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.



  2. I love the descriptions and explanations, it's so natural and easily understood that I follow right along and understand! Your photography is well thought out, even for a last minute shot-Great images!