A Chilly Day at Hanging Rock

January 6, 2014

Winter is here, and is starting to take its hold in the Southeast.  While not the single digits like it is supposed to be tomorrow, it was rather cold all day long and the temperatures kept on dropping as the day went on.  The early morning clouds and drizzle were a little too good to pass up photographically speaking though.  Looking at the weather, I had a window from about 8am till noon where I could take advantage of the really good lighting.  The trick was....where to go?  I had a lead on a couple of old 50's model cars on the other side of Yadkinville that I'm pretty sure would have benefited from this light, but after having spent a good portion of my more recent treks shooting old cars, I opted for something a bit different.  I was wanting to work waterfalls, which I have only tinkered with in this photographic rebirth.

I opted to go to Hanging Rock for a couple of primary reasons.  First of all, it is close so I would not waste valuable daylight getting there.  Second of all, There were still a few falls in the park that I have not photographed recently that will have benefited from the recent rains that we have had.  It wasn't going to be a grand trek by any stretch, but I was still looking forward to it.  My plan was to head to Hidden Falls first because it has always been a favorite of mine.  While I was there, I would go a little further down the trail to get to Window Falls which isn't one I typically care for, but its close to the other one so I might as well check it out while I'm there.

I started out early enough and made my way to the park shortly after the gates opened.  I was the only person other than the rangers in the park....just the way I like it.  I got parked and loaded up with my equipment before starting the relatively short hike to the first waterfall of the day.  While I am not as interested in waterfall photography at this stage in my life, I still get a thrill heading out to one.  It brings back all the memories of when I was known for my waterfall photography.  Starting in late 2006, I answered the "call of the waterfall" and sought them out near and far.  I can't remember the count of waterfalls that I had photographed, but I quickly built a section of a portfolio based solely on moving water.  These days it isn't about finding and photographing as many waterfalls as I can, its about creating the quality images that convey what I am thinking and feeling at the time.  Today, I was feeling the moving water, and that was what I was going to capture!

The Hidden Falls
My first stop was The Hidden Falls which I've seen in various states before.  I've seen it with just a trickle of water coming down over the ledges, I've seen it encased in ice, and I've seen it with a good amount of water moving over the rocks.  I was expecting to see some ice today after some of the cold that we have had, but apparently, the above freezing temperatures overnight thawed out the ice.  That worked out just fine by me since the water flow was the highlight of this waterfall today.  Having worked this location several times, I knew where the best vantage points were and started with those.  I made adjustments until I was able to see my vision popping into the viewfinder.  I started with a horizontal composition which gave a sense of relaxation to the whole scene, and provided a better sense of scale.  One thing that I have learned about waterfall photography is that they do generally suit a portrait orientation.  I moved around slightly and found the proper location and I flipped the camera on its side.

Gentle Cascades
The driving force in my adjusting of the composition was the small plant in the upper left.  Had I maintained my original position, I would have lost this much needed pop of green and a balancing element to the primary drop of the water.  A shift of about 3 feet to the right allowed me to get this composition, but it introduced another problem...a tree was to the right and now there was a limb in my way.  I had to get up closer by about 4 feet and use a wider angle of view on the lens.  This allowed me to effectively shoot "under" the limb and keep it out of the composition.  There is a lot of thought that goes into making these images, and many compromises that must be faced along the way.  When photographing waterfalls though, I am in my element and able to summon quite a few tricks to make the images that I want.

When I was finished with Hidden Falls, I was starting to walk up the stairs to head over to Window Falls when I found this odd little sight.  I almost passed it by, but the hole in the ground caught my eye.  Mainly because inside of it was a spider web hammock.  I wanted to photograph it, but wasn't sure how to go about doing it.  I decided to make a "macro landscape" of sorts.  By getting in close, and using a 70mm focal length, I was able to isolate a couple of key elements.  As I played around with the scene, I found that the spider web wasn't the most interesting part of what I was seeing.  The leaves in the foreground kept assuming the visual importance, so I embraced that and worked out a composition that turned the spider hole into a mystery of sorts.  In the final image, it looks like a cave in the distance, but it was less than two inches in diameter.  I'm still not convinced that I like this image, but it does hold a certain amount of interest for me.

What Lurks Behind
If I was going to get any more waterfalls done today, I needed to get a move on.  The sky was starting to clear and sunlight is the bane of waterfall photography.  I loaded everything up and made the quick hike over to Window Falls.  Now an interesting thing about this particular waterfall is that I have photographed it many times and have only once come back with an image that I was really happy with.  The water flow here is just so important to a successful image because of the design of the falls.  Also, and possibly more important is that this waterfall is just very jumbled and a nice simple composition is incredibly hard to find.

When you arrive at the top of the observation deck this is what you are faced with.  You get a nice view of the waterfall, but it sure isn't picture worthy.  To get a good view of the waterfall, you have to continue down past the observation deck to the base of the waterfall.

Even down at the base of the trail, you can see that there is very little to work with as far as composition.  Usually, the best angle is to photograph it from this angle, only getting closer in.  Today, I wasn't really happy with that.  it was too done (by me), and I saw nothing special about what I was seeing.  However, I was here, and I thought that I would spend a little time working this waterfall just to make the hike worth my time.  I moved over to the other side, and I saw something that I hadn't seen before when it came to a composition.  I guess it was the amount of water coming off of the rocks that really caught my eye, but for the first time, I saw real photographic potential here.  I set the camera up in the middle of getting sprayed.  I had to wipe the polarizer off before I started shooting because it had gotten so wet while I was picking my best spot to make the exposure.  Before long I was bracketing exposures to get the right effect with the water. I didn't want it too milky, but I also wanted to avoid the choppiness of a short exposure as seen in my cell phone captures above.

Window Falls
As I checked my LCD after each exposure, I could see that I was on to something with this angle for this particular day.  I fine tuned my position several times until I was sure that I had all of the possible angles covered.  I maybe shot a doze exposures of this waterfall, which was about 12 more than I thought it was worth when I first arrived here.  I must say though, after this experience, I can now say that I do like this waterfall.  It has always had character, but like the shy kid in class, was never really noticed.  Today, the water was yelling out at me, and saying "look at me, look at me!"  I'm glad I answered the call of the waterfall with Window Falls today.

I had worked this waterfall as much as I could imagine, and with the sun starting to peer through the clouds on a regular basis, it was time to pack up and move along.  While hiking back to the truck, I kept an eye out for any other potential shots that were wanting to be captured along the way.  I found several downed trees that wanted to be photographed, but as is the continual problem with the woods at Hanging Rock, there is just too much ground clutter!  I tried to resolve several different scenes without any success.  Everything just felt forced, and I didn't want to have any photographs that felt "forced" from today.

Thinking that I was done, and almost back at the truck, I happened to pay a little more attention than normal to the picnic shelters near the parking lot.  I have always liked the stonework and wood, but have never really cared to photograph a picnic shelter before.  As I was walking behind one of them and looking up, I saw the blue sky with some nice clouds floating around.  There were some interesting trees close by the chimney as well.  In my mind's eye, I no longer saw this as a shelter, but as the side of an old home.  It was time to bring out the camera and work some compositions.

Feels Like Home

Stone Chimney
I started with a nice vertical composition to emphasize the chimney and the tree to the side.  I really liked how the photograph looked in the LCD review, but I figured that there was more potential here than just that.  I flipped the camera right side up and took several horizontal frames as well.  I had to position the camera in a different location though as where I was had too many branches in the way.  I was also getting some very bad distortion due to the wide angle and being in so close.  By backing up, I eliminated or reduced the visual problems with the composition.  I still had all the elements that were important to me, and they all made sense together.

As you can see, the sky was clearing and that meant that it was time to move on.  I looked for some other subjects to photograph after leaving the park, but since it was getting close to noon, the lighting was much too harsh to even try.  I did find a lot of new potential subjects as I took a different way home this this time.  I have a handful of ideas for another day now, and I am looking forward to that next day.

While I was at home, I found a couple of really nice surprises while I was processing the images from the day.  As I was working on the picnic shelter images, I happened to notice the tonal values that appeared on the final images.  I had everything from black to white, and lots of very good contrast.  This would make for an excellent monochrome rendering.  Shooting RAW affords me the ability to convert any of my pictures to black and white with relative ease.  However, a good black and white image requires more than just the flip of a switch.  It requires the right raw material to begin with.  I felt that even though I had not shot these images with monochrome in mind, the elements were already there.  I gave it a shot on Feels Like Home and was blown away by the results.  Everything fit, and what is even better...the images work equally as well as color and as B&W.  Because of that, they will both be appearing in my Rustic Scenes Gallery here.

Feels Like Home in B&W

Stone Chimney in B&W

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