A Spring Trek to the BRP

June 6, 2014

What do I do when Toni goes to work, and Sierra is at a friend's house for the evening?  I go Trekking, of course!  I went out more out of convenience than for weather conditions for once.  Its rare that I get the opportunity to go out for a late afternoon/evening Trek so I had to jump on this one.  The question was....where to go?  Looking at the weather, it was pretty much the same across NC, partly cloudy skies with a chance of a thunderstorm toward the evening.  Looking at the hourly forecasts for the mountains I saw a slight chance of getting the right mix of clouds to do another waterfall or two.  If that didn't pan out, I was thinking I had enough cloud cover to do some grand landscapes instead.  In order to keep both of those options open until the last minute, I opted to head out to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and aim toward the section near the Pisgah National Forest.

I left in the early afternoon which would put me on the Parkway with plenty of time to decide whether I would be shooting waterfalls or landscapes.  As I drove down the highway I was watching the sky.  The clouds seemed to all be behind me, with very little up ahead.  Oh well, I still had some distance to cover, hopefully the clouds would meet me up there.  As I made my way through Wilkesboro the clouds were starting to build up a little bit and I started to get excited.  The clouds were not all that puffy, just large.  I was starting to think that I would get my waterfall shoot in after all.  I made the final decision to turn South from US 421 which had several waterfalls to choose from.  The grand landscapes weren't all that great in this section, but I would have some to play with if the clouds changed up.

By the time I got to the Linn Cove Viaduct, I was doubting that the clouds would let me work with waterfalls, and strangely enough, even though the clouds looked great in the sky, the overall lighting quality was not all that great.  I couldn't quite put my hand on it, but things that should look good right now, weren't.  As I drove across the Viaduct, I saw a section of the mountains with another bridge span that I wanted to photograph.  I wasn't able to get out on the Viaduct, but I knew that there was a trail that snaked along underneath of it that I had been on before.  I decided to give that trail a quick hike to see what vantage points it offered.

A Tangled Web
 I was a little disappointed at what I found along the trail as far as places I could shoot the opposing mountain side.  I could see it, but I couldn't get in position to capture it as I wanted.  I did notice that the side of the mountain that I was on was completely cloaked in shadows.  This made it possible to do a little bit of work with some intimate landscapes.  It just so happened that there were several trees with some incredible root systems right off of the trail, near the parking lot.  I started to work with one of these and fit my 70-200mm lens, along with an enhancing polarizer to pick out the detail of the root system along with a pop of fresh green at its base.  It only took three frames before I found the right composition that had the best flow of elements.  The quality of light was still a little bit off, and everything had a strange green appearance that I was hoping to be able to counteract with some tweaking of the color temperature settings.

Keeping a Tight Grip
When I am working with these intimate landscapes, I start to look at them as an abstract rather than a straight photograph.  It becomes all about design and texture when I am working close in.  In this picture, the actual trail snakes between the rocks, and on the left rock there are two trees that have roots that have overlapped and followed the rock until they found the nourishment of the ground.  Even some other hikers stopped and made comments about how these roots looked.  They were absolutely worth a few frames, but I found it very difficult to compose a picture that made visual sense, even in the abstract realm.  There were two trees that were growing right at the entrance to the "cave" that seemed to get in the way of pretty much every composition I tried.  Even when I tried to incorporate them into the composition, it still didn't feel all that logical to me.  When it was all said and done though, I found the overlapping root system too interesting to pass up.  With the help of my 24-70mm lens, I was able to embrace the two trees and capture the above composition.

After I spent some time in the shadows of the Linn Cove Viaduct trail, I decided it was time to move on down the road and see if I could get something more along the lines of what I was after when I came out to the Parkway earlier.  When I got back to the truck, I noticed that the clouds were still clearing up and the sky was getting bluer and bluer.  I was no longer holding out any hope for waterfalls.  I decided to carry on in that direction anyway in order to try and work some areas that I haven't spent much time in before.  As I drove, I realized why I hadn't worked that area much over the years...

I was quickly realizing that there were no good vantage points to see the distant mountains in this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The drive was pretty, and I was enjoying the fresh air, but I wanted to see some wide open vistas with what was left of the clouds above it.  Apparently that was too tall of an order because I saw nothing like that at all.  I did decide to pull into the Lost Cove Cliffs overlook because I could see a good ways in the distance.  I was a little disappointed in what I saw there.  There was not much of an overlook at all, but there were a couple of elements that I did find interesting.  First, there was a field of Golden Rods which caught my eye, and a single tree off to the side that was equally as interesting.  I almost passed it up, but I could hear Toni telling me to get out and give it a try.

Shimmer of Gold
With my 24-70mm still attached, I composed a simple "postcard" shot of the overlook.  The colors were interesting, and helped to give it a visual warmth.  The clouds above were a wonderful addition as well.  However, looking at the LCD this image lacked that visual punch that I wanted from this location.  I decided that I was going to need to get down in the field of flowers and shoot them up close and personal before I would get that visual impact that I was after.  To really make this effective, I swapped out my lens and fit my 16-35mm super wide angle because this was going to be a perfect shot for that glass.

Field of Gold
As I got down low into the field, I could see that my visual pop was finally there in my photograph.  I had bright and vibrant color, depth, and that wonderful sky above.  I just had to watch out for my shadow since the sun was coming from my right rear, and I was casting a long shadow to the left which was picked up easily by the super wide angle lens.  However, I was in a perfect location to see very good effects from the the polarizer since I was at nearly 90* to the sun.  I worked on several different compositions, and found myself getting in closer and closer to the white daisies that were sporadically present in the field.  It wasn't until I flipped the camera that it all really came together for me though.

Lazy Dazy
I was lucky enough to find a grouping of flowers that formed an almost straight line that I could place in the foreground of this composition.  Just in case I thought that I had the wrong group, there was a small insect that was sunning itself on the last flower in the line.  Just another little detail that made this a very fun picture to capture.  The sky developed as almost three dimensional with the shading and perspective.  All of the colors worked together so well, and everything just flowed with this picture.  I was pretty sure that I had found my favorite composition of the day right here in this obscure little overlook.  I had a smile on my face, and was feeling better about the rest of the Trek now.

When I had exhausted my compositions in the field, I went back to work with the tree that was standing on the side of the field all alone.  One thing that Toni has taught me in photography is that trees make some excellent subjects no matter if they are alive, dead, full of leaves, or completely bare.  When I see an interesting tree, I always stop and give it a second or third look to see if I can do it justice with the camera.

Branching Out
One thing that I didn't care much for with this tree was that there was a large branch that had broken off and found itself hung up on one of the branches on the right side of the tree.  This made photographing the tree in its entirety a little impractical.  I also couldn't get it at the angle that would show the distant mountains like I was wanting to do.  My choices were slim, but the tree was talking to me, so I kept working with it.  I still had my 16-35mm lens attached and figured that it would give me the correct perspective of the tree, and help to illustrate the size of it.

While setting up the shot, I realized another problem with this angle....my clouds were almost all gone from this part of the sky.  I wasn't going to be able to shoot the composition I was aiming for, but instead decided to get in a little closer to put the spotlight on the trunk and use the leaves to fill the upper portion of the frame with color that would balance to the ground.  You can still see bits of that brilliant blue in the sky above, but the vast majority of the visual weight in this image belongs to the tree and that was exactly what I was hoping for.  After being at this sight for about 30 minutes, it was time to move on and try to find something different.

The sky still had a good deal of interest in it, but the quality of light was hit and miss depending on what direction I was wanting to shoot from.  As I drove, nothing really jumped out at me, and I made the decision that when I was wanting to do grand landscapes it was probably best to avoid this section.  It is rich with other things, but grand views are really lacking.

It was starting to get a little late and I figured that I had better start looking for a sunset location, or something that would benefit from a low sun to the West.  I abandoned my Southerly direction and turned around to head back where I came from.  I didn't really have a destination in mind, but had thought about working Price Lake a little bit with my 10-Stop ND Filter.  As it turned out, I didn't pass anything at all of interest before I got to Price Lake.  Well, I guess I'll just go ahead and get out and see what I can see.

I did a quick hike around the lake because I knew of an old stump that was sticking out of the water.  I found it, but the lighting was all wrong with it.  the stump was in the deep shadows, and there wasn't much behind it that was interesting.  I gave up on that pretty quick knowing that the light was fading fast.  I found a bench next to a pretty cool tree that I spent a little time photographing, but never found a composition that I liked.  I was keeping an eye on the sky, and found that the clouds were moving back in, and even better, it appeared as though they were getting bathed in a nice golden light from the setting sun.  I sped up my retreat from the trail and worked my way back to the actual lake.

When I got to the parking area and boat launch, I could see that the clouds over the lake were starting to light up very nicely, and the far coastline was also getting a nice share of the warm light.  I wasn't sure where I could set up to photograph this the best, but I decided to get down to the water level and search out something that I could use as a foreground interest.  Oddly enough, I had parked next to a staircase, and I was looking for a way down so I took it.  Once at the water level, I found a large rock with some grasses growing beside of it.  I figured that this would be as good as anything else.  I set the camera up, and left the 24-70mm lens attached, but added my filter holder and got out a selection of ND Grads to take advantage of the reflection in the water.

After several exposures I could see a lot of potential in this location, but the composition wasn't working for me.  I wasn't quite sure what it was, but decided that I needed the perspective from my 16-35mm lens to make this work.  I swapped the lens out, and kept the filter system in place at the front.  I was using multiple combinations of filters to balance the exposure of the rock, reflection, and sky in order to get a properly exposed image.

On Golden Pond
I love working with live view when doing landscape photography.  I was able to dial everything in using the histogram and check the visual impact of the composition with one glance.  I moved the filters in place in their holder until I got the right combination of exposure across the frame.  I cranked off several frames from various locations, but found that the rock fit into the natural curve of the distant shore best at this position.  There was also a good deal of waiting on the clouds to get into position within the frame to keep the visual weight where I wanted it to be.  All in all, when I was processing the images at the end of the day, this sunset image over the lake quickly eclipsed Lazy Dazy as my favorite image of the day.

This is the second time that I was able to stay up on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a sunset where that last composition of the day turned out to be my favorite from the whole Trek.  Even more interesting, neither of these sunset images I am talking about were planned.  In both cases, they were just the locations that I was close to, and I lucked up reading the sky, and finding a location that worked for the landscape.

Now, I just have to decide which of these new images will make the cut and end up in my Landscapes Room.

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