If You Don't Like the Weather...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Talking About Spring
As the saying in the North Carolina Mountains goes, "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes."  Having spent quite a bit of time in the NC Mountains over the course of my life I can say that there is a good deal of truth to that statement.  Today's trip tested my understanding of the weather patterns though.

The day started like most others, I got up with Toni at around 4am so that I could get an early start for what was supposed to be a pretty good day in the mountains.  The weather was calling for some morning showers which would be replaced by partly cloudy skies for the majority of the day.  The clouds were showing to be low, but there was only 40-70% coverage so I was thinking that there would be a great deal of drama in the sky as the current front moved out.  The plan for the day was to start out at Hawksbill Mountain doing a little bit of hiking before getting some great grand landscape shots of the Linville Gorge.  If the sky held out after that, I was going to move over to Wiseman's View to get the other side of the gorge.  In the event that it was too cloudy, I was going to shoot some waterfalls and possibly try a new one in that section of the Parkway.

Pink Crown
The weather was staying pretty consistent from Friday night through to Saturday morning.  The chance of a good sunrise was slim to none, so I wasn't worried about getting into position for a sunrise first thing in the morning.  Actually, that was pretty nice since I am usually racing to get set up before first light.  I had a nice easy morning and a relaxing drive to the mountains. I ran into some light rain, but I was expecting that and was expecting those showers to move out of the area around 8am.

Springtime Duel
As I started the ascent up Hwy 183, I ran into a different problem.  It seemed that the clouds were lower than I expected and I was actually driving through them.  Visibility was not great, and the rain continued.  The closer I got to Hawksbill, the less I wanted to make the hike to the summit for what I was sure going to be a wall of clouds.  I pulled over at the Brown Mountain overlook and checked the weather.  The forecast still showed the bad weather moving out, but it was now looking like 9am.  I figured that I would just come back to Hawksbill when the weather started to improve.  In the meantime, I started looking for a plan B, since I wasn't ready to commit to hiking to waterfalls just yet.

I ended up near the road to Wiseman's View and passed by the quaint little cabin that I had photographed not too long ago.  It was looking really good today with everything in full bloom at this point.  The rain had stopped, and the low clouds were gone for the moment so i pulled over.  I grabbed my camera with a 24-70mm lens along with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I started working the little cabin up close and from the road.  I was having better luck with compositions because the rocking chair was no longer in the front yard, and what had been bare bushes were now full of color and excitement.  It was a much easier time this go 'round for sure.  I even got in close and shot some of the blooms.  Why? You ask.....Because Spring, that's why!

In the Pink
My enjoyment ceased fairly quickly though as I started to feel the distinct splats of rain drops on my hat.  It was time to call it a day for this location.  I had gotten everything that I wanted to get so I didn't argue too much.  By this point, I was starting to tell myself that if I just wanted five minutes that the weather would change.  I could do that....I continued on my way looking for other subjects that would work out with the conditions.  I went ahead and hopped on the Parkway to see how things were looking up there.  I went South since I knew that just a few miles North the road was closed for repairs.

Dewy Slope
At some point traveling down the Parkway I came upon a ridge to the right of the road that had a handful of trees growing.  They each looked pretty interesting in the fog of the morning so I pulled off the road and grabbed the camera.  This time, I used the 70-200mm lens and went to work on compositions for the trees.  The fog makes it very easy to photograph trees since the background is usually obscured for the most part.  There was a fine mist in the air, but for the most part the rain was holding off....for about five minutes.  Yep, you guess it.  After I had been shooting for about five minutes the rain came back with a vengeance.  I was forced back to the cover of the hatch on my 4Runner.  I waited about 10 minutes to see if the weather would change, but apparently the weather never got the memo.  I went ahead and packed up my gear and hopped in the truck.

You guessed it, the minute I cranked the truck up and hit the wipers, that was it for the rain.  Oh well, I had a few images of the trees in the fog and that was enough.  I continued South looking for mile marker 322 where English Falls is supposed to live.  There is supposed to be a little parking area near that mile marker which I was looking for.  It would seem that the parking area isn't well marked or even really established because I drove right on past it, and saw the marker for 323.  Oh well, it was now raining again anyway.  I just kept on driving down the road.

Royal Veil
I continued past Crabtree Falls which I thought about shooting, but the hike would probably take longer than I wanted to invest in things since I was hoping for a break in the weather.  It was looking like great waterfall weather though.  I opted to continue on to Roaring Fork Falls which has a short and very easy hike to get to.  I could hustle on this one if the weather decided to get better.  It didn't take too long to get to the falls, and in that time, the rain would start, and stop almost as if to taunt me.  When I arrived at the parking area for the falls I was thrilled to be the only one there.  I grabbed my gear and went on the half mile hike to the falls.

Awash in Cotton
The entrance to the falls off of the trail was really obscured by the trees and I almost missed it.  Fortunately, I saw the caution sign at the stream and found my way through the low hanging tree to actually get to the waterfall.  I could hear the force of the water and was looking forward to seeing how Roaring Fork was looking with all of the rain that we have been having recently.  I had seen the water very swollen downstream on the way to the falls and had very high hopes for the main event.

I wasn't disappointed with the condition of the falls.  There was a lot of force here, and fortunately, I was still able to rock hop to get into my normal positions to photograph it.  The difference was, I had to be very careful about where I placed the camera.  The water was moving with such a force that in most sections there would be too much vibration for a sharp long exposure image.  I couldn't brace the tripod against anything since there was a large log which was wedged at my position and was visibly moving.  That movement would have translated through the tripod for sure.

Spiritual Glow
I will typically shoot this waterfall with my 24-70mm lens, but that is because it usually doesn't have the size to really show that well at the top.  This time, I was pretty sure that the water volume would support the wider angle, so I loaded up my 16-35mm lens with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and hopped out to the artist's rock in the middle of the water.  I started to set up shots from here and found that the base of the waterfall was a great foreground with how the water was broadcasting from the final drop.  I did the typical horizontal and vertical layouts here before moving to isolations of the falls.

For the isolations, I swapped over to the 70-200mm lens to really pick things out.  I had a lot of fun with the isolations, but the water was flowing very quickly which removed a lot of the subtle details of the route.  I was able to pick out a few down at the base as well as one up at the top.

Speaking of the one at the top, if you look at the image above, you can see what I was starting to see happening.  Yep, the rains had stopped, and the clouds have moved on.  That warm glow at the top is the sun shining through the trees.  Looking up to confirm, I could tell that the clouds were now thinning and leaving the area.  This was the weather change that I had been looking for!!!  It took more than five minutes, but it was worth the wait.  I could now get back on the mountain and get those grand landscapes I was looking for.

I maneuvered back to a safe area to break the camera down.  As I was doing that, a hiker came down the path.  My timing was excellent because historically, if there is somebody else here, I will have to deal with them being in my shot just about every time.  I was glad that I was done here, and I was actually pretty happy with what I had gotten here as well.  On my hike back to the truck, I was hustling since I knew I could make it back in less than 10 minutes.  In that time, I passed another eight people that made me very happy that I had been there when I was.  Not to mention that the sun was too bright now for any good photography of the falls.

I didn't waste any time looking for altitude once I got in the truck.  I could see bits and pieces of the sky from down in the valley and was really happy with what I saw happening.  There were low gray clouds, high cumulus clouds, and lots of movement in the sky.  This was exactly what I was looking for!  I was excited right up until the five minute mark hit.  That corresponded with me arriving at the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Yep, here comes the clouds again.  In a period of about 30 minutes I had come full circle.  I was again driving in the rain along America's Favorite Drive.  Oh yeah, the fog was back too.  My hopes for a grand landscape were dashed yet again.

I figured that this was going to be the tempo of the day, and I might as well embrace it.  I decided to go to Crabtree Falls and shoot that one, although honestly, I wasn't all that excited about doing that waterfall.  There are only a few compositions that I like there, and I've shot it many times over.  The water flow doesn't make that big of a difference there either, except for my ability to get into position to get a foreground that includes the water flow.

When I got to the falls, I went to park and saw that the parking lot was about half full.  That was a very bad omen because this is one of those waterfalls where people can really get in the way quickly.  With my frustration over the weather still pretty active, I didn't want to add in that further frustration so I opted to continue going back up the Parkway.

I went ahead and dialed in the destination to English Falls just to see where the parking area was.  GPS took me right to it, or at least a little area off to the side of the Parkway.  I could see a trail leading from that parking area, but it didn't go anywhere.  It was drizzling and very foggy, but having seen pictures of this waterfall, I really wanted to try it in these conditions.  I pulled up Kevin Adam's description of the falls and the hike to it.  It sounded a little dicey, but I was willing to try it since I had never been here, and there were no others around.

I followed his description of the trail and found the access point which lead me down a really steep section that was rather slippery with the rains.  I continued to read and saw that there were cliffs and the need for ropes (which I had read were left there by other hikers).  Seeing how much difficulty I was having with the "easy" section of this hike, I decided that I had better wait until I knew more about the hike, or had somebody with me that was familiar with it.  The last thing I wanted to do was get lost in the woods, or slip and get hurt.  I was up there alone, and nobody knew where I was.  The only clue was my 4Runner sitting on the side of the road at MP 322.  Another time English Falls....another time.

The Water Calls
The hike back up the trail to the truck was not the easiest of things, but I made it with no problems.  The earth was very soft with the rains, and it just wasn't worth it to me to continue down to the bottom.  I got back up on the Parkway and did a little walking to see if there was anything that I could do with the foggy conditions.  There wasn't anything that jumped out at me, so I decided to go to Linville Falls and do a little shooting there with the increased water flow.

My goal was not to photograph the upper cascades or even the main drop because too much water, while impressive, looses that aesthetic quality that I love about waterfalls.  What I was wanting was a chance to photograph Dugger's Creek Falls under some different conditions.  When I arrived, the parking lot was about half full, and I could see a lot of families milling about at the visitor's center and on the bridge going to the upper falls.  There were nothing but empty spots on the side where Dugger's Falls was, and that was a good indication that I might get lucky and have it to myself.

Dugger's Creek
The hike out to Dugger's is a simple one that basically counts as a nature walk.  When I got to the bridge, I noticed two things.  First, I noticed that the water was flowing at a rate I have never witnessed before.  The dainty little waterfall was now a full on waterfall with the associated loud roar as it dropped.  Second, the trees were blocking much of the view of the waterfall from the bridge (which was getting more and more bouncy it seemed).  With this flow, I was actually really wanting to shoot from the bridge and get that perspective.  There was no way to do that with the trees the way they were.  I wonder if they ever come through and trim them back?

I hiked down to the base below the bridge and found that the water about knee level on me.  The only way I would be able to get into my normal position was to strip my feet and wade out there.  I didn't have anything to put on my feet to protect them, so I opted to skip it.  That was partly because I didn't see a real clear shot to the falls here either because of some of the vegetation.  Also, much of the character of the falls was lost because of the high flow.  Looking downstream, the water flow was showing some promise though.

I went quickly back out to the parking lot and followed the exit around the corner to where the creek runs under the road.  I know that you can access this section fairly easy from the road and I had forgotten to look as I came in to the parking area earlier.  Yeah, this would work out nicely.  I actually set things up on the top of the concrete culvert.  I used my 24-70mm lens with the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and started to pick out compositions.  As with the Roaring Fork Falls, I chose to make my foreground interest the final bit of drama as the water spilled over the rocks.  The patters of the water over the rocks was just glorious here, the best I had ever seen.  I shot a few different compositions here, including some isolations.  In the end, I thought that the overall mountain creek shots were the strongest.  I think that it works as both a landscape and a portrait shot, which is nice.

At this point, I figured that I might as well go and see what the upper cascades looked like since I was here.  Wait a minute, has it been five minutes already?  The sun was peeking out again.  It looked as though the sky was going to clear.  I knew it would be temporary, but I was excited.  Looking at the people coming into the parking area in droves, I decided that I would avoid the crowds and look for that grand landscape once again.

Flat Top Rock
I got back out to the Parkway and started to check out the fences in the area.  You know I love some fences!  None really looked ready to have their pictures taken so I continued on down the road.  I could see hints that the sky was looking good, but I was not finding anything I could put under it.  I knew I was getting to the end of the road...quite literally since all traffic was detoured just North of Beacon Heights.  As a last ditch effort, I pulled over into the Flat Top Rock parking area and found that there were only two other cars there.  I had done this hike once before and knew it was simple.  I grabbed my gear and started my way up the mountain.  I could see movement in the sky, and differences in the clouds.

My hopes were high for the first time.  When I got to the top. I could see definition in the clouds, but more were rolling in.  I started to look around to find something that I could put in the foreground.  There was less to work with up here than I recalled, but the last time I came it was in the early Spring and there were more bare trees around.  I finally settled on an area where I could see off in the distance for a good way.  There was a little bit of character to the clouds, but they were getting darker and denser by the moment.

At this point, I figured "why not?" and put the Rokinon 14mm lens on the camera and positioned myself in a way that captured the rocky surface of the bald that I was on as well as the mountains off to the distance.  It was not the image that I was hoping for, but it did have a lot of depth, and some visual trickery thanks to even lighting that made it look like the rocks at my feet just trailed off to the distant mountains without actually going through a valley at the base of Flat Top Rock.  The clouds were ominous to say the least, and there was a strip of bright light at the horizon which helped to bring the attention to the distant mountains.  It was a slightly different image from me, but one that I think has enough merit to be included here.

I kept the Rokinon attached and went back to the trail where there were some really cool trees.  The wide angle of the lens made for a perfectly cool composition, but the sky in the background was just too featureless and white to really work for what I was wanting.  It is a great concept and it works well with the wide angle.  I'll be back to try that shot again some time.  As I continued to look around, I realized that it was starting to rain once again.  It was getting harder and heavier too.  I took that as my cure to get back to the truck.  I loaded everything back up in the bag and started the return journey.

By the time I got to the truck, it was starting to pour.  I tossed everything in the back and hopped in the driver's seat.  I got back on the Parkway going North just to see if the road was still closed.  Yep, fenced off and everything.  There was a detour that took me to Hwy 221, which was going to take me to Blowing Rock.  I noticed as I made the turn that there was a lot of debris which had been brought into the roadway by the flood waters recently.  The rain was really picking up now and the clouds were back hanging over the road like a fog.  Visibility was poor, but good enough to see that Hwy 221 was closed not far from where I entered it.  So let me get this straight...the detour was closed?  Yep, that was the size of it.  The rain was getting harder and harder.  It was after noon, so I took that as my cue to head home.  I was needing gas anyway.  My day was done.

As I got to the base of the mountain the rain stopped and the sky cleared.  The clouds looked awesome, but they were still low.  I've fallen for that trick already, and I was about at Bingo Fuel.  I wasn't able to get back into the picture game with the gas that I had available.  I was tired, wet, and completely unsure if anything that I had shot was going to turn out.  I had thrown in the lens cloth.

But wait...there's more!

Chevy Sedan
There I was driving down the road listening to something on the radio completely disengaged from photography and I happened to look over one of the side roads visible from US 421 on the edge of Yadkin County.  I saw the distinct round rear end of a '40's era car.  It was parked at the edge of a parking lot.  OK, this was interesting.  I made the next exit and picked up the side road at the next intersection and went to looking for it.  I found it in a very large commercial area with a big parking lot.  It was placed for sale at the road.  I started to look around.  There was a Toyota for sale to its left that I had no interest in, there were buildings behind it, and RV's and dump trucks in front of the buildings.  The sky however was awesome!  The patina on the car was nice, but I'm not a big fan of white cars for this kind of photography.  The patina on the back was pretty nice though, and the car had character.  It was worth giving it a shot to see what I could do with it.  I parked the truck and hopped out.

Holy crap!  It was hot here!  After being used to the mountains all day, I wasn't expecting the sun to be so hot, but it was.  Oh well, I was here and needed to get to work.  I pulled out the camera and opted for the 24-70mm lens which is a great automotive lens for the flexibility that it offered.  I also knew I was going to need to get tighter than 50mm to omit the clutter in the background of the car.  I wanted enough angle of view to capture the sky and clouds though.  With the white car, I needed the blue sky to tone it down, and the white clouds would make for excellent complimenting elements.  To make sure that I had good contrast in the sky, I fitted my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to the lens as well.

Four Star Chevy
There wasn't much that I could do isolations on with this car.  The white paint really hampers my creativity for these kind of shots.  I did find a few nice lines on the front of the car that I could work with.  My only isolation that I felt like keeping was this abstract one with the hood emblem.  By going off to the side, I was able get this angle up high which made the chrome grill a complementing element to the emblem which was much higher than the grill.  More importantly though, my shadow was not in the picture at this angle.  I liked how the patina framed the image to the left along with the rust on the bumper to the lower corner which helped make the grill stand out.  It was an odd image and I wasn't quite sure how I would like it, but the more I look, the more I really like what I shot here.

Time Passes
Since I was starting to have a lot of fun with this car, I opted to go a little crazy with it.  I had been thinking 50mm or tighter to avoid the clutter around the car, but I also realized that by going wider, I could minimize the size of the background to where it was no longer intruding on the car.  I swapped out to my 16-35mm lens and shed the polarizer.  One thing I have learned with wide angle lenses, they don't like polarizers when shooting a blue sky.  The sky polarizes differently depending on the angle you are shooting, and with a 90+ degree angle of coverage, you will get some strange effects in the sky if you aren't careful.

I found a few compositions that I thought worked, and one that I really liked in a portrait orientation.  The clouds had all but left the scene and the sky was rather boring above the car.  I looked up to see if more clouds were on the way.  I could see movement indicating that there would be a few more coming overhead shortly, and they were moving at a visible pace.  Hmmmm, that could be a nice addition to the image.  Moving clouds over this car with a dynamic perspective.  I needed to do a long exposure on this one.

I grabbed the Lee Filter Holder and my Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter and mounted it to the end of my 16-35mm lens.  This reduced the light a full 10 stops, and by stopping the lens down to f/22, I was able to get an exposure of 20 seconds.  It wasn't much, but it was going to have to do.  Short of adding my other circular ND filter which would then force me to go to a tighter focal length due to vignetting, I had no other choice.  I waited for the clouds to come over and shot a series of four long exposure images.  This is the one where the clouds were precisely in the position that I was wanting.  The LCD showed that I was in pretty good shape with movement, but just to be sure, I pulled the filter off and set the exposure to compensate and fired off a normal shot that froze the clouds.  That way, if the long exposure didn't work, I would have one to fall back on since I really liked the composition.

On a Break
After that series, I was feeling pretty good, and had been looking around.  There was an old '40's Ford pickup parked against the building that I was finding pretty interesting.  With the wide angle lens still attached, I decided to go and have some fun with this old truck.  My goal was to get in front of it (hence having the wide angle lens) and shooting it with the clouds to the rear.  As I approached it though, I found that the scene that was unfolding was kind of interesting with the truck parked next to a bush with the water stains on the pavement  pointing towards that bush.  The truck was also pointing it would seem.  I set the camera up at the back corner of the truck and found that the side of the building with all of the doors really looked odd, and I was having to include the roof and sky above.  This was just too complicated, so I moved in a little and tightened up the shot.  I purposely cut off the back of the truck and made the wheel and fender the dominant foreground.  Using the truck in the fashion really provided a nice balance of elements in the scene and kept it simple.

Not having a polarizer attached wasn't a problem either since the truck had no glass, and there wasn't too much glare on the paint either.  That mint green was a very cool shade and worked nicely with the color tones that were present.  I was looking forward to seeing how it would look against the blue sky above.  I moved to the front of the truck and tried to find the right angle.  No matter when I put the camera, I wasn't able to get a suitable perspective on the front of the truck.  Everything looked like I was trying to do a fisheye shot of the front of this curvy truck, and that was just too much.  I abandoned my attempts at getting the front of the truck.  Had it been moved back even five feet things would have been different though.  It was OK, I was really feeling good about the Chevy I had just shot, and it was actually getting late in the day.  I was already looking at getting home a little after 5 at this point, which is a full 12 hours after I had left.

It had been a really fully day, and one where I had seen monsoon rains, fog, clouds, sun, and clear blue skies.  The patterns developed with the routine of a Magic 8 Ball.  I still wasn't sure about what I had captured.  I was hoping that they turned out well, but I was really worried about it.  I hadn't gotten what I went out to get, but found so many things that I wasn't really considering photographing.  It was a day of go where the wind blew and shoot what presented itself.

Chevy Sedan in B&W
When I finally got around to starting to process the images it was after 7pm.  I had already decided that I was going to be happy with six images out of the day's pictures. I believe I had shot a total of 136 frames during the day, and that would be about five percent.  I moved through and tossed out more than half of the images in the first pass.  I finally whittled them down to about 25 images that I would start to process and work with.  I tossed out another nine of those images because there were elements that I didn't like in them.  The remaining 16 were pretty good, but one of them deserved another run through the processing engine.  That simple Chevy under the clouds was screaming for a monochrome conversion which I did.  I loved how it turned out, and with a few tonal tweaks, I felt became its very own image.  Both the color and the black and white stood on their own and I really liked how they both turned out.  This has now become image number 17 for the day.

I can't express how happy I am that I have so many keepers from the day.  I spent the entire time thinking that I was shooting junk except for just a few images that I was kind of excited about.  It was a real surprise to get home to find that so many of them came out so well.  The bad ones weren't even really that bad.  Slight composition shifts make the world of difference though, and there were a bunch where the shifts I made didn't work as well as I had hoped.

At midnight, I found myself writing here and falling asleep at the keyboard.  It was time to call it a night.  I always try to get the blog entry done on the day that I shoot the pictures, but it wasn't happening.  I mean seriously, who wants to read an entry that looks like this.

  • So, with the clouds coming back, I startendnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn tso s set he camera upa     apllllffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff
So, here we are on the following morning and I realize that I still had about two hours of writing to complete the entry.  There was no way I would have been able to pull that off.  So, thank you for your patience, and I hope that you enjoy reading about my day trying to stay ahead of the weather and failing miserably.  But at least I managed to take what I had available and make the best out of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment