Highs and Lows at Hanging Rock

· Reading Time: 24 minutes

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Ever Watchful“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

If you have read the latest Behind the Camera, you are all up to date on my creative slump and the fact that I am coming out of it pretty well.  But you might be just a bit confused at the fact that it has been just over a week since I picked up the camera last for a trip to Stone Mountain State Park.  Logic would suggest that with my creative voice back in place once again I would be out with the camera every chance that I could get.  Yes, that would be logical, but not always possible.  The weather has been a little problematic for me lately with some very sunny days across the state.  Add to that, I had to get the truck cleaned up after my day in the mountains.  Following that, I ended up with some sort of stomach bug that pretty much put me completely out of action on Friday.  When Saturday came around, I was marginally able to function, but wasn’t feeling anything close to wanting to go out and photograph anything.  I did put in an order for my midlife crisis toy as I am sure Toni will end up calling it soon enough.  The rest of the weekend and into the beginning of the week I was recovering more than anything and taking it easy.  By the time Wednesday rolled around, I was ready to go out and do a bit of photography.  The question became what exactly was I wanting to photograph?

At Tuesday had come to a close, I was looking at the weather to find that the morning was supposed to be clear with clouds rolling in by the afternoon.  If I planned it just right, I would be able to catch the clouds moving in and could possibly get some long exposure work done at a lake.  What lake became the million dollar question though.  I had worked Salem Lake quite a bit and didn’t want to go back to it and shoot similar compositions.  I thought about the lakes in Greensboro, but they have a lack of immovable elements in the water so long exposure photography becomes quite difficult.  I started to look for other lakes in the area where I might be able to get something good, but really couldn’t come up with anything that I liked.  I figured that I would just figure it out in the morning since it was going to be sunny.

Well, when I woke up, there was a complete overcast with just a hint of detail that turned into really nice detail early on.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared to react and had no idea what I was going to shoot.  I continued to think about where I could go as the clouds began to let light through which gave a little bit too harsh a light as we approached mid day.  Yeah, this is the resistance stuff that I was talking about in the Behind the Camera…the struggle is real!  As the day ticked on, I was no closer to going out and it was starting to frustrate me.  The longer that I waited, the closer I would have to go.  By 3pm, I had decided to throw in the towel.  I did learn something about myself…well, I confirmed something that I already knew.  If I don’t get on task first thing in the morning, I find it very hard to get motivated to do anything in the afternoon.  With that in mind, I started to look ahead to Thursday.

Late Winter Blues“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters, 10 images stitched together in Lightroom

The weather was kind of similar with the notable difference being high thin clouds to start the day off with increasing clouds as the afternoon approached.  This meant that either there would be an even overcast in the sky which is not really all that fun, or there could be some texture up there to work with.  I knew that I was itching to shoot some landscapes and hoped that the sky would work out for that.  This is the odd time of year where I start getting Spring Fever, not because I am tired of the Winter, but because I am ready for some colors to come back to the landscape.  I have shot bleak Winter landscapes many times and I am not opposed to doing that, but you have to admit, the colors of Spring and Fall really make the landscape come to life.  That was what I was wanting, but it was just too soon for that to happen.  At best, I might see some blooms on trees, but that would likely be all.  I considered my favorite landscape option of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but opted not to go all the way out there with a good chance of total overcast skies.  I thought about going back to Stone Mountain as there is always something to do there regardless of the weather, but I just wasn’t feeling that particular landscape.  The resistances started to pop back into my head and I had to shut them up…and quickly!

I happened to see a picture on Facebook that was shot from the summit of Hanging Rock recently and that got me thinking.  It had been a while since I had been up there and shot the actual namesake.  The last time I went, the lighting was all wrong and there were too many people.  I did get a lot of shots pointing the other way, but nothing at all of the summit.  That settled it, I was going to go for a little hike up to the summit.  I wasn’t even concerned with the chance for pictures because I was just looking forward to the hike.  I had been cooped up for too long in the house and needed to get out in the woods to recharge a bit.  Sitting up at the summit is one of my favorite things to do at Hanging Rock when there is nobody there.  It is a great chance to really have a deep conversation with myself, and I was looking forward to that even if the sky didn’t come to play.

You’ll Go Far“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No Filters

I woke up at around 5am and checked the weather.  It was looking pretty much the same, but the rain chances that had been hinted at for the late afternoon appeared to be gone.  The clouds, however, were still on the menu.  The question was, were they going to be textured clouds or just a hazy overcast.  Around 10am or so, there were some mid level clouds expected to move in which might help matters.  Either way, I was going to go and give it a try.  I was inspired and the voices were telling me to not worry about the forecast and just go.  I was on the road a little after 6 which would get me to the park right at opening.  That should have me in position before 7:30 at the summit.  I wasn’t going to get a sunrise by any chance, but I would be there for first light and able to get compositions set up long before the light got really good.

As I was driving to the park, I was looking at the sky as the light was starting to show off what was in store.  The clouds had sections where there was nice texture, but other sections where it was rather featureless.  It was still going to be a dice roll as to whether or not this was going to work out or not.  At least it was only 30 miles away while the Parkway is about 90 miles to the entrance.  When I got to the park about 10 till, the gates were still closed, but as I was pulling off the road, the ranger was coming down the hill to open the gate.  I was the first in, and that was a good thing!  I scooted up to the main parking area and got situated with my tripod attached to my bag.  I wasn’t going to need it until I had hiked a mile and it was going to be easier to do that with the tripod stored away.

Trunk of Three“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No Filters

The hike went well, but I could tell that I was either out of shape or still a little weak from being sick as the hike got me more tired than normal.  The climb up to the summit nearly killed me, but I manged to do it without a break, so that was something I guess.  When I got up to the summit I wasn’t surprised at all that I had it all to myself.  That is the beauty of doing these treks on a weekday!  The sky wasn’t looking great so I took the time to scout out some compositions.  I started well off to the right of the trail and ended up on an outcropping that I had not been on before.  The rock itself was beautiful, but I was having a real hard time making a composition here.  I pulled out my phone and started to mock up compositions but they all lacked a point of interest, and the sky itself wasn’t all that great either.  Reluctantly, I abandoned my new find and went to the other areas that I was more familiar with.  Since I was here to photograph the summit itself, I opted to go out on the side outcropping to start with.  The light was soft, but not all that fantastic unfortunately.  The sun was coming up well to my left and most of what I was seeing would be in shadows if not for the clouds.  The clouds did help in that regard acting as a large softbox, but the textures just were not there at all.

I took my time and looked to see what I had to work with as far as a composition just in case the sky went off as I had hoped.  I found a section of the trail that I had just hiked that formed a nice leading line to Moore’s Wall which I really liked.  I would be able to include that element with the summit if I were to shoot a panorama, or if I got a wide enough composition.  Looking at the scene, I figured that I would be able to get in close to the left side wall which was just fine by me since going the other way put me very close to the cliff and certain death.  With this position I would be able to possibly get a wide angle shot that included everything that I wanted to bring into the frame.  My best choice for that was going to be my seldom used Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 which is a tremendous little lens considering it only cost me about $250 a couple of years back.  I don’t use this lens often because I can’t fit filters to it, but looking at the scene the exposure wasn’t going to be a problem at all, and after testing the polarizer, I found no benefit to using it for the scene I was wanting to shoot.  This was perfect for the Rokinon so I fit it to the body and mounted it all to the tripod.

I got the composition just right and it fit that 14mm lens perfectly.  The sky was starting to get a little bit of texture to it so I started to shoot some exposures.  Over the next 30 minutes or so, I fired off about 20 frames as the sky changed ever so gradually.  Nothing was really jumping out as exciting, but I was figuring that I would be able to pull the detail out of the clouds by converting to monochrome in Lightroom.  After a half hour or so, I found that the sky was getting less texture in the direction that I was shooting and I was actually seeing some nice texture over to the right by Moore’s Wall.  I made the quick decision to abandon this composition and take advantage of the sky over to the right.  In order to do that, I was going to need a much longer lens, so I swapped in my 70-200mm.  With that lens mounted, I was able to get the compositions that I was after with no problem at all.  I was still thinking black and white for this set of images because the texture in the sky was subtle at best.

Where Answers Are Found“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No Filters

After I was happy with the images of Moore’s Wall, I changed my attention back to my original composition.  The sky was starting to look much better, but I was also seeing the possibility of a panorama developing.  I already had the lens mounted that I would use, so I decided to give that a try real quick.  I change my position slightly in order to overshoot some brush and I got the tripod leveled.  I then leveled the camera on the Acratech Ballhead before flipping the camera into a vertical orientation.  I now got the focus locked, and did a dry sweep across the range of images to check my exposure.  Once it was all dialed in, I started making my exposures in order from left to right.  When I was done, I had 10 frames captured which would later be stitched together in Lightroom to form a single image.  I checked the image review and found that the progression had plenty of overlap and the exposure was perfect on all frames.  There was no need to shoot another series here.  With the sky looking good finally, I opted to go back to my original composition which involved getting back into my other position and switching the lens out for the Rokinon once more.  It didn’t take but a minute and I was back in position to start shooting my original composition.

I started back with my routine of firing off frames ever minute or so as the sky changed in hopes of getting the right balance of clouds to the composition.  As I was doing that, I was becoming aware that the sun was climbing up in the sky and it was staring to poke through some holes in the clouds.  That was actually great news as it was going to provide a little bit of warm soft light on the summit as well as the rest of the landscape.  I started to time the exposures with the sun hitting the surfaces and I was getting more and more excited about how things were developing.  The sky was still interesting, although as the sun was making the landscape more interesting, the clouds were starting to diminish over my composition which was not quite a lucky turn of events.  I did reach a point where the clouds faded away and the sun got a little too bright.  With that, I decided to move from this location because I was pretty sure that in the 35 or so frames I had shot here over two different times, I was sure to have something worth keeping.

I decided to go and see what I could find on the actual summit, which would allow me to shoot back in the direction that I had been shooting in for most of the morning.  My first composition, however, wasn’t quite what I had expected.  I stopped for the two trees that happen to grow on the summit.  I’ve shot them before, but since it wasn’t terribly windy today, I figured that I would give it another try.  The sky was looking fair behind the trees, and the sun was in the right place for the composition.  I looked through the camera with the 14mm lens still attached and found that I would be able to make that lens work for this subject as well.  I got the camera set up and fired of a dozen or so images as the lighting changed.  I had a lot of variation with what was in the shadows and what was lit by the sun so that made me very happy and it wasn’t long before I was pretty sure I would have an image worth keeping from this tree.  It was time to continue out to the summit for one last composition.

I found that composition with the outcropping that I had been on earlier in the day with Moore’s Wall in the background.  The sky was tolerable, but not wonderful.  It was worth setting the shot up to see what I could get as the sky changed.  Looking through the camera, the 14mm lens was still doing the trick.  I got the composition all dialed in which is a lot different to do when using a prime lens.  There is no fine tuning wit the zoom ring, you have to physically move the camera to change the framing of the image.  It didn’t take long to get it dialed in and then it became a waiting game to get the sky to work for me.  It didn’t take long fortunately and I had a decent amount of detail to work with.

After a few frames of what I was pretty sure would end up being a monochrome image, that little voice in my head said I was done here.  I didn’t want to look for any other compositions, and I had no interest in going back to locations that I had already shot to see if the sky was any better.  I was done, but not completely.  I was still wanting to do some more photography, but I wanted a different location.  I had a mile to figure it out before I got back to the parking lot.  I had considered going and shooting the Lower Cascades earlier and with the clouds in and out, I was not convinced that this was the best option.  My better option would have been going barn hunting, but honestly, I have grown weary of doing the rural drives after several months of doing that almost exclusively.  By the time I got to the truck, I had it settled.  I would go and give the Lower Cascades a try.

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

To get to that waterfall, you have to actually go out of the park and go to a different parking lot which is just a few miles away.  It didn’t take long to get there, and when I did the sun was out in force.  However, I was expecting the clouds to continue doing their thing and I was sure I would have the chance to get the exposures that I was wanting.  The hike took less than 10 minutes to complete and I found myself all alone here at the waterfall as well.  I love days like this where I don’t have to work around other people.  The water flow was really quite good and I was excited to see it in this condition.  The light wasn’t great, but I was sure I would be able to use what was here.  I started to look around and found a view that I liked.  Based on where I was needing to stand, I opted for my standard 24-70mm lens for this view but quickly realized that even at 24mm it just didn’t have the right feel for the scene.  After only firing off a couple of frames, I switched out to my 16-35mm lens which worked so much better.  The only negative was I was now having to stand in the water to get the position that I was needing to visually enlarge the rocks in the foreground.  Fortunately, I had my waterfall boots on and I managed to keep my feet dry for this series of shots.  The hardest part at this point was waiting for the clouds to cover the sun which it would only do for a second or two at a time.

I was reacting quickly and getting the shots when the light was good changing the composition between shots.  I tried horizontal and vertical ones which both worked well.  I was really liking how the horizontal ones were turning out and expected that one of them would be a keeper.  However, when I got the images home, I wasn’t nearly as happy with the horizontal images as I was with the couple of vertical ones I had shot.  I ended up going with the vertical composition because it was something completely different from what I had shot before here.  I liked the directness of the composition with the large foreground interest forming a leading line to the waterfall.  There was a lot of balance in the composition and the only thing that I didn’t like was the small trees that hindered the view of the waterfall.  Since they were small, I wasn’t terribly upset about that and decided that I could live with the intrusion for the sake of the composition which I loved so much.

With my boots wet, but keeping my socks dry and the tripod dripping from having it into the water up to the Lenscoat leg covers, I was ready to move on to the next view.  I moved over to the left for the more standard compositions of the waterfall that I had shot many times.  I left the 16-35mm lens mounted and got several images from the “beach” as I call it.  I was actually quite happy with them in the field, but when I got them home, they just missed the mark.  The first image that I had shot was so much better and fit my view of the scene much better.  Since I was happier with the vertical composition from the right side, I opted to trash the other images that I had shot later on.  I still wasn’t done though.  I was seeing isolations that I wanted to try from the vantage point that I was now at.  There was no way I was going to get isolations with the wide angle lens, and even the 24-70mm wouldn’t work for this.  In fact, from experience, I knew that even the 70-200mm lens would be hard pressed to get the compositions that I was looking for.  I still had more tricks up my sleeve though, so I pulled out my 2X extender which turned my 70-200mm lens into a 140-400mm lens with just a slight hit to the sharpness.

Embracing“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, EF 2X Mk3, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

With the really long assembly mounted on the front of the camera, I was set to work some isolations of the waterfall.  I picked out interesting sections of the water and used a long exposure to bend what the camera was actually seeing so that the image would appear unlike what the human eye would see.  I took this opportunity to get the lower right corner of the falls which I had tried to photograph years ago without the extender and it had just failed to really capture the feeling that I was after.  It took just a little more reach to get the framing that I was after and I was able to capture the picture above which was what I had in mind when I shot the image originally.  I now had a true to vision photograph from this section and that made me happy.  I continued to work the different sections in order to find different abstracts and isolations.

Something that I was actually surprised to find myself doing was using shutter speeds of only a second or less.  While I was comfortable doing that with the overall compositions, I tend to like a silkier look for my isolations and will go with longer than 3 seconds for the most part. I was actually liking the extra motion that was being shown with the quicker shutter speed.  It really suited the water and my mood. Plus it is a good thing to break the mold occasionally and this was one of those times.

Wish Upon a Dream“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, EF 2X Mk3, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

These water abstracts tend to lend themselves to monochrome presentations more often than not since there is usually very little color involved in the composition.  This particular image was just that type of photograph.  The water framed a slightly moss covered rock wall which was just barely green.  The black from the wet rocks showed up much more and gave a great contrast to the moving water.  By converting it to black and white, I was able to capitalize on the contrast in the scene and have a presentation that was all about the texture of the water.  The slightly fast (for me) shutter speed really helped showcase the texture so I was glad I had resisted my urge to go with a 3 second exposure for these.  It was just a very simple and basic image which was accentuated by doing a long crop on the frame.  Normally, when working with vertical compositions I will crop to a 5:7 or 4:5 ratio as it is more pleasing to the eyes.  However, in this case, I really felt that elongating the composition was the right choice as it emphasized the way the water moved over the wall.

I shot a few more isolations, but it was these two that really stood out to me when I started to go through them in post.  The others were plays on these so there was no sense in keeping them all.  I just went with the ones that I liked the best and trashed the others.  I still wasn’t quite done with isolations though.  There was one more subject that I had spotted and had been debating on for pretty much the time I had been out here.  It appeared that recent visitors here had built cairns right on the beach of the pool.  I have always found these to be rather interesting subjects to photograph, but they always tend to carry with them a heated debate.  Every time I have photographed these little monuments I have been the subject to quite a bit of condemnation.  The reason behind it is, these cairns, or stone stacks are detrimental to the environment.  At least that is the argument.  While I have never built one, and have no intentions on ever doing such, I am singled out and chastised for capturing the image.  I can see their point because it is kind of celebrating these little markers, but when it comes down to it, I am a photographer and I capture the images that appeal to me.  Finding cairns on hikes is just part of the experience for me, and that makes them worth capturing.


Much to Learn“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, EF 2X Mk3, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I saw a total of three of them along the shore while I was there.  There was nothing photogenic about the one to the left, but the two on the right side were right near where I had shot the opening images at the waterfall.  I knew that if I got low enough, I would be able to put the waterfall behind the cairn which I thought would look rather cool.  With the distance involved, a limited depth of field would work very well to blur the water even more than just the slow shutter speed alone.  Since the cairn was on the ridge, I would have no problem getting low enough to photograph it since I could just go downstream.  The trick became what focal length I wanted to go with.  I still had the extender on with the 70-200mm lens so it only made sense to see if that would work.  I backed up approximately 12 feet or so from the marker and framed up a composition.  The focal length was perfect and I just had to do a little shuffling from side to side in order to get the right flow of background for the cairns.  The composition was very straightforward and rather simple to frame up.  The trick was finding out the right shutter speed and aperture to get the water blurred just right for what I was thinking of for this image.  That took a little trial and error as I still wanted detail in the water, but I didn’t want much texture at all.

It took about a half dozen tries to get it right, and when I had finally figured out the magic formula, I changed things up and went vertical to focus my attention on the single large cairn.  This was an even easier composition to work, and I thought I was going to like it better, but when I got the images home, it just kind of failed to really hit the mark.  The two cairns were the ticket for this set of images and I found an exposure that I really liked to do the final edit on.  I had considered doing this as a monochrome since color really didn’t factor in all that much, but when I saw the warm light on the rocks with the slightly cooler water in the background it just worked for me.  It was going to have to be in color.

With the conclusion of the cairn images it was time to head back home.  I had experienced a full day at Hanging Rock and I had come away with 156 images in the camera.  I knew that most of them would be tossed since there were a lot of exposures made waiting on the light to change and wondering if that was as good as it would get.  I honestly thought that I would have about six or seven images as I looked back over the compositions that I had worked through the morning.  It was nice to be optimistic about a trek again, but that little voice had been directing me and I was pretty sure that it was giving me good information.  I was excited about several of the images that I had captured and was ready to get give them a look on the computer.

The edits went fast and I don’t think that I spent longer than about two hours get the nine new images ready for posting.  Landscapes are so much easier to edit than the rural scenes that that I have been shooting.  Either the light is there or not, and the local adjustments are usually limited in comparison to my rusty car photographs where every light becomes a local adjustment, the wheels, the grille, the car itself and then all the surrounding elements.  It is not unheard of for me to spend an hour editing a single photograph of a car sometimes.  It is a very nice change of pace to get back into processing landscapes which can be as quick as 10 minutes.

I do hope that you have enjoyed this little outing.  It sure was a nice day to get out and enjoy what was almost a warm morning.  I’m really looking forward to doing more landscape images as the Spring gets in full swing.  I’m not sure where I will end up next, but I’m starting to really consider some new destinations.  I’m ready for a change of scenery and I want to see what else is out there to capture.  Thank you for joining me, and remember, if one of these images speaks to you, be sure to let me know that you are interested in a print.  I would love to help get your favorite image into your home or office so that you can enjoy it at your leisure in the manner in which it was created to be enjoyed.

Until next time…

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