Anniversary Trip Part 2: West Jefferson, NC

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Serenity Now, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2

So, last we left off, I had come back from a cold afternoon Trek through Crumpler where I was able to photograph some great scenes with wonderful skies.  Those clouds were bringing winter weather with them, and that hit overnight.  Sunday morning Toni and I woke to a frigid scene outside of the cabin.  Unfortunately, this was not snow, but a large accumulation of sleet and ice from overnight.  It wasn’t as pretty as we were hoping for, but the ice gave a certain quality to the woods around us.  Adding to that was the fog that had settled in the area.  When Toni saw that it was foggy, she let me know before I even had a chance to look out of the windows.  When I saw the woods, I figured that I would be well served to go out and try to get a few woodland shots.  I grabbed my gear and went out into our yard.

When I got outside I started to have a hard time finding woodland compositions because even with the light fog, the trees were still very disorganized and nothing was really grabbing my attention. The cabin however looked so cozy among the trees and I started to look for ways to shoot that.  I found a really nice view just on the other side of the driveway that showcased the trees really well, while limiting the exposure of the sky.  I also found a nice tree to the right of the frame which camouflaged my 4Runner which was parked beside the cabin.  The angles were just right and there was no need to move the truck as that would have included too much of the cabin and would have detracted from the woodland feel.  I started to set up compositions and quickly realized that there was a bright bird feeder hanging from the porch which really stood out too much.  I got that taken down and started to tighten up the shot.  The composition that I liked the best was this one posted above.  The trees had a certain organization to them that I really liked, and the one to the far left had a strange crook to it that added just that right amount of visual interest to pull the eyes into the distance.  When I did the initial processing of the image, I did it as a monochrome version and thought that I liked it better.  The more I looked at it though, the more I was yearning for a little warmth from the wood tones.  I flipped it back to color and tweaked it a little bit of a different way until I came upon this final image that I am really happy with.

Ice On The Fire, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2

I was starting to get in the winter mood after shooting the cabin.  I started to look for other things that interested me in the immediate area.  The stone fire pit at the edge of the driveway had always been a point of interest for me.  Now it was covered with sleet and a glazing of ice on top of the branches that were in the pit.  The rocks had a warm tone to them that really caught my eyes and the way that the landscape sloped added a lot of visual interest with the vertical trees.  I left the workhorse 24-70mm lens on that I had started the morning with, and oddly had left the filters off once again.  The lighting was just too even , and I wasn’t worried about any glare.  I moved in close to the fire pit and racked out the lens to 24mm which was just wide enough to not add a lot of perspective distortion to the circle of stones.  I worked with the height of the camera to achieve that perfect relationship between the stones and the trees.  I would have loved to be able to move the one long branch, and change the direction but that would have left an obvious void in the ice glaze.  At least I am used to shooting things as I find them.  I was starting to get into the moment and I was feeling more and more at home with the icy woodland scenes.

I decided to branch out a bit from the yard and start to walk up the road and in the woods a bit more.  I wasn’t able to find much in the woods that made sense to photograph, but I was starting to see some things on the sides of the road that were worth a little bit of time and consideration.  As I was looking on the sides for some interesting shapes or relationships between the trees I started to pay more and more attention to the road itself.  There was a gentle S Curve leading through the woods which is always a nice element to include in landscape photography.  I looked for some framing elements that I could use to really make it pop.  The trees were standing in such a nice contrast to the snow that the composition became a natural one.

Woodland Route, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2

Now, I needed to figure out how to capture the scene that was in front of me.  I wasn’t liking how the 24-70mm was capturing this, so I decided to back up a bit and swap in my 70-200mm long lens.  Since the exposures were all looking really good, I didn’t bother with any filters here either.  That gave me another benefit of being able to use the lens hood to protect the front element from the dripping ice above which I was thankful for.  The composition worked out well with this lens and I was able to compress things to pull you into the gentle curve down the road.  I did a few compositions here, but in the end decided that the horizontal version worked the best.

Ring of Protection, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Converted in Lightroom

Something that I try to do with my photography is to look within the composition for other compositions.  This was one of those times when that really worked out for me.  If you look on the right side of the road, there is a cluster of trees present that caught my eye.  I moved in a little closer to them and changed my orientation a little to adjust the relationship between each of the smaller trees around the larger tree.  They really were set up like a barricade of some sort and I liked the story that they were telling.  I shot a few frames of this and ultimately decided on doing a black and white conversion since there was not much color present in the scene to begin with.  I think that it adds mystery to the image, and a certain dramatic quality which I really like.  it is a simple image, but one that begs to be looked at a little more.  My eyes will still go up and down, and then proceed to go through the scene to look at the background.

Crackle of Ice, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2

By this point, I was looking up at the trees above me and I was starting to see some patterns and symmetrical shapes.  These have always interested me, and I love photographing trees when they are without their leaves.  I found one particular tree that was almost totally encased in ice standing proudly against the cloudy sky.  I thought that it would make a great black and white study.  I framed it up with the long lens and shot a vertical orientation to accentuate the height of the tree.  When I got home last night and started to process the image, I couldn’t bring myself to convert it to monochrome.  It had all the qualities I look for in a conversion with contrast, textures, and light.  What I found though, was the conversion lost the entire feel of the image.  I wanted to convey a certain amount of chill associated with the ice, and that just couldn’t happen in a black and white conversion.  The color image, as shot, was too warm in tone and missed the mood once again.  I ultimately skipped over this image until after I started to process the next image that I had shot.

Chilled to the Bone, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2

A very similar composition was coming up next in my collection of possible keepers.  Toni had already seen this one in the camera and had said that she loved it.  That meant that I was going to do all that I could to make it work out.  I tried the same treatment that I did with the other one and didn’t like the monochrome for the same reason.  The color one was too warm.  I started to play around with things and began with the white balance slider.  I cooled the image down drastically from the cloudy WB that I had set in the field.  This introduced a blue color cast to the image which I really liked.  I massaged it a bit, and worked with the contrast just a tad before I ended up with this image.  All of a sudden, I had the monochrome look I had shot for, but had the added drama from the color temperature which made the image feel more like the conditions I shot it in.

After seeing how this one turned out, I went back to the one that I had skipped and did the same treatment to it.  The results were just as good, and that reinforced the power of color temperature in an image.  Shooting with a cloudy setting was the right thing to do for the scene.  It yielded a nice neutral image that was true to what my eyes saw.  However, my intention behind the image was a little different as I wanted a high contrast black and white scene that conveyed what I was feeling at the time.  That failed, but striking a more sunshine, daylight balanced color temperature worked exceedingly well.  It is not an inviting scene, nor one of comfort.  Both of these scenes have a lot of visual tension and cause a certain amount of discomfort…which was exactly what I was going for when I was composing the image.  Keep in mind, by this time, I was rather cold and uncomfortable.

Speaking of being cold and uncomfortable, I was ready to get back inside by the fire.  My hands were getting a bit numb, and I had exhausted what I wanted to capture.  Toni and I spent the rest of the day watching movies and just enjoying the cabin lifestyle for a bit.  What happened next I refuse to take the blame for.  I was minding my own business on the couch and Toni had gotten up for something and saw something really incredible off the back deck.  She told me that the clouds were really low back there and that the trees were glistening with ice.  I’ve come to learn that when she spots interesting scenes at the cabins and tells me about them, I should really pay attention.  I got up and sure enough…beautiful!

An Icy Dream, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2

I didn’t know how long these conditions would last so I started moving with a quickness.  I grabbed my gear and fitted the same 70-200mm lens before putting it on the tripod.  I went out on the deck and found my position.  I was going to be shooting soft abstracts so my position was not absolutely crucial, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t get any limbs encroaching on my compositions.  I started to pick out different views through the fog and clouds.  The trees were all covered with ice from the night before.  With the fog lifting, we were finally able to see the neighboring mountain and it was such a glorious uncloaking.  I was like a sharpshooter finding areas of interest with the fog fading off at the top of the frame to keep your eyes within the frame.  I was even able to capture some trees that were closer and you could see the ice surrounding the branches. The more I shot though, the more I realized that the real compelling compositions were going to be much tighter than the 70-200mm was capable of.  Fortunately, I do have a trick up my sleeve for just this occasion.  I pulled out my 2X teleconverter and slid it in between the lens and the body.  Now I had a 400mm reach at my fingertips.

Shiver, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, 2X Teleconverter

With the added reach, I was able to pick out trees and the ice that encased them with ease.  This one here was shot at 335mm and the detail is incredible.  I really like how the soft details behind add to the chilly look of the scene.  This was the trick for the scene that was in front of me.  Since I had wanted to shoot abstracts to begin with, I started to look for something that would work for that.  I tried to find patterns in the hill, but wasn’t really able to do that.  I did see some frozen pine trees that stood out with the pale greens.  I found a grove of them hidden from view where I had been standing.  I moved over to the left and found an unobstructed view of the grouping of trees.  There wasn’t really a pattern here, but the difference in textures worked very well.  The fog was coming back in so the image was softening even more which worked for my purposes.

Iced Pines, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, 2X Teleconverter

When I first stood up and saw what Toni had seen, this was the image that I had in mind for the setting.  This 400mm shot picked out the pine trees that were quite a distance away from me.  The icy branches on all the trees really created a dreamlike landscape and one that just forces you to examine it all.  The pine trees have a quality unlike anything else when weighed down by ice.  All of a sudden they look tired, and haggard, but still very dignified.  The subtle greens allow them to stick out and be seen very well among the sea of lesser trees.  I’m really happy with how this image turned out, and don’t think that there is anything different I would like to do with this scene.

Bent, but not Broken, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, 2X teleconverter

Of course, I am not only looking for the distant abstracts, I am also looking for the frozen trees a bit closer to me.  There was this one tree on the right hand side that really caught my eye.  There was a natural curve to it, which was accentuated by the weight of the ice on the branches. There was a certain beauty to how it was yielding to the weight and since I had the right equipment for the composition, I framed up this tree at 335mm and released the shutter.  I was wanting to capture this as a monochrome image, but when I was doing the processing, I actually kind of liked the slightly warm tone that the branches provided.  It set the tone for a bit of hope that the ice would melt.  Considering that the clouds were lifting and the ice was melting at the time, the mood actually fit quite well.  I left it as a color image, and still find it beautifully complex.

By this time, out on the deck, I was starting to recycle compositions I had already shot.  It was time to pack the camera up and head back inside.  I was really lucky that Toni had spotted this sight unfolding to the rear of the cabin.  Had I missed it, I would have been non-the-wiser, but I’m so glad that I had the chance to experience the sight first hand.  It was just icing on the cake that I was in a position to be able to photograph it.

by this point, my image count for the weekend was nearing 100 images with the 30 or so I shot today.  I had no idea that I was going to be hanging onto 10 additional images.  I was thinking that between Saturday and Sunday I would be lucky to have 10 images that I considered keepers.  Honestly, I was thinking a more realistic number would be around seven or so.  Regardless, I was having a lot of luck with conditions and I was really glad that Toni had pushed for me to bring the camera.  This was going to be the end of the weekend as far as photography was concerned.  Monday was the day that we were leaving, and I didn’t have anything else that I wanted to shoot that could be done on the way home.  It turned out to be a really fruitful time in the mountains though as I have 18 new images that I am really happy with.  I also learned a few new things along the way which is always a great thing.

Something else that happened while Toni and I were in the cabin was I got a text from Dean with Outlawed Restorations stating that he was ready to do a shoot with one of his rat rod trucks.  I have always come away from these shoots with some really great images so I was excited about doing it.  However, looking at the weather for the rest of the time that I was going to be off, I was really questioning whether or not I would be able to get him fit in without too much of a delay.  I was going to have to figure that out Monday when I was returning to normal life…