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.

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