The Lower Trails at Stone Mountain

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A New Day
There is a lot going on in my life right now, and quite honestly, I thought that I would be tied up all weekend long taking care of things at home and getting ready for the new truck.  Well, that was before I really started to look at the forecast.  Rain...rain, and more rain.  That kind of prevented me from washing the cars.  I had also manged to get the new sliders prepped during the week for the new truck, so I wasn't going to have to do any painting...wouldn't be able to anyway with the cool, and humid days.  With Toni fully into studying, my day was getting a little more free than I had thought.  Late Friday, I started to look at the weather for a possible day behind the camera.


Photographers love the fog.  It adds so much ambiance to the pictures, and helps with isolating elements in your shot.  I was excited to see fog was in the forecast, and started to think about where I could go to take full advantage of that fog.  The first place that came to mind was Stone Mountain because there were a lot of areas where I could try some woodland photography with the fog.  I also had a lot of options about what to shoot depending on what the weather actually did.  Knowing that the park opened up at 7am, I started my day at about 5 when I woke up.  After checking to make sure that Toni didn't want to join me, I got ready and grabbed the camera.

It was a dreary drive to Stone Mountain, with drizzle, and some low level fog in the road.  This didn't really bother me since I was wanting just this type of weather for my morning photography.  The plan was to park near the old homestead at the main parking lot.  I would try and get a few shots of the old buildings in the fog, before working on some of the trees that were set apart from the rest of the wood line.

As I got into the park, the fog seemed to lift which bothered me a little bit.  The clouds also seemed to be thinning out.  Well, that was the beauty of Stone Mountain...I could choose the upper trails and capture some grand landscapes with an interesting sky.  But I was getting ahead of myself.  It was still pretty much dark, and I was having to wait at each gate before the rangers opened them up.  It was about 7:10 when I finally arrived at my destination.

I grabbed the camera bag and tripod and started off down the service road that leads to the old homestead.  As I was walking, it looked like there was a street light ahead...but I knew that there were no lights here.  I picked up my pace a little bit, and quickly figured out that there was actual color in the sky!  This was amazing, because it is so rare that I see an actual colorful sunrise when I am out with the camera.  I was almost at a full run now trying to get to the homestead.  I was running lens options in my head and trying to figure out the best composition before I even got there.  I knew that the color would be fading quickly since the sun was already above the horizon by this point.

Soft Ripples
I ran past the old structures because I could tell that there would be nothing great using them to start off with.  The gold was going to be in the trees in the field just beyond the homestead.  I found the trees I wanted, and got the tripod set up quickly.  I pulled out the camera and swapped in the 24-700mm lens, and left the filters off for the sake of time.  I composed my first composition (opening picture), and dialed in the  I checked the histogram to make sure I had all the information I needed before changing my position for a new composition.  I wasn't going to have a sky like this for long, and I wanted to take full advantage of it while I was here, so I moved all around with a quickness.  Each time, I composed quickly, and dialed in the best exposure I could before releasing the shutter.  There were no retakes here, just lots of different compositions.  I was really hoping that I was getting some good shots, because I couldn't tell in the LCD as the pictures were reviewed.

That is the thing that I hate most about the settings I shoot with.  With everything dialed down from saturation to contrast, the image review always looks very flat and lifeless.  The LCD image is only good for checking composition and focus.  The histogram tells me if I nailed the exposure.  But how the picture is going to look, I rarely have any idea until I get home and process the digital negatives.

In a Haze

I kept working different compositions as the colors in the sky were fading away.  When I finally worked my way up close to the one lone tree that I was wanting to get, the sky had all but faded away.  There was just a hint of color in the clouds, so I went ahead and shot the picture.  The LCD review looked very blah to be honest, but I knew that I hadn't clipped any of the information.  I had high hopes that I could pull the color back out of the sky when I got home.  Sure enough, I was able to reproduce exactly what I saw with my eyes when I got home.  I also saw this being such a strong composition with the bare tree, and the fog softened background that I decided to do a black & white conversion on it as well.  While I really loved the color version, the mono rendering has a certain moodiness to it, that I can't stop looking at.

Vulnerable in B&W
When the sky was done with its light show, I started to look around for other things to put in front of my camera.  While there was a good deal of blue in the direction that I had been shooting, I found that the clouds were coming back behind me.  The old homestead was starting to look really nice with the fog settling in the mountains in the background.  There was also a bright spot in the sky well off in the distance.  I thought I would head back over that way to see what I could do with the rustic side of Stone Mountain.

Pastel Paradise
I have tried so many times to photograph these buildings with varying levels of success.  I haven't been tremendously happy with any of my attempts though.   This was mainly due to the display signs that are out in the front of each building.  They are very hard to shoot around, and give the compositions a less than authentic feel.  As it so happened, the sky was looking rather interesting back toward the parking lot, which would make my shooting position on the back of the property.  I had never even considered shooting from back here before, but the sky gave me no choice at all.  I set my camera up, and started to dial in a composition.  It was harder than it appears because there were only a few things that I wanted in the frame.  It took very careful positioning to make this shot happen.  Again, I was using no filters...I was still just too excited to bother with going back in my bag.  I wasn't seeing any real need for any filters as the exposures were very well contained in the 5D.

When I was satisfied that I had what I wanted, I started to look around once again.  The sky was getting kind of bright in the direction I was shooting, so I turned my attention back behind me.  I was starting to feel like I had a bad case of ADD.  When I saw the clouds above Stone Mountain, I rushed back over to the other side of the field so that I could SQUIRREL!!!  So that I could get the bare tree at the base of the bald.  The fog was looking really good, and the sky had a lot of interesting textures to it.  This one, I set up to shoot as a black and white from the get go.

Against All Odds in B&W
The whole setting was moody, and each element fed off of the next.  I was seeing this one in monochrome as I shot it, which is a trick all to itself.  Of course, the camera was still shooting color, as I want all of the digital material to work with when I process the image.  There is also the side benefit that I can process the image as a color picture as well.  It just so happens that I really liked it as a color image as well, and thought that it stood on its own merit in full color...even if rather subdued.

Against All Odds
When I was satisfied with that composition SQUIRREL!!!!  I went back over to the other side to shoot more of the homestead.  Having had such excellent luck with the one set of pictures, I decided that it wouldn't be a terrible idea to stay on the back side of the property for the next set of pictures.  I wanted to get a barn which I normally don't photograph.  However, the fog behind it gave an interesting backdrop which I thought warranted a few exposures.  By shooting from this side, I also had the ability to use the fence as a leading line.

Split Rail
When I finished up with this barn, I realized that I had been onsite for right at an hour.  Really, it was only 8am?  I had shot some 40 frames in that hour.  I had so many compositions that I knew that I had at least four keepers out of this batch.  Little did I know that this hour was probably the most successful hour I have had behind the camera when it comes to the number of images I wanted to keep.  I was really feeling good about my decision to come to Stone Mountain this morning, and I was looking forward to continuing my hike into the woods.

Wooden Medusa
It didn't take long before I came upon my favorite tree just off to the side of the trail.  I think I photograph this tree each time I visit, just hoping that the lighting will be different, or the greenery will be more vibrant.  Today, I just wanted to shoot it to try processing it through Lightroom for a change.  The composition is always a fun one, but the lighting wasn't stellar today.  That didn't stop me from working this amazing root system one more time.  The end result has a lot of qualities that I really like, so even though it is a repeat subject, I found one that I wanted to keep.

Beautiful Obstructions
Even though the clouds were starting to give way to sunshine, the stream that flowed beside the trail was mostly in the shade.  That was good, because there were several different sections that I decided were worth a shot or two.  This one particular section was deep in the shadows, but the water flow was too much to pass up.  I dipped off of the trail and set up for this shot.  I still had a polarizer on from the previous tree, so I prepared an ND filter, but turned out that I didn't need it.  I was able to dial in a 30 second exposure with just the polarizer on the lens.  I thought that might be a bit much, but I gave it a try.  It was perfect!  The water turned to milk, and there was still plenty of detail where it was rushing around the rocks.  Even though this section was quite small, I found a lot of goody in it, and was able to shoot several different compositions before moving on down the trail.

Soothe My Soul
It seems that I will always enjoy moving water when it comes to my photography.  There is just so much character to it, and it is like a happy surprise to see how it renders in a still photograph.  These intimate shots of flowing water are especially fun since the rocks are left being the only thing that is captured as a sharp, clear object.  It just adds to the story, and that is just what I want to see!

Water in Motion
I continued down the trail with the intention of checking out the base of the Stone Mountain Falls.  When I got there, I was a little disappointed at how things looked.  There was not going to be a picture there least not by me.  There was just no angle that looked photogenic today.  In fact, there has been only one day that I have actually liked how the waterfall looked, and that was when it was slightly covered in snow.  That was a pretty sight!  Today just wasn't the day.  I turned back around and stopped off at this one little cascade that caught my attention just before getting to the main waterfall.

I looked at the setting and decided that the best way to capture this section would be to isolate a portion of it with my 70-200mm lens.  I swapped that on, while keeping the polarizer attached to the front element.  It took some doing to find the composition that I liked, but after a lot of moving around, I settled on this one.  It was nice and simple, without much in the way of visual clues as to the scale of the shot.  I'm counting on that to help bring the viewer in a little more deeply.

As I continued down the trail, I kept my eyes out for anything interesting to photograph.  I found this one tree that had a single branch curving off to the side.  I pondered it for a moment to see if there was a way to photograph it that made sense.  I saw a moss covered stump just beyond the tree, down a slight embankment.  There was also another moss covered tree kind of between the two elements in distance.  With some careful positioning of the camera, I was able to get the stump to line up beneath the arc, and position the other tree to the right to complete the frame.  The composition is not something that I would normally shoot, but I have to admit that I like how this one turned out.  It is worth noting that when I came upon the scene where this tree was, I said to myself "A good photographer would be able to come away from this area with a picture."  I guess I kind of guilted myself into shooting this picture...not that I'm complaining.

I started to really look for the detail shots along the trail as this was not something that I was used to doing.  It helped that I now had my long lens on, which is much better for picking out details in the middle of clutter.  What I came upon next was an old tree with some very interesting decay in the trunk.  It was interesting enough that it caused me to set the camera up in an attempt to get a close up abstract of it.

Fallen Angel
When I got home and started to edit this picture, Toni came in and took a look at it.  She saw angel wings in a state of decomposition.  Hmmmm, I could see that.  Maybe that was what drew me to this view.  Well, she definitely helped me name this one, that is for sure.  I don't do a lot of this type of photography, but occasionally, it is nice to venture out and try something different.  I'm happy with the results on this one for sure!

I continued on my way back where my adventure had started some 3 hours ago.  When I got back to the field, I started to look at the trees to see if there were any other shots that I could take.  I actually found one tree that was kind of interesting, if not for its shape, for the fact that it was set in the middle of a bunch of bright green.  That kind of color in the middle of January was not exactly normal.

Feeling Your Age
The dormant tree, with the lichens on it really posed an interesting dichotomy with the lush greens behind it.  The yellowed grasses below told a story of a different season.  Here I had an old tree stuck between what appeared to be vibrant and fresh, and long dormant grasses.  There was just too much going on with this picture on a mental level to delete it... so, here it is.  It is up to the viewer to decide what the age is, much like it is up to the person to decide how old they feel.

Quiet Thoughts
After all of that deep thinking, I needed to sit down and reflect for a bit.  Lucky for me, I found a bench beneath another standout tree along the wood line.  I actually tried to shoot the tree without the bench, but the composition was seriously lacking something that the bench provided.  So, I kept the bench in the frame, and worked on positioning it just so.  What I really like about this picture is the bench provides a sense of scale to the tree, and to the image as a whole.  With that scale, there is a new importance given to the tree which I think makes the image.

And, speaking of trees.....

The Origin
Right beside the main home of the historic site is a really great tree.  I've seen it every time I've come out here, but haven't directly photographed it before.  For some reason, I was feeling a little daring today, and decided to compose a shot or two.  I left the long lens on the camera and framed it vertically.  This emphasized the height of the tree, and allowed the fence to be used as a counter element.  The greens and reddish browns behind the tree made for the perfect backdrop as well.  But something wasn't quite perfect about this framing though.

As it turned out, the tree had enough vertical elements to solidify that part of the composition.  I wanted to elongate the fence a little more and to do that, I needed to flip the camera back to horizontal.  Once I did that, the composition made a lot more sense to me.  Now, don't get me wrong, it is not that I don't like the first picture.  Quite the contrary.  I really like them both, but the story that is being told is completely different between the two.  For where my mind was at the time, the horizontal shot just makes more sense, and has a better balance.  The vertical rendition has more drama to it though, and more excitement.  With such a simple movement of the camera, so many different emotions can be called upon.

By this point, my emotion was....tired.  I had been out for nearly four hours now, and had taken just shy of 100 frames.  With my creative energy spent, it was time to get back to the car and head home.  It was an amazing day at Stone Mountain.  I missed Toni, but I'm glad I came out today.  It as one of the better weather days I've had for landscape work in quite a while.

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