Wednesday, September 16, 2020
So here is the setup for this trek. The weather has been looking like rain pretty much for the entirety of the week at this point and I haven’t really been doing much thinking about going out for pictures. However, when I had the opportunity to consider going out for the day I looked at the weather to see if there was any chance that I could find some dry moments on Wednesday. When I looked at the forecast, I was happy to see that there were just clouds forecasted and a very low chance of rain from home to the Blue Ridge Parkway. That would give me some great opportunities to do just about any type of photography that I would want to do. I just had to figure out what I was wanting to capture. As the day moved on, I was thinking about all of the possibilities that I had with clouds from here to there. When it came time to figure out when I was going to wake up on Wednesday I looked at the sunrise forecaster and saw that there was moderate color expected along the inner ridge of the mountains which matched up with the high clouds that I had seen on the Clear Outside App earlier. I figured that a morning in the mountains for a sunrise would be the best option. I then pulled up the Clear Outside App once again and checked to see specifically where the clouds were going to be.
Well, there was my first surprise for the day. The clouds that were supposed to be over the state all day were no longer there. Instead, it was looking like light cloud coverage in the first hour or so of daylight, followed by clear skies all day long. I checked with the Weather.com site and found just variably cloudy skies over the Western half of the state. My only option for clouds was going to be going out to Brevard, or the GSMNP which were still about 3.5 hours away. I wasn’t looking to spend that much time in the truck for this trek. I started to change my mind about going out and decided to take the opportunity to do some other outdoors activities instead. There was still a large part of me that wanted to go out with the camera, so when it was time to go to bed, I set my clock for 5am so I could do one last check of the weather to make my decision for the day.
When the clock rang, my first thought was to roll over and go back to sleep, but I checked the forecast once again as I had promised myself. I was seeing complete cloud cover over the Western part of the state on the radar, and looking at Clear Outside, I could see that the cloudy conditions that I had been excited about had come back. A quick check of the sunrise forecaster showed some moderate color in the same places so I decided quickly that I was going to go to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see if I could find some color in the sky and then work on some landscapes after that. Since the clouds were supposed to be rather thick, I wanted to use that as an opportunity to try a waterfall once again. A few weeks ago, I had ventured out to Crabtree Falls and was met with sunny conditions so I wasn’t able to do anything with that waterfall then. I figured that I might have my chance now to capture some new images of that iconic waterfall along the Blue Ridge Parkway. That left me with where to go for sunrise?
A trick that I have learned over the years is that when the color is faint in the sky, having a reflective surface below helps to intensify the effects of that color. Not knowing how much color I was to expect, I wanted to be prepared and chose to go to Price Lake. The last time that I was there, I ended up coming back with what I am thinking will be one of my favorite images from the year and was hoping for similar luck once again. The sun was up at just a little after 7am and that meant that I was going to need to be on my way around 5:45 to get there in time. That was easy enough to do since it was only 5:10 at this point. I had my destination and a game plan. I was on my way!
I got to the lake about thirty minutes before sunrise which was perfect. I was greeted with a thick fog over the water which was a nice surprise. I’ve had great luck with the fog here a number of times and was looking forward to a little bit of color in the sky to really make for a dramatic image. I settled into my favorite spot on the side of the lake by the parking lot and waited to see what type of composition would work with the color that was hopefully going to be joining. There was a slight mist in the air which was an aggravation, but wasn’t enough to cause me any problems with my lenses. As the light increased, I could see that color wasn’t in the plans for this morning. Nope, the fog was too thick, and I don’t think that the color in the sky above was impressive to begin with. To make matters worse, the mist was starting to turn into a drip…drip….drip….drip. It was raining now. After just hours ago having clear skies forecasted, it seemed that I was under heavy clouds, low clouds, and fog, with rain. Such is mountain weather I suppose. I hadn’t even brought the camera out yet and I was already feeling beat down. Instead of giving up on the morning, I started to look for compositions that would work with the conditions. I found one viewpoint that would work when the light got a little stronger that showcased the opposing shore. I also walked over to the boat rental station to see what I had to work with over there. There were a collection of very warm colored kayaks sitting neatly over to the side which I kind of got excited to see. The light wasn’t right just yet, so I went back over to my original spot and saw that the light was working out finally. There was still no color, but the soft glow of the morning sun was just perfect for the atmospheric shot that I had in mind.
I got the camera out in a drizzle and hoped that the rain wouldn’t bother the optics too much. Knowing that I would be using a moderate aperture with a generally soft image the droplets shouldn’t bother the image too much. From experience, I knew that the lens of choice was going to be my wide angle 16-35mm so that I could incorporate a bit of the shoreline as a foreground balancing element for the distant reflection. The wind was calm so there wasn’t much motion in the water, but there were splashes from the rain drops that I didn’t want to interfere so I was looking for a long exposure, but nothing too excessive. I wanted a nice reflection so I knew that I was going to be using a polarizer to work the tones in the water in some specific ways. Looking at the exposure on the histogram, I was seeing that the sky was a little bright in relation to the water, so I needed to drop it down slightly. For that I opted to add a 2-stop ND Grad with a hard edge which was placed right on the horizon line. That evened up the tones between the reflection and the actual scene above the horizon. I finally had it all worked out and that combination at f/11 was giving me about 30 seconds of exposure. That was perfect. At this point it was fine tuning the composition and seeing what the light did.
I worked this scene for about 10 minutes as the light levels increased. My exposure times dropped to 20 seconds but that was still enough to smooth out the mostly calm water and it gave me just the effect that I wanted. I still had some detail in the moving fog, but not too much as to distract from the atmosphere of the image. I moved the camera around slightly to adjust where the rocky shoreline was in relation to the distant shore. I had to pay particular attention to the right of the image as there was a point at the lower corner where the reflection wanted to intersect with the grasses to the right of the rock. I needed to keep those separate which dictated that I elevate the camera. However, if I elevated too much, I started to get the branches of the tree that was above me coming in from the top of the frame. The last thing that I wanted to include was a floating branch with no foundation. If I angled the camera down too much to avoid that, I would cut the tops of the trees off on the distant shore which would ruin the balance I was after. As you can see this was a balancing act and it took me a while to get the focal length and positioning just right for what I wanted. In the end, this is the image that I found had the best balance and feel to it.
The processing was very minimal and I chose to keep the very cool tones that were present in the image. I had shot with both cloudy and sunny white balance for effect. The cloudy white balance gave a move balanced color tone, but it was almost too neutral for me. I much preferred the cool color cast of the sunny setting and kept that through the processing. This scene had no warm qualities to it at all so I wanted to embrace the mood that the cool tones introduced. It just seemed to fit the morning and the conditions. Honestly, it is one of my favorite foggy pictures from Price Lake because of how it all came together.
With the light just getting brighter, I wasn’t thinking that I was going to get anything else appreciably different from that view point so I decided to move back over to the boat rental section on the other side of the parking lot. Those red and orange camouflaged kayaks were haunting my thoughts. I wasn’t sure exactly how I could capture them, but with a morning that was so damp and cool, the warm tones were a perfect contrast and I was sure would make for a dramatic image. When I got there, the mist was thick and I knew I was going to have some issues with the lens if I were to leave it exposed too long. I sized up the scene and decided that my 24-70mm lens would be the best option as I wasn’t exactly sure how this was going to go. I added a polarizer on the front of it and mounted it to the tripod. I started to look for compositions at this point. My first idea was to include the sky above with the fog hitting the tops of the trees. Usually images like this benefit from having that breathing room at the top and I wanted to see how that would look. I really liked how it coming out, but there was a bit too much darkness to the right of the frame which made the sky a little too bright in contrast to the left. That brought about the problem of the bright sky really pulling the viewer’s eyes out of the frame. That was surprising with bright colors of the boats down low in the composition. Nevertheless, this was a problem that I didn’t like.
To fix that problem, I flipped the camera to horizontal and started to work compositions out like that. This turned out much better and emphasized the stretch of the boats from right to left which took your eyes out into the water and ultimately into the background. This was going to be what would work, but I wasn’t able to get the perspective that I thought that the image needed. I needed to go wider than 24mm. I swapped out the lens for my still damp 16-35mm while still keeping the polarizer on. Ahh, that did the trick. I now had a nice dramatic curve to the line of boats and I had plenty of room to view the background while not getting into the white sky. It was the perfect compromise and I was able to keep my exposure to around 8 seconds at f/11 which was nice and sharp with everything in focus. This allowed me to make the rain drops in the water and the puddles invisible in the photograph. The rain had started up again and I was out in the open so I decided that it was probably time to wrap this up, or pull out the umbrella as I didn’t have the trees above me to shield me from some of the drops. I was satisfied that I had everything I wanted here, so I was content to pack the bag up. It was a safe bet that I had two images in the bag at this point, and that made me very happy, especially considering the difficulties that I have had in my last two attempts at treks.
I was thinking that the chances of the clouds going away were probably slim at this point so I figured that going to Crabtree Falls, some 50 miles further down the Parkway would be a safe bet. The problem was, I was running low on gas and would be pushing it to drive out there knowing that gas stations right off the Parkway are limited. Just to avoid that stress later on down the way, I decided to stop by my favorite Exxon station in Boone to fill up before going out to the waterfall. From there, I thought that there might be a quicker way to get to Crabtree Falls knowing that it was after Linville Falls which was down Hwy 105. Sure enough, I keyed in “Crabtree Falls” into my GPS and that was the route that it took me. It was only about an hour away so that was about right, and would save me some time overall. Off I went!
Once I got beyond the Linville Community, I started to venture into sections of 221 that I hadn’t ever been before. I was seeing some really nice subjects out there for my rural photography, but I didn’t want to risk getting to Crabtree when it was crowded, or after the clouds parted. I kept on my way and the route was making perfect sense to me. The closer I got, the more interesting subjects that I saw. I wasn’t wavering from the plan though. I could stop at these places on the way back, or I could come out and explore with a purpose later. As the GPS had me getting closer to the end of the route, I was really expecting to see the Parkway in the directions at some point. Well, it never showed up, and I was starting to wonder if there was a back road into the parking area that I had never seen before.
A quarter of a mile to your destination.
Your destination is on the right.
Uhhhh, I was seeing a small gravel pull off on the shoulder of the road, a fence, and a sign that says “No Trespassing”. The creek below had a waterfall that consisted on what looked like concrete blocks in a drainage system. By definition it was a waterfall, and it was in the Crabtree Community.
Well played GPS…well played. You win this one, but in all seriousness, I need to get to my destination now thank you.
I wasn’t able to find anything else referencing Crabtree Falls in the database, so I zoomed out, and found the Blue Ridge Parkway. I followed it until I found the campsites for Crabtree Falls and dropped a balloon there. I was only 20 minutes from it where I was. It could have been worse, but I knew I was in the right area from my initial GPS calculations. I set course and continued on my way. There is more than one way to outsmart a smartass GPS. In 20 minutes I was there and hoping that the truck that was in the first spot that I saw coming around the corner wasn’t an indication of a full lot. There was a car close to that truck with two hikers getting ready. This is not looking good. I hate when there are a lot of people here as it makes things very difficult photographically. A second later I was met with an empty parking lot beyond those two vehicles. Whew! This was even better than the last time when I was excited about not that many cars.
I got parked and grabbed my gear to set out on the mile hike to get to the falls. I was there in about 35 minutes or so and actually beat the other set of hikers out there. It has been years since I have been to this waterfall, but I still remember the good spots to be for the better compositions. I could tell that one of them wasn’t going to work and that was to the left of the bridge down low. I had caught it many years ago when that side was filled with rushing water and it made for a very good composition. Today, it was dry and that was likely because of the fallen logs that seemed to be redirecting the flow a bit. The other side offered an even better vantage point and I could elevate up on the rocky shore for a better view. This was the side that I opted for.
I started to move across the rocks to find the position that I wanted. As I found the area that I wanted to work in I realized that while the rain had stopped, the mist from the falls happened to be worse that the mist that I had been dealing with earlier in the morning. The flow was very fast over the falls and the breeze was bringing that water spray directly to this corner. I was going to be doing a lot of filter wiping with this mist so I grabbed my microfiber cloth and stuck it in my pocket. I wanted to get a nice sweeping view of the falls so I mounted my 16-35mm lens and added a polarizer. A little trick with the polarizer that I often use here is to only use a partial effect of the filter by carefully rotating it just enough to darken some of the glare. With this waterfall, the rocks are all black and just become too dark with the full effect of the filter. They lose the texture and depth that the glare gives. Not using the filter keeps the rocks too bright and the water gets lost on the path. By using a moderate effect, I keep the focus on the water while keeping the texture of the rocks as well. It is a great compromise.
In the time that it took me to set up my gear, the other two hikers and their dogs had arrived. Of course, they wanted to get up close to the falls and let the dogs play around. It was not ideal, but I couldn’t tell them to move as they had just as much right to the location as I did. I was hoping that they wouldn’t be there long though. In the meantime, I started working one of my compositions which allowed for a way to keep them out of the frame. I shot this first set as a vertical orientation as that is what really suits this waterfall the best. I was able to keep the hikers just out of the frame to the left and concentrate on the rushing rapids as my foreground. The lone tree was a midground, and the main falls became the background. It was a simple composition except that I had to pay particular attention to the red log to the right of the frame that kept wanting to enter into my frame in the lower corner. It took some fine turning of the position of the camera to eliminate that element, but I was finally able to do just that. Of course, I was spending as much time wiping the lens as I was positioning the camera. I would have about 15 seconds after I wiped the lens to make the shot happen before the spray caused optical problems which made it a very stressful and fast paced adventure to get the images.
I had finally found the right location, the right exposure, and had a clear lens and filter when I saw that the hikers were starting to move back to the bridge. I flipped the camera back to horizontal and framed up my next image which incorporated the rocks to the left as another important element to the composition. One of the hikers remained with one of the dogs so I wasn’t able to get the image that I wanted, but I was able to work out the composition that I wanted and the correct exposure. I have a series of images with a blurry person moving around, but those images told me a lot about what I was needing to do in order to get the image that I was after here.
When she finally left the frame, I had the composition dialed in as well as the exposure. The only thing that was left was to get my lens cloth out and clear the now dripping water from the front of the filter. It took several attempts to get the filter dry and clear of lint. I could tell that the spray was worse because it would redeposit before I made a full swipe across the filter. I was going to have to work quick. I cleared the filter so I could set the focus accurately. I then cleared it again and the second that I moved my hand out of the way I hit the button which started the 2 second timer. In less than five seconds I had the image and the filter was soaked again. I did this a few more times with subtle changes to the composition with the last one being an intentional crop. When using the 105mm polarizer on the Lee Holder, I get a little bit of vignetting at wider than 20mm so I had been shooting right at 20mm so far. I wanted to get to 16mm for this so that I could incorporate more of the rapids in the foreground. In order to do that I was going to need to crop the frame to get rid of the dark corners. I knew that an 4×5 composition would work here and that is how I framed it up. I noticed that one of the trees came into the image in the upper right corner as well, but I was pretty sure that this would be cropped out with the dark corners anyway.
As it turned out, this last image in the series that I intended to be a cropped frame was the keeper of them all. It had that medium format look which I thought suited the scene and I really liked how all of the elements fell into place with this ratio. As I said, this waterfall works well as a vertical image because all of the action is vertical. However, there are environmental aspects that help to tell the story to the sides which get cropped out in that vertical orientation. By choosing a 4:5 crop as opposed to the native 3:2 crop that I usually have, or even a 16:9 ratio I was able to keep the emphasis on the vertical nature while including the rock fields to the left. It was a win win for me and it captured the image that I was after. I chose to process this one a little edgier than the others in the series for a little extra excitement. I introduced a bit more magenta into it and really worked on the dodging and burning to get the contrasts just right. The mood for this one was as important as the composition and I am very happy with how it turned out.
What I wasn’t happy with was the constant spray on the filter. I was getting tired of wipe, expose, repeat. I had the overall shots that I was after and I was looking to do some isolations at this point. I went to my bag of tricks and pulled out my 70-200mm lens which was great for doing these isolations. Of course, I left the polarizer attached and I used it in the same way as before. I was able to move back out of the spray zone which helped quite a bit. That 10 feet that I moved made it to where the spray wasn’t hardly a concern. I would only have to wipe off the filter after a gust of wind which I could deal with. It was now time to pick out some isolations.
Of course, one of my favorite isolations is the lone tree that stands in complete defiance of the power of the rushing water. I’ve made it a habit of capturing something with that tree each time I have been out here. Usually, I go for a very shallow field of focus to ensure that the focus is on the tree, but looking at the scene, I didn’t think that would be a problem with the soft water running behind it. I left my depth of field pretty wide at my sharp aperture of f/11 and started out with the typical vertical composition. After a few exposures I started to question that composition. Sure the tree was the focus, but the waterfall was holding my interest more. I could limit the depth of field here which would blur the waterfall even more, but that wasn’t what I was feeling. Instead, I was actually wanting to focus more on the water than the tree. I flipped the camera back to horizontal and framed up a composition that had the tree framing the image to the left. I used the debris field to the right of the tree as a lower frame. To define the right side and top edges of the frame, I used a section of the wall behind the falls in the upper right corner. I had the frame defined and that showcased the more interesting patterns in the waterfall. At f/11, even with my long lens it was all in focus and that was perfect for me. The light was soft and allowed for a very good exposure on the tree which was very important here.
Initially, I shot this with the intention of making it a black and white image, but when I got it on the computer, the touch of green was too important to the scene to remove. The green cast of the image softened the mood slightly and made it more relaxing which was what I was after. This was not designed to be a dramatic image at all. It was one designed to stare at for hours and just see the textures and follow the paths of water and roots. It was a mediation piece in all actuality, and I was happy with that.
My next isolation was designed to be a little more dramatic and focus on the transition between the waterfall and the associated rapids below. I composed the image so that there were enough clues to know exactly what you were looking at, but with a very basic geometrical concept. I wanted a shallow diagonal element up top with a sharper diagonal at the bottom. There would be a triangle pointing at the merging of those two elements. I kept green elements on both sides for balance as I intended this to be a color image from the start. The focus of the image starts to shift from the water to the rocks very quickly and I exposed it in a way that kept the detail in the dark rocks. The two fallen trees in the lower left corner help to direct your eyes to that area. While most of the time, your eyes are directed towards the brighter areas of an image, if the majority of frame is bright, then your eyes will go to the contrasting areas. In this case, it is the rocks and the greenery that pull your attention. The secondary point of interest is the shapes that the water makes going over the rocks. It is a version of this waterfall that I have not seen before and one that I like if for nothing else that it is a different view.
I spent some time looking for other isolations, but I wasn’t finding anything that was really tripping my trigger that was different than anything that I had already. I took one more look around to see if there were any other views that I wanted to capture. Nothing was jumping out at me, and I was seeing several new hikers coming into the area which was my clue to get packed up and leave. I just don’t like crowds when I am doing landscape work. I started back on the mile trail back to the truck and noticed that the sun was starting to come out. I really planned that well because had I stopped to look at any of the potential compositions on the way here, I would have missed the light that I needed to make the images that I had just spent the last hour or so capturing. My plan was to go back home the same way and do a little exploring along the way. The sun being out wasn’t the end of the word for decay photography as long as I had some clouds to work with which appeared to be the case.
I set my course back to the imposter waterfall to start my journey back home. I was excited to look at some of these scenes a little more critically and possibly get some more rural photography in the bag. It wasn’t long before I was back in that rural heaven that I had driven through a couple of hours previously. The lighting was still good, but getting a little bright for my tastes. It didn’t stop me from hunting though. I found a couple of the scenes that had caught my eyes before, but looking at them critically I wasn’t as excited about the possibilities behind them. I kept on moving. I did find one area that I was very excited about which had several old trucks perfectly spaced out in a field of goldenrods along with some other old rusty jewels closer in on the property. None of them were in a position I could photograph from the street so I was going to have to get permission. There was a small home that looked to be lived in that I pulled up to. As I was stepping out of the truck, several hunting dogs started barking like crazy. They were chained up so I wasn’t worried about them. They did get louder as I went to the door so I knew that this was a lived in home for sure. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. Looking around, I could see an empty spot in the driveway with oil spots that indicated that was probably where the owner would park. Nobody was home, and I was going to have to put this one in my memory for later when I was out in this area again. I hope to be able to catch him home at some point as these are all great subjects to photograph and the timing is right for them as well.
As I continued on my way, I came across two old vehicles under a canopy that I could do something with. Once again, I was going to need permission to get in that close so I pulled off the road to try and figure out where the owner might be. As I looked around, all I could see were signs saying No Trespassing, or Get Out, or You are on Camera. All of these things indicated that they really didn’t want visitors, and the house that they were attached to was a vacant house. The owners could have been at any number of the neighboring homes, but the scene wasn’t quite good enough to go through that potential hassle to find them. I decided to move on.
As I was getting to the point of just calling it quits I found a lone tractor outside of a shop sitting in some tall grass. The light wasn’t perfect on it, but the scene was quite good and I though was interesting enough to made an effort. It was close to the road and there was a large gravel parking lot indicating that this might be a commercial property. There was no signs of anyone being there, but since I wouldn’t have to leave the parking lot to get what I was after I decided it was a good gamble. There were no signs indicating that I wouldn’t be able to be there. I grabbed the camera and the 24-70mm lens as this is my go to glass for this type of photography. I added the polarizer to control the glare and started to set up the composition. The better light was on the opposite side of the tractor, but that would leave me with a light blue steel building as a background with a gravel parking lot and my 4Rnner. It was too complex and would lose the tall grass that I wanted to capture as an element. If I moved to the front of the tractor, I would keep the grass, but would add a bunch of old RV’s which were in the neighboring lot as well as the road. My only angle was from the back left quarter of the tractor which would allow me to get the plow in the image as well as the yellow flowers as a background. The tradeoff was that I would be working on the shadowed side of the tractor. Fortunately, the sun was pretty high so the shadows weren’t deep. The clouds moving overhead also made for a bit of a softbox which softened the shadows even more. It was going to be a difficult composition, but one that I wanted to try.
I had to pay particular attention to the exposure to make sure that I didn’t muddy the details up in the shadows too much. That meant that I was overexposing the image slightly which made me very conscious of what highlights were blowing out. I was able to keep that blown out portion to just the white flowers and the chrome casing on the spot light. I could live with that, and should be able to recover those in post. I would have liked to have done an HDR blending on this, but with the breeze, far too much of the image was in motion and there would be no way to do a clean blend with that element. It was going to have to be a single exposure and done just right to be able to get a finalized image that I was happy with.
Just after I got the overall image that I was after and started to look for isolations on the tractor, a car slowed down and pulled in beside my truck. I figured that this was the property owner so I went over to meet him. We chatted for a while and I let him know what I was doing here. He didn’t have any problems with that and was actually a photographer himself which was a nice turn of events. He told me about a restored Ford tractor that was in the building which I was sure was very nice, but it was the rusted one that had my attention. We talked for about 10 minutes or so and then he had to leave to get to a job he was working on. As I was about to get back to work on the tractor, another car pulled in and parked right next to the tractor. This was the actual owner of the shop and now we were talking. He opened up the shop and showed me the restored tractor on the inside which was very nice, but too nice for a photograph. We spoke briefly, but with the sun getting harsher and the car now in the way, I was done with this location. When I got back outside, I broke the camera down and got back on the road towards home.
It had been a long day from sunup to just after lunch time. I had a total of 73 images on the camera which translated to seven keepers after the editing process. that was actually a surprise as I was really counting on five or six images that would become my keepers. I had everything from landscapes, to waterfalls, to rural subjects with a little bit of old iron mixed in. I had used each of my trinity lenses which is always a fun thing for me. I like it when my creativity allows me to see in a broader scope of focal lengths during a day. I was tired and the sun was bright so I was happy to head home.
I hope that you enjoyed this trek and the images that have been produced. As always, if any of these speak to you and you would like a print, I would love to help match you up with a print of your own. You can either email me at [email protected] or you can purchase stock sizes through this website store. If you have enjoyed the waterfalls and want to learn to capture your own, consider joining me for a workshop on December 5th at Hanging Rock where we will be working with as many as seven different waterfalls over the course of a day. It will be a fun one, and you will learn a lot of the tricks that I use when I am creating my images.
Until next time…