Hanging Rock with the (not so) Little One

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Holiday weekend, cloudy skies, light rain, free time...yep, that means getting the camera out for a day of photography.  My intention was to do some more long exposure shots of the clouds, and I decided that I wanted to hike up to the summit of Hanging Rock to get those shots.  The weather was a crap shoot for that, since there was probably going to be too much in the way of clouds and overcast conditions, but I wanted to give it a try.  I also knew that with the rain, the Lower Cascades would probably be looking pretty good, so that was going to be my plan B.

I had a bit of a treat today as Sierra wanted to join me.  She enjoys Hanging Rock and she hasn't been in some time now.  Well, we needed to correct that quickly.  The only problem was, when I got up, there was a large cell of heavy rains moving across the mountains, reaching down to the house.  This was not going to be a good situation for photography as I am not really equipped to shoot in the driving rain.  I decided to wait the storms out, which actually didn't take too long.  At about 9am or so, I woke Sierra up and had her get ready for the adventure.  She was agreeable with doing the hike up to the summit, although, I probably didn't really explain it all that well to her.  That was probably for the best as she might not have wanted to go with me had she known that the hike was fairly strenuous, and was about 1.3 miles in one direction.  Whether she was ready or not, we were going to have a great time!

All the way out to Hanging Rock, the clouds would try to break up, and then they would go back to full overcast.  There were little pockets of rain as well which dampened my spirits.  I was really starting to think that we would be better off going with the waterfall over the summit hike.  That would have been ok with me, but I was actually looking forward to photographing up high in this weather since I have only ever done it on sunny days, with none, to partial cloud cover.  But I knew that full overcast wouldn't really do me any favors, and would really not be worth the hike.

When we got to the entrance of the park, I looked up into the sky.  I wasn't impressed, but I had seen a great deal of changes on the ride up there.  I made the last minute decision that we would go ahead with the hike, and see what we could see.  I was fully prepared to come away with nothing at all from the summit, and I was ok with that.  Sierra reminded me that the hike was fun even without the pictures (although by the end of the hike, she recanted her statement).  We set off from the parking lot, and made our way down the trail to the summit.

The sky started to break up, and I could see lots of movement in the clouds.  This was excellent, and I was so excited that there might be a good chance for some long exposures today.  We stepped up the pace, and started making the slow climb to the base of the summit.  We pretty much had the park to ourselves which was great.  I guess the occasional sprinkles were keeping folks away...at least for now.

We both huffed and puffed up the stairs leading to the top, and Sierra kept questioning why every time we climbed up, we came back down, before climbing again.  I didn't have an answer except that the trail builders liked teasing us.  Anyway, we finally made it to the top, and worked our way to the summit that is Hanging Rock.  Almost immediately, we were hit with the wind that the trees had been protecting us from.  It was cold and it was powerful.  So much so that I didn't feel comfortable going out on the edge like I have done so many times in the past.  It was no problem though, as the sky in that direction was not all that interesting.  In fact, I was having a hard time finding some interesting areas in the sky to shoot.  Because of that, I decided to work on compositions and find something interesting to shoot if the sky was going to cooperate.

We had been up there for about 15 minutes and I had not found any interest in the sky, and hadn't found a composition that I liked either.  Maybe this was all for nought.  We still had plenty of time to hike back and head out to the waterfall at least.  But I wanted something from summit DANGIT!!!!

Well, I found a composition that I liked, and Sierra found a nice hole in some rocks to protect her from the gale force winds.  I wished I had been so lucky, but I was semi exposed and had no other option.  I was working on a composition with a tree that was shaped like a "7" which was perched atop two other smaller trees.  As I was dialing in the composition to my liking, something magical happened in the sky....

Beneath my Wing
I can't explain it, I'm not sure I even want to try.  But...despite the fact that it was around noon-thirty, there was some faint color in the clouds in the distance.  How could this be?  This was about the worst time to shoot normally because the sun was at its harshest.  The heavy clouds above were blocking that for me, but the sun that was shining through really should not have been quite this warm.  Well, who was I to question the sky.  I had my shot lined up, I waited for as much lull in the wind as I could expect and fired off a shot.  I recomposed slightly to take advantage of the sky and fired off another, and then another.  The trick was getting the wind to calm just enough that the tree would not blur too bad.  Because of this wind, I was unable to consider doing any long exposure work, even though the sky was perfect for it.  Regardless, I was excited about what I was potentially going to get.  It was either going to be amazing, or it was going to be garbage I thought.

Since the sky seemed to be holding the light, I decided to move my camera around and try other compositions.  There are no shortage of funky shaped trees on this patch of rock, from the high winds no doubt.  I had several to choose from, but they required getting in close to isolate them.  That meant that I had my 16-35mm lens fixed to the camera.  Not only did it allow me to get up close to the trees, it allowed me to capture more of the sky than if I had used a long lens.  There was no need in any filters because the lighting was very even, and I wanted as fast a shutter speed as I could manage.

Into Forever
My next composition that I decided on used the same sky, but in addition to the odd shaped tree to the right, I included the trail that Sierra and I had used to get to the summit a while earlier.  It lead to the saddle in the distant mountain range almost perfectly.  This was a little more straightforward of a composition, but I liked it nearly as much as the first one.  The sky was just awesome!

The awesome sky lasted only a bit longer before it became drab again.  With the relentless winds pounding us, Sierra and I decided that I had gotten enough from up here, and it was time to seek shelter in the trees below.  Oddly enough, on our way off of the summit, we passed by a group that was going out where we had just been.  One of the girls was wearing HEELS!!  Wow, I would have never considered wearing heels to hike in.  That just seemed dangerous.  I asked them later on why she was in heels.  Turns out one of the guys and her had just gotten engaged and they were doing their engagement photos on the summit.  That was just too cool.  I just hope that they had a little better luck with the wind than I had.

Sierra and I worked our way back to the parking lot where she grabbed a quick snack.  It was raining, and the clouds were very blah at this point.  It was still early though, and we decided that we would head over to my alternate location...the Lower Cascades.  With all the rain that had been falling recently, I was expecting it to be alive with water, and I was excited about the possibilities since for the most part I've been less than happy with my attempts at this waterfall in the past.

Death Grip
When we arrived, I immediately saw a fallen tree in the pool below the waterfall. My instincts told me to react by saying "well crap, I don't think I can move that."  However, as quickly as I though that, I saw possibilities.  This was one of those moments where I could shoot this waterfall different than so many before me.  I'm not sure how long this tree had been there, but I knew that things like this don't stay for a long time, and that meant that I had the opportunity to make some real one of a kind art from this waterfall today.  My excitement level went through the roof...until I realized just how hard it was to incorporate into a composition in the position it was in.  Sure enough, I was unable to move it at all, so I had to work with what was there.

My favorite composition using the tree was to get right up on it, using my 16-35mm lens, and get in down low.  I found that getting low did two things for this composition.  First, it got a lot of the overhanging branches out of the way, and second, it allowed two of the branches to actually frame the waterfall.  Yeah, this was going to be pretty cool!  I was seeing all sorts of textures in this frame, and there was essentially a frame within a frame which make for very strong visual directing.

A Golden Invitation
Ironically, that was not my first attempt at incorporating the tree.  I started originally by going to this location where there was a slight bit of white water as it passed by the rocks.  I used that bit of visual interest, the tree, and the waterfall to bring in the powerful grouping of three into the frame.  I also used the rocks as a leading line to get to the waterfall itself.  The composition was just as I had envisioned it, but the tree wasn't as powerful as I had wanted due to the angle it was at.  Still, this is a very strong image, and it turned out just as I had previsualized it.

Yellow Brick Road
Looking at the previous composition, I decided that I might not need the tree in it after all. I flipped the camera over on its side, and recomposed without the tree.  This was a much more direct composition that relied on the rocks purely as a leading line with the bit of white water as the visual foreground.  Again, this was an effective composition and one that I was quite happy with.  It was seeming that I was having a stroke of luck that I have rarely gotten with this waterfall before.  I was loving it!

I decided that I wanted to move in closer to make the waterfall a bit more predominant in the frame.  I also saw a tree with a root system that I'm sure Toni would have pointed out to me had she been with us today.  I kept the superwide angle lens attached since I knew I wanted to exaggerate the roots as the foreground.  To do this, I actually set up directly in the tangle of roots at the base of the tree you can see in the upper right of the previous image.

Subtle Textures
What I love about this picture, besides the intricate root system is that there are three distinct layers of textures.  In the foreground, we see the rocks and roots which are presented in such a way that you could reach out and touch them.  In the midground, we see the silky waterfall which looks soft as cotton.  The background is made up of the very hard edges of the rocky wall, which almost seems to encase the waterfall.  There is a lot to look at in this picture, and those are the types that I really enjoy looking at, especially when they are printed out large.  Only then can all the details be fully appreciated.

When I had gotten all the goody out of the scene with my wide angle lens, I decided to swap in my 70-200mm for some intimate isolations.  The only problem...the waterflow was too strong for me to get any really good isolations.  The answer came from the secondary drops downstream.  There was some really good waterflow there, and some visual interest that I could get up close and personal with.

The Lone Leaf
With the battery indicator flashing red, I was able to set this shot up and make the necessary long exposure to capture it.  The composition was pretty strong to begin with, but the addition of the leaf at the bottom of the image actually makes it all work together.  The embarrassing fact of this picture was, it was set up so quickly because the battery was about dead that I totally missed the leaf.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at the digital negative that I actually saw the splash of color that the entire picture needed.  It was a happy accident for sure, and partly pays me back for those times I missed elements in the frame that actually ruined the picture!

With my battery dead, and it getting late, I decided to swap in a new battery, and put the camera away.  I had nearly 80 frames to go through when I got home, and that was plenty for a couple hours work.  Sierra and I were tired, and needed to get home for dinner, and to see Toni who had been working hard at home.

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