An Atypical Sunrise and an Open Gate

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dawn of Thunder Hill
August has been a rough month for me on several fronts, not the least of which has been my days off.  My schedule at work has been all over the place, and my occasional day off has usually been accounted for.  That has meant less than normal outings with the camera.  For the first time in three weeks, I actually had a two day weekend, and it was a work weekend for Toni, and Sierra was staying with my Mom.  With nobody at home, I knew that I was going to need to make a day trip to the mountains.  The weather wasn't even really a factor as I was just going to be happy to get out there to do a little photography.

Speaking of the weather, it was looking like 75% clouds for sunrise, and then quickly dropping to 45% for the rest of the day.  That usually means that there would be few if any clouds in the area (based on previous forecasts with those numbers).  The sunrise forecaster said that the likelihood of a colorful sunrise was very slim.  To sum things up, the conditions were not really my cup of tea for a Trek...however, I decided to give it a try anyway.  I chose to start in Boone and move up to Doughton Park where the weather was looking the most favorable.  Since I was going to make a day of it, I might as well start out early and try for a sunrise.

The alarm rang at 3:30, and I slowly got up and got ready.  I was on my way by 4:15 without a clear destination in mind.  I was going to the mountains to wing it, and that was about the extent of my "planning" for the day.  The trip out there was simple, and I arrived a little ahead of schedule to find that there were no clouds in the valley below.  The good news was that the clouds were actually kind of thick and I thought that might make for a decent chance at a pretty sunrise.  I started to look for my location to get set up.  I wasn't really finding anything that was catching my eye, so I decided to head down to the Thunder Hill Overlook.  This was one that had several ways to shoot.  I could shoot the actual overlook itself, or I could go across the Parkway to shoot the field.  A little further down the Parkway was another angle on the field that provided a nice little view of a valley.  I figured that I could adjust to whatever the sun provided by setting up here.

When I got there, it was still totally dark.  I got out my flashlight and started to look for a composition.  With Summer in full swing, the overlook was a little dense in vegetation which made a composition rather difficult.  I started to branch out and explore my options away from the overlook.  Just a short distance to the side, I found a nice opening in the trees which presented a nice view of the distant mountains.  This was going to be my spot!  I set the camera up with the 24-70mm lens attached along with the Lee Filter Holder.  I started to compose a shot looking out into the distance, but I didn't like what I was seeing.  There was no real interest to the picture the way I was seeing it.  I stepped back and reviewed my plan.  Well, my best option now was to change the composition to include the Blue Ridge Parkway as a leading line.  That worked much better!

By the time the sky was looking decent (no colors, but nice formations), my exposure times were down to about 20 seconds which was still enough time to show a little motion.  I had a 3-Stop ND Grad on the lens to help me get the proper exposure on the foreground which was vital to the image.  I shot about a half dozen frames from this location as the clouds changed their forms.  It wasn't long before the sun was up and the clouds were losing their interest.  It was time to move to my alternate shooting location across the street.

Lush Appalachian View
I worked my way through the underbrush to the top of the hill alongside the Parkway.  I found a nice little section of fence that I could use as a foreground for an image.  I worked out my position so that the distant mountain would be positioned...just so against the fence.  I still had my 3-Stop filter in place which was doing a phenomenal job at controlling the sky.  I could make out where the sky seemed to get brighter right over the mountain as I was setting up the shot.  I actually hurried this shot a little bit since the clouds were moving kind of fast.  Had I waited another 30 seconds, I would have missed that opportunity to use the clouds as a highlighting element for the mountain.  Once the clouds moved on, I decided to get to a different composition.

Hazy Lazy Morning
I've always been fond of this tree and rock as they make for great elements in most conditions.  I got the shot framed up, waited for the cow to move by my location and I started to shoot.  As I was snapping away, I realized that I was missing an opportunity to include some miniature pine trees that were pretty close to me.  I elevated the camera to shoot over the barbed wire, and composed an image that included a few of the baby pines to really throw off the scale of the image.  I wanted the viewer to spend a little time looking into this picture because there is just so much there to look at!

As the morning progressed, the lighting was changing and becoming less favorable.  I decided to pack it up and head off to my next stop.  While I was loading the truck, I saw another photographer coming from the trail beside the field I had been shooting at.  I went over to talk to him briefly, and found out that he was Jim Ruff, a fellow CNPA member.  We talked briefly about the less than favorable conditions of the morning.  Like me, he was hoping for a colorful sunrise.  He was going to get some breakfast, and I was off to see what else I could see along the Parkway.

I had a fleeting thought of going to Roaring Fork Falls, but according the forecast, the clouds were going to be breaking up soon which would not do me any favors at a waterfall.  Additionally, I was not wearing my waterfall boots, and knew that this was one that I would normally stand in the water for.  It was probably for the best since there hasn't been a lot of rain in the past week or so to build up the watershed for the falls.  I ended up driving down to Price Lake to find that there was no fog, and the clouds were getting rather featureless.  I decided to head up North to my original destination of Doughton Park.

As I was somewhere North of Jeffress Park, I saw a couple of trees on the side of the road that looked interesting.  I turned around and got out.  I tried to work the trees for about 30 minutes, but was unable to make an image that I really liked.  I was starting to wonder if I was done already.  The clouds were looking horrible, and the lighting was not the best.  Because of that, I decided to do a little exploring off of the Parkway.

Honestly, I don't know where I went.  I found a few decent things to photograph, but the conditions weren't right, and it wasn't worth getting out of the truck.  I know that eventually, I ended up back in Boone, and ultimately continued on 421 towards Tennessee.  I turned off before leaving the state and ended up back on 105 headed to Boone once again.  I had not found a single thing to photograph on my adventure and was getting a little tired and ready to go home.  Regardless, I hopped back on the Parkway in Blowing Rock and retraced my tracks from earlier in the day.  My destination was Doughton Park, and then Hwy 21 to head home for the day.

As I was driving along the Parkway, I was looking for something to put in front of my camera, but the clouds were just not doing me any favors.  Nothing looked good.  I thought I would try photographing an old silo that is off of the side of the Parkway once again.  I've done this many times and have never gotten a picture I really like from it.  The angle I have to shoot from is difficult because there is a fence and gate in place that keeps me from getting close.  I didn't really expect to get anything from here, especially since the barn has long since fallen and left the silo all along.  As I passed by, I looked to see what the lighting was like on the silo.  It was in the shadows, and didn't look all that great.  Oh well...

Wait a minute...

Was the gate opened?

That might make it worth a stop. 

I turned around and found much to my pleasure that the gate was wide open.  The expectation of privacy has now changed, and I was looking forward to getting in there to investigate an old truck I had seen there starting in 2005, but could never get close enough to.

The Empty Windows
The silo was a bust.  There just wasn't any interest there at all for me.  The truck didn't look all that great either.  In fact, where the engine would normally be, there was a stack of scrap metal.  Maybe this wasn't as great a place as I was hoping.  There was an old farm house in the distance that looked promising.  While I was contemplating my next move a pickup truck came down the driveway.  Yep, I know what this means, I'm getting ready to get run off.

Well, the driver got out and seemed to be nice enough.  I didn't see any weapons, and that made me happy.  We started talking for a bit, and he actually understood that I was taking pictures of the property, and wasn't trying to hurt anything.  The property was his sister's and had stopped functioning back in the early '70's.  It was built in the '40's originally.  Having gotten a bit of the history, I was once again fired up to get some pictures done.  He even told me about the truck.  It was bought by his Father as a parts donor for another truck that they owned.  That didn't change the fact that it was a basket case, but it did give me little context behind it.

Scrap Pile
The truck had captured my attention once again, and I went over to it and started to look at how I could photograph it.  I decided to embrace the scrap pile and shoot it from the front corner.  The lighting was such that I really had no choice but to shoot as an HDR photograph.  I shot four frames for this picture which were later blended in Lightroom.  The more I looked at it, the more I liked the picture.  Knowing the story behind it allowed me to try and tell that story to those looking at the picture.  The textures were wonderful, and the rusty colors played really nice with the grass and blue sky to the rear.  Considering, I had initially scoffed at this subject, I was ecstatic to have photographed it in this way.  It turned out better than I had hoped!

It was time to get back to the house on the hill though.  The lighting was looking pretty good (although a little harsh due to the time of day).  As I was making my way to the house, I saw an old plow set up as yard art in front of the house.  My initial thought was to go wide on my 24-70mm lens and get in close.  The only problem with that was, the house started to look really small in the camera.

Fading History
I didn't like how that looked so I backed up and went with a narrower focal length.  That brought the house into the proper scale for the picture.  The sky was still very cloudy, and there was only a little bit of definition to it.  Using only a polarizer, I crossed my fingers that the camera was going to capture the entire range of tones with one shot.  According to my histogram, it did just that.

The composition was a fun one. There are two pieces of family history here that are slowly being reclaimed by the Earth.  One is being overgrown while the other one is just falling in on itself.  This is why I do what I do with a camera.  Neither subject is in usable condition, and they are both arguably in their last stages of life.  Through my camera, I am able to celebrate them and immortalize them at this late stage of life.  It is almost like a super power that I possess that allows me to do that.

Standing Proudly
Just like with the old truck, I decided to give the old house the HDR treatment.  For this shot, I wanted to find a special composition that really included the sky.  I also wanted the house to be in a position of power.  For this, I found an area near the stream that ran through the property to set the camera up.  It gave me the proper "down low position" I needed to set the tone.  I got my composition set up, and then fired off four frames at 2/3 of a stop increments to cover all the tonalities in the image.  When I started the merge, and final edits to the image in Lightroom, I was quite impressed with how it turned out.  Not only did this old house look powerful, it also looked proud once again.

International Textures
Speaking of looking proud and powerful, I wanted to go back to the old truck and try some isolations on different elements.  After I got back to it, I found that doing isolations was going to be more difficult that I thought.  There wasn't much left in tact on that truck.  I did notice the International emblem on the front which appeared to be in decent shape.  I went ahead and set up a composition using this as the visual anchor and the rusted and pitted metal as the backdrop for the emblem.  With that shot under my belt, I decided that it was time to move on.  I had been out here for about an hour at this point and didn't want to wear out my welcome.

I continued North towards Doughton Park.  I didn't quite make it to the park since I found an overlook that caught my eye.  It wasn't for the great scenic quality as the clouds were back in full force completely covering the sky once again.  No, this overlook had a field of yellow flowers just to the side of a pretty cool tree.  With the lighting very diffused, it was the perfect recipe for a woodland intimate shot of the tree.

The Color of Summer
I went ahead and put my 70-200mm lens on for this shot, and I added an intensifying polarizer to make the colors pop.  I worked on compositions with just the one tree, but didn't find one that I really liked.  I then decided to back up a little more, and include the other tree right at the edge of the field.  With the angle of the trunk on my primary tree, this composition was a natural one.  It fell right into place, and is proof that if you listen to your subject, it will tell you how it wants to be photographed.  I even got the added benefit of having a nice bouquet of purple flowers to help bring attention to the secondary tree.

Dainty Petals
Even though it was the tree that had drawn my attention, it was the flowers that really made the scene.  In fact, they were so important I decided to pick one out of the crowd and give it a little bit of the credit that it deserves.  There was a slight breeze in the air, and since I was shooting at 200mm, I had to wait for a lull in the wind.  That didn't work, so I had to boost my ISO, which then allowed me to get the photograph that I was wanting.  It is a simple isolation, but one that I am pretty happy with, especially since I don't do this type of photography all that often.  But alas, it was time to hit the road and head home.

Well, as I was passing Alligator Back, I remembered that Toni had mentioned to me about stopping there.  Well, maybe she knew something that I didn't, and it is a special overlook for us, so I decided to stop there before getting on Hwy 21.  The clouds were no all that great over the mountains, and I wasn't quite sure if there was a picture to be had there or not.  But as I was looking around, I noticed the way the Parkway snaked around right there at the overlook.  That might be worth a picture or two!

Well Traveled
There really is something wonderful about America's Favorite Drive!

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