After the Storm

· Reading Time: 26 minutes

Monday, August 3, 2020

I seem to be on a roll these days.  In the past week I have now been able to go out on three different adventures with the camera.  I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time over the last two months.  It sure has been nice finally capturing the scenes that appeal to my eyes once again.  The trek that I will be sharing with you today was really a last minute decision and happened on a day that I really didn’t expect to be able to do anything outside.  Before I get into the details of this trek though, I wanted to catch everyone up real quick.  It seems that due to a technical issue with the website the email notifications haven’t been going out since the move was made.  I think that has been addressed now and the email notifications should be going out as intended with the blog entries.  For those that might have missed the last few blog entries, I will share the links with you here so you can get caught up.  My first trek once we got situated in the house was out to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a sunset shoot very close to the new house.  That was the springboard for regaining my focus in photography which I actually wrote about in this month’s Behind the Camera feature.  Not wanting to lose my momentum with photography, I decided to head out and get to know my local rural area a little better and I found some nice decay and rural subjects to shoot a few days ago.  That should get us all caught up with the entries that didn’t get any email notifications.  For that I am sorry, and I hope that you will take a few minutes to catch up as things have been getting back on track quite quickly here.

With that out of the way, lets talk about this surprise trek that I just went on yesterday evening.  It was a surprise because I had a lot going on yesterday, and there was rain forecasted for the entire day which was making it look like a washout.  My morning was a little complicated because I had to go for a dentist appointment in the mid morning back at my regular dentist about an hour away.  I know, I could change dentists, but I have been going to this one since I was in middle school and I like him.  It wasn’t a trip for nothing though as I also had the privilege of hand delivering a print to a client in Oak Ridge, NC.  It is always a treat when one of my images finds their way into the home of somebody that appreciates the photograph as much as I do.  Of course, I know there is a possibility that they are just wanting high quality dart board backgrounds, but I can hope that they will end up hanging on the wall in a nice frame to be enjoyed.  By the time I was done with my appointment and the delivery I was back on my way home.  The rain that was supposed to be all over the area by this point was nowhere to be found.  In fact, once I got on the other side of Forsyth County, the sun came out and I was seeing lots of cool clouds in the sky.  It was looking like there might be a possibility of going out for some pictures during the evening if the weather held.  It is always a great time to do landscape photography after a weather system passes by, and this was looking like that kind of opportunity as long as it didn’t pass too quickly before the good light happened.

When I got back home I started to look at the weather forecasts and saw that there was still a good bit of rain and stormy weather in store, but it wasn’t the complete washout that I had expected.  I grabbed an early dinner and was on my way to the Blue Ridge Parkway around 3pm or so.  I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to shoot because the weather was going to be rather uncertain, but I knew that if I was in the area there was a fair chance that I would find myself in the right place at the right time.  I had an idea that I might want to go to Rough Ridge as that is a very dramatic place to work when the clouds are just right.  There was more of a mix of cloud elevations in the area of Boone, so that worked out for me.  I tell you, I still can’t get used to the fact that I can be on the Parkway in about 20 minutes down US421 when it used to take me about an hour and a half to get there.  It is really an awesome benefit to the new house and for my landscape photography.

The trip there was under some slight rain which I kind of expected, but as I got closer to the Parkway the rain got heavier as opposed to clearing up like the weather had suggested.  I continued on not knowing if I was going to be able to get anything or not.  At least if I didn’t, I wasn’t out nearly as much as if I had driven round trip from Winston.  I headed South on the Parkway looking for potential locations to shoot.  The sky wasn’t all that great, but there was texture to it and the lighting was good least.  I stopped at a few of my favorite overlooks and pondered the potential for compositions.  There wasn’t anything that excited me as of yet so I just kept on going.  As I was driving, I started to think about the possibilities at Price Lake which I hadn’t photographed in quite some time now.

Jutting Out“, Sony F-828, Hoya Pro-1 CPL

The thought had come to mind to work a particular composition that I had done some thirteen years ago when I was still shooting with a Sony “prosumer” point and shoot camera.  I had gone back to this particular alcove a time or two since that first time but I haven’t been able to capture anything that I liked as much.  That attempt was actually included in one of my presentations that I have put together for photography clubs about my evolution as a photographer.  It is a brutally simple picture without much real style to it.  It is one of those that I am kind of embarrassed by at this stage in the game, but that is completely normal and shows that I have evolved as a photographer over the years.  With that in mind, I was really kind of surprised that I had not found another image to capture along the same lines since then.  It has baffled me for a while and with the sky overhead getting more and more interesting the further I went on the Parkway the better I felt about being able to capture something much better than the image I just shared with you.  But I have had that thought before and failed to bring home anything so it is anyone’s guess as to whether or not I would succeed in my goal this time.

When I got to Price, the main parking area was not necessarily crowded but there were more people there than I would have expected.  I wasn’t stopping there, so it didn’t bother me much either way.  I continued on the boat and amphitheater area for my intended image.  When I pulled into that parking lot there were no cars and no people around which was wonderful.  These are the conditions that I love when it comes to photography.  I got parked and before I even pulled out my gear I dipped into the trees and came out on my little rocky shoreline that I had visited so many times in the past.  The light was good with the sun over to the right.  It illuminated the trees with soft light and there were good clouds overhead, but there wasn’t quite the texture that I was after.  The water was smooth and the sky was moving so I felt that there was a good opportunity to get a better sky in the near future.  I went back to the truck and grabbed the camera before going back out on the shoreline.

Part of what I love about this part of the lake is the foreground interest that the rocks provide.  That is the part that I really liked about the image that I shot so long ago and I wanted to start with that basic concept.  Obviously, I was going to need to go with a wide angle lens for this to work out.  Back in the Sony days, I had a wide angle of 28mm which I thought was really great back then.  I’ve since progressed to a 14mm wide end and know that the difference is substantial.  Knowing that I was going to be using filters for this image, I didn’t go with the 14mm Rokinon because there is no way to add filters to that lens.  Instead, I opted for my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens which does an incredible job as well as accepting filters.

Before I started to concern myself with filters, I worked on finding a composition that I liked.  Originally, I had opted for a portrait orientation so that I could get the foreground as well as the sky (boring as it was) in the same shot.  That was the limitation on the 28mm focal length.  Since I wasn’t saddled with that limitation with my current outfit, I was able to start with a horizontal orientation which I thought would suit the distant shore much better.  It was a long process of moving the camera around and changing the focal length slightly to get the right perspective and scale to the image.  The other important part that I was concerned with was the separation of the foreground from the reflection of the trees in the water.  To add to that, I wanted to have the shapes compliment each other for a unified image.  Then I wanted to have the sky included as a major player which made placing the horizon line more difficult since I wanted significant real estate above and below the horizon line.

When I finally got a composition that I was happy with, I looked at the image and started to determine what filters were going to be needed.  First and foremost, I wanted to bring the sky down to add drama to the upper portion of the image.  That was going to fall on a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which I placed just into the trees so I got a progressive darkening of the sky as it went up.  That got the exposure right where I wanted it.  The next part that I was concerned about was the reflection in the water.  There was a lot of glare from the light that was making my tree reflection not quite as sharp as I would have liked.  In order to combat that, I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and dialed it to just under maximum effect.  I wasn’t worried about the wide angle effect in the sky since there wasn’t really any blue to be bothered with and you wouldn’t see it in the clouds.  With this combination I started to make exposures and fine tuning the camera placement as the light in the clouds changed.  I tried to keep the brightest part of the clouds in the center of the frame to pull your eyes directly into the picture.  I had to keep the foreground in a good relationship with that as well.

Something that I was finding that needed some attention was there was just the slightest motion in the water that I was capturing with the exposures of a second or so.  To combat that, I reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out a Singh-Ray Mor Slo 5-stop ND Filter so I could slow the exposure time to around eight seconds.  That smoothed the water out perfectly and I was in business.  The sky was really starting to come alive at this point and I was glad that I had stuck with this composition as long as I had.  I think I had been out here for about an hour at this point working on this single image.  In that hour, people had started to show up and there was getting to be a lot of activity around me.  In fact, there was a guy on a kayak that went right across my composition and fortunately started fishing just out of the frame to the right.

Into the Looking Glass“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad, Mor-Slo 5-stop ND Filter

As the light changed, I was adjusting the exposure values waiting on the soft light to hit the rocks in the foreground.  The clouds were thinning out overhead and allowing some blue sky to poke through which I thought would add so much to the image.  It was really coming together at this point and I was getting really excited about finally capturing an image that was worlds better than what I had done back in 2007.  The image reviews on the back of the camera were just awesome and I was seeing just what I had imagined when I started to formulate this composition.  The sky was getting better and better, and the sunlight was starting to cooperate with me.  At the pinnacle of my excitement I captured this image and had a feeling that was going to be my keeper from the set.  I was only about 25 frames into the day, but they were all of the same subject.  I was feeling like I had finally nailed it.  With that thought and the hope that the light was still improving I noticed that the kayak was drifting into my composition on the right.  He was in nor hurry and was was obviously fishing the shoreline.  I paused for a moment to see if maybe he would go back to the right, but it quickly became obvious that he was going to work the entire shoreline.  With my lens set for 20mm, that was going to take a very long time and the clouds were clearing up quickly.  Satisfied that I had my shot, I reluctantly packed up the camera and decided that my work here was done.

I got back in the truck and then it was off to Rough Ridge as I could see that there were still clouds in that direction and I was hoping for some low clouds or fog up on the ridge.  I kept my eyes out for any other areas that might be worth photographing, but there really wasn’t anything that jumped out at me along the way.  I started to think about alternatives in case Rough Ridge was packed.  I wouldn’t have thought that it would be on a weekday at dinner time, but the overlooks that I was passing were giving me reason to doubt my luck.  Sure enough, when I got to Rough Ridge, there were only a few parking places left open.  Knowing that the majority of the hikers that were there would be concentrated in the two places that I was wanting to photograph I decided to let that location go.  My alternate plan had been to check out Beacon Heights which is on the other side of the Viaduct.  I had only been on that trail one other time and had captured one of my favorite images which is presented as a nearly six foot long canvas in the living room.

Shadowed Ridge“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, multiple image pano

I knew that I was going to get a completely different look to this location with today’s weather, but I had hopes that I might get something special with the current conditions.  It was seeming that the storm systems were starting to clear out which usually meant some dramatic light and cloud formations in the mountains.  When I arrived there, I only saw four other cars in the parking area which was tolerable.  I got parked and started to collect my thoughts before getting my gear.  When I got out of the truck a minute or so after parking, there were another three cars in the parking lot.  Oh well, I was committed to this location and the previous photo was captured when there were about 25 other people on the ridge.  I made the wet hike up the trail and started with the side that would give me the same vantage point of the distant mountain.  When I got there, the sky was reasonably interesting, but there was a huge cloud sitting in the valley to the left and it was slowly moving its way to the right.  The light wasn’t great just yet, but I was seeing a composition that I wanted.  I got the tripod set up and built the camera with the 16-35mm lens.  I got the composition set up and just as I was about to add filters, the wind picked up and pushed that low cloud right over the mountain.  I could no longer see anything in the distance, only the outcropping that I was standing on and the trees at the edge of it.  Everything else was engulfed in the clouds.  I left the camera set up with hopes that the cloud would move over soon and I would be able to get things going again.

I sat there and waited and waited.  The clouds were here to stay it would seem.  Also, a couple came in off the trail and stood there enjoying the clouds.  We spoke for a bit and I made the mistake of saying that the cloud would probably move out of the way soon.  Since they loved to look at clouds, they decided to have a seat and watch the cloud.  Of course, as luck would have it, their seat was right in front of my camera.  I’m not one to think that I have staked a claim on an area when I am photographing it, but I was a little taken aback to see them plop down right in the line of sight of the camera when there was so much room out there to sit and not be in the way.  They were showing no signs of moving which started to get me a little irritated to say the least.  I had a composition that I knew would work if the clouds started to break up giving a little depth to the scene.  I stuck with it in hopes that they wouldn’t be there when the conditions happened.

Fortunately, after about 15 minutes, they got up and went back to the trail.  Shortly after that, the clouds started to break up and I was seeing detail in the distance.  I fine tuned the composition and adjusted my ND Grad and got the shot just before the clouds filled back in.  Feeling like I was pressing my luck staying in that same location for more time, I decided to change up the composition for the next clearing.  I went down the slope a little bit, probably more than I should have, but I managed to keep my feet planted.  I found some interesting angles looking out beyond where the clouds were in hopes that they would clear up again.  It was another waiting game, and I had already been out here for about an hour.  Price Lake did confirm to me that it was worth committing to a composition and waiting on the weather to change so I was content to sit and wait.

Head in the Clouds“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

With this new composition I really wanted to capture the brilliant green tree that was just off to the side of the outcropping that I was standing on.  My current 16-35mm lens wasn’t going to get that done.  With the lighting getting a bit more even with the sun trying to shine through the clouds to my rear I decided that filters weren’t going to be necessary any longer.  With that freedom, I was able to swap out my lens for the Rokinon 14mm that I don’t use nearly as much as I would like to.  That lens had the perfect focal length to capture what I was interested in.  I had the tree in a very prominent scale in the foreground while still capturing a lot of the sky overhead.  It was just a waiting game to get the clouds to clear once again.  There were holes in the clouds that would give me about 30 seconds at a time to photograph.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get an occasional image.  I was having to watch in front of me as well as behind me as the conditions changed.  I had two different compositions from the location that my camera was set up at.  All I had to to was pan around the other direction to get things composed which was nice.  It just took a lot of concentration to try and react to changes on both sides almost simultaneously.  That is one of the nice things about the 14mm lens.  It is a prime so there is no zooming of it, and being only manual focus I was able to set it and forget it as the depth of field is incredible at f/14 with the focus set for infinity.

Shrouded Hills“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No filters

As it turned out for all my back and forth between the two directions, the one towards the sun never really did materialize the way I wanted it to.  The one looking into the wind though turned out pretty well and became one of my keepers.  The dramatic sky really paired well with the prominent green tree in the foreground to create a very exiting image with tons of depth.  I only had a few different exposures that worked out here and this was the best by a slim margin mainly because of how the sun was hitting the tree and the slight fog over the midground trees for that added depth.  The upper atmosphere clouds were dramatic in their own right, and you could see some distant squalls well off in the background.

As the clouds were clearing, I started to look at other compositions.  I was particularly interested in capturing the main attraction from this vantage point and I was seeing that the clouds were slowly clearing from the view of the big mountain.  I got repositioned with the camera and left the 14mm on since that was actually quite well suited for the location I was in.  I wasn’t needing any filters so I had no reason to change up the recipe.  I had to imagine where the peak of the mountain would be because it was still completely covered in clouds, but I could see that they were moving off to the right giving me hope that I would have an opportunity to capture this mountain one more time.  I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of doing another panorama here because of the quick movement of the clouds so it was going to be a single shot or nothing.

Beacon Heights“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No filters

My patience paid off and just like that the clouds broke up leaving just remnants behind.  I was almost able to pick the exact moment to capture the image that I wanted.  I had the dramatic sky above and it wasn’t moving.  I was more interested in a cloud remnant that was coming up the valley  at the tail end.  It was just the right size to fit gently between the summit and the tree I was using in the foreground.  I wanted this element to help in the separation of greens and to give the image a little more atmosphere with the low clouds.  The left of the frame was a bit clearer, but you could still see the inversions in the distance for some added visual interest.  As the cloud progressed over the ridge, I fired off exposures just in case it disappeared before getting into position.  It did exactly what I was hoping for and I managed to nail this image as the leading element of the cloud started to rise into the sky linking it with the clouds above.  There was now a connection between the clouds that added to the cohesive nature of the entire image.  Just like that, the drama of the passing cloud was done.  The sky overhead still looked great, but I was confident that the drama was over and I had gotten the best images that I was going to get from here.

There was still another overlook on this same trail that I hadn’t been to yet and I wanted to see what it had to offer.  The last time I was here in 2017, I had spent about 45 minutes on that overlook with a bunch of frames that turned into nothing special.  In fact, they were all trashed because they just weren’t good compositions.  I was wanting to change that luck today.  I had a great sky now which I didn’t have before and I was much better equipped to find better compositions after another three years of experience under my belt.

The hike was quick and I was there in about five minutes.  The sky was great, but I had forgotten how hard it was to find a compelling composition from this side.  I walked around and looked at options.  The area that I had worked in before was just not a good choice at all so I didn’t bother trying anything there.  In fact, there was only one portion of this overlook that really caught my eye and that was an interesting rock formation that was sitting on the outcropping.  Finding a way to compose an image around that rock was more difficult than it should have been.  I looked at it from all angles and found two that I liked.  Then it was a matter of finding the right relationship between that rock and the mid and background.  Pulling out my cell phone, I could tell that I was going to need to go wider than 24mm which meant that I was going to use my 16-35mm lens again.  I opted for that one because I knew that I was going to be using filters here to control the sky a bit.

High Country Rain“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft and 2-stop hard ND Grad, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I spent a very long time putting together a composition that included moving the tripod all around an inch at a time.  I raised and lowered the camera to find the right fit for all the elements.  By the time I had a workable composition, the sky would change on me and I would have to adjust the positioning to keep the bright part of the sky from being too far over to one side or another.  It was rough game that I was playing with the environment and to make matters worse, there were other hikers that were starting to appear where I was.  At least these stayed back and out of my frame.  They were quite a bit more courteous than the last couple that I had run into.  I did finally find a composition that worked and I made the exposure.

Looking at it in the image review I could tell that the colors in the image really didn’t help it any.  I thought that the composition that I had would be much better in monochrome to really show the textures and to pull out the drama in the sky which was rather faint.  There was a distant rain squall under the bright section of the clouds which I really wanted to highlight as well.  Black and white was going to be the best way to make that happen.  I changed up the exposure a bit and I added two different 2-stop ND Grads staggered on each other to really pull down the sky for that moody black and white image that I was after.  When I made the exposure and the image popped up on the review screen I was pretty sure I had nailed it.  It even looked decent in color, but this was going to be a black and white image for sure.

I set to the task of finding other compositions around the rock because the sky was starting to pick up the color of the setting sun to my right.  That introduced a lot of possibilities for compositions and I started to get really excited.  The clouds were clearing out of the sky quickly, but there was still almost a warm haze in the sky that kept picking up the tones of the sun.  My foreground was largely in the shadows at this point which was making my exposures more and more difficult.  To help with that, I left the two Grads stacked on the lens.  While they had been great for deepening the tones for the monochrome image, they were now needed for the simple balancing of the light in the image.

It wasn’t long before I had a composition that I liked which showed off an large expanse of sky.  There wasn’t going to be a lot of color or drama in the sky, but there would be just enough to make it an interesting scene.  However, as I was clicking off exposures hoping to capture that best light something was happening in front of me.  I don’t think that anyone noticed it just yet, but right at the horizon I could see the beginnings of a rainbow.  I recomposed slightly to get that in a better position and started making exposures once again as it started to grow.  The growing number of hikers behind me started to notice the rainbow about this time and everyone’s attention was on the same spot that mine was.  I kept hearing cell phone cameras going off and different voices talking about how their phones never capture the right colors, or all the colors of the rainbow.  I just sat there hoping that I was capturing the moment with my camera.  Rainbows are difficult to capture, and they are almost impossible to see on my image review since I have the saturation and contrast turned all the way down in my settings.  All I could really make out was the difference in tones in the sky indicating where the rainbow was actually bending the light in the atmosphere.

As I was making shot after shot with the changing light, I noticed that there was a second rainbow appearing to the right of the one that I had been working on.  This was going to be great!  I was wishing that I had a slightly different composition to capture more of the rainbow, but knowing how much trouble I had been having with compositions here, I didn’t want to lose the one that I had when it was capturing both of the rainbows at least a little bit.  The light was falling off quickly at this point and the sky was looking super saturated thanks to the two ND Grads that I had on the lens.  I still couldn’t tell if the rainbows were being adequately captured, but it was looking very likely.

Bending Light“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft and 2-stop hard ND Grad

When the light had all but faded and it was just the rainbow left, I decided to change my position and try for another composition.  The brightest part of the rainbow was off to the left side near the trees.  I found a composition that worked and had to flip the camera vertical to capture it.  I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but it was the only way that I could quickly try and capture this colorful event.  Sadly, the light had faded and the sky was quite boring at this point.  The trees were in the shadows and it looked too much like a snapshot. I only tried a single exposure before deciding that it wasn’t worth going forward with.  When I got it home, my fears were confirmed that it was not a good image at all.  However, one of the last ones that I had shot of the double rainbow with the colorful setting sun turned out just as I had hoped it would.  The rainbow was vibrant and full of life.  The composition worked well, and the variations in the sky added to the visual interest of the whole image.

That was the last keeper of the day and it was time to pack things up and make the hike back to the truck in the dwindling light of day.  In fact it was dark enough that I had to use a flashlight to avoid tripping on the trails back to the parking lot, but fortunately the hike was less than 15 minutes so that wasn’t too bad at all.  Normally, I would be looking at a bit over two hours to get home from here so it was nice to see that GPS had me at just about an hour and fifteen minutes from home and half the distance from what I was used to.

When I got home, I started with the preliminary edits of the images which took me until about 1:30am.  In that time I had six images from the day that I was excited about.  I had the basic edits done and knew I would come back the following morning to fie tune the post processing and write this blog.  Even though it is a lot of work to do these treks and process the pictures afterwards, it is something that I really enjoy and it is so nice to be able to go back to it after so long of not being able to get any pictures for one reason or the other.

I hope that you have enjoyed this trek and as always if any of these images speak to you on that special level, I would love to discuss matching you up with the print of your favorite image.  you can also order standard size prints directly from my website here.  Just remember that there is no way to really fully appreciate a photograph when viewed in low resolution on your computer or phone.  The best way to enjoy any photograph is to see it in its tangible form as a print.

Until next time…

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