Anniversary in the Mountains

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Wednesday, Jan 10-Sunday, Jan 14, 2018

Winter Flurries

Each year, Toni and I try to get to the mountains for an anniversary trip.  During these trips I usually try to get out for a bit and get some pictures.  While we were in Jefferson for three full days, the weather didn’t do us any favors at all.  I’m actually happy that I was able to get anything at all, and most of these are from the back deck of the cabin that we stayed at.

So, here is how it all went down.  First of all, we started off at the cabin that we had originally selected called Creekside Waterfalls.  Hmmm, sounds like something a photographer might enjoy, right?  Well, that wasn’t the reason that we selected the cabin.  We wanted something smaller than we had been used to in the past, and wanted something in a slightly different area.  Turned out the area wasn’t all that much different, and when we got to the cabin, it was a bit smaller than we were expecting.  There were some other small issues that were there as well, but nothing too terrible that we would be opposed to staying.  However, we have a great relationship with High Mountain Cabin Rentals, and they came through in stellar form.  Within the hour, we were actually upgraded to another cabin that they had available.  Off we went, and found that the new cabin, although a bit more expensive, was off the charts nicer.  We had found our new home away from home.

Of course, by the time we got the accommodations figured out it was too dark to do any photography.  That was no problem since I had the rest of the trip to play with the camera.

I checked on the weather for the following day and saw that there was going to be rain on and off for most of the day, and that there was not going to be much of a sunrise.  That meant that we got to sleep in a bit which was nice.  After we got up, we saw that it was raining pretty good.  Toni still wanted to out and do some shopping so we packed the camera up and headed out to see what we could see.

Clouded Ridge

We did a good bit of driving around and found a few things of interest, but the lighting was not right, and the rain was a little too hard for me to do much with.  After we did our shopping, we headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick drive.  The rain kept fluctuating in intensity, but it would never completely stop.  I had pretty much given up all hopes of getting any pictures from this drive and was just enjoying the scenery as we drove through the mist and fog.  Then I saw it.

Wait, what did I see just past the Grandview overlook?  I’m pretty sure it was a very prominent tree standing out in the fog.  Could I be that lucky?  I got the car turned around to go check it out.  As I came up on the scene the tree looked awesome, and the lighting was just right.  I had a great composition in mind already.  The only problem…it was still raining pretty hard.  The composition that I wanted was going to necessitate my 24-70mm lens which has a fairly shallow lens hood on it.  This would not protect the front element nearly as well as the one that I have for my long lens.  I about gave up on the shot until Toni reminded me that she was a Mom.  No….that’s not what I meant.  I know she is a Mom, but part of being a Mom is she is always prepared for anything from a runny nose, to a ballistic missile.  She reminded me that she had an umbrella in the trunk.

Being a guy, I’m not a big fan of using an umbrella, so I don’t ever think about them at all.  Since she brought it up though…  I figured the composition was good enough to give it a try.  I got out of the car and felt the rain pelting me in the face.  This was going to be interesting for sure.  I built the camera under the hatch of the car with the 24-70mm lens.  I didn’t use a polarizer because I didn’t see glare being much of an issue, and I wanted simplicity more than anything.  I got into position, and deployed the umbrella before removing the lens cap.  I had to have looked funny standing on the side of the road fully in the rain while my camera was under the cover of the umbrella.  I got the composition framed just as I had previsualized it, and released the shutter.

Commanding Presence

The exposure was a little off with some highlights that I didn’t want.  I reevaluated the composition and framed it ever so slightly differently, and fired it off again.  This time, the exposure was spot on, and I had all the information that I needed to have according to the histogram.  Just in case, I did a few extra exposures just in case I had anything blowing in front of the camera at the time.  I was satisfied that I had what I wanted, and saw that rain was starting to blow under the umbrella onto the lens.  That was my sign to hit the road.

I had a total of five frames from this one tree, but knew that I had a winner out of that group.  There were no more pictures that day because the rain was just getting harder and harder.  I decided that Friday was going to be the best day for going out to get more pictures since the forecast was for off and on rain with clouds and fog.  I was excited about the prospects for the next trek.

Well, Friday came and it was pretty much a steady rain all day long.  There was no fog to speak of, and the lighting was just flat and lifeless.  I don’t think the camera moved in the cabin all day long.  When we finally left for dinner, I didn’t even take it with us.  By that time, the rain was so hard we could hardly see in front of the car driving.  I still had my tree picture so I was happy though.

Saturday was a completely different story all the way around.  It was cold…like single digit cold.  It was windy…like hold onto the railing windy.  But it wasn’t raining.  It was flurrying, and there was some accumulation to be seen.  By this point, Toni was tired of me (I think I’m kidding) and wanted me to go out on my own to get some pictures while she stayed in the cabin to relax.  Ok, I’ll give it a go.

I spent the next two hours driving around in a heavy flurry with gusty winds of near 40mph.  I wasn’t having any luck at all finding anything to photograph.  The few things that I found fell into two categories.  First of all, the out in the open scene where I couldn’t keep the camera steady, or grit from blowing all over the lens.  This was just too dangerous to try, and the subjects I found were not worth the hassle honestly.  The second category was the more intimate scenes where I had protection from the wind.  However, due to the nature of the area I was in, there was nowhere to pull the car over where it would be out of traffic.  Again, the scenes were not quite good enough for me to get creative with my parking.  In short, I spent two hours driving around to find basically nothing.  I still had my tree though.

Give Me Serenity

I returned to the cabin empty handed.  I was a little disappointed honestly, but it was no big deal.  I was there to spend time with Toni, and since she was staying at the cabin I didn’t want to be out driving aimlessly alone.  It wasn’t long after I got back that we had to deal with that ballistic missile I mentioned before.  It was then we realized that her cell phone wasn’t able to make outgoing calls.  After we found out that the missile was a erroneous alert and a lot of fuss for nothing, she spent the next couple of hours on the phone with our cell provider.  While she was on the phone, I was looking out the back door at the mountains behind the cabin.  They had caught my eye as the clouds cleared from them earlier, but now the light was doing some nice things on the ridge.  The day long flurries had created snow capped mountains that made for a nice contrast to the bare trees in the foreground.

Since Toni was on the phone, I decided to put the camera together and see if I could work the scene a bit.  I wasn’t thinking apparently and only put a jacket on.  I left the 70-200mm lens fitted to the camera and used no filters since the sun was to my back anyway.  This allowed me to use the lens hood which was a good thing since the snow was still coming down.  I started to pick out compositions as the light moved across the mountains.  After just a few minutes I remembered something.  It was cold!  No two ways around it, I was freezing my arse off.  I had grabbed a few shots and figured that I had enough so I went inside.

As I was about to break down the camera, I looked and saw that the light was doing other things, and I wanted to try a panorama shot of the ridge.  It was too clod to go back out there though.  I added a hoodie, and a pair of gloves and went back out in the shade to try this again.  I got the camera set up and did a mock sweep of the scene before setting the focus and exposure.  I fired off five vertical images at 143mm that would be later stitched together in Lightroom to create the opening image of this entry.  There was more depth than I had expected with the bare trees in the foreground blending into the more distant, softer textures of the mountain.  It was a nicer picture than I had though, and I was very glad that I had gone and tried this shot despite being very cold.

Snow Capped

Did I mention that I was cold?  Yeah, my skin isn’t near as thick as it used to be.  But I still managed to stay outside for about 15 minutes and shot a few more images as the light danced across the mountain.  I even shot this one minimalist picture that showed three distinct textures with very little context.  Each section did have a blending element to the next which was one of those interesting things that drew me to the shot.  The mountains faded into snow which transitioned into cloud.  The thick cloud gradually blended with the blue in the sky to which it changed over to.  Each section has its own visual weight in the image that seems to work.

At this point, I was so cold I couldn’t think anymore.  It was time to come inside and start cussing at the cold.  Well, Toni was still on the phone with the cell provider and all of a sudden I realized that me being cold wasn’t so bad.  As I thawed out, I got the camera stowed away to warm gradually.  I had shot 20 some new images, and was hoping that a couple of them would come out well enough to keep.

When we got home, I started to cull the image, 33 in all.  I found that a good portion of the deck shots were actually pretty good considering.  They do hold a special place in my heart, so I was a little easier on the delete button than I normally would be.  The panorama worked out very well, and that would have been enough to make it worth my while.  However, there were a few others that showed decent potential.  While editing, I was really impressed with the tree I shot in the rain on the Parkway, and it is by far my favorite from the trip.  I couldn’t help but think that it would be a great study in monochrome as well.

Commanding Presence in B&W

The black and white version captured everything that the color version did and then some.  I’m not sure which I like better, but I like them both enough, and I think they both stand on their own enough to include them both here.  The fog did an amazing job at allowing the tree to stand out from the crowd.  The element that drew me to the scene in the first place is so evident as well.  This tree is the only one with prominent branches that do diagonally.  The background trees are all quite vertical and boring.  This tree demands your attention whether in color or monochrome.

I’ve had more successful treks over the years, but this one was still one of the more enjoyable ones.  We had adventure, we had just about every weather pattern as the days went by, and had a lot of fun in the mountains!  We are already looking to go back, and I’m going to have to suck up my pride, and start carrying a small umbrella which made my favorite shot possible.