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.

No comments:

Post a Comment