South Mountain on a Whim

Saturday, November 18, 2017 (Part 2)

A Desperate Grasp
I had just finished up with my sunrise shoot at Salem Lake and had decided that I wasn't wanting to spend the day there.  I had been paying attention to the weather since late Friday night and knew that the clouds would be hitting the mountains around 10am or so.  I wasn't sure how thick the clouds were going to be, or if they would be of good quality for some grand landscapes.  Simply put, I didn't have a clue what I was going to be able to shoot with the clouds that were coming.  I had been to Stone Mountain and Hanging Rock recently, and at this point, I am a little tired of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I wanted to do something a little bit different with my day.  I had thought about going to South Mountain State Park, but had no idea what I was wanting to shoot there.  I just knew that I wasn't going to mess with the main waterfall since it is one of my least favorite ones to photograph.

I had about two hours to consider it because I found myself driving West with South Mountains as my destination.  As I was making my way to the mountains I was looking at the sky.  Unfortunately, it was a lot more sunny than I was expecting, and I wasn't seeing much in the way of interesting clouds.  I really thought about turning around, but there was something in the back of my head that said to keep going.

Over the years, I have come to learn to listen to that little voice in my head.  It will come up with random ideas for destinations and I have no idea why I want to go there.  Then it will push me to continue going even when I start to get discouraged over the weather.  I even remember having the conversation with myself somewhere around Davie County that I don't know why I'm going, but something there was calling my name, and I needed to see this Trek through.

When I arrived at the park the sky was nearly clear and what clouds were there were thin and weren't going to off much in the way of shade.  I thought about going on one of the trails leading up to an overlook that I had never been to before, but thought against it.  Something in my head was telling me to go down the High Shoals Waterfall trail which I had been down every time I have come to this park.  It follows the Jacob Fork Creek and was well in the woodland.  This was a concern because the sun was quite bright and not conducive to moving water photography.  But that voice in my head was saying get on the trail!!

I need to get my meds adjusted I think.  I'll put that on the list for later this week unless I disagree with myself.

I started off walking down the trail and was happy to find that there was still a good deal of color in the trees.  I had expected them to be nearly bare by now, so I was getting a little excited.  I also found that the light was pretty soft for the most part as the thin clouds were diffusing the light fairly well.  There was actually a good chance that I could get some water pictures, or some woodland shots.

Jacob's Fork
The first area that caused me to stop was a fork in the creek, so to speak.  The voices in my head like to rhyme it would seem.  I've shot this section a couple of times with a wide angle lens.  Today, I decided to get a little more intimate with a particular section of the creek.  I started to compose around a pair of cascades and found that the compositions were just not compelling at all.  They didn't capture what I was seeing.  It was the addition of the yellow leaves hovering atop the cascades that were driving my want for a photograph here.  I flipped the camera on its side, still fitted with the 70-200mm lens and a Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I was able to get into position on a rock (didn't have my tall waterproof boots on) and capture the bits of color above the cascades. 

As I was fine tuning the composition I knew I was onto something.  The images that I was seeing in the LCD were conveying exactly what I saw with my eyes.  I was looking up into the sky and seeing blue skies, but for some reason the lighting here was perfect.  The water flow was nice, and the wind was relatively calm for the moment.  The little voice in my head was saying "I told you so!"  Yeah, there was obviously a reason for me to be here and it was working out well.  It was time to sit back and embrace it.  Oh wait, I can't sit back, I have to work the camera.

Nice and Easy
Since I had my long lens on, I knew that shooting intimates of the cascades would be a good idea.  I turned my attention to the right and found a nice section of rocks where the water was washing over them.  I got the camera into position and cropped in tight to the rocks.  I tried a couple of different compositions before settling on one.  There was a nice balance to the image, and the water was nice and soft as it flowed over the rocks.

Before I packed up the camera I looked for some more compositions.  I started to shoot the branch above the cascades, but when I got home to look at it, I decided that it really needed the context of the creek below to make a compelling image.  The handful of shots that I made of the branch were ultimately tossed in the bin and weren't worthy of keeping.

Dabs of Autumn
As I worked my way along the trail, I cam upon another section that I have photographed several times before.  The star of the scene has always been a tree that looks like it is yawning in agony.  I wanted to try my hand at photographing it again, but there wasn't any color in close proximity to it, and it wasn't a pronounced at it needed to be.  It was, however, still interesting, and worthy of being in a composition.  I decided to look big instead.  I grabbed my 24-70mm lens and added the the Singh Ray Polarizer again.  After a bit of rock hopping, I was in position to shoot the composition that I had in mind.

I decided to make the tree a supporting element to a much larger composition that also included the colorful trees in the background.  The foreground was made up of a medium sized cascade that flowed over the rocks and was slightly covered by the remains of a tree.  The creek itself balanced out the foreground to the left with one additional small rapid that made for a left boarder.  There is a lot going on with this picture, but it did encompass everything that I was "seeing" in the scene.  

Natural Tapestry
As I was shooting the scene in front of me, I was a little surprised that the sun was starting to cause me problems.  The landscape was bathed in nice and diffused light, but the sun was peeking out over the trees to my right and causing some lens flare issues.  I was able to deal with it to a point by using my Boonie hat to shield the front element, but that was getting increasingly difficult.  I abandoned that composition and moved to other elements that caught my eye.  One of the areas that I started to focus on was a bunch of trees on the other side of the creek.  I had enough reach with my current lens to grab an isolation, so I composed an image that anchored on a single trunk, but focused on a "Y" shaped tree in the background.  The whole idea behind this composition was to capture the colors in an abstract fashion. It went reasonably well.

One thing about Fall is many of my compositional rules get thrown out the window.  I am more interested in capturing the colors rather than doing things "right."  That isn't to say that the images aren't carefully crafted, they are just a little more lenient when it comes to composition.  They are more "fun" images to shoot, that is for sure.

A Seasonal Song
With the sun causing me problems I decided that it was time to move on.  Funny thing is, I didn't even consider heading home.  I just knew that the next section would have better light than this one.  Again with that voice in my head.  But you know was right.  The next water feature that I came across was in the shade, and the clouds had returned too.  The lighting was great once again.  Looking at the scene, I thought about shooting an intimate of the cascades, but I was remembering how well the first section had turned out incorporating the colorful trees above.  I decided to give that a try first off.  I kept the 24-70mm lens on the camera and started off with it in portrait orientation.  I carefully composed the image to include the trees as well as the cascade.  For a bit of depth, I opened it up to include the rocks on either side of the cascade.  I moved side to side until I got the twin trees in the background to help balance the placement of the cascade.  This was shaping up to be another one that I was excited about when I started looking at the LCD.  I tell you what, this is now my favorite trip to South Mountains!

I tried some more compositions on this section of cascades, but didn't really care for any of them after seeing how well the initial one turned out.  It was time to move on down the trail though.  I knew that the next stop would be some of my favorite cascades to work with.  My gut was telling me that the light would be too harsh there with the sun climbing further into the sky.  That voice in my head kept saying to continue on though.  I'm not going to stop listening to it now, so I continued on.

Rooted in Autumn
When I got to the boardwalk, I wasn't overly impressed with the scene in front of me.  There wasn't much color to be had in the background, but the light was good.  I decided to look for a composition.  As I made my way around the first bend, I found a nice little curved tree with exposed roots at the base of a thin cascade.  I could see some promise with that tree, so I looked for a composition.  The only way I was going to get one that would work was to climb over the railing like I had done the last time I was here.

Once I was on the ground, I looked at how things went together.  I decided to leave my 24-70mm attached for this location since I was kind of close in.  I started to hunt for compositions and decided to go simple to start with.  I flipped the camera on its side and shot the first composition as a portrait shot.  The curve of the tree was used to counter the slope of the rock to the right.  The water gave a nice visual division between the two rocks.  It was a good composition, but I knew that there was better to be had here.

Cascades of Fall
The composition that I was looking for actually had nothing at all to do with the tree.  While it was nice, the odd way the rocks fit together and the way the water cascaded through them was what I was now fascinated by.  I altered my position once again, and framed a tight shot at the top of the cascade.  The diagonals were striking and the water highlighted that fact.  There was even a tree in the background that was able to be placed along the right third for a balancing element to the the terminal position of the cascade.  This image was very much abstract, but I thought that it worked even better than the full image with the tree that had originally caught my attention.

Autumn Boulders
I was pretty much done with the section that had grabbed my attention, so I started to look around.  I was looking at the section that I had photographed so successfully back in the early Summer and found that the lighting was better this time.  I moved around on the rocks to get into a better position.  I found myself wondering if I was going to slip and fall rock hopping with a full pack on my back and holding a camera on a tripod.  I wasn't the poster child for grace, that's for sure.  Somehow I managed to get into position on the rocks without hurting myself or my equipment.  I framed up a shot that was different than what I shot last time.  I chose a horizontal format to fully take advantage of the leaves on the rocks as my best shot for color.

I tried a few different compositions from this precarious location before looking for my escape route.  Wait a minute...the section that I had started photographing was now looking completely different from this angle, and I was liking it....a lot!  I moved slightly from my position and found that sometimes you just have to walk with your left hand on the rock right beside your right foot in order to get to the next rock while using your tripod as a hiking pole.  My footing was terrible, but I got into position for the composition I was already excited about.

Keeping Balance
I got the composition put together just as it had been in my head.  The one balancing rock was jutting out from the cascade like the head of a dinosaur.  The cascades were framing it just perfectly.  The rocks to the right and left framed the entire photograph.  There was a patch of fall color in the background which was framed by two trees above the rocks.  These trees were slightly curved and mimicked the cascades below for an unmistakable balance.  Everything in this photograph just came together perfectly, and I could tell in the LCD that I had nailed the composition, the histogram showed a perfect exposure.  I was happy!

Once again I was pumped on this Trek.  I was getting images that I had never seen before along this hike. That voice in the back of my head was so right about making me come out here today.  I was getting some great images that I had overlooked so many times before, and the remaining leaves were really making things fantastic.

Freshly Fallen
Since I was in a new location on the rocks, I decided to look around and see what Else I could find.  I went back to the section of the cascades to the left and found that I was elevated enough now to see a rock at the base with some leaves on it.  I went ahead and moved the camera, and slowly rotated my own feet on a couple of rocks.  I got an image formulated, and shot the composition that had sparked my attention.  It was a simple image, and one that appealed to me because of how the water in the foreground seemed to be circling the rock as if to highlight it in the picture.

Sliding Through
While I was here, how about the other side of the cascade?  Yep, there was a composition there as well.  I went ahead and got the camera in position and composed a final image of this section of cascades.  What I liked about this composition was that the rock in the lower left was a nice counter point to the mossy rock at the top right.  The water made for a great diagonal off of the rock that had leaves on it which formed a bond with the rock in the foreground.  Geometrically, this was a great image.  There was just enough color in it to keep it quite interesting as well.  With this composition shot, I decided that it was time to get off of the rocks.

I had now been standing on the uneven surface for about a half hour now and my feet were getting sore and stiff...not to mention my calves.  Consider this, in order to maintain balance, I was basically putting all the pressure on the balls of my feet...for that full 30 minutes.  I was having a hard time making my legs and feet work to get back to the boardwalk, but I finally did.  I climbed over it with most of my dignity in tact as well.

Once on the boardwalk, I looked up the trail to the main falls, which I could see from where I was standing.  I fully expected the voice in my head to say continue on to the main falls.  To my surprise, the voice told me to turn back towards the parking lot.  I didn't mind since I really don't like this waterfall and there are a lot of steps to get to to the viewing platform.  As I came off of the boardwalk, I happened to see another section of water that looked kind of promising.

A Flowing Ribbon
I worked my way to the creek and set up my first composition.  It was fair, but there wasn't anything special about it.  I recomposed with the same results.  My problem was...there was too much in the frame and I couldn't get any closer to the section I wanted to photograph.  I ultimately decided to swap out lenses for my 70-200mm.  This gave me the reach that I needed for what I was trying to get.  I isolated a section of the cascade which had caught my attention.  It turned out great in the LCD and it was one that I was planning on doing as a monochrome image when I got home.  As it turned out though, I really liked the warm colors on the rock to the left and decided that it worked very well as a color image because of that rocky wall.

Hopeful Reach
This one composition was all I got from this location and then it was back to the trail.  I ended up passing by the one section with the yawning tree and stopped once again to see if there was anything that I could pick out with the long lens.  Well, I happened to see an element that I had not seen before.  This might be because the sun was now shining through the trees and highlighting areas that had been in the shade before.  Regardless, I found a couple of compositions in the trees, and started to pick them out with the long lens and polarizer.  There was this one birch tree that really caught my eye as it was bathed in sunlight, and had some interesting bends to it, as well as branches that looked an awful lot like a hand.  I had a lot of fun shooting this one.  The trick was waiting for the wind to die down.  By this time, the wind was really starting to be a problem.  The forecast had been calling for 40mph gusts later in the day.  It wasn't that bad, but it was bad enough to make shooting a still photograph difficult.

Autumn Antlers
As luck would have it, there was another fascinating tree to the left of the one that I had just shot.  I panned the camera over about 30 feet and composed an image around this other tree.  What really drew me to it was the symmetry of the branches, and how they tended to all work together.  Of course the brilliant colors behind the tree didn't hurt either.  I only shot two frames here because the wind was picking up and I was having a really hard time getting shots in between the gusts.

I went ahead and found a nice level spot and broke the camera down to put it back in the bag.  It had been a great day.  I had shot nearly 130 images between Salem Lake this morning and South Mountain this afternoon.  Considering I had not even really planned this day out, I had gotten some tremendous images and I was so glad that I had decided to take advantage of my bachelor day and go out with the camera.

On a funny note, after I got the camera packed back up, I was walking down the trail and came across a Japanese Family that was sitting and resting.  The husband had a Nikon camera around his neck and seemed to take interest in my gear.  He looked at me and pointed as he said..."Anata no sankyaku ni mizu ga arimasu."

Uh...OK, sure.  I replied "Hi there".

He again pointed and said something to the effect of "Anata wa sankyaku kara mizu ga tarete iru."  He was now pointing to my tripod at the Manfrotto Logo.

I replied that it was a good tripod and I really liked it.  I could tell he was getting frustrated and he exclaimed once again....

"Anata no sankyaku ga anata o murashimashita.  Anata wa sono shizuku o miru koto ga dekimasen ka?"

I could see the water dripping out of the top of the tripod and finally understood that he was telling me that my tripod was wet.  It all made sense now.  I said that it was OK that there was water coming out of it.  I had been using it in water half way up the legs.  As I was telling him that, I realized that he had no idea what I was saying.  His response, a smile and a thumbs up.  I'm sure he was thinking "What an idiot!" but at least he thought it with a smile.

That pretty much wrapped up my day, and all that was left was the two hour drive home and the processing of the images.  Again, it was a great day to be outside, and I had a blast at South Mountain.

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