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.

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