A Road Trip With Toni

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Swirling Embrace
What's the weather going to be?  What do I feel like shooting? How much time do I have?  These are the normal questions and parameters that I have to consider when grabbing the camera to head out on a trek.  Today was a bit different, and wasn't even really designed to be a photography day.  You see, I am currently in the process of building a new truck that will be used as my photography adventure vehicle to replace my trusty Toyota Tacoma.  As it turns out, part of what I am doing while waiting for the new 4Runner to be delivered is getting the necessary parts delivered, or picked up.

One of the items that I was wanting to incorporate on the new truck are sliders which are like nerf bars, but designed to be structural to the truck.  They provide protection for the lower areas of the truck, and are designed to kick the rear of the vehicle out, if it gets too close to an obstacle.  I don't intend on using them like this regularly, but they will be nice insurance for me.  Their main purpose will be steps to get up into the seats.  Anyway, I digress.  I chose to buy local and went with Budbuilt, which is located near Lenoir, NC, about an hour and a half from home.  To save a few hundred dollars in shipping, I decided that I would take the Tacoma out there and pick them up when they were ready. 

I hate to waste a trip anywhere near the mountains, and when I found out that they were done Thursday afternoon, I called them up to see if I could come get them either Saturday or Monday.  Well, they were nice enough to let me come by on Saturday, which worked great for me.  They picked 11:30 for the pickup, and since they were coming in special for me, I had no problem working around their schedule.  That meant that I had some time in the morning, and time in the afternoon to play with.

I started to formulate the plan on Friday for how I could get a little bit of photography fit into this road trip.  My first thought was to head out to Table Rock, and hike that trail.  When I looked at the map, it was too far out of the way.  Looking at the locations, I found that Stone Mountain and Hanging Rock were reasonably close to the route that I would want to take, so I went ahead and picked those as potential candidates...then I looked at the weather.

There was going to be rain, and clouds all day long.  Well, this actually worked out great for both of these locations since I could shoot waterfalls at either one.  Stone Mountain had the added benefit of a couple of easy views to get to that would look great under an ominous sky.  The fact that it would put us closer to Budbuilt than Hanging Rock would, meant that Stone Mountain would be the destination.

Knowing that I had a good chance of being gone for most of the day, I wanted Toni to come along with me.  She actually said that she would, which was great!  She was even fine with waking up before 6am in order to get out to Stone Mountain with enough time to work both a waterfall and a landscape scene before having to be on the road again.

When we woke up, I looked at the weather, and it hadn't changed much, so I really felt like this was going to be a great option for the morning.  As we were driving down the road, the clouds were up much higher than the forecast called for, but at least they were thick enough to block the sun.  Right as we entered the park, there was a fog that started to envelop the truck.  Well, my landscape idea was out, and I was starting to wonder if the waterfall would pan out.

A Tortured Soul
The further we got into the park, the more the fog lifted.  The sky was still pretty blah, so I tossed the idea of shooting the bald of Stone Mountain.  My other plan was to revisit Widow's Creek Falls which I had been to not that long ago.  My purpose in returning to this waterfall was that I wasn't exactly thrilled with the flow of water the last time I shot it.  Having had a pretty good snowfall recently, and some more rain, I thought that the water flow would be much better this time.  I also had some different compositions ideas that I wanted to try.

After getting the camera gear out of the truck, Toni and I made the excruciatingly long hike to the waterfall.  It took all of 2 minutes...well, it would have, had we not stopped.  For those who have been following my blog, you will know that Toni loves tree pictures, and the odder the tree, the better she likes it.  Well, I saw a good candidate for a picture standing all along in the woods just off of the trail.  There was no time like the present to pull the camera out and see what I could do with it.  It also helped that I had just recently seen a video from a woodland photographer, and I was looking to try some tricks out.

I used my 24-70mm lens for a moderate wide angle field of view.  I added a polarizer to remove any glare caused by the wet vegetation and help to saturate the colors.  I then started to pick out compositions that I liked with the tree.  To help it to stand out from the rest of the trees, I shot at f/5.6 which is rare for me to do since I usually like a very large depth of field.  This worked though, and helped to make the tree jump out from the rest of the woods.  It created a good bit of depth to the picture as well, which was a nice bonus for me.

When we continued on to the waterfall, I found a good bit of brush in the water that was stuck at the different rocks along the way.  I'm fine leaving a certain amount of debris in places as that is nature, but there were some branches that were bigger than I was.  They were really messing with the picture.  I was left with three choices.  1) I could abandon the shoot because the scene was too cluttered, 2) Clone the branches and debris out in post processing when I got home, or 3) Make use of my waterproof boots and do some cleaning up of the scene.  Well, I wasn't going to give up on this waterfall today, and I don't like relying on Photoshop to "fix" my photos, so that meant I was going to do a clean sweep of the different pools that I would be including in the photographs.

It didn't take long, and was actually kind of fun figuring out to get some of the branches that were slightly out of arm's reach.  Nothing like finding some other branches on the side, and using them to reach out and grab something in the water.  It didn't take but a few minutes and I was up and running once again.

Toni and I started out on the left side of the waterfall, and one of the first compositions that I shot turned out to be the best from this side.  The opening photograph captured everything that I found interesting about this scene.  It required nothing special, other than keeping the same polarizer on the 24-70mm lens.  The lighting was excellent, and there was no breeze so, everything was tack sharp in the photograph.  One of the things that I really enjoyed about this picture was the swirl at the lower right.  Of course, that part didn't show up when I was composing the shot, but with the long exposure, it was there...and in a big way.  That is the really fun thing about long exposure photography.  You will usually end up with things that the naked eye can't really see.

A Widow's Sorrow
Not wanting to take too long on this side, we moved over to the opposite shore to continue working on compositions.  This side is one that I am more familiar with shooting, and there are a lot of variations that can be shot.  I started off using the small water slide as a foreground, leading back along the various changes in elevation.  There are so many textures with this composition, and I find it very visually interesting.  There was also another one of those long exposure surprises right beside the water slide.  While not perfectly organized, it does bring a little drama into the scene, and helps give a little balance to the image as a whole.

At this point, Toni and I decided to take a quick break and try a little side project with the camera.  I'm not going to get into too many details, but I'm working a little bit on my portrait abilities incorporating the natural landscape.  We tried that for a little while, and I have to admit, I had a lot of fun, and am looking forward to processing those pictures later.  We didn't linger too long as time was approaching that we were going to have to get on the road to Lenoir to get my sliders.

Our Little Secret
There was still time for one more composition though.  I moved up a little closer, and selected a few elements that I could make a foreground.  These included a mossy rock to the right, and a little small water slide to the left.  The rest of the composition seemed to come together almost perfectly.  Oddly, this might be my favorite composition from Widow's Creek Falls.  It is intimate, while incorporating a fairly large section of the landscape.  This makes it very inviting to the eyes, and the lighting was spot on!  I would have loved to stay a bit longer, but in order to get to Budbuilt in time, we were going to have to get on the road.

The trip to Bud's only took about 1:15 minutes or so from Stone Mountain, and I have to admit, I found a lot of really good stuff that I wanted to stop and take pictures of.  However, there was not going to be enough time, and Toni doesn't really feel comfortable when I go knocking on doors to get onto properties.  I just made mental notes of what I saw along Absher Rd, and decided that I would come back there at some point.  There were a couple of places close to Bud's that I decided to swing back around to check out as well.  It didn't take long to pick up the sliders, which are about 45LBS of pure brute strength.  I'm really excited to get these coated with bedliner and get them on the new 4Runner when it comes in about 10 days from now.  Once I got all the nick knacks to get them mounted, and a few window decals...oh how I love window decals, it was time to get back on the road to revisit a few places.

A Touch of Gray
One of the things that really caught my eye, was about six miles from Budbuilt.  I had first seen the white tree over a slight hill.  The tree really stood out to me, and when I saw the red barn at the bottom, I knew that I wanted to get a picture.  This was the first place we went back to.  It was well off of the road, and beyond a fence.  I wasn't going to be able to get close to it at all.  I figured out that the only way I could hope to photograph this scene was to have the 70-200mm lens fitted.  This time, I added an intensifying polarizer, to really make the colors pop.  I tried a few different compositions, but finally decided that a typical landscape orientation worked the best.

Even though I was really after the tree, the portrait orientation lacked visual drama.  It also shrank the barn in comparison.  Having the frame horizontal, and a strong element vertical, made for visual tension.  Placing the vertical element of the tree close to the edge of the frame, allowed me to really emphasize the branches of the tree, which connected the tree to the barn.  The similar shades of gray between the roof and the branches also linked the two elements.  It was in this composition that the entire picture had a cohesive balance.  It was even so good, that I overlooked the fact that the barn was actually quite new.

I didn't stay here long because, quite frankly, I didn't have much option on how to shoot this barn.  The exposure was overly simple with the flat lighting that I was working with.  Everything in the frame rendered as a mid tone on the histogram, which meant that I had a ton of information to work with when I started to edit the picture.  There were a few more places that we drove past that I gave a second look, but none of them really jumped out at me.  The lighting was good, but there just wasn't the right feel for what I was after.  I will be back in the future though, as there is a lot of great subject matter out there!

We decided to grab a quick bite to eat in Wilkesboro, and then head to Hanging Rock where I wanted to photograph two different waterfalls.  The first was Tory's Falls, which I have not visited in several years.  The other was the Upper Cascades which I had shot recently, but wanted to see it with more water.  It took a couple of hours to get to Hanging Rock, which left us with a couple of hours to play with before the park closed.

Since there was one waterfall I had not shot in a while, that was the one that we decided to hit first.  Tory's Falls is a quick hike from an off property parking lot.  This is a really long waterfall, with a lot of cascades.  It has a very small watershed though, so unless we have had near flooding conditions, it seems to be just a trickle most of the time.  Honestly, I was expecting a little more water than we got, but it was better than I've seen it in the recent past.

I moved out to the only shooting spot available, and set the camera up.  I had previsualized a nice wide angle shot that incorporated the rock that I was standing on, and a small bush just beyond it.  This wasn't going to work out today since the water flow was a little low, and the wide angle would make the waterfall appear much smaller than it actually was.  This was going to be a job for my 70-200mm lens once again, with a color intensifying polarizer fitted to the front.

Trickling Cascade
Tory's Falls still is not one of my favorites, but it does have some interesting qualities.  There are a lot of textures to look at between the water, moss, trees, and the rocks. The deep saturated colors of the mineral deposits on the rocks give it a little bit of character as well.  The cascades are very interesting, as they drop from a veritable stair step of rocks.  Even so, the lack of water doesn't live up to the potential of this waterfall.

The plan was to continue on to the Upper Cascades from here, but there was only about an hour or so left by this point.  We could have made it, but honestly, I was about out of creative energy, and the sun was trying to poke through the clouds.  I just didn't feel like working another waterfall after this experience with Tory's Falls.  It was time to work our way home, so we did...but we took the long route, just in case.

We didn't find anything else, but that really wasn't a problem at all.  We had driven over 300 miles, been to two state parks, picked up parts for my new truck, and explored miles and miles of back roads.  It had been a very productive day, and a very fun day with Toni by my side.  I hated for it to come to an end, but she needed her rest for going into work tomorrow, and I was done with driving for a while.


  1. Great day for a wonderful road trip, filled with fun and adventure!!! We brought some wonderful treasures of all sorts!!!

    1. It was a totally enjoyable day with you! Best trek I've had in a very long time. Glad you decided to go with me!