Another Try at Hanging Rock

December 27, 2015

A few days ago, I tried to take a Trek out to Hanging Rock to photograph some waterfalls.  As luck would have it though, I got rained on and was unable to even pull the camera out of the bag.  I came home, a victim of the weather.  A couple of days later, I was finally able to photograph a waterfall, but it was not one of the ones I had intended at Hanging Rock...and I still got rained on.  Today, the weather was looking promising for waterfall photography once again, so I decided to try the park once more.

When I arrived at the park, the clouds were starting to thin, but I was pretty sure that I could salvage the good light as the clouds would periodically cover the sun.  I made quick work of the hike out to the Upper Cascades, and found the waterfall filled with families and pets.  This just wouldn't work...not at all.  I stuck around for a moment to see if any of them were looking like they would be leaving any time soon.  When it became obvious that they were here for the long haul, I made my way back up the trail in search of other intimate scenes to work.  The only place I found with promise was what was known as the "Rock Garden."  There are some pretty large boulders that appear in the landscape, but there are quite a many trees around them, and the scene is rather cluttered.  I figured that I might as well see what I could do since I was here and had my camera.

Meditation Place
Having never really paid much attention to this part of the trail, I wasn't quite sure what compositions were available to me.  This made it a fun little challenge for me as I tried to organize the random nature of the rocks.  I happened to find this one view that captured my imagination, if for no other reason than it was utilizing the light in the best way.  I set the camera up, and started framing shots.  Most were haphazard at best, but this one particular composition seemed to capture a harmony in the scene that I enjoyed.  It was enough to get my creative juices flowing at least.

Braided Knot
After exhausting my compositions with the rocks, I moved down the trail a little further and found a fallen tree which I had hiked by many, many times in the past.  As always it caught my eye, and I tried to frame a picture in my mind.  Since the camera was out, when I started to see some promise, I framed things up in the viewfinder of the Canon and found that at about 70mm, I was able to isolate the tree well enough from the background.  The existing light on the scene was also quite helpful.  I worked out my exposure and fired off a few frames.  Just to be sure I was on the right track, I swapped my lens with my telezoom, and tried at an even tighter focal length.  I didn't like that as much, so I decided stick with my original concept which appears here.  The textures in the old wood are fascinating to me, and something that I could look at for hours.

Once I was satisfied with the tree, I decided that the sky was clearing up too much for any further work on intimate landscapes.  It was time to pack up and head on to another subject I had in mind.  The other day, when I was driving by the park, I decided to come home the back way which took me by a barn I had photographed once before.  It was still there, and looked like it was a little more visible now. Of course, the rain prevented me from stopping and working it, but that wasn't going to be a problem today.  In fact, the clearing sky was going to be a great backdrop for this barn.  That was going to be my next visit.

Bared Soul
When I arrived, the conditions were nearly perfect.  The clouds were stretched out like cotton, the light was falling on the cabin in just the right way, and the grass still had a good bit of green in it.  This was going to work out even better than the waterfall!  Wanting to take full advantage of the sky, I decided to fit my 16-35mm lens and get in close to the barn.  That way, I would be able to capture the wonderful clouds above.  I tried many different compositions, but found that those that were up close were the best ones.  I started to play a game with the sunlight as it changed every few seconds as the clouds passed by to my right.

As the sun finally dropped beneath the trees, I decided it was time to call it a day.  I packed up and headed home.  I was very curious to see what I had captured from the day.  As I was culling the images in the computer, I was satisfied with the ones from Hanging Rock, but when I saw the barn pictures, I was blown away.  Everything just worked for that scene.  Now it was time for the hard part, picking out which one I liked the best.  I actually found two that were very similar that I liked.  Of those, I had Toni pick her favorite one.  The one that appeared above was her pick.

As I was editing the photograph, I was very excited about the sky, and thought that it would do well with a monochrome conversion, using a red filter.  When I started to do the conversion, the photograph was literally transformed.  I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw it.  It was a whole different image with that conversion.

Bared Soul in B&W
For just a few hours out this afternoon, I had added several new pictures to my catalog that I really enjoyed.  I'll mark this Trek down as a success!

Christmas in (little) Switzerland

December 25, 2015

Swollen From the Rains
This might be a first for me....a Trek on Christmas Day.  I'm not sure exactly how this happened, but it started with me wanting to go on a bike ride while Toni slept after working a full shift at work the night before.  Then the weather started to look a little too damp for me to go riding, so I figured that I would go out and try to find something to put in front of my camera.  As we were discussing my options, she said that if I went on a Trek she would like to come with me.  Well, that opened up a lot in terms of options for destinations.  Since she would be with me, I wouldn't have to worry about hurrying back home.  She was ok with heading out with very little sleep as well.  Lots of recent rain, clouds in the sky, and unseasonably warm temperatures...that really means one thing around here.....Waterfalls!

I had actually been out the day before to Hanging Rock to shoot a couple of the waterfalls up there, but when I arrived, I was met with heavy rain, that showed no signs of quitting.  I threw in the towel before I even stepped outside of the truck to get it damp.  I would have liked to have gone back to the park to try again today, but alas, with it being Christmas, the park was closed, and I didn't want to risk a trespass charge just to photograph a waterfall or two.  I started to go down the list of waterfalls that were close by, and found that the vast majority of them were in state parks which were closed for the holiday.  One of my favorites though, Roaring Fork Falls, was not part of the park system, and therefore did not have "operating hours."  The only drawback was this waterfall was so far away from home, about 2.5 hours to be exact.  Had it not been for the fact that Toni was willing to go with me, this would not have been an option.  With my Trekking companion signed on, I had a destination.

I checked the weather early in the morning, and it seemed promising for the afternoon, with only moderate chances of rain.  Since the hike to the falls was only about a half mile, I decided it would be worth the attempt, if for nothing else to see how the flooding waters affected this particular waterfall.  Toni got in a quick nap, and we were up and out of the door before lunch.  The ride up was pretty uneventful, although, the clouds started to break, and then we had a little bit of rain.  But, by the time we reached the Pisgah National Forest, the clouds were back in full effect and the conditions were outstanding.  We passed by several things that I wanted to stop and photograph, but I had a mission in mind, and I didn't want to miss out.  I figured that we would have time on the way back to work some of the other secondary choices.

When we arrived at the falls, I was surprised to see that there was already somebody in the parking area.  Toni put my mind at rest though when she saw a group coming back from the trail area to the car.  We were going to be all alone at the Roaring Fork Falls.  That was really good news for me, and I was excited to show Toni this waterfall up close and personal for the first time ever.  It didn't take long to hike the half mile to the waterfall.  I saw a couple of interesting things on the side of the trail that I put in my mind for the return hike, but didn't want to miss out on the waterfall in case the weather changed.

Along the Forest Floor
As we crossed the bridge that brought us right along the rapids, Toni said that she really liked the trail ahead.  I could see a little promise in it, but I wasn't sold on it.  Like the other things I had seen, I decided to wait for a bit and get it after the waterfall.  When we actually made it to the falls, there was a lot of water flowing over the rocks, more than I had seen before.  I was happy that there was not an excess at the base which would keep me from getting a decent viewpoint.  The water was rushing a little fast for me to put my tripod in the water, however.

I set things up and started to expose a few frames to test my shutter speed.  Normally with this waterfall, I am shooting at 5 seconds or slower.  Today, with the rushing water, I was between 1-2 seconds on each shot.  I barely even needed my ND filter for once.  It took me a little while to find the rhythm of the Roaring Fork Falls this time.  I admit, I am very much out of practice for waterfall photography these days, but it did come back to me pretty quickly.

I had originally said that I wasn't going to rock hop to my favorite shooting platform, but as I worked closer and closer to it, I found that the water wasn't going to keep me from getting to it, and the rock was big enough for me and the tripod.  So, I went ahead and hopped over to it.  There wasn't much extra room, but at least the tripod legs were more stable than if I had dipped them in the water as I would have normally done.

A Touch of Cotton
From here, I started to pick out bits and pieces of the waterfall that I found interesting.  There are quite a few sections along the path that make for pretty strong compositions all on their own.  My favorite section is about half way up, and if you are positioned just right, the surrounding greenery enhances the natural curves of the falls.  The textures between the rocks, leaves, and water all come together very nicely as well.

I would have liked to have played with this waterfall a bit more, but as I was starting to get into my groove, a group of about 5 came out to join us.  They were snapping pictures here, there, and everywhere.  My creative energy started to drain out of my body just like the water was draining from the higher ground.  It was time to move along.  I handed Toni the camera rig, which she didn't she has a tendency to do around waterfalls (our little inside joke).  I closed up my camera bag and slung it on my back before climbing out of the recess where I was.  We then started hiking back from where we had come.  I decided to spend a little time on the trail where she had suggested a picture before.  It was a tough composition to make in order to create a flow through the picture.  About the time I got into the groove and was narrowing in on the right composition, the group started to walk back along the path.  I had to stop what I was doing and wait for them to pass.  At least I was set up to the side of the trail and didn't have to move the camera.

Shortly after they passed, I felt a rain drop on my arm, and I heard Toni say that she felt a rain drop as well.  Oh well, I can deal with a drop or two.  Then it started to coming down a bit harder, and within maybe a minute, we were under a full rain.  It was time to get moving, and quickly.  Toni held the camera bag while I threw the camera in and got everything secured.  We then did a speed walk to the truck.  There was no overhead cover to block any of the rain, so we were getting soaked as we slogged down the trail.  Fortunately Toni had a hooded sweatshirt which she was able to use, and I was wearing my famous Trekking hat...but we were still getting wet.

We passed by all the little details I had seen on the way to the waterfall, and I didn't give them a second thought because there was no way I could do anything with the camera in this full on downpour.  We had one goal, and that was to get to the truck, with a quickness.  We arrived, and I tossed my equipment in the rear of the cab, and we got in still dripping.

After only being there for maybe an hour, we were back on the road again, but I decided to try going home by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway with hopes that the rain would subside enough that I could get another picture or two.  The rain never did let up, and we just managed to work our way home listening to the rhythm of the windshield wipers until it was dark, and we were out of the mountains.  At that point, conditions improved, but the scenery wasn't suitable for my needs.  The day was done, and there was a Christmas feast that awaited at the Chinese Buffet back home.

A Touch of Cotton in B&W

Swollen from the Rains in B&W
Once I got home, I emptied the camera bag so that it could dry out, and made sure that my equipment had the proper chance to get dry as well.  I edited  through the 25 pictures that I had captured, fully expecting to get either two or three good ones.  I actually ended up with two good ones of the waterfall, and one additional one that Toni had suggested.  Adding to those three were two monochrome conversions done to the waterfall pictures.  For whatever reason, this particular waterfall lends itself to black and white photography more than the other ones I have visited.  I can't really explain it, but I like the results and Toni has always liked the black and white pictures.

It was a great day that I got to spend with Toni, and I have some nice pictures to show from it as well.  The best part of the story, we can honestly say that I took her to Switzerland for Christmas...we don't have to say it was Little Switzerland do we?

In Search of Trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway

December 12, 2015

Let's see, how long has it been since I've been on the Blue Ridge Parkway with my camera?  At least a year, possibly longer.  Looking back in the archives of this blog, my last trip to the Parkway was August 2, 2014!!!  Wow, that is a very long time!  I'll admit, it's actually be quite a while since I've been out with the camera...anywhere.  Over the last year, I have been concentrating on my cycling and getting back into shape.  Now that I've achieved that goal, I can relax a bit with my riding and get back to some other interests that I have.  This morning, however, I had planned on going on a ride starting early and lasting somewhere in the neighborhood of six hours, in which time I would have ridden 100 miles.  Well, things don't always work out the way I plan.  There was too much fog for me to safely go out at the time I would need to, so I rolled back over and went back to sleep.

As I started to wake up a little later on the day, I started to consider my options.  I could go on a shorter ride, or I could spend the day with my wife who was also off work.  Well, since I've been kind of busy with work and riding here of late, I decided that it would be fun to spend the day with her.  One of those things that we have always enjoyed doing together was going to the mountains and creating some photographic art.  I made the suggestion, and she was sold.  I charged up the batteries on the camera and we both got ready to roll out.

Since it had been so long since I had really worked the camera, I wanted to start out with something easy.  I chose a nice field that had a pretty cool tree, and fallen fence to work with near Doughton Park.  It didn't take long and we were pulled over on the side of the road and I was figuring out how to get the camera put on the tripod.  No, seriously....I had to really think this step through.  Then I had to read the scene and try to come up with a composition.  That was kind of hard as well since my mind was no longer trained to spot compositions quickly.  It didn't take long and I had worked out a nice view of the fallen fence with the tree in the background.

I started snapping the frames, but wasn't all that thrilled with what I was seeing on the LCD review.  I had to keep telling myself that since I had changed my shooting settings, the review image would appear very flat and dull.  This was to ensure that I was able to retain as much detail as possible in both the highlights and shadows.  I wasn't completely sure how well this was going to work, but I was going to stick with it and find out.

Rolling View in B&W
As I have always done in the past, I worked the scene from every angle I could manage.  Unlike the last time I was here, there were several hay bales present which gave me some other options that I had not had before.  While the grass still had some green to it, you could tell that it was going into its dormant state.  This meant that some black and white shots were in order.  When the colors aren't the strong part of a picture, a monochrome treatment will just take that completely out of the equation and force the composition to rest on exposure and design.  There are also times when the scene works equally well in both versions.

Rolling View
It didn't take me very long to get the hang of the camera again.  I was still shooting in full manual mode which has always been my preference.  I was able to read the scene pretty quickly and determine the proper filter for the right exposure.  It was just like old times, I was putting my Singh-Ray ND Grads to the test keeping the exposure of the sky balanced with the landscape.  This isn't always the easiest thing to do, but if done right, you can really get a photograph with a lot of dynamic range.  That is when landscape photography is the most rewarding for me.  It was seeming like things were really going well today in that regard.

Holes in the Sky
Using the ND Grads really allowed me to showcase the sky as a backdrop to the different elements of the landscape.  Today was one of those days when the clouds were breaking up and the blue sky was starting to shine through.  These are some of my favorite skies to photograph because of all the drama that they introduce to the image.  The broken clouds also provide a nearly infinite degree of lighting choices for the patient photographer.  In the photograph above, just a few seconds before this was shot, the ground was rather dull lit only by the diffused sun.  For a brief moment, the clouds cleared and the sun was able to bathe the ground in a warm glow.  This was just the boost in color that the scene needed, and I just happened to be set up to take advantage of that lighting.

As the clouds continued to break apart, I started to realize that I had worked this location about all I wanted to.  It was time to move on down the road and see what else awaited us.  We continued well past Doughton Park and continued to search out interesting trees.  There were a bunch of wonderful looking bare trees, but for one reason or another, I wasn't overly happy with their location, or the sky behind them.  I tried to see as much potential in the scenes as I could, but things just weren't clicking now that the clouds were starting to clear up.  We must have driven nearly 20 miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway before we came to the comically named "Lump" overlook.

As we approached the turn off, Toni spotted a tree right next to the overlook.  I had also spotted it.  It was interesting looking, but I wasn't quite sure what I would be able to do with it.  I was tired of driving, and saw some potential, so we pulled off to give it a try.  As I parked, I happened to notice the sky was really quite pretty on the other side of the overlook, and as luck would have it, there were a couple of trees that were kind of set apart from the others.  I decided to work that first because the sky and lighting were better here, and I didn't want to lose that.

What drew my attention to this pair of trees was that they were positioned so very close together.  In fact, their proximity to each other impacted their growth.  The sides that were close to the neighbor did not seem to be fully developed, while the outside portions had plenty of branches.  In a way, these two trees have ultimately formed one single unit.  I'm sure that in the summer when the trees are full of leaves, unless you look closely, they would appear to be a single tree.

The trees had captured my attention, but I had a very serious compositional problem that had to be dealt with before I could create any photographs.  That problem was the parking lot and trash can that were so close to the tree (to the left of the frame).  I tried so many different compositions to try and exclude that extraneous detail, but I was unable to get anything that I liked...until I tried the most simple approach.  It was the postcard shot that seemed to suit this image the best.  I don't really like this composition in most cases, but it really seems to work well for this tree, or team of trees.  With the clouds in the background, I think that the composition is a winner on every level.

Winter's Welcome
It was now time to focus on the tree that caused us to pull into the overlook.  It was down a fairly steep embankment and there was a fence running right beside of it.  The Parkway was not far to the side either.  To make matters worse, the sun was getting low in the sky and was directly to the side.  I had to do some work to make this a simple composition by eliminating the distractions.  In order to isolate the tree, I set up close to the ground to allow the sky to be the majority of the tree's background.  I moved my way about half way down the embankment in order to minimize the visibility of the road to the right.  I used a polarizer, to add contrast to the sky with the clouds.  Finally, I embraced the fence and used it as a leading line into the frame directing the eyes right to the tree.  With the help of Toni, I was able to block the sun from causing any flare to the lens and I started capturing images.  After the first couple, I swapped in a ND Grad filter and tried to even out the exposure.  Oddly, enough, the picture looked better with the extra contrast, so I chose one of the earlier pictures to post here.

With less than an hour to go before sunset, we loaded up the truck and started back down the road in search of a good location to get the sunset.  As we got close to Hwy 421, we passed by a tree that was lit by selective sunlight over on the side of the road. It caught both of our attention, and I turned around to get parked.  I got out and went to what I though was a great place to capture the picture. However, there was another tree limb that was in the way on the left side of the road.  I wasn't going to be able to get the composition that I wanted from here.  That actually turned out to be just fine because the selective lighting had move on anyway.

I walked in closer to the tree to see if my plan B would work.  This was a plan to shoot in close and low getting the clouds in the sky as a back drop.  As luck would have it, the other trees were just too close, and I couldn't get this tree separated enough for a good picture.  Hmmmm, what to do?  I turned around to see what else I had to work with.  Oddly enough, the sky to my rear was rather interesting, and I could see the Blue Ridge Parkway winding through the trees.  I swung the camera around and started to frame a shot.

The Road to Home
It might not be the best scene from the day, but the composition is strong, and the sky adds just that right amount of visual interest.  The Road to Home turned out to be the last picture of the day.  What I was thinking was going to be a decent sunset, kind of petered out as the sun dropped to the horizon.  It was all well and good though.  On my first Trek in nearly a year, I had shot about 63 frames, and of those, found eight keepers.  I can live with that.

Be sure to check out the new additions in the Landscapes Room and the Monochrome Room.  I'm also hoping to continue with my Treks on a much more regular basis than I have been doing them.

Fourth Anniversary, First Trek

January 12, 2015

Desolation and Mist
My Treks have been reduced here lately, and I'm not getting out as much as I once did.  However, that doesn't mean that I'm not still finding my way behind the camera every now and again.  It just so happens that this past weekend, my wife and I celebrated our 4th Anniversary and we went back to our favorite cabin in the mountains.  It was going to be a short time and I wasn't overly concerned with getting pictures as I was last year.  This time, I took my camera more as an afterthought than anything else.  When we would go out during the day, I would take it, but it was more so I would have it just in case rather than a planned Trek.  As the weekend progressed, we did some driving around looking for things to photograph, but nothing really excited me.  It might have been that the sky was pretty much cloud free, it might have been that the temperatures were below 20 degrees most of the time, it might have just been that my heart really wasn't in it this weekend.

We woke up on our last day and got all packed up and ready to head home.  It was raining outside, and just a generally dreary kind of day.  I had been the last three days without even taking the camera out of the bag, so I wasn't even thinking about photography at this point.  Then Toni went into the kitchen where she could see out of the back doors and she got all excited.  She said something to the effect that the clouds were low in the valley and that was what she wanted to pastel!  That was all the introduction I needed to come and and give it a look.  Sure enough, the clouds were doing some awesome things in the valley, and even in the sky above, there was some nice visual interest.  I decided that I would have to give this a shot or two, and see what I could come up with.

Rising Above
Since I didn't have access to my long lens last time due to a warranty repair, I was kind of excited to give my 70-200mm f/2.8L a shot from the deck.  Since breakfast was being cooked, I wasn't looking to leave the cabin, and honestly, the view that I had was good enough to keep me right there without even wanting to go out to find anything else.  Had I tried, I would have lost the conditions that prompted me to get the camera out of the bag.  I mounted everything on the tripod and started framing shots.  The lighting was nearly perfect and required nothing in the way of filters at all.  Within minutes, the clouds changed and obscured the distant mountain top, which eliminated my primary focus.  However, since I was out here based on Toni's sighting, I decided to search out a tree or two since she really likes the winter trees without their leaves.  The fog makes for a wonderful backdrop for trees, and it also helps to isolate them.  I found one that stood out a little bit better than the other trees and shot a few frames before looking for other subjects.

Into the Unknown
Misty Woods
While still on the deck, I moved the other side of the cabin and the view of the driveway struck me as pretty awesome this morning.  The fog was rolling through and doing really cool things with the trees just at the road.  I liked the view so much I just planted the tripod right where I was standing and fired off a few more shots from both portrait and landscape perspectives.  Again, the lighting was just perfect with no need for any filters on the lens, and the 70-200mm lens framed everything just right, so I didn't even need to swap out lenses.  This worked out pretty well, and proves that this driveway is actually quite photogenic.  Last year I shot the entire cabin in the snow from the top of the driveway looking back down the hill.

Woodland Round Table
Feeling like things were actually coming together for me quite well this morning, I walked around the cabin to see what else would benefit from the dreary conditions of the morning.  I found this nice large rock which was set up at the corner of the driveway.  Years ago, there had been a frog on it, but it was missing last year.  Today, the leveled rock seemed quite photogenic and was juxtaposed nicely with the strong vertical elements of the trees behind.  In order to keep the bright sky out of the fame, I left my long lens mounted and shot at a relatively long focal length to minimize the background and compress everything.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out, but I had to cut it short at the rain was starting up again, and I was starting to get wet.  I had forgotten a jacket when I went outside so it was time to head in for some breakfast.

Mountain Dreams
After I finished breakfast I looked outside once again and found that the clouds were clearing out, and the rain had stopped.  I could see some more potential in the landscape right outside of the cabin.  I grabbed the camera once again, and mounted my 70-200mm once more, but with the addition of a 2x teleconverter to get me a little bit closer to the areas I wanted to shoot.  This worked out very well, and I found that the sky was starting to show some yellow tints here and there.  With a flick of the white balance, I moved it over to Shade, and took full advantage of the warm light that was showing through the clouds.  The mist in the valley below was still quite mystical and fun to play with.  I have to admit, I had a lot of fun with the extra reach of the teleconverter, and this marked the first time I had really used it in the field.

Flowing Over the Trees
With the extra reach, I was able to pick out some really good detail as opposed to getting a grand view of everything.  This allowed me to isolate the parts of a scene that I found interesting.  In this picture, it almost looked like the treeline was a dam and the clouds were overrunning it.  The protected valley below was now enveloped in a rush of clouds as they moved in from the dense sea of clouds just beyond the trees.  Of course, the tip of the mountain in the distance provides a much needed visual clue to the actual density of the clouds.

Beyond the Treetops
Sometimes, the abstract qualities of low clouds make for an interesting picture as well.  There is not as much clear definition in this shot, other than the visual anchor at the bottom.  In the distance, the clouds and mountains blend and merge.  It begs you to look closer to determine where one stops and the other starts.  While not one of my favorite shots, I really feel that this one has merit because it does draw the viewer into the image better than some other shots.  There is also a very strong monochromatic appearance here that is offset with the red of the tree at the base.  It's just enough to add another abstract element to the image that asks more questions than it answers.

Considering that I had gone three days without pulling the camera out of the bag, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to have any pictures to process when I got home.  Just hours before we left the cabin, Toni changed all of that when she looked outside and caught the scene that we had both been waiting for.  Had it not been for her, I probably would have come home with an empty memory card.  Instead, I shot over 30 frames, and ended up with eight pictures I felt were good enough to keep and share here.  I'm happy with what I brought back, and they will always be special pictures to me since they are from such a wonderful anniversary weekend trip.