Trying Something New at Doughton

Sunday, July 9, 2017

By now, everyone should know the love affair that I have with the weather forecast.  No matter what I plan around the weather, I always get bit in the rump.  It is frustrating to say the least, and it does wear on me after a while.  I spend hours, and sometimes days formulating pictures that I want to make based on a weather forecast that usually ends up being incorrect.  I'm then forced to try and find other ideas to photograph.  This weekend started out with me seeing that there was bright sun every day, and I decided to stay at home.  This was actually a great thing because Toni was home, and we could spend some time together since most of her time away from work is focused on her nursing school.

By the time Sunday rolled around, we had plans for the middle of the morning, but I saw an opportunity to get out for a very brief trek right at sunrise.  The weather forecast was still pretty steady, calling for clear skies.  Saturday had seen more clouds than were forecasted, so I had some hope for a great sunrise for Sunday morning.  However, I decided that I would plan on no clouds since that would take a bit more planning to make a trip worth while.  I decided on Doughton Park because there is a group of trees right at the entrance I had photographed some time before that caught my eye.  They were positioned perfectly for a sunset, but I could also see some potential there for a sunrise shot using the twilight colors opposite of the sun for the visual interest in the sky.  It was a compromise between shooting a sunrise, and not having any clouds to capture the color of the sunrise.

My morning started at 3:15am so that I could be at the park by 5:30, which would give me about thirty minutes to work with to get set up, and find a composition I liked.  The trip was uneventful, but I did drive through some light fog through the foothills.  I was actually getting excited that I would have some great conditions to work with for a "real" sunrise shot.  My plan was to be wrapped up by 7:30 regardless, and back on the road home.  If there were going to be great clouds, I was going to have to shoot and run, but that would be ok with me.

As I was passing through Roaring Gap, I saw a store front with a really nice old Ford pickup on display in the parking lot.  It wasn't my typical old truck, but it did catch my eye.  The lighting was terrible though as the sun was far from coming up, so I put it in my bank to think about later.  I had to get to Doughton, which was still about 20 minutes away.  I could see that the sky was clear which didn't really matter since that was what I was planning on, but something was there that I hadn't really considered.  A full moon was hanging in the sky, and that posed some interesting possibilities for my morning shoot.

I got to the park at precisely the time I had expected, and found it to be empty which was wonderful.  When I got out of the truck, I found it to be incredibly windy...and quite cold.  That was not nearly as wonderful.  Wind poses problems for low light photography which requires longer than normal shutter speeds.  I was going to have to deal with that as the problems presented itself though.  I needed to get set up.  The choice for the morning was my 70-200mm lens so that the moon would render as more than just a speck in case I chose to add it into the composition.  There was no need for filters as the exposure latitude opposite of the sun was pretty even.  I set up on the road, right at the fork in the road between the picnic site and Wildcat Rock.  It was just a matter of waiting for the sky to turn pink at the top, and work its way down.

The color change was very faint and very gradual, but it was there.  I started getting some shots that showed the color, but the trees were blowing too much in the wind.  My only recourse was to adjust the ISO which I rarely do.  It was cranked up to 640 which was higher than I had shot before.  Fortunately, I do trust that the 5DM3 will capture a dark image at this ISO fairly clean.  I was able to keep my shutter speed under control, and I found that the branches were mostly frozen which was what I was after.  I worked around several different compositions that I liked to varying degrees.  However, I got the idea for a panorama to capture the fence, and the long twilight wedge, known as the Belt of Venus.

Belt of Venus
I already had the right lens on the camera, so I flipped it over on its side.  The tripod was leveled and a dry run sweep was made across the entire scene to make sure that the camera was plum.  I kept the ISO elevated to keep the shutter speed fast enough to hopefully freeze the tree which was gotten in a single shot to make sure that there was no difficulty overlapping the branches.  Each of the eight frames only lasted a fraction of a second with the whole process taking less than a minute to complete.  I tried a couple of different panoramas in an attempt to capture the most appealing composition.  Probably the most complete composition included the setting moon to the right of the trees.  The vast emptiness of the sky to the left balanced the entire frame out, and the red gate made for a book end on the left side.  

Twilight Wedge
It is rare for me to photograph a scene void of any clouds, and even more rare to do it as a panorama.  The draw to the entire concept was the division in the sky, and that replaced the clouds as a visual element.  In short, this view was much more interesting than the actual sunrise to my rear.  The sky had long since gone completely white and the sun was dazzling as it inched up into the sky.  The only color to be found was to the West, where I was shooting.  Hey, what can I say, I had prepared for a sunrise with no clouds, and it was working out well for me.  I also had the added element of the moon to play with.  As you can see from the opening image (Moonset), I made a lot of use out of the moon.

It is funny that my first successful moon image was taken from this very park back in the winter as I was trying to capture a sunrise from the top of the ridge that appears in the above photo with the twin trees.  Here we were once again, shooting the moon, in a completely different part of the sky.  The feel of these images is worlds apart from the previous, as I am making use of warm dawn colors that the sky is offering.

Another World
As the moon approached the horizon, I positioned the camera so that I could get it dropping into a cradle in the distant trees.  I composed a very tight shot on the moon, and found that the sky was a very interesting shade of pink.  In fact, there was a rose color cast over the whole scene, but for some reason it looked natural.  I really wasn't sure if I would like this particular composition when I got home, but I shot it anyway.  As I was processing it, I started to look at it, and began thinking about some alien planet.  It all really came together, and I decided that it was an interesting enough photograph to warrant filing along with my keepers.  It isn't one of my favorites by any stretch, but it is a little different from my norm, and that was what this trek was all about.

With the sun well up into the sky now, the colors I was seeing were pretty much gone.  I still had about 45 minutes to play with before I needed to be heading home so I moved over to Wildcat Rock where a photographer friend of mine, Bonita Loggins has spent a lot of time.  I found the overlooks, but there wasn't anything of interest there with the current sky.  I started to look around in the woods to see if there was anything interesting I could work with before heading home.

Summertime Reach
Almost immediately, I saw a quagmire of trees atop a bed of ferns bathed in the warm sunlight of morning.  This was quite interesting in an abstract kind of way.  It was just the picture that Toni would like, so I decided to give it a try.  I kept my 70-200mm lens attached and framed up a composition that I thought captured the essence of what I was seeing.  I chose to go with a narrow depth of field to keep the attention on the trees, and also to help speed the shutter up as the wind was still blowing something fierce.  I cranked off several frames from this location as the lighting changed, and the wind speed varied.  I also tried a handful of compositions trying to get one that I liked the best.  

In the end, I settled on one that I liked the best and I showed it to Toni.  She really liked it as well.  And then I showed her the other contenders.  Since this was a composition for her, I wanted to get her opinion on things.  She pointed out one composition that I had liked, but didn't bother to edit.  She liked this one better, and so I pulled out the "Develop" module, and started to work the RAW image.  It became Summertime Reach, and I actually do like it better than the other one that I had originally selected.

While we are on the topic of Toni pointing out images that she liked better than those that I had already worked, I have to give credit to her for the opening image.  I had left it on the table after deciding that the panoramas were really good.  The intention was to omit the single shot images in favor of the large format compositions.  However, Toni pointed out that she really liked, I brought it into the editing window and started to work on it.  The more I fine tuned it, the more I decided I really liked it.  That is why we make such a great team.  She sees a lot of potential in shots that I overlook due to having been so involved with the scene for so long.  She has saved me numerous times from tossing really good images out the door, and do appreciate her for that!

I was starting to get fed up with the wind after working the gaggle of trees, and was about to pack it in for the day.  However, when I turned around, I found yet another scene that I liked.  This one was backlit by the sun, and showcased the long grass being blown about in the wind.  Instead of fighting against the wind, I decided to harness the power of the wind, and use the motion in the composition.  Still using the long lens, I set up the shot that really made use of the backlit grasses, and dropped the ISO back down to 100 where I much prefer it to be.

Dream State
With an aperture of f/5.6 and an ISO of 100, I was still shooting with a relatively fast shutter into the sun.  It was enough though, to add a certain dreamy quality to the image.  The visual anchor was the small tree which was rendered sharp.  Everything else is either blurred by depth of field, or by motion.  The backlit grass creates a heavenly quality, and it just has a certain "feel" about it.  Again, this was not my typical image, and it fit with the day for just that reason.  Today really became about stepping outside of the box.  It is rather scary outside of that box, but I needed it for my own personal growth.

Personal growth aside, it was getting too bright to continue, and just like I had planned, it was time to head home.  Had there been clouds, I could have gone for hours more, but in the summer, good lighting lasts only a little while when the sun isn't diffused.  I had made great use of the hour and a half that I was out there, and was rather surprised at the number of pictures that I had captured.  I saw decent potential in many of them as well.  I would know more when I got home later in the morning.

Oh yeah, I forgot about something.  What about that truck in front of the store?  I'm going by it on the way home, and I'm pretty sure that the sun will be lighting it up by the time I get there.  Might as well stop and check it out in the daylight to see what it is all about.

When I pulled into the parking lot, it was completely empty which was a great thing!  The truck was all alone, and parked underneath a red, white, and blue banner that was undoubtedly still hanging from the Fourth of July.  The store itself, looked like a slice of Americana as well.  The best part...the sun was lighting it all up, and it was ready to be photographed!

A Patriotic Step
I parked near the road so I wouldn't get in the way of any potential shots, and started to build the camera.  I decided on using my 24-70mm which is one of my best lenses for automotive work.  I added an intensifying polarizer to make the colors pop and to remove some of the glare from the glass of the truck.  As I was building things, I saw a deputy pull in and park to the left of the truck skipping only one space.  Well drat!  So much for having the parking lot to myself.  He went to the door and waited before being let in by the store employee.  As this was going on, another car came into the parking lot and pulled to the opposite side on the other side of a median.  Things were getting crowded, and I needed to get these pictures done quickly before I lost the chance.

The exposure was difficult to say the least.  The truck was black, and it was sitting in front of a brightly lit white store front.  I needed to keep detail in both the darks and the lights, and quite frankly, this was going to be hard.  I had dialed the camera back to 100 ISO which was where I was most comfortable, and had the most control over the noise in the image.  I started working on compositions that I thought would work, but none really captured the truck and the banner to the rear.  I finally got in close and went kind of wide with the lens to capture a front quarter shot.  This was the best vantage point I could find, but I wasn't sure if everything would expose correctly or not.  The histogram looked good, and I was thinking that I had a complete range of tone information in the digital negative.  It was going to be up to Lightroom to pull the details out from here.

I've always enjoyed the "face" of these old vehicles, and each one of them has a personality.  Because of that, I decided to get a straight on, in your face kind of shot.  I wanted to showcase the red pinstriping on the grill slats, and put the banner right over the truck.  I flipped the camera on its side, and dialed in a composition that really highlighted the front of the truck.  Knowing that I was going to have a real hard time with the exposure, I decided to give this one the HDR treatment, and I shot 4 frames at different exposures.  When I blended them in Lightroom, it turned out pretty darn good.  There was still plenty of contrast, and not much in the way of the typical HDR look which I was quite happy about.  It was just an honest, clean image with lots of detail to work with.  I do have to admit was strange working with a truck in this good of a shape.  I'm very used to rust and dust.  This was a nice change of pace, and fit right in with thinking outside of the box.

When I got home, I had shot a total of 91 frames since first light.  Considering that I had done multiple panoramas and an HDR image, that was still a bunch of pictures for a short amount of time with the camera.  I was figuring on maybe three or four images when everything was all said and done.  I was really surprised to have six out of the bunch that I really liked, and then Toni added another three to the bunch.  What can I say, it was a successful day at Doughton Park!

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