Appalachian Mountains and Pontiac

December 29, 2013

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to plan out a Trek.  Originally, looking at the weather, I figured that I wasn't going to be going anywhere these off days.  It was either going to be sunny or rainy with nothing in between.  My first day off was pretty busy with family and I don't even remember what the weather was.  The second day, there was about a 30 minute window that would have worked.  I used that day to be with family and do some resting from the previous week.  My last two days were supposed to be rainy and sunny respectively.  I checked the weather before going to bed Saturday night and there was rain until about noon and it switched quickly to sun.  This was not going to work at all.  I planned on staying home and getting some more things done around the house.

When I woke up, I decided to check the weather again...just to make sure.  The rain was still in the forecast, and was actually raining when I looked at the weather.  However, it was supposed to taper off in the late afternoon and have some partly cloudy conditions before transitioning into full on sun.  Hmmmm, the end of a weather front is usually a pretty good time to get out and enjoy a dramatic sky.  Pretty much at the last minute I decided to head out and try some pictures.  My two options were either Roaring Fork Falls in Little Switzerland, or Doughton Park where I know of a few trees that I really enjoy photographing when the sky looks good.  By the time I got to 77 I had decided to forego the waterfall in favor of doing some landscape work.

As I arrived on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the clouds were already breaking up, and I could see crisp blue skies behind the clouds.  This was just what I was wanting for my intended subject.  Everything was going great.  We all know, however, that things rarely go this smoothly when I am trying to do my photography.  This was no exception.  After just a handful of miles I saw a sign that advised that the Parkway was closed ahead due to snow and ice.  Uhhhh, it was nearly 50 degrees and there was no signs of any winter weather on the ground.  Be that as it may...the Parkway was closed ahead, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't make it to Doughton Park.

Islands in the Mist
As I was traveling South, I happened to look over to my left as I rounded a bend.  I remember saying to myself something along the lines of "Holy crap, that's beautiful!"  I was torn....continue on to Doughton, or stay and try to photograph this scene despite the fact that the sun was up pretty high in the sky and the exposure was going to be rather difficult.  I opted to continue on in hopes that I could make it to Doughton before the road closed.

Nope....I missed it by about two miles.

I quickly turned around and decided that my misty Roaring Gap was going to be my plan B.  I found my vantage point and was happy that nothing had changed while I had been driving.  That's not to say that what I saw in front of me was going to be easy to photograph, but it could have been much worse.  As it was, I was shooting into the sun almost which is just not a good idea this late in the morning.  I knew that I was going to have to control the sky in the exposure, and figured that the best way to do that was to go ahead and fit the Lee Filter System to the front of my 24-70mm lens.  I added a 3-Stop Hard Edge ND-Grad and found that the fog was still rather hot in the valley.  To control that, I added a 2-Stop Soft Edge ND-Grad and placed it lower.  I now had 5 stops of light control on the sky, and between 1-2 stops on the low clouds.  That seemed to work, and brought my broken histogram a little closer together.

Above the Clouds
Above the Clouds B&W
Winding Into the Mist
I Stand Alone
The high contrast of the scene allowed me to play a little bit with some monochrome images.  These are always a nice choice when there is a full range of tonal values with good separation between them.  I actually had several that I previsualized as black and white images.  When I got home, I was very pleased at how this worked out for me.  I stayed at this scene for probably an hour working on slightly different compositions and exposures.  The main part was waiting for the sun to get covered by the passing clouds so as not to blow out different areas in the frame.  It wasn't easy, but the really good landscape images rarely are.

I was still rather upset about not being able to go to Doughton Park, and I was still wanting to photograph some more trees.  I decided that since I still had some time, and I wasn't sure exactly what I had on my memory card, I would drive around on the Parkway for a little while and see what I could see.  Ironically, I happened by a field of trees that were almost white and were completely bare of all leaves.  I wasn't sure if I could make this a good composition or not, but I filed it away in my head as I continued on in search of something else to work.  As luck would have it, I found nothing else going North, and decided that I had better start working my way home.  I returned to that field before I left the Parkway.

Ethereal Field
In the Raw
I have to admit, I had fun with this field.  The light was doing some pretty cool things as the clouds passed by overhead.  One minute the trees were all muted, and the next the white ones would pop out against the evergreens in the background.  There was an infinite number of shadow/highlight combinations playing out in front of me.  I just stood back and waited until the scene was "painted" as I wanted.  It didn't take long to get a good many images from this location.  After maybe 30 minutes or so, my battery was showing nearly drained so I took that as my clue to pack up and head home.  Of course, I do carry spare batteries and had a fresh one in the camera before it even made it to the bag.

It was time to head home, the clouds were pretty much gone at this point, and I was out of options on the Parkway for what I was in the mood to photograph.  I made my way down the road and passed Roaring Gap headed to US 421.  My mind was haunted by a sight that I had seen on the way out to the Parkway a few hours before.  There was a '40's vintage sedan atop a hill that I had seen from the highway.  Thanks to my phone, I was able to pull up a satellite map quickly and pinpoint what road it was off of, and I was able to find out how to get to that road.  I decided that I had a little bit of time to work with, and even though the lighting wasn't the best, I would head out there and scope the old car out.

Out to Pasture
I found the old car, and quickly determined that the house that it was behind was unoccupied.  With no property owners to consult, I decided to get a closer look, without doing any damage to the property.  I have to admit, this car was very cool, and I had a lot of fun playing with it.  I was really hoping that the few clouds that were moving across the sky would do me some favors, but it seemed that as they got close to the sun, they would just dissipate, leaving the scene awash in late afternoon light.  I decided to stick with it, and I swapped my 70-200mm telephoto to help isolate the car from the surrounding clutter.  That is the real hallmark of this lens, and one of my favorite uses for it.  I was able to work several different compositions where I constantly battled the sunlight.

Still Waiting
Sedate Sedan
While I was able to work quite a few different compositions on this car, I think my favorite image was a detail shot from the hood.  There are just times that there is a particular detail that just screams for some attention from the camera.  The hood ornament was just one of those details.  Having developed an eye for limited depth of field on this car (again to reduce the clutter), I carried that on to the hood ornament.  As I was walking past the front of the car, it just hit me...exactly how I needed to photograph the automotive jewelry.

Pontiac Chieftain

Pontiac Chieftain B&W
Honestly, I'm not sure which of these images I prefer.  I do know that they represent my favorites from the whole day.  Funny how I can photograph grand landscapes, ethereal trees, and a rare example of a vintage Pontiac, but find so much enjoyment out of an image that represents about 15 inches of a hood.  I guess that is the magic of photography...its all in the details.

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