Clouds (finally) at Stone Mountain

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Casualty of Spring

For the last several weeks, I have been looking for some clouds that will work for some grand landscapes.  I’ve been having a rough time with those as they have been too thick, too absent, or too low to really work for this purpose.  I’ve been waiting for them to be “juuuusssst right” as Goldilocks would say.  Well, I finally got my opportunity to capture those clouds, but it wasn’t a normal trek by any stretch.  The forecast for the day was showing clouds with the possibility for storms.  The day started out pretty sunny, but that was fine as I had some things that needed to be done anyway.  When I was getting home around lunch time, the clouds were starting to form up and looked pretty promising.

I started to formulate a plan to take advantage of the clouds should they continue to form like this.  I needed to wait a few hours since the sun was still very high in the sky and providing some harsh light, too harsh to really work with for what I was wanting to do.  I was needing somewhere close that I could go where I could do some grand landscapes.  I thought about Hanging Rock, but I was very limited there.  The next obvious choice was Stone Mountain.  I’ve always had good luck here, and the past 6 or so times I’ve been here I have been down in the lower sections focusing on waterfalls and streams.

Drifting

At about 3pm, I decided to make a go of the trip and see what I would come up with.  I arrived at the park shortly after 4 which was giving me about 5 hours to work with before the park was closed.  I knew I wanted to head out to Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock where I had a pretty good understanding of the potential compositions.  The hike was about a mile and a half, and pretty much uphill the whole way.  I made it in just under 30 minutes.  My shirt was soaked from sweat.  It was about 80 degrees, but the heat index was 90. When I got up to Wolf Rock, I found the clouds I was wanting, and the sun was still behaving despite being fairly bright.  I started to look for compositions and found the angles that I wanted for the clouds.  The problem was, I had no foreground.

Well, that was an easy fix once I found a branch that had broken off of a dead tree up the hill.  I grabbed it and positioned it just so, in the foreground of my composition.  That made the difference, and it helped to accentuate the different hues of the exposed rock I was shooting from.  The exposure didn’t look too difficult, so I didn’t use any filters on my 16-35mm lens.  I did get the lens right above ground level to really capture the dramatic quality of the dead branch.

Gnarled Direction

The old branch worked out so well that I grabbed it and moved it to another location where I was seeing some interesting clouds forming above.  I left the wide angle lens attached and kept the camera low to the ground for this shot as well.  The clouds were quite dramatic in the sky and were just what I had been looking for over the last few weeks.  I was wishing I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but that was just too far to travel for an evening shoot.  Sometimes I have to settle for locations, and this time it was working out pretty well.

Some hikers joined me shortly after I got started which didn’t really surprise me considering the amount of cars that were in the parking lot.  What did surprise me was that when I arrived at Wolf Rock, I had to the place to myself.  It was short lived, but I could deal with two hikers better than a crowd of people.  I just moved over to another section for a bit to see what else I could find to shoot.

Stone on the Mountain

I was still actively looking for foreground interest to place under the clouds.  I had left my branch, and was looking for something a little different.  I found a smooth stone that was sitting on the rocky surface.  It was slightly eroded from the runoff, and looked quite interesting to me.  I went ahead and got the camera positioned once again.  The slope of the mountain I was on provided a great deal of diagonal quality to the composition which provided a lot of visual tension to the image.  The clouds above completed the look I was after.  The little stream that ran past the stone made a nice lower frame for the image as well.

I started to look around for other things that I could use as a foreground interest.  Typically, I would look for trees, but I wasn’t really wanting to do the same things with this set of images.  I wanted more emphasis on the sky, and didn’t really want a lot intruding into the clouds.  What I found next was pretty nice, and was only possible from the recent rains that we have had.  I found a puddle, but not just any puddle.  This one had moss growing on the side of it.  How cool is that?

Into the Looking Glass

The little bit of moss really linked the foreground with the rolling hills resplendent in their spring hues.  I again set the camera up without any filters, using my 16-35mm lens.  I started working on compositions.  The clouds dictated the directions that I shot in, but I also wanted to make sure that I got some of the mountain detail in the midground as well.  I found that the vertical compositions tended to be a little more dramatic, while the horizontal ones leaned more to the calm end of the spectrum.

Gathering Moss

After an hour or so shooting on Wolf Rock, I realized that I had not only been shooting exclusively with my 16-35mm lens, I was using it racked out to 16mm probably 90% of the time.  In fact, the pictures that I have posted so far (exception of the pano) were all at 16mm.  This was surprising since for many years, I would avoid much wider than 35mm because I was afraid that the mountains in the background would be diminished.  They were less impressive at the wide angle, but I was really liking the drama of the foreground that I was able to include, not to mention the expanse of sky that I captured.  I’m liking my newfound techniques using wider angles than I have previously.  It is opening up a lot of possibilities for me.  I was thinking about using my 14mm while I was here, but the way the sun was, I was worried that I would get a lot of ghosting on the lens, and would possibly end up including the sun which would blow part of the sky out.  I decided that I would save that for another situation.

It was time to move on anyway, I wanted to check out Cedar Rock to see how the clouds looked on that side.  I also couldn’t remember how long the hike was to get there.  Turns out, it was only 5 minutes down the trail, so that was no big deal at all.  I made my way to the top and moved around to see Stone Mountain.  I worked my way in close and stood on a very steep part of the slope.  I knew that if I dropped anything, like a lens cap, it would be gone forever as I couldn’t even move quickly for fear of losing balance and tumbling myself.

Drama Above

As I was looking at the situation unfolding in front of me, I decided that now would be a good time for the Rokinon 14mm lens.  I had a great sky that I wanted to include, some great leading lines in the foreground, and I was close enough to Stone Mountain so that it wouldn’t just shrink into oblivion.  I set the camera up and started to compose the picture.  The lines were looking fantastic, and the clouds were appearing to capture the mood I was after.  I shot the image as a color piece, but after looking at it on the computer, I thought that the true rendition should be monochrome to take full advantage of the lines and clouds.  I massaged the tones and their relationships until it looked as I had envisioned it.  There was gobs of texture to be had in this piece, and it really turned out pretty good.  It was much better than the color version, so I ditched the color completely and kept only the monochrome.

Distant Bald

That wasn’t to say that I had no interest in a color image of Stone Mountain.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  After I got done with my 14mm lens, I decided to fit the 24-70mm lens, again with no filters.  I started to compose images that paid more attention to the bald, but found that I was still on the wide end of things with this one being a 24mm shot.  The clouds were really starting to come in, which made for some dramatic skies, but it also brought with it some rain.  There was a pretty good drizzle happening as I shot the next round of pictures.

I could hear thunder in the distance, and was starting to wonder if I was going to get caught out in the rain since I had about a half hour hike ahead of me to get back to the car.  I decided to risk it and stick around shooting pictures.  I had a poncho, and other wet weather gear for the camera.  I did decide to get off of the slope I was on just in case a downpour happened.  I knew that this surface would be very slick when wet and I wanted no part of that at all.  I moved back to the other side of the trail and found a nice clump of greenery.

Clouded Vista

I found an angle where I could make use of this bit of vegetation while still including the sky which was looking fantastic now.  There was a bank of clouds that looked just like snow covered mountains in the distance.  The hints of blue in the sky were wonderful, and I got down low and started to make compositions to capture it all.  I tried both vertical and horizontal compositions and as I had found earlier, they both ended up with a distinctly different feel.  Even though I was using my 24-70mm lens, I was still at the 24mm end of the zoom for these as well.  I probably should have swapped in my 16-35mm lens, but I was still using a good bit of the range of this lens.  It just so happened that the images I liked the best were from the wide side.

Calming

As the sky faded a bit in that direction, I moved back over to the Stone Mountain section and started to work other compositions.  Nothing was working, but the sky was looking pretty good on that side now.  I wanted to do a panorama of Stone Mountain, so I quickly swapped over to my 70-200mm lens which is a great one for panoramas.  I got into position, and defined my boundaries.  I then set the focus of the lens.  From there, I dialed in an exposure that would capture all of the information from the entire sweep.  I then shot a seven frame series from left to right.  I didn’t know how it would turn out, but the histogram said that I had all of the information that I needed for the final image.  I left it at that, and did not reshoot the panorama.  I think it turned out pretty good though, as it is my opening image for this entry.

There might be a little confusion about the title to this one, so I will clear it up.  I called this Casualty of Spring because one of the elements that my eyes are drawn to is the fallen tree in the midground.  It is orange, and you can tell that it recently died since it still has leaves on it.  The trunk is shattered and completely charred.  It was hit by lightning, undoubtedly from one of our recent storms.  With the stormy sky above, I thought that would be a fitting name for the image.

At this point, the light was fading, but instead of going to another location for another 30-45 minutes, I decided to move on down the trail to get to the car.  I was wanting to get home, and if I played my cards right, I would make it home before everyone started to go to sleep.

In the course of my 3 hours, covering two sections of the trail, I had shot 117 frames.  The culling process was difficult because I really liked each and every one of the images.  However, I had to cut images that were similar to others, and that meant that about 10 that I wanted to keep were thrown in the bin as they were similar, but not quite as good as another one.  My one black and white image started life out in the bin as a third round cut, but when I came back evaluating black and white images, it made a comeback.  In all, I came away with 10 images that I am reasonably happy with.  It was a quick trek, but a pretty good one.  I hiked a bit over three miles and had a really good time out in nature.