I have been wanting to get some grand landscapes lately, but with the colors of Spring just starting in the mountains I wasn't exactly sure how that would work out. I knew I didn't want to stick close to home because that would put me in the same places I have been so often through the winter. I wanted to go to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and felt that with a chance for a good sunrise I should try Rough Ridge. It has been some time since I have been there. I started looking at timing and seeing when I was going to need to get up and get moving. It then occurred to me that with the repairs to the Lynn Cove Viaduct that there might be some road closures in place.
As an added benefit, the trip to Groundhog Mountain was only a hour, whereas Rough Ridge was right around two hours. I was going to be getting an extra hour of sleep which excited me more than I can explain. However, when my alarm rang at 4am, I was no longer excited. My first thought was to roll over and go back to sleep. If I did that, I would be giving up on the possibility of some early morning color over Groundhog Mountain. I begrudgingly checked my phone to see if the weather or sunrise forecast had changed. Nothing was different.....Sigh.....
|Crossing the Barrier|
I was on the road by 5am headed North for a change. The trip went quick, and when I arrived on the Parkway, I could see some really interesting clouds moving around in the sky. They were actually moving very fast so I was excited to be able to do some long exposure shots of them streaking overhead. The hope was they were going to be carrying lots of color with them as them moved. I was getting very excited about the prospects of this trek.
I got a couple of shooting positions determined and went back to the original one. I had about 30 minutes before sunrise at this point and I needed to get set up so that I could do some long exposure shots as the color developed in the sky.
Speaking of color in the sky....
I'm sure that you have noticed that all of the images that I've posted so far are black and white. You are correct. Let me explain.
When I started setting up the camera, I noticed that there was a bit of fog moving in. This could actually be kind of fun to work with if the sky lights up with some nice color. I was looking forward to a bit of diffusion on the watchtower which I had at the end of a long cross hatched fence. However, I was starting to see a bit of a problem developing. The fog was getting thicker, and the sky was getting brighter. There was no color at all.
I started to shoot different scenes in the area and found that the fog was getting thicker and thicker. I was having to wait for a break in the fog before I could shoot most of the trees. I would wait about 3 minutes before making a 10-25 second exposure. As the light increased I decided to give the trees a break and start to work with the fences that surrounded the watch tower. There were at least three different styles of fence that were used, but the one that really caught my eye was the one that looked like a row of jacks left behind.
However, I was seeing some other possibilities that I had not considered earlier. I could shoot the fence with the trees! For this, I was going to need a slightly wider focal length to really make it work. I swapped my 24-70mm lens and got in a bit closer to the fence. I was able to rack the lens out to a moderately wide angle which really allowed me to make the fence stand out in the composition, as well as include the trees around the fence.
I tried to get the watch tower, but the composition was just too mundane without some interest in the sky. I decided fairly quickly to let that subject go and concentrate on what was working for me. I found that with just slight changes in position, the composition would change significantly allowing me to shoot an almost infinite variety of images.
When I got back to the truck, I decided to continue North on the Parkway to see what else I could see. I did notice that the fog would vary wildly depending on the elevation I was at. The lower I got, the clearer things became. Since I had ridden this section on a bicycle several times, I knew that the Mabry Mill was a good bit lower in elevation and might provide some good compositions. That was now my destination barring something jumping out at me while headed that way.
So, why did I decide not to shoot this mill again? In a word (well sentence), it is the most photographed subject on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everyone and their brother has shot this mill with everything from a Polaroid camera to a large format rig. Honestly, there isn't much that I can do that hasn't been done before. But, I was alone, and the conditions were great. I went ahead and got the camera built with my 24-70mm lens with the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer attached. I started out by doing the standard compositions from the opposite shore. I was focusing on reflections to start with, but had intentions of moving on to other things soon enough.
As I was setting the shot up, I knew that I was going to be doing some long exposures since the area I was shoot was well in the shadows, and the wood was dark to begin with. The long exposures started to cause problems with light sneaking past the lens hood. I ended up having to use my hat to provide shade for the lens in order to keep the contrast good throughout the entire image. It took some doing to resolve a composition that I felt worked and captured the spirit of the wheel. I ended up with several strong diagonals, framing elements that were parallel to the side and bottom, along with an arch for visual tension. Blending together with the textures I knew I had something special with this one.
|Into the Woods|
I was on a roll at this point. It might be time to reconsider my no Mabry Mill rule when it comes to photography. I was actually having more fun shooting this than ever before. Granted, I think it was because I was all alone and able to really connect with what I was photographing. Speaking of connecting, as I was working my way around the historic sections I started to really notice the trees. More specifically the bark and textures of the trees.
Of course while I was working on the trees I was starting to hear voices coming near me. There were now two families walking the trails. Still better than how this usually goes so I couldn't complain. They also were just stopping to check things out as nothing was open. They were gone almost as quick as they had appeared. I was solo once again, and was still feeling creative.
I tried some other compositions around the area and across the Parkway, but the rest of them didn't really feel all that great to me. That was usually the sign that it was time to move on. I had shot all the goody here I was going to find. My creativity was now bored with Mabry Mill. After about an hour and a half, I would expect nothing different. I loaded the truck back up and continued on my Northern march through Virginia.
After a good bit of driving, I found one of my beloved Parkway Fences with a couple of bare trees at the ridge of the field. I could make use of this without a doubt. I pulled off to the side of the road and grabbed the camera. I opted to use my 24-70mm lens with the Color Combo Polarizer attached to bring out the color in the sky. I had a hard time working a composition that would make sense with this. I had cows to contend with to the left (just outside of the frame), which were too far away to make a meaningful addition to the composition. I had the road to the right which restricted too much in that direction as well.
|A Beautiful Day|
I started out with the little red barn behind the Forsythia. It was interesting to look at, but sadly the photographs did not do it justice. I shot a handful here, and even some just of the bush. When I got home, I didn't like a single one of them. I went ahead and walked down to the next sight, the bus attached to the home. I shot a couple from the street, but I wasn't all that pleased with them since there was a power pole behind the house and power lines that ran along the top of it. I continued on to the little farm with high hopes of getting something there.
Well, I was foiled by power lines and power poles once again. There was also a barbed wire fence in front of the split rail fence which kind of ruined the look for me. I tried several compositions but none of them really worked. In the end I trashed all of those as well. On the way back, however, I went in closer to the school bus and started shooting some different close in compositions. Oddly enough, out of the three locations, I had the least hope for the bus. That was the subject that actually worked out thanks to being able to get in close.
Shortly after I got into Stokes County I found a nice little tobacco barn sitting up on a ridge under some really great clouds. It was worth a shot or two so I turned around and pulled off to the side of the road. Again, not wanting to bother the owner, I opted to use my 70-200mm lens with the Singh-Ray Color Combo Filter attached. I was able to get a variety of compositions with this lens at the distance I was next to the road. In the end, I found that the closer shot was the better one, and it really highlighted the barn quilt on the side as well as the banner hung from the awning. The warm colors of the barn contrasted nicely with the blue sky above.
The tobacco barn turned into my last photographs of the day. The clouds cleared and the sun became much too harsh to continue. I did see quite a few subjects that I wanted to come back to with different conditions so stay tuned for those.
When it was all said and done, I had shot nearly 180 frames. That was the most I have shot in a single day in a long time. I was able to find 20 of them that I really liked and wanted to share. Now comes the hard part where I find places to put a few of them in the gallery.