There and Back Again

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Spring at Rough Ridge
What does one do when he is left at home alone on a Saturday?  He plans a trip to the mountains to try to find some great clouds.  Toni was at work, and Sierra was at my Mom's for the weekend.  That meant that I could go and spend the day on the Blue Ridge Parkway if I so chose.  Well, with 70% cloud cover forecasted for most of the day and a couple of storms in the afternoon, it was my kind of day on the Parkway!  The only problem was, in order to get a sunrise, I was going to have to be on location by 5:30am.  Doing the math for Rough Ridge, that is about 20 minutes to hike in the dark, and about two hours drive time....carry the 1.  That means I would need to leave around 3am.  Not too many years ago, that was my bedtime on a regular night.  Now I'm looking at getting up a 2:30am just to go take pictures?  I could wait and just concentrate on the sunset, but I do like getting out there before anyone else is stirring.

Well, I did manage to get up at 2:30 somehow, and was out the door a little before 3.  The trip to the mountains went smoothly except for the fog that developed as I was climbing into the mountains.  It was so bad, I couldn't tell my turn to get on the Parkway and turned onto what developed into a one lane dirt road.  There was no way to turn around, so I had to back down to the road to get another block up.  That was fun...well not really...but I did get back on track and found the Parkway.  It was slow going through most of the 30 some miles I had to travel to get to Rough Ridge, and I was really wondering if I was going to be able to see a sunrise with all of the fog and low clouds.

I had no problems with the hike at least.  This is the second or third time I've done this hike in the dark now.  When I got up to the rock outcropping, I decided to build the camera with my 24-70mm lens and the Lee Filter Holder.  I figured that would give me enough flexibility to handle most of my compositional needs.  I went out on the lower level of the rocks and aimed roughly Southeast to get the distant mountains.  I was expecting the sun to come up behind the mountain, so I would not be dealing with the direct sunlight.  I opted for a 3-Stop ND Grad filter to control the sky, and allow the foreground to expose a bit brighter.  There was a nice pink bush and a rock outcrop that I was able to use for my foreground interest.  These lead the eye to the cloud covered distant mountains.

Above the Showers
Once the sun started to light the sky, it came up very fast.  I didn't stay in my position for more than about 10 minutes before looking for other compositions.  I was able to find one almost due South which captured the different clouds that were quickly approaching my location.  In fact, in just a few minutes, I was completely engulfed in clouds.  I packed my gear up and hiked into the woods a bit more.  When I realized that everything was covered in clouds, I reversed my track and headed back down the mountain to the truck.  I wasn't sure what I had gotten, but I knew that there was precious little color in the sky.  I was just hoping that the low clouds came through like I was hoping.  

Life on the Blue Ridge
I started back down the road in the direction I had originally come.  I was wanting to work my way back to Doughton Park where I might get to do some sunset pictures later in the day.  I was looking for interesting scenes to photograph, and I found a few, but they were gone quicker than I could react to them.  I did find this one scene in the road construction area of the Parkway.  I've photographed the bit of land many times because of the opposing diagonals that are present.  This time was not really one of my favorites though, but I was at least seeing promise in the skies for the first time since being overtaken by a cloud bank on Rough Ridge.

I didn't stick around here long though.  I was hunting something a bit more dramatic.  I wasn't sure what that was, but this scene wasn't it.  The camera was packed away, and the 24-70mm lens was stored away one more time.  The realization hit that I was using this lens more than any other once again.  I had gotten out of that habit not that long ago, but found myself back in that rut once again.

I continued North on the Parkway, until I was actually in Doughton Park.  Wow!! The idea was to end up here at the end of the day.  The sky was doing me no favors though, and I was at a complete loss as to what to photograph.  As I got into the park, I noticed a fence that I had photographed years ago when it was broken.  It has now been repaired, and is functional for the most part.

Parkway Showers
The weather was being very tricky on the Parkway, but that is really nothing new.  I set the camera up with the 16-35mm lens to really accentuate the fence in the compositions.  I opted for an intensifying polarizer to help bring out the blue in the sky...if it were to happen at least.  Finding a composition was a bit harder than I remembered here.  I guess having an intact fence doesn't really give you the strong diagonals that a broken one does.  As I was setting things up to get a bit of blue sky, I saw a cloud approaching quickly.  As it passed by, it dropped a very quick little shower in its wake.  It was kind of cool watching it rain about 200 feet in front of me while remaining nice and dry.

Rural Drive
Now the dark clouds were back in the sky above.  I decided to recompose and moved up on some little white flowers.  The fence bordered them to the left and the Parkway to the right.  The composition seemed pretty balanced to me. I just had to wait until the clouds got enough detail in them to add to the scene.  It didn't take long for that to happen.  I do enjoy photographing fences along the Parkway, but this one really seemed to give me a rough time for some reason.

After about 30-45 minutes, I decided to call it quits.  I wasn't having much luck with the sky at all.  In fact, it was starting to get completely white which means I can't do much with it.  I went ahead and packed the camera up, and ate my breakfast.  Well, it was too early when I got up to bother eating.  Now that it was nearly noon, I realized I was hungry.  After breakfast, it was back on the road to see what Alligator Back was looking like.

When I got to Alligator Back, I didn't even bother stopping because the clouds were horrible.  There wasn't going to be anything that I could do there.  I decided to move on to the main area of Doughton to see what was there.  When I arrived, I found very little that interested me so I turned around and decided to work my way back to 421 to go on home.

Tall Grass
On the way back South, I saw a scene that I have photographed a couple of times before.  I was getting sleepy, so I decided to hop out and have a go of it.  I grabbed my 24-70mm lens and a polarizer before setting up the composition.  Normally, the gate was only a small portion of the composition, but since the grass was so high, I was able to get in a little closer to it than before.  Red is one of those colors that you have to be careful with so it doesn't overpower the photograph.  A new challenge presented itself with the particular setting.  Since the grass was so long, any breeze would cause a wave to develop.  As luck would have it, the wind was starting to pick up.  I played the waiting game like a pro, and managed to get off a few shots that were tack sharp.

Mountain to Sea Trail
While waiting for the sun to some different things, I looked around the area to see what else could be offered.  I found a typical trail marker for the Mountain to Sea Trail, and could see that the trail was highlighted by the sun a little bit.  This was worth grabbing a quick shot or two.  I repositioned, and grabbed the shot before the sun went back into hiding.  It is a simple composition, but one that will undoubtedly tell a story to those who have hiked the trail.

Overgrown Red Gate
When I was done with the trail, I decided to come in a bit closer and make the gate the star of the picture.  It was positioned alternate to the mountains in the distance.  I actually really like this composition because of how those two elements interact with each other.  It turned out to be a very pleasing composition, and I was still able to catch the grass not being blown by the wind.  I had shot a bunch of frames, but I was just now starting to feel a little better about how the day was progressing.  It wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but things were starting to get a little bit better.

Bales in the Field
My next stop was right around 421 (yes, I had made it back there once again).  Ironically, this was one of the first places that I photographed when I decided to really take photography seriously.  It was around this time of year, and I recalled there being hay bales in the field.  Well, lets just take a trip down memory lane here.  There were bales in the field just like I recalled.  There was also a blue tractor that was obviously still in use which made it a less than appealing subject for me, not to mention that it was too far inside of the field to really make that much sense in a composition.

Well, while photographing this interesting addition to the gate post, I found that the barbed wire was mostly missing from the fence in several locations.  I also noticed that there were obvious paths walked through the grass at these locations.  If everyone else jumps off a bridge, I guess I will too.  Yep, I went ahead and crossed the fence to get into the field.  I had no intentions on messing with anything, but I wanted to get some different compositions, and be able to omit the tractor.

Christmas Tree Farm
As much as I tried to omit the tractor, I found that it was in a very useful position.  It allowed me to balance out the composition when photographed at around 70mm on my 24-70mm lens.  Had I gone wider and made the hay bale bigger, the background would have shrunk visually.  An odd thing was happening at this point though.  I was starting to dig the tractor.  Maybe I was just recalling the Combine from last week, but I was willing to overlook the fact that it was still in service to be able to photograph it under the sky.

New Holland at Work
I decided to forego all of the other elements in the field and just focus on the tractor.  I got in close, and dropped low to really accentuate the use of the wider end of my lens.  I was careful to position myself in a way that covered the large white building in the background (along 421) with the arm of the tractor attachment.  This low position also gave me a great perspective on the sky, and let the trees go off dramatically to the left.  I was finally really excited about one of the pictures I was getting.  It is very ironic that the one element I wanted to avoid including became the star of the field!

Break Time
I wasn't quite ready to let this tractor get away.  I changed my position and got a great composition from the rear.  This tractor was just far too photogenic to skip past.  I'm so glad I ventured into the field and saw the qualities of this old New Holland.  I really liked the blue color which complemented the warmer tones of the hay bales, as well as a good portion of the field.  I was finally feeling pretty good about the day.  I knew that I at least had something with this tractor worth keeping.  I also knew it was something different from my norm, and that got me excited as well.

Since I was down at 421, I decided to try an old fallen tree I had already been by a couple of times this morning.  The sky hadn't been good for it, but I had a feeling that the sky was a little bit better now.  Well, before I made it, I got caught in a rain storm.  I opted to keep driving to see if I could outrun the storm.  That wasn't the case at all.  I ended up at Price Lake with the rain pouring on me.  I decided that I had done enough driving and I sat there for a bit.  The rain eventually started to let up, and I decided to go and get some gas since I was running near empty at this point.  In fact, I figured it was time to just go on home actually.  I was tired, and I had a bunch of pictures in the camera.

After getting gas, I was headed down 421 and thought I would do that section between the old and new highways one last time.  That tree happened to be in that section, so I was hoping that the sky would work out for that one this time.  It didn't take me long to get to the tree, and I found that the sky was actually pretty good.  Well, at least in one direction anyway.

Dare to Bare in B&W
Once again, I used my 24-70mm lens so I could include a good bit of the sky as well as the tree.  For once, there was a bit of blue mixed in with the clouds.  For me, that always gets my mind thinking black and white.  While I didn't shoot the pictures with monochrome in mind, I did do a conversion in post to see how it would turn out.  I was actually quite happy with this one in black and white, and liked it better than the color version.  The white clouds had a great contrast to the dark sky, and the shadowed branches.  There was a lot of texture here to take advantage of the lack of color.  I'm pretty sure that this will find a way into my gallery as a matter of fact!

Dare to Bare
Don't get me wrong, I also like the color version, but I think that Skinned  makes a more dramatic statement in color.  Either way, I have enjoyed photographing this old tree ever since Toni had pointed it out so many years ago.  Of course, I can't photograph it without thinking of her either.  So, this was a very happy session after the rain.  Speaking of the rain, the clearing storm was making for some really interesting clouds, and I knew just the place to take advantage of them.  The only problem was , it was back at Doughton Park.  I wasn't planning on going back up there, but I supposed I could just take 21 through Trap Hill to get home.

Clearing Storm
Well, I wasn't the only one that had that idea.  When I arrived, I found a Corvette parked in front of my favorite gate to photograph.  I tried to get a shot of the gate, but the angle was just too hard to get the shot I was wanting.  It wasn't looking like he was going anywhere any time soon either.  I moved down to the area he was where there was another typical composition that I shoot at this location.  I zeroed in on the grove of trees that juts out from the main line and shot the picture.  It was ok, but nothing spectacular.  I just wasn't getting enough of the sky.  Wait a minute, I was using my 70-200mm lens with a 3 stop grad, so that made for a great combo for a panorama.

I went ahead and leveled the tripod, and did a dry run through the entire picture I planned on capturing to make sure the camera stayed level through the track.  Then I started to fire off the exposures. The resulting image is a compilation of a half dozen images shot vertically.  It is a huge file, but also a very detailed one.  Once I was done with the panorama, I played around with some other compositions, and even swapped in my 24-70mm to see if I could get the gate to work that way.  It was a no go.  I was spent, and I was tired.  It was time to get home.  

By the time I got home, I had been gone for 16 hours.  Now that I am finishing up on the computer, I have been awake for 22.5 hours.  It is long past time to go to bed!

Edit: June 27, 2017

I started to go through some of my pictures from the day to see about doing more monochrome conversions.  I had originally done a couple and only liked the one of the fallen tree.  However, with fresh eyes (and more awake eyes) I saw the potential in a couple more.

Clearing Storm in B&W
This panorama is a strange picture for me  It is brutally simple in composition, but the story is completely in the sky.  The only problem was the time of day.  The sun was bright at this point, and that caused all sorts of contrast issues.  The addition of the ND Grad helped the original capture, but the sky still wasn't quite "right".  Not wanting to do major manipulations, I pretty much left it as it was.  But with the black and white conversion, I was able to eek out some more details in the clouds, and really start to show the depth of the scene.  I'm pretty happy with how this turned out, and am actually considering doing it as a canvas wrap in the living room.

Rural Drive
The next one I converted was one that already started out as a moody piece.  The standout element for me on this was the spring flowers in the foreground. They were white, so while they stood out in the color picture, they didn't have quite the dramatic effect that a brighter color would have.  Also, there was no sunlight on them which diluted their presence.  With a monochrome conversion, I was able to negate those issues, and turn them into a texture element rather than relying on their color.  The sky also benefitted from the conversion as it became a little more significant with the added depth.

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