An Early Morning at Doughton

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Morning Stretch

A week ago, I wasn't motivated at all to go out and create any photos.  Of course, the sky was pretty great all weekend long.  It was just not enough to motivate me to get out with the camera.  A week later, my motivation was slowly returning and I wanted to go to the mountains to get some new pictures.  The latter part of the week had seen some awesome skies, which I'm sure helped to get me motivated for a full day shoot.  The forecast for Saturday around Rough Ridge was 45-75% cloud cover for most of the day with the possibility of a storm around lunch.  I just couldn't expect better than that.

I had my alarm set for very THREE AM early which would get me to Doughton Park around 5:30.  I left a few minutes early and headed West.  Before I got out of Winston I was getting rained on.  That had not been in the hourly forecast, but that gave me hope for some really good clouds once I got to the mountains.  The rain was steady through Yadkinville, and eased up as I made my way North on 21.  By the time I got to the Parkway, I could see that the clouds were still in the sky, but were thinning out.  I was hoping that they would last long enough for my sunrise shoot at least.

I looked at one bank of trees that I thought about for an anchor to the sky, but the clouds behind them didn't look all that promising.  I continued on into the picnic area of the park as I knew of several other subjects I could try.  I grabbed my bag and started up the meadow to the lone tree atop the hill.  I had set up here several months ago trying to get a sunrise, but ultimately was disappointed.  This time, I chose to go at things a little different.  I used my 24-70mm lens instead of my telephoto because I was really hoping that the sky would erupt in color and I wanted to include as much of the sky as I could get away with.  I fitted the Lee Filter holder in case I would need any ND Grad filters.  From there, I started to set up my composition.  Right where I really wanted to be was a large branch from a tree, so I had to snuggle up to the dead limbs to get into position.

In the Spotlight
As the sun approached the horizon, I was only seeing a sliver of light below the clouds.  I was really hoping for a tremendous light show, but the colors never really materialized.  I  never did add any filters for this set as there wasn't much need.  The exposure stayed within reason with the sun behind a thin batch of clouds.  Had I added a filter, I would have lost all of the texture detail in the tree, and I wanted to keep that as much as I could.  The histogram was showing me that I had all of the information recorded in the pictures, and I wasn't clipping anything.  I pressed the shutter button more times than I care to think about as the lighting changed.  I was hoping for something more than I got, but after getting home and processing the images, I'm actually pretty happy with what I got.

Appalachian Stories
With the sun quickly rising in the sky, I decided to pull the plug on my current location knowing that I had at least one usable image out of the batch.  I moved down the hill to another location and found a small rocky outcrop in the field.  It was positioned in a way that I knew I could make it a great foreground for the sunrise in the distance.  However, the exposure latitude had grown quite a bit necessitating the use of an ND Grad.  Not wanting to mess around, I went ahead and added a 3-Stop Reverse Grad to pull the exposure in the sky back.  I dialed in my composition and positioned the filter.  There was only time for about three exposures before the sun dipped behind the thick cloud.  Once that happened, the color that I was seeing just disappeared from view.  Knowing that when it came out on the top, it would be much too bright to photograph head on I moved back to the other side of the hill to get another rock outcropping that I have shot in the past.

I was hoping that the sun would highlight the rocks with a warm glow, but I was figuring that was a long shot as high in the sky as it was getting.  The thin clouds were also diffusing the light a bit too much for that to happen.  There was just a hint of color in the sky above the rocks though, and I thought that I would give it a try.

Noble Intentions
I found the composition that I wanted which was a bit different than last time.  In fact, the entire background was different at this angle.  There was just the hint of color in the sky, but it was not bright enough to justify the use of the Grad filter, which was removed.  With the sun at my back, I couldn't use a polarizer either, so I was shooting naked once again.  After I got everything set up, I could see just a hint of warm light at the tips of the rocks.  I fired off a quick shot to see how everything looked.  By the time the photo processed, the sun was gone again.  I only got this one exposure, which I thought would be a wasted one. However, when reviewing the images at home it made the final cut.  That slight bit of color in the sky actually complimented the rock's tones and the greens balanced the whole thing out.  I actually like the image quite a bit which is strange because I don't usually go for the cool toned images.  They just really work here, and I like the overall feel of the image.

With the sun now gone, and no chance of that really warm light hitting the rocks, I moved on down the hill to see if I could do anything with an old fallen tree right along the trail.  When I got there, I started to really look at it in detail.  Large parts of it have fallen off or been removed since the first time I photographed it.  It used to be this monster of a thing, and over the years it has become visually smaller and less complicated.  I walked around the wood for at least three times trying to find the right vantage point to photograph it.  The one with the best light, had a less that awesome sky.  The better sky had the worst shadow light on the wood.  I opted for the most flattering light on the wood for the composition.

Meadow Driftwood
In an attempt to pull out as much detail from the sky as I could, I added my Singh Ray Intensifying Polarizer to the front of my lens, as well as the lens hood.  I dialed in the composition that I wanted, and that was no easy task.  I dropped my tripod as low as it would go without pulling the center column out and attaching it horizontally.  I kept the focal length pretty wide to emphasize the wood, and to capture a meaningful amount of background.  The light stuck around for several minutes and allowed me to play around with different compositions and exposures.  In the end, it was one of my first ones that made the cut. It isn't as dramatic as I would have like it to be, but I'm happy with it for the conditions.

Looking at the sky (deceiving in the pictures), there was not much else to use at this location.  It was time to move on down the Parkway and play chase the clouds.  While that is a game I play a lot, it is not all that fun.  Clouds are elusive on the Parkway, and you are always fighting against the clock to find the right foreground to put under the sky.  From the looks of it, the clouds were all getting ghost quickly.  The forecast had called for increasing clouds though, so I kept an optimistic eye.

Spring is in the Air
Before exiting this section of the park, I saw a tree I had shot back in the Fall.  It was getting its new leaves, and had the last bit of clouds behind it.  I went ahead and got into position for a quick shot.  It was this overall picture that I found to be the best.  However, when I was shooting, it was a detail shot of the fence under the tree that I liked best.  Just goes to show, you can't trust the camera LCD when it comes to checking your images on that level.  When I looked at them on the editing screen, the intimate pictures just didn't have any visual umph to them.  I had thought that they would be some of the better ones from the morning.  Alas, they didn't even make the cut.

I moved around the park for the next little bit before deciding that the clouds were gone for good.  It was time to get mobile again.  Since the clouds were going Northeast, I figured that was the direction I should go.  I went that direction, and went some more....and then went some more.  The light was harsh, there were no clouds, and the little bit of Spring Color I saw was in scenes that were just too contrasty to try and photograph.  By 10am, I was at Squirrel Spur Rd in Virginia and was deciding that the rest of the day would be a bust.

I took the long way home through Cana, Va hoping to find some rural scenes.  I did, but they were all in really bad lighting.  I had been holding out hope that the forecasted storms would be coming in around 11, but they never did materialize.  As I drove, I thought back to my morning at Doughton.  I had shot around 90 images (most of which were the same composition for sunrise), and I was having severe doubts that any of them would be good.  I knew that none of them were what I had been imagining on the drive to the mountains.  Maybe, just maybe I could get a picture or two out of this Trek that was cut short many hours before I had intended.

As you can see here, I actually had a fair amount of images that worked out from this Trek.  I was pleasantly surprised with these six, and feel pretty good about the morning.  I still want to get out and create the images that I have in my head, but that will have to be another day.

Edit: May 21, 2017

After sleeping on it, I have decided to add another picture to this set.  It was one of the last ones taken, shortly after Spring is in the Air, and I decided that it would make a good addition to the Woodland Gallery Room.  It is an intimate shot of the fence beneath the tree, and has a certain feel to it.  I like it, and the more I look at it, the more I do like it.  So, without further ado, allow me to introduce...

Split Rail Spring
Also, while looking over my recent set of photographs, I have found something so painfully obvious that I'm surprised I missed it at the time of capture.  The dark cloud in Appalachain Stories looks just like a bird in flight.  I'll wait for you to go back and look again...

You see?  Missed that completely while taking the photo, and while editing it.  My love for that image just increased tenfold because of that.  Of course, now that is all I see in the picture.  Photography is always full of surprises.

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