South Mountain Under a Blazing Sun

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Thoughtful Spot
I'm really starting to think that the weather forecasters aren't even trying anymore.  I could have flipped a coin and gotten a better idea of what the weather was going to do today.  It all started last week when I had planned on going to South Mountain State Park which is about two hours away from home.  The weather was looking decent for waterfall photography as of Friday night.  However, Saturday morning, all of the clouds were magically gone from the hourly forecast.  I opted to stay home.  Of course, later that day I saw lots of pictures from the mountains that looked like there was great lighting available for waterfall photography.  I win some, I lose more.  The same formula applied for Sunday when I also opted to stay home.

A week went by with me still wanting to get to South Mountain.  You see, the draw for this park is not really the main waterfall (High Shoals Falls), but the smaller cascades downstream from the main drop.  While the trails at South Mountain are awesome, the observation deck is just too close to the main falls for me to really like photographing it.  Conversely, the secondary cascades aren't encroached on nearly as much by the walkways.  I have tried to photograph them several times, but without success, and I was wanting to try my hand at them once again.

By the time the weekend rolled around, the weather was looking great for waterfall photography.  The cloud cover was looking like near 90% for most of the morning and then gradual clearing.  I went to sleep looking forward to heading out to South Mountain first thing in the morning.  When Toni woke me up at 4am, I looked at my phone to check the weather.  From 8am on, it was looking like intermittent cloud cover, with a coverage of 70%.  I know what that skies.  BUT...I remembered last weekend all too well.  With Sierra at my Mom's and Toni going to work, I really had no good reason to stay at home, so I got up and got ready to head out.

When I left, it was raining slightly and that made me very happy because that meant that there would likely be clouds in the sky.  The further I traveled West the more rain I came in contact with.  When the sun started to come up, I could see low clouds, and an overcast sky.  Well, what do you know?  I won this bet with the forecasters.  I was really looking forward to doing some great waterfall photography in the next 30-45 minutes.  I couldn't ask for better conditions!

Wait a minute...

Is that blue sky above the low clouds?  Yep, the clouds were breaking up quickly.  The rain had stopped, and the overcast was being replaced with a clear blue sky.  Only a few low clouds remained above me.  I had already driven over an hour and a half, so turning around wasn't an option.  I decided to go into "Plan B" mode and start to look for barns and old cars along the route.  None were found, and I kept plowing on to the park.  At this point, I was hoping that the part of the park where the waterfalls were would still be in the shade.  It was my only chance at this point.  My sunglasses were even on!

When I got to the park, the sun was in full swing, but there were sections that were still in deep shadows.  I had hope, but not much.  I did know that if my intended subject was in the shadows, I didn't have long before everything would be in the full sunlight.  I grabbed my bag and tripod from the 4Runner and started off at a full on speed walk down the trail.  It was nearly a mile to reach the lower falls, and that would put me about 20 minutes hiking.  While it wasn't hot yet, the humidity was at least 346%, and within about five minutes, I was turning into my own waterfall.  By the time I got to the Jacob Fork River, I was actually adding to the water tables with my sweat.

I passed by a few decent spots to get some pictures.  This was a gamble because the lighting was good at several sections along the river.  I said years ago that I would never feel guilty stopping along this hike to grab some pictures because the main falls wasn't that great.  But...this time, I had very little time, and I really wanted to try some different compositions with the lower falls.  I rolled the dice and continued on down the trail.

When I finally got to the lower falls, I was pleasantly surprised that they were deep in the shadows, and almost too dark.  I was also let down by the water flow.  With the rain that had passed by overnight, I was expecting a little bit more than I saw.  But so is my luck, so I embraced the lighting and looked for a composition.  That wasn't an easy task at all.  From the wooden boardwalk, I could see a decent view of the first section, but it was slightly covered by a branch.  Also, the position was a little too high to get the perspective I was after.  I looked and I looked, but the only way to photograph this was to get below the walkway.  I had never done that before here, and usually try not to leave boardwalks so as not to destroy any of the natural areas.

I could see where there was a little trail right beside of the boardwalk where others had been before me.  I decided to get down to that area and set up at the base of the waterfall.  It was slippery, but not too bad getting down there.  Once I arrived, I quickly sized up the situation, and grabbed my camera with the 24-70mm lens attached.  I added a polarizer, and mounted it to the tripod.  I started to work out compositions, and oddly enough, it was my first composition (out of six) that I liked the best.  A Thoughtful Spot is a fairly simple composition that has some visual tension from the landscape format.  The actual falls are much more suited to a portrait shot, but including the trees, and more of the rocks on the sides gives it a little more of an open feeling.  The lighting was a little tough here because the sun was starting to light the trees in the background.  That was taken care of with a slight ND Grad filter.  The main focus of the scene was still well in the dark, and I had a hard time getting a shutter speed less than 10 seconds which is very unusual.  I finally got an exposure that I could live with, and shot several compositions before deciding I had better move on while the lighting was still favorable.

Rocky Passage
After I managed to get back up on the boardwalk, I started back down the trail to find that there was another section to this waterfall which I had forgotten about.  Fortunately, it too was in the shade.  I started to look for compositions, but found nothing but disappointment from the walkway.  It looked like I was going to have to shimmy down below the walkway once again.  I found an area I could traverse on the far side.  I worked my way down and started to look for a composition...Nothing!  I couldn't find anything worth shooting here at all.  The angles were all wrong.  I scurried back up on the walkway and moved back on the other side and looked for a way back down to the bottom.  This was a little more difficult and took a bit of acrobatics, but I finally made it to the bottom.  From here, I still found it difficult to get a good composition.  However, I found a rugged perch that I could set my tripod up on that still gave me a reasonably stable area to stand.

I found a rock to open the camera bag up on, and put the 24-70mm lens back on with the same polarizer.  I mounted it to the tripod which was part in the water and part on a web of roots.  I was standing calf deep in the water to be in the right position.  When I looked through the viewfinder I found a lot of satisfaction in my location.  My first shot, Harmony, included the root system that the camera was set up on, along with the tree they were connected to.  The depth of field was not quite what I wanted, but it was passable.  What I loved about this shot was the framing from the roots and the swirling water in the pond.  I only took one shot here because I honestly didn't think that it would turn out all that great after processing.  I should have worked that one a little more than I did.  After doing the processing, I could see that I was actually onto something with the composition.

Not sure how the shadow areas would work out, I flipped the camera into portrait orientation and cropped in close to the waterfall.  Rocky Passage really filled the frame with what I found so interesting about this particular waterfall.  The composition came together quite nicely and showcased not only the waterfall, but the large rocks that created the falls, and the textures of the forest behind it.  This is an example of "filling the frame with what you like" being used to the best of my ability.  The composition is very succinct and simple.  The visual impact is evident, and everything that I wanted to convey is right there with no added elements.  This one shot has become my favorite from the morning, and had I gotten no more images, the trip would have been worth while.

Of course, I have never been one to stop until I had exhausted all of my options.  I again flipped the camera back to landscape, and filled the frame with what I wanted.  This time, I omitted the forest background as it was starting to get too bright.  Instead, I concentrated on the twin cascades.  The single rock jutting out from between them looked almost animalistic in form, and became the visual anchor for the picture.  There was a rather nondescript flat rock at the base of the falls which made for a great foreground interest.  Those were the elements that I composed around.  While I got in closer and more intimate than the last one, this image is a little more complex in its design.  Despite being "up close and personal," there is still quite a bit of room to breathe around the water.  I like this shot, and it looks like a great place to just sit and absorb the sounds of the water.

With the sun getting closer to the top of the mountain behind me, I decided it was time to pack up and get to moving again.  I did my best Spiderman impersonation to get back on the boardwalk, but I'm sure it looked more like a toddler trying to escape a crib.  I decided to continue down the trail to the main falls to see if maybe I could work a composition using the boardwalk as a foreground interest.  I got about 150 fee from it (still a good deal of climbing) and saw that the sun was already lighting the area directly above the falls.  By the time I got there, and got set up, it would be on the top of the falls.  There was no need in going any further (and I hate climbing stairs).

I worked my way back down the trail, passing the area where I had just spent an hour working.  I was quite satisfied at how the morning was going, and I felt pretty confident that I had a handful of images for the 30 or so frames I had shot.  It was looking like that was all I was going to have because the sun was really starting to hit areas around the trail, and that meant that I was going to be out of luck in a very short amount of time.  I happened to see a spur off of the trail that went to an observation deck over the stream.  Well, there must be a reason for them to have built this, so I went to give it a look.

Soothing Flow
What I found was an interesting set of rapids.  It was not really a waterfall, and it wasn't really a mountain stream.  I'm not sure exactly what this was, but there were a couple of sections where the water was nice and frothy.  There was also a tree in the way for a perfectly clear shot of the area.  I looked below to see if I could possibly get a better composition from ground level.  While I might have been able to, there was a large rock I would have a hard time getting past, and had a better chance of shooting over it from the observation deck.  My only chance in getting past the tree was using my 70-200mm lens, and setting the tripod up hanging over the railing of the deck.  I had my recipe, and I built the camera accordingly along with an intensifying polarizer.

It wasn't the easiest thing to make a composition that made sense with this set of rapids.  I tried a couple of different ideas, but they didn't really make sense.  I then decided to concentrate on the repeating (similar) rapids near the tree on the right side.  I flipped the camera on its side and framed it up.  The two rapids were similar in shape and direction.  The smaller one was further away which added to the sense of depth which was important due to the angle I was shooting at.  I also found a very small cascade in the upper left of the frame that provided a nice visual balance.  The trees over the rapids helped to direct the eyes through the frame by completing a gentle curve started by the first rapids.  It wasn't a usual composition for me, but I felt that it made sense, and worked well.

Lost Within the Textures
While shooting that view, I found that I really did like the repeating shapes of the two rapids in the foreground.  So, going back to my favorite mantra "fill the frame with what you like," I decided to flop the camera back horizontal and zoom in on the two rapids.  With this composition, I lost all sense of depth, and scale.  What I was left with was textures, light and dark, and different intensities of color.  When I was editing the image, I found myself getting lost in the frame just "feeling" with my eyes.  I did a little bit of dodging and burning to add interest to the areas that I was pausing on, and eventually came out with this abstract rendition of the scene.  This one really turned out cool, and it was one that I was thinking of Toni when I was working on.  She loves abstract pictures, and since this one has very little visual clues for size and scale, it falls in that category.

By the time I was done with this scene, the sun was starting to blaze through the trees.  There were also a good many hikers starting to appear.  My time with the camera had come to an end.  I had shot about 40 frames in two hours.  Since I was really expecting the sun to ruin my morning, that two hours was a gift, and the 41 images I had shot were all bonuses.  I felt really good about what I had shot, and knew that the trip was worth my while.  When I sat down to edit them, I was pleasantly surprised at how many good shots I had gotten.  My one regret was I didn't spend more time on the composition with the tree and roots.  There are a few aspects of that shot I could have improved on, but overall, I am really satisfied with what I have from this trip.  

On a side note, it was supposed to be sunny this afternoon.  I'm sitting here at the desk at 3:17 looking out at a totally cloudy sky with thunder in the background.  Yeah, I could flip a coin and get the weather right more often.  Maybe I'll be able to head out here in a few hours and get another couple of shots for the day.  It could happen.

Something that you might notice on these images is a new watermark on the images.  I have decided to replace my tried and true "© 2017 G. Kiser" with the current stamp on the images.  With all of the online sharing going on, I decided I would be better served by putting my web address on the images rather than my name.  This will make image sharing much more beneficial to me in the long run, and make it easier to track me down when looking at the pictures.  One of my goals after all, is selling prints to help offset the cost of my hobby.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing in my adventures!

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