An Early Morning at Rough Ridge

July 3, 2016

Rough Ridge Dawn

Months ago I decided that I wanted to go back to Rough Ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway and try another sunrise session.  Back then, sunrise was around 7-7:30 in the morning.  That was no big deal considering the travel time was about 2 hours from home.  As Spring sprung, I found myself staying home for the most part and not doing much with my photography.  I started to get the itch to get my camera out of the bag toward the end of June, and with the weather for the July 4th weekend looking kind of rainy, I decided to give it a go.  This morning was supposed to be rather wet around home, but only intermittently cloudy in the mountains.  The weather patters appeared pretty good for a sunrise attempt, and I was still wanting to try Rough Ridge again.  I started to do the math and realized that in order to get up there, and hike to the vantage point I had chosen, I was going to have to wake up at 2am.  Wow!  That's early.  Sunrise was at 6:18, and I wanted to get there in time for the blue hour, around 5:30 or so.

It was hard, but I got woke up a few minutes after 2 and slowly got ready to roll out.  Our dog, Mystic, looked at me like I was crazy for letting him out that early, but he went without a whimper.  A little before 3, I was headed West in the rain.  I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get, but this was going to be my best chance and I wanted to take advantage of it while I could.  The trip went pretty uneventful, and I pulled into the parking area at Rough Ridge at 5am as planned.  I gathered my equipment...and a flashlight for the hike through the woods.  It didn't take me long to get to the rock outcropping that I wanted to set up on.  It was still very dark and there were a lot of clouds overhead.  I delayed getting the camera out because there was a little breeze, and this rock has already claimed one of my lenses years ago.  As the blue hour approached, I could see some promise in the clouds, so I set the camera up.

For this shot, I wanted to include the boardwalk, the oddly shaped rock to the left, and the horizon in the distance.  The only way to do that from this location was to affix my 16-35mm lens which included everything quite nicely.  I also used a reverse, graduated neutral density filter to hold back the sky in the event that the color was brilliant.  I grabbed a quick test shot and determined that a long exposure would work at this time of morning, so I set an exposure for three minutes and let it go.  The result is what you see as the opening picture to the entry.  The 5D MkIII does a great job at extracting all the available light from a scene.  It was still rather dark when this shot was made, but there was plenty of detail in the foreground to compliment the sky above.  An added benefit to the long exposure was that I was able to show motion in the clouds which is always a nice touch I think.

Hole in the Sky
As sunrise neared, there were several other photographers that happened by, each looking for their own vantage points for the start of the day.  I think that we were all in the same boat...hoping for the best, but starting to doubt that it would happen as the clouds gained thickness.  I had my composition set, and I was waiting on the burst of color, but it never really came.  The best that I got was a splash of color above the lower line of clouds which was luckily positioned even with the boardwalk, and framed against the rock to the left.  It was all I was going to get, so I took the shot.  It turned out better than I was expecting, but it was nothing like what I was hoping to find on this early morning.

It seemed that each of us were doing about the same thing.  Sunrise had passed, and we were all just standing around hoping that the clouds would do something interesting to salvage the morning.  The low fog was really nice, but the clouds and mist robbed the scenes of contrast, and color.  I tried a few compositions but couldn't come up with anything that excited me.  With the clouds starting to overtake the mountain, I decided to pack it up and head back to the truck.

Beginning of a Journey
On the way back down the trail, the bridge caught my eye.  I have photographed this bridge a number of times, usually in the fall.  Today, however, the play of light and dark caught my eye and I decided to give it a quick go.  I pulled the camera out with my 24-70mm lens, along with a polarizing filter and started to work different compositions.  I probably took a half dozen or so shots of the bridge from different points, and with different focal lengths.  This was one of my earlier ones, and I think it has the best balance out of all of the compositions.  The lush green was a nice change to the normal colors of Autumn that I mostly get here.  The sun peering through the canopy is what makes this a solid image.

Beginning of a Journey in B&W
Since the major players in this image were the lighting and shadows, I decided to give it a try as a monochrome.  While I like the color version better, the B&W does have a certain mood to it.  I think that it stands on it's own as an image and has been added to the catalog along with the color version.

After leaving Rough Ridge, I wanted to try some other locations, but honestly, I was too sleepy to do much more driving.  I pulled off of the road and took a nap.  When I woke up, the weather hadn't really improved much, and I was out of good ideas.  It was time to get home so I could spend a little while with Toni before she went to work.  I'm glad I chose that option because she had to go in early which would have meant I would have missed her completely if I had stuck with my original plan of getting home around 1 or so.  While it wasn't a tremendously successful day, I did come back with some decent images, and one that I could add to the gallery.  Not bad considering it has been a month since I last went out with the camera.