Answering the Call

· Reading Time: 19 minutes

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

This has been a really rough month for me thus far.  I have had very little creative energy it seems and that has lead to far less time out in the field with the camera than I am used to.  It seems to be a compounding issue as the less I feel like going out, the less I feel like a photographer.  The less I feel like a photographer, the less I want to go out.  The end result is one that I have been familiar with in the past and it is not a good one.  In an attempt to to avoid that pitfall of a creative slump, I have been trying to put very little stress on myself to go out and get images.  No longer do I look at the weather and do all my planning as I once did because I just don’t want to take that kind of time to work on something that I know will be less than fulfilling for me.  I’ve just been letting the days come and go as they will.  When I feel like trying to go out with the camera I do so, but there is very little pressure to do anything actually.

Don’t get me wrong, there has been a lot going on this month that has had my mind rather occupied and I think that represents a large part of the issue.  There just hasn’t been time for creativity.  I’m hoping that things are going to start getting back to normal, but I am afraid that some of the things going on right now are just the beginning to a lot more in the near future.  At least I am getting mentally prepared for things which should help me get through them when they come.  I do know that my creative voice through photography will likely be very much needed so I am committed to maintaining my skills and abilities unlike in previous years when I have just shelved photography and moved on to something else.  Of course, it does help that this is now my full time job and I can only take so many days off, even if I am the boss.

With that being said, I was needing a bit of a distraction from my daily routine and I was actually wanting to go out with the camera.  I came about this realization on Monday and felt a sense of excitement about it for the first time in several weeks.  I looked at the weather to determine when I might be able to go and do some photography.  As it turned out, there were clouds predicted for Tuesday which made it a good day.  Looking at Clear Outside, I could tell that the cloud cover would be 100% at low level all morning, replaced by higher level clouds and rain in the afternoon.  The would likely be no texture in the sky, and I was actually getting a little bored with rural scenes so I started to think about alternatives.  With the clouds, my natural though was to shoot waterfalls.  it had been since my scouting trip to Hanging Rock last November that I had worked waterfalls.  Typically the winter is my favorite time to shoot waterfalls, but for some reason this year I never really got in gear on moving water and chose to focus almost completely on rural scenes which I very much enjoyed.  It was the call of the waterfall that I was hearing now, and I chose to listen.

Aqua Pool“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

With Toni going to work and me having to get Sierra to school, I had to plan for a late start for the day, and then I had to be back in time to get Sierra from school in time for her riding lesson at the stables.  That gave me just a tad over six hours to work with.  I was really quite limited in the locations that I could go.  My first thought was Hanging Rock where I could go and still have about five hours to work the waterfalls there.  I could shoot the majority of them for sure, and the weather would be great.  It would also allow me the opportunity to catch them after a fair amount of rain recently which would help the flow tremendously.  Probably the best reason to go there was I could go ahead and scout the locations again for my upcoming Spring Waterfall Workshop which is coming up in just over a month.  There were a lot of positives to heading to Hanging Rock, but there was a glaring negative as well.  I have been there so many times and have pretty much shot it all.  Hanging Rock is just not that exciting to me anymore and with me in this creative slump, I knew I had better stay away from something I was already not excited about.

I thought about going to Stone Mountain, which was just over an hour away from here which would give me four hours to work with.  That was more than enough time to work the only waterfall there that I like which is Widow’s Creek Falls.  Again though, this is a very well photographed waterfall in my collection and I wasn’t really getting excited about it either.  I could go to the Styers Mill Falls in Yadkinville, which is just about a half hour from home.  That one wasn’t doing it for me either.  I tell you, when I am in a slump, I can talk myself out of just about any location without a problem.  The next location that I thought about was South Mountains State Park which I haven’t been to in probably over a year.  There are a few compositions that I have not been able to figure out there including a panorama I have often thought about shooting after the fact.  This actually started to get me a little excited which was something that I hadn’t felt in a while.  This was a good sign.

The trip out to the park would take right around two hours with traffic which would leave me about two hours to work the waterfalls.  This would be just about right.  I have never really cared anything for the main feature of the park, High Shoals Falls, so there would be no need to hike up the long staircase to get to that scene.  My favorite part of this waterfall is the lower cascades which are situated right off of the boardwalk about 3/4 of a mile down the trail.  There were two other places along the way that I have customarily stopped at along the way which I considered working if I had the time.  This was going to be a pretty good trip I was starting to think.  I checked the weather for Connelly Springs and found that the clouds were just as they were here through the morning with the rain starting around 1pm.  I was going to have to be on the road by then to get back home to Sierra so that was going to work out fantastically.  With everything planned out, I crawled into bed and hoped for a good outing the next morning.

The Lower Shoals“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 8 images stitched together

When morning came, I got up and started to get ready.  I looked at the weather again and found that it was still the same as was forecasted the previous night.  I asked if Sierra could get ready just a tad early to give me a little extra time and she agreed.  Granted, the leaving early was only 10 minutes, but everything helped.  I got her dropped off at school and set my course for the mountains for the first time in a very long time.  I can’t remember the last time I went out for a landscape session and I was actually getting very excited about the prospects.  I was familiar with the park so I knew what I would be facing, and I also knew that there were compositions that I had not tried before and I was looking forward to giving those a try.  Traffic was even cooperating with me after I got past US 52 where there was a minor wreck that had blocked the entire road until officers got onscene and had them move over to the shoulder.

I managed to arrive at the park about 40 minutes earlier than I had expected which was very nice.  That pretty much took care of the hiking time so I would have a full two hours of camera time at the falls.  I grabbed my gear and started off down the trail.  The first location I came to that I typically stop at was the fork in the streams which usually makes for some interesting photographs.  I decided not to bother with it today though.  I had bigger fish to fry further on down the trail.  My next point of interest was a section filled with boulders and a hollowed tree that seems to be yawning.  The water was flowing nicely, but I didn’t see any better photographs here than I had previously shot.  It wasn’t worth stopping at the expense of missing out on time where I was wanting to be.  That section was not much further down the trail.

When I arrived, there was a small cascade that I typically shoot first, but this time I saw a downed tree in the middle of the mid level cascade which kind of ruined the flow for me.  I had several images from here that were much better, so I didn’t lose any sleep over this section.  Just on the other side of the rock, I found the section that I was after.  Usually, by this time, I have photographed three other sections along the trail and was usually running low on time and energy.  This time was different, I hadn’t even brought the camera out yet, so I was ready to get started here.  The water was looking great and I could already see some compositions.  The problem that I had to deal with was finding positions for each composition that I had in mind.

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

I knew that I was going to need to get down off of the boardwalk for most of the shots that I was after, so I went ahead and made my way over the railing and carefully worked my way to the areas of boulders that I thought would give me my best position.  I wanted to get the panorama out of the way early on so I found the location for that first off.  I liked the location, but it was very close to the spray from the cascades so I was pretty sure that my filters would start to have spotting problems.  Not wanting to start with a frustrating composition first, I decided to step away and go for a more simple composition.  For this one, I chose my wide angle lens and fitted my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer in front of it.  I was safely out of the spray and had a great vantage point for getting the image that I had visualized.  The exposure was pretty straightforward and only took 1.6 seconds to expose.  The water was running fast enough that I didn’t need any slower than that in order to keep the detail in the water as it slid over the rocks.  I worked on fine turning the composition and after a handful of frames I was feeling pretty good about how it was looking.  I had my first image in the bag.  It was now time to try that panorama.

I moved back to the location that I had already scoped out and set the tripod up.  I leveled it exactly and then swapped out the lens for my standard 24-70mm which would be able to capture the right focal length to get the perspective that I was after here.  I flipped the camera on its side and did a quick sweep to make sure that the composition would work out.  I made a few minor adjustments and then checked the focus and exposure.  Once I was pretty sure that I had it all in place, I made a real sweep with eight frames exposed left to right.  It looked to be correctly exposed and with a composition that I was happy with.  That was the only attempt I made from this location, but I did attempt two other panoramas from other locations through the course of my time there.  This first one turned out best by far though and it was the one that I decided to keep.

After getting the panorama under my belt, I was feeling pretty good about things.  One of the sections that has always intrigued me was the balanced rock to the right of the section.  There are some great angles here to work with and I wanted get another image from here to go with the collection I have of this fascinating rock.  Typically, I do this as a vertical or a square image so this time I really fought to make a horizontal framing work out for it.  The lighting was really good and I had the benefit of some nice moss catching the light between the rocks.  There were even some little cascades off to the right of the small tree that cuts across the main cascade.  It all came together to make for a very well balance image, even with the bit of white sky behind the trees in the background.  I think that I will probably spend time on this section every time I come here because of how interesting it is.  I haven’t gotten the perfect composition on it yet, but I have gotten some really good ones that I am quite happy with.

Manfrotto 055CX PRO3 Tripod

I had spent about an hour or so down in the boulders and was pretty sure that I had all that I was going to get from that area.  I made my way carefully back up to the boardwalk where I set the camera up and then climbed back over the railings.  Normally at this point, I would call it a day at this location because there is a tree which has some low branches coming into the frame which is usually not a good thing for this type of photography.  However, this time, I decided to look a little more critically at the potential compositions.  A little further down, I found an angle that I would be unable to get from down among the boulders, and it appeared to be outside the reach of the branches.  I went ahead and set the camera up and started to frame up the image.  I could tell rather quickly that the part that I really liked about the image was going to prove difficult to capture.  I wanted the trailing stream of water from the cascades, but the boardwalk was interfering with the capture.  I was going to need to get the camera out over the railing somehow in order to get the angle that I needed.

Fortunately, my tripod is set up to work in that manner.  I was able to extend the center column and rotate it out.  I then stretch it out over the railing and put the camera on its side.  With a few more small adjustments, I was able to get the composition that I wanted without the bridge coming into the frame at all.  This was a rather unsteady situation for the camera, so instead of using my normal two second timer, I moved it to a full ten seconds so that the movements would all stop before the exposure was made.  Between that and holding my breath while the camera was settling down so as not to move on the wooden planks, I was able to get a very solid and stable platform with the camera extended over the side of the railing.

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

The resulting image wasn’t all that exceptional, but I did like it, and I was very happy with how I manged to capture it using my tripod in a slightly unorthodox manner.  That is the thing with photography and getting the composition.  Sometimes, you have to really consider how to use the tools that you have and make them work for you.  By getting the camera well out over the man made portion of the scene, I was able to incorporate the gentle “S-curve” of the water leading through the rocks to the actual cascade.  From this angle and distance it looks completely different from when I was standing feet from it and shooting it with a wide angle lens.  It says completely different things from this angle and for that I think that this image deserves a place in my stack of keepers.

I checked a few other areas and determined that there wasn’t anything else in this section for me today.  I might think of something later, but I was pretty sure that I was done.  I packed up the camera and slowly worked my way down to the areas that I had bypassed earlier.  I had actually gotten finished earlier than I had thought, so I ended up with about 20 minutes to play with in case I found another composition.  That was enough time to work out a single image at least…if one presented itself to me.

I stopped at the first cascade just on the other side of the balanced rock and considered my options here once again.  The fact of the matter was, I had better images in my catalog than I was going to be able to capture here today with the fallen tree.  I decided to take a pass on this one again.  My next stop was the yawning tree that I have shot many times in the past.  My views on it really weren’t any different on this second viewing and I didn’t think that I could do anything different from what I had done in the past.  Another pass for this location.  That left the fork in the water which I sometimes shoot and sometimes pass on.  My normal compositions weren’t jumping out at me though, and I was about to take a pass on this one as well.  That is until I started to consider shooting from upstream instead of downstream.  Hey, this might just work.  There was an interesting tree with dead leaves on it that had survived the winter as well as a tree trunk that was growing up from the rocks right at the shore.  The white water was churning and quite interesting with the aqua hues in it.  This was worth stopping for.  I had 20 minutes, might as well use them.

Hope Has a Place“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I grabbed my 24-70mm lens for this as well as the polarizer and started to work on a composition.  I tried both vertical and horizontal framings for it and found good angles for each that had pleasing compositions.  I wasn’t sure which I was going to like better so I shot each location in both manners to make sure that I had options when I got them home.  I have to admit, it was interesting shooting this scene from this angle as I am usually aimed up stream to the right.  I just didn’t like the view in that direction today, and I thought that this was where the story was, and that was what I wanted to capture.

When I got home with the images (85 total from the day), I looked critically at both the horizontal and vertical compositions.  Almost without question the vertical one was much better.  I liked the idea of the horizontal, but the execution was less that impressive.  I had a tree on the left that I had used as a framing element for the image, but instead of framing it, it just bisected the flow of the water and killed the path for the eyes to follow.  Even with some different crops, I never liked the composition when seen on something larger than the LCD on the back of the camera.  The vertical one really did impress me though, and I ended up keeping one of those which showcased the churning pool of water that had caught my attention as well as the trees in the background.  I was able to use the rocks in the lower portion of the frame to provide a visual frame for the water.  It turned into a very simple and elegant composition with a very nice flow to it.

That was also the end of my photo day as I needed to hike the remaining five minutes to the truck so I could get back on the road.  I was right on schedule leaving between 1 and 1:15.  It took me a few miles to get connection back on the phone, and once I had signal it started to blow up with messages and voicemails.  Sometimes being in the mountains has its benefits for being able to unwind and get away from things.  I realized that Toni had been trying to contact me for a while and was getting worried.  I called her first and assured her I was OK and on time heading home.  She was relieved to hear from me which was very nice.  After I got off the phone with her, I started to return other calls which were much less enjoyable.  It took me about 20 minutes to come down off of my high from being at South Mountains State Park.  It was back to business as usual, and it was far from happy discussions, but such is life.  At least I had a respite from it for a little while.  I just hope that I am better able to deal with the hurdles in front of me after having a little while to recharge in the mountains.

Photography in Your Own Back Yard with Greg Kiser

Before I bring this entry to a close, I would like to remind everyone that I will be doing a webinar on Thursday the 20th for Singh-Ray.  The topic of it is “Photography in Your Own Back Yard” where I will talk about the benefits of having locations close to home where you can visit and try different things.  This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I believe that it will be a really fun webinar.  You don’t have to be a photographer to enjoy these little talks, but if you are, there will be a lot of great pointers along the way.  Registration is free through Singh-Ray, and if you can’t watch it live at 7pm, you can watch it recorded with your registration any time after that.  From what I have been told a couple of days ago, there are already over 300 people signed up for the program.  I think that is about twice as many as my last one a couple of years ago, so I am stoked about the potential of this one.  I do hope that you will join us, and feel free to ask questions along the way as that is what these webinars are designed to facilitate.

I’m not sure if I am over my slump or not, but today’s little outing was the most fun that I have had with the camera in several weeks now.  It might just be the transition from rural back to landscape photography since it really is getting to feel like spring and that is when I usually go back to landscapes.  I hope that this is a turning point for me, that much I am sure about.

Until next time…
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