It seems that I have been spending a good amount of time driving to get to the locations that I have been shooting. That has been the case with many trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway over the Summer, but I have also been doing a lot of things close to home. This morning was one of those times that I only went about 30 miles away to Hanging Rock State Park before I went in to work. I forgot how nice it was to go out with a camera on a weekday. There are generally no crowds, and everything is just so much more low key.
Having woke up to get Sierra out the door for school, and not needing to be at work until 11am, I decided to take the several hours and use it to my advantage. Looking at the weather, I was expecting patchy clouds for the most part with some scattered showers. That actually made for a pretty good landscape forecast, but I wasn't going to be able to get to a good vantage point in the time that I had to work with. I was hoping that the clouds would do me enough favors to make a quick morning of photographing a waterfall.
It has been quite a while since I have been to Hanging Rock, and even longer since I have been to the Lower Cascades. I don't know why, but for some reason, I started thinking about this waterfall last night and wanted to go. To put this in perspective, this was the first waterfall I ever photographed some 11 years ago. Since that point, I have photographed it many times over. It is a pretty waterfall, and one that is easy to get to. Unfortunately, that means that many people have photographed it, and have done all of the obvious compositions. My last time out, I did get lucky and find a downed tree that I could use as an interesting foreground.
My goal for this Trek was to shoot something completely different than I had done before. Sounds easy enough, but when you actually look at how things are laid out, that becomes a pretty tall order. Fortunately though, when I arrived the lighting was pretty good overall. The tree was gone, but there was another one which was knocked over by the rocky wall. That actually became my first effort of the morning.
As I was working this composition, I quickly realized that one of the things that really draws me to this wall is the size of it, and how it towers over pretty much everything. I have yet to really capture that aspect of it, so I thought that this might be just the right time. I mean, I wasn't photographing the waterfall, so the wall would become my focal point for the first time. I flipped the camera on its end and used the same fallen tree as a visual anchor for the image.
curve starting to form. I moved my position ever so slightly and raised the camera up as far as it would go in order to emphasize the log as the lower section of the curve. It then fed into the greenery that brought it back to the shadows of the wall. That completed my visual design. I kept the exposure where it was for the other composition giving me 25 seconds to smooth the water. On my first exposure, I checked the LCD image review and found that everything was blurry. It wasn't the wind because the rocks were blurry. I hadn't bumped the tripod, so I had to investigate further. What I found was the tripod leg had slipped ever so slightly during the exposure. It wasn't enough to see, but it was enough to affect the sharpness of the image. I'm so glad that I check the LCD after each shot because had I not caught that mistake, I would have missed this shot for sure.
After I made a second long exposure for the rocky wall I started to look for other compositions. I wasn't finding any, but that was fine as I was here to photograph the waterfall primarily anyway. I started to look for a composition that I had not used before as was my goal for the day. That proved to be rather difficult though since I have probably been here at least a dozen times, if not more. I really wanted to get the rocky wall and the tree with the waterfall, but in order to do that, I was going to have to include the sky. There was actually some interesting clouds in the sky, so I wasn't completely against the idea. But I did know that there was a huge difference in exposure between the shadows of the wall and the bright white of the clouds. I framed up the image anyway through the viewfinder. I found a very nice composition at 24mm which captured everything that I wanted to.
I've done a number of HDR images, but never one that already has a long exposure technique built in. Oh well, it was digital and cost me nothing to give it a try. I found three different exposures which covered the sky, the waterfall, and the shadow elements in the scene. There were about seven stops total latitude covered with the three exposures. When I got home after work, I blended them together in Lightroom and went to tweaking the tonal elements in the scene. There was a moment early on in the processing that I knew I had captured what I was after. I continued to work on the different areas until I had the exact image that I was looking at when I was moved to capture the picture. I finally had an all new image of the Lower Cascades which included elements I have never been able to capture before now. The tree in the water was just icing on the cake providing a nice foreground interest to the scene. At this point, I would have been satisfied with the Trek and could have left. But, I still had about an hour before I needed to leave for work.
|Rocks and Roots|
|From Behind Cover|
I milled around for a bit until I decided that I was pretty much done with this waterfall. It was getting about time to think about heading back, and I was very satisfied with what I had shot so far. After I got back to level ground, I started to break the camera down and swap back the 70-200mm lens that the camera is stored with. Then I thought to myself..."Self, since you have the long lens on, why not shoot a couple of isolations with it?" I made a good point, so I fitted a polarizer on the end of the barrel and started to hunt some intimate views of this waterfall.
|Cradle the Cascades|
Just before I was ready to put things away, I realized that I had the opportunity to shoot a panorama here just in case the HDR attempt didn't pan out. In order to keep the perspective from looking strange I like shooting panoramas with my 70-200mm lens on its side. I found the place that I wanted to set up that included everything from the tree to the waterfall. I set up the tripod to be perfectly level, and then worked on the focal length to capture everything that I wanted to. After setting the focus point, I made a dry sweep of the scene to make sure that I had everything in the proper place.
I had shot 70 images over the course of about an hour and a half. After going through the editing process, I decided to keep seven of them. The amazing thing is one of the images represents seven frames all by itself, and there is another one that accounts for three of them. I'm still doing quite well with my hit rate these days, but more importantly, I am having a blast with the camera. I'm starting to create completely different images from areas I've been countess times before. That is how I know I am progressing as a photographer. I was so excited about these images that I came home from my evening meeting at work and started to process the pictures and get them online.
I'm not sure what is coming next, but Fall is knocking on our door. I saw a few trees that were already starting to change at Hanging Rock. This is a good sign that Fall will come early this year, and very possibly be quite vibrant!