A Truck and a Tractor

May 28, 2014

Honeysuckle and Dew
There are times that I look back on things and all I can do is shake my head and wonder.  I had one of those experiences related to this trek.  It all started yesterday when I reached out to a friend of mine who has ridden in the annual Tour to Tanglewood with me in the past.  Since I was not going to be riding this year, I wanted to make sure that she was still planning on riding so I could make a donation.  While talking to her she complimented my photography and added "I think of you every time I drive out on our land we're building the house on, we have an old 59 Chevy truck and an old 58 Chevy truck."

Wait a minute.........

What's that???????

You have old trucks on your property??????

Uhhhhhhh, can I get a location and permission?

Of course, she was happy to let me know where the trucks were.  She said that one was under a tarp deep in the property and the other one was about 75 feet from a utility right of way.  I looked at things on Google Maps and figured out that I would have a pretty good chance at photographing the truck that wasn't under cover in the early morning light.  As it turned out, the conditions would be decent the very next day.

I was familiar with the area as I used to ride my bike on the road I was heading to several times a month.  I couldn't place the exact location I was going to, but knew that I had passed it many times on the bike, and quite a few more times driving (most of which looking for subjects to photograph).  I didn't know how far I was going to have to go off of the main road to get to the truck, but I had a good idea where to look, and the morning lighting was nearly perfect!  It was going to be a good day!

I got close to the area and as I passed through looking for a place to park my truck I saw the blue Chevy sitting in the tree line, visible from the road!  How in the world had I missed this?  In fact I was just out here a few days ago looking for barns.  There was a nice gravel construction entrance leading right to the truck so parking was not an issue at all.  I got out and built up my camera.  Since I have become rather fond of the wide angle shots with these old vehicles, I decided to leave my walkaround 24-70mm lens attached and added a polarizer to control any glare on the truck.

When I first started shooting, the light was a little splotchy because of the trees at my back, but it was nice and warm and the truck couldn't have been positioned more perfectly to catch the morning light.  I made use of the shadows at first and composed the shot above to give a visual balance between the light grille and the dark trees.  These white grills are always difficult to photograph when the sun is shining on them, but with the shadows falling on the grill, it all worked out perfectly.

Baby Blue
While the sun was doing some odd things through the trees, I decided to work on some up close and intimate shots.  I'm always a big fan of the light blue that so many cars in the 50's were painted.  It looks so nice when paired with the inevitable surface rust that appears 60 years later.  I wanted to capture just that color combination along with the intact badging on this Apache.  The bent front bumper was a visual bonus that helps to define the shot.

Sweating it Out
I moved around to the front of the truck since the chrome hood emblem was in such good shape.  I framed up a shot that captured that as well as the interesting patterns of rust and morning dew.  I used the inner headlights to frame the shot, and included the entire cab as well.  Originally I wasn't really happy that the truck was missing the windshield, but I don't think that this particular shot would have worked out nearly as well with the curved glass in place.  It was a nice treat to see the interior in such clarity.  The title here came from the appearance of the dew on the hood mainly.  When I paired that with the knowledge that this was a parts truck, I could see the truck actually being worried about what was going to happen to it next.  Coupled with the sweat that was pouring off of my forehead in the high humidity of the morning, it all just came together and made perfect sense.

Fading Heartbeat
While I was working on the detail shot of the hood, I started to see some potential  for a full on, squared up, front view shot.  I backed up and tried it that way, but there wasn't the feeling that I was hoping for at all.  I decided to flip the camera over into portrait mode and recompose the shot.  This was what I was looking for!  This shot has a completely different feeling to it compared to the close in shot.  Here, you can appreciate the straight body panels, and clean lines.  It is relatively complete in this shot, and there is more of a sense of potential here.  Obviously, this is far from an operable vehicle, but that Heartbeat of America still Pulses.

Eclipsed by Progress
I'm not sure what happened here.  I usually would never consider a shot like this.  I hate power lines, I hate contrails, and the lighting is a little harsh from this angle.  Despite all of that, I did set the camera up and worked out a composition that not only included the power lines, but embraced them.  There were multiple contrails in the sky that were brought out even more with the use of the polarizer.  When I look at my typical formulas for my shots, I would have never released the shutter, and certainly would have never let it pass by 3 different culling runs through the pictures.  However, there was just something about this view that resonated with me, and I wanted to work the negative into a finished print.

As I was working the photo, I realized what had hit me about this picture and why I was putting so much importance into it.  The two things that I don't particularly care for in a picture were representing modern technology, and progress.  The truck obviously represented a simpler time in life which was where the juxtaposition comes in.  With the lighting, it all came together.  Everything new was in full light, and easy to see, while the majority of the truck had fallen into the shadows.  The only thing that was left fully visible was the well worn face of this American Icon.

After deciding that the lighting was getting a bit too harsh to work with on the truck I decided to go deeper back into the property to check out the other truck that was supposed to be under a tarp.  This was the truck that was going to be restored, and had a deep meaning to the owner.  I was quite excited about the possibility of shooting this truck some day and wanted to get a sneak peak.  As I walked down the long construction driveway I found the house that was getting built, but couldn't find any more old trucks.  Well, its not often that I get free reign to just walk around and explore, so I took advantage of it and kept on going beyond the house.  I found, not a truck, but an old silver Ford tractor.  It was the right era, and in the right state for me photographically, but the color did nothing at all for me.  Just beyond the tractor, I could see some things in the wood line, and based on the shape, one of those items was the missing red truck.  It was completely covered so I wasn't able to get that sneak peak I was hoping for which was a little disappointing.  However, the sky was looking rather pretty over the trees, and I did have that old tractor sitting there with weeds growing up through the mechanicals.  I decided it was worth another look.

But Not Forgotten
It was positioned in such a way that the rear and right flank were bathed in the early morning sun, but not the front.  I tried to make a composition from the well lit corner, but it was boring, and just lacked the visual drama that I thought the image needed to offset the silver paint.  I continued to walk around and saw that the light wasn't so harsh that the grill was not visible, just shaded.  I figured I would do a grab shot just so I could say I tried.  I started to frame it and decided that this one really needed a portrait orientation so I flipped the camera and dialed in the polarizer to reduce the glare off of the hood.  As I was setting things up, I noticed the plastic bottle over the exhaust stack.  Obviously, this tractor was being used as a drying rack for dishes now....

Nope, that bottle was there to keep the rain out of the exhaust and engine.  My first thought was to remove it for the picture (and return it afterwards, of course).  I even started to walk that way, but the little voice inside of my head that prompts me to photograph things as I find them without any manipulations started to scream at me.  I was torn because this was not trash that I could remove guilt free, this was actually a part of the scene as dictated by the owner of the tractor.  It also showed in intention to fire this old tractor up again someday...maybe soon.  All of a sudden, the scene made sense to me, and this became a very important piece.  The weeds and rust told one story, but that simple plastic bottle told another one entirely.  The tractor was neglected, and left out in the elements, but it wasn't entirely forgotten either.  That bottle was the hinge pin of the story behind this picture that led me to the emotion it evoked.  The bottle was important, and it was going to stay right where it was!

Ironically, the harsh light also provided a bit of visual tension to the image that added some much needed drama to a color that had very little punch.  It was still a grab shot, but when I saw it on the monitor when I got home, my pulse quickened, and I found myself getting very excited over what I was seeing.  To me, this was a very powerful image, and after all the ink was applied to the proof paper, this turned out to be my favorite from the day!  And it wasn't even the reason I drove out here today.

When I was finished with the tractor, I figured that it was time to call it a day.  I walked back out to my truck and started to put my camera up.  I made one last look at the Chevy before I pulled the camera off of the tripod though.  What I saw was, even though the sun was well up in the sky now, the Chevy was very well lit and the quality of the light appeared to just as good as it was earlier.  Having had some difficulty getting a close in wide angle shot due to my own shadow in the frame, I thought I might have better luck now that the sun was higher, so I went back and gave it another try.

Memory Maker
I was able to get to rather wide setting on my lens without getting myself in the frame this time.  The light was still very warm, but I played with the white balance settings a little bit to add what would be the equivalent of a warming filter.  The colors started to pop at that point, and I could tell that I made the right choice about coming back to do some more work on this truck.  I fired off a few frames so I was sure and got the proper exposure since I was working with that white grill in direct sunlight.

Just Off the Beaten Path
After having a bit of good luck with high contrast scenes, I decided to switch things up a little bit.  I moved to the right rear of the truck and kept the wide angle view on my lens.  I was almost shooting into the sun, but I knew that the Canon 5DM3 could resolve quite a bit of exposure latitude when pushed.  I was going to push it with this picture.  I only took one frame and exposed the histogram all the way to the right without clipping the highlights except for the extreme highlights.  This left the shadows exposed a little bit better, and since I was shooting RAW, I was going to be able to pull some more detail out of the shadow areas in post processing.  This turned into a very dramatic image with the bed length being exaggerated visually.  The truck almost leaps off of the page heading to the driveway in the distance.

All in all, I shot 60 frames in about an hour and a half worth of work.  After culling them down, I was surprised to have a total of eight images that I think were significant from the morning, and stood on their own.  Of course, I am still just tickled about finding that old tractor, and that I had the foresight to try and shoot it when my first response was lackluster at best.  Even a trained photographic eye can miss things at first sight.  fortunately, my mind was thinking beyond what my eyes were seeing with several of these shots.

Now, how in the world have I missed this location for so long???  I really want to know!

A Couple of Heavy Duty Fords

May 25, 2014

Toni loves tow trucks, and I love to photograph old vehicles, so when I came across an old tow truck tucked into the side of a barn I knew that I was going to have to photograph it at some point.  I have been by the location several times, but have never found anyone at home.  Since the barn is well within the property line, I didn't feel comfortable going close enough to get the pictures I was wanting without first getting permission.  This afternoon, I ended up alone at the house with Toni at work, and Sierra at my Mom's.  I was getting a little tired from my constant trekking, but hated to waste the opportunity to go without feeling like I was running out on the family.  So, I loaded up my gear and set out on a trek, figuring that I would try to make contact with the owners of the old tow truck.

I drove around for a little while looking for something interesting, but nothing was speaking to me.  The clouds were starting to clear and I was seeing that I was going to have very little luck driving around without a plan.  I decided that I would go by the house with the old truck and see if anyone was home today.  It was kind of a last ditch effort before going home to get some dinner.

When I arrived, I found a different car parked in the driveway and thought that I might just get lucky after all.  I went up to the front door and rang the bell.  As I waited, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as a gentleman rounded the corner of the house.  I was having flashbacks from a very similar experience a couple of weeks ago.  Fortunately, I saw no firearms, and I was able to strike up a friendly conversation.  After figuring out that our paths had actually crossed some 20 years ago, and catching up with the events from a company I worked for back then, I was given permission to shoot as much as I wanted.  Unfortunately, the sun was in the wrong position in the sky (I had estimated it all wrong apparently), and with the clouds leaving, I was going to have a very hard time working it out.

I was happy enough that I had permission finally that I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a go.  In addition to the old tow truck, there was also an old Ford flatbed truck which caught my eye.  Behind the barn with the two trucks there was another one with several VW Bugs and the cab from another old pickup.  I was having a blast and I hadn't even turned the camera on yet.

Heavy Duty Ford
Now that I was able to get up close and personal with these trucks, I started to really see the difficulties I was going to be facing with their locations.  I much prefer my subjects being uncovered and out in a field or in a wood line.  The tow truck was under a supported overhang and the upright supports were going to get included in any composition that showed the truck as a whole.  In addition, most angles included the opening at the rear of the truck which was where the sun was.  Yeah, I was going to have to think this through in order to get pictures that I could use.  The first shot that I set up used the front upright to help frame the front of the truck, with the angled wood, and brick fascia boarding it on the right.  Fortunately, the exposure worked out OK when a few light clouds passed overhead.  I was happy with this composition, but it didn't show the most important part of the truck...the tow bed.  That was what I wanted to get for Toni, but the light was just too harsh right now for that.  I decided to go and see what I could do with the other truck while the sun moved closer to the horizon.

Ford Flatbed
 The lighting was much better here since it was out in the open, but lighting wasn't the whole story here.  The brick fascia that was all but pealed off from the other side was still hanging on this side of the barn.  Red is a powerful color in photography and should be used carefully.  The truck itself was black from what I could tell based on the remaining paint.  This was not a great color for me, but it helped to tone down the red.  The other barn behind the truck actually helped me out a great deal here because it gave some much needed visual weight to the right half of the frame which would have been rather empty with just a flatbed and trees being matched up against the red brick fascia.

Ford Flatbed in B&W
While processing this picture I started to wonder what it would look like in monochrome so I made the conversion and started to play with the tonal values.  I found that I was able to reduce the visual impact of the wall, and use it to make the truck pop out of the photograph.  There is also a very distinct feel of age to this version as well that I have to admit that I like.

While I was working this flatbed, I couldn't help but notice a rather new red barn at the other side of the property.  While I normally don't do much photographing of newer barns, I thought that this one would be a very interesting addition to a composition.  The sunlight was still shining pretty bright from the rear of the trucks, and the shadows were getting longer and longer.  Instead of avoiding them, I decided to try to incorporate them in a few compositions.  While working from this angle, I started to become very aware of the breeze that was blowing stronger and stronger.  Just like with the sunlight, I decided to embrace the movement of the weeds as well.  I selected a narrow aperture which helped to keep everything in focus, but also forced a slower shutter speed, thus blurring the weeds.  I got some highlights on the truck from the sun, but I think overall it makes for a fairly powerful image.

A Much Needed Rest
I probably spent the most time on this composition because I was having to wait for the perfect blend of sun and breeze to make it work the way I was envisioning it.  Its never easy being at the mercy of the existing conditions, but that is part of the game that the landscape photographer has to play.  Fortunately, there are no rules, only recommendations when it comes to the perfect light requirements and sometimes going against those recommendations provides some pretty stunning images.

The light was starting to fade, so that meant that it was about time to try my hand at the tow truck once again.  When I got to the other side of the barn I could see that the light was not as harsh as it had been, and I started to think that I could get a few compositions of the whole truck for once.  This was what I really wanted for Toni, and I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to make it happen today.

On Call
On Call in B&W
The lower sun and the clouds were really helping out now.  I was able to get detail everywhere I wanted it, and the textures really made for a fun picture.  Even though the closeup shot of the cab showed plenty of strength, it wasn't until I was able to include the working part of this truck that the story was complete.  I would have liked it better if the canopy and the supports weren't there, but I learned a long time ago, I have to embrace what I have available.  Since I was able to include the tin roof, the uprights make visual sense, and everything pulls together nicely.

OK, I had gotten pictures of both of the trucks.  I had looked at the Bugs in the rear barn but was unable to find anything that really excited me about them.  I was thinking that I was done, but with the harsh sunlight, I wasn't overly sure just what I had, so I wanted to try some other things before I left to make sure that I had gotten everything I could possibly get.  It was time to shoot abstracts!  The flatbed wasn't going to be a good candidate for abstracts though since its primary color is black.  There just wasn't enough visual pop there to make it interesting.  The tow truck, on the other hand had a lot of potential in the grill area, and that was what I focused on.

Ancient Curves
There were just so many colors, textures, and lines that the front of this truck seemed to carry the entire personality.  It was only fitting that I give it some attention.  There was a lot to work with here, and I really needed hone in on what was the most fascinating.  I liked the small vents under the Ford nameplate, and I also liked the V8 badge with the grill insert below.  I thought that they both made some excellent subjects and that was exactly what I focused on.

Time Honored Style
Symmetry was going to be the recipe for these abstracts, but with a slight twist.  I still wanted to keep visual tension here to keep the eyes moving around.  I was able to incorporate both strong horizontal aspects as well as some very subtle verticals.  The V8 emblems quite literally points to the centerline of the middle grill element, effectively bisecting the image.  The edges mirror that vertical element.  Bringing unison to the piece is some smaller verticals in the upper area of the grill which draw the eye from the main horizontal element.  It all just came together!

Graffiti of Time
In the area of abstract art, just about anything goes.  I took that to extremes with this shot.  It was all about the Ford and V8 emblems on the background of flaked paint, rust, and faded company logos.  As I was processing it, I decided to go over the top and cross process the image which is a technique used back in the film days when you used the wrong chemicals on purpose to develop your print.  The resulting colors were very vivid, and the elements all took on lives of their own.  When I looked at this version, the first thing that came to mind was years of graffiti on a wall.  My next thought was that time had done this to the front of the truck, and time had in essence perpetrated a vandalism.  The title was set at that point, and what might have been my favorite image from the day was now complete.

With about 100 frames taken in about an hour and a half, I was fully expecting to have only about 3-5 workable images due to the lighting conditions.  Oddly enough, when I was all done with the culling and processing, the nine images that are here represent just under a 10% hit rate.  I have to say, I am very happy with that crop!

First it Rains, Then Nothing But Sun

May 22, 2014

Ever get that feeling that the universe is against you?  Ever find yourself trying something over and over without success?  I'm really starting to feel that way about working waterfalls these days.  I've been trying to get to both Linville Falls and Roaring Fork Falls for some time now because they are two of my favorite falls to visit.  Since the early Spring, I have been watching the weather and trying to figure out the best time to get out there.  For the most part, the cloudy days come after too long with no rain, and both of these waterfalls benefit greatly from increased water flow.  The few times when it appeared that everything fell into place, I was at work which meant there was no way I could get out there (its over a two hour drive away).  It just wasn't looking promising at all.

Last week, on my last day off, I saw a window where I might be able to grab a quick session with both of these waterfalls.  The forecast was calling for storms and rain for much of the day, but as I was looking, there appeared to be some clearing shortly after lunch where I could stay dry and make use of the residual cloud cover.  I grabbed my stuff and headed out just before lunch.  Much of the ride out there was in the rain, but the intensity was ebbing so I kept thinking positive thought.  In the last few miles of the ride, the rain started back up with a purpose though.  When I arrived in the parking lot, I chose to stay dry in the truck and hoped that it would pass.

I checked my phone and saw that the edge of the rain looked like it was over me based on the radar image.  However, the hourly showed rain for the next hour before clearing.  I had driven over 2 hours to get here...I opted to stick it out.  As the hour ticked by, the hourly forecast kept stretching the rain further out, until eventually there was no respite from the downpours in the near future.  With tail firmly tucked between my legs I started the truck and headed home without even opening the door.

I had unfinished business with the waterfalls, and I had been watching the weather yet again.  With rain in the forecast off and on yesterday, the water levels should be up, and there was approximately 75% cloud cover forecasted for both Linville Falls and Little Switzerland.  With the rain chances in the single digits, this was going to by my day!  I made plans to leave shortly after daybreak to time my arrival with the clouds around 9am.  I was a little bit late leaving because I was seeing some changes in the forecast, and Toni was telling me that there was a chance of rain now.  Despite this, I opted to give it a try since the extended forecast showed no more promising days for a very long time.

When I left, the sky was fairly clear, but I could see clouds in the distance.  That was falling right along with what the forecasts were telling me was going to happen.  I was very optimistic, and excited about getting out to see my waterfalls again after many years.  I stopped in Wilkesboro to get gas, and happened to see a couple of old pickup trucks which were parked right off of US 421 showing to be for sale.  They were the right body styles for what I liked to photograph, but one of them was spray painted black, and they were parked very close together.  I had other things to focus on right now so I didn't even stop to look any closer.

When I arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway, I started to see rain drops hitting the windshield.  There were sporadic and I've worked in worse.  The main thing was I was seeing the cloud cover that was going to provide my diffused lighting that I was wanting for the two waterfalls.  The further South I traveled though, the more rain was falling, and the more foreboding the clouds were becoming.  I was starting to cuss under my breath and thinking that I should have just stayed home since this was turning into a repeat of last week.

About 10 miles before getting to Linville Falls the rain stopped and the clouds thinned just a little bit.  This was going to be perfect!  I had gambled and it had paid off!!

Don't cash out your chips before the dice finish rolling....

When I parked in the visitor center parking lot, I realized that it was awful bright.  I stepped out of my truck and took a look at the situation.  The sun was blazing through an opening in the clouds, but it looked like there were more clouds about to move into position under the sun.  I took a deep breath and grabbed my equipment for the short hike to Dugger's Creek Falls.  The clouds moved into position and everything started to come together for me.  I shimmied down to the actual water below the observation bridge and started to build my camera.  From experience, I knew that my 24-70mm would be sufficient to capture the composition I was after.  I added both a polarizer and my vario-ND filter.  I then waded out into the water and found my composition.  Unfortunately, my shooting location was dictated in part by the water level.  While it was nearly perfect for the waterfall, the actual creek was pretty deep where I liked to shoot from.

Serenity Cove
When I settled on a location, I set the camera up and framed my shot.  I managed to get a test shot for exposure before the cloud cover moved away.  All of a sudden the leaves started to glow with reflected light from the bright sun above.  I figured that I would just have to wait a little bit for the next batch of clouds to move into position.  Fortunately, my exposure was just about dead on, and the shutter speed was perfect for how I wanted to render the water.  Over the next 30 minutes I fired off another half dozen frames as the light changed, but couldn't get anything nearly as glare free as my first exposure.  Seeing that the sun was going to be a problem, I decided to change gears a little bit.  I would get in a bit closer and shoot a more intimate composition.  The problem was, I was at 70mm on my lens, and as far forward as I could get without fully submersing myself.  Fortunately, I had my trusty telezoom with me and that would give me the reach that I needed.

Hope Springs Eternal
I worked my way out of the water, back to shore.  I swapped out my lens for the 70-200mm and swapped the filters onto the front element.  I then waded back out into the water, only stepped back a little bit from where I was.  I got a little bit lower than I had been, and went for a portrait orientation with the lens at about 90mm.  Then it was a waiting game for the sun.  I looked up, and for the little bit of sky I could see, I was doubtful I would get a break from the harsh light.  I stood there, in the water for another 30 minutes waiting.  Either I was deeper than I though, or the Gortex gave up in my boots because the water found a way into my boots while I was standing there.  Nothing like cold mountain water swishing around thick hiking socks!

The waiting did pay off though as I managed to see the sun fading in time to turn the camera back on, fine tune the exposure, and crank off a quick frame.  Just like that, it was over.  Looking up, all I saw was blue sky.  Having gotten two different compositions from this waterfall, I decided it was time to pack things up and head back to the truck to assess the situation.  The barrage of sap that was now falling on me also prompted that same decision.

When I arrived in the parking lot, there was not a cloud in sight.  So much for 75% cloud cover in the area.  This was just no good at all.  Roaring Fork Falls is very unforgiving of directly light.  It was about 30 miles to the South, and I wasn't seeing any clouds in the distance.  I tried to access the weather on my phone, but I didn't have any service this time, so there was no way to check on the weather.  Not wanting to push my luck, I opted to forego Roaring Fork and save it for another time when I was assured some clouds.  It was time to bow out gracefully (well, not so gracefully because I wasn't sure I had anything usable), and start home while looking for other targets of opportunity.

There was not a cloud to be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and nothing all the way down the mountain.  I was pretty sure I was headed home with 11 frames from one waterfall and doubted that any of them would be good enough to keep.  Chalk this one up to another trek where I come home with my tail between my legs in defeat.  I'm not liking this habit one bit!

Cash Only
I was coming back into Wilkesboro and figured that I would check out the old trucks I had seen on the way up.  I mean, what did I have to lose.  If I couldn't do anything with them, I wasn't out anything but a few minutes of time.  I came to the lot where they were, and they were still there, and nobody was around.  I really liked the rusty truck, but the black one beside of it was a distraction I thought.  As I got closer, I was able to see that it was freshly rattle canned as the overspray on the windows showed.  It was a really cool bodystyle, but the paint just didn't quite fit my want.  The Chevy on the other hand was very cool with a wonderful patina along with multiple company logos on the door.  I decided to give these old trucks a go.

I tried very hard to isolate the Chevy from the Ford, and was able to do that rather well.  The problem though was the power lines above that came into the frame based on my composition.  I was going to have either power lines or a satin black Ford in the picture.  Since I can't stand power lines in pictures, I opted for the Ford.  At least the black color was subdued and didn't carry much visual weight when paired with the other colors in the scene.

Looking Through the Lens of History
I really liked so many aspects of this old Chevy, but the lighting conditions, and the Ford next to it really hampered my compositional choices.  There was more of this old truck I wanted to capture, but I just wasn't able to get it all while working the whole truck.  That is when Ton's voice entered my head.  She told me to pick out the details, and work the truck as an abstract.  Its nice that she can give me ideas when she is getting ready to go to work some 45 miles away.  I started to move around the truck to pick out the details that spoke to me.  I was actually surprised at how many of those details started to pop out at me.

Jack of All Trades
One of the things that initially caught my eye was the door on this old truck.  I could tell from the road that there was some sort of faded company logo painted on there.  It was only after looking a bit closer that I determined that there were several layers of logos on that door.  How cool was that?!?!?!  In addition to the door, I also really liked the spare tire holder, but I can't really explain why.  Fortunately, I was able to capture both elements together while also showing the stepside to give a visual clue as to what we are looking at.  The various colors that were present were just the icing on the cake, and I had a blast with post processing on this abstract art piece.

Used and Abused
I'm a sucker for flaking paint, Bondo, and rust...providing none of the above is found on my personal vehicle.  The rear fender of this old Chevy had every bit of what I like to find on these old vehicles, and it was there on one of the most well formed bedsides I've seen.  The curves were just wonderful, and they lead up to the curves of the cab and front fender.  These old trucks were works of art in their day, that's fur sure!  I wanted to highlight this view, and I got down low, and waited for a thin passing cloud to pass by to diffuse the light.  I snapped the picture very quick, and loved everything about how it was rendered.  I even liked the added design element of the snow tire on the back wheel.  This goes to show a little about the truck's history.

Age Old Debate
With all my abstract pictures done, I did a quick walk around to see if there was anything I had missed.  When I stepped back and looked at the trucks from the rear, I could just about see them lined up for a Saturday night drag race.  Of course, if they were to do that, I'm sure something would fall off of them before 2nd gear was grabbed...But I digress.  The look here spoke volumes to me.  Ford vs Chevy...how long has that debate been going on?  Which one of these two trucks would sell first with equal asking prices?  Which was better photographically?  The debate was still going on long after the engines were removed, and rust threatened the very structures of the trucks.  I don't know the answer to which one is best, but the two of them lined up together in a final showdown makes for a fascinating picture in my mind.

OK, I was starting to feel better now.  I might have something from Dugger's Creek Falls, but I was pretty sure that I had a keeper or two from the Chevy.  I was starting to get my optimism back again.  In just a few miles, I turned off of US 421 and started to snake my way East along the local roads.  I was looking behind houses and businesses for clues that I am starting to recognize when it comes to looking for these old vehicles.  I'm not sure exactly where I was, only I was in Western Yadkin County, but I passed by a metal building and caught a glimpse of a pickup and a small car to the rear.  I got turned around and drove into the gravel lot.  The front door was open, so I poked my head in and found the owners.

I introduced myself and asked if it would be OK for me to grab a few pictures of the cars out back.  One of the gentlemen stopped what he was doing and asked for what purpose I was wanting to take the pictures.  I was starting to have flashbacks of the armed property owner telling me that he didn't want me on his property.  I answered that the pictures were for my own personal purpose and that I just really enjoyed photographing old cars.  With that simple explanation he gave me permission to go around back.

Ran When Parked
When I got back there, there were only the two cars I had seen from the road, and one of them was a little two door thing that I didn't recognize.  Both of them were light colored which posed a difficult problem in the early afternoon sun.  Oh well, I was here, might as well give it a go, right?  I set up on the light blue thingamawhatsits.  It was cute, and gave me a slight comical feeling, so I figured it was worth a shot or two.  While I was waiting on the sun to get covered a little bit, I noticed that there was nothing in the engine compartment.  With that, and the fact that there were no front wheels on it, I can only assume that this car was one of those that the seller would say "ran when parked"...even though obviously its not going anywhere under its own steam.  The sun kind of cooperated with me and provided me a few seconds where I could trip the shutter and capture this little car.

Lacking Motivation
I normally try to avoid putting buildings in my compositions unless they are wooden and a bit more barnlike.  However, I really liked how the curve of the metal building played against the trees, and the deep blue sky actually had a puff or two of cloud in it.  Seeing some potential in this angle, I set up again and waited until the light was right before tripping the shutter.  Thank goodness for an intensifying polarizer to really pull out the colors in the bright sun.

Hangar Queen
There was just one other vehicle behind the building and that was the GMC stepside parked at the back corner.  I noticed many parts for this model truck inside of the business and I can only imagine that this was one of their parts trucks.  The colors weren't all that spectacular on this truck, and the rust was minimal, but something about everything as a whole begged to be photographed.  There was a complete rolling chassis just on the other side of the truck, so composition was going to be difficult.  However, I was able to get in close, and shoot at about 30mm to get the perspective that I wanted while using the truck to hide the frame on the other side.  I was able to get the front end that had not grill, and an empty engine compartment.  I also included the fact that the vegetation was growing up over the bed in the back which tells the story about how long this truck had been here.  The hints of blue behind the trees helped to bring out the teal patches of paint on a mostly faded background.  The dirty wheel and the surface rust complimented each other very nicely to boot.

After about 45 minutes here, I was getting very hot and decided it was time to get back in the A/C and call it a day.  I had a little over 65 frames from the day.  Considering the fact that nothing I was planning for panned out, I was pretty happy about that.  I wasn't too sure if any of them would come out though.  The sun had been so bright I was having a hard time reviewing the images on the LCD, other than to check the histogram.  I was conservatively hoping for three usable images when all was said and done.

Obviously, I didn't have high hopes for this happening because it was hours before I even looked through the pictures to see what I had.  Looking at the digital negatives, I was pleasantly surprised and my excitement started to build once again.  As I was putting them through post processing and converting them from the RAW format I found that I had quite a few more than I had originally thought.  Seven pictures would have been a 10% crop and I would have been absolutely thrilled with that, but instead I ended up with 10 pictures I deemed good enough to hold onto.  That is not too shabby considering how I had been viewing my progress all day long.  All I can say is, I"m glad I went, and I'm glad that I kept trying to get some more subjects in before getting home.

Dodging a Storm at Stone Mountain

May 22, 2014

It seems that I am always chasing clouds when it comes to my landscape photography.  Either I need the diffused light while working with intimate subjects or I am wanting the dramatic sky above a grand landscape.  What can I say, blue skies are boring for the most part.

I had been watching the weather for several days and keeping track of where the clouds would be.  It seemed that my best chance for some dramatic skies would be in the area of Roaring Gap on Thursday.  There was a chance of a severe thunder storm early in the morning followed by around 50% cloud cover after that.  This is usually when the best skies happen, but the tradeoff is that I tend to risk getting rained on so watching the developing weather is very important to me.  The recipe was something like this.  From 8-9am there was a good chance of storms, followed by partial clearing (this is the best time to photograph clouds) until around noon when things would finish clearing up.  Stone Mountain State Park opened up at 8am, so I figured that I would plan on getting there around 8:30 or so in order to make sure I didn't miss my window.

I checked the weather again when I got up and the forecast was pretty much the same as it had been, only with a little less cloud cover than I was hoping for.  There had been some rain recently, and the storm was still forecasted.  I went ahead and made the decision to give it a try and hopefully reap the benefits of the passing storm.  As I was driving out to the park I noticed that the sky was mostly blank white which was not good for what I was hoping for.  I was starting to think about diverting and working on some waterfall photography instead, but that would have been about an hour further down the road and from what I remembered they weren't having the same cloud cover.  I pressed on to my destination.

It was almost like an exercise in perfect timing when I arrived at the park.  The clouds were starting to get dense and there was a lot of definition in them now.  This was what I wanted, but there was no rain at 8:30 which meant that we had either missed it, or it was late.  I pulled out my phone to check the hourly so I didn't get caught out in a downpour.  Just my luck...no service at all.  I couldn't check the weather, and nothing had updated since I left the house an hour and a half ago.  I looked up, smelled outside and decided that it appeared that the rain had passed by.  Just in case, I had a poncho in my camera bag, so if I did get caught in a storm, I could at least stay dry.

I made my way down the trails quickly headed out to Wolf Rock where I had been many times before.  It is not a bad hike, but there is a lot of climbing involved so I was getting winded quickly.  The trail finally leveled out and the going got much easier and quicker.  It was at that moment that I started to feel the rain drops on my hands as I walked.  Hmmmp....this is not good.  I was almost at the top of the trail and it was about to be time to get to work.  I didn't need the rain to start now!!  The drizzle kept on going, but fortunately it wasn't enough to really concern me, as long as it didn't pick up pace.  When I finally arrived at Wolf Rock, I came out onto the granite surface and was pleased to see the sky above.  There were some great clouds and just to balance things out, there was even a good deal of blue near the horizon.  There was not much wind so I wasn't overly concerned with the clouds moving too fast, so I had time to work.

I still put the camera together quickly and started working on compositions.  For what I was after, I knew that my wide angle lens would be the glass of choice.  My 16-35mm allowed me to emphasize the foreground while including a good bit of the sky above.  It is my grand landscape lens and it does remarkably well with almost a 180* field of view.  I went ahead and fit my Lee System filter holder on the front and skipped the polarizer (not a great choice with wide angle).  I was planning on putting my ND grads to good use today to bring in the exposure of the sky, balancing it with the foreground.

Island of Resolve
One of the best things about Stone Mountain is the terrain.  I have always wanted to photograph the bare landscape of the West Coast mountains, but that is far from a day trip for me.  Stone Mountain gives me that opportunity to work with a bare granite surface, or a bald if you like.  There is more to it than that though.  This park offers lots of little tidbits that can be used for foreground anchors, and there are lots of leading lines from the runoff stains along the surface.  In short, there is a lot to work with up here!  That is always a very good thing when you are taking into consideration that you never know in which direction the interesting sky will appear.  Today, I found myself shooting in just about every direction, except due East.  The landscape was very forgiving of my need to change directions depending on where the sky was the most interesting.

I spent about an hour on Wolf Rock finding things that interested me, that I could place under the clouds.  There were quite a few things there that I had not had the opportunity to shoot before, and several objects that I have photographed several times before.  I always enjoy working the trees, but this time I found myself gravitating towards lots of moss and small vegetation which stayed well below the horizon.  When the sky is good, that really is all you need above the horizon.

Staying Grounded
The storm never did hit, but the clouds were indicative of that storm.  Fortunately, I was able to stay dry and benefit from the spectacular textures and colors brought on by the front.  In the picture above, there was a hint of yellow in the sky in the distance because of how the sun was being diffused at my back with some higher clouds.  Those higher clouds became visible when the low storm clouds stopped near the horizon.  While this was shot nearly three hours after sunrise, the way the lighting was playing tricks, it appears as though we are much closer to the beginning of the day.

Not wanting to forfeit any other locations, I decided to pack things up and leave Wolf Rock having shot what I felt was the best compositions available.  I continued on the trail to Cedar Rock and found another bald which I had worked before.  This one has a stellar view of Stone Mountain itself, but unfortunately the sky wasn't cooperating with me for this shot.  The sky was much too blown out on top of the mountain, and there was no sunlight on the bald to give it a splash of color.  I wasn't happy about it, but I decided to abandon any pictures from this location and continued down the trail to another bald.  This one was slightly off trail and I hadn't been here before.  The sky was still good here, but there was very little for me to use as foreground interest.

Mossy Path
Just when I was about to give up, I happened to look down at the area where I had entered the bald.  There was a large patch of moss and debris next to a rutted drainage groove.  It wasn't much, but it was something.  I still had my 16-35mm lens fitted so I was able to exaggerate the size of the moss, while including a good bit of background and sky.  The composition is a little deceiving since it appears almost flat in the picture.  In truth, this sloped down at a fairly steep angle.  While this was the only picture that I was able to get from the latter stages of my bald hikes, I was pretty happy with it considering I had almost abandoned this location as well.  Just goes to show, sometimes the best pictures can be made with some of the strangest ingredients.

The clouds were clearing and things were starting to change.  It was getting closer to noon than I was really comfortable with.  Landscapes rarely benefit from direct overhead light.  I packed things up and started toward the truck.  The hike was mostly downhill at this point which was quite nice.  After hiking uphill to start with and jockeying position on some rather steep slopes it was very nice to have an easy time walking again.  even though the sun was out, and it was approaching noon, I kept my eyes out for any other potential subjects that I could shoot.  It might not be the best of conditions, but I was already here and I had my camera right?

Stairway to Bliss
I'm glad I was keeping my eyes out, and my mind open for this one.  I came down some steps and crossed a bridge.  As I did, there was a little voice in my head (that sounded a lot like Toni) saying "You should photograph this bridge!"  I answer the voice and said that there were too many highlights from the sun, and it wouldn't work.  I did turn around and see what the situation was.  There were highlights from the sun sure enough....but they were concentrated on the bridge.  The rest of the scene was fairly evenly lit thanks to the lush canopy above.  Maybe the voices in my head were onto something.

I pulled out the camera, and swapped in my more reserved 24-70mm lens and fitted an intensifying polarizer to the front before mounting it to the tripod.  I started to work on several different compositions from close up to further away.  I found that in order to keep the stairs behind the bridge in appropriate scale, I preferred getting into the telezoom range of the lens at about 65mm.  With this, I was able to frame the bridge between two trees, and even include a third as a foreground element.  The bridge led right into the stairs on the other end, and the sun was highlighting just perfectly.  Usually, I wouldn't care for the heavy shadows that the sun was causing, but for this particular subject it just worked!

When I got home and showed the picture to Toni she liked it immediately and I knew that I had finally captured one of her bridges that she has wanted me to do for so long now.  I was excited to process it, and was very happy to determine that other than a little fine tuning in white balance, there was nothing else that this picture needed.  The contrast was perfect, the saturation levels were spot on, and everything just fit, it needed nothing.....except.....well.....

Stairway to Bliss
I tried it as a monochrome since I know Toni really likes B&W photographs.  Hmm, I kind of liked this.  Again, it was all just perfect.  The more I looked, the more I decided that I liked this as much in mono as I did in full color.  The bridge was still the star, and the transition between the light and dark tones was even more powerful now that the color had been shed.  When I printed out both versions and showed them to Toni there was a strange pause.  I honestly thought that she didn't like them at first.  She then started to slowly state. "I..........(hate it, don't like it, think its horrible..what????).........LOVE this!"  She was pointing to the black and white version.  She followed up with "and I really like the color one, but the black and white is beautiful!"  She then said that I was going to print out a large format one for the living room to replace something that is already hanging.

Yeah, I count that as a win!  I'm always tickled when I can create a picture that Toni really loves.  Its safe to say that will cement a place in the Monochrome Room here in the gallery for all to enjoy.

The Grass is Always Greener

May 20, 2014

First of all, let me back track to last week for a moment.  It might appear that its been a long time since I've been out with my camera, but that isn't exactly true.  I went out twice last week and spent a good bit of time focusing on my photography.  However, I have nothing to show for it.  The first time I went out, I went out to my favorite salvage yard.  Just as I was about to get the camera set up to capture a nice rusty truck, I was flagged down by somebody that lived on the street.  He asked if the owner knew I was out there.  One thing led to another and I found myself walking over to the owner's house and meeting him for the first time.  Unfortunately the meeting didn't go well, and I was told that he would rather me not stay on his property.  OK, no problem, I will move on to something else.  I drove around for a while in search of that something else, but nothing materialized and I ended up at home several hours later without having even taken my camera out of the bag.

My second attempt came a couple of days later and took me to Linville Falls.  We had been having some serious rain and according to the weather forecast, the rain would be moving out from the area shortly after noon with only some scattered showers lingering.  I could deal with that, I I figured that would be a perfect time to photograph Dugger's Creek Falls and Roaring Fork Falls.  I started out late in the morning and arrived at Linville about 30 minutes before the rain was supposed to stop.  It had been feathering off since about Wilkesboro and I was optimistic about the possibilities.  When I arrived, I checked the forecast and found that there was a bit more rain that had been added to the hourly which was a little disappointing to say the least.  I stayed in my truck for about an hour watching the rain come down stronger and stronger.  I finally decided that based on the radar image, I would be doing better to try something Northeast of my location so I headed out to give it a try.  The rain would not stop it seemed....Until I came to a field with a fallen tree.  Miraculously, the rain stopped and the sun even poked out a bit.  I quickly got my camera set up and started to work the scene.  I was having a difficult time getting a composition that I liked, and I was having to work between gusts of wind that were causing a bush in my foreground to move way too much.  By the time, I got the composition set, and the wind started to die down, the rain came back.  The few decent pictures that I got showed too many water spots to be salvageable.  I packed my soaked gear up and drove home, stopping at two other potential subjects only to be rained out once again.  I had six images for the day, and none of them were good enough to develop.

Two treks, zero hits, time to go back to work.  This is part of the fun of being a landscape photographer I suppose.

Down and Out
Late January, 2014

That was then, this is now.  It was my first day off from work, I was itching to get out and release the shutter to capture something worthwhile.  I was having a hard time deciding on a destination.  The weather wasn't going to be good for too long in the morning, and I didn't want to spend a lot of travel time going to the mountains.  I decided to keep it local today and looked through some of my photos from earlier this year when it was still winter.  Almost immediately I stumbled on a series of pictures from out in Stokes County where I had found a field full of treasures purely by accident.  Having talked with the property owner and having got his permission to be out there, and to come back whenever I wanted...this was the destination.  I was really interested to see what these old vehicles looked like in a season where everything was green and filled with new life.

Tucked In
What a difference four months makes to a landscape!!!!  When I got out there, everything was so green, and the grass was so grown up in most places.  The trees were full with new leaves and it looked like a completely different place.  I started working my way around and finding out what vehicles would photograph well at this time of year.  Some didn't have the same flare that they did before, some were better, and some were just different.  I passed by the ones that lacked that initial flare and looked for ones that were substantially different, and better than they were before.

Just Plain Tired
January, 2014
Hauling Till the End
Probably the best example of what a seasonal change can do is this old GMC truck.  When I went in January the truck that was parked directly behind it was a problematic distraction from the compositions that I wanted to do.  What I was left with was a cropped view of just the cab, and shot at a hard angle to the side.  It was the best I could do under the existing circumstances.  I was never overly happy with the outcome, but I did like the truck.  This time, the trees had filled in very nicely, and they were thick enough to camouflage the truck that was just a few feet from the rear of this truck.  I was finally able to get the proper angle on it, and show off the entire truck as I had always wanted to do.  Not only was this composition open to me, I was also able to shoot it from the rear much easier than I had been able to do before.

Out of Gas
With a little bit of compositional trickery, I was able to eliminate the visual distractions behind the truck and still give it a sweeping landscape to reside in.  The line of grass even gives a nice diagonal element to the picture that helps lead the eyes into the frame.  At first I found it less than ideal that the owner had chosen to leave various parts in the bed, but in short order I altered my way of thinking.  Trucks are meant to haul things, and even in retirement this example is doing just that.  I found it interesting that one of the items in the bed was an old gas tank.  With truck looking like it was just pulled over to the side of the field, the gas tank in the bed...I got this feeling of despair...running out of gas so to speak.  That title was easy enough!

Just beyond this old GMC was the blue Quality Oil Chevrolet which I was very interested to find.  It was one of my two favorites from January, and I was very excited to see the blue and red surrounded by the green of the new leaves.  I wasn't disappointed except that the greenery was a lot more dense than I had suspected.  All that meant was I was a little limited in my compositions.  I still worked that truck from every available angle and had a blast doing it.

Discarded Bowtie
 It's rare that I do a portrait shot of a vehicle as they typically lend themselves to a landscape orientation.  As I was framing this truck, the bare branch in the foreground kept jumping out at me, and seemed to insist that it was an important element in the entire composition.  For the most part it really didn't make sense in most compositions I was doing, but when I flipped the camera on its side that relationship immediately made sense and started to flow.  The branch became almost a leading line into the picture.  The calico truck was the visual reward deep inside of the composition.  This one might just be my favorite from the location.  It isolates just what is important to the photograph, and everything is organized in a way that makes perfect sense.  The colors all work together nicely as well!

As I finished up, I made one last walk through of the field to see if anything else jumped out at me.  I was hoping that the MG would present well in the current season, but I found that it just left me empty inside.  What I had captured in January was much better than what was here now, so I didn't attempt anything new with this car.  I could see it working well in the fall though, so stay tuned...I don't think we have seen the last of this little red car.

After only about an hour I was back at the truck and putting my gear away.  I had about 30 frames between the two trucks, and honestly figured that I had two good images out of those.  I was happy with that, but after having my creative hiney handed to me twice last week, I wasn't quite ready to call it quits for the day.  The light was still good so I continued North through Stokes County to see what I could find.

I passed by a lot of potential, but nothing called out to me.  Nothing tripped that emotional trigger making me excited about capturing any images.  As the time ticked on, I started to think about things that needed to be done at home, so I started my way back to the house.  As I was coming down Hwy 8 I came upon an old crane that I have seen for many years.  It had always caught my eye and I always found it interesting, but just never had the notion to turn my camera on it.  With the way the light was hitting it today, and the fresh green of the trees around it, I had to give it a second look.  That second look resulted in me taking the camera out and working some compositions.

Needing a Lift
This was an interesting subject for me as I have never photographed a crane before.  Obviously, I wasn't overly interested in the boom, but I had to take that into consideration as it would be an exit point for the eyes depending on where it fell in the frame.  The boxy nature of the main part of the crane wasn't particularly interesting graphically, but the rusty textures, and the inner workings gave a good bit of visual interest in my opinion.  For the first time, all of this really stood out with the sun in a perfect position above, and shrouded by a thin layer of clouds which diffused the light almost perfectly.  All of the details showed up and gave lots for the eyes to explore within the frame.  There was only a few angles I could work this crane from though as the other side was in the deep shadows and also mostly covered by the trees.  The rear of it lacked a lot of visual interest, and I had no real access to the front.  I tried a lot of different variations from the rear 3/4 view, but found that possibly my most interesting composition came from an up close, abstract view that was prompted by Toni's voice in my head.  You see, she is a big fan of abstract art, and usually prefers when I have a bit of abstract in my photography.

Rust in Peace
Since it was the rust that really caught my eye, and I was quite interested in the inner workings of the mechanicals I decided to get up close and personal with those elements.  Since the access doors were open, I was able to get both of these elements in a single shot.  At first glance it is very hard to tell what you are looking at, but as you explore, your eyes are treated with many hard straight lines, curves, circles, and angles.  There are many textures here to explore as well between wood, metal, rust, and flaking paint...not to mention the organic element of the leaves.  The way that the colors play together here might be my favorite aspect of the whole thing.  There are so many warm tones here that add to the visual excitement, but the blue of the remaining paint helps to give that much needed visual balance.  There is just so much here to look at...Toni might be onto something with the abstract shots!

After I had worked the crane as much as I though I could, I packed it all in and headed for home.  I had a service to do on Toni's truck, and needed to get that taken care of before she went to work.  I was pretty sure that I had about four pictures out of the 40 frames that I had shot.  Regardless, I was just happy that I had found some subjects that excited me today.  I felt like I was back on track once again.  Needless to say, I was very excited when I was going through my photos when I found that there were a total of six images that I felt made the cut and were worth keeping.  That is still much better than the typical 10% hit rate, and that makes me very happy!

High Winds in the High Country

May 6, 2014

I think I'm going to become a weatherman.  I can guess at the weather just as good as the next guy, and since being correct isn't a requirement I think I could do just fine in that position.  I had been watching the weather for several days and had figured out that today would be a good waterfall day because they were calling for mostly cloudy skies from here to the mountains.  As the day approached, however, the clouds started to become more intermittent and not so great for waterfalls.  I had the trucks cleaned, the yard mowed, and two days left on my weekend so what to do.  Well, I decided to take advantage of the early morning cloud cover of 45% which should be pretty good for a sunrise, and then I would chase clouds the rest of the day along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I decided to start at Doughton Park which I have tried to visit several times, but it has been closed for the season.  My plan today was to park at the restaurant across the street and walk into the park.

In order to do all of this before sunrise I had to get up at 3:15am in order to be on the road by 4.  That would put me at the park around 5:30 or so in time for a 6am sunrise.  I was right on schedule, but the weather seemed to be transitioning quickly as I was getting ready to leave.  The clouds I had been expecting were no longer in the forecast and I was starting to think that I was going to be calling it a day before I even got started.  Instead, I decided to go on as I had planned and see what happened.  I arrived at the Parkway a little after 5 and started South toward Doughton Park.  I stopped briefly at Air Bellows Gap since I have had luck with sunrises from here several times.  The only problem was there were no clouds in the sky, and therefore no reason to stop here for a sunrise.  I decided to head on into the park and see what I could find there.

I arrived right on schedule, and started to walk the length of the driveway to get to the main section of the park.  I forgot how long this drive was.  Based on my pace, and time I was walking, I think that it was well over a mile, and close to two miles before I reached my destination.  I looked East and found there to still be no clouds, so I decided I would try to take advantage of the alpenglow to the West.  No such luck there either...my clouds were all to my West, and weren't doing me any favors at all.  I found a tree to set up on, but quickly found that I wasn't going to get any color at all, and the clouds were just dulling the colors.  I could see that above and to my left there was a little bit of color in the clouds, so I moved my position and tried to incorporate those clouds.

Things were just not working in my favor at all this morning and while I had color, the pictures that resulted just were not what I had in mind.  While working the pictures, I decided to see what they would look like as a black and white conversion.  I liked it a good bit better, but I still wasn't all that happy with what I had.  As the sun cam up, I was very disappointed to find that the sky had taken on a split personality of sorts.  There were either high, featureless clouds, or blank blue sky.  To make matters worse, the wind was howling.  Normally, there is a steady breeze in the mountains, but I was having to deal with 25-30mph winds fairly regularly.  This makes photography very difficult because trees don't like to stand still in an onslaught of wind like that.  It will also make the camera move which will soften the picture.  Adding to all of that, the wind was strong enough at times to keep my balance off, and I almost lost my hat twice!

Not wanting to give up, I continued to look around for other compositions that I could use taking into account the conditions of the sky.  I wasn't having much luck on the side where I was so I started to move over to the other side of the park.  Not wanting to go through the strange cutouts in the fence, I thought that I could circumvent the trail by walking around the perimeter.  Unfortunately, that idea didn't pan out.  However, I did find another view that I had never seen here before.  The sun was hitting it just right, and there was enough interest in the sky that I felt it was worth setting the camera up.

Doughton's Bluff
I had all the ingredients needed for a good picture here.  I had a fence that was lit by the morning sun, green grass for contrast, with patches of yellow to blend with the fence.  There was a dominant tree, and some interesting cloud patterns in the sky.  I set things up, and added a 2-Stop hard edge ND Grad to help with the sky.  Things came together nicely, but the wonderful light passed me by after only a few minutes.  I was fortunate to have gotten this shot before everything dulled down again.

When the light left me here, I decided to continue on to the other side of the parking lot to see what the other side of the field had to offer.  There was an old fallen tree that I have photographed before and I was looking forward to trying my hand at it again today.  I started to hike up the hill and realized that all of my normal compositions would be aimed right into the sun, so I was going to have to try something different today.  Of course, that was fine by me as I wanted to make all new photographs today.

Field of Dreams
Oddly enough, I found that a composition that shot over the parking area worked out very nicely after all.  The downed tree really showcased the field on the opposite side, and gave it a sense of scale in a way.  While I would have rather the sky looked different, at least there is some visual interest there which keeps the eyes in the frame.  I usually do a lot of work with this tree, and had considered using my 10-Stop ND filter today with the clouds, but with the wind picking up, I knew there was no way I was going to get that to happen.  I was having a hard enough time making a half second exposure, I wasn't willing to risk it for an exposure measured in minutes.  Plus, the sky wasn't quite right for particular technique.

I finished walking up to the top of the hill and made the executive decision that I was going to need to get down lower because I was not even feeling comfortable leaving my camera on the tripod without me holding on to it.  The gusts were nearing 50mph I feel certain.  Even with the chin strap on my hat, I kept feeling it lift off of my head while I was walking.  This was too much for me!

Winter's Last Hold
Once I was safely back down at the bottom of the hill, I did a little more searching and found a nice red gate in a fence near the Bluff Mountain Trail.  Of course, I had to try and get a composition with it included.  To my surprise, I found that many of the trees were still bare.  Usually, by this time, everything is at least starting to bloom for the most part along the Parkway.  These examples were being a bit stubborn, but it did provide a nice contrast to the grass that was greening up nicely, and the blue tones in the sky above.  I had to time my exposures just right to fall between the gusts of wind, but I was getting pretty good at doing just that!

At this point I felt that I had done everything that I could with the current conditions.  I decided to head back to the truck and continue on down the Parkway to see what else I could find.  While walking, I did keep my eyes out for other compositions.  I saw a few, but the white clouds above eliminated those as choices.  I was thinking that I could have done my waterfalls today because the lighting was nearly perfect for that.  But the waterfalls were about 100 miles to my South, and I wasn't in position to be able to cover that kind of distance today.

While mulling over my options, I came across another fence which caught my eye.  This one also had a red gate, but unlike so many possible subjects I had seen today, the sky above was visually interesting, and I decided to give things a try.  My 24-70mm lens wasn't quite wide enough to get the effect I was after, so in the middle of hurricane intense winds, I swapped in my 16-35mm and added a 3-Stop ND Grad to control the sky.

A Gated View
I was actually quite happy to have found this little jewel near the lodge.  Normally, I am driving past it, and have never noticed it.  I guess this is the benefit of walking in when I normally drive.  While working this fence and gate, I also noticed a brace of trees in line with some large rocks to the right.  The trees weren't all that special, but the way the trees and rocks played together, I decided to give a couple of compositions a try.  It didn't take long before I settled on a position that allowed me to record the scene as I had seen it, and previsualized it moments before.  I was still using my 16-35mm lens with the ND Grad on it, and that combination was spot on perfect.

Take Flight
When I was looking at these rocks, they looked like an alien ship of some sort, and with the wind moving the trees, they were starting to look like some sort of propulsion device.  When it came time to name the photograph, the only think I could think of was that alien ship taking off.  Even though this is all just naturally formed elements on the landscape, there really is an aerodynamic quality to it.  Maybe the wind was just getting to me!

Take Flight in B&W
Just out of curiosity, I decided to give this one a go as a Black and White image as well.  After some tonal tweaks and some contrast work, I think I ended up with a very good monochrome rendition of the scene.  Nothing like the absence of color to really make you appreciate the textures, and wide range of tones in a scene.  I feel that this one might even be more dramatic than the color version, but they both stand on their own,

With all of the wind I had been dealing with, I was starting to feel a touch motion sick.  It was time to pack it in and head further down the Parkway in an attempt to find something that hopefully was shielded from some of these gusts of wind.  One of the first places that I stopped was the sight of an old farm which was still behind a locked fence.  There was an old truck there that I have wanted to try to photograph for some time now, but just haven't been able to get in close enough to make it work.  However, today I was feeling the old collapsed barn  next to it.  While there wasn't much left to the barn, there was still a silo attached which was rather interesting in its own right.

The Forgotten
Not being able to get that close and still have the proper angle was a frustrating thing for me.  I could walk down to where the gate was in this picture, but the angle that I was allowed from there wasn't all that pleasing at all.  Instead, I opted to fit my 70-200mm lens and shoot from further away, using the fence as my leading line.  As a bonus from shooting from this location, I was able to capture the old truck to the left of the barn.  You can't see much of it, but you can make it out, and that was a nice addition to the composition, and helps to tell the story I think.  I wasn't quite done with this subject though.  I decided to think outside of the box and shoot it in portrait orientation which was something that I had never done with this particular subject before.  I have to say though...I like what I came up with.

All That Remains
Still using my telezoom so that I didn't make the distant silo shrink in size, I brought in the fence which snaked perfectly from the left to the right, and then back left again for a perfect "S" curve leading to the silo.  The truck is gone in this composition, but with that hard line, I needed there to be just one single visual prize at the end of that leading line.  I have to say, this is the most satisfying shot I have taken of this old barn since my first attempt in 2005!

It was time to move on, and I did just that.  I kept my eyes out for any additional subjects that might be worth a frame or two.  As luck would have it, I passed by one of my favorite old fences along the Parkway and decided to give it a try.  There are several different compositions that will work with this fence and red gate, but most of them are very dependent on the sky.  Unfortunately, I didn't have much sky to work with at any angle.

In the Spring
By cropping out most of the sky, I found a composition that worked, highlighting the wooden posts, and resigning the red gate to a supporting element.  You can see the mountains in the distance, and visibility was fairly good despite the haze in the sky.  I lucked out and got some very thin clouds passing by just above the horizon that gave me a little bit of visual interest in the sky which I was so afraid would have been lacking.  The remaining dormant grass in the foreground was a nice addition and provided a pop of contrasting color that I felt was very needed in this picture.

Blue Ridge Mountains
Just beyond the red gate there was this field that always captures my attention as I pass by.  There are these wonderful bare trees right at the natural fold of the earth.  The background of rolling hills leading out to the hazy distance is always a visual treat.  I was wishing that there was some more interest in the sky, but as I did with the previous picture, I just cropped the sky close and focused on the more interesting portions of the scene.  While I don't particularly like the resulting image, Toni really likes it, and because of that, here it is.  I think that she is wanting to do a pastel rendition of it, and I hope that she does just that.  I would love to see what she comes up with!  At least she can put a cloud or two in the sky and improve on things tremendously.

While the day wasn't exactly what I was planning, I really can't complain about the results.  I shot just shy of 100 frames in 5.5 hours.  Of that, I ended up with 11 pictures that I chose to develop and share.  Not too bad of a crop for the day.  I will be adding several of them to the gallery here at 446photo.com as well so be sure to check out the different rooms to see what is new.