From Price Lake to Mt Mitchell

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Peace and Tranquility
Before I get started, I have to take a quick second and point out that this is my 100th blog entry since November 19, 2013.  That date marks the fresh beginning to my photography after a long hiatus.  Over these last few years I have been changing my approach to photography from what it was between 2005-2011.  Those years represented an extreme frustration with photography.  I was trying as hard as I could to make a business out of it, and was constantly going out, taking pictures.  When I wasn't taking pictures, I was doing tutorials, spotlights (on other photographers), and talking about some of my pictures at length.  It was a lot of fun, but I really pushed myself too hard, and ultimately burned myself out.  Since returning to photography, I have had a much lower emphasis on selling my pictures, or even making a business out of it.  I do it for the fun of it now, and work on my skills more than anything.  Sure, I enjoy selling the occasional print...I mean come on, that's a great indicator that I hit my mark with the picture.  But, I'm putting far less time and energy into "the business" of photography these days, and that means less blog entries.  So, this 100th entry is a pretty big milestone as the vast majority of them represent going out to actually create my photographic art!

For this rather important occasion, I wanted to go to the mountains again.  I seem to have much better luck in the mountains these days than I do closer to home.  It is nice not having to worry about trespassing issues, and dealing with the "hand of man" clutter that is everywhere I want to compose a picture.  The only problem is the distance.  For today's trek, I entered the Blue Ridge Parkway from 421, which is right at 80 miles from my house.  So, just to see the Parkway, I am in it for 160 miles...then add to that actually getting to my destination.  It is an investment in time for sure, but the beauty of the mountains sure does make it worth it...most of the time.

The Golden Shore
Looking at the weather, I was expecting to see mostly cloudy skies all day.  I wasn't wanting to do waterfalls, and I had been stuck on wanting to do a sunrise over water for a few weeks now.  With the clouds, I was taking a chance a to the quality of the sunrise, but that was what I wanted to do.  It has been some time since I've been to Price Lake for a sunrise shoot, and I knew that there was a portion of the shore that was perfect for catching the first light.  That was going to be my destination for the day.  That meant, in order to get there for the 7:19 sunrise, I would have to be at the lake no later than 6:50.  I was going to need to leave the house at about 5am to ensure I could do that.  I hate getting up early!!!

I managed to leave on time, and got to the Parkway right when I expected.  However, my ride down to Price Lake took a while thanks to all of the deer which were there to welcome me.  They made progress very slow down the road, but somehow, I managed to get to Price Lake at 6:45.  I was cutting it close, but there was no hike involved, so I was in good shape.  The first signs of color were starting to show as I got the camera set up.  This is where experience really pays off.  I knew what lens I wanted, and I knew what filters I would be needing.

My trusty 24-70mm lens was attached to the camera body, and I added the Lee Filter Holder, but left it empty for now.  I would need some grad filters later.  I got down close to the shore and found a part of the shore that jutted out into the water.  That was going to be the base for my image.  As I composed the image, the sky was starting to turn pink.  I wanted a nice long exposure to get a smooth foreground with the water, so I dialed in a 30 second exposure.  Fortunately, I was shooting rather wide, so I didn't need an overly narrow aperture.  At ISO 100, I was able to dial in an aperture of f/10 which kept everything nice and sharp through the entire picture.  I fired off a test exposure to see if I was in the ballpark.  Not only was I in the ballpark, I nailed it!

Not a Sound
The light in the sky was getting brighter, but the color was fading.  I wasn't worried about this at all though because I knew that as the sun got closer, it was going to light the clouds up....or so I hoped.  I moved around and got different composition ideas, and then saw the sky turn bright orange.  Yep, the sun had done what I expected for a change.  I started moving the camera around, and I added an ND grad to bring back the exposure of the sky a little bit.  I was glad I had fitted the filter holder since I was now working very fast, and moving over a 20ft area as I changed my compositions.

Morning Meditation
As I progressed with the sunrise, I changed my filters from a 2-Stop reverse grad, to a 2-Stop soft grad, and ultimately to a 3-Stop hard grad.  This was all to keep the sky at the same exposure as the reflection in the water.  It was a lesson I learned a very long time ago, and it has served me well over the years.  The long sunrises of Winter seem to be long gone as this one lasted about 25 minutes before the sky faded away.  It seemed as though I had just gotten started with the session when it was over.

Well, this is the time I change gears and look to my rear for subjects with the warm morning sun lighting them.  There are several little gems that I have shot along here that make use of the low sun in the East...but none of them had any life today.  There was just no color at all to be had on the landscape at this point.  After searching for about 15 minutes, I gave up and packed it in.  The clouds were not looking all that promising with very little texture left to them.  I couldn't complain though...they had provided me with an awesome sunrise at least.

I chose to continue my travels South on the Parkway to see what I could do with some of the overlooks down that way.  I'll be honest, the sky wasn't giving me much hope at all to start with.  Then the sun popped out from a hole in the clouds and lit them up once again with a bright yellow hue.  I started really searching for somewhere to set up to take advantage of this.  But, when you are chasing light, you will rarely outrun it.  I wasn't able to find anything in time to get a shot of the sky.  Oh well, you win some you lose some.  I continued on my track to find something interesting to shoot.  Sadly, everything was still very much dormant along the Parkway as Spring hasn't really hit here yet.  I was in search of textures more than anything since colors were rather drab.

The miles ticked by, and I wasn't seeing anything at all.  The clouds were very blah, and the sun was totally hidden.  I decided since I was almost at Crabtree Falls, I would stop there and go on a little hike to shoot the waterfall.  Well, that was a pretty good idea except I didn't have my waterfall boots with me.  I was going to have to stay out of the water which was hard to do with this waterfall.  It was my best option at this point though...until I pulled into the parking lot.  Really?!?!?!?!  Now the sun was out.  There was too much contrast for me to shoot a waterfall under this sky.  I evaluated my position, and found that it wasn't going to be beneficial to stay here with the sun.

Airborne Invasion
I pointed the 4Runner South once again, starting to feel rather hopeless about things.  The sun was out, but the thin clouds were still all over the sky.  I wasn't able to shoot waterfalls or intimate woodland scenes because of the sun.  The high clouds kept me from shooting grand landscapes too.  That pretty much left me with not much I could shoot.  I should have turned around and gone looking for barns at this point, because that was really my only workable option....but I persevered with a stubborn purpose.  Somewhere around milepost 340, I saw the sky was breaking up, and the low clouds were popping against the blue.  This was my chance...I just needed to find something to put under the clouds.

I came to a shoulder on the side of the Parkway with some very tall weeds and brush.  Just on the other side, however, was a section of mountains with some very nice textures, and the clouds right above.  There was even one dark cloud (almost looked like a Lenticular Cloud) which reminded me of a spaceship.  It was interesting enough to get the camera out at least!

I opted for my 70-200mm lens since I wasn't going to be able to use the foreground where I was standing due to the ground clutter.  In fact, I was going to have to get the camera as high as I could make it to clear the clutter.  With the legs fully extended and the center column extended as well, I was just able to get the altitude I needed to be able to clear the only section of brush I had a chance of shooting over.  Now, imagine my 5'11" self standing on tiptoes in order to see what the camera was seeing through live view.  There was no chance I could see through the viewfinder at that height.  But I got the shot!

Waking From Winter's Slumber
I wasn't totally happy with the composition though.  I wanted more textures, and more clouds in the shot.  I couldn't go with a wider angle though because of all of the distractions at the bottom of the frame.  I could shoot a panorama though, and get a longer picture.  I set the tripod up as level as I could get it, and scoped out the image that I had in mind from left to right.  I shot a total of five images to make sure that I had enough information to crop what I wanted from the picture.  While the final image doesn't look much different from a regular horizontal image, it was actually shot in portrait orientation at about 70mm.  This one had a little better balance to it, but was missing my spaceship cloud that had caught my eye to begin with.

Once the pano was done, I went back to picking out areas of interest, trying to link the clouds to the textures in the mountains.  It seemed that the clouds were starting to lose the contrast that I was needing, and the pictures in the LCD review were looking less and less promising.  I decided to pack it up and see what else I could find down toward Craggy Gardens.

The closer I got to the Craggy Gardens the less the sky was cooperating with me.  The clouds were rolling over the Parkway now...and not in a particularly pretty manner either.  I was not able to enjoy any views off to the side of the Parkway, and Craggy Gardens was starting to look less and less promising to me.  However, as I was just about to turn around, I saw the entrance to Mount Mitchell.  Hmmm, that is the highest peak around.  It might actually be high enough to get above the clouds.

You see, I still remember a hiking trip to Grandfather Mountain when I was still at ASU.  it was cloudy and rainy when we all started, but as we climbed higher and higher, we actually got above the clouds.  I could see all of the mountain tops peeking through the dense clouds.  I was really hoping to see something like that again, and actually photograph it this time.  That scene was the one that got away from me (long before I took up photography), and I've wanted to have another chance to see it for quite some time now.

When I got to the top of Mitchell, I didn't see what I was hoping that I would.  My theory was still sound though as the clouds were much better up here.  I found a couple of views right off of the parking lot that worked out for me.  It wasn't the best of options, but the sky was changing quick, and I knew I didn't have long to work.  I pulled the camera out, and fitted my 24-70mm lens along with a polarizer.  I knew I would be working with some foreground interest, and I wanted to try and get as much contrast in the clouds as I could.

Over the Clouds
Similar to my last location, I was having a hard time with foreground interest.  There were some nice trees, but they started quite a bit below where the ground was.  I don't normally like to chop the tops on trees, as I much prefer to give them a visual foundation, but I had no choice here.  I grabbed a quick composition that used the trees to frame the distant mountains underneath of the rather interesting clouds.  There was just enough blue in the sky to make this work.

I slightly changed my position, and was able to include a nearby summit as it was framed between two pine trees.  The real story of this picture though, is the sky.  The clouds were doing all sorts of interesting things, and seemed to have a pattern developing of organized randomness.  The center of the cloudy tie dye was conveniently positioned right over the summit, which really strengthened the composition in my mind.  I just had to wait for a lull in the wind which was getting rather strong all of a sudden.

Elevated View
From there, I stepped back into the parking lot in order to try and get the fence into the composition.  As it turned out, the edge of the fence went almost perfectly with the pine trees that I had been working with.  I got my composition set and had to take the shot really quick because the sky was starting to fill with thin clouds once again.

Sometimes photography is all about waiting, and other times it happens so fast that you can barely capture it...if you are even able to.  That is part of the thrill, and part of the frustration of this art.  There are too many times that I just don't have enough time to think things out.  I just have to react to what is happening in front of me.  fortunately, I have done this long enough that I can fairly successfully react quick enough to get the shot...if I'm not still driving to find the composition.

I hope that you are enjoying the fruits of my labors.  I'm looking forward to many more entries here, with new pictures getting added to my gallery from time to time.  If there is one that really speaks to you, and you want a print, I would be happy to make that a reality for you!

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