Above the Clouds, Below the Clouds

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Blue Ridge Waves
So the story goes...My day job caused me to miss most of the peak color along the Blue Ridge Parkway thanks to a 12 day work week that concluded yesterday.  While I was able to sneak away for a short Trek to Stone Mountain, there was not time to really do much on the Parkway unfortunately.  I waited patiently until the following weekend when I had an opportunity to go back for another attempt at the Fall Color.  Looking at the weather, I was expecting mostly cloudy skies that would start breaking up around mid day.  That could prove interesting, so I was all in for spending the morning in the mountains.

I started my day at a little after 4am and checked the weather.  There was no fog until about 11am, so that was even better!  I was excited to work with the fog and what was left of the color up there.  In about an hour, I was on the road headed West.  There was plenty of clouds in the sky here at home, and I had no doubt that there would be clouds in the mountains as well.  As I was climbing up the ascent after Wilkesboro, I started to wonder where the fog was.  I was passing through some patches, but nothing substantial at all.  By the time I hit the Parkway, visibility was perfectly clear and I could actually see stars.  That was a twist I wasn't expecting.

The first overlook I drove past I pulled into to see what things were looking like.  There was a sea of clouds below which was a nice surprise.  The sky was starting to show some color, so I decided to head over to the Grand View overlook to see what that looked like.  When I arrived, there were already two cars there, and I made it three.  I got out of the 4Runner and nearly froze since I was wearing shorts and it was in the mid 50's.  But the scene was unfolding quite nicely so I pulled the camera out and fitted my 24-70mm lens so I could capture the entire scene.  I went ahead and added the Lee Filter holder and a 3-Stop Hard edge ND Grad filter to control the sky.  I found a spot that gave me the most clear view and got the composition set up.  The exposures were around 30 seconds at f/8 since it was still quite dark.  But I knew that a long exposure in the dark would yield some pretty terrific colors if I was reading the sky right.

As the camera was soaking in the scene, I noticed that there was another photographer with a tripod set up, but no camera.  He was sitting in the car waiting on different light.  The camera finished the exposure and I saw the LCD.  Right then, I knew that he was missing out.  With the lack of clouds above, there would not be much other color as the sun continued to rise, and the low clouds would eventually be overexposed in the sunlight.  Oh well, I was capturing the images that I was wanting and that was what mattered.

Abstract Shore
As the sun rose, I noticed that the sky was fading into a blank canvas with no color at all.  The other photographer was out of the car at this point and setting up the camera.  He said something to the effect, of "come on sun," as I was setting up for a series of black and white shots to capture the fog in the valley without the need for the sky at all.  For this group, I swapped to my 70-200mm lens and kept my filters in the bag.  I was able to pick out areas of the mountains that particularly interested me.  The exposures were all pretty simple as the sun was not up yet.  There is just something magical about the low clouds rolling up to the mountains.  It is a sight that has always haunted me.

There was very little color to see due to the fog and the lighting so each and every frame that I shot looked like a monochrome image in the LCD review.  That was fine by me since I was shooting them to be black and white.  The contrast and textures were more important to me at this point than the colors.  When I got home and started to convert them, the photographs stayed true to how I actually saw them.  That is...except for one of them.

Fall Into the Clouds
One of the compositions that I shot had just a hint of color in the foreground mountain.  It wasn't much, but there was enough to convince me to leave it as a color image instead of converting it.  There was still very much of a monochrome feel, but the visual weight of the foreground really increased with the addition of the color present.  As a very happy side note, Toni is excited about this one, and is wanting to pastel it.  I'm looking forward to seeing her interpretation of this scene.

Doing these shots kind of set the tone for the rest of the day as the sky never really got interesting.  The real story of the landscape was the low clouds and fog present at many of the locations.  With the sky losing my interest, and having shot most of the compositions that jumped out at me, I decided to move on down the road to see what I could find before the sun got too high up in the sky.  I loaded up the camera as several other folks were starting to take their pictures.  My next stop would be the back side of Thunder Hill.

Low Fog
There is a section just down the road that I have shot at sunset before that I wanted to try at sunrise.  As I drove past it, I could see fog down in the valley, and just a couple of clouds right above the mountain.  This was worth shooting for sure.  I went ahead and parked the 4Runner and walked back to the side of the road and started to set the camera up.  I opted for the 24-70mm lens with a polarizer attached.  The filter didn't do a whole lot due to the angle I was shooting, but it did help with the clouds ever so slightly.  I framed up the shot and took several shots with slight variations on the composition.  What I was finding though, was that my interest was more in the center of the frame where the fog was.  A side benefit was I didn't need to worry about the early morning sky in the background if I were to isolate the foggy areas.

I went ahead and put the 70-200mm lens back on and added the polarizer to it.  I wanted to be able to get all the contrast that I could as well as any saturation that was available.  I started to pick out the interesting sections of the frame with a bit more reach than I had been able to have with my other lens.

A Foggy Caress
The composition was not my usual one by any stretch, but I'm really starting to get into the "filling the frame with what you like" concept.  I found a nice section of fog that provided a visual path through the trees and surrounded the pine trees that I was really interested in.  This composition has a really nice feel to it, and I'm actually quite happy with how it turned out.  Mental note to self, experiment more with landscapes!

Pines in the Fog
I was really captivated by how the fog was moving around in the valley, and how it would help to isolate certain elements.  I went ahead and flipped the camera over for a horizontal view and waited until the fog was in a position to isolate the one tree in the foreground, and also the pines just behind the golden trees.  it didn't take long for that to happen, and I was shooting once again.  The fog made some pretty good depth possible.  I played around with the fog for a while until the sunlight was getting too bright, and starting to encroach into the main part of the composition.

It was at that point that I decided it was time to pack it in and head back to the truck.  Right before I started to take the filter off, I happened to catch a tree well over to the right of the field that had escaped my attention...until now.  This was a golden tree set all along with a very interesting trunk structure.  It was worth a few frames at least.  it was in the shadows, but the fog was rolling past it so there was plenty of visual interest to it.

Fall Arrives
Dealing with this fog was tricky.  About the time I would get the shot set up, the fog would disappear and the scene would be less than exciting.  Other times, the wind would blow it right over my location and obscure the entire thing.  I was playing a game of cat and mouse waiting for that perfect moment to snap the shutter.  My first composition was set up with two different golden trees opposed to each other.  The sizing worked out due to the slight rise that the small one was one.  The fog followed the rise of the land so it stayed right with both trees equally.  I was really drawn to the symmetrical look of these two very different trees.

The Golden Fog
Even though I liked the two trees together, it was the bigger of the two that really caught my eye.  I loved the trunk structure of it, and the color was pretty awesome against the green trees in the background.  I flipped the camera over and framed a shot that just included the tree.  Now, I try not to center my subjects typically, but this time, I couldn't help myself.  This tree called for the post card shot, or the book cover shot depending on who's looking.  Once again, I played the waiting game for the fog to roll in just the way I was wanting it to.  It seemed like it took forever, but it did finally come in nice and faint at the bottom, as well as just slightly above.  The idea was to have the tree nice and prominent in the shot, and having the fog obscure it just wouldn't do.  The shot that made the cut checked all of the boxes and became one of my favorite images from the day.

As I was looking at it in detail, the trunk that caught my eye actually provided a compositional plus for me.  While I had pretty much centered the tree, the trunk was pleasantly off center to the left providing some much needed visual tension to the piece.  Yeah, this one turned out very nice indeed.

The sun was still rising behind me, and things were losing their magic in the valley.  It was time to pack the camera up and head to the next destination.  The idea was to go to Rough Ridge as I was hoping that the leaves were still vibrant there.  As I got closer, I was starting to see that the trees were mostly bare, and the leaves that were left were mostly brown.  I wasn't feeling very lucky at all at this point, and by the time I got to Price Lake, I decided to turn around.  My plan was now to go to Doughton Park at a lower altitude to see what I could see.

The Vibrant Drive
As I passed EB Jeffress Park, the colors started to get a little better than before.  I hit a stretch of the parkway that actually looked pretty vibrant just beyond the main park.  I decided to pull over to the side and give the scene a try.  Since I was going to capture the road, I opted to use my 24-70mm lens with a Singh Ray Polarizer attached.  I started out by composing with the sky in the frame, but really didn't like that composition that much.  I closed it up a little bit and eliminated the sky which really strengthened the composition.  I had a sea of color that was bound by two pine trees to the right and a rocky wall to the left.  The Parkway itself lead the eyes through the frame.  I loved the way the colors popped in this shot, and the sun was actually doing me a lot of favors for once.  I stayed here for a good little bit trying different things since there was nobody at all on the road here.  Considering the typical Fall traffic out here, I was impressed and happy to soak in the quiet for a while.

Dabs of Color
When I finally did leave, I was headed to Doughton Park before heading home.  As I neared the halfway mark, I found one of my favorite scenes with a little red gate.  The trees looked really good through here so I decided to pull off to the side and get a few shots.  Typically, I will use a wider focal length for this scene, but today, I wanted to get more impact from the trees beyond the fence.  For that, I decided to keep my 70-200mm lens attached and just add a polarizer.  Ironically enough, I actually shot this scene from the other side of the road in order to get the perspective that I achieved here.  The benefit was the mountain in the distance remained prominent and the trees in the midground carried a much needed visual weight in the photograph.  The gate was not overly big either, so this all worked out well when it came to scale.  In fact, this might be a better way of shooting this particular scene when compared with my 24-70mm which I usually use.

After I played with this scene for a bit, I realized that the sun was becoming too harsh, and it was getting close to the middle of the day.  It was time to call it quits and head home.  I hadn't been to Doughton, but I can't imagine that the quality of light would be favorable there because it was diminishing quickly everywhere I looked.  I decided to try a different route home and do some exploring so I asked the GPS to pick my route.  It took me down Hwy 18 to Wilkesboro.

As I was going down the mountain, I found myself driving through the clouds and eventually ended up under them.  Now the quality of light was much better than it had been.  I started to look for other subjects to photograph before heading home.  Unfortunately though, I did need to get home, so I didn't do much exploring, just kept working my way East on some of the state roads instead of hopping on 421.  I saw a bunch of things that had promise, but just didn't jump out at me.  I will be back to this area when my mind is set on doing barns this winter.

Pontiac Adornment
I finally did make it back to 421 and to familiar territory.  The sky was looking really good at this point and I was really wanting to shoot something else.  After having looked at all of the barns, I was starting to get in the mood to shoot something rustic.  I knew that I wasn't going to pass anything that would fit that bill at this point since I have been up and down this road for years.  I was needing to get home, so I was torn about whether or not to go exploring some more.  It was at that point that I remembered my favorite Pontiac that I have shot several times in the past.

The problem with that Pontiac is that it sits in the shadows when the sun is out and the exposure on it is terrible to say the least.  I have tried it several times with varying degrees of sunlight, but never under a totally cloudy sky before.  This sky might actually prove very helpful for the car.  I decided to slide by and give it a shot.

The house that the car is parked next to has been vacant for some time, and there is a working farm to the side.  Because of that, I am very careful not to disturb anything when I am shooting this car.  There is nobody to ask permission of to shoot it, but the property is still used.  Fortunately, the way to the car is easy enough.  When I got there, I went straight for my 24-70mm lens which I knew was the best option for this car.  I had a clothesline that was very close to it which always causes me problems, and forces me to get in close to the car.

A Rusty Streak
The clouds that were overhead were providing a perfect diffuser for the sun and for the first time ever, the exposure was actually very simple.  The sky was dark enough that I didn't need any ND Grads, but I was going to use every bit of the exposure latitude in the camera.  Fortunately, I wasn't going to need to do anything like HDR though.  One of the best parts about this car is the barn that is situated across the field.  Normally, the exposure puts the barn in the shadows, but today, lighting was nearly perfect.  The barn showed up perfectly in the background and complimented the car quite well.  The patina showed up better today than ever before.  It made me wonder why I hadn't seriously considered shooting this car in the clouds before.

Take Flight
This was the first car I ever shot emblems on, and it started something that has stuck with me for several years now.  Because of that, I would be remiss if I didn't shoot the emblems on the car.  I didn't want to do it the same way though, so I decided to keep the 24-70mm lens attached and used my depth of field options to my advantage with the hood.  I'm really liking the dramatic composition of the winged Indian leaving the runway.  I never would have tried that before, so chalk another one up to experimenting for this trip.

Rounded Eight
The rear emblem also caught my eye.  There were two stars that were added on to either side of the "Pontiac" script that made for natural bookends for a horizontal composition.  The landing strip at the top was a nice counter to those stars and helped to bring the picture together since the horizontal bar cut the image in half.  The patina was really nice on this car, even though it wasn't all that colorful.  In keeping with my mantra of shoot it as I find it, I left the keyhole cover open.  This actually worked out nicely as it took just enough of the symmetry away to add some visual tension and interest to the composition.  I don't think I would have liked it as much with the cover closed.

At this point, I had shot 140 frames in about 6 hours.  I was getting tired and I needed to get home.  Honestly, I was thinking that I had about five to seven images that I would find worthy of keeping.  I wasn't all that confident in what I had captured.  However, when I started the culling process, I quickly learned that I had done much better than I had originally thought.  My experimenting worked wonders on this Trek, and that fact really came to light when Toni was looking at my 14 favorites.  She was looking at Dabs of Color and said that it looked like my standard landscape and it would get lost in the mix.  The insinuation was that the other ones were noticeably different from my normal shot and stood out from the crowd.  I can live with that as a compliment.

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