Monday, March, 16, 2020
When you are an outdoors photographer, you are destined to be overly reliant on the weather for your images. There are really two choices open for the landscape photographer when it comes to the weather. You can wait for the conditions that you want, or you can adapt to what you have and shoot accordingly. I have had extensive experience with both of these methods of dealing with the weather and they both have their benefits. With Winter winding down and Spring just around the corner, the weather is unsettled across the state. It drives most people nuts because one day it is cold, and the following day it is bordering on being hot. The same can be said of rain and sun, not to mention wind, clouds, and everything in between. For the landscape photographer, this is a great time to get out with the camera as changing weather patterns will add so much atmosphere to your photographs. With several days over the next couple of weeks looking cloudy and rainy I started to get excited about going out with my camera. These are some of my favorite conditions to shoot in because the light is so much more forgiving, and it is so much easier to introduce mood into the images.
With Sierra out of school for the next two weeks at least, and Toni getting up early to go to work, I had a great excuse to get up early myself and go out for a morning of photography. The question became where I was wanting to go. Looking at the weather patterns, it seemed that pretty much all of the areas that I like to shoot in were going to have the same types of conditions with low and mid level clouds and cold temperatures. I started to bat around several ideas of places that I could go in order to take advantage of the clouds. Arguably, this was going to be the best conditions for waterfalls, but I was getting a little tired of working waterfalls and wanted to focus on something else. I considered going out to hunt barns and old cars, but that didn’t really get me motivated. I was wanting to shoot landscapes, but the colors still weren’t really in place to make that successful which took the wind out of those sails. It was looking like possibly woodland, or I was going to have to go with waterfalls once again.
As I was getting ready for bed, I was checking the weather one last time and found that it had changed slightly. The clouds were still in play for the state and hadn’t changed, but my “Clear Outside” app was showing a good bit of fog forecasted for the area of Boone, NC. This changed things up tremendously. I hadn’t had a good opportunity to work with fog in quite a while and that was something that didn’t need a lot of color. I looked around the area to see where the fog would likely be concentrated and found that it was going to be covering a fair amount of area centered in Boone. The Blue Ridge Parkway was starting to look pretty good at this point because even if the fog didn’t develop, the low clouds would likely have the same effect at the elevations I would be at. There were a couple of areas that I was interested in going that I had considered for foggy days. Price Lake is always a good location in light fog at sunrise, Fred and Ethel in Blowing Rock would look nice with bare branches in the fog, and I had always wanted to photograph the Cone Manor in the fog. Those three areas were close to each other and I thought that would be a good plan of action for the day.
In order to take full advantage of my opportunities, I was going to have to get up there before sunrise, so that meant getting up at 4am, so I Could be on my way no later than 5am. It was going to be an early start considering most of my mornings here lately have been a good deal later. It is all part of doing the landscape photography thing though, and I took it in stride. Toni and I turned in early and the alarm came much too early in the morning. I double checked the weather and found that it was pretty much the same, but the fog window had lengthened by a couple of hours which meant that I was going to have longer to work with it. It would appear that my morning was on, and I got up to get ready to head West.
I manged to slip out of the house about 10 till and was on the road under cloudy skies. There was no hint of fog in the Piedmont and I was really hoping that the mountains were going to have a very different weather pattern going by the time I got up there. I spent the time on the road considering my options for the day. Chances were best for light fog, or just low clouds which made me figure that Price Lake would be my destination. Once I got done there, I would move to the trees known as Fred and Ethel. That should wrap up my morning. The idea for Price Lake was going to be some long exposures at the observation platform off of the Parkway with a minimalist feel. I was also hoping to get a little sun action from a bit further around the lake as I isolated bits of the landscape against the water. If the color wasn’t right with the sunrise, I would be shooting primarily black and white images which can be a lot of fun in the fog. I was already getting my mind wrapped about the filters that I might need for the morning and coming up with alternative plans just in case the fog didn’t hit as I was expecting it to. It pays to have a lot of plans to pull from as the weather doesn’t always do what we expect it to do.
By the time I started climbing the mountain after Wilkesboro, I had my first taste of what the weather was going to be like. The fog was starting to come in as I climbed the mountain, but with the fog came a fine mist. As long as it wasn’t a full on rain, I could deal with it. I had my lens hoods just in case it was rainy, but hoped that I wouldn’t have to pull my Lee Adapters off of the lenses. The further up I went, the more fog and rain I was met with. I was actually worried that by the time I got to the Blue Ridge Parkway that the fog would clear and I would have clear skies above me with inversions below. This has happened on more than one occasion. I was prepared to adapt if needed, but I was really hoping for a nice foggy morning at the lake.
When I turned onto the Parkway, I could barely see the road. In fact, I almost turned one exit too early because I just couldn’t see the road. I corrected myself before I got messed up, and got on the Parkway. It was slow going with the thick fog and I was almost wishing that it would clear up. There was no visibility at all, and I was finding myself driving between fallen trees that had been cleared out of the roadway. I would never see them until I was almost even with them and the fog lights illuminated them to the sides of the truck. This brought back so many memories from when I lived on the Parkway and had to go home in fog like this. It was no fun then, and I wasn’t particularly enjoying it now.
The dense fog was just what had been forecasted, but I hadn’t really believed that it would be so good. My idea for Price Lake wasn’t going to work for fog this thick, and I was seriously doubting that Fred and Ethel would look all that great in these conditions. My next idea was the Cone Manor which I had not photographed in a number of years. That made the decision pretty simple for me actually. It was going to be a chance to revisit a location that I have only shot a handful of times, and to do it in conditions that I had never worked with before. I was getting excited once again and started to think about compositions that I could use and techniques that I was going to employ. The basic idea for the morning was going to be desaturated images likely using no filters at all. That was a choice for simplicity with the equipment since it was misting a fair amount and filters are very easily affected by the mist in the air. Also, with the thick fog, the lighting was likely to be rather uniform through the image, and there shouldn’t be any glare from the sun. The morning was going to be about simplification and isolation of elements. I was ready for this!
When I got to the manor, I parked in complete darkness which I had planned for since I was wanting to beat the sun. Knowing that there would be no color I wasn’t too interested in getting set up in the dark, plus it was cold and rainy so the truck was a much more inviting idea for the moment. As the first light started to hit the sky, I got out and grabbed a flashlight. I needed to know what the condition of the house was since the last time I was out here they were doing some construction on it. I was pleased to find that they had finished everything and it was as good as it was going to be for photographs. I scoped out a few compositions using the fence next to the roadway and decided that this was going to work out with the fog quite well. I went back to the truck to grab my gear and got ready to go to work.
I was back in position just as the sun was coming up and it was time to choose my lens for the composition that I had worked out. I decided to go all out and use the Rokinon 14mm since I wasn’t needing any filters and this was definitely going to be a wide angle shot. I could have easily used my 16-35mm lens, but when it comes to architecture, it has a little more distortion being a zoom lens than the prime, plus the Rokinon gives me just a hair more width to the frame. I got the lens mounted and found the spot to set the tripod up. My first shot was a vertical one that didn’t really impress me, so I moved to a landscape orientation that seemed to fit the scene better. It was hard to stick with my rule of third grid on the LCD, so I decided to break the rule and go for a visual balance as opposed to trying to achieve a composition that I was pretty sure wasn’t physically possible. I worked back and forth and right and left until I had the balance I was after. The actual exposure was a piece of cake though. With the 14mm lens at f/11 everything was going to be in focus so I didn’t have to worry about that. The lighting in the scene was very uniform and caused no issues at all with the histogram so it was just a matter of set the focus to infinity and get a +2/3 reading on the light meter before releasing the shutter. BINGO!
Once I was happy with the composition from the right side of the house, I went over to other side and worked a similar composition with the edge of the fence. This side was a bit different in how it was organized and took a little more fiddling with before I found the sweet spot to place the camera. As with the other composition, separation was a big key here and I needed to make sure that my different elements were separated to simplify the view. That was more difficult here since I was shooting on a slight slope which forced me to place the camera above eye level. This wouldn’t be a problem with using live view, but with the Rokinon, I have to use it with the viewfinder to get the accurate reading through the light meter with the manual aperture ring. It added a few more steps, but I took it in stride and made my exposures. I wasn’t sure which side I liked better while I was in the field, and even when I got them home, I wasn’t completely sure which I liked better. I just decided to include them both and see how they wear on me through the coming months.
At this point, I was starting to see some other compositions developing that were going to need a different set of tools to capture. One of them was the fence itself. From my angle on the left side, I was seeing a nice bend in the fence, and I liked the textures of the grass in front while the background was engulfed in fog. For this, I was going to need my long lens, so I pulled off my super-wide lens in favor of my 70-200mm. With this in place, I repositioned the tripod to get the composition that I had in mind. I knew that this was going to be a black and white since there was really no need to include any color. The mood was going to be set by the fog in the background and the repeating patters of the fence were going to be the primary focus of the shot. Again, there was no need for any filters here so I set the shot up and found the perfect exposure before firing off a few frames. I decided to go with a limited depth of field to put the background in a much softer focus which would cause the attention to stay on the nearest part of the fence, so as to keep the eyes from wandering out of the frame.
Since I had my long lens on, I figured that I could take some time to focus on the trees around the manor as they were looking really good in the fog. I love how the fog helps to isolate the shapes of the trees, and I was very thankful that they were still bare. Trees aren’t nearly as much fun when they are wearing their coats of leaves. The first subject that I decided to work was a pair of trees situated right next to a walking path. Very much like Fred and Ethel, these trees joined to make a single tree as far as the shape, but they were completely individual trees. This scene spoke to me and brought to mind thoughts of my Mother and my Grandfather. It also brought visions of Toni and I walking together. This was an important scene for me, and one that I wanted to do justice.
I had the right lens on the camera for it, I just needed to find the perfect distance to set up from the tree so that there was still a bit of fog softening the tree structure and I wanted to make sure that I had enough of the trail to tell the story that I was after. I finally found the right distance, and framed up the shot as a vertical image. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be color or black and white, but I was hoping for color so that I could impart the cool color cast that I was seeing around the trees. The exposure was simple once again with focus not being an issue and the lighting nearly perfect across the scene. I purposely overexposed just a tad because I wanted the fog to go white and that would allow greater detail in the trees as well as the ground. I probably shot about 10 frames of these trees with slightly different positioning just to make sure that I had exactly what I wanted.
Once I was happy with my twin trees, I moved my attention to a tree to the left that had caught my eye. It had a structure that really fit into a nice composition since it tended to curve over to the right. As luck would have it, there were two trees in the distance that I was able to get positioned under the curved branches to the right to fill up the bottom right corner. This negative space became the element that showed the depth of the scene. Again, I wasn’t completely sure if this was going to be color or black and white, but like the previous one, I was hoping for color here as well.
The thing with black and white fog images is that is almost the automatic choice. Fog tends to strip the color away from a scene anyway causing you to focus on light and shape more than anything. That is usually why I opt to do these types of images in black and white. This time, however, I was looking at things slightly different than before. I wasn’t after any saturated images as I have actually been getting away from the highly saturated images recently. I just wanted the hint of color to add to the mood, not take over the image. By leaving the color in the image, I had much more ability to work with the color temperature and showcase the chill that was in the air that accompanied the fog. Just the subtle colors were adding to the image and making them appear monochromatic, while still giving visual clues that only color images can. The vast majority of my images from the Cone Manor turned out to be color which was surprising given the conditions. A year ago, they would have all been black and white because I knew what my proclivity was for wanting to bring out the colors more than what was needed. Now, that I have had a change of heart with my color image, I was ready to tackle these in a much different presentation than before.
As I moved through the area looking for other compositions I kept looking at the horse barn which was just a short distance down the trail. The barn wasn’t all that fantastic, but I loved the row of trees that were in front of it as well as the stonework used to edge the trees. There was even a split rail fence above the stones so my mind was captivated by the elements and I worked on finding a way to incorporate these elements in a composition. Since the barn wasn’t all that great in my mind, I started out just trying to capture the row of trees as they receded in the fog. This turned out to be harder than I expected. The trees were difficult to organize in the frame to have them make sense and compliment each other. I was still using my long lens as the compression was very much needed with this scene. I had to worry about some background clutter on the other side of the trees, and I wanted to make sure that I maintained the size of the distant trees just as the one in the foreground. I had to get down low to mask the clutter on the other side of the fence, but I was able to get that done with limited problems. Once I got the composition figured out, the exposure was simple. The lighting was just so consistent through the day that I had absolutely no problems getting good images without having to result to filters. Focusing was simple as well since the background trees were softened by the fog, I really din’t mind if they were out of focus slightly, so I was able to stick with f/11 focusing on the lead tree.
Once I was satisfied with that composition, I moved to the other side because I was really interested in getting the stone wall as well as the trees. Looking at how it was all organized, the only way for me to do this was to include the barn. I studied the scene and figured out a composition that would work and make the barn look a little more interesting than it actually was. For this composition though, I was going to need to go wider, so I opted for my 24-70mm lens which I have actually not used much lately. This is my go to lens for most subjects, so it was a familiar perspective when I looked through the camera at the barn. I made a few tweaks to my position and dialed in the composition just as I had envisioned it. As with the manor that I had shot shortly before, I decided to take some liberties with the placement of the barn. In order for it to fit in with the other elements that I wanted to include for balance, the barn was going to be roughly centered in the frame. usually this isn’t a favorable position, but looking at the composition, putting it anywhere else was going to negatively affect the balance of the scene which was less desirable in my mind. The longer I practice my craft the more I find that the rules really only apply in those perfect scenarios which just don’t always materialize. I have ruined more shots than I care to admit by trying to fit elements into a rule just because it is a rule. The better option will always be finding that visual balance in the scene.
With my favorite walking around lens mounted up, I started to look for other compositions. There was a bank of trees on the other side of the field from where I had been working that had caught my eyes. There was one really beautiful tree that was set out from the others that I thought would make a good composition. I approached it and found that depending on my distance the look of the tree changed dramatically. The close I got, the less the shape appealed to me, but the further away I got from it, the more it blended in with the background trees. I’ll admit that I had to do a lot of fussing about with this tree in order to strike that perfect balance with the perspective and separation. The 24-70mm lens handled it beautifully though and I did find that balance that got the image that I was after.
I tried a few more compositions in the area with some different trees but none of them really struck me as all that good. I had been out here for a bit over two hours by this point and I was pretty sure that I had all that I was going to get from here. The sun was getting brighter and the fog was increasing in brightness at the same rate. It was time to pack it in so I started walking back to the manor so that I could get the camera broken down under cover since the mist was falling pretty fast now. As I was coming up to the house there was a Park Ranger making his rounds. We exchanged greetings and he expressed that it was lousy weather and he figured that I wasn’t getting any good pictures. I think he was surprised to hear that I had been out there for a couple of hours and was actually really enjoying the conditions that I had to work with. That is actually the biggest mental change a photographer has to go though. Gone are the days of thinking that a clear blue sky is a nice day. When there is a camera involved, clouds and generally melancholy weather are your new “beautiful day” conditions. Those clear and sunny days are best spent doing work around the house, or sleeping in. This foggy morning was perfect for my needs!
When I got up on the porch I took one last look at the house to see if there was anything else that I might want to photograph. I looked at the rocking chairs on the porch, but couldn’t come up with anything wonderful as far as a composition. I was just about ready to pack up the camera when I saw the side of the house off of the porch. There were some nice features to the house including the peeling paint, the three windows matched with the three (I’m assuming) vent covers below. There was a nice rock wall that bordered the walkway and just beyond the rock wall was a pair of bare trees in the fog. It was an interesting scene and one that I wanted to capture. The question became…How?
I tried a couple of different compositions, bot vertical and horizontal before I settled on a vertical one that used the side of the house as a foreground leading element to lead you to the trees. The stone wall was the framing element to the right and added another foreground interest to the scene. It wasn’t fantastic, but it did capture what drew me to the scene. I liked the repetition of the three windows, and the three vent covers below. There was a certain poetic symmetry there. While I liked the green colors of the patina on the side of the house, the color image didn’t really hit home like I wanted it to. I decided to convert it to black and white which I liked much better overall. As I was getting the edit finished on this one, I decided to call in for a second opinion. Toni has long since been my resident expert on my monochrome images. That is her favorite type of photography for the most part and she has a very good idea of what is good and what isn’t. I had her look at this one, and based on history, I was expecting her to say that she loved it. That is usually the case when I am undecided on one. To my surprise, she said that she didn’t really like this one. Hmmm, not sure what to think about that response. I trust her, and appreciate her input for sure. That made my decision quite a bit harder because I still kind of liked it. It wasn’t the strongest image of the day by far, but I liked several different aspects of it. I decided to leave it in the keeper stack and see what the general consensus is once it gets posted in social media. I don’t see it as a portfolio image, but it is just quirky enough that I think it will hold its own. I am fully prepared to hear Toni say “I told you it wasn’t a good picture” once it gets out in the public eye.
That was my last photograph from the manor and I did finally get everything put away and me back in the truck. My fingers were numb by this point even though they had been in gloves. The first hour I was out there, my hands were exposed and it was actually much too late before I decided to put my gloves on. My hands did warm gradually in the gloves which surprised me, but these gloves are really good. I will be doing a review on them at another time, so stay tuned for that. As I was getting my hands warmed up with the heater going, I started back out on the Parkway headed to the Lake. I still wanted to see if my idea would work at the observation deck. When I got there, I slowed down and looked at the small deck. There was no movement in the water, and no detail in the sky with the fog still in full effect. it was right for a minimalist image, but it just didn’t seem right for some reason. There was something missing, and I just wasn’t liking what I was seeing. I spent a few minutes looking at the other angles to see if my other ideas might work. The fog was still too heavy and the images would be lackluster without the color from the low sun. I decided to skip Price Lake for the day, and I started to head back towards the area of Thunder Hill to see if there was something there I could shoot.
Before I got back to the Manor, I had another idea which was better. I had been wanting to photograph Rough Ridge in the fog, and it was looking like the fog was going to be hanging around for a while longer yet. I got turned around and started the short journey to Rough Ridge near the Lynn Cove Viaduct. I wasn’t going to do the full hike this time as visibility was nill and without the color of sunrise in the fog, I really wasn’t that interested in the grand vistas that were offered. What I was interested in was the bridge near the parking lot that goes over the little waterfall. I have shot this bridge on a number of occasions but have grown tired of it since it is very often photographed by other photographers it seems. I had not ever done this location in the fog though and I was thinking that might be a little different and worth trying. I wouldn’t have much invested in it if it didn’t work out since the hike was probably all of five minutes from the parking lot.
When I got to Rough Ridge, I was the only car in the parking lot which I took as a very good sign. Usually by this point, there are several cars already here meaning that it was very likely that I was going to have the place to myself for a change. I grabbed my gear and started the quick hike to the bridge. When I got there I was very happy to see that the fog was looking nice over the trail and the trees were blocking what had become a steady rain at this point. Once I crossed the bridge, I found the better angle on it and started to look for compositions. There are a lot of different angles that you can get on the bridge, but the general composition is usually the same. From experience, I knew that a wide angle lens was the best option to really accentuate the distance of the bridge. I decided to start out with my 16-35mm lens which would give me the ability to fine tune the composition by zooming the lens in and out. I began working the bridge from different locations and just wasn’t finding the composition that I wanted. As kind of a desperate act to get something different, I got in close and actually put one of the tripod legs on the bridge as I worked on composing the the image.
I actually liked the dramatic touch that getting in close gave to the bridge. I was able to include the tree to the left as a framing element and then use the actual walkway to pull the eyes through the image into the great unknown. The one negative here was all the carvings on the wood. I would have loved to be able to clone that out, but there was just too much of it, and if I had tried it would have been quite obvious. I decided instead to accept this imperfection and embrace the wabi sabi ideal. It does help tell the story, and I composed the image knowing that I would be using the carvings in the final image. I had shot this entire series with the thoughts that they would all be in color with the lush greens and the saturated wood tones complemented by the bright fog and the dark mud. As it turned out, this was the only one that was left in color as it had the best balance with how the composition was put together.
Still wanting to get something a little different, I opted to swap in my Rokinon 14mm lens once again and try that with the bridge. That extra 2mm on the wide end made a lot of difference and made it possible for me to get a bit more flexible with my compositions. The first one that I tried included the rocks in the foreground which helped to pull your eyes to the bridge while the greenery on the right and the tree on the left framed the image. The bridge added a nice gentle curved diagonal for visual tension showing the depth of the scene. The fog did a great job at setting the mood and providing separation in the trees. There was a lot going on in this frame so when I started to edit it, I opted to pull the color out and go for a monochrome presentation. This did the trick and brought a lot of pop to the image that was missing in the color one. I think that this is possibly one of my favorite images of this bridge in my collection and I really love the contrast between the wet walking surface and the vertical surfaces which are dry. That makes the image for me.
Not wanting to be done just yet, I decided to try for a composition that I had worked out long ago but the actual image failed. I left the 14mm lens attached and went down beside the bridge in order to get a different perspective on it. This took some working to get the camera in the right position even though space to move around was at a premium. When working with a prime lens, there is no zoom in or out to fine tune the composition, you have to physically move the camera to change the framing. I was getting closer with every move and eventually got the composition that I was after. I was lucky that I was able to line the terminal end of the bridge up between two trees that arched together at the top of the frame. They in turn framed a more distant tree that was at the end of the bridge. All of this happened to take place right at the upper right third intersection on the grid. I was very happy about how it all came together. This was the second time I had tried this angle, and it was the first time I considered the outcome a success.
With that image in the bag, I had 100 frames saved to the cards in my camera. It was now around 11am and I was getting tired. The sun was still getting brighter, but the fog was showing no signs of lifting. I would have enjoyed staying for a bit longer, but it was probably time to head home. I headed back North on the Parkway towards US 421, but I had an idea before I got there. There is a little cabin at EB Jeffress Park that I thought would look great in this weather. It wasn’t far from the highway so it shouldn’t set me back too long by stopping there real quick. I was already choosing my compositions and had some good ideas that I wanted to try when I got there.
When I approached it, I immediately noticed that there was a new roof on it, and it was a beautiful tan that I thought would look really good in the pictures. However, when I slowed and passed it, I could see the rigging on the front of the cabin indicating that they were just putting the new roof on. There would be no pictures of the cabin today. I was mildly disappointed, but I knew that I had just finished up a really successful morning so I had no complaints at all. I got turned around and made my way home by way of Courtney and Huntsville which I had not been through since my bike riding days. I actually found a lot of potential out there for my decay subjects and when I am in the mood to photograph that genre again, I will definitely be returning to get lost on the back roads. For now though, I am very happy with the dozen keepers from the day’s work.
I’m thrilled to have you along for the ride and I hope you enjoyed the account of my morning in the mountains. I also hope that you enjoyed the images, even Recessed Walkway which I fully expect to be telling Toni that she was right, but I would love to tell her that it turned out to be a well received image. If that, or any of my images speaks to you, please let me know. I would be honored to help you get a print of your favorite image, or images for you home or office. Hey, with all of this talk of quarantines wouldn’t you enjoy looking at one of your favorite scenes matted and framed on your wall, or possibly as a canvass print, or metal print? I know the walls of my home are much brighter thanks to photography.
Until next time…