Autumn at Salem Lake

· Reading Time: 11 minutes

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Jetty

Autumn finally decided to show up in North Carolina after some unseasonably warm days in October.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to dedicate much time to photographing the colors, especially when they were showing up in the mountains.  I’m just now starting to be able to get back into my photography and make trips on a regular basis.  Now I’m running into weather concerns on the days that I can shoot.  It seems that all of my available days lately are full of sun and clear skies.  For most people this is the perfect scenario, but for a photographer it is just not fun at all.  When I looked at the weather forecast for this weekend, there were two solid days of clear skies.  However, there had been a nice rainy front that was clearing out from Friday that was possibly going to leave some remnants in the sky through the early morning hours.  The hourly forecast wasn’t too promising, but the sunrise forecaster showed really good conditions for a sunrise.  That is about as close to a 50/50 chance as I could get for some color in the morning.

For the first time in a very long time Toni agreed to go with me as long as I wouldn’t be out long.  That wasn’t a problem since I would only have about an hour’s window to work with considering the weather.  Because of that limited window, I figured it would be safest to stay close to home.  That also would help out if the conditions were not good enough for any photography.  At least we wouldn’t have a lot of time dedicated to the driving part of the adventure.  Looking at the possibility of a great sunrise (according to the sunrise forecaster), I opted to go where I could make full use of the color.  This was Salem Lake where I had done a few sunrise shoots here and there.  It was about 20 minutes from the house and that made it the perfect location for what we needed.

Toni and I woke up at 5am and were out the door at a quarter till 6.  It was actually nice having her along with me for the first time in a very long time.  We arrived at Salem Lake and I parked the truck.  We walked passed the first gate which was closed and when I saw the next parking lot where I normally go and set up at the shore, we realized that the main gate was open.  This was promising as I had not been able to get in to this portion before.  I was looking at the sky and seeing that there were no clouds at all which meant that the sunrise probably wouldn’t develop like I had anticipated.  At least this way I could get in and see what other compositions might be available to me.  When we got in, I could see all sorts of jetties and the pier which I had envisioned on my first visit here as being the best foreground for the sunrise.  We never made it to the pier though as I was looking at all of the boats and jetties along the shore right at the entrance.  I decided that was where we would set up and get started.

Lake Parking

Looking at what I was working with I could see that there were no clouds in the sky despite Toni pointing out little wisps of clouds just to illustrate my frustration.  There was a bit of warm color at the horizon though which balanced nicely with the blue sky above.  The foreground entrance was looking pretty good on the canvas that was the water.  With the lack of interest in the sky, I was really needing to make sure that I had something to keep the eyes occupied in the lower portion of the frame.  Taking these things into account, I decided to go with my 24-70mm lens which would allow me to get plenty of detail in the foreground while not throwing too much perspective distortion into the mix.  Since I was working with water, I thought about adding a polarizer but decided that I wanted all the reflection I could get.  I did add my Lee Filter Holder so that I could use some ND Grads if the need was there.

As it turned out, I was going to need the grad filters.  It wasn’t because I needed to balance the exposure between the water and the sky as that was already very much balanced.  I just wanted to saturate the colors a bit more with a bit of underexposure.  When I added a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-Stop hard edge ND Grad, I found that the water was now overexposed and the color was washing out.  My solution was a bit unorthodox with a flat horizon.  I swapped out to a 3-Stop soft edge grad which I dropped well into the water.  This did the trick and allowed me to keep the balanced exposure of the water while boosting the exposure of the foreground.

My first composition was based on the boats right on the shore.  The jetty was a leading line away from the boats that cut a strong diagonal, creating a S Curve within the frame.  The jetty brought your eyes right to the dip in the trees where I wanted the focus to be for the background.  This was turning out really well, and the histogram was telling me that I had exposed correctly even though it looked grossly overexposed on the LCD.  The idea was to expose for the highlights and keep the bright tones just shy of blowing out to keep the noise down in the final edited image.  I was happy with this composition after a few exposures and started to look for something different.

Toni and I both saw that there were some rays popping out over the trees to the right which caught our eyes. They were faint, but something that I really wanted to include in a photograph.  Not wanting to spend a lot of time finding a new foreground interest, I just shifted my position and reused the same jetty.  This time, I didn’t have a strong anchor, but instead just went with a strong leading line from the left to the right.  The visual tension came from the fact that the dip in the background was off to the left of the jetty.  That gave a visual balance to the beams that did actually show up in the final image on the right side of the frame.  I just kept thinking how cool these shots would be if the sky was completely lit up and I was already making plans to come back here again to shoot that very concept.  However, for a complete absence of clouds I was starting to think that I was going to have an image or two that was worth keeping.

Run Aground

As the lighting continued to change I turned my attention to a boathouse that was up on the shore to my right.  Toni had seen this as something rather interesting and I figured I would look to see if there was a picture there.  The structure wasn’t all that fascinating to me with aluminum sides and the fact that it was sitting at an angle which would confuse the angles of the image.  I did look though, and found that on the other side there were two boats that were rather interesting.  There was a large sign directly next to one of the boats that I didn’t want to capture, but I was pretty sure I could frame a shot that would avoid that sign.  I kept my same lens attached but stripped off the Lee Filter Holder.  I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer instead to try and eek out a little more color since I was shooting at approximately 90 degrees from the sun.  I framed up the image and found something that I liked and I shot it.  The histogram showed that I had a good spread of tones, but the colors looked like they were going to be too flat.  I recomposed and shot another one with the hopes that I could bring the color back in through Lightroom.

As an aside, when I was editing these images I really liked the composition I had with the boat in the second picture, but the colors were very pale.  In fact, I almost ditched this image because it failed my vision.  Before I moved on to the next one I decided to see how it would look as a black and white image.  BOOM!  The second I converted it, I saw the potential in it.  I did some tonal tweaks to it, and massaged it a bit before I was happy with it, but man, was it a good image.  The composition was very strong and the tonal differences between light and dark were wonderful.  This was an early favorite shot of mine from this trip.

Salem Autumn

Back to my story…

With the sun now up and casting some great golden hour light on the fall foliage I found this one tree next to the driveway that I wanted to shoot.  There was only one direction where I could avoid any background interference and I set up for that shot.  I was working out a composition and not really finding one that I was happy with.  I shot a few frames with different crops while Toni was examining it from the side.  She kept telling me to come look from her angle.  I knew that it would include the marina building so I wasn’t all that excited to look at her view.  However, when I did finally go over there and look, I had to admit that it was a nice scene.  It would have been better with clouds, but the sky was a nice clean fall blue which worked very well with the brilliant orange of the tree.  It was a simple image, and not necessarily one I was excited about, but it did turn out nice and vibrant with a fall feeling to it.  Since I had been lacking my normal fall pictures this year, I was happy to process this one and have it added to my collection.  Yes, this was a Toni shot and I give her full credit for discovering it.  If perhaps I sell a print of this one, she will get to tell me “I told you so,” and will probably do it with an impersonation of my voice.


Sensing that Toni was already thinking along those lines, I decided it was time to move on.  The sun was getting kind of high in the sky and I was losing my light.  I started to break down the camera, but then saw the pier…or more specifically the underpinnings of it.  There were some nice geometric shapes under there and there were repeating patterns as well.  It was worth setting up and grabbing a shot or two.  For this I was going to need a bit more reach though.  I swapped out lenses for my 70-200mm and kept the Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer on the front.  I started to frame up some shots and realized that I wasn’t able to isolate like I really wanted to.  I got closer to the pier which helped, but I was still a long way from getting the composition that I wanted.  It was time to stop messing around and I went back to the bag and grabbed my 2X extender.  After adding that between the body and lens I was able to get a 400mm reach from my lens and that was perfect.  I framed up a few shots and realized that the sun was hitting the trees in the background.  The reflections in the water were brilliant, and made for a beautiful watercolor type of image.

After playing around with the different areas under the pier I started to look at the actual pier as a possible subject.  I started to open up the framing and I found something that I liked with the vibrant colors.  I realized that I was around 150mm though which put me well in the normal range of the lens.  I removed the extender and since my bag was not all that close I called for Toni to come over and hold the piece.  This was a funny for us since the last time I had her hold something near water she dropped a lens cap down a waterfall.  This would have been a bit more serious of a loss, but I had faith that she would do fine holding the extender.  I just really didn’t want to lose the light I had going.  I reframed the shot and fired off an exposure.  It looked really good in the LCD, but I wasn’t going to know how good until I got home and started to process everything.

Autumn Boardwalk

When I was finally to the point where I could get to this image I was just flat impressed with how the colors registered.  The reflections in the water were smooth and abstract while the wood was sharp and just the right amount of cool to balance the warmth.  This image turned into one of my favorites from the day.  My top three, as a matter of fact are pretty much ties.  I love the black and white image for its visual simplicity and impact.  I love both of my reflected Autumn photos for the vibrant colors and abstract qualities.  I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite from those three though.  For a day that I felt was going to let me down, it turned into an awesome morning.  Not only did I have Toni with me, and I had access to her eye (which helped on two occasions), I ended up shooting 37 frames, of which, 6 made the cut.  That is a pretty remarkable morning all around and I’m excited to share these new images.