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 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.

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