A Wet Afternoon at Natural Bridge State Park

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Friday, June 7, 2019

There are times when I go out with a purpose to capture photographs, and then there are times that the photography is a secondary thing.  This particular trip was the latter.  It started as kind of a spur of the moment thing when Sierra asked to go stay at a friend’s house Friday night.  With some together time now available, Toni and I decided to take a little road trip and go to Natural Bridge which is a place that we have been wanting to go for some time now.  Part of that desire came from the historic hotel that was in the park which we wanted to check out as a possibility for future anniversary trips.  After we got Sierra off to school Friday morning, we called up to the hotel and made our reservation.  We packed up quick and got on the road for a nice little road trip.

The weather was forecasted to be rather rainy, but there was a chance that we might get a little break in it to enjoy the park and do a little hiking.  The trip out that way actually yielded some really good potential areas for future treks along with some really good old iron potential.  I’ll be looking into that again soon when the weather cooperates a little better, and I have more time to dedicate to the shoots.  Having only a single night, I wanted to get us up there a quickly as possible so we could spend some time checking things out.

Abrupt Pivot“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

When Toni and I arrived, we got into our room just as the rain seemed to be tapering off.  Since the hotel was right at the welcome center for the park, and the trail head, we decided to go for a quick hike while the rain had held off.  I grabbed my gear and we were off to cross the road via a tunnel which put us right at the entry to the trail.  There was a pretty good crowd there as a couple of buses had brought several groups to the park.  This is never a great scenario for a photo outing, but it wasn’t supposed to be about the photography anyway.  We paid our admission and started down the trail.  One of the first things that we saw was a group of really interesting trees.  In fact, I had never seen anything quite like this before.  The trees seemed to be standing on elevated root systems.  They were absolutely amazing.  Toni adores trees with character, and there was no denying that these were right up her alley.  We had to stop here to take a few minutes to capture some of these trees.  I gout out of the way as there were a bunch of folks coming down the trail.  I mounted the Canon 5D Mk3 to my Acratech GP-S Ballhead on the Manfrotto tripod.  I then added the 70-200mm lens as I was going to shoot some isolations on the trees and mounted the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer for some added contrast and to remove the glare caused by the recent rainfall.

I got everything dialed in for the shot that I wanted with the composition that I thought captured the character of the tree the best.  The image here is actually the very first image that I shot of the tree.  This doesn’t normally happen as like to work the subject a bit more than this.  However, I had a couple of things that were working against me.  First of all, the crowds were getting really bad in the walkway which limited my ability to get different angles.  I had to remain happy off to the side and out of the way.  Fortunately, this was one of the more interesting angles on this particular tree.  More problematic though was the rain.  While we had looked at the forecast and it appeared that the rain would hold off until about 4pm or so, it was starting to come down pretty noticeably very early in the hike.  I was already wishing that I had my lens hoods with me, and the smaller polarizer, but I have removed that gear from the bag in favor of the Lee Filter Holder which I am using for everything now, including the 105mm polarizer.

After only a few exposures, the rain was coming down too hard to really be able to work the scene the way I wanted to.  I packed everything back up in my Lowepro Whistler backpack and donned the all weather cover to keep the bag nice and dry in the rain.  Toni had on a raincoat and her Paddington Bear hat which kept her dry as she walked through puddles in her running shoes.  We continued to work our way down the trail and came to the actual Natural Bridge.  I have to say that it was impressive to see up close.  I had seen a lot of pictures of it over the years, but they really fail to tell the scope of this natural wonder.  Toni got some pictures of it with her cell phone, and those were the only pictures that were shot of the bridge by us.  The lighting was all wrong for my purposes and vision and the rain was falling too heavy to bother with the camera.  We just enjoyed the hike and the fact that it wasn’t 90 degrees for a change.

We made it all the way to the end of the trail by a waterfall which I was interested in seeing.  I was going to try and get a few shots of it because it looked interesting from the pictures that I had seen of it online.  When we arrived, I saw why all the pictures looked the same.  There was only one location to shoot it from, and it didn’t give you many options for compositions.  Not being overly impressed with the same shot that everyone else has taken, we decided to not linger here and we started on our way back.  Now, in all fairness, we did find something that I really wanted to shoot. It was a small waterfall that I don’t recall ever seeing in my research of this park.  It was on the side of the trail and came from drainage under the trail.  That flow just dropped from the shore down into the water and really looked fantastic for a photograph.  The problem was there was absolutely no way to get into a position to shoot it without all the trees invading the image.  These trees were all along the trail and made it impossible to create a clean image of the waterfall  I had to be content with just seeing it, and not being able to photograph it.

All was not lost though, Toni and I continued through the park and saw all that there was to see.  It really is an interesting location with a period correct historic site about midway down the trail.  A cave, and plenty of really cool trees along the way.  Sadly, this was just not the time to photograph any of these things.  It was still fun to be out in the rain with Toni.  It has been years since we walked in the rain through the woods.  The rain did drive many of the visitors away so the crowds were getting less and less which was a good thing.

Cell Phone Picture by Toni Kiser

While we were on the trail, we both saw what we initially thought was a twig crossing the trail.  As we got closer, we realized that it was not a twig at all.  It was a baby snake, only about 14 inches long.  It stayed still while we watched it for a bit from a distance.  It was as interested in us as we were in it.  I think that Toni adopted it for a brief moment.  Here we are 24 hours later, and she is still talking about the baby Copperhead.  So much so that she sent me the picture and wanted me to put it in the blog entry.  It seems only fair that I do it since this trek is as much her’s as it is mine.  I’ve only seen a handful of snakes in my travels which is a good thing.

Mossy Sanctuary“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The closer we got to the entrance to the park, the more the rain acted like it wanted to stop.  It teased us so much that when we got to the base of the opening stairs I decided to bring the camera out to photograph a small waterfall that was coming down the mossy slope.  When I started to open the bag, the rain started up again, so I just gave Toni the umbrella that I keep in the bag to hold over the front element of the camera.  I built the camera with the 24-70mm lens along with the Color Combo Polarizer.  I set the Manfrotto tripod up partially on the stone wall so I could clear the trees and brush that were along the trail.  It was not the easiest composition, but Toni made it possible for me to try different things without the lens getting wet.  I probably worked the scene for about five minutes since I didn’t want to make Toni hold the umbrella too long.  I would have held it, but to compose the image and work the filter, I needed both hands free.  There are mounts for your tripod that will allow you to mount an umbrella, but I don’t want the vibrations that will introduce as a slight breeze would upset the umbrella and make it into a sail.

By the time I had finished my 11th exposure of the day from two different subjects, I decided that the rain was getting too heavy once again.  I broke the camera back down and packed the bag up.  We finished the hike back to the welcome center and browsed the gift shop for a bit before heading back to the hotel.  Wouldn’t you know it, the rain was pretty much stopped at this point.  Figuring that it would just start again, we continued to the hotel.  Over the next couple of hours, we stayed inside while it wasn’t raining at all.  It appeared that the rain was all but finished for the day.  We decided that we were hungry and wanted to go out for dinner.  I grabbed my camera and off we went.

On the way, there were several nice vistas that I wanted to shoot, but figured that I would get them on the way back after we got some dinner.  We were headed to the town of Buena Vista which had all of the eating establishments and some nice rural areas as well.  I planned on taking advantage of the soft evening light after we ate to get some more pictures.  This was going to be the best time to get images, and it would be fun to explore a bit.

After a very nice dinner, we got in the truck and started to head to the other side of town to see what awaited us.  Not five minutes after leaving the parking lot the rain started up again.  It wasn’t bad, but it was getting heavier as we went.  I decided to turn down a side road to get turned around with hopes of finding drying conditions where we had been.  Toni asked me why I didn’t just turn right around, but instead went to the end of the road.  This is one of my tricks for finding some really nice images on my road trips.  You just never know what you will find just a few more feet down the road.  This was one of those times when I saw a great landscape developing.  There were wildflowers in the foreground with distant mountains under a moody sky.  Toni didn’t quite see what I saw here and I was anxious to show her how this would work.  However, I was looking at the rain coming down really hard at this point.  Knowing that I would be shooting from the side of the road, I contemplated using my hatch as a shelter to shoot under.  The problem was that the rain was falling in a way that I wasn’t really going to get the cover that I needed for as low as I would be setting the camera.  After a few minutes, I abandoned my thought and got back on the road.

The rain continued to get harder and harder as we continued back to the hotel.  This was the sign that it was time to call it day and just stay dry and comfy in the room.  I can’t remember a time when I misread the weather as bad I had on this day.  When I expected it to be dry, it was raining, and when I was expecting the rain, it was dry.  I just kept missing the opportunities for photographs.  That makes the fact that I got these two images all the more impressive.  There was actually a third that I had originally but when I started to look at it critically, I tossed it aside for a soft focus issue that I hadn’t seen originally.

More importantly, we had a nice little getaway to the mountains and got a chance to explore the area a little to see if we might want to do an anniversary there.  I think that we will stick with our cabin near West Jefferson that we enjoy so much.  I will be back out to Virginia soon enough for some rural exploration though.


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