I wasn't thinking that there would be much of a sunrise, but I did want to get up there early so I could beat the crowds on the trails. My compromise was to get up at 3:30 and start the 3 hour trip that would take me to the mountains just at sunrise on the off chance that something might take place. I actually arrived on the Parkway as first light was hitting, so that worked out great. The trick was to find somewhere that I could potentially see some action.
I set up my first shot that showed some of the near ridges fading off into the distance. I shot some horizontal, and some vertical but never really found a composition that I liked. As I was already situated in the vertical format, I decided to line things up for a quick panorama. This was the first time I had shot one in the quickly changing light of sunrise, so I knew I would have to move quickly. I found my composition, and did a quick dry run to make sure that the camera would stay on target through the arc. It looked good, so I started a seven shot spread from left to right. I've always enjoyed the low clouds in the mountains, and I was very excited to see how this would turn out.
With the sun creeping up over the mountains, I tried a few more exposures, but found that the lens flare was too intrusive into the frame since the sun was well above the horizon by the time it cleared the mountains. That meant it was time to move on toward Graveyard Fields.
One thing that did have me concerned was the lack of Fall color in the trees. I knew that I was not quite in the elevation that I was wanting to be, but I was expecting a little more patchy conditions than what I was seeing. Well, I was here to find color and that was what I was going to do. I was only about 30 miles away from Graveyard Fields, and that was about 1500 feet further up in altitude. I kept my fingers crossed that I would find more color than what I was seeing currently. But hey, even if I didn't I was feeling pretty good about the 30 something images that I had sot already.
I didn't really see anything else along the way to Graveyard Fields that caught my eye. There wasn't that much color, but there was nice patches of reds and yellows to be seen. I figured that my grand landscape shots were probably done for the day. It was going to be all about intimate woodland shots from here on out in order to get the color that I was after. I got parked and was surprised that I was only the third vehicle in the lot. I went ahead and grabbed the camera and started down the loop trail.
I found a section of rock that I could set up on between the two boardwalks. I got the tripod positioned the way I needed it, which ended up being on a slope. Mental note to self, be VERY careful not to bump the tripod once the camera was on it. I built the camera with my 24-70mm lens so that I could get a good portion of the foreground in the shot. I added an intensifying polarizer and started to frame the shot. There was just too much exposure latitude for me to deal with unfortunately. The sky, and the trees were just too bright to accurately capture the foreground which was largely in the shadows. I thought about shooting an HDR capture of the scene, but was going to have a hard time keeping the clouds in the same place over several long exposures. I decided to add my filter holder and use a 3-Stop soft edge filter. That helped, but wasn't enough to keep my exposure values correct. I added a 2-Stop hard edge and that did the trick. I carefully positioned them independently to bring back the exposure in the sky and the trees. That allowed me to properly expose the water below. I could tell by the histogram that I was right on the money with this composition.
|Prelude to Fall|
I remember specifically thinking to myself "ok, stop f'ing around here and change your lens!" I broke the camera down and swapped in the 70-200mm lens and added the same intensifying polarizer back on. With the compression, I was able to pick out the tree just perfectly. Yep, sometimes you just have to use different tools for the job. With the reach of the long lens, I was able to really isolate the trunk and kept it completely surrounded by the warm Autumn colors. With the narrow depth of field, that tree trunk was almost surrounded by an oil painting effect and I really liked it....so much in fact, I decided to flip the camera and get in even closer.
|Wrapped in Autumn|
I was on a roll at this point, and was really getting into the colors and the woodland approach. I started to go in the direction of any color that I could find in hopes that I would see a tree nearby that I could use to anchor it. It was a fun little game of cat and mouse. I went off trail several times, and got lost a couple times, but I was having a blast! I decided to head down to the Upper Falls which was a spur trail off of the loop. The further I got, the more green I was seeing. It was too bright to shoot a waterfall for the sake of a waterfall, and it was looking like the colors were going be be sparse, so I turned back around before I reached the end of the trail.
|The End of Summer|
|Ahead of the Curve|
I continued to hike the rest of the trail and found that there was no more open space to work with. I was thinking about going back on another one of the trails to find more color, but when I got to the parking lot I saw that it was standing room only. It was time to leave and hopefully find some nice vistas to grab some grand landscapes with the clouds that were now all over the sky. Unfortunately, the quality of light in the distance was lousy in the middle of the day. Oh well, I had shot nearly 100 frames in the three and half hours I had been on the Parkway. That is pretty good considering it was not really the weather that I prefer to shoot in. Life was good...now I just had to keep it in my lane on the way home. I hate driving sleepy, but I was getting used to it on my mountain trips.