Chasing Clouds After Work

Thursday, April 6, 2017

On Your Way
We have been having some awesome weather here in NC for the past few days...but unfortunately, I've been stuck at work or in training for most of the great weather.  Looking ahead to the weekend, Saturday and Sunday were looking mostly clear which normally doesn't work very well for photographs.  With that in mind, and the fact that Toni would be in class tonight, I decided to go and chase clouds after I got off of work.  I didn't have a lot of travel time to play with, so I needed something close.  I figured that the best way to take advantage of the clouds was to go to Pilot Mountain, which was only about a 40 minute drive from home.

I looked at the weather, and the clouds looked to be holding pretty steady, which was great.  I was looking at some awesome clouds passing over right at the moment.  The temperature was dropping, but that wasn't my primary concern.  I was kind of surprised to see the wind forecast in Pinnacle with sustained winds of 20mph and gusts around 40mph!!  That will make getting a sharp picture quite difficult, but it might motivate the clouds through the sky and give me a chance for some long exposure work.  I grabbed dinner real quick and headed down the road.

When I got to the park, I quickly unloaded the camera, and was very happy that I brought my jacket as the wind was rather frigid!  I made my way down the rather short trail with the hopes that I would be alone at the summit.  I was going to find that perfect composition, and work through the stages of the golden hour until the sun set behind me.  The clouds to the West were spectacular, but there was nothing that I could use as a foreground that would stay still long enough for a I wanted the summit to be the focal point of the pictures this time.  The clouds to the East, were a little less spectacular, but they were at least present.  That was what I had to work with, and as I worked my way to the summit, I was passed by a group of three teens.  Oh goody, I'm going to have to share the overlook with loud folks.  Well, the wind and the cold were too much for them, and they left almost at the same time I arrived.

High Top Fade
I took stock in what I had to work with.  The wind was fierce, and I knew I was going to have to brace the camera in order to get sharp pictures.  I threaded the tripod through the fence and got it wedged in nice and tight.  The fence was nice and sturdy, so I wasn't worried about vibrations.  I got the tripod set up perfectly level in case I decided to do any panoramas, and then pulled the camera out.  Having worked this location many times in the past, I figured that I would just go with my 24-70mm lens for simplicity.  I rarely go wider than that, and this way, I could get a little bit into the intimate views if I decided to go that route.  I started off with a polarizer, but with the sun positioned as it was, I wasn't getting any effect with the filter so it was removed after the first couple of shots.

The clouds were nice here, but not quite like what I was seeing all around me.  The thought came to me to do a stitched panorama to include the clouds to either side, but looking at the scene, it would look very unbalanced, and the clouds would become more of a distraction than anything else.  I decided to stick with single shots.  However, with the clouds starting to move away from me, toward the summit, I figured that now was as good a time as any to try a long exposure.  The 30 second exposure is the opening piece to this entry and was shot with my 10-Stop filter.

The clouds worked out very well, but I was having a hard time getting the actual mountains to light up all together.  So, I decided to embrace the shadows and have all of the focal points in this shot covered in shadows, with the sun actually lighting up the flatlands.  It was a little different of an approach, but with the drama in the light clouds, the shadowed anchors really pulls the image together.  Conversely, in the second image, I was able to get all the mountains illuminated by the sun, but the white clouds were less of a major feature, so the light landscape balanced better with the blue sky.  Hey, we have to work with what nature provides, and sometimes it is better to go along with it.

I stayed out on that overlook for about an hour until I had had enough.  I was getting tossed around in the wind, and I was really starting to wonder if my shots were going to be sharp or not.  I wanted to wait for the sunset, but it seemed that the longer I waited, the less clouds were around the summit.  With sunset another hour away, I really didn't want to fight the wind any longer.  I tucked my tail between my legs and packed the camera back up.  I was hoping to find a good vantage point to capture the sunset to the West that was shaping up to be rather photogenic.  However, everything that I could use in a composition in this direction was moving too much to be usable.  I got in the truck and headed back to the house, still searching.  Unfortunately, I found nothing, but did get to see the sunset, and I greatly enjoyed it!

Off in the Distance

Once I got home, the real fun started.  I started to go through the pictures, and found five that I really liked.  I worked on them for a bit and started to realize that the five I liked were very closely related.  I whittled them down to two that I liked, but still wanted to look at the others.  I had done some of the shooting with black and white in mind since the sky was a nice deep blue and the clouds were very light.  This usually makes for a really good mono conversion when I apply my red filter to the image.  I went back to the others and looked at them in black and white....well, I have to admit, they looked pretty dang good.  I had another two images that I really liked to add to the mix.  I chose to only release the converted ones as black and white images, not because the color versions were not good, but because I thought that the other color pictures were better, and these lent themselves to black and white much better than color.

Above All Else
I'm hoping that I can continue to have skies like this occasionally when I can dedicate a full day to photography.  I would have loved to have seen these skies above the Appalachian Mountains.  Had I been able to get there in time, I would have made the trip, but I would have had only about 30 minutes to work with once I got there, and that just wasn't worth the time investment.  I'll cross my fingers for this weekend though!

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