Plan B Wins Again

February 23, 2014

The morning started early enough.  I had planned on going out before first light to track down a barn near Thomasville that had been suggested to me a while back.  I had only seen a scouting photo, and had plotted it on the map, but wasn't really sure what I would be getting into.  When the alarm rang at 5:45, I decided that I wasn't quite ready to make the 45 minute drive out there when I was so comfy in the bed.  Plus, there were few clouds forecasted in the sky after sunup.  Based on how I was envisioning the barn, I was going to need some cloud interest in the sky.  That was all the excuse I needed to roll back over and continue my night's sleep.

I woke up long after the "good light" was over for the morning.  There wasn't much sense in going out until later in the afternoon.  The only problem with that was I was needing the morning sun for the barn that I had in mind.  If I was going to go out for pictures today, it was going to have to wait till closer to the end of the day.  I used that time to think about where I might go, and what I might shoot.  The sky wasn't all that interesting, and I was kind of doubting that I would actually get a chance to go at all...but I watched.

As the last couple of hours of daylight approached, I needed to make a decision.  I decided that I would give a barn a try that Toni had spotted for me about a month ago a few miles from the house.  I left early enough that I could figure out a good composition and still have a lot of good light left to shoot it in.  I had high hopes because she had sent me a picture that looked very promising when she found it.

When I arrived, I was all aflutter with the possibilities because it was a beautiful old barn with missing tin sheets on the roof, and wonderfully aged wood on the sides.  However, my excitement dwindled as I started to examine the scene.  There were thick power lines very close to the roof, and there was not much in the way of possible compositions due to background clutter and some surrounding trees.  I drove around trying to find a good vantage point but was just unable to do the barn justice with the current conditions.  The sky was doing me no favors either as it was rather blah at this point.  I decided to abandon the old barn and try for my infamous "Plan B" approach to subject matter.

I started just driving.  I followed one of my favorite bike routes for a while because I knew that it passed some old barns.  I followed it clear into Davidson County, and then into Guilford County before getting totally lost.  My track took me deep into the rural sections where I saw a lot of old barns, and the occasional old car.  None of them were in a setting that lent itself to photography though.  If only the sky was a little bit better I might have been able to pull something off.

I had all but given up hope when I changed my plan and started to look for landscapes and more specifically, something that I could use for a possible sunset.  The clouds were all very high, and thin and based on quite a bit of experience, I was reading that as the possibility of a good sunset with some vivid colors.  The trick with sunsets though is finding something that anchors the whole image, and something that is recognizable in silhouetted form.  I was looking for a tree more than likely.

While driving North on NC 66, I passed a lone tree in the middle of a field.  It was huge, with perfect definition in its skeletal branches.  I found a place to get turned around and I came back for a second look.  The tree was perfect, and what was even better...the sky was just what I was looking for.  I got out of the truck and set the camera up.  I left the 24-70mm attached and added the Lee filter holder in case I was going to need any graduated filters.  I found a composition that showcased the tree and put the setting sun right under a curved branch.  From there, it was a waiting game for the light to show me all of its character.

With the aid of a Singh-Ray 2-Stop reverse ND grad filter I was able to capture a very even exposure in the sky.  Normally, sunsets tend to go dark at the top, however, this filter helps to prevent that from happening.  I cranked off about 50 frames from well before the sun set till after all the color was gone in the sky.  Unfortunately, the wonderful clouds that I had been so excited about had faded away, leaving just little wisps of clouds in the sky.  As I was looking through the pictures, the clouds made for excellent shots early on, but there was just not that much color to be had.  The most color came just as the sun dipped below the horizon.  Fortunately, there was still enough clouds in the sky to pick up the color, and as a nice treat, the sky was still a very deep blue behind the clouds.  Out of all the pictures, the one with the best balance is the one that I picked to add to the gallery.

An interesting side note....while shooting the last few frames, I had the chance to meet a local author, Twinkle Scott.  She parked and walked out to me to speak with me. I thought that she might have been the property owner as there was a farm all around the tree.  As it turned out, she wasn't related to the property at all.  She had stopped to talk to me because she had been looking at this tree as potentially the cover of her new book.  Serendipitously, both her and her husband had passed by as I was shooting it at the time they were watching the sky.  Who knows....I might have opened up the doors to have one of my photographs on the cover of a book!  That is rather exciting for me.  Time will tell.  Until then, I'm rather happy with the outcome of this photograph considering it is worlds apart from what I had set out to create just a couple short hours before.

A Yadkinville Kind of Morning

February 22, 2014

Based on a tip from a friend, I had managed to locate several old cars and trucks along the side of Hwy 421 in Yadkinville, NC.  I had been looking for the right kind of morning to go out and give them a try.  For the last couple of weeks, I have been fighting with snow and very cold temperatures...neither of which I thought would be good for this particular subject matter.  Looking at the weather for this morning, however, I was pleased to see some early morning clouds with some clearing shortly after sunrise.  I figured that now was as good a time as any to give it a try.

The Forgotten Corner
When I got there, I pulled off on the side of the exit ramp close by the cars.  I took a quick walk over a ridge and found that the cars were fairly close to the roadway.  The only problem was they were well behind a fence.  I'm not one to jump fences for the sake of a picture.  I do respect property much more than that, so I had to work with the compositions that were available to me from this side of the fence.  That was a little problematic because there were small trees and lots of brush along the fence line that made camera placement difficult to say the least.

I found myself poking tripod legs through the openings in the fence and trying to shoot between the trees as best I could.  For this, I enlisted the help of my trusty 70-200mm lens which gave me the reach that I needed.  I wasn't able to get the compositions that I was really after though, but it would have to do, at least for this trip.  As I was fine tuning my compositions, the sun peeked through the clouds and bathed the side of the cars in a wonderful warm light.  I took advantage of this and cranked off a few frames from different locations trying to capture as much as I could with the light before it covered back up.

Fading Memories
The reach of the lens was such an important factor in being able to overcome the fact that there was a fence.  It allowed me to get so close (visually), that I was able to see that the rear window was cracked in several places.  I wasn't able to see that from my location on the opposite side of the fence.  I was really wanting to get a different perspective, but had I attempted to get permission to be on the property, I would have missed the light I was wanting.  As it was, the time spent moving around in the brush kept my shooting time to a minimum as the sun was covered back up, and the lighting changed from what I had envisioned.  It was time to move on and find something else to photograph.

Something that I do just about every time I go and work a location is explore the area and look for anything else that might work for a photograph.  Today wasn't any different and I started to drive around in search of something else.  I tried to find some landscapes, but nothing struck me as particularly special this morning.  I was really wanting to get up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but so much of it is closed right now for repairs.  Just before I was about to throw in the towel, I noticed an old tractor sitting under the shelter of a small barn just off of the roadway.  I decided to turn around and see what I could do with it.

Looking For Shelter
I'm always happy to see an old barn or house in relation with an old tractor or vehicle.  Its kind of like a bonus find in my book.  This was one of those situations, but it came with some difficulties that I had to work through.  The most problematic was the upright support that was blocking many views of the tractor.  In at attempt to minimize its intrusion into the image, I started by shooting from the barn side, but wasn't overly happy with the resulting compositions.  It just lacked something.  I decided to go over to the other side and give some of those compositions a try.

Command Chair
One of the best tricks of the trade when working in these situations is to isolate detail shots and avoid the distractions.  That is just what I started to do with this tractor.  The seat really stood out to me, and the blues along the transmission tunnel added to that contrasting tone to the rust and background wood.  I framed the shot carefully, watching my perspective, so I could include all that I found interesting.  I was only able to grab a few shots before the lighting changed and it became a bit too harsh for this type of image.

One of my last shots of the tractor again took advantage of the idea of isolation.  The difference was I focused my attention on the front of the tractor.  Much like with a car or truck, the front of the tractor is where most of its personality is.  I really liked this one because the signs of age and lack of use really showed well.  It also showcased the barn against the blue sky in the background.  The deep shadow caused by the sun actually worked very well in my opinion, helping to direct the eyes back to that wonderful blue seat!

My morning came to and end about two hours after I had started.  The light was too strong and the clouds were all fading away.  It was time to head home and show Toni what I had found.  I'm still itching to get out to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Spring to get the fresh greens of the season of rebirth.  Until then, it seems that I have found my little happy place with the dormant surroundings by photographing these rustic scenes.

Standing on an Icy Slab

February 16, 2014

The weather lately has made it rather difficult for me to get out and do much in the way of photography.  We have been hit by a winter storm that dumped about 10 inches of snow and ice which looked pretty, but made travel difficult, and also introduced new chores at home...namely shoveling the driveway.  With several days of that behind me, it was time to start looking at the weather for a good sky.  I was rather disappointed that when the snow was over, we transitioned immediately to sunny skies with no visual interest whatsoever.  On my last day off before having to go back to work, the forecast promised cloudy skies up until about lunch time.  that was enough time for me to get out and hunt some targets for my camera.

I woke up nice and early, planning on heading out to Pilot Mountain, least the overlook off of US 52.  I had worked that view several time before and have enjoyed playing with the light trails.  Today, however, I wanted to try out my 10 Stop ND filter and see what kind of movement I could record in the sky.  It was an experiment more than anything.  My secondary plan was to take advantage of the overcast and seek out some barns, or old cars along the roadside until it was time to get home and wash the salt off of the truck.

This was taken after all the color had left the sky
I arrived at the overlook at about 6am, an hour before sunrise and got things set up as quickly as I could.  I knew that I was going to need my 70-200mm lens to get the reach that I needed, so I wasted no time trying out different lenses for compositions.  I found my spot and composed the image the best I could in the dark.  I had to be very careful though because I was standing on some very packed snow with an icy glaze.  Nothing like keeping on your toes with the fear of slipping and falling.

I started out with several minutes worth of exposures, but things were still rather dark and flat except for the light trails.  I was actually finding that I had very little hope for this shoot because my cloudy skies had pretty much gone away and I was left with just a few passing puffs.  I continued on in spite of this setback though.  As the sun started to come up, I could tell that what clouds were in the sky were blocking the color and leaving me with very little to work with.  However, there were some clouds working their way into the picture.  In the name of experimentation, I grabbed my 10 stop filter and slid it in the holder.  I did some quick approximations based on my current exposure and found that 7.5 minutes should work out for keeping the proper exposure with the dark filter in place.  I couldn't even see through the lens at this point, so I just clicked the shutter and waited to see what happened.

The Scenic Route
Much to my happiness, early on with that exposure the sun popped out from the clouds behind me and lit the clouds in front of me with a nice warm hue.  I wasn't real sure how this would render in the camera since I have very little experience with this type of filter.  When the full exposure ticked past, I was pleasantly surprised that the color that was recorded was actually quite a bit more intense than what I saw in reality.  The image was slightly underexposed (due to an oversight with my aperture), but it seemed to work out very well.  What you see here is not a true representation of what my eyes saw, but it is what was captured by the camera, and represents what my intention was behind the image design.  I see areas for improvement with the long exposures, but I really do see some great potential when working with cloudy skies.

The Scenic Route in B&W
More out of curiosity than anything, I made a conversion over to monochrome with this image.  I applied some tweaking to the color channels  to make sure that there was sufficient tonal separation and found that the resulting image actually was pretty strong without the color ingredient.  A quick check with Toni and she liked this one more than the color here it is!  Whether in color or black and white, I can still feel the hard packed snow beneath my feet.

As I was taking a few last exposures, that were getting into the 30 second rang, I decided that even with the dense filter, I was falling victim to the daylight more than I wanted to.  It was time to move on to something else.  Fortunately, while I was making these long exposures, I had been paying attention to what was going on around me.  I had been watching the clouds to my right move across the sky just on the other side of a fence.  I went ahead and grabbed the camera and started to slowly walk over to the other side of the parking lot.  As I was about to step down from the curb, I saw what looked like standing water about two feet into the driveway.  As cold as it was, I knew better than to step down without testing it first.  Yep...just as I ice.  Having slipped on ice before and broken a camera and lens, I was a little more cautious this time.  I found a place where I could step down a little more safely and walked across the driveway.  Once at the other side, I had a similar problem, and had to find an access point I could safely get up on the curb at.

I made my way to the fence and set things up.  I removed the 10 stop filter and checked my composition. I was able to get a little bit of the sky and a nice tree with a collapsed house at the base using my 70-200mm.  That just wasn't the composition I was seeing at the time though.  I was running out of time based on how the light was changing in the clouds, but I wanted a different composition so I slapped the 24-70mm lens on with a polarizer.  I checked the exposure and found that there was too much latitude for me to get a proper exposure.  I needed to add an ND Grad filter, and it needed to be quick!

With my now numb fingers I got my adapter ring and started to try and thread it on the front of the polarizer.  Imagine screwing a ring on another ring that rotates freely while not having any fine motor skills.  Not the easiest course of action, but I was determined to get this picture.  The clouds looked amazing, and I had to make my finger work just long enough to press the shutter button.

Crisp Country Air
With just minutes left to spare, I was able to crank off several exposures which captured the muted yellows in the clouds against the deep blue of the sky.  I was very lucky that in addition to a really great tree as a foreground anchor point, I had the collapsed house, as well as a barn on the ridge beyond.  Everything really flowed well in this picture, and the colors were tremendous!

Crisp Country Air in B&W
While I was looking at the image, my mind started to assign tonal values to the colors, and I started to see it in monochrome.  A couple of button pushes later with some tonal tweaks, I found myself looking at a very interesting black and white image.  I was sold on this one, and even Toni liked it better than the color version.

Shortly after taking that shot, I decided that the clouds had lost their color, and were even starting to break up even more than they had been.  It was time to pack up and move on to something else.  I started out looking for some more barns, but quickly found that the lighting was too harsh for that.  I changed the plan and looked for some more landscapes, but could find nothing that worked with the existing lighting.  After a couple of hours searching, I threw in the towel and headed home to get the trucks cleaned up for the upcoming week ahead.

Waterfalls and Low Light

February 7, 2014

This day started like so many of my other treks, but quickly derailed, and then turned out to be a rather exciting day.  Lets back up to the previous night when I was planning where to go and what to shoot.  After a forecast calling for mostly sunny skies, I was very happy to see that we would have clouds in the sky for most of the day, not only here, but in the mountains as well.  Once I saw that, the wheels started turning and I was getting amped up for a full on waterfall kind of day in the mountains.  I plotted out my destinations of Linville Falls, and Roaring Fork Falls.  Since most of the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed down, I found alternate routes to both falls.

Oh, just to set the record straight, I wasn't all that interested in photographing the actual main attraction at Linville Falls.  I was going to save that for another time.  I was wanting a much smaller waterfall, that has some incredible composition possibilities.  Dugger's Creek Falls is just off of the parking lot, and is not very well known.  In my opinion, it is one of the prettier waterfalls around when you catch it just right.  I was hoping that this would be one of those days.

I went to sleep with everything in place to get up early and head out to the mountains.  Once the alarm went off, things changed.  The weather forecast was completely different now....seemed like sun, with some passing clouds was now on the menu for most of the state.  Well drat!!!  I decided that since I was really geared up for waterfall photography that I would just sit today out and spend it with Toni.

As the morning progressed, we started to get some interesting clouds in the sky, and since Toni was wanting to get some rest before going into work in the evening, I opted to go out and try to find something worth shooting.  I didn't have high hopes, but I needed to get some things done anyway, and I would make use of the time out to get those errands done.

I drove around for a couple of hours in the area of Walnut Cove.  I found a lot of possibilities that I would like to entertain later with some more favorable weather conditions, but I could find nothing that worked with the lighting that I had been given.  A little after 10, I called it quits and headed into town to get my errands done.  Those all went smoothly, and I figured it was time to head home since it was about lunch time.

As I was traveling down the highway I was watching the clouds rolling in.  Hmmmm, this was looking like a waterfall kind of day after all.  The problem was, I didn't have time to make it out to the mountains, and I wasn't dressed for a full on hiking adventure.  I had to think quick if I was going to make use of the clouds.  I decided that Hanging Rock would be my destination again.  This time, I was going to capture Tory's Falls which is located just outside of the park.

Tory's Falls is an interesting waterfall.  It is one of the longer ones in the state at over 200 feet in length.  There is no way to photograph the whole thing top to bottom.  That's not really an issue because the water flow is usually so thin, you would lose the water in a grand capture.  If the water flow is good though, you can usually pick out quite a few intimate sections to photograph.  If the water flow is restricted (which happens often), it is actually quite hard to find a good composition that showcases the actual waterfall.

I was going to roll the dice on this waterfall, and I called Toni to let her know I wasn't going to be home when I said I would be.  Yeah, photographers are a flaky bunch by nature!  I drove up to Hanging Rock fully expecting the clouds to have gone away by the time I arrived.  Much to the contrary, the clouds were still hanging around and the lighting was perfect for waterfall photography.  I grabbed my pack and headed off into the woods for the short walk to the falls.

Tory's Falls
When I made it to the waterfall, the water flow wasn't what I was hoping, but it was much better than I had feared.  I knew that I wasn't going to be able to make a very wide angle composition which is what I really enjoy with this particular waterfall.  However, the center section seemed to have a lot of good visual interest, and was the focus of my attention.  I quickly found the best vantage point to photograph from, which happened to be a small rocky outcropping below the main viewing area.  I built the camera using my 70-200mm f/2.8L which gave me the focal length I needed to pick out the area I was interested in.  I think I was around 150mm for this shot.  I added my polarizer, as well as the vario ND filter set to about 4 stops which gave me a long enough exposure to achieve the look I was after with the water cascading over the rocks.

I ended up with 12 exposures from Tory's Falls before deciding that I had all I could seem to get out of this one.  I tried several different compositions with a few different exposures as well, from 2 seconds to 4 seconds.  I figured that out of that, I should have at least one, and maybe two that I could take away from the day.  I wasn't overly excited about this shoot, but I was very happy that I was able to get out and find something to photograph today since I had planned on what would have been a very involved trek with quite a few exposures being made.

When I got home, I quickly realized that there was just one composition that really stood out from the bunch, and one exposure that I thought "nailed it".  My excitement returned knowing that I had a keeper from this short trek.  I was wanting to get back and process the picture, but I was also wanting to do more with the the camera before calling it a day.  The only problem was, I was running out of daylight, and I didn't want to leave Sierra home alone for the kind of time I would probably need.  It was looking like I wasn't going to get anything else accomplished today.

After dinner I got to thinking about the possibility of working another waterfall after dark.  I had been researching this technique and had found it rather interesting.  I had already worked out a possible candidate for this venture.  I know of a waterfall in Yadkinville which is a rather impressive waterfall for this far East.  My biggest concern with the waterfall is the amount of vandalism to the park where the waterfall flows.  The spray painting does tend to show up in photographs, and either has to be accepted or cloned out.  Neither option I have ever been overly happy with.  I thought that from the viewing platform, the distance would make the graffiti less of an issue, and also allow me to get the sky.  For this, I would need mostly clear conditions though.

The clouds were hanging out, and making it look like I Wasn't going to get my chance at working the waterfall.  I started letting my mind wander and think about other options.  I thought about doing some dedicated light painting which is always fun to do.  For some reason, an old Plymouth popped into my head that I had seen about a month ago.  Since seeing it, it has haunted me, and I have been racking my brain to find out how I can photograph it.

You see, this car is not set in a field, and is not really even set apart from other things.  There are some huge compositional hurdles that it presents.  The main one is a large light pole that is planted right next to the driver's side fender.  There are also two other cars parked at the edge of the parking lot to the rear of the car, backed up by a house in the neighboring lot.  There is not one, but two roads to contend with as the car is parked on the edge of the property, which happens to be at the corner of a four way intersection.  The property is an active service station with customer cars in the parking lot, as well as trailers, and metal buildings.  To make matters worse, there are power lines galore all around.  I had spent some time looking early one Sunday morning to try and find a way to minimize the issues that were before me to no avail.  I filed this one in my memory as a really cool car that I would probably never be able to photograph.

Lights Out
As I was sitting there thinking about light painting, I figured out that this might just be the way to eliminate the distractions I had seen when scoping this image out previously.  I could illuminate precisely what I wanted to, while keeping the rest in the dark.  I asked Sierra if she would like to go with me, to which she jumped at the chance.  We went ahead and suited up, and I loaded the camera back in the truck before we set out West to the town of Yadkinville.  It was well after sunset when we started.  Who says you can't be a photographer when the sun goes down.

My first composition was a bit of an awkward one where I tried to include the light pole along with the car.  Using my 24-70mm f/2.8L racked out to the wide end, I framed a close in shot that captured the old Plymouth as well as the light.  I wished that the light was turned on, but that probably would have blown out as a highlight in retrospect.  Fortunately, I came prepared with a flashlight which I utilized for the 30 second exposure to "paint" the old car as well as the light above.

The resulting image took on an immediate look of a 50's film (only with more rust).  I was liking what I was seeing, but the excess of negative space was bothering me a little bit, although I felt it was well in proportion in this composition.  I started to work on some other compositions that simplified the image, and reduced some of the negative space all at the same time.  Ironically, what I came up with was shooting from a high position which uncloaked some of the background clutter.  The trade off was that I was able to fill more of the frame with the car, and use the street light at the far corner of the property to balance out the composition.

It wasn't until I got home that I really noticed that the color temperatures were doing some strange things in this image.  The flashlight was providing a very nice warm glow to the car which I thought was perfect for the subject.  On the other hand, the street light in the distance was apparently fluorescent and was giving off a very strong green color cast.  At first I looked and thought that I would have to do some color adjustments to counter the green cast.  As I looked at the image though, I started to see how well the green hues worked with the warm reds of the car.  Not only did it help to balance the strong red presence, it also gave this image a very creepy look which I thought fit the subject matter.  After much debating among myself, it was decided to leave the light as it was.

Haunting in B&W
In order to get an entirely different feel to this image, I decided to convert it to monochrome in addition to the color version.  With a little bit of tonal separation added in, I found that the black and white version stands proudly in its own right.  I felt that both the color and the monochrome had merit independently from each other.  They both said something very different to the viewer, which prompted me to add both of them to my gallery here.

What had started out as a complete dud of a photography day, ended up with some pretty neat images of two entirely different subjects.  I am sure I would have been content to have stayed at home and let the weather do what it wanted to, but I think I would have missed out on a pretty good day of shooting had I done that.

Braving the Gale Force Winds

February 5, 2014

I have spent the last several days sitting on my posterior in either a patrol car, a classroom, or a courtroom.  Needless to say, I was getting a little stir crazy to get out and do something fun outdoors.  With court only lasting about half of the day, I had time to take a quick trek after I got done.  I wasn't really planning on going though because the weather forecast had been for rain most of the day.  However, I noticed that the rain was supposed to stop around lunch time, and the clouds were supposed to start clearing off.  If there is one thing that I have learned over the years...when a weather front clears out, there are usually some dramatic skies involved.  I had some hopes for a quick photo adventure for the afternoon, but was going to wait and see what the weather was going to do.

When I got home, the sky was still a featureless white, but the rain had stopped at least.  I figured that I would just stay home and get some much needed quality time with Toni.  That was, until she told me her plans for the afternoon.  She wanted to clean, and she prefers to have the house to herself when she cleans.  So, essentially, she was giving me a shove to go out and create some pictures while she did her thing at home.  Looking at the sky, I figured that my best bet was to try for some waterfalls.  I have been wanting to get back to Dugger's Creek Falls and/or Roaring Fork Falls for a while now.  There was no time like the preset.  I told her my plans and headed out the door bound for the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As I was leaving the driveway, I could see that the sky was starting to break up.  I made a 3rd quarter plan adjustment and decided to go to Hanging Rock instead.  I thought that I could make it there before the clouds were gone, and I could photograph Tory's Falls instead.  Also, if the sky did start to clear, there was an area close to the falls that would make a good landscape shot with an interesting sky.  That was my destination for the afternoon!

A funny thing happened when I got to Stokes County though...the white clouds that were showing a high possibility of changing over to a quite dramatic sky suddenly turned blue.  There was no transition at all.  I looked down at my speedometer after seeing a slight break in the clouds and by the time I looked back at the road I was squinting.  Not a cloud in sight!  Poof....Gone.

Now what?  There was no way I was going to get a waterfall picture done in this kind of lighting.  I was even a little pessimistic about getting a good broad landscape photo at the location I was planning by Tory's Falls.  I was headed to Hanging Rock, so I kept on with the path.  My intention was to look for "targets of opportunity" on the way and hope to get something worth shooting on this bright sunny day.

I arrived at the park and saw that I had until 6pm to get something.  That gave me plenty of time, but the conditions were just not that great.  I remembered from years ago that the sun painted the summit of the park with some very warm tones in the evening.  It was my best chance at a picture based on what I saw I had to work with.  I got the truck parked and grabbed my gear to start the 1.3 mile hike to the summit.  I remembered enough to know that while this is a short trail, the climb in the last third of the hike was brutal with an extra 30LBS to carry.  Despite that, I was moving with a quickness so that I would have maximum time at the top to find a suitable composition, or two.

I made it to the top in about 35 minutes which was pretty good time, and put me there about 3pm, so I had about two hours if I needed them.  The first thing that I noticed at the top was it was windy.  Not a breeze, not a gust, just flat out windy!  I would estimate there were 20mph sustained winds with 30-35mph gusts.  It was enough to bring back painful memories of watching my tripod mounted camera topple over at Rough Ridge, breaking a lens.  This was not starting out well at all.  The second thing I noticed was that there were no clouds in the sky except on the far horizon.  Two strikes against this location.  The third strike came as the location of the sun itself.  Apparently, I was recalling a Summer sun, as this one was too far South to light the intended face of the summit.  This was not good...not good at all.  To make matters worse, there were two hikers that were eating their lunch out on the summit.  I didn't want to disturb them, so I had a very limited area to work in.

Tortured Soul
I was starting to get discouraged and ready to pack it in and hope to find something on the way home to photograph.  Then I saw that there were clouds coming in.  That gave me hope, so I started looking even harder.  What I found, was a little difficult to get to, but I found the tree quite interesting growing out of the side of the summit.  I worked my way down to a point below it and fit my 16-35mm f/2.8L lens with a Singh Ray Intensifying Polarizer to make the clouds pop, and the trees stand out.  I got down low to the ground and shot at about a 45 degree angle up into the sky.  It was an awkward shot, but one that managed to capture the abstract nature of this tree against the light cloud cover.

Down to Earth
It was the long main trunk that seemed to hug the ground that caught my eye, so I decided to also try this as a horizontal shot as well.  I think that they work equally as well, and say two different things through the imagery.  In both cases, the sky really pulls it all together.  I am very fortunate that the clouds started rolling in to eliminate the negative space that would have been the empty blue sky.

After I finished with several different compositions of the tree on the side of the mountain, I started looking for some more compositions.  I was watching the position of the sun very carefully and decided that I wasn't going to be able to do any of the "typical" subjects for this location.  The lighting was just not right to photograph the actual summit today.  I took this as a personal challenge...a challenge to find off the wall compositions that might be overlooked by other photographers, as well as myself on previous treks to this spot.  An interesting fact about this location. I am pretty sure that the last time that I visited the summit was in January of 2010.  It was on this trip that I slipped on some ice and destroyed my 10-22mm lens as well as damaged the circuitry on my Canon 40D which was my first DSLR camera.  This time was much warmer, but a lot windier.

With the other hikers moving on from their lunch break, I was able to go out on "the" Hanging Rock and see what was available out there.  The first thing that I found was a gust of wind that almost took my hat off!  I had to use the chin strap to make sure that it didn't go flying off of my head.  I carefully worked my way around the rocks looking at the different compositions that were available to me.  One that stood out was a tree that appeared quite symmetrical.  More importantly, it was situated with the North sky behind it.  I was going to get more use out of my polarizer with this tree.  After I set up and had shot about 3 frames the clouds cleared, leaving only some faint clouds in the sky that looked like stretched cotton.  Even more interesting was that they were sitting atop the tree as if being held up by the branches.  I set my exposure very quick and snapped this picture before the clouds moved on...which they were doing quite quickly with the high winds.  Oh, did I mention, I was also having to wait for lulls in the gusts before I was able to capture the tree with any detail!

Uplifting in B&W
As with several of my other images, I was looking at the tones in front of me and thought that there would be a decent possibility that this would render nicely as a black and white image.  That is the nice thing about digital capture.  The film that I load into the camera is very flexible, in both speed and format.  I filed the idea in my head and kept on shooting in full color.  I was out on the outcropping that is the summit, but wasn't out in the open.  I was feeling the wind, but wasn't being overly affected by it, other than it blowing the limbs and leaves.  With my current detachment from the wind I decided to venture out on the tip a little bit and see what could be seen from that vantage point.  I think that this was the first time that I had been out that far for the purpose of capturing an image.  Normally, this is the section that is the subject of my photograph.

I looked around and found an interesting view with several trees growing inbound from the tip of the outcropping.  The sky behind the trees was a deep blue thanks to the time of day.  I set my tripod up, and started to frame an image that would successfully capture what I was seeing and feeling at the particular time.  I found that even though I was a fair distance away, I was using the widest setting on my lens to capture everything that I wanted.  I had to stop and think for a moment to make sure I wasn't trying to include too much in the image which would cause a lack of visual focus.  Nope, what I was seeing was all important to the image, and I felt that nothing could be eliminated.  Plus, I really liked how the sky was being rendered with the extreme wide angle field of view.

Dry Brushed Sky
The picture that you see above is the first of five frames shot of the scene.  While I usually don't keep the first image, this one had the perfect cloud formations..seemingly erupting from the clumps of trees atop the rocky surface.  It would seem that I am drawn to trees that grow in difficult places, and this picture is all about those trees.  The clouds, while an important element on their own, are the perfect support to the main focus of the composition.  Everything here just fits together perfectly in my opinion.

I would have loved to have worked this scene a little bit more, but decided to keep my promise to Toni and stay safe above all else.  The gusts of wind were picking up quite a bit now.  In fact, I was being held captive by the wind just a few minutes after this shot was created.  I found myself holding onto the camera to keep it from blowing over (bad memories from Rough Ridge), and bracing myself against a tall rock to keep me from blowing over.  When I realized that I was no longer bracing against the rock and was actually being held against it by the wind, I decided it was time to go before I found the express elevator to the trail below.

Dry Brushed Sky in B&W
I still had about an hour left before I had to be on my way back to the truck to make it out of the park before closing, but the wind had killed my spirit.  I had to abandon any more opportunities from the summit area because it was becoming just too dangerous to continue.  I started to make my way down the trail and back to the parking area.  I was reviewing my pictures in my mind and figured that I probably had about 20 or so shots, and felt confident that I would be able to use two of them at least.  It wasn't a big day, but it was a fairly productive day for me considering I had not really intended to come out at all.

When I was processing the images, turns out there was 18 total, I found that the last composition of the day also worked out very well as a monochrome image thanks in part to the clouds.  With that conversion, I ended up with six pictures that I felt met the standards of this gallery.  If nothing else, I am extremely happy that my hit rate for this (rather difficult) trek was about 33%.  I say difficult mainly because of the wind.  I was so worried about losing equipment, waiting for the trees to stop blowing, and trying to keep myself on my own two was very hard to worry about the basics of photography.  Fortunately, my old habits have started to come back, so I can set an exposure almost automatically, and have a pretty quick hand at composition.  Had it not been for those factors, I'm sure that I would have missed many of these shots.  The sky was changing almost every second.

The hike to the summit is not an easy one, but it rarely disappoints if I keep an open mind and let it direct me to the picture that it wants created.  None of these images were ones that I set out to create when I started on the trail to the summit.  However, I think that every one of them is better than what I went out there to capture!