Just Down the Road

August 25,2014

I was hoping that this entry would contain some nice scenic landscapes from Rough Ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but things didn't quite work out that way.  I made it to the mountains yesterday and drove around for a few hours but found that the constant rain and low level clouds were making any photography near impossible.  With the hourly forecast not really showing any significant rain at all, I was a bit confused, and had no idea when things would change.  Not wanting to waste the whole day just waiting for the rain to stop, I decided to cut my losses and head home.

As they say, my batteries were all charged, but there had been no need for them.  I was determined to find a need for them at some point on these days off.  As luck would have it, I had to return to the mountains again in order to deliver some framed prints to a client.  The weather was actually pretty good for a trek, but the forecast has not called for these conditions so my equipment was at home.  It was just as well, since I was on a little bit of a time crunch.  Shortly after getting home, the same clouds graced our skies and gave me the idea to try photographing an old house that was nearby.

By nearby, I am talking about a mile away, 1.09 miles to be exact.  This was much too close to worry about driving to, so I made it simple and walked out to the house.  Yeah, I probably looked kind of strange walking through the neighborhood with a large backpack and carrying a tripod, but oh well...its what I was going to do.  It didn't take long at all to get out to the house, and find that the clouds which had been overhead were now gone, save for a handful here and there.

You know, I'm really starting to hate weather changes.  It always seems to work against me these days.

At any rate, I was here, the lighting was good, I was just missing a little visual interest in the sky, and also had some power lines to deal with which ran very close to the overhang over the porch.  I'm never fond of power lines in a photograph, unless they add a geometric quality that helps to lead the eyes into the picture.  In this situation, they didn't really help anything on that end, and were just a visual distraction.  What this meant was I was going to have to get creative with the compositions I chose.

If Walls Could Talk
My first thought was to get in close and shoot a wide angle shot of the house.  This was able to successfully camouflage the power lines in the tree to the left which you can make out if you look closely.  They are there, but do not prove to be distracting at all.  This vantage point allowed me to highlight the chimney and the wall around it which was going to be my focal point for this picture.  The trees in the background followed the visual rules set forth by the shape of the house which was a very nice plus to the composition.  I was hoping for a few clouds in the sea of blue to the top left, but that just never did materialize.  With the polarizer attached to the front of the 24-70mm I was able to deepen the blue in the sky sufficiently enough to set a mood, and to add to the visual pop of the siding.

I tried many other compositions which I liked to varying degrees, but none were quite as good as this original one, and another one that incorporated a large tree to the right of the property.  The tree provided some nice visual balance to the whole image and allowed for a bit more scene coverage.  The house became a little less predominant, and more of a supporting element instead of the full feature.

Summer Home
 Honestly, I'm kind of torn between these two images.  Neither is exactly what I originally had in mind, but They turned out pretty good anyway.  Its the lighting on the scene that is the real story here.  Without the sun hitting the siding at this angle, there is just no visual pop at all.  I've watched the house in different lighting over the years and oddly enough it seems to be most favored by the sun a few hours before sunset.  If I were to have waited for the golden hour, the house would be in the shadows from the landscape to the left.  Any earlier, and there is too much contrast.  Of course, at the beginning of the day, it is severely backlit and lacks any real detail at all.

I still have a picture in my mind that I would like to create with this house.  I don't know if the conditions will ever present themselves to make it happen the way that I am seeing it, but I will continue to try and make it happen from time to time.  The nice thing is this house is very close to me, and I can go out to it just about any time.

An Overgrown Truck and Home

August 16, 2014

I will admit, it has been a long time since I've been on a Trek.  Like I alluded to in my last entry, I have had a lot on my mind lately.  One of the big things is that I have been missing my cycling side, and I have finally made peace with the fact that I need it in my life again.  So, for the last little while, I have been working on making that a reality again.  With things settling down on the bike front, I had the opportunity to go out this morning for a quick Trek.  When I woke up, I looked at the sky and found that the early light of morning was showing some promise to the cloud cover for later.  I went ahead and got dressed and quickly loaded the truck up.  By the time I was pulling out of the driveway, the clouds overhead were all but gone.  I had started, so I might as well keep it going.

I made the half hour ride out to King where I had seen this old Blue truck mostly covered with weeds several times before.  I had previsualized this picture with some very interesting clouds overhead, but that wasn't going to happen today.  When I got there, there was a bit of overcast off in the distance, but nothing like what I was wanting.  The truck was still cool, and I wanted to give it a shot or two since I was here and had the time.  I opted for my wide angle lens which might sound like a strange choice for this subject, but I figured that in order to keep some of the blue in the sky, I was going to need to get in close and go wide, otherwise, the distant overcast would be a dominant factor in the scene.

Overworked and Overgrown
As it turned out, the blue sky played quite nicely with the faded blue paint on this old truck.  The overcast in the background provided a nice visual barrier to separate the blue subjects and give the truck a little more pop than a straight blue sky would have allowed.  With all the cool tones in the picture, I needed some warm tones to balance things out.  As it turned out, there was a little bit of rust on the door and bumper that I was able to boost just a little bit through saturation.  That gave just the right bit of color balance to the entire image.

While going through the editing/culling stages with this old truck, I found that I really liked a vertical image of it, but there was just something missing from the image.  I had thought about doing monochrome conversions while in the field with this subject, and thought I would give that a try to see how it looked.  The straight conversion was ok, but rather boring.  When I started to play with the color tones, the image started to take on a whole different look.

Not Quite Ready
When I got to the preset for an IR conversion, the image just popped right away.  I did a little bit of tweaking with the tones, and contrast and found that the white vegetation really stood out and framed the now subdued truck against the subdued sky.  A quick check with Toni, validated that this was a pretty cool image, and one that was worth hanging onto.  The title comes from the fact that it looks like a heavenly scene, but the truck doesn't quite fit in.  Just because its old, and obviously long since out of service, it just doesn't appear like it is ready for that final journey.

When I got finished with the truck, I moved my attention across the street to where an old house was sitting right at the treeline.  The house was mostly intact, but was really showing its age, and appeared that it has been unoccupied for many years.  The paint had all fallen from the siding, and the windows were pretty much all gone.  However, there was still a homey feel to it with the warm morning's sun striking the face.  The reality of the scene was in the shadows however.

Family Heirloom
In addition to the actual scene and lighting, this is also a story about texture.  I just love pictures where I think that I could just reach out and feel what I'm seeing.  The first thing that jumps out at me is the almost carpet like fuzziness in the trees.  There is so much depth in the image, and such uniformity of shades, all that is left is texture.  Your eyes then fall down to the house where the worn siding has a roughness that only time can produce.  I can feel the splinters entering through the pads of my fingers as I am sliding them across the wood.  The grass below is recently cut and promises a soft place to lay down while the sun warms the morning chill.

It was a pretty good morning despite the sky letting me down.  That is just part of the realm that a landscape photographer exists in.  We are very dependent on conditions that are completely out of our control.  The test comes in how you deal with adversity.

Falls in the Clouds

August 2, 2014

For those of you who have been following me for the last few months will remember that I have been wanting to get out to Roaring Fork Falls for some time now.  I've actually tried a half dozen times or more, I think.  Since this is located a full three hours from home you can imagine how frustrating it has become.  I've run into sunny days where I didn't even try after driving up there, rainy days with the same result, and once I got there and there was no room to park.  This has become a very difficult waterfall to visit for me.  At least in the trips where my goal was Roaring Fork Falls, I have been able to photograph both Dugger's Creek Falls, and Crabtree Falls.  I still wanted to get back to Roaring Fork though, and after looking at the weather, I decided that I would give it a try this morning.

Things were looking pretty good with heavy cloud cover forecasted until well after lunch.  A side benefit was that the ceiling was going to be pretty low so that meant I might have the opportunity to grab a landscape shot or two.  Since I was foiled on my last trip to Roaring Fork by a parking lot full of sightseers, I decided to get an early start and try to make it there before 8am.  That meant that I was going to try and leave before 5, which is awful early for a Saturday!

The day started out as I had planned, but I left a little later than I intended.  It wasn't that big of a deal, I didn't expect other visitors to arrive until after 9 or so.  There was a light mist in the air, and the clouds were low.  This was going to prove to be pretty good conditions for waterfall photography.  I wasn't exactly jumping for joy though since I have had a lot on my mind lately.  This trek was more an excuse to get away and think than anything else.  I did a lot of thinking in the hours it took to reach the area of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Little Switzerland.

From Behind the Wall
From Behind the Wall in B&W
As I was making my way South along the Parkway, I couldn't help but notice that the clouds would break up every now and again, showing a clean blue sky above.  Interestingly enough, all the low clouds that I had been driving under on the ride up were well below me now, down in the valley.  This could possibly mean that Roaring Fork Falls was going to be in the sunlight when I arrived which wasn't a good thing.  On the other hand, it meant that I had some interesting picture opportunities right in front of me.  At the risk of loosing the ability to photograph the falls, I opted to find the first place I could to grab a few shots.

As luck would have it, I was having a very hard time finding a place that would work for pictures.  The sky was amazing, and the distant mountains were great, but there was nothing to really tie it all together.  I could see that things were changing quickly, so I ducked into the first overlook I could find.  I surveyed things quickly and decided that there wasn't much there for foreground interest.  The problem was, if I didn't capture what I was seeing right then, I would lose it forever.  I decided to pull the camera out and I picked a section of the stone wall to use for my foreground interest.  Since it was not set up in a way I could use it as a leading line, I decided to make it a shallow diagonal line to show drama, and lead the eyes to the distant mountain that would then draw the attention to the low clouds in the valley.

I framed the shot quickly and found that the sky was way overexposed, more so than I was expecting.  I went back to my bag and grabbed the Lee filter holder and a 3-Stop ND Grad to help control the exposure.  That was the ticket for this image, and the sky was now properly exposed in relation to the foreground.  I was noticing that there were a lot of different textures in place here, and also noted that there was a broad range of tones from light to dark.  I actually created this image with a monochrome conversion in mind.  I'm happy to say that I like this one equally as well in color and in black and white.

The Eye in the Sky
With the initial shot out of the way, I started to move around and try to find other potential compositions.  One thing that I'm not usually wild about doing is shooting a distant composition without anything prominent in the foreground.  That's all well and good when I have time to plan a shot, but this wasn't going to be a planned picture at all.  I wanted to capture the distant, cloud encased mountain and the sky above it.  The best way to do this was to flip the camera and use the crisp trees below the overlook as the foreground.  It works in this situation because the green is a complimenting color to the blue above, and the fact that there is no visual softening due to clouds.  This allows the eyes a chance to fixate on trees, which gives a sense of scale and distance.  The mountain was positioned to emulate an eye in the distance.  All of these aspects were determined in a matter of seconds as I was setting the shot up and framing it just so.  Within two minutes after this one was exposed, the clouds completely covered the mountain up, and the sky became washed in white.

The Roaring Fork Falls
It was time to move on down the road and see if the Roaring Fork Falls was in the shadows of the clouds, or in the bright sun that was peeping through from time to time.  When I arrived, all of my questions were answered.  I had great cloud cover, and there were no other cars in the parking lot.  It was shortly after 8am.  I figured that I had maybe an hour or so to work, so I grabbed my equipment and started on the short half mile hike that puts you at the base of the waterfall.

What I love about this waterfall is that it is a very long one, and it snakes its way through a fairly dense section of forest.  The pool at the bottom is accessible and usually not so deep as to keep you from standing in it.  I've shot this waterfall several times in the past, and kind of knew what I needed for the first shot.  I went ahead and swapped in my 16-35mm wide angle lens, and added a polarizer and ND filter.  I finally found my spot in the pool that captured as much of the waterfall as possible. I dialed in the exposure and bracketed several different shutter speeds.  While I really like a very slow shutter speed for waterfalls, this one is not one to go too long on because you end up loosing all of the detail in the rapids.

After I was satisfied at the effect that I had recorded with my camera, I decided it was time to try something a little different from the norm (for me at least).  I swapped out my wide angle lens and mounted my 70-200mm telephoto with only a polarizer which would allow me to pick this waterfall apart.  This one really does lend itself to intimate captures of its bits and pieces, and I intended to do just that.

Smoothed Out
The first section I picked apart was the lower portion.  At 70mm, I was able to highlight the final drop of this waterfall.  What drew my eye to this section was the slippery smooth rock to the left which has been smoothed by countless gallons of water spilling over the surface.  There was also a lump of a rock which stood out in stark contrast to the feathery water rushing by.  For a bit of visual balance, there is a small bit of runoff to the upper left which keeps everything in balance.  I wasn't sure how I would like this shot, but after doing the final edit on it, I can safely say that it turned out pretty well.

Symphonic Drop
The intimate shot that I was really looking forward to was the section near the top.  I had done this one a long time ago with marginal results.  I really wanted to try it again, and This was the perfect time to do it.  I zoomed the long lens to about 135mm and flipped the camera on its side.  Now it was all about how to frame the picture.  I was torn about how much of the foreground to include, but finally opted to just give a small diagonal sliver with a bit of greenery.  In order to do this, I had to elevate the tripod all the way for every inch of clearance over the rock.  I dialed in my exposure and started to take a few test shots.  I was looking for a very specific water effect, and finally found the right exposure.

As I was tweaking the composition for a final round of shutter releases, a large group arrived.  Actually, they kind of snuck up on me as I was fully engrossed in what I was doing.  I got the sensation that I was being watched and looked over to the right and saw about 10 different people standing there.  Oh well, they wouldn't bother me standing there so I went back to what I was doing.  When I finally got everything set up, I started a 20 second exposure and in that time, I kept seeing several flashes go off....yep, they were snapping pictures.  Far be it for me to gripe that somebody wants a picture of a beautiful waterfall, but the flashes were going off in front of my lens and causing some serious flare to happen.  This wasn't good at all.

I would speak to the one snapping the picture and request that they hold off for 20 seconds while I grab the shot and they would agree.  Then, without fail, while they were standing down, and my shutter was open, another one would fire off a flash.  After three times of this routine, I had to stop and make an announcement for everyone to chill with the flash for a minute and let me get the last shot of the waterfall.  They agreed, and I fired off one last 20 second exposure with no lens flare.  I finally had the image I was working on!

As I was packing up, I was talking with the guide for the group.  They had come from a ranch about five miles away.  He said that he brings a group out here about twice a week to see the waterfall.  I can't say that I blame him.  The hike is but a simple nature walk and isn't but a mile round trip.  This is a great waterfall to visit if you don't want to spend an entire day hiking over rough terrain.

The Hurt Locker
While Making the walk back to the truck, I passed the old bunkers that used to hold the explosives for the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I have made a few exposures of these buildings in the past, but thought that the darker of the two was asking to be photographed again.  I pulled the camera back out and mounted my 24-70mm lens which would give me the focal length I was after for this shot.  It took some doing to find the proper composition which flowed logically.  I wanted to emphasize the concrete construction and the open door more than anything else.  I liked that the doorway was nothing but shadows.  What is inside is totally up to the viewer.  I tried to give this a sense of remoteness that was not actually the case.  The trail is maybe 15 feet from the doorway.  I'm still not convinced that the picture captures what I was wanting, but it does strike an emotional chord with me, and I wanted to showcase it here at least.

After I was done with Roaring Fork Falls, I decided to hop back on the Parkway and see if anything else caught my eye.  I started my way back North and in about 30 miles I found myself at Linville Falls.  Since it was still very cloudy, and I wasn't having any luck with landscapes, I decided to pop in and see about working the upper falls.  When I got to the parking lot, it was jam packed!  I decided I wasn't ready to fight crowds for a few more waterfall pictures.  There would be plenty of time to come back and work Linville Falls when the crowds weren't as dense.

I did try to set up a few compositions on the lower sections of Dugger's Creek Falls which is just off of the parking lot.  As is usually the case, nobody bothered to stop by and look at this little gem.  While the water level was great, and I was able to get several interesting points in the lower section, I just couldn't get a composition that I liked.  After about 15 minutes of trying, I decided to pack the camera up, and eat a little lunch before continuing my Northbound journey.

After getting a little food in me, I started driving through some pretty dense fog, clouds, and the occasional shower.  Yeah, this was a typical NC mountain kind of day for sure.  My hopes for more landscape opportunities were dwindling quickly.  I did find it interesting to see no less than an dozen or so cyclists braving the conditions to ride on the Parkway.  I've put over 190 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway behind bicycle tires over the years, but I don't think I would have wanted to ride in these conditions today.  My hat is off to each of them!

Hillside View
As it turned out, as I got close to the Hwy 421 junction, I started to see that there was some interest in the sky to the West.  My attention started to focus to the landscape to the West in hopes of finding something to put under the sky.  I managed to find just such a place after about 20 minutes of driving.  As with every landscape shot I had tried today, time was of the essence.  The sky was changing very quickly and I wanted to capture what I was seeing.  I pulled off the road very quickly and parked on what was essentially a ramp for the MST trail.  I grabbed my gear and decided to leave the 24-70mm on to save time, and I thought that it was probably what I was going to need anyway.  I went ahead and screwed on the Lee Filter mount and grabbed a 3-Stop ND Grad before finding a location to shoot from.

What had drawn my eye to this particular location was the strong diagonal elements in the field ultimately leading up to the mountains in the rear.  I found a composition that worked to highlight that element that used a tree line as the foreground, also in a diagonal form.  There was a large tree to the left which I used as a visual block to keep the viewer's eyes in the frame, and jump them to the next diagonal.  This next diagonal stopped at yet another large tree on the right which forced the viewer to continue along the horizon line.  That same large tree to the left stops the eyes and they then move into the clouds.  Overall, I am very happy about the composition on this one!

Hillside View in B&W
Unlike the one from the beginning of the day, I wasn't thinking about monochrome with this image, but when I was looking at it while editing, I started to see some potential.  I did the conversion, applying a strong red filter in the process.  The sky immediately jumped to life, and there was a lot more separation of tones than I was expecting along the landscape.  The end result was very pleasing, and one that I was very happy with.

All in all, it was a very good day in the mountains.  I was able to get a lot of thinking done, and come up with several very good images in the process.  Now comes the hard part.  Which of these images makes it into the gallery rooms?  I think that a few will find their way into the White Water Room, one might make it into the Landscapes Room, and I think its a safe bet that one will end up in the Monochrome Room.