The Weatherman Strikes Again

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The weekend was shaping up to be a great one to get some photography in according to the forecast.  Saturday, was supposed to be mostly sunny in the morning with increasing clouds until lunch time with the possibility of a storm in the afternoon.  That would have given me great clouds to work with through the day at Stone Mountain.  Alas, when I woke up Saturday morning, there were no clouds on the radar map, and it was looking like the heavier clouds expected later in the day were a no show either.  I rolled back over and went back to sleep to try and get rid of my headache.

Sunday, was looking more promising through the day on Saturday with 95% cloud coverage all day long, and a chance of a strong storm around lunch time.  Taking into account my luck with the forecasts, I was expecting significantly less cloud cover over Stone Mountain.  It was that storm that I was looking forward to though.  I got up at 5am, and checked to see if Sierra wanted to go with me.  She sat up, looked like a zombie, and shrugged her shoulders at me before laying back down.  I took that as a sign that she wasn't ready to get up yet.

I was on the road by 6am, and at the park by 7am.  The sky was mostly clear...far from the 95% cloud coverage I was expecting, but better than Saturday's sky.  With the clouds being very sparse, I opted to take the time to get up to the tops of some of the trails in hopes that the clouds would develop.  The hike up was nice with a cool breeze in place, and the lighting was decent in the woods on the back side of the mountain.

As I got near Wolf Rock, I noticed a tree just off trail that kind of caught my eye with how the light was hitting it.  I figured I would give it a little bit of attention to see what I could do with it.  I used my 70-200mm telephoto with an intensifying polarizer attached.  I framed up a few compositions, but it was this first one that made the final cut.  It is a little busy overall, but there was still something that grabbed my attention in this picture.  There is a wizard-like feeling to this, a magical quality to the tree.  I just can't explain it, but I'm thinking that Toni might like this one.

From there, it was onto Wolf Rock.  I spent about an hour out there trying to make use of the clouds in the sky.  It wasn't easy, that's for sure.  There was only one section of sky where the clouds were even the smallest bit interesting.  I tried many different compositions, and used both my telephoto lens, as well as my 24-70mm to try and capture something that would work.  I wasn't really feeling that great about any of the ones I shot out on the rock, and when I was going through editing them, I decided that my gut was right.  I trashed every one of the ones I shot from Wolf Rock!

Rolling Off
I decided to cut my losses and I moved on towards Cedar Rock.  I did notice that the clouds were finally starting to come in on this side of the mountain, and that gave me something to work with.  I found my favorite view of Stone Mountain, but the sun was too bright in that direction, and made too much contrast.  I back up and looked at the sky to see what direction I could shoot in.  I found my direction, and then had to find something to put under the sky.  That came in the form of a small patch of grass with a sapling in the middle of it.  It had a view stretching off into the mountains.  It would work for me.  

I went ahead and fitted my 24-70mm lens, and used a polarizer to help with the saturation and contrast.  I got in close to exaggerate the foreground, and shot a few frames before the clouds cast a shadow on that foreground.  The positive here was that the clouds were moving toward the bald that I was wanting to capture.  I went ahead and moved back around the tree line to get set up for the shot that I was expecting to develop shortly.

I went ahead and fitted my 16-35mm lens, and chose to add the Lee Filter holder which mounted a 3-Stop ND Grad filter.  I found the composition that I wanted, and saw that the clouds were approaching Stone Mountain, but weren't quite there yet.  I fired off a few frames as the clouds moved in case I lost the clouds all of a sudden which has happened many times before.  As I was watching above, there was blue sky that was coming in behind the clouds, so I was going to have to time this just right to make it work.

Mountains Cry
I pondered the cloud situation, and thought that if the clouds cleared over the sun, I would get a good bit of foreground lighting, and possibly a little light on the bald in the distance.  That was what I was going to wait for to bring a little drama to the picture.  As the shadows started to dance across the frame, I could see that the water runoff from the top of Stone Mountain was glaring pretty bad, and making very noticeable lines down the rock.  I remember thinking to myself that it looked like the mountain was crying.  Well, the name stuck, and I found the frame that highlighted that very concept to share here with you.  Just minutes later, the clouds cleared, and I was left with nothing but a blue sky above.

I guess I was thankful that I had the few minutes of good sky while I did.  I decided to pack it up and head back to the trail.  I initially went down the Blackjack Ridge trail, but decided that there wasn't anything that way that I needed to photograph.  I turned around and went back to Wolf Rock for one last attempt before leaving.  When I got there, there were a handful of people gathered around one of the banks of trees.  I tried to find something to photograph while they were taking a good bit of foreground interest.

Self Doubt
What I found was a little sapling that was just starting to take on a green color.  It was out in the middle of the bald with not much interesting around it.  I decided to get an angle that would showcase the only real bit of interesting sky, and it also got a distant bald on the opposing ridge.  The composition came off as a little sad and isolated to me.  It looked like a small tree that really can't fend for itself left to its own devices.  The view it has is of the lush greens of the distant mountains, knowing it will never join those ranks.  Despite this doubt, the tree continues to grow in a very harsh environment.  I'm hoping that this will be a story of success and strength, but only time will tell what happens to this sapling.

I was still having issues finding compositions, and now there was another family which had arrived on Wolf Rock.  I retreated to the back corner where I found an old tree I've photographed several times.  I decided to do it a little differently this time though.  I had always gone wide with this tree, but was unable to make that happen with the people.  That forced me to use my 70-200mm to keep the background a little more condensed.  I found that this really opened up the possibilities for this little gem.

Solid Resolve
I began to shoot intimates of this old tree.  I omitted the pom poms that I usually capture and chose to focus on the textures of the trunk instead.  I waited for the sun to be a little selective in the lighting so that I could really isolate the tree from the background.  With a little help dodging and burning, I was able to make the tree stand out just like I envisioned it.  However, looking at the scene, I was seeing another composition within this frame, so I decided to flip the camera and recompose it as a portrait shot.

A Heavy Burden
Even though the subject is the same, there is a very different feel between these two images.  I waited for the light to do similar things to isolate it from the background as I did with the other.  For the first time, I really noticed that the tree appeared to be straining from the weight above.  The way that the picture is composed, it looks as if the tree is about to collapse.  This isn't the case as the tree has been here in this form since my first time venturing out onto Wolf Rock around 2006.

As it turns out, the two pictures of this tree might be my favorite captures from the day.  I had really looked for opportunities for grand landscapes, and even panoramas today.  Those just didn't materialize for me, and the intimate pictures seemed to capture the right mood for the day.  I was feeling much better about how the day was progressing at this point, and with all of the families now gone, I was feeling more like photographing those grand vistas once again.

As it turns out, while I was waiting on everybody to leave, the clouds kind of followed suite as well.  I had one more area of interesting clouds above, and chose to take advantage of them.  I switched back to my 24-70mm and added a polarizer before framing the best shot I could to take advantage of the wisps of clouds directly above me.  It would be my last shot of the day.  I hiked back to the parking lot expecting there to be more clouds coming in.  The clouds did not appear, but there were lots of people coming onto the trails.  it was time to get gone for sure.

As I started to exit the park, I could see where the clouds were.  They were all on the other side of the mountain, and there was one bit that was interesting.  Alas, I was not in a position to take advantage of it.  I was now homeward bound.  The trek had yielded just over 100 frames shot, but I knew I would be nowhere near my 10% hit rate.  The lighting was just not that favorable today.  I still enjoyed the day, and it was nice to be all alone in the mountains for a bit.  Looking back at the images, and the titles that I chose, it was probably a much needed trip to get my mind cleared of the stresses of life.  I'm still looking forward to my next trek that has that outstanding lighting that I have so much fun with.

Edit: May 29, 2017

I've decided to go back and try a couple of black and white conversions again.  I wasn't overly happy with how they were coming out yesterday.  I guess I needed a break from things and the ability to come back with a fresh eye.

Solid Resolve
This one that I actually saw in black and white at the time of capture, and shot it accordingly.  I'm still more of a fan of the color version, but the idea held through with the conversion after adding a good deal of contrast to the scene.  I wanted a very dark image with a lot of visual tension to it.  I think I managed to capture that with this one.  It is definitely a "mood piece".

Mountains Cry
With this one, I just did a quick conversion to see how I would like it.  I hadn't messed with it yesterday since I was a fan of the colors.  However, when I saw the conversion, I could see an entirely different mood develop.  I added in a little bit contrast to make the tones pop, and I have a version that I actually like better than the original interpretation.

An Early Morning at Doughton

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Morning Stretch

A week ago, I wasn't motivated at all to go out and create any photos.  Of course, the sky was pretty great all weekend long.  It was just not enough to motivate me to get out with the camera.  A week later, my motivation was slowly returning and I wanted to go to the mountains to get some new pictures.  The latter part of the week had seen some awesome skies, which I'm sure helped to get me motivated for a full day shoot.  The forecast for Saturday around Rough Ridge was 45-75% cloud cover for most of the day with the possibility of a storm around lunch.  I just couldn't expect better than that.

I had my alarm set for very THREE AM early which would get me to Doughton Park around 5:30.  I left a few minutes early and headed West.  Before I got out of Winston I was getting rained on.  That had not been in the hourly forecast, but that gave me hope for some really good clouds once I got to the mountains.  The rain was steady through Yadkinville, and eased up as I made my way North on 21.  By the time I got to the Parkway, I could see that the clouds were still in the sky, but were thinning out.  I was hoping that they would last long enough for my sunrise shoot at least.

I looked at one bank of trees that I thought about for an anchor to the sky, but the clouds behind them didn't look all that promising.  I continued on into the picnic area of the park as I knew of several other subjects I could try.  I grabbed my bag and started up the meadow to the lone tree atop the hill.  I had set up here several months ago trying to get a sunrise, but ultimately was disappointed.  This time, I chose to go at things a little different.  I used my 24-70mm lens instead of my telephoto because I was really hoping that the sky would erupt in color and I wanted to include as much of the sky as I could get away with.  I fitted the Lee Filter holder in case I would need any ND Grad filters.  From there, I started to set up my composition.  Right where I really wanted to be was a large branch from a tree, so I had to snuggle up to the dead limbs to get into position.

In the Spotlight
As the sun approached the horizon, I was only seeing a sliver of light below the clouds.  I was really hoping for a tremendous light show, but the colors never really materialized.  I  never did add any filters for this set as there wasn't much need.  The exposure stayed within reason with the sun behind a thin batch of clouds.  Had I added a filter, I would have lost all of the texture detail in the tree, and I wanted to keep that as much as I could.  The histogram was showing me that I had all of the information recorded in the pictures, and I wasn't clipping anything.  I pressed the shutter button more times than I care to think about as the lighting changed.  I was hoping for something more than I got, but after getting home and processing the images, I'm actually pretty happy with what I got.

Appalachian Stories
With the sun quickly rising in the sky, I decided to pull the plug on my current location knowing that I had at least one usable image out of the batch.  I moved down the hill to another location and found a small rocky outcrop in the field.  It was positioned in a way that I knew I could make it a great foreground for the sunrise in the distance.  However, the exposure latitude had grown quite a bit necessitating the use of an ND Grad.  Not wanting to mess around, I went ahead and added a 3-Stop Reverse Grad to pull the exposure in the sky back.  I dialed in my composition and positioned the filter.  There was only time for about three exposures before the sun dipped behind the thick cloud.  Once that happened, the color that I was seeing just disappeared from view.  Knowing that when it came out on the top, it would be much too bright to photograph head on I moved back to the other side of the hill to get another rock outcropping that I have shot in the past.

I was hoping that the sun would highlight the rocks with a warm glow, but I was figuring that was a long shot as high in the sky as it was getting.  The thin clouds were also diffusing the light a bit too much for that to happen.  There was just a hint of color in the sky above the rocks though, and I thought that I would give it a try.

Noble Intentions
I found the composition that I wanted which was a bit different than last time.  In fact, the entire background was different at this angle.  There was just the hint of color in the sky, but it was not bright enough to justify the use of the Grad filter, which was removed.  With the sun at my back, I couldn't use a polarizer either, so I was shooting naked once again.  After I got everything set up, I could see just a hint of warm light at the tips of the rocks.  I fired off a quick shot to see how everything looked.  By the time the photo processed, the sun was gone again.  I only got this one exposure, which I thought would be a wasted one. However, when reviewing the images at home it made the final cut.  That slight bit of color in the sky actually complimented the rock's tones and the greens balanced the whole thing out.  I actually like the image quite a bit which is strange because I don't usually go for the cool toned images.  They just really work here, and I like the overall feel of the image.

With the sun now gone, and no chance of that really warm light hitting the rocks, I moved on down the hill to see if I could do anything with an old fallen tree right along the trail.  When I got there, I started to really look at it in detail.  Large parts of it have fallen off or been removed since the first time I photographed it.  It used to be this monster of a thing, and over the years it has become visually smaller and less complicated.  I walked around the wood for at least three times trying to find the right vantage point to photograph it.  The one with the best light, had a less that awesome sky.  The better sky had the worst shadow light on the wood.  I opted for the most flattering light on the wood for the composition.

Meadow Driftwood
In an attempt to pull out as much detail from the sky as I could, I added my Singh Ray Intensifying Polarizer to the front of my lens, as well as the lens hood.  I dialed in the composition that I wanted, and that was no easy task.  I dropped my tripod as low as it would go without pulling the center column out and attaching it horizontally.  I kept the focal length pretty wide to emphasize the wood, and to capture a meaningful amount of background.  The light stuck around for several minutes and allowed me to play around with different compositions and exposures.  In the end, it was one of my first ones that made the cut. It isn't as dramatic as I would have like it to be, but I'm happy with it for the conditions.

Looking at the sky (deceiving in the pictures), there was not much else to use at this location.  It was time to move on down the Parkway and play chase the clouds.  While that is a game I play a lot, it is not all that fun.  Clouds are elusive on the Parkway, and you are always fighting against the clock to find the right foreground to put under the sky.  From the looks of it, the clouds were all getting ghost quickly.  The forecast had called for increasing clouds though, so I kept an optimistic eye.

Spring is in the Air
Before exiting this section of the park, I saw a tree I had shot back in the Fall.  It was getting its new leaves, and had the last bit of clouds behind it.  I went ahead and got into position for a quick shot.  It was this overall picture that I found to be the best.  However, when I was shooting, it was a detail shot of the fence under the tree that I liked best.  Just goes to show, you can't trust the camera LCD when it comes to checking your images on that level.  When I looked at them on the editing screen, the intimate pictures just didn't have any visual umph to them.  I had thought that they would be some of the better ones from the morning.  Alas, they didn't even make the cut.

I moved around the park for the next little bit before deciding that the clouds were gone for good.  It was time to get mobile again.  Since the clouds were going Northeast, I figured that was the direction I should go.  I went that direction, and went some more....and then went some more.  The light was harsh, there were no clouds, and the little bit of Spring Color I saw was in scenes that were just too contrasty to try and photograph.  By 10am, I was at Squirrel Spur Rd in Virginia and was deciding that the rest of the day would be a bust.

I took the long way home through Cana, Va hoping to find some rural scenes.  I did, but they were all in really bad lighting.  I had been holding out hope that the forecasted storms would be coming in around 11, but they never did materialize.  As I drove, I thought back to my morning at Doughton.  I had shot around 90 images (most of which were the same composition for sunrise), and I was having severe doubts that any of them would be good.  I knew that none of them were what I had been imagining on the drive to the mountains.  Maybe, just maybe I could get a picture or two out of this Trek that was cut short many hours before I had intended.

As you can see here, I actually had a fair amount of images that worked out from this Trek.  I was pleasantly surprised with these six, and feel pretty good about the morning.  I still want to get out and create the images that I have in my head, but that will have to be another day.

Edit: May 21, 2017

After sleeping on it, I have decided to add another picture to this set.  It was one of the last ones taken, shortly after Spring is in the Air, and I decided that it would make a good addition to the Woodland Gallery Room.  It is an intimate shot of the fence beneath the tree, and has a certain feel to it.  I like it, and the more I look at it, the more I do like it.  So, without further ado, allow me to introduce...

Split Rail Spring
Also, while looking over my recent set of photographs, I have found something so painfully obvious that I'm surprised I missed it at the time of capture.  The dark cloud in Appalachain Stories looks just like a bird in flight.  I'll wait for you to go back and look again...

You see?  Missed that completely while taking the photo, and while editing it.  My love for that image just increased tenfold because of that.  Of course, now that is all I see in the picture.  Photography is always full of surprises.

The American Landscape Photo Contest

Over the years as a photographer I have been interested in photo contests from time to time.  Of course, I want to win them when I enter, but I think what I get out of them more, is the ability to critique my work on a higher level.  I use that as a learning tool for all of the new pictures that I plan on taking.  

For the most part, my contests have centered around the Dixie Classic Fair which is a local/regional event.  The photography competitions have been a small part of the entire fair, and honestly, I have no idea who is judging them.  I've had a mixed bag of luck with this competition since my first entry in 2005.  Some years I do quite well, other years I don't even place.  I don't put a lot of stock in this competition because I do view the judging as rather random.

I also entered another competition in the early months of 2016 called the "Modern Landscape."  This was my first foray into the world of a dedicated photography contest.  The premise was to help promote an Ansel Adams exhibit here in Winston Salem, so they were looking for black and white photos to be entered.  I picked what I thought was a contender for the contest, but did not make the cut when the judging was done.  Yes, I had failed to place, and sure...I wasn't very happy.  It stung a little bit, but looking at the winners I can see how each of them won, and I agreed with the judges. It was a learning experience for me, and one that I hope will be helping me now.

A month or so ago, I heard about the Outdoor Photographer contest called "The American Landscape".  Since I am a landscape photographer primarily, this caught my eye.  Unlike the "Modern Landscape," there was no restriction on color versus black and white.  This meant that my primary photographic focus of color photography was fair game for the submissions.  I knew that I had gone through a bit of a renaissance in my photography last summer, and I was interested to know how I would stack up against other photographers.

A Bit of Drama
The trick was going to be picking images for the contest.  There was no limit on how many you could submit, which actually made it more difficult to select.  This was also my first photo contest that required an entry fee which would limit how many I would choose.  I wasn't sure exactly how many I wanted to select, but I started going through my landscape images to see which ones I might want to enter.  I knew right off that A Bit of Drama would be on my short list for entry.  Ever since I shot this at Big Creek during the drought, I have absolutely loved the composition and colors.  The lack of water actually made the image for me.

The lack of water made this view special because this is one of those creeks that very rarely drops to this level.  For me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this particular picture with just the hint of a cascade as the foreground interest.  The trees in the distance formed a woodland tunnel which gave the scene some great depth.  The primary color tone is green with the leaves of late fall providing the warmer tones for balance.  Speaking of balance, there was a pretty cool element in place with the rock in the lower right corner.  It not only frames the white water, but it also helps to point out the other rock that caused the division in the water...all leading back to the woodland tunnel.  It was one of the last shots of the day, but by far my favorite one that I came home with!

As far as the competition goes, I expect that this will do well in the categories of composition, exposure, and technical approach.  I think that it will fall short in the creative category because it follows the same approach as many mountain stream shots.

Good Day Sunshine
Another picture that felt like a good fit for this contest was Good Day Sunshine which was shot along the Blue Ride Parkway in the late Winter.  I remember watching the colors in the sky change and the clouds move into position for what seemed like an eternity.  That was fortunate because I had made a really bad filter mistake early on in the series and had ruined several of the early pictures.  As the light increased though, the clouds fell into a nearly perfect position for the shot.  The composition was simple, for the most part.  I used the barbed wire fence as a foreground interest, that also gave a little bit of a leading line to the sun.  To keep the eyes from escaping, I used a tree at the edge of the frame.  Two of the fence posts framed a distant view of the purple mountains in the distance, which matched the color tones with the sky to the upper right.

What really stands out about this picture to me is the fact that the sky is so brilliant.  It was one of the best sunrises I have ever seen, and I was in the right setting to take full advantage of it.  I've learned over the years that to really get the colorful sky to pop, and make sense, you need to include the less colorful section that only a wide angle of view can give you.  The upper right gives credibility to the colors in the sky as you can see the natural transitions in tones.

The picture has a little bit of a non-characteristic flow to it which will either help me, or hurt me in the competition.  I think that it will do OK in most of the categories except for composition.  If I could have captured a little more to the left to give the sun room to breathe, it would have felt more balanced.  However, I had a roadway right at the edge of the frame, so that couldn't have happened.  I think it will do well in the creativity end though.

Peace and Tranquility
My next contestant was this one from Price Lake shot not too long after Good Day Sunshine.  It was another early morning attempt at a sunrise.  I didn't have high hopes for a lot of color when I arrived, and almost didn't get the camera out.  But, since I was there, I went ahead and put it together.  Ironically, Peace and Tranquility was a test shot to see how things would work out with a long exposure, and to dial in my depth of field.  There was hardly any color in the sky when I tripped the shutter, but when I looked at the LCD, I could see that the camera had picked up color that my eyes were not able to see.  The 30 second exposure smoothed the slightly rippled water as well.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at the picture on the computer that I really saw what I had.

I knew I had a composition that worked with an "S" curve on the left side that brought your eyes to the horizon.  That horizon came alive with the pre-dawn colors that my eyes never saw.  The water, which was glass smooth now, reflected the colors in the sky, and there was even a hint of pink in the lower right to add some visual balance to the rock that was jutting out on the left.  There was not much detail outside of variations in the shading, but there was enough to count for some texture.  Everything seemed quite soft and dreamy, and it was an overall simple image with great color tones.

While I liked this image quite a bit, it wasn't until I saw one of the previous year's winners that this image took on a different appeal to me.  The winning image was simple with overall cool tones.  It wasn't flashy, it wasn't complex, it was just there.  Because of the overall simplicity of the image here, I thought it would stand a decent chance with the competition.  I think it will excel in the creative aspects, and in the overall feel of the image.  The weaknesses will be more on the technical end.

Gnarled Centurion
As I was pouring through my images, I did a very smart thing and asked Toni what she thought.  I've come to trust her opinion on my photography more than once, and when I am at a stalemate, she is there to offer some sound advice.  A picture that I had overlooked previously was one of her favorites.  She really wanted me to enter Gnarled Centurion which was shot the weekend that Hurricane Matthew came through.  I really couldn't argue with the visual appeal here.  Since I have created the image, I have sold several prints of it, and have a 13x19" print hanging in the living room.

However, this is the picture that I love to hate.  Don't get me wrong, I love how it turned out.  It is dramatic with the sky, and the lighting is great.  The hint of fall color in the mid ground is a nice touch, and the blue in the clearing sky highlights the mountains.  So...what's not to like.  Well, I know the process that it took to get to this stage.  I really had to push the RAW file to its limits to get the color and exposure range out of this shot.  That created some technical issues that I will always see in place of the beauty of this shot.  It is an awesome picture, but I am afraid that putting it into a photo competition with a photography magazine those technical issues might be too much to overcome.

On the creativity scale, this one is off the charts.  Composition is very solid, and the exposure is definitely right for the scene.  It is dark and moody, but that was exactly what I was going for.  Will it do well in the competition, I doubt it.  But...I trust Toni's opinion, and I would love it for her if it did well since this is one of her favorites in my collection.  With her behind it, and several other of my clients who have put money on this print joining her, it would have been a mistake not to enter this picture.  If things are judged purely on impact, it will do well.

Peeling Back the Layers
Adding another one to the mix that Toni suggested is this one from a recent trip to Hawksbill Mountain.  I believe that her words were, I like that one of the rock better than the other ones you have selected so far.  Maybe I'm just used to seeing this feature at the summit of Hawksbill, and take it for granted now.  Maybe I'm still wanting more from this scene.  Either way, I had not really considered it for the competition until Toni mentioned it.  The more I though about it, the more I could see some potential to it for the contest.

Of course, what draws me to the scene in the first place are the layers in the rock which forms all sorts of wonderful leading lines.  They cause your eyes to race through the scene and off into the distance.  You can see the distant mountains to the left which adds the depth to the scene, and the clouds actually did cooperate with me.  There was a large bank of clouds over the distant mountains, while there was a break in the clouds above the ridge of the main element.  This helped to keep your attention on the rocks.  There were framing elements with the vegetation at the lower left, and the upper right.  The low sun accentuated the shadows in the layers.  Near the bottom was a nice section with earthy tones which helped to balance the early spring colors in the background.  There is a lot going on with this image, but it does work pretty well.

I think this image will excel in visual impact, and composition.  The exposure is right, and technically it is a pretty good image.  The only negative to it is that I really wanted more color in the background, and a more dramatic sky.  I just don't know if it has the "pop" to make it as a finalist with the group I'll be with.  It would make me very happy if it does well since Toni picked it out.

The Aqua Rapids
The last image that I seriously considered worthy of submitting was this one from just last week at Big Creek.  This was more of a "throw it in" image than anything else.  I loved this whole series of pictures and with them all being brand new in my collection, they all still had that "wow" factor to them.  Going on the thought that as I progress as a photographer, each set of pictures that I photograph should be better than the last.  With that though, these pictures should be better than anything that was before.  Now, I know that isn't true, as there is no real pattern to the quality of the images since there are just too many variables involved with each outing.  I was feeling very good about this last set though!

After looking at each and every one of the images, I picked them all apart, and decided on The Aqua Rapids.  It was not necessarily my favorite image from the set, but it was the one that I thought would do the best in the contest.  I wanted a nice and dramatic image since the majority of what I was submitting were more calm and serene.  The rushing water, and the shear volume of water gives this picture an instant impact.  The greens of the water make this a standout image (from this area anyway).  There was almost an electrical quality to the rapids, and that was what I was banking on.

The composition was strong with a great leading line, full of "S" Curves.  The rocks on the edges make a wonderful frame, there are dark areas at both lower corners which keep the eyes in the frame.  The trees in the background just exude lush forest, and balance with the greens of the water.  There are a lot of textures present as well.  Most of the positives I mentioned from A Bit of Drama are present here as well.  I think this one actually has a little more visual impact though.  The overall mood is different between the two which played a part in me entering both of them.  With all of the similarities, this one suffers from the same Achilles Heel as my first submission...mountain streams have been photographed many, many times.  I might be up against a bunch of similar images which will eliminate us all because none of these will stand out.

As I looked at these six images, I found it nearly impossible to eliminate any of them. They all had their strong qualities, and each had some negatives as well.  None of my pictures are perfect, but they each appeal to different parts of different people.  Each of these shots would appeal to a different person, and I'm hoping that one of them will appeal to the judges.  With that thought, I decided not to reduce my chances for a good appearance and chose to submit all six of these photographs.

At the end of the day, I'm not really expecting to win the "American Landscape" Photo Contest.  I've seen the competition that I'm up against, and they are all really good.  I would consider this a success if I make it into the finalist category.  Honestly though, I have learned a lot about myself and my photography here.  Even if I don't make it into the finals, I have bettered myself as a landscape photographer by looking so critically at my own work.  

I feel confident in saying, if I don't win, I have done my best and will hold my head high.  I'm proud of my photography, and I also know I have a lot to learn.  This is just another step on the path to my own self education.

Edit: August 7, 2017

The finalists have been announced, and unfortunately my photographs are not among them.  I make no excuses, I'm not sure of the specific reasons that I didn't make the cut.  What they were looking for was just different than what I submitted.  It was a learning experience for me, and one that I'm glad that I took part in.  I wish I had the answers to my questions so that I could learn from the experience and maybe do better next time, but I'll just have to take it at face value.  I'll continue to learn and hone my skills as a photographer and will take these chances occasionally.  Congratulations to the finalists!

Big Creek with Mini Me

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sierra on her first waterfall shoot
With my recent trek to Hanging Rock a few days ago, I was ready to go out and play with some long exposures with water once again.  Looking at the weather, there was promise of clouds on Saturday in the area of Big Creek, which is just inside of the NC Border.  There was going to be clouds and little bit of rain throughout the day, and that was going to be perfect for some white water photography.  It just so happened that Sierra has been wanting to learn a little bit more about photography lately, and she was wanting to go with me.  What a great time to introduce the manual mode and some work with filters on her camera.

The morning started very early since there is a 3-4 hour road trip to get there, and we needed to get back to the house around dinner time for another engagement.  It was rough, but we got up at 4am and were on the road by 5.  As the sun came up I could see that the sky was full of clouds which was just what I was wanting.  As we arrived at the park, the clouds were perfect for long exposure work.  We got our cameras out of the 4Runner and started the roughly two mile hike towards Mouse Creek Falls with the hope of going a little beyond that point.  There were trees down all along the trail that showed just how much water has been falling recently.  The roots were pulled right up from the ground in most cases.  I was catching glimpses of the water and I could tell we were going to be in for a treat.

The thing that I love most about this location is that the water has this wonderful aqua hue to it when viewed in the right conditions.  Today was looking like that kind of condition, and that made me very happy.  Sierra was the first one to spot a location that she wanted to shoot.  We scrambled down the embankment to get to the water.  I could see a lot of potential with the different elements, but the clouds managed to clear right as we got to the water.  I mean it was like a switch was flipped!!  All of a sudden the water was nothing but highlights, and the trees were nothing but shadows.

We took a good bit of time to explain the manual settings on the camera, and to figure out what filters were needed.  Sierra found a spot that allowed her to capture the composition that she was wanting, and fired off a test shot.  After I added an ND filter, she was really happy with the way the water looked.  At this point, she was on her own to figure out what compositions she wanted to shoot.  I went over and pulled out my camera by another area as to not get in her way.  Looking at the scene, I decided that I would have to pick out isolations to keep from getting an overly contrasty scene.  I took several exposures, but I really wasn't overly happy with any of them.  The sun was just too bright.

Rock Slide
After waiting around for about 30-45 minutes, we both decided that the sun wasn't going to help us out any.  We packed up and found the trail again. Knowing that there were some areas that were shaded from the sun a little further up, we continued on in hopes of finding something better to photograph.  The next area we found had a bunch of really great elements to work with, and about half of them were in the shadows.  The problem is, half were not in the shadows and happened to fall in the full sun.  But this area was just too good to pass up.

Sierra and I set up in two different locations where we though that we would get the best compositions.  For this location, I decided to go a bit wider, and fit my 24-70mm lens for a little flexibility.  We both fired off a few shots, but were less than satisfied with the outcome.  I looked up at the sky and could see some faint clouds possibly moving towards the sun.  I told Sierra to be patient and once the light started to change to be ready to work.  It took about 10 minutes, but just like I was hoping, the clouds covered the sun.  Both cameras started to fire off shots left and right.  Sierra was working a small feature of this drop over to the right, and I was focusing my attention on the larger area.  I found it very funny  that we were always finding different things that sparked our interest in the same location.

Broken Away
The light was changing fast, and I didn't know how long it would last.  I shifted around and got several different compositions put together in the 10 minutes or so that the clouds were covering the sun.  There wasn't the luxury of fine tuning the compositions, I just had to work on instinct, and place things in the frame the best I could.  I was actually very happy to come away with two keepers from this location, especially since it started out being too sunny to even work with.  Patience does pay with it comes to photography.

We were both charged after this location since we both got pictures that we were happy with.  We continued to hike on down the trail, and my goal was to get to Midnight Hole which is the first of the named waterfalls on this trail.  I have yet to get a picture of this waterfall that I really like.  I was starting to feel good about today's chances.  The clouds were sporadic, but they were at least in the sky now.

A Wooden Reach
Well, sometimes things fall in place when you really need them to.  When we got to Midnight Hole, the water level was top notch (so much better than when I came here in the Fall), and the lighting was damn near perfect.  Knowing that the clouds could move at any second, Sierra and I set up quickly.  With this location, we both wanted to photograph the same thing, so I started off well to the rear and shot to the side of her location with the long end of my 24-70mm.  She was actually set up just to the left of the tree in the picture above.  I had to come back after she was finished for that particular shot.

Spring at Midnight Hole
One of the things that I loved about this waterfall with today's conditions was the trees.  They were essentially backlit from the diffused sun.  They had a certain glowing quality about them which made the leaves really stand out.  With the new Spring growth on the limbs, the greens were already quite vibrant as well.  Those trees made for the perfect balance to the rocks and the small waterfall.  It was this series of shots that made me feel like the trip out here was worth it.  I was pretty excited about how these were going to turn out.  But there was no time to get complacent.  The rain was actually starting at this point which meant that the clouds were probably going to stick around for a bit.  We still had a little more time, and we decided to go for one last location before turning around.

The Aqua Rapids
We found our last stop just up the trail, a little shy of Mouse Creek Falls.  This area had a lot of rapids and a bunch of rocks all along the creek.  Even better...the aqua color was really shining through in this section.  Despite the fact that the rain was starting to come down pretty quickly, Sierra and I decided to set up one last time.  She stayed close to the shore, and I ventured out onto a large rock in the creek.  I opted to keep my 24-70mm lens on the camera even though I would have rather had my 16-35.  The reason was...I needed the longer lens hood to shield the front element from the rain.  It only barely worked!

The Water Returns
It was so nice to see Big Creek's Landscape full of water again.  It was quite sad seeing it in the peak of the drought.  It was now in full song once again, and I was quite happy to capture it with my camera...even if I was doing it in the rain.  At least the light quality was beautiful, and the exposures were quite simple.  My biggest problem was having to continuously wipe the lens down as the rain kept hitting it.  Take the shot, wipe the lens, recompose, take the shot, wipe the lens...and so on, and so forth, and what have you.

Full Force
We stuck around for a about 10 minutes and then I was starting to get just too wet out there in the open.  I was starting to get concerned for the camera, and finding that my footing was getting very slippery with the rain, it was time to call it a day.  Even though the lighting was nearly perfect, the rain was getting harder, and we had a schedule to keep.  It was time to be the responsible adult and head back to the truck.  We made it with a little time to spare, but the minute we closed the doors, the bottom fell out of the sky.  Yeah, it was a good choice to throw in the towel.

It was a great day regardless of the funky weather.  I got to spend some great time with Sierra sharing my love of photography with her, as well as just enjoying the outdoors.  I got a good many new images to add to my collection.  All in all, it was a success.  I'll be happier tomorrow when the camera bag is dry and I can put everything back in it again though.

Update: May 13, 2017

I've done a B&W conversion on a couple of the images from this trip that I really like.

A Wooden Reach

Full Force

Tory's Falls Before Work

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mountain Cascades
Last weekend I wanted to get out for some pictures, but the weather was a little strange to say the least.  That kept me from being able to plan a destination, and since I had a lot to do around the house, I decided to stick close to home.  With my schedule, I rarely get the chance to go out on a trek during the week, but with going in late this morning, I decided to head out to Hanging Rock for a quick attempt at Tory's Falls after all of the rain that we have gotten.  The forecast was calling for increasing clouds starting at around 9am, which would give me plenty of time to get to the park.

I arrived at about 8:30 and found that the clouds were nearly non-existent.  Normally, I would abandon the shoot and head off to something else, or home.  I knew that this waterfall was shielded from the sunlight for the majority of the morning, and clouds were just a little extra insurance against highlights.  I made the quick hike out to the Falls and found that the water was better than I had seen it in a very long time, but wasn't as good as it had been during the floods from some of the pictures I had seen.  Regardless, I was here, and there was good water so I set the camera up.

I chose to really take advantage of the full water, and planned on getting up close to this really long waterfall.  Since I couldn't jump the gorge, I fitted my 70-200mm lens for some reach, and I added an intensifying polarizer to the end.  I found a good location that omitted some of the close up tree branches since those would be too close to remain in focus.  I then started to frame up some compositions.

A Little Spray
I started the morning with the typical overall shot which I though turned out pretty good.  But then while the light was still very even, I started to pick out isolations within the falls.  This is always a fun trick to use with really large waterfalls.  I started to get some abstract images which got me pretty excited about the waterfall.  It is not always the easiest thing to accomplish pulling small sections out and having them make sense.  However, this one is pretty easy to pick apart.  Maybe it is that I've worked this waterfall several times in the past, who knows?

Listen to the Rhythm
This is one of those waterfalls that really does benefit from a portrait orientation though.  While it will work with both orientations, you can really fill the frame with what you like with the camera vertical.  Here you can see two of the really interesting parts of this waterfall.  There are the lumps and bumps in the upper right, and the gentle cascades on the rocks below.  While this is only a fraction of the entire falls, most of the personality is wrapped up right here.  At least that is how I view it.  The water flow really helps out!

Natural Expression
Of course, the vertical view also works for isolations, and gives the frame a much different feel, even when looking at the same section.  There is something really nice about the different layers of rocks, and the way the water caresses them.  This waterfall is almost dreamy when you get right down to it.  You can get lost in the spray for hours, or at least that is my hope when looking at the pictures.

Take the Step
Tory's Falls is much longer than any camera could capture in a single frame.  It is also too narrow to make a compelling image when captured all at once.  You can play around with the main section though, and get a fair amount in.  I like this shot since it adds a little more of the cascades, but it also adds a nice red rock to the bottom of the image.  This balances nicely with the warm toned section of rock in the upper right corner.  The similar color shades provide a nice little frame for the waterfall.

I wish that there was more that I do with this waterfall, but there is about one single position where it can be shot well.  From here, you can do a lot, but I would love to be able to move around the subject and capture it from different angles.  In spite of that, I was still able to collect 39 frames from this single waterfall.  From those, I chose five that I really liked, which is actually pretty good.  I'll probably just add one of them to the gallery though, since all of the pictures are of the same subject.