A Seasonal Barn

April 28, 2014

Aging Gracefully
The last two days that I have had off were full of sunshine which makes for a great day for most people, but not so much for a photographer.  Today was different though.  There were storms scheduled to move through the area most of the day, but that meant that there would be clouds in the sky.  As luck would have it though, I had an eye appointment first thing in the morning, followed by another appointment later in day.  That meant that I would have very little time to go out and take full advantage of the clouds.  Since I was going out though, I decided to take my camera...just in case.

At the end of my first appointment, I found out that my second appointment had been rescheduled for later in the day and that meant that I had a little bit of time to play around.  A few weeks ago, I had spotted an old tow truck in a shed that I wanted to photograph and the lighting was perfect for it today.  It was also close by.  I set out to see what I could do with it on short notice.  When I arrived, I surveyed the scene and found that it was just as good as I had imagined.  The only problem was I was going to have to enter the property to shoot it properly.  There was a house just to the side and I figured they owned the old tow truck.

I knocked and rang the bell, but nobody came to the door.  After waiting for a couple of minutes, I decided to abandon that subject for the day and told myself that I would try again another day.  I got back in my truck and started down the road to find something else I could photograph.  There were a lot of old barns out in this section of Walkertown, but none of them really spoke to me.  The cloudy sky was preventing many compositions from working because these were not the good clouds, just a featureless whitewash across the sky.

I happened by an old abandoned house with a few old structures to the rear and one of them caught my eye.  There was a small barn sitting just in the tree line that had a wonderful reddish tone to the wood paneling and was set in a patch of trees that were in full spring color.  This was going to be my subject for the day.  It took me just a moment to get the camera set up with the 24-70mm lens using an intensifying polarizer to bring out the tones in the wood.

I tried many different compositions from all sides which was made possible by the cloud cover.  There was no directional light here, just a wonderfully diffused glow all around the barn.  I shot close in, and far out, from the left and from the right.  When I was all finished, I had a total of 14 frames.  I was excited to get home and see what I had.  While editing the pictures, I found it difficult to cull the images below about 8.  At that point I had to get very cut throat about it, and make the very hard choices about what stayed and what went.  When it was all said and done, I found that the image taken from the left turned out better because there was not the distraction of a whitewall tire on the old wagon under the awning.  This composition just flowed better, but I hated that I was missing out on a freshly greened tree to the left.  Sure, I got a little bit of it, but not as much as I could get from the other side.

Whitewall Wagon
After processing the favorite image, I came back to my second favorite and gave it another critical look.  That tire was still a sticking point for me in full color, but I figured that I would give it a quick review as a monochrome conversion.  It started out a little bit blah and evenly toned.  However, I could see some potential in it because of the different color tones present.  I started to play with the tonal relationships using colored filters and started to see something very interesting happening.  First of all, the whitewall tire on the wagon started to share a tonal quality with the wooden bed and therefore really made the wagon stick out as a unit, and not just a tire.  The tree to the left that had the very light green color to it, literally erupted from image!!  In doing so, the larger tree trunks to the rear became very visible and added a sense of depth that this "postcard" shot really needed.  The final vote on it was when I showed both pictures to Toni and she liked the mono shot the best.  it was a keeper.

So, with both a color and black and white image from today's quick trek, I have ended up with about a 15% hit rate which is still very good considering I was shooting only one subject.  Not bad for about 30 minutes of work behind the camera.

A Sunday Drive Through West Yadkin County

April 20, 2014

I had a little bit of time to play around this morning, so I decided to take a drive out to old Hwy 421 through East Bend and check out some old barns and houses I had seen out that way before.  I left shortly after sunrise and headed West.  The sky was pretty decent with some thin clouds lingering from yesterday's rain showers.  I wasn't real sure what I was going to get, but I decided to roll the dice and give it a try.

One of my first stops out that way was Conrad Rd, which I'm really hoping to hit it right to capture the trees in full bloom arching over the roadway with the fences along both sides.  Unfortunately, only a few of them had started to bloom (an improvement over last week), but not enough to get the image I was hoping for.  I continued on down Old 421 headed into East Bend and found an old house that I had shot years ago and was hoping to get again today with the clouds in the background.  Unfortunately, that was not going to work either because the house lacked the pop that I really wanted out of the image.  I kept on moving, and found another old house tucked into the trees that I have a second look, but again, it was just rather blah, and not exciting.  Back down the road I went, until I was well into Yadkinville.  I was still not seeing anything that was working with the current conditions.  Nothing really spoke to me...I mean nothing!

For one reason or another I ended up at the intersection of Swan Creek Rd, and decided to turn on it simply because swans are pretty, and I was hoping to find something pretty to photograph.  It was a silly reason I know, but I have diverted my direction for much less in the past and it has worked out in my favor more often than not.  I drove down the road for quite a few miles, passing through several different towns until I found myself back in the country again.  I was starting to think that I wasn't going to find anything because the quality of light was no longer improving, and my window was starting fade quickly.  Just then I saw it out of the corner of my eye...I think that was an old blue and rusted truck sitting right beside of an old shelter.  Could it be?  I turned around and gave it a second look.

Rolled Flareside
Yep, my eyes had not deceived me.  There in a large field was an old Chevrolet Apache sitting next to some hay bales.  I said to myself (pretty sure it was out loud) "That's it!!"  I saw a house that looked to be associated with the field and pulled into the driveway. It was still early, but late enough that I thought I could get away with ringing the doorbell.  When I rang it, the bell went off with one of those really long melodies.  I guess if they were asleep, they wouldn't be for long.  Fortunately, within a few seconds the blinds split open and I waved.  The door opened very slowly and I introduced myself and explained why I was at her door on a Sunday morning.  I felt better when she said that other photographers had stopped by to take pictures of the old truck before.  Then I felt my chances slipping away when she said that I would have to check with the owner who lived elsewhere before she would feel comfortable with me working the truck.

The way the conversation was going,  I was pretty sure that I was going to have to come back another time.  I had given my card to her, and she said that she would give it to the owners.  I asked if I could call them and ask.  She seemed to think that would be OK, and she gave me the number.  I pulled out my phone and made the call.  The first time I dialed, I got the message that the call could not be completed as dialed.  Ugh!!!  Instead of bothering the resident again, I decided to try and dial it as a long distance call, and that actually worked.  The owner answered the phone and I explained why I was calling on a Sunday morning.  She gladly gave me permission to photograph the truck, and after saying thank you, I pulled out the camera.

Endings and Beginnings
I decided based on what I was seeing to work with, I would leave my 24-70mm lens attached and add my Singh-Ray Intensifying Polarizer to enhance the colors that I was seeing.  I was lucky that the North sky was in the background so I knew I would be able to dial in a good deal of polarization to the image and make the colors pop.  The paint on the old truck was in fair shape, but the rust patina was just awesome, and excited my photographer's eyes.  I had a constant battle with myself over how much of the shelter to include, and how much of the spring color I wanted to incorporate.  I shot in close, and from far away, but my favorite images were close in with a focal range of 28-35mm.  This seemed to get the best balance for what I was after with this scene.

It only took about 25-30 minutes before I was pretty sure I had everything that I wanted.  In that time, I had captured 27 images, all of them different.  The lighting was just that good, that there wasn't a lot of fussing with the exposure.  I got to concentrate on trying different compositions more than anything.  Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I packed up and headed on after I was content with what I had.

There was still a bit of good light left, but I was out of subject matter.  I wasn't able to find anything else before the sun got too high in the sky to be able to work with.  Plus, the clouds were starting to fade which left a blank and boring sky overhead.

Even though I only had one subject to shoot today, I ended up with 11 images that I really liked, and was able to reduce that down to two that I thought represented the best overall frames of the day.  Now, I just need to decide which one gets the honor of going into the Old Iron Room.

A Big Day at Big Creek

April 18, 2014

Big Creek Trail
It seems that most of my treks here recently have been kind of spur of the moment affairs.  That has really worked out pretty well for me I must admit.  However, I am always looking for specific conditions where I can go to a place that I already have in mind what I am looking for.  That was the case today, and in fact, this is my first real large scale trek in quite a few years.  The location is Big Creek which is located just inside of the the NC state line in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I have been here twice before under different weather conditions and have found that every time, I have come away with some really great pictures.

I have been considering a return trip for a couple of weeks now, but wanted to make sure that I had some good cloud cover before I made the nearly four hour ride out to the park.  For the most part, my off days have been mostly sunny here lately and that just wasn't going to work out for doing work around water which almost demands a lower contrast light source.  For the last few days at work I had been keeping an eye on the weather in the area of the park and saw that there was a good bit of cloud cover forecasted for the day with some spotty sun thrown in for good measure.  As Thursday rolled around, the weather was still looking good, and I decided I would head out to Big Creek and take advantage of some of the recent rains which should have the water levels up.

Knowing that Toni was off from work, and Sierra was out of school for the day, I asked if they would want to join me.  Both of them jumped at the chance as we rarely get to go on these treks together.  I don't think they knew what they were in for though when they agreed.  I started getting things planned and decided to make the most of the day, we would be leaving around 5am, which was fine for me, and even Sierra went to bed early in preparation for that.  The hiccup in the plan was Toni was finishing up on the night shift at work, and didn't get home till about 2:30am.  Doing the math, that meant she got a nap at best before getting ready to head out.

Breaking Through
As planned we all started getting moving around 4am and working on getting ourselves out the door and on the road headed West.  We were all sleepy and would have much rather stayed in bed, but this was going to be an adventure.  I was looking forward to seeing Big Creek again since it is one of the few places I've photographed before that has a very distinct cyan coloring to the water.  I find it mesmerizing and love to see how it appears in photographs since it looks different every time.  Toni, nor Sierra had ever seen it up close and personal before, and I was excited to show it to them.

We made great time considering the time of day we were traveling, and arrived around 8:30 or so.  The weather was really good with a nice cloud cover overhead.  The sporadic sun that I was actually looking forward to was no longer in the forecast, but that was OK.  I would much rather it be like this than full on bright sun bearing down on me.  When we arrived, Toni pointed out a fence that she thought looked very photo worthy.  It just so happened to be a fence that I have attempted to photograph a time or two before and was happy to give it another go today.

Mossy Blanket
As it turned out, the combination of new green grass, old dormant moss, and a nice cloudy day gave me a pretty good recipe for a picture.  I managed to get this one which was much better than any of my former attempts.  As you can see, there is a lot of really nice visual interest with the moss coverings, and the old wood underneath.

We hit the trail and started up to the water.  Of course, I was impatient to get to the first shooting location of the day, but Toni wanted to check out all the flowers along the way.  I agree, they were quite pretty, but not quite what I was after.  She wanted me to get a photograph or two of them, but I wasn't able to concentrate on them until the return hike when I finally let myself think about a composition.  We finally found a patch that we both agreed would make a decent photo.

The Purple Path
We finally got to an area where I could dip off of the trail and get down to the creek and get my feet wet...both literally and figuratively.  I spent about an hour working this first segment and finding different compositions that attempted to create order out of chaos with the landscape before me.

A Rapid Drop
I have actually improved my equipment when it comes to photographing water for this current evolution in my photography.  Before, I would use ND filters of different strengths, and would stack them as needed.  Advances have been made in the past years that has resulted in my use of a Vario-ND filter which provides a continuum of light reduction from 2-Stop to 8-Stops.  This gives me the ability to fine to the light entering the camera like never before.  I can pretty much determine what I want my shutter speed to be along with my aperture for depth of field, and then dial in the amount of ND I need to make those choices result in a proper exposure.  Its actually pretty cool after doing it the old way for so long.

A Smooth Embrace
I was really having fun with the long exposures which were as much as 30 seconds in some situations.  With the old system, I would normally be stuck with 3.2" being my slowest shutter speed available with the existing light.  Not the case any more, and that gives me so many more creative choices.  We progressed along the trail, taking detours off the path where clearings developed allowing access to the creek.  There was just so much great eye candy to work with, I was in a constant state of overload.

On the Ledge
I found myself drawn to interesting rock formations which were surrounded by the rushing water of Big Creek.  Getting a good compositions was sometimes quite challenging because for the most part, the best compositions were found in the water.  In many cases, the water was too deep or too fast moving to be able to use those places.  Other times, I was able to stand in the shallow water with the tripod set up in the rushing water as stable as I could make it.  There were some exciting moments as I got into position on several occasions, but I managed to stay dry the whole time.

Islands in the Stream
Loveseat for a View
About half way through the day, I started to notice something interesting.  I was switching my lenses around much more than I normally would.  In fact, I used each lens at least twice throughout the day.  I used my 70-200mm to pick out detail shots like "Gushing" above, which by the way Toni helped me name.  I used my 16-35mm wide angle to capture some broad landscape type shots with strong foreground interest as in "Islands in the Stream" which happens to be one of my favorite shots from the day.  Of course, I also used my favorite walk around lens, the 24-70mm to capture many of the compositions where flexibility was key based on the locations I had to choose from.  I got very proficient in swapping the lenses since this was the most practice I have ever had in the field.

The Rocky Way
Midnight Hole
While most of Big Creek is made up of rapids, there are two named waterfalls along the path.  The first one that you come to is Midnight Hole which can be seen above.  The other one, is less photogenic and is called Mouse Creek Falls.  We did not make it out to that one today, and I didn't really consider that a loss at all.  I've photographed it before, and wasn't all that happy with it.  Midnight Hole is much better, even though it is a small waterfall.  I've found that the best composition for this is finding a way of incorporating the tree seen above that has this marvelous root system which give it a lot of visual interest!

The Mossy Shore
Worry Stones
After hiking only about 2 miles in, we decided to call it a day.  We had been in the park now for about five hours and it was about to be time to eat...plus we still had a long drive to get home.  I feel pretty sure that I will be back to this park again with some different weather conditions to try some different compositions.  I also have several other waterfalls I am planning on visiting in the near future as well.  There are just so many in NC in driving distance from home.  They are a lot of fun to photograph, and shooting the rapids can be just as rewarding for a photographer.

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure...or Art

April 13, 2014

It would seem that my luck with the weather just won't break.  I've been wanting to do some landscape work to showcase the changing seasons, but have been met with nothing but clear sky days which seems to lack the look that I'm after.  After most of my days off passed me by with less than stellar conditions for photography, I was about to throw in the towel on any Treks for these sets of off days.  With my last day off here, I looked at the weather and decided that I might as well give it a try and see what happens.  The weather was forecasted to be mostly sunny with some passing clouds.  This was promising, but I was holding out little hope.

I had planned to stay close to home as I didn't want to make a huge investment in gas to drive out to the mountains where the clouds were likely to be few and far between.  Knowing that my window of good light would be early in the morning or late in the afternoon, I opted to get up early and try for a sunrise shot over the Old Guilford Mill.  One last look at the weather and I thought to myself I would be wasting my time, but I decided to go anyway just to see what would happen.

As I arrived at the Mill going a back way, I was met with a surprise...the road was now closed!  I couldn't get across the highway to the Mill from Stafford Mill Rd anymore.  I looked to see if I was going to benefit from parking where I was and walking the rest of the way.  The sky didn't seem to be doing anything promising at all, so I decided to drive around and come in off of the main road and reevaluate.  When I returned, there was a faint pink in the sky, but nothing very dramatic.  I ran through my bag of tricks in my head and decided that there wasn't much that I could do with the scene that was in front of me.  It was time to move on and see what else I could find.

I had remembered finding a couple of old barns along Hwy 311 when I went out to shoot the Mustang at twilight.  I had seen them in passing and had not really evaluated their potential, so I decided now was a good time to do just that.  I knew that they were on the West side of the road, which would make the lighting work for the morning.  I had hope that I would find something soon.  However, when I arrived, the lighting was all wrong, and the barns were just not that interesting.  I didn't even stop the truck, I just kept on moving along.  I was going through some more possible locations in my head of things that I could capture with my camera.  The sky wasn't all that great, and I was running out of the nice, warm morning light.  Frankly, I was starting to think that my morning was going to be a bust.

I found a side road that I could turn around on, but instead of turning around, I decided to follow it since there was a sign that advised of a dead end.  I sometimes luck out and find some pretty cool barns at the end of dead end streets in the country.  Since this was the edge of Stokes County, I thought my chances were pretty good.  Within about a half of a mile, I drove past a small repair shop with what appeared to be a junk yard behind it.  Hmmmm, I see some old cars out there that look pretty good, but they weren't open for business.  I continued on down the street and to my disappointment found nothing worth taking any pictures of.  I turned around and headed back out to the main road...but before I did, I slowed down at the junk yard.

What I was noticing as I was creeping by was there was no fence along the property.  It appeared as though the yard was open.  I drove up to the shop which also had no fences or gates.  I looked very carefully for any signs indicating that I should not be trespassing.  I also tried to spot any signs warning of junkyard dogs that would make a fence irrelevant.  I saw no signs that would prevent me from walking around a little bit.  I parked the truck and decided that I would carry the camera around to see what I could find.  Even at this point, I wasn't convinced that I was going to get any pictures, but seeing that the lighting was changing, I figured I would miss out on any opportunity if I didn't take advantage of this one.

Cracked but Intact

Cracked but Intact in B&W
As I was walking the rows and looking at all of the cars ranging in vintage from the '40's up to the early '90's it appeared, I was starting to get excited about some possibilities.  When I came upon this mid 50's GM truck, I decided that I had found something worth snapping a few pictures of.  The wonderful patina was just part of the story with this truck.  One of my favorite elements was the fact that there was no front suspension and even the headlight buckets were dangling to the ground.  Yeah, this old truck was beat down and it was showing every bit of its use along the years.

I had some issues with the composition due to the sky being relatively blown out.  I had to elevate the camera to the top of the tripod travel in order to crop out the sky.  As a bonus of the camera position, I was also able to capture a perspective that really showcased the old truck in all of its grandeur.  With only a polarizer fitted to my trusty 24-70mm lens, I started to fine tune my composition and exposure.  I found it difficult to work with other vehicles in such close proximity though.  It took some doing to compose an image where the visual distractions were minimized.

Off Kilter
Old Goat
Feeling Blue
After I got my mojo going with the GM truck, I started working the rest of the junk yard.  I found all sorts of really cool vehicles, and quite a few of them were in a position to photograph.  I found that I was drawn to cars that had been painted bright colors, but were now suffering from a good amount of surface rust.  I also looked for iconic cars that were immediately recognizable.  In the case of the old GTO above, I found it difficult to compose images of some of the cars due to so much brush having grown up around them.  It was a balancing act, the less of a car that was visible, the more recognizable the shapes had to be.  With the GTO, I felt that its personality (with the help of that hood) would shine though the weeds. 

There were also quite a few cars that I was not familiar with, but that seemed to have a very strong personality.  In the case of Feeling Blue above, the quirky grill and brilliant blue color grabbed my attention.  It appeared that for the most part this car was intact, and in pretty good shape.  Had it not been for that rusty fender, and patchy rust along the other body parts I might have let this one go.  However, the formula was all in place for a successful photograph and I set it up and fired the shutter.  It only took two frames before I was convinced I had a good thing going.

Blistered in the Sun
As the sun got a little further up in the sky, I decided to harness the power of the light and start working some cars that were fully out of the shadows.  I was also happy to see that the sky was starting to show some blue with the occasional passing wisp of cloud that works so well with a polarizer.  I found a group of 50's Chevrolet's and an old 40's Plymouth which happened to be rather resplendent in the morning light.  They were close together unfortunately, and there were some much newer cars on either side that posed some compositional issues.  I chose my shooting location and camera height very carefully so as to include only what I wanted, and nothing more.  I found that a low shooting position provided enough cover of the background clutter so that I could isolate the main subjects of the photographs  I was so happy that the grass was green finally because it really helped to set the color of the rust off in the pictures.

I was on a roll now, but the sun was really gaining some intensity.  Every once in a while, I would luck out and find that a thin cloud had covered the bright orb and the light was a bit softer.  It was in these moments that I tried to be set up and ready for the next shot.  there was just so much out here, I was seriously doubting that I was going to be able to take advantage of it all before the light was all gone.

Calico Shell
Open to the Possibility
Signature Pontiac
Just as I thought I had a handle on what all was present in this junk yard, I found a whole different section even closer to the road.  I was in classic heaven at this point.  Most of the time, the junk yards that I've seen have been either make specific, or carried just more modern pieces.  This junk yard had a little bit of everything and I was seeing vehicles that I had never seen in person before.  I was still drawn to the typical formula that I have worked with for a while now.  I liked the funky patina found on many of these old cars, like what I found on the old GMC truck.  You could tell that this truck had been painted many different colors before, and the previous owner had been working on sanding the body down, which allowed the many hues to show at the same time.  It was also very obviously tortured, and had been pilfered through.  All of these things made this old truck a perfect candidate for a few frames.

The Apache truck which was parked on the row next to the GMC was not quite what I would consider my typical "Old Iron" subject.  There wasn't that much rust, and most of the body was a uniform color.  However, the look of this truck, along with the hints of rust, and the textures on the body panels drew my interest.  The open hood started asking question, and I started wondering if this was a project truck that was stopped prematurely for one reason or another.  In any case, I was hooked.  It was asking questions, and I was listening.

Tattered Badges
Values Put to Rest
The Memory of Speed
One of my favorite finds of the day was the Mustang nearly hidden by the brush.  There was nothing really special about the old pony car, but I did like the blue paint as it contrasted nicely with the colors of the dormant grass and weeds.  As with the GTO before, the shape was instantly recognizable  so I wasn't worried too much about the growth it was behind.  The question was....how to photograph it?  If I went too high I would get too many of the surrounding cars and that was cluttering my composition.  I needed to get down low for this one...but wait, there were contrails in the sky above.  Have I ever mentioned just how much I hate contrails in the sky?  Well, I was just plain disgusted until I stopped to consider what I was seeing.  The contrails were in the perfect part of the sky that went along with the visual flow of the car, and they were showing motion, and even speed...something that this car hasn't been able to show in quite some time now.  Photography is all about contrasts, and I had contrasts in spades with this shot.  From the basic warm versus cool colors, to the painted versus rusted, and finally the element of speed versus stagnation.  Yep, this was a good composition!  I dialed in my polarizer to get the maximum effect in the sky and cranked off a few frames to make sure that I had the proper exposure since I was dealing with a lot of different tonal values.

Speaking of values, every once in a while I run across a scene that speaks to me on a deeper level than what I am looking at.  Values Put to Rest is one of those images.  Of course, I was drawn by the bright faded side of the truck with the sun shining directly on it.  The text read "Holsum Bread" which grabbed my attention even more.  The first thought that came into my head was that this should read Wholesome, but I guess that was the advertising trick.  The brand name made me immediately think of something good.  I didn't really like this truck for a picture though, but I kept coming back to it.  Then I saw that the old bus that was just to the side was an old school bus, long since retired.  I started to think about kids, and society, and my job, and any number of other deep thoughts.  Then it hit me, society has changed so much since the time when these vehicles would move along the road.  Our kids who used to be so "wholesome" have changed over the years and that is almost a forgotten quality.  Having both the school bus and the bread truck in the junk yard all of a sudden spoke volumes to me.  I had the message, it was just a matter of creating the image to go along with it.

After about two hours in the junk yard, I realized that I had not been bitten by any chained up dogs, and my truck had not been towed.  In fact, I hadn't even been questioned by any of the neighbors.  I had about 40 images on the camera, and I was pretty sure that a handful of them would turn out pretty well.  I was happy with the morning, but had no idea that my hit rate would be better than 25% for this day that I had very little hopes for when I got out of bed.  I guess it goes to show that sometimes, my best treks are when I just go out and get lost...and on those days I end up finding myself.

An Old Horse Stops by to Surprise Me

April 5, 2014

I have been contemplating a scene near the house for some time now that included an old 50's model Chevrolet pickup truck parked outside of a automotive shop.  I have tried to photograph it several times but have yet to find a way to capture it based on where it sat in the parking lot.  After about a month or so, I finally worked out a composition that I thought would work which included the store front and vintage gas pumps.  I also decided that twilight would be a good time to give it a try because I wanted to incorporate some light painting  in addition to the lights that the shop provided.

When I got out to the shop, I found that the truck was gone!  This is a risk that I often take with this type of photography.  There are times that my subject just disappears and I never see it again.  This was one of those times.  On the positive side, however, there was an early model Ford Mustang which was new to the site.  The problem was, it was in pretty good shape considering I was looking for a rusted out vehicle.  Another thing that was working against it was that it was white.  This is not a favorable color when I am considering light painting since it tends to blow out quickly.

I decided to give it a go anyway and I set the camera up using the 16-35mm wide angle lens so that I would emphasize the Mustang, but still include the entire shop in the photograph.  To add drama, I got as much altitude as my tripod would allow and shot from above.  This gave some pleasing angles to the car, and allowed me to include everything that I wanted to include in the scene.  When it was all said and done, I had cranked off some 20 frames in an attempt to capture the scene in just the right light.  I used a large Maglite to help provide that "right light" for most of them.  I did use the hotshoe flash as a standalone lighting source for a few of the shots early on before it got dark.

American Muscle
Here you see the results of the hotshoe flash with ambient lighting.  The exposure was still too fast, at only a couple of seconds, to use my typical light painting techniques.  I was hoping that the main lights would click on while the lighting in the sky was at this point.  Sadly, they did not.  There are things that I don't really like about this picture, but there are several things that I do.  I still haven't decided if I should include it in the gallery here at 446photo.com.  I do have another one that I like a little bit better which happened later in the evening.

In this one, the main lights were turned on, but the sky had darkened a little bit more than I was really wanting for the composition I had worked out.  The lights on the pumps also blew out the Gulf logo on top.  This was not going to be an issue for my original concept for the truck.  You win some you lose some I suppose.  Overall, I like the feel of this picture, and it takes the emphasis off of the fact that the car is in relatively good condition.  It gives it a dated feel in a way.  I still wish that I had an old rusty car sitting here instead of a driver.

I'm still trying to decide if either of these is worthy of being part of the gallery since there are only 25 slots per room, and I try to be very selective about what I include in those rooms.  I welcome any input on which image you would like to see highlighted in the Old Iron Room.

A Quick Hike at Stone Mountain

April 3, 2014

After the success of yesterday's trek, I wanted to head out again today and play with the camera a little bit.  I was tired of driving around and wanted to do some hiking, so I opted for Stone Mountain where I could possibly make use of the cloud cover that we were going to be under all day.  It had been a while since I had done any waterfalls, and figured that I could go out to Lower Falls which I have only photographed one other time, many years ago.  Based on my hiking time, I would say that it is about a 4 mile round trip from the lower parking lot.  There are also a few stream crossings that are deep enough to notice.  I was ready for a fun afternoon!

All the way to Stone Mountain I was watching the sky gradually clear which made me want to reconsider my destination.  I really had no idea what else to shoot today so I just continued on and decided that I would just make the best of it.  I was looking forward to the hike after all.  When I got there, the sun was out in full force, but there would occasionally be a passing cloud that would help to diffuse the light.  I set out on the trail headed for the Lower Falls.

When I arrived, I found that the falls were not in too much direct sunlight, although there were highlights that I would have to deal with.  I knew that I had enough filters to help me achieve whatever shutter speed I decided would work with the water flow.  The only thing that was left to chance was how the highlights would be dealt with over the course of a long exposure.  It is usually preferred to shoot waterfalls on cloudy days so that the contrast is less problematic.  I was here, I might as well give it a try though.

As you can see from the cell phone picture above, there are several different layers here that I was going to have to deal with and form into a composition.  With the way that the ledges are set up, it is very easy to get a photograph that feels a little less than level.  I ran into that problem the first time I shot this waterfall and wanted to try and avoid that this time.  My solution was to get in close to the main ledge and shoot it from the side, and from down low.  This gave the most pleasing composition I felt.

After setting everything up, I fine tuned the composition, and dialed in the exposure.  I ended up using my 16-35mm wide angle lens at about 28mm.  The reason I switched to the wide angle over the 24-70mm was that with two different filters attached to the front, I was worried about vignetting which would have been an issue at 28mm on the normal lens.  With the wide angle attached, I was able to fit my polarizer and vario ND filter without any darkening at the corners.  I adjusted the ND filter to about 4 stops and had maximum polarization of about 2 stops.  This allowed me to slow the shutter speed down to 8 seconds at f/13 which gave a suitable exposure for what I was wanting to capture.

One of the really neat things about long exposure photography is that you will get to see things that your eyes just can't record.  In this instance, there was a swirly that developed in the foreground that I had no idea was even there.  That hidden element of the image became the focal point for the entire image and really improved the composition.  I fired off about 12 frames with slightly different lighting, fine tuning the ND filter as opposed to adjusting my exposure.  I was happy with both the aperture and shutter speed and wanted to keep them set where they were.  By adjusting the ND filter I was able to control how much light was entering the lens completely externally.

A Pondering Moment
Here you can really see the difference that the long exposure makes on the image.  The water is silky soft, and you can really see the motion of the water.  That swirly was just a very slow moving section of turbulence in the water which would only show up with a long exposure.  While I normally would have rather had an overcast day for shooting a waterfall, the light actually didn't hurt the image at all. In fact, it helped to highlight certain areas which had caught my eye anyway.

The title was a little hard to come up with, but I think that it fits what is going on here.  As waterfalls do, the water is moving with a purpose over each ledge.  Not much stands in its way, and if there are obstacles it just goes around them.  It would seem that most of us recognize this as our every day existence in our personal and professional lives.  The swirly, however, represents that moment when we stop what we are doing and start contemplating our next move, or maybe reminiscing about something that has happened in the past.  Either way, we all must learn to take a moment and pull off to the side and just swirl for a little while before continuing downstream.

After about 30 minutes, I could tell that the light wasn't going to change appreciably any time soon and I still had a good long hike ahead of me to get back to the truck.  I went ahead and packed my gear up and started back down the trail, and through several water crossings.  I was making good time, and found that I had a little bit of extra time left before the park closed for the day, so I started to look for other photo ops on the way back.  I found a few things that caught my eye, but I just couldn't make a composition out of them that made sense.

I had all but given up when I arrived back at the Hutchinson Homestead.  I happened across one of my favorite trees and decided to see if there was something that I could do with it.  The sky had a little bit of detail in it and the actual face of Stone Mountain was bathed in a wonderful warm light.  The tree, however, was in the shade.  The more I looked at the scene though, the more I found that I liked the contrasting elements of light and dark between the mountain and the tree.  I swapped my 24-70mm back on the camera and added a polarizer to eek out all the detail in the sky that I could possibly get.  I fired off a handful of exposures in an attempt to get something that would work, but looking at the LCD, I wasn't really happy with the outcome.  Visually, it looked wrong, but the histogram was right, and that gave me hope for a final image when I got home.

Where Thoughts Collide
The resulting image when viewed on the computer without the sunshine at my back appeared much better than I had thought.  It was a workable image, and I went ahead and put one of the examples in my stack of ones to process.  As I was processing it, I was able to do some more thinking about what I was seeing in the frame.  I had set things up so fast because of the fading light, I had not fully experienced the scene.  I was actually doing that at home looking at the computer.  I found that I really liked the bench below the tree.  It had gotten lost in a wider angle version which changed the relationship of the tree and the mountain.  I much preferred this composition because the tree and the mountain kept approximately equal visual weight in the image.  That started my thought process behind the title of this one.

There was an obvious visual struggle here since both elements maintained equal importance.  The duel continued in the realm of tonal values as well with light and dark.  To top it all off, the bench was sitting between the two main elements.  I think that a bench is a universally accepted symbol of contemplation for those who sit on them.  With that, it hit me...the bench was sitting between two different ideas, light and dark, good and bad...however you want to interpret it.  Quite literally, these thoughts are colliding right at the bench.  Now how many times have you had inner arguments with yourself but weren't able to illustrate what was going on in your head.  Well, here you go!

Where Thoughts Collide in B&W
Since most of my own personal interpretation of this image was tied up in the contrasts shown in the tonal ranges, I decided to see what could be done with a black and white conversion.  While Toni doesn't really like this one, I think that it works better as a monochrome because it reduces the image down to just what I am thinking when I look at it.  This might be one of those pictures that only speaks to me, but I figured I would share it regardless.

When the light had changed, I packed the camera up and headed to the truck.  Instead of following the trail, I decided to walk through the Hutchinson Homestead for some odd reason.  I normally bypass this area and stick to the trails.  I still am not sure why I went that way, but I do know that when I entered the historic site, I saw a split rail fence that led off into the distance where the bare trees were still brightly illuminated by the setting sun. Stone Mountain was also glowing behind the trees.  While the sky wasn't all that great in this direction, I wasn't going to need to include it thanks to the large granite wall behind the trees.  I pulled the camera out once again and got things set up.  I wanted to use the fence obviously, but I was going to need more to make this an interesting image.  There were a couple of historic 19th century buildings just inside of the fence that would complete my composition.

Split Rail
One of the problems with photographing historic sites like this is, they always tend to have information kiosks set up next to every structure, and also some other things set up to prevent tampering.  As a photographer, we must make a decision as to whether to allow these "extras" into the composition, or to eliminate them.  In this situation, I gave myself no choice but to eliminate the distractions.  I tried to do it though my composition, but the end results lacked flow, and made very little sense visually.  I was, however, able to reduce one element by placing the leading element of the fence right under a protective pen for a sapling tree.  While you can still see it, the fence takes your eyes away from it so that it doesn't have the visual weight that it would have if left all alone.  That part was handled easy enough.  The other distracting elements  in the image were not so easy to deal with.

There were two different kiosks set up in front of the buildings.  They were prominent and very distracting visually.  I didn't want them in the final image, so I removed them.  I took a saw and cut them down.  It took a little bit of effort, but I think that the picture is much better for it.

Put the phone down...stop calling the park rangers.  I didn't really saw the kiosks down.  That would be wrong on every level.  Since That wasn't an option, all that was left was to break out the cloning tool in post processing and make them disappear digitally.  While I don't like doing things like that, I felt that it was a very valid option for the sake of the picture.  Some of the compositional choices were based around placing the kiosks in areas where I could clone them out without having to recreate portions of the important elements.  It worked out better than I had anticipated, and on close inspection I can't even tell where the distractions were.  the resulting image is much stronger with those elements deleted.

I might have gone to Stone Mountain to capture a waterfall, but after a good deal of walking through the woods and crossing streams, I think my favorite image was the last grab shot of the day.  It is Toni's favorite as well which means that I am probably not too far off in my appreciation of how this one turned out.  I'm thinking that she will want this one printed out and framed for the house.  This is exciting for me, because I have always enjoyed seeing my images printed in large format.  Its a nice treat when all I usually see is the 5x7" proof that I print to check for color accuracy, and sharpness.

Don't forget to drop by my different gallery rooms (links at the top of this blog) and check out all of my different photographs.  I'm building quite a collection and there should be something of interest for everyone.

Chasing the Clouds to the Blue Ridge Parkway

April 2, 2014

I haven't fallen off of the world, and I haven't given up on photography.  I know that it has been a very long time since I have written about a trek here....a full month to be exact.  Its not for lack of trying though.  You see in the month of March, we had ice storms about once a week which made travel difficult.  There was also the fact that if there wasn't ice falling from the sky, the sky was a very blank blue which I don't care much for, especially in the Winter months.  Add to that, I was still working a full time job that prevented me from going out on the few days that I would have been able to.  Actually, I was able to head out a couple of times during the month, but conditions weren't right, and my creativity was lacking on those treks.

After many frustrating days, I looked at the weather this morning and saw that we were in for another sunny, blue sky day.  While this is great for the average outdoor activities, it just won't cut it for photography.  I started to check different locations with the same outcome.  When I clicked over to the area of Boone, I saw building clouds starting at about 4pm.  Hmmmm, this might be the break that I was hoping for!  I made the quick decision to head out to the mountains for an afternoon trek, and hopefully ending up with a sunset in the mountains.  I loaded my gear up in the truck after making a quick check of everything since the camera had been asleep for a full month.  By 1:30, I was on the road headed West.

As I was traveling to the mountains, I was starting to see some clouds...even earlier than was forecasted.  I started to get all excited, which was a nice change of pace from my last two attempts where I found myself more frustrated than anything.  I started to think about what I was going to photograph along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Honestly, I just wasn't sure what I would find.  I was relatively familiar with the area I was going to be in today (Between US421 and Rough Ridge), and knew that there were a lot of different opportunities along those miles.  I decided to wing it and just see where the clouds took me.

When I first arrived at the Parkway, I turned to the South (my only choice due to road closures) and found an overlook that I have passed countless times before.  It happens to be the location of my first trek to the Blue Ridge Parkway back in 2005.  I could see some clouds in the area, and the sun was in the right location so I decided to stop and give it a go.  I was hoping that this would jump start my creativity as it had in 2005 when I first set up a camera here.  I found myself drawn to the same hill as I was back then, only this time there was one less tree standing.  I worked a couple of different angles until I got what I thought was the best composition I could create with what I had.

The Hill
The Hill in B&W
What I love the best about this particular location is the red gate which has been the focal point of many of my compositions here.  I have a soft spot for these old metal gates which seem to be everywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Fortunately, the grass is starting to get green again, which makes the red really pop and stand out.  The composition here was rather simple, and reminded me of what I had shot so many years ago.  I decided to try a slightly different angle and see if I could incorporate the old gate under some better clouds.  I went to the left of the gate and pointed my camera due South and found a couple of more interesting compositions from this side.

The Weathered Gate

The Weathered Gate in B&W
I was starting to feel much better about photography again after having so much frustration in the field.  I was starting to make images again.  I wasn't quite as fluid as I was hoping that I would be, but after a month away from it, there was a slight learning curve that I had to go through.  I managed to get up to speed rather quickly though.  The lighting really helped, as it was very even, and required very little tweaking from the camera.  In fact, I only used a polarizing filter for these shots attached to my 24-70mm lens.  The slight adjustment in contrast to the sky was enough to make for very good exposures without any additional filter tricks.

After I had worked the scene to my satisfaction, I decided to move on and see what else I could find.  After working the fence with the old gate, I was geared to looking for more fences along the Parkway.  Fortunately for me, this is something that the Parkway has in abundance.  It wasn't long before I spotted another fence which I had never photographed before.  It caught my eye because of how the light was falling on the trees and there were three lone trees which were standing out from the crowd.  This was worth getting the camera out for and seeing what I could do with it.

The Tree of Us

The Tree of Us in B&W
Not only were the trees a good focal point for the camera, the clouds were really rolling in and from some angles they looked almost ominous.  I chose to get that view first and foremost. I isolated the trees using my 24-70mm with the polarizer still attached.  I was able to get some very good contrast in the clouds with this combination, and as with the lighting before, I needed no other filters to make a very even exposure.  Yeah, I was having fun by this point.  I was happy with the isolated image, but wanted to see what I could do with the fence as well...you know I am a sucker for those things!

Change is in the Air

Change is in the Air in B&W
I found that the fence gave a completely different feel to the scene than the trees alone had.  The sweeping flow of the fence line made for an excellent leading line into the image, and the reddish dormant vegetation along the left side of the fence added a very nice color contrast to the scene and helped to give it a sense of depth.  The clouds were another very important part of this composition and because even more pronounced in the monochrome example.  I tell you what....clouds are worth chasing when you are a photographer.  they are as important, if not more so than the sun itself.  They change the intensity of the sun, as well as provide some much needed visual drama to a scene.

I stuck around and tried several different variations of this scene until I decided that I had about all I could manage from it.  It was time to move on down the road and see what else I could find to aim my camera at.  It took a little bit of driving this time because the clouds were in some very specific places in the sky.  I drove back and forth over a few sections in an attempt to find a landscape to put under a patch of clouds that really caught my eye.  I was unsuccessful in that endeavor, and the clouds broke up after about 30 minutes.

There was a barn near Price Park that caught my eye.  I have photographed this barn on a few occasions before, and have found it to be a really good composition when the yellow flowers start popping up around the fence.  Those flowers were not there today, but the sun was in the perfect position to illuminate the barn, and with the green coming back into the grass, I thought that this would be a good time to give it another frame or two.

Little Red Barn
The interesting thing about this barn is that it is about twice as high as it appears.  It is built well below the level of the field that I am shooting it from.  To get on the level of the barn would mean trespassing on the other side of a gate and fence, which I choose to not do.  The brilliant red color of the barn helps to offset the fact that I'm only able to capture the top portion of it.  As you can see, there are not near as many clouds in the frame.  While I will always welcome a dramatic sky, the colors in this image are hard to beat.  Overall, the image appears rather neutral thanks to the large portion of green which anchors the very warm red tones, and the cool blue of the sky.  There are just enough clouds in the sky to make it pop...and that was the part that was the hardest to capture with this image.  I had to wait for that time when the sun was lighting up the barn and the field, while there were clouds in the field of view of the lens.  It was a game of chance, and a test of my patience...but it paid off in the end.

One of the little tricks that I learned about photography years ago when I got started was that I should always look behind me and to the sides when I am working a subject.  Often times, you get tunnel vision with the first thing that you see and that can cause you to miss an opportunity which is right under your nose.  This was one of those times.  When I was satisfied that I had enough examples of the barn that I should be able to choose a really good one, I started to look around.  What did I find you ask?  I found another lone tree with a fence.  The problem with this was it was a good ways away beyond another fence.  I was going to need some long reaching glass for this tree, but the sky was too good to pass up.


Defiant in B&W
As with the barn, this tree became a waiting game as well.  The sun was behind a very thick patch of clouds and would only peak out every few minutes for a brief second or two.  I knew that I had to get set up quickly and be prepared to click the button when the sun shined through.  I swapped out lenses and fit my 70-200mm which was racked out to nearly 200mm to get the framing of this shot.  I went ahead and set my exposure for the clouds knowing that they would be a constant.  When I was dialing in the exposure, the ground and tree were well in the shadows and had very little detail or color.  I didn't want to fit an ND Grad filter to balance the exposure because I knew that when the sun hit, the exposure would be nearly perfect the way I had it set up.  I waited and I waited.  every so often I would release the shutter as the light changed just in case that was the best I could get.  After about 35 minutes of waiting (I saw the same cyclist pass me three times), the clouds moved out of the sun's way, and bathed the tree and field with daylight.  It happened to be at that perfect moment when the clouds above the tree were at their most dramatic.  My patience had paid off in spades.  Between the barn and the tree, I had spent about an hour and a half on this stretch of road.  It was time to move on...plus it was getting close to sunset time.

I had high hopes for a good sunset since the clouds seemed to be the most interesting in the Western half of the sky.  If I could just get lucky enough to have the sun dip below them and illuminate them from the bottom I would be able to capture some stunning color.  I just needed to find a place where I could showcase that color to the fullest.  I had planned on going to Thunder Hill Overlook which I had worked several sunsets from before.  I knew what elements I would need to include to make an interesting composition, and it would make for quick work setting things up.  The only problem with that plan...It would seem that everyone driving on the Parkway had gotten the memo that this was the place to view the sunset from.  There were about a dozen cars in the parking area and there were people sitting on the rock that I was hoping to use as the foreground interest.  This wasn't going to work at all.  Fortunately, I had seen an interesting view about a half mile South of the overlook.  I quickly went back there knowing that I was running out of time before the light show was going to start.

I was looking at the scene with both human eyes and the eyes of a photographer.  You see, our eyes have a much wider exposure latitude than a camera does.  I could see all the detail in the landscape as well as the colors in the sky.  I knew though, how the camera would perceive the image.  To document that fact, I snapped this shot with my phone and it does a pretty good job at showing what a camera is capable of picking up.  So, how did I expect to capture the image that I was seeing before my human eyes?  Simple, I was going to have to use filters of some sort to help control my exposure.  I could also take several different images and merge them together in post processing...but for my photography, that is cheating and I choose not to do that.  I much prefer to use filters at the time of the capture.

Here you see what I was seeing after fitting a Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse ND Grad filter.  This filter is specifically designed for capturing sunrises and sunsets.  Half of the filter is clear, while the other half is a neutral gray.  Unlike my other ND Grad filters, it is darkest at the dividing line, and then tapers off to very light by the top.  The logic here is that the brightest part of the scene is likely going to be right at the horizon where the sun is, but you don't want the top of the sky to render as dark which is what happens with a typical ND Grad.  My reverse grad was the only filter that I needed attached to my 24-70mm to render the scene just as I previsualized it.  As you can see from the histogram, I am able to get a complete range of tones with only the sun blowing out, which is perfectly acceptable for this image.

Peace in the Valley
By using a very small aperture, I was able to get sun rays coming over the trees.  I used that aperture in hopes that I would see this effect.  Its not a guarantee that it will happen, but it just turned out that the situation was right for the rays to develop.  Unfortunately, I had a little bit of lens flare that showed up near the sun due to its intensity.  I was able to clone the spots out in post processing without any difficulty.  While I don't usually like to do things like that, I felt that the image was strong enough to justify a little digital cleaning.  The beauty of the Singh-Ray filter is that even though I am shooting fully into the sun, I was still able to capture plenty of detail in the landscape, and was able to do it with a single exposure.

The sunset that I was hoping for did not materialize unfortunately.  The clouds continued to move towards the sun, eventually covering it and blocking it at the horizon.  While I would have loved to have seen an explosion of color over this valley, I have to say I am rather pleased with how this image turned out.  It was fun getting to use the reverse grad again since it is a relatively new filter in my collection.  I'm really starting to see the benefits from it every time I use it.

With the sun down, it was time to head home and start the processing of the images.  As you can see, I have a bunch of these images which have been rendered as monochrome.  Sometimes it just works out that the compositions work just as well without the aid of color.  There is a certain classy appeal to a black and white image, and I'm always happy when I shoot a strong enough image that it will work without color.  With 12 images added to my portfolio, I think this might be the most successful trek that I have taken this year.  I'm really glad that I decided to chase the clouds, and will continue to do just that when it comes to when and where I decide to shoot.