Saturday, December 22, 2018
The last time I went out with the camera it was the day before a snow. I left it off with depending on the snow, I would be going back out the next day to get some winter images. Well, you can see that didn’t happen. We got snow, we got a lot of snow. The total reported in our area was 14.5″ which is more than we have gotten in a very long time. I thought about going out, and even had a couple of locations close to home that would have worked out just great with the snow. I had the ability to drive in it with the 4Runner, but when it came time to go out and get to the locations, I decided against it. The snow was falling heavy which would have been difficult to shoot in, but that wasn’t the main reason I stayed home. After years and years of working in the snow and having to drive in it, I just have no love for driving in the stuff. I would rather stay home and not worry about dodging others who are spinning out of control. There was a little regret that I didn’t go, but I was content with staying at home and staying safe more than going out for a few pictures. The following weekend was spent getting a house ready to close on and cleaning the vehicles that had been driving in the salt all week-long going to and from work for Toni and myself. There was just no time to get out and do anything with the camera, despite the fact that I was off from work for four straight days!
Throughout the week, I was really wanting to get out and do some photography, especially with the cloudy skies that we have been having. There was even two days of pretty significant rain that fell towards the end of the week. By the weekend, I was primed and ready to go shooting. The only problem was the forecast called for absolutely clear skies. This was just not what I wanted to see. In fact, for the entire extended weekend I was to be away from work, the skies were going to be clear. I had to put some thought into some subjects. With the rain that had fallen, I really wanted to shoot a waterfall, and had kind of decided on Styers Mill Falls in Yadkin County. It had been a while since I had shot this waterfall, and I figured that with the high level of rainfall, it would be looking pretty good by now. The weather in that part of the State was looking a little better than at home with a bit of cloud cover in the morning before clearing up. Going a bit further West would have yielded more cloud cover, so I considered Stone Mountain where I could shoot Widow’s Creek Falls. That was my “Plan B,” but I really wanted to get Styers Mill Falls and do some rural exploration after that was done.
When I was working out the details, I asked both Toni and Sierra if they wanted to come with me. Sierra opted to stay in bed and hide from the outside while Toni said that she would join me. Well, this just got interesting! I was so excited to have Toni along with me for this Trek since I really enjoy having her with me for ideas and the company. We set the alarms for 6am with the intention of getting up and heading out by 7am. It was by no means an early morning for me in regards to photography which was a nice change of pace. The really long nights helped with that, but I wanted to be at my first location before the sun got too high in the sky just in case the clouds didn’t really work out for me. That meant aiming for around 8am to get started on location.
When the alarm rang I checked the weather as is my norm. Yadkinville, sunny….Roaring Gap, cloudy. I was a little disappointed in the weather over Styers Mill Falls as that was what I was really wanting to shoot. I wasn’t feeling Stone Mountain even though the weather was looking better there. Toni was already up and I told her that it was looking like we should wait for another day with some better chances for clouds. The more we discussed it, the more we decided that we would go for nothing more than a road trip if that was all it turned out to be. We got ready and I grabbed my gear. We were off before the sun came up and we headed West bound for Stone Mountain. As I drove, the sky was clear, and strangely enough, there was a bit of Alpen glow in the sky to the West which doesn’t usually happen at this altitude. The closer we got to Styers Mill Falls, the more I really wanted to check it out. We exited off of the highway and worked our way through the countryside to find the park where the waterfall was.
When we pulled into the parking lot we could already see the waterfall through the bare trees. I had never seen it quite so swollen before. The water was raging and from all of the rain, South Deep Creek was really muddy. This gave the opportunity to introduce a lot of color into this waterfall and I go so excited. Toni laughed at me when I started to jump out of the car to get the camera. The lighting was good since everything was still in the shadows. We worked our way down to the beach where I found that my normal spots for photographing this waterfall were all under water. I was restricted to just a couple of places and I had to be careful for the limbs that were drooping from the trees. I went ahead and grounded my bag and built up the camera. I used my 70-200mm lens with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer (use the code KISER10 to get 10% off of this filter at www.singh-ray.com). I knew that this filter was going to pull out all kinds of color in the water, and I was really looking forward to a very unique rendition of this waterfall I have photographed several times over the years.
I picked out a location on the corner where I could get a good view and started to dial in my exposure. As I was twisting the Color Combo Polarizer, I noticed that the browns really started to pop in the water as did the reflection of the sky in the water. I thought about my shutter speeds, and found that I really didn’t need much more than a second or two because of how fast the water was moving. I started to work out compositions that highlighted the details in the water and finding static visual anchors to place in the composition to really show the movement of the water. I was a little upset that I couldn’t get to all the places that I was wanting to stand, but the more I started to play with the angles I had, the more I liked what I was seeing. The 70-200mm lens really let me reach out and get the compositions I was looking for. For the first time, the actual stream past the waterfall was full of visual details which really excited me and allowed me to play with several compositions that otherwise would have been really boring with the trickling water.
Something that I had previsualized with this waterfall before arriving was doing some isolations around the protruding rocks. This has always been a very successful method of photographing portions of this waterfall, but this time I had a real lack of anchor features available. The water was just so heavy that I didn’t have a lot of choices which included the rocks. There was one that proved very nice on the left side of the waterfall that I used in many of my compositions. It anchored the images nicely whether I was shooting horizontal or vertical. The part that I was really after was the color palette in the water. Where the stream bed had been churned up, the water was a golden brown which got intensified with the slow shutter speed. The texture of the water was maintained by not dragging the shutter more than 2 seconds.
In addition to the normal isolations that I was used to shooting, I was able to get some other abstracts that I wasn’t planning on at all. With the long lens attached, I was able to pull out some very specific details in the stream which were highlighted by the rocks that I would normally be able to walk across to get into position to shoot the waterfall. I have to say, while I was not expecting this much water, I was really happy that the conditions were as they were. This allowed me to do so much than I was expecting with this waterfall. My mind was going from composition to composition trying to take full advantage of this situation before the sun reached the water. I knew that without more than a few thin clouds in the sky, the light would be much too harsh to capture the nuances of the water. Despite having been a while since I’ve really worked a landscape scene like this, I was moving around like a well oiled machine and getting the compositions dialed in quickly. I just love when I’m in tune with the location I’m shooting, and I think it had to do with Toni being with me. I had it all right there at the same time.
I was having a great time with the long lens and was pulling isolations as well as broad shots of several sections of the waterfall. I started to think about doing a panorama shot as I have done in the past, but decided against it because there was just not enough direct visual interest in the actual waterfall. When I had done it before, there were several sections that really stood out on their own which make a very wide composition work. I was afraid that the water was just too uniform over the width of the waterfall to really make it interesting. Instead, I thought about backing up and composing a different kind of overall shot than I had done in the past. There were several trees on the “beach” I had been standing on which I thought would make a great little bit of foreground interest. I started to survey the scene and determined that there was a good composition there to work with, but I was going to need to change lenses.
I got the 24-70mm lens added on and kept the every present Color Combo Polarizer attached. I worked out a composition that was framed by trees on both sides and included a floating tree in the stream itself. There were smaller rapids that complimented the main cascades of the waterfall which really pulled the entire scene together. The colors were still looking fantastic and otherworldly through the viewfinder, and even the washed out LCD image on the back of the camera was showing great promise with these pictures. This really is a hard waterfall to get an overall shot of because of how wide it is compared to how tall it is. The trees gave it that perfect bit of foreground and the cascades are the perfect backdrop to the whole thing. The floating tree was composed just off center to add some visual tension to the image which all came together quite nicely.
After an hour and a half or so, the sun was making its way down the trees and closer to the waterfall. The colors in the water were soon going to be washed out and that would ruin the aspect I had come to really love about this waterfall. Toni and I explored a little bit upstream and saw some other vantage points from which we could shoot this waterfall, but there was too much brush in the way. It was still nice to see some other perspectives. I still have to give credit to the parks department in Yadkin County though. They have done an excellent job with the park over the years. The first time I had been here, the entire place was in a state of disrepair and it was not all that pretty. These days, the waterfall is easy to get to, and the surrounding woods have been cleaned a bit to allow safe movement around the waterfall. This is still one of my picks for best hidden waterfall in the area. I’m so glad that we decided to stop here and check it out instead of continuing on to Stone Mountain.
Speaking of Stone Mountain, we still had time to go out there for some more waterfall fun. As we got back on the highway I was looking at the clouds. There were some to the West, but I was certain that they were not going to provide enough shade from the sun in the area of Roaring Gap. I decided to get gas and start to make my way out to an old Plymouth I have shot several times before. I took the scenic route, and ultimately went well past where I should have turned. Of course, while we were driving, we were looking for things to shoot. I happened to see a grove of trees over to the right side of the road that looked like something that Toni would like. I got turned around and gave them a closer look. The trees were a bit close together and close to some power lines, but I saw some promise to them standing proudly under the blue sky. I went ahead and parked in the church parking log beside the trees and got out. This time, Toni decided to stay in the car and read while I worked on a few compositions.
I really wanted to capture the towering nature of the trees so the best way to do that was to get in close and go wide. I fitted the camera with the 16-35mm lens and left the polarizer off since it doesn’t do well with blue skies when used at such a wide angle. I worked out a composition that included two of the three trees as well as a bank of clouds in the distance. While I love cloudy skies, this is one time that I actually liked the blue sky above. It made for a more dramatic image with the implication being that the trees stood taller than the clouds in the distance. I worked a few different compositions along the same theme and found that one of my earlier ones was my favorite one. The perspective distortion was a welcome addition here as it added some visual drama, and allowed for more inclusion of branch detail than if I had leveled things out. We were probably here only about 15 minutes before I had what I wanted and packed things up.
I was back on track to get to the old Plymouth, heading down back roads that I had never been down before. One of those roads was a typical country road that included several old barns along the sides. Most of them were not what I would call photogenic and we passed right by them. There was one that did stick out though. It was a nice old wooden barn with a tin roof. To make it even more interesting were the trees that were around it. I just love winter trees with no foliage and since Toni was with me, I was really feeling trees today. I got turned around and pulled off on the side of the road. There was a house next to the barn that appeared to be unoccupied, and there were a few other structures on the property that didn’t really hold my interest, but nothing that said that anyone lived here. Based on that assumption, I didn’t bother asking any permission. There were no “No Trespassing” signs on the property and what I was wanting could be had from the roadside for the most part.
I went ahead and fitted the 24-70mm lens along with the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer before hunting out a composition. I was really wanting some clouds in the shot, but the sky was pretty empty for the most part. I played around with several different compositions and then started to work my way down the road to shoot from the other direction. That was when I was surprised at the few clouds that were rolling in on top of the barn. I found a few compositions that blocked out surrounding clutter while still including the clouds. I got the exposures set quickly and moved around to capture several different compositions before the clouds cleared. I also had to do some waiting from time to time for the clouds to clear from the sun since I was relying on the sun’s light to really make the barn stand out in the scene.
I was trying all sorts of different compositions to try to make use of the clouds. As they were moving off to the left, I was able to flip the camera on its side and shoot a vertical image that included a few of the clouds that had formed. The expanse of blue sky was balanced out with the warmer tones of the field as well as the wooden tones on the side of the barn. The clouds broke up the blue nicely for a pleasing image balanced out by the trees on the right. I’m always excited when I find a barn that is photogenic as they are getting fewer and further between it seems. This barn might not have been as pretty as many I’ve photographed before, but there is no denying that the lighting and sky were perfect for the image. It just goes to show that great lighting can elevate a mediocre subject quite well, while bad lighting can ruin a great subject.
It wasn’t until I got home that I really had the time to consider doing a monochrome conversion of one of the barn images. Since black and white seems to cater to the side of lighting and texture, I went with a more intimate view of the barn which really showed off the wooden texture to the best advantage. As I made the conversion, it developed very slowly into something that I really liked. I kept checking to see what the color version looked like since I was changing things like color temperature and tint to really make the image pop like I wanted. One time when I toggled to the color version Toni woke up from her nap and looked at the screen and said something like “Wow, that’s colorful!” I think that was her nice way of saying “What the Hell did you do with this image?” When I toggled it back to monochrome, all was well, and she went back to sleep.
Not wanting to overstay my welcome at the old barn, I wrapped things up as the clouds cleared from the sky. I tossed the bag back in the car and Toni and I were back on our way. My idea at this point was to stop at the old Plymouth and hopefully shoot a long exposure from down low using the angle of the roof leading up to the sky with the moving clouds streaking past. It was a shot that I had wanted to make for some time, and I still needed to try out my Singh-Ray Mor Slo 15-Stop filter which I’ve had for about a month now and have never used. The sky was looking good as we got close to the garage where the car was parked. My only concern was that there were going to be other cars parked close as I’ve seen them before. What I didn’t expect to happen though, was there to be work going on at the garage. When we rolled up to the intersection I could see two trucks parked around the car and one of the trucks was being worked on. Since they were where I was needing to be for the shot, I didn’t even pull in to see if they minded. I mean, it would have been rude to show up and ask to shoot on their property and make them move from where they were working. I wasn’t concerned as there were plenty of other things that I could shoot in the area.
We continued to drive down Old 421 and I remembered that the old Apache was out this way. For those who don’t know, this old truck is one that I shot for the first time back in 2014. One of the images was the one I taught myself Lightroom with. This picture later went on to win a first place ribbon at the Dixie Classic Fair. Since that point, it has become almost an iconic image for me. I’ve tried to shoot it once since with much less success. Since I was out this way, it wouldn’t hurt to drive by and see how things were looking. The last time I was here was in the middle of Summer when the weeds were completely grown over the truck. I was hoping for something a bit different this time.
When we drove past the truck I could see that it was well-lit despite it being nearly noon. More importantly though, the weeds were thinned out and dead now allowing much more visibility of the truck. I got turned around and pulled into the driveway. The condition of the house had not changed since the last time I was there so I can only assume that the occupant no longer lives there. I stayed close to the road just in case though. I got out and built the camera with my 24-70mm lens and my workhorse Color Combo Polarizer. I set off to work while Toni stayed in the car. I got a few distance shots before getting in close which I knew would be my money shots. I worked from different altitudes trying to avoid eye level for the most part. The sky was looking terrific overhead with the clouds. I was really hoping that I could do a long exposure here, but found that was not going to be a great idea. My first problem was there was just not going to be a grand expanse of sky that would be needed for this type of image to work. More importantly though, there was a good bit of wind present. The gusts were well over 20mph at this point and that was causing a lot of movement in the weeds. I was needing a faster shutter speed rather than a slower one. My long exposure shot was going to have to wait until another time when I had less movable elements in the main frame. I was able to get some tried and true compositions though that I was happy with.
At one point while I was shooting, I got a text from Toni (60 feet behind me) saying that there was a guy that was walking behind the house toward me. I figured I was about to get booted off the property so I kept my ears open for anyone approaching. Nobody ever did come close, so I continued with what I was doing making it very obvious that I wasn’t intending on doing anything at all with the truck. Minutes passed and I still had not been confronted. I looked around but didn’t seen anyone. I figured that he was just out walking and didn’t care that I was there at all which made me feel better about being there. It was the first time I had run across anyone on the property since the first time I stopped and talked with the lady that lived in the house in 2014.
When I had shot all I thought I needed, I went back to the car and loaded the camera back in the trunk. It was at this point I finally saw the man who Toni had warned me about. He was in the side doorway of the house doing some work in the doorway. He wasn’t paying me a bit of mind. I kept my eye on him in case he turned so I could say hi and introduce myself. Since he didn’t bother looking my way I deduced that he was not interested in exchanging pleasantries. I just loaded things back up in the car and set our course back home. At this point, the light was getting too harsh, and we had been out all morning long. It was time to call it a day.
We had spent about five hours out and about for the morning, and in that time I had shot 106 frames between the four locations. I really hadn’t thought that I had shot that many, but I guess shutters fly when you are having fun. When it was all said and done I had a total of twelve images that I wanted as keepers. The monochrome images are not just variations on other images, they were actually processed from the ground up as monochrome pictures so each of these twelve are completely unique exposures. It was an outstanding day and I had a lot of fun with Toni along for the ride. It was nice to talk to somebody other than myself while out working on different pictures.
I’ve got a pretty busy remainder of the month still left to go here at the blog. I’ve been working on my twelve favorite images of 2018 which will be released in the next week or so. I also have my year in review which will be my next Behind the Camera feature on New Year’s Day. It has been a really involved year and I hope you join me as I hit the high points of my year as a photographer.