|Talking About Spring|
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.
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|
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.
|Awash in Cotton|
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.
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 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|
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.
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|
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!
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|
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|
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|
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.