How About a Road Trip?

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Sunday, May 3, 2020

I don’t care what my 15 year old says…One just can not live in front of a television every day.  After more days than I care to think of at home I was starting to go stir crazy.  This has been building for a while now and finally came to a head this weekend.  My days were getting rather mundane with waking up in the morning and getting a few things done in the office before sitting down and watching TV.  Granted, I have seen quite a few good movies, but there is a limit to how much I am willing to watch.  My plan had been to head out on Friday early in the morning to go and shoot some old cars (hopefully) out in Yadkin County that I had run across a month or so ago.  That plan kind of got sidetracked when the weather wasn’t exactly what I was expecting early on.  There was a heavy mist in the air and everything was wet which was not the look I was going for.  Looking at the weather, there was actually not supposed to be any rain going on at the current time, but it was coming down.  I thought that I would wait it out before going out which should only delay me about an hour or so if I was lucky.

Well, the mist did stop, but before it did the clouds that were actually supposed to be breaking up slightly (looking for around 60% coverage) turned into a featureless overcast that I didn’t want to deal with.  I continued to watch the sky through the morning without any break from that blah look.  While the lighting was good on the ground, there was just no way that I was going to be able to include the sky in any of my compositions.  Waterfalls were out of the question since they were pretty much all closed up due to the pandemic.  I decided to shelve the idea of going out and I settled down to watch movies on TV with Sierra when she woke up around noon.  It must be nice to be a teenager!  My decision turned out to be a good one as the sky never really did improve for me until it was getting dark.  Looking at the weather, I thought I might have a chance on Saturday as there were clouds forecast for the first half of the day which looked to be just about right for what I had in mind.  I had the clock set for 5am so that I could get up and going in time to make use of the limited hours of the clouds.

Wouldn’t you know it, when the clock rang I checked the weather.  The clouds that were supposed to be there were nowhere to be found.  Looking at Clear Outside, which is my favorite cloud app, there were no longer any clouds expected for the day.  I rolled back over and went back to sleep.  When I woke up a couple of hours later there were a few thin clouds in the sky, but nothing really special at all.  I went about my morning routine and kept looking outside and it looked as though there were some decent clouds to the North, but everything that I was seeing was telling me that they were going to be going away very soon so I didn’t pay them much mind.  As it turned out, those clouds stuck around all day and I could have gone out had I gotten myself in gear.  The problem with being lazy is it is hard to change that momentum.  So after many days of not going anywhere, I had talked myself out of going out when I might have been able to get a few decent pictures.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles I suppose.

As I was going through my day I started to look at the forecast for Sunday.  There were no clouds at all on the horizon, quite literally that is.  I started thinking what I could do with clear skies.  Of course, this would be the perfect time to do some architectural photography and I could do that in the morning in Downtown Winston.  The problem with that was I was getting a little tired of modern structures and hard lines.  They are a fun diversion, but not something that I want to concentrate on all the time.  My last two outings have been to this type of subject and I had seen enough of that for a while.  There really wasn’t much else that I wanted to do on a sunny day though.  With a sigh, I set my clock for 5am once again to see what the weather was going to do and to allow me enough time to get into downtown if that was what I was going to end up doing.

When the clock rang, I looked at it and pondered my options.  I checked the weather and saw that nothing had changed.  I really didn’t feel like going to the city again so I just rolled over and went back to sleep.  I woke up a couple of hours later started with my routine in the morning.  As I was sitting in front of the computer after breakfast answering emails and checking on a few things it hit me.  If I were to stay home again and watch television I was going to go nuts and have to be committed.  I needed to get out and do something outside of the house for my own sanity.  It wasn’t too late to go into downtown, but that just wasn’t what I was wanting to do at all.  Looking outside, there were a few wisps of clouds on the North side of the house.  Not many mind you, but enough to give me hope.

Ah screw it!!

I grabbed my gear and decided to go out for a drive and if I found anything that was great, but if I didn’t I was at least going to be out and about once again.  My goal was to take the scenic route out to Yadkin County with the hopes that the weather would work for the old cars that I was wanting to photograph.  If I found anything along the way I would stop and work the subjects as they came up.  I was excited!  When the garage door opened up and I saw the light shining through on the 4Runner I just started to smile.  I was FREE!!!

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

Over the next couple of hours I played my favorite game of chase the clouds.  I made sure that I kept the clouds in front of me as I drove.  The clouds were pulling me away from my intended subject, but I wasn’t complaining since I was seeing some decent detail in the sky above and wanted to find something to put under it.  I drove through the Northern part of Yadkin County, and eventually crossed into Surry County.  The light was still rather harsh, but the clouds were looking good.  More importantly though, I was out and about again.

Looking at the lighting I was going to be limited in potential subjects I could shoot, but there were options.  I tended to keep my attention on the left side of the road as that was what was getting the better light.  I drove through all sorts of little towns like Rockford which I have been through several times in my journeys.  I saw the famous general store there which has been suggested that I shoot on a number of occasions, but I’ve never really seen it in a situation that I wanted to capture.  I just kept the hood of the truck pointed towards the clouds and chased them.

I eventually ended up in the small town of Copeland and the landscape started to open up a little bit.  I was in farmland again and that was a very good thing.  The clouds were looking good overhead and the light to the West was pretty decent considering it was nearing 11am.  Typically, on a day with this much sun it is not recommended to to try and photograph much during the middle of the day.  The light is generally too harsh.  Usually, what I do in these situations is plan to shoot monochrome and take advantage of the high contrast lighting that is present.  That was the intention I had for any subjects that I might come across at this point.  I had been driving for two hours and hadn’t found a thing, but I was still optimistic.

As I neared the end of the road that I was on, I saw a relatively plain white barn on the left side of the road, not far from the shoulder.  There was very little detail or color to the barn and usually I wouldn’t really give it much attention, but the few clouds in the sky were looming overhead and seemed to give just enough detail in the sky to pull a shot off.  My mind started to see it in monochrome with the blue sky going black and the white clouds popping adding a complimenting element to the white barn.  I was pretty sure that I could do something with that barn so I got turned around and went back to it.  I gave it a second look and saw the field in the foreground which added some texture and a very warm color tone to the image.  I just needed to get up on the berm of the shoulder of the road in order to capture that field.  I pulled off on the side of the road and went around to get the camera built.

Before I could even get the camera on the tripod, I heard a truck coming from a house nearby headed my way.  I was pretty sure I knew what was getting ready to happen and I was prepared for the question before he even pulled over beside me.  Of course, he asked me what I was doing.  I responded that I was there to take a picture of the barn from the road.  That last bit of information wasn’t asked for, but I figured I would head him off before he told me I couldn’t.  He understood that I knew the boundaries here by my statement and said that it would be ok, but that the property was private property.  We had a mutual understanding and I assured him that what I wanted, I was going to be able to get from the road (well the easement of the road anyway).  He headed back to the house from which he came and I finished building the camera.  For this, I was wanting to use my 24-70mm lens which was a great option here since it was able to capture both wide angle shots and a mild telephoto range.  I knew that I would be somewhere between 50-70mm for this shot and that lens covered that well.  I also added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to add to the contrast of the sky and remove a little bit of the glare from the tin roof.

With everything built, I crossed the road and went up the small embankment to the ridge.  That was giving me the perfect vantage point, while still within the easement of the road.  I worked out a composition during the course of four exposures.  Since I was restricted with my location, I didn’t need any more than those four shots which were all slightly different in composition.  It was my second frame that turned into my keeper from this location.  The exposure was right, the clouds were in a good position around the barn, and I had a good visual balance to the whole piece.  Ironically, I ended up keeping it as a color image because the balance of warm and cool tones was just too good to pass up.  That field in the foreground was the perfect compliment to the blue in the sky and the white between the clouds and the barn was just perfect!  In less than 10 minutes, I was done with my first location and I was pretty sure that I had my first keeper in the bag.  I was already ahead from what I realistically envisioned for the day with bright sun and limited clouds.  Feeling quite happy, I packed my gear up and continued down the road.

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

I kept chasing clouds as I had been doing which kept me going North.  When I crossed into Virginia I was pretty sure that I was going to be crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway at some point.  I was climbing altitude pretty quickly at this point and decided to keep my eye out for the Parkway.  Since this whole quarantining thing started, I have been wanting to shoot landscapes.  In fact, my Spring Landscape Workshop was scheduled for May 16th which had to be canceled due to restrictions.  The final call had been made when large sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway had been shut down by the Rangers.  Since I was close to the Parkway and hadn’t really heard much about the closures recently I decided to see if I could access it at all.  The clouds were calling and I was hoping for some good landscape views to be had.

It really didn’t take too long and I saw the sign for the Parkway.  I turned onto the ramp expecting to see something indicating that it was closed.  When I didn’t see anything I cautiously entered and started my way South.  It was kind of eerie being on the Parkway with absolutely no other cars on it.  I was wondering if I was doing something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, but I finally saw another car after about 5 minutes of being alone.  I then saw another, and then a group of motorcycles.  The road was definitely open so I could relax and take in the sights.

I continued down the road looking for good skies and Spring colors since the trees were just starting to come back to life again.  It was beautiful, but I wasn’t seeing any photographs just yet.  I wasn’t complaining at all though.  I had the window down and I was just enjoying the smells of nature and the wind in my face.  I eventually came upon the intersection with 89 which was a bridge.  It really didn’t catch my eye as I drove under it, but knowing that the bridges can make really nice images, I decided to look in the rear view mirror as I passed under it.  The light was much better on the South side and there was a tree resplendent in Spring attire just on the shoulder of the road.  There were split rail fences on either side of the road that also caught my eye.  It was worth getting turned around and looking at it in more detail.

When I got back to the location I was actually very happy with the elements that I had seen in the mirror passing by.  I pulled off the road and got out of the truck.  I needed to find a composition that worked here which wasn’t going to be easy.  I loved the tree on the right, the Parkway as a leading line, and the bridge in the distance framing two other trees.  I really liked the fences on either side of the road, but the trees on the left of the scene weren’t all that fantastic.  The clouds above were really nice and I could see that there was something to be had here.

I grabbed the camera and fitted the 16-35mm lens which would allow me to capture more of the sky and include more clouds.  I also mounted my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which was a risky move due to the potential for uneven polarization in the sky.  Since it was nearing 1pm, the sun was still very high up and the effect of the polarizer would be limited at best so I felt that it was a worthwhile gamble.  I also had nice fluffy clouds to break up the blue which would help as well.  I wanted to get the extra punch from the landscape that the polarizer would allow for, even in the mid day.

I started out pretty far away as there was a dominant tree on the left of the road that I thought would make a great framing element to compliment the tree to the right.  It looked decent enough and I shot a few frames as the clouds passed overhead and changed where the shadows were.  The image was off balance though with much too much visual weight on the left side of the image.  I decided to minimize that side by crossing the road and shooting the same composition from the opposite side.  This seemed to work out better as it put the road over on the right side of the frame with the tree, leaving the dominant tree and a foursome of trees lining the road on the left.  I shot several images from here with some different variations on the compositions.  I was happy that I had the fence on the left of the frame to fill the field and bring a little more visual balance, but it was still off.  This time it was too heavy on the right and I didn’t like it enough to pack things in.  I knew that there was a composition here that I hadn’t hit on yet.

I crossed the road again and went closer to the bridge.  I was almost at the tree on the right and that meant that I was going to be cutting the top and side off in order to get a composition that wasn’t too inclusive of the background.  I did actually like the effect that it had though so I started to work that angle.  I found that at 32mm I was able to get plenty of the colorful tree in the shot and I was able to eliminate the dominant tree on the left, leaving three distinct trees with a fuller one as a framing element.  The road was centered between the fences coming from the left corner though the right third of the image.  The road read very well in this orientation and the fences flanked it and brought the viewer’s eyes to the two tree elements that I was after.  This composition had the balance I was after, and I was happy with it.  I just had to wait for the moment when the wind wasn’t blowing, the trees all had light, and there were no vehicles on either road during the course of the exposure.  That was more difficult that I expected.  I spent about 20 minutes here firing off shots here and there when the elements all lined up.  In the end, I had about 25 frames of this same composition and this was the only one that hit all the boxes satisfactorily.  It was an early one in the series, so at least I can say that the majority of the shots were just to make sure that I had a good one which I already had.

This represented the last image of the day as everywhere I went on the Parkway until I exited at 16, was full of people and the lighting was getting worse and worse as the clouds thinned into blue sky.  It had been a great day though.  I had been out for about five hours and had 48 frames on the camera that I was pretty sure would equate to two keepers.  I also got the chance to see just how far from the Blue Ridge Parkway our new house will be.  Believe it or not, I am going to be closer to a Parkway entrance than I was to my former job in Greensboro.  Instead of 90 miles from my driveway, I will be just 15 miles away.  My early morning sunrise treks just got really easy, and I will be able to chase the weather conditions so much easier to the mountains.  Of course, this will be a few months away, but I’m already excited for Fall when I will typically go to the mountains two to three times a week.

I do hope that you have enjoyed this long road trip as much as I have.  I know that there are quite a few folks out there that are reading these blog entries that are stuck at home right now.  I hope that I was able to share the experience well enough with you to give you the sense of being out in the world once again.  If you have enjoyed this trek, be sure to click “Subscribe to Blog via Email” on the home page of the website.  That way you will be the first to get updates when I post blog entries here.  Also, if there are ever any photographs that you are interested in getting prints of, please don’t hesitate to email me or purchase direct through my gallery store.  There is no better way to enjoy my photographs than to hold one in your hands and have it mounted on your wall to enjoy day after day.

Thank you so much for joining me!  Until next time…
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