The sky had just enough interest in the open area, and I was able to get the low clouds skirting the hills.  It was a tight composition, but one that told the full story.  When I was editing it, Toni dropped in and said that the clouds looked like ghosts.  I had to agree with her, and the picture was named in that moment.

With that, it was time to head back to the hotel room to start the rest of the day together with Toni.  We did some more exploring and saw a bunch of really cool sights, but it was more about the exploration than the photography at this point.  It was a great day, and a wonderful sixth anniversary.  It was also pretty productive in the photography department with 10 new images added from 68 frames.