Saturday, January 12, 2019
Each year for our anniversary, Toni and I go to the mountains. This was our eighth anniversary and we spent a nice long weekend at a cabin in West Jefferson which we first stayed at last year almost by accident. It was a happy accident and we loved the cabin so much that we returned again this year. The folks at High Mountain Cabin Rentals make it all too easy to have a great time in the mountains. Before we went to the mountains, we discussed me bringing the camera along. For the record, I was wanting to leave it at home, but Toni kept prompting me to bring it with us. Of course, she didn’t need to twist my arm too much before I was loading it up in the truck with hopes of getting a few decent images for the weekend. Early January in the mountains is a hit and miss affair when it comes to landscape photography. Some years, I find all sorts of things to photograph. Other years are less fruitful, such as last year when I essentially got one image that I really liked. Granted, it was one that made the cut for my 12 favorite images from 2018, so I can’t really complain.
We started out weekend Thursday evening at the cabin. We had a lot of fun getting back in the swing of cabin life at our new, favorite cabin. Friday, we went into Boone for a while to visit some stores and grab some dinner. I didn’t even take the camera because the sky was totally sunny and not all that great for photography. Saturday would change that a little bit. We woke up late in the morning and we spent some time around the cabin. After a little while though, Toni wanted to read and she started hinting that I should go out and get some pictures. I really wasn’t in the mood to go out, but the sky looked good and I didn’t want to turn down a chance at going on a little road trip. I went ahead and grabbed my stuff and started heading North from the cabin. I wanted to go to some places that I had not been before, so I just started making turns here and there so I could get good and lost. I started to follow the signs for Lansing, and fairly quickly found myself on roads that I was not familiar with.
I had been aimlessly driving around for nearly an hour and hadn’t found anything that I particularly wanted to photograph. Sure, there were lots of rustic scenes that I would normally love to photograph, but I just wasn’t happy with the settings that they were in. By this point, I was just outside of the town of Crumpler, NC. I felt myself getting a little desperate since Toni had been left at the cabin and I wanted to make my time away worth something. It was not looking like that was going to be the case though. I just started following the sky to see if I could find something to put under it, which is a technique that seems to work pretty well for me in the mountains. I eventually found myself on a back road overlooking a valley and then off into the distant mountains. This seemed to have some promise as the sky was looking really good over the properties below me. I went ahead and pulled off the road and got out of the truck. I started to examine the scene for compositions. There was a bare tree set off by itself that I could use as a foreground interest. There was a road that snaked through the properties and some evergreen trees that were pretty dominant. The distant mountains were looking really good. It was worth a try to see what I could do with it.
I pulled out the camera and fitted the 24-70mm lens which would give me plenty of compositional flexibility. Looking at the lighting, I really didn’t see much need in adding any filters for this. A polarizer would have been only mildly effective in this situation, and the exposure latitude was not so wide as to require an ND Grad filter. I just opted to shoot nekked which is an oddity for me, but that was what the situation called for. I tried a few different compositions and started to get my groove with the landscape. I found where the natural framing boundaries were for the image that I had chosen and started to fine tune my own position so that the tree would be in the right place in the frame.
While I was shooting on this hill, I looked around to see what else might work. There were lots of rolling hills surrounding me which added all sorts of visual interest to the scene. I decided that it would be worth shooting down the road that I had driven up. There was a basic fence along the right shoulder, and a lone cabin atop the hill at the end of the road. Well, at least the end of the road that I could see as it crested and started down the hill. The sky was amazing overhead and I decided that I would take advantage of the sky, and the roadway leading into the scene. I framed up a few images still without any filters and found that the image review was looking very promising with a great coverage of tonal values indicating that I had all the digital information that I needed to create the images that I was seeing in my eyes.
I stayed out here for about 20-30 minutes shooting different compositions, but I was starting to have some difficulties working the camera. You see, it was breezy and cold. With the wind chill, it was less than 20 degrees and I had not put on my gloves at this point. It was too late to think about it as my fingers were completely numb by this point. It was time to get back in the heat, so I fumbled with the camera to put it away. I was really happy that I didn’t have to worry about any filters as I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to unscrew them anyway. I put everything back in the truck and I was off again. I was happy that I had the first shots of the day in the bag, as those are the most difficult for some reason. I was even happier to have the heat on full blast in the truck allowing me to get feeling back in my fingers. That feeling was pain and tingling, but at least I was feeling something.
It wasn’t too much further down the road that I came upon the sight that I was hoping to find all along. It was a nice red barn right off of the road. There was even a silo attached to it! I pulled off on the side of the road and grabbed my camera…and my gloves. I again fitted my 24-70mm lens with no filters. The lighting just didn’t call for any filters at this point. I started to set up compositions on the barn, but found that I needed to hurry. There were a handful of cows walking towards me from the other side of the bar. I cropped in tight to try to avoid them until they got in closer. Once they passed the side of the barn they were going to be in the shot.
Something that I have learned over the years about cows is they are incredibly nosy animals. They are always very interested in what people are doing, so it didn’t surprise me at all when they approached me. I started to talk to them in an attempt to get them positioned just so with the barn. I had a really good composition going, and I actually needed something in the lower right corner. The cows were close, and I just needed to be patient before they stumbled into the property spot. By talking to them, I kept their attention and they slowly got closer. More importantly, most of them were looking at me. There came a magic moment when all three of the cows stopped moving and they were all facing in my direction. This was the moment that I had been looking for. I tripped the shutter and looked in the LCD. It appeared as though I captured the scene just as I had intended. The red barn was dominant in the scene, but the cows stole the show. I had the image that I had been looking for since I left the cabin, and I was feeling pretty good about how things were developing.
Just because I had captured the image that I was after didn’t mean that I was ready to leave. Something that I have always done while photographing scenes is to look all around to see what else might be working. I did just that as I was concluding with the barn. What I found was an awesome sky developing on the other side of the road from the barn. There wasn’t a lot on that side of the road other than a fence and a small grove of trees. Looking at the sky though, I knew I needed to do something with it. I changed gears and started to look at things from a minimalist’s point of view. I started to see compositions popping up and I started to frame these visions as quick as I could. I started with the fence and the gate where I had almost parked, but I was so glad that I hadn’t. There was a long ripple of a cloud working its way across the sky towards me. I thought about adding a 10 or 15 Stop filter, but there wasn’t quite enough movement in the sky to make that work. I continued to shoot nekked and was really having a good time doing it. Don’t worry though, I was wearing my gloves, and a coat. Things were much more comfortable this time around since I was more prepared for the conditions.
I was really getting into the minimal approach and decided to just omit the fence completely. I framed up a shot that just included a bit of the ridge with a dip right where the clouds were coming from. It really gets no more basic than this. I had essentially two colors, and two textures. The shapes complimented each other, and the sky was very dramatic above me. Normally, I would have been searching for a visual anchor for an image like this, but didn’t see a need for one here. The sky converged at the dip in the landscape which essentially gave the eyes a visual anchor to focus on as they explored the scene. The low horizon gave plenty of visual tension to the image. It was the essence of a minimalist composition and was really liking what I was seeing develop.
Just in case my minimalist approach didn’t work the way I was thinking that it would, I decided to frame up a different shot that would include some visual anchors. There was a nice grove of trees on the ridge that I found interesting with the clouds in the background. The problem here was the horizon was relatively flat so I needed a bit more visual tension to the image. I went ahead and zoomed out to capture the fence below. I found a section that had a horizontal connection which I juxtaposed against the trees to give the image not only tension, but balance. The sky was not nearly as dramatic from this angle, but it was still really cool to look at. I had been out here for about 45 minutes at this point and I was getting ready to call it day. It wasn’t so much that I was cold this time as it was the fact that I had shot pretty much everything that I had wanted to at this location. Once I satisfy my vision, it is time to move on to the next place. That is…unless you happen to find a different composition that you hadn’t thought of before.
As I looked at the barn one last time, I noticed the vines on the front of the barn. Some of them had left a bleached tattoo against the red paint. I found these incredibly interesting. I also noted that the cows had finally gotten tired of little ole me and moved on. I saw the opportunity to shoot those vines on the front of the barn. I moved back over to the other side of the road and started to look at compositions. I found that the best way to do this was to only shoot a portion of the barn. I concentrated on the upper level of it, along with the silo. I balanced the composition out with a tree stretching out into the sky to the left. It was a risky shot with this much red in the frame, but I really thought that it would work just fine.
When I started processing it, I didn’t like the amount of red present in the frame. It was just too much, and there wasn’t enough other color to properly balance it out. I almost chucked the image, but remembered that the parts of the photo that I liked were the vines and the general textures of the barn and the sky. With those elements in mind, I decided to do a monochrome conversion. This worked out very well I’m happy to say. I was able to showcase the textures and the vines with no issues from the colors that were present. It turned out to be a pretty interesting picture of this barn and it really shows off a different personality from the color image that I had shot with the cows.
As it turned out, this was the last image that I shot on Saturday. I did some more driving around, but I had been gone nearly three hours and I was missing Toni. I worked my way back to the cabin and made note of a few other things that I might like to shoot at other times. It had been a really good day considering my heart wasn’t really in it when I left the cabin. I had about 70 images, give or take from this venture. That wasn’t too bad at all, and I was really impressed to see that of those, I ended up with eight images that I really happy with.
Since it is now working closer to 3am than I would like it to be, I am going to stop here, and share my Sunday adventures tomorrow in another entry. Lets just say that the weather changed a bit from what I was working with on Saturday.