Remnants of Autumn at Stone Mountain

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Welcome Home
It seems as though Fall has been hanging on for quite some time now.  It was the middle of September when I ventured out to Graveyard Fields for the first bit of fall color.  Since that time, we have seen warmer than average temperatures, some sudden drought conditions and just generally everything that could be thrown at the season to keep the leaves from changing like they were on track to do.  The side benefit to that weather pattern, is that for the most part, the leaf season has been stretched out to over two months, which is rather nice.  As we approach the middle of November, most of the state is well past peak, and there is just a little bit of color lingering for our enjoyment.

Having been pretty much all over to catch the color, I decided to change it up a little bit today and I headed out to Stone Mountain.  The last time I was there, I was shooting just one of the waterfalls, and there was just a hint of color in the park on that day.  Obviously, I would have liked to have hit the leaves at peak color with this trek, but I knew I would be on the tail end of the leaves.  It was fine by me though.  I was going to have fun hiking and just decompressing for a little while.  The intention was to shoot what the conditions called for.  I was prepared to shoot waterfalls, woodland, and grand landscapes.  it all just depended on what the clouds did.

Mossy Seat
 When I arrived at the park, I was a little disappointed at the lack of color in the leaves.  I knew I was past peak, but I though that I would have a little more color than this to work with.  Oh well, I had come out this far and I was going to make the best of it.  Looking at the sky, the clouds were thick and they had no obvious texture to them.  This meant that I wasn't going to mess with hiking up to the top to get grand landscapes.  I was going to focus on woodland and white water scenes as that was what the light called for.  I set out on the trail to the Hutchinson Homestead and started to look for color in the trees.  I didn't find any real color, but I did find an interesting tree that I have seen many times before.

I've always wanted to photograph this tree, but it has proven difficult to get a composition with.  I started to look around and see what I had to work with.  I really liked the way the trunk was shaped, and the moss on the tops of the main sections.  In order to get everything that I liked about this tree, I was going to need to select a pretty wide focal length.  I went ahead and fitted my 16-35mm lens with the Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I got in close and started to work my way around the tree in order to find that perfect position.  I'm not sure if I found it or not, but this is much closer than I have come before to getting it right.  If nothing else, Toni likes it, and has expressed interest in using it for a project later on.  I count that as a win!

Autumn's Failing Grip
After I spent some quality time with the tree, I moved on down the road to the homestead.  There were a number of people there looking at the exhibits, which made my task a little difficult.  I had to exercise lots of patience waiting for people to move out of the frames before I released the shutter.  It did give me plenty of time to fine tune the compositions before I actually shot the pictures.  I was really happy that there was a little color in the background for me to use in the compositions.  it wasn't much, but it did give a little extra visual interest to the pictures, and added a sense of season which I was after.  For this particular subject, I swapped lenses and went with my 70-200mm lens so that I had a much better chance of excluding the sky which was pretty much a blanket of white above.  I kept the Color Combo Polarizer on this lens to help extract as much color out of the scene as possible.

Historic Homestead
One thing that I have been rather sad about for a while now is that the tree that used to make for a great foreground was no longer there.  It was cut down several years ago.  I really hate that happened because the odd shaped tree made a wonderful element to any composition of this old house.  Now, the stump will have to serve as a foreground element.  It is still effective, but not nearly as interesting.  The trick here is to position the one tree to the left in front of the display that tells about the home.  By covering that, this looks much less like a museum piece and more like an old cabin at the base of the mountain.  Since that was what I was going for, the composition was quite important.

Rustic Lines
As I was working the old cabin, I started to get interested in the lines that I saw by the chimney.  There was some nice old stonework set next to wooden planks.  The shutter over the window was vertical and made for a great contrasting element to the siding.  The roof line was diagonal, which mirrored the step on the chimney.  The shingles on the other section of roof gave a counter element to the chimney.  I was on to something with this isolation of the old cabin.  The warm colors were just the icing on top of the already tasty cake.

Unfortunately, as I was getting into the groove of photographing this old cabin, more and more people started to come in.  I was starting to have a terrible time making compositions that didn't include people, so I decided to move on to another location and see what else I could work with.  I made my way just outside of the old homestead and found that the split rail fence really caught my eye.

Split Rail Barns
I was able to get a composition that included the fence, a pair of barns and just a taste of fall color behind the barns.  It was more or less a postcard shot, but I was kind of liking it.  It captured the feel of the scene, and had a certain timeless quality to it.  The composition was also dependent on two different issues.  The first was people that were sitting just to the left of the frame, and the display that was right there with them.  I had to crop in tighter than I would have liked on the left in order to get the shot.

Autumn at Stone Mountain
Having had enough with people, I abandoned any further attempts at photographing the homestead.  I decided to move on though the meadow to find fall color and some woodland images.  The sky was still not doing me any favors so I was content leaving my long lens on and searching for isolations.  I happened to find just what I was looking for at the base of Stone Mountain.  There was a tree with some brilliant orange leaves that stood out.  I liked the trunk system as well and the background of the bald really pulled it all together.  This started to set the tone for me when it came to finding color.  There were trees here and there that had some great color, and I was going to pick them out one by one if I could.

Woodland Needles
I continued through the meadow and went to my favorite little pocket at the end.  It is here that I have found some really nice trees to work with.  One of my favorites didn't disappoint today.  The swooping branches were still just as alive as ever, and the rich greens were joined by some golden tones which added a nice sense of season to the image.  The brown grasses below also helped with the color pallet in the composition.  The change of seasons is always so much fun to do woodland images because of the different colors that are on tap at almost any given location.  The only trick is to find where these colors make sense and have some sort of visual anchor to rest the eyes on.

A Golden Curve
After about 2 hours in the park, I decided it was time to actually hit a trail and start working my way to the water.  In order to be a little more likely to try compositions, I left the camera built with the long lens and polarizer attached.  I started to make my way through the lower section of the Stone Mountain loop.  I wasn't really finding much that caught my eye though.  The water levels were low, so the stream was a little boring.  Even areas that I have photographed many times before lacked anything special this time.  I had been excited about the controlled burn that they did earlier as it will cut down on the underbrush quite nicely, but I just couldn't find anything at all to photograph.

Then, off in the distance, I saw a vibrant yellow tree up high.  I got closer to it and realized that there was only one direction that I could shoot the tree without getting any other trees in the frame.  The section I was after was up about 40 fee or so.  I positioned myself so that I could shoot up that high without getting the sky in the composition  I used the delicate tree trunk as a visual anchor for the image.  Because of that, I started out with the camera in portrait orientation to accentuate the arch in the wood.

Golden Abstract
Wanting to take advantage of the abstract qualities of the leaves, I flipped the camera back on the horizontal axis and recomposed another image.  It was not nearly as strong of a composition, but the abstract quality was worth the frame.  There was a slight haze in the distance that I was able to accentuate with the limited depth of field.  The background was just a blur of color and shape beyond the golden leaves.  It wasn't perfect, but it was setting the tone for the rest of the hike.  I was going to be working some abstract scenes where I could find them.

As it turned out, the abstract scenes that I was going to be shooting for the next little bit had nothing at all to do with the leaves.  The deeper I got into the trail, the less leaves I found in the trees.  I started to look lower for inspiration.  Oddly enough, the water levels were looking pretty good as I got closer to the main waterfall of the park.  I started to pay attention to the sections of white water as I found them.  One such section I had tried to photograph before with absolutely no success.  I recalled trying to take it all in with my 24-70mm lens and ended up with nothing worth keeping.  This time, I was in a mindset to isolate sections of the landscape, and this was looking like a good place to do just that.

I wasn't able to get downstream on the best section of this bit of rapids, but I was able to shoot down on it from upstream.  Looking at what I had to work with, I decided that shooting an abstract would be the way to go for this one.  I zoomed in tight on a section of rock that had some nice cascades rolling off it, and surrounded it in a sea of cloudy mist.  I included one rock that was above the water level to give a nice visual anchor.  I dialed in a five second shutter speed in order to really blur the water.  The resulting image was pretty good, but I wanted to get it in even closer than this.

As a Dream
I flipped the camera over on its side and zoomed in even tighter.  This image had less visual clues as to what you were looking at, and was even more abstract.  There was a definite dreamy quality to it with most of the image being the blurred water.  Having the water flowing at this angle looks odd to me, but fits with the abstract qualities of the image that I was going for.  Since this wasn't the only section that was worth a picture, I redirected my attention to the other side of me for a more expected composition.

Leaf Collection
The other side didn't have that much water, but what it lacked in water, it made up for in splashes of color.  There was a rock that was nearly covered in golden leaves which made a great focal point.  There was also a nice touch of greenery on a rock in the background.  The water just provided a nice sweeping frame for the leaves in the foreground.  This composition is less about the water and more about the season and the wonderful lighting that I had to work with.  It took a little doing to get this composition though.  I tried different variations, some of which included another set of cascades below this one.  None were as pleasing as this one that really focused on the leaves covering the rock.

Once I started to feel like I was forcing the compositions, I decided to move on down the trail.  I didn't find any more colorful trees, but I did come upon a very interesting set of cascades that I had seen several times before.  I had even tried to photograph it a few times with no success.  Today, the water flow was different and it really looked promising.  Since I had my long lens on, I decided to try picking out compositions instead of photographing the entire thing as I had done in the past.

An Autumn Drop
As with in the previous cascade, I really liked the orange leaves that were scattered about.  They gave the scene some much needed color, and even a bit of texture.  The water was magnificent though and had great flow.  I was able to get the shutter speed to between eight and ten seconds which was about perfect for the flow I was seeing.  It became all about getting the right composition at that point which was not the easiest thing to do because of the way the rocks were.  However, by getting in tight, I was able to capture meaningful compositions that told the story of this little cascade.  

Water Therapy
The part that really caught my eyes was the section to the left under the "snout" as Toni called it.  There was so much detail in the water, and you could just pick out each and ever layer to the rocks beneath the water.  It was just so dang soothing to watch.  I flipped the camera over on its side and put a composition together that would highlight just that part of the cascades.  The depth of this image was just remarkable with the leaves in the foreground and the background continuing with that theme.  The dark and light elements played so nicely together as well.

I decided that after getting a handful of shots from here, I had better get back to solid footing.  There is nothing quite so slick as wet rock with leaves on it.  This was what I was standing on, and it was a slope at that.  In the interest in not crashing the camera, I went ahead and got back up the hill to the trail.  I continued on to the main falls, but not before passing a long section of cascades that I had photographed a couple of times before.  There was a couple leaving that section so I decided to not rush them and I continued on to the main falls.

When I got there, they were just as boring as I remembered.  There just isn't much I care to do with a large waterslide like Stone Mountain Falls.  There was no interest at the base either.  The couple had caught up with me, and I think we were all coming to the same conclusion that there wasn't much to see here as we all started our way back down the trail.  The stairs to the top of the waterfall had been damaged during a controlled burn and that section of the trail was closed.

Lone Leaf
I made it a point to stop off at the small cascades that I had skipped a few minutes before.  I got down into the water and started look for compositions.  There wasn't much there as foreground interest was scarce.  I did like a single yellow leaf that was stuck under the water just above the cascades.  This was the first composition that I started to work with.  It wasn't all that spectacular, but I liked the simple splash of color.  From there, I started to look for other compositions.

Clam Falls
One section that caught my eye was a double layered cascade with additional cascades above it.  I went ahead and framed that shot using the fallen leaves as my foreground interest and splash of color.  The design of this was a bit abstract and it took a little doing to get it to flow right.  In the end, I had a composition that I liked pretty well, and one of the few from this section that I really thought stood apart.  It wasn't until I started looking for my next composition that I came upon something truly special.

Essential Layers
This is a short waterfall, but very wide as it stretches across the width of the stream.  As I was looking for my next composition, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  This was a panorama if I had ever seen one.  I went ahead and leveled the tripod.  I pulled the lens out to 70mm and swept the scene to make sure that I had the sweep level.  I dialed in the exposure and set my borders before I made a six shot sweep of the scene.  From what I could see, it looked really good in the individual frames.  I had no way of knowing just how well it turned out until I got home and got the images stitched together.  When I saw it, I knew I had something much better than anything else I had shot here before.

Now that my feet were starting to get cold from standing in the water, I decided it was time to head back to the car.  I had been out here nearly four hours at this point and needed to get home.  I left the camera out just in case I found some more compositions along the way though.  As luck would have it, I found nothing at all on the hike back.  It wasn't until I reached the base of Stone Mountain that I started to see other possibilities once again.

Autumn Tapestry
Going back to my abstract photos from before, I started to find pockets of color at the base of the mountain.  There was this one section that caught my eye, and you could actually see through the center part.  It was not my normal composition, but one that I wanted to give a try.  I started out with the camera horizontal as that gave the best abstract framing to the trees.  I also wanted to get a little more specific with the trees, so I flipped the camera for a portrait shot of the same scene.

Peering Through the Colors
The vertical composition was quite a bit stronger, but I actually liked both of them equally as well.  It is probably my last hoorah for Fall this year as the leaves are quickly falling and I have a long week ahead of me at work.  I might be able to squeeze in one more Fall trek, but I'm not holding my breath for it.  As it is, I'm quite happy with my day.  I've got 20 new additions out of 128 frames shot.  I really can't complain about that at all.  In fact, I wish there had been less as the time is now 10:46pm and I am needing to go to sleep so that I can get to work in the morning.  Ahh, the benefits to having two jobs that both take a lot of time.  At least I enjoy this one!

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