Autumn at Hanging Rock

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Streaming Cascades
It seems that the last handful of times that I have been to Hanging Rock it has been a quick trip before work, or just slipping it in for a quick outing.  I feel that I haven't been giving Hanging Rock its fare shake lately.  There is a lot to photograph out there with about a half dozen or so waterfalls in the park, not to mention many trails that lead to overlooks.  There is just so much to do there, but since it is close I get out there quite a bit usually.  However, this year my time there has been in hour long segments with a handful of pictures that are the result.

With the work week coming to a close, I was itching to get out and do some photography, but I wasn't really sure what kind of weather I should be expecting.  For the most part it had been sunny throughout the week which doesn't make the greatest of conditions for a photographer.  When I looked at the forecast on Friday, there was going to be a lot of clouds in the foothills and mountains with some occasional rain.  This was my kind of shooting conditions!

I started to look at places that I could go.  The Blue Ridge Parkway has been done to death by myself and other photographers for the last six weeks or so, and quite frankly, I was a little tired of making that trip.  Stone Mountain was next on my list, but the clouds were going to be a wild card.  If they were thick and lacking definition, I wouldn't be able to shoot dramatic landscapes from the clearings I like to hike to.  There aren't that many waterfalls there that I enjoy photographing, and I had just done Widow's Creek Falls a couple of weeks ago.  That meant that Stone Mountain was out.  That left Hanging Rock, which worked out pretty good.  I could concentrate on waterfalls and woodland images if the sky was boring, and if it got interesting, I could hike up to a couple of different points of interest.  Hanging Rock it would be!

Haunted Lagoon
I started my day early so that I could get to the park when it opened.  By the way, that was 7am, about 30 minutes before sunrise.  I wasn't going for a sunrise opportunity because I knew that there would be no color this morning.  I was just looking to get an early start because the park was having several different programs throughout the late morning and into the afternoon.  I wanted to have plenty of time to be by myself and concentrate on photographing rather than dodging other hikers. 

I did get there before first light and that meant that I would be hiking with a flashlight.  My first destination was going to be the Upper Cascades because that was going to be the first program destination and I wanted to be done with it before that started up.  When I arrived at the falls, it was still pretty dark and I got to thinking that I might want to try doing a little light painting at this one.  I went ahead and set the camera up with the 16-35mm lens and got in close to it.  I composed the image with the aid of the flashlight and set it to bulb so that I could just have the shutter stay open until I was done.

I tried several different times, and finally got one that I liked.  The one above was 60 seconds of exposure during which time I painted the waterfall with my flashlight.  I hovered over the pool at the bottom as well to give it an ethereal feel.  Of course the white balance was all over the place with the ambient light, and adding an LED flashlight.  I had to do a little work to balance the colors out when I got home.  For my first attempt as light painting a waterfall, I'm actually pretty happy with this.

Rocking Fall
As the sun was coming up I started to look around to see if there was any Fall color in the park.  I was quite pleased at the amount of color that I saw, but realized that there was none in close proximity to the waterfall.  There were some bright trees to my rear though, and they caught my eyes.  There were two large rock outcroppings that complimented themselves, and a nice tree trunk at the end of one of the outcroppings.  In the background there were some brilliant trees.  The trick was going to be dealing with the sky which was pretty much featureless.  I decided to crop in close and use my 24-70mm lens with an intensifying polarizer attached.  The composition that I chose showed a nice "S-Curve" through the picture leading the viewer to the colors in the background.

The exposure wasn't too difficult as the sun was barely up at this point.  Everything was quite even in tone, and it was just a matter of getting the composition right with the camera.  That took a lot of moving around in order to get the right angle on things.  The one that I decided I liked the best was one of the tighter compositions and really had an intimate feel to the whole image.

From here, I started to move around the scene a little bit.  I wasn't all that impressed with the water flow, but I decided to get an overall shot of the Cascades.  I moved back into the water and framed the shot to show the full waterfall in the morning light.  This is the opening image to the entry.  It is one of my favorite exposures of the waterfall, but unfortunately the flow let me down.  Without more water, the photograph kind of feels flat in comparison to others I shot. was still worth a press of the button for sure!

Seasoned Slopes
As the sun continued to rise, the lighting quality changed all around me.  I started to focus my attention back on the seasonal colors down stream.  This time, I went further back and got a wider view of the scene from a slightly different angle.  There is more context here and I personally like the image more than the intimate one.  There is still a great deal of detail in this image and the trees in the distance really stand out.  The interesting tree trunk in the foreground is still an important part of this composition, as is the "S-Curve."

I tried to shoot some isolations on the waterfall but was unable to get anything that I really liked.  I tell you...when the waterflow is low, this is just not an impressive waterfall.  I decided to call it quits here and move downstream to the unnamed cascade a few minutes off of the trail.  It isn't too bad of a scramble to get down to it, but having the camera still mounted to the tripod made it a little more difficult to do.

A Subtle Melody
I've only photographed this waterfall one other time, and the lighting was not quite the best.  Today, the lighting was much better.  I just had to hope that the flow was decent.  When I got down to it, I found that the water was actually flowing quite nicely over the rocks.  The water was shallow enough that I could get right up on the falls as well.  I left the 24-70mm lens attached and got in really close.  I chose to use a rocky wall as a natural frame for the waterfall which I was unable to do last time.  This allowed me to keep the actual waterfall completely uncovered.  I went very wide for this shot and got really excited with what I was capturing.  I tweaked my position a couple of times to really fine tune the composition.  The lighting was nice and consistent so the exposures were all the same and looked great!

Cascade Cliffs
One thing that I had not done with this waterfall was to shoot isolations on it.  Since I was up close and personal with it, I figured that I might as well give it a try.  I found an interesting segment that had a bit of visual drama, and also had a counter element of fallen leaves that gave a different diagonal line.  It was also the splash of color that the image needed to keep me from shooting it as a monochrome composition.  I had ideas of doing the conversion when I got home, but when I saw the image, the splash of color really set the photograph off.  Black and White wasn't going to do this one justice.  After about 30 minutes, I decided that I had shot everything that I was going to here.  For the climb back up, I packed the camera back in the bag to keep it safe and started back up the hill to the trail.

I hiked back past the rock garden but didn't find anything that I particularly wanted to photograph there.  I got to the main parking area and looked for interesting trees, but there was just too much visual clutter to be able to get the trees that I wanted.  The colors were really nice though and I wanted to shoot some woodland scenes.  As I worked my way down the next trail to the Hidden Falls, I passed by the picnic shelters and started to look at using them in some compositions.  Nothing really worked out for me though, so I was starting to get a little discouraged.  The last shelter that I passed by changed my mind though.

Getting in Step
As I was passing the last shelter, I saw the stairs leading up to it, and saw this really cool diagonal tree that complimented the stone railing quite well.  The color behind the tree was amazing so I decided to set up the camera to see what I could do with it.  Since I was wanting to work on shapes and textures, I chose to shoot this scene with my 70-200mm lens with a polarizer attached.  I framed up a landscape composition and liked it, but all of my visual interest was to the side.  I flipped the camera and recomposed to get the stairs and the one tree.  It was a simple composition but one that I was pretty excited about.  It got me motivated once again to keep looking for those woodland shots with the trees looking so brilliant.

That was short lived though.  The further I got down the trail, the less vivid the colors were.  Oh well, I was about to be at the Hidden Falls which I always enjoy photographing.  I had to wait to turn down the trail because there was a family hiking out and continuing down to the Window Falls.  That left me all alone at the Hidden Falls. I was rather excited!  But when I got to the falls, that excitement left me really quick.  The waterflow was dismal and there was no color in proximity to the waterfall.  I could have shot isolations on this one, but quite frankly, there wasn't enough water to make it worth the time.  I went back out to the main trail and started to look for woodland compositions once again.

Nature's Sigh
There wasn't anything really standing out to me, and I actually caught up with the family.  Once I got past them, I decided that I would go ahead and get on to the next waterfall to give myself time to work it before they got there.  When I arrived, it was empty which was great.  The waterflow was not that exciting, but I was planning on shooting isolations anyway.  I still had my 70-200mm lens attached and started to frame up shots from the base of the falls.

One of the nice things about this waterfall is that it is just a drop and there are interesting points at the top and the bottom that work well in photographs.  The lighting was excellent so I was in a happy place with this waterfall despite the lack of water.

Twin Streams
For the first time in several years I was actually moved to shoot the top of this waterfall. I'm not sure what drew me to it, but I had to act quick.  There was a light rain falling and having the camera angled up left my glass exposed to the elements.  I just couldn't resist though with the water just gently flowing over the cliff.  It was rather soothing to me.  I still prefer the terminal end of the drop though with the little mini cascades that result.  I always tend to gravitate to those compositions more than the top of the falls.

A Cavern's Whisper
One of the things that I love about photography is that you really control how the image is presented.  This waterfall is pretty basic, and there is nothing all that special about it, but when you start doing isolations with it, you can change the entire look of the environment.  The way that I framed this particular picture makes it look like the water is falling from a hole above and into a cavern.  The rocky wall to the rear appears to continue all the way around. The light looks like it is concentrated through that hole that the water is flowing from.  This is so not the case with this waterfall though.  The visual tricks are what makes it fun to work with though.

After a few minutes of working on this waterfall, the family arrived and gave me my space which I greatly appreciate.  Not wanting to prevent them from enjoying the waterfall, I went ahead and packed the camera up, and decided to go up to the unnamed waterfall that is above the Window Falls.  It is not difficult to get to, but requires a little bit of rock crawling to get up to the upper section.  Once there, you are treated to almost a cave cut into the rocks.  It is a very cool place to be, especially the first time you see it.

The Forest's Cry
For this subject, I decided to swap in my 24-70mm lens and get up close to the waterfall.  There wasn't much flow to it, but there was enough to capture my attention.  With the help of a polarizer, I was able to get the contrast of the scene just right even in the tricky lighting of the cave.  I worked my way around the water and tried compositions from both sides.  The most effective ones were the ones that were shot directly to the falls, which is what I decided to stick with when I was editing the photos.

Quiet Thoughts
My favorite composition was a portrait shot of the waterfall.  It took advantage of the flow that was there, and had a nice visual flow through the frame with the rocks below providing a nice barrier for the eyes.  By far, this is my favorite composition that I have shot at this waterfall which is usually quite disappointing.  Now, I can't remember the last time that I tried to photograph this waterfall, so my skills have improved quite a bit since that last time.

About the time that I was getting into the groove and was about to switch out to my 70-200mm for some different compositions, I realized that there was a scout troop that was working their way up the rocky wall to join me.  Well, this was the end of the road for me.  There were just too many people milling around at this point so I packed up my camera and worked my way back down to the trail.

I kept my eyes out for any woodland images, but there were just too many people and distractions at this point so I started to lose my eye.  The fact that I was hiking uphill and getting tired didn't help matters either.  I didn't see a single thing that I wanted to photograph on the way back up the trail.  I did decide that I was going to get back on the road when I got to the truck since the park was getting rather full of people enjoying the leaves.

Cozy in the Forest
When I got back up to the shelters I again started to look to see if I could get anything to use as a visual anchor in a composition.  I did see two small buildings off in the distance away from the shelters, tucked in the woods.  I was a little disappointed to see that they were restrooms, and I really didn't want to use those in a photograph.  However, the colors were just too good, and the wood and stonework on the structures were just too good to pass up.  I worked around until I found a possible angle to shoot from.  

I was lucky to find an area where there was a little bit of a clearing so that I didn't have to shoot through too many trees to get the composition I wanted.  I did choose to use my 70-200mm lens with an intensifying polarizer to compress the scene and focus on the repeating shapes of the trees and the contrasting lines of the (we're going to call it a) cabin in the woods.  I decided that the most effective composition was going to be picking only a portion of the cabin to give a sense of story to the image.  The main element was going to be the color in the woods.  It took about four frames to get settled in on the composition that I wanted.  The end result looks really warm and cozy as you can see the...ahem...cabin overlooking the colorful surroundings.  It's a cabin, and I'm going to stick with that story.  It works in the picture, and makes the whole scene make sense....until you realize that there is a roll of toilet paper by the door.  Made you look!!

Well, the parking lot was in sight, and so were droves of people and dogs at this point.  It was time to cut bait and leave.  I was hoping to find a barn or two on the way home since I was still wanting to shoot more.  I even took the long way home and wend down Hwy 8 which I don't usually do.  The rain was starting in earnest at this point and I was glad that I was not still out hiking.  At least I could look for something else to shoot in the dry.

Mail Call
About halfway home, I passed a property that I have driven past many times before but this time something caught my eye.  It was an old Postal Jeep.  Not exactly the classic car that I like to shoot in the last stages of life, but something about this old Jeep struck a nerve.  I turned around and took a second look.  Yeah, there was rust, and it was in front of a barn.  It was worth a frame or two, and what was best was that I would do better shooting it from the street than on the property.  I pulled off the road and opened the hatch to get the camera.

Before I even got the tripod out and leveled, I heard an ATV coming down the road.  Yep, I know what was about to happen.  He stopped across the road from me and we both said hi.  I went ahead and beat him to the punch and asked if this was his property.  He replied that it wasn't, but he knew the owner.  I went across the road to engage him in a little conversation.  He said that he didn't think that the owner would have a problem with me photographing from the road, and he pointed to where the house was where he lived.

Now, I'm not lazy, but the house was a little further than I wanted to walk leaving my 4Runner on the side of the road.  It was way too close to justify cranking it up and driving it over there.  Since I was planning on shooting from the road, I decided to save the aggravation and the potential for missing a rain free opportunity.  We concluded out chat and I went back to setting the camera up.

American Icon
Since I was shooting from the road, I put the 70-200mm lens on the camera with an intensifying polarizer attached.  I stayed true to my word and remained close to the road so as not to encroach on anyone's property when I wasn't sure if they minded or not.  The compositions actually came pretty easy.  There was a tree and some type of old farm implement right next to it that helped to add some context to the story.  The barn, while not a typical barn had a little bit of character and the vertical boards on it made for a very nice contrast to the horizontal stripes on the old postal carrier.

I was actually surprised at how good these came out.  Normally white vehicles don't photograph all that great, but the white really made it stand out from the background and made a rather impressive composition.  I'm sitting here looking at the picture now remembering the days gone by when these Jeeps were all over the roads delivering the mail.  They had character, unlike the mail trucks of today.  In fact, this old Jeep still has a lot of character, and it is instantly recognizable to anyone above the age of 30.

Well, the rain was returning so it was time to get on home to finish processing the images.  During the course of my day I had shot 113 frames between Hanging Rock and the Postal Jeep.  I was feeling pretty good about things, and when I got finished editing the pictures I was really happy to find that 15 of them managed to make the cut.  It was a really great day, and the weather was perfect for what I was shooting.

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