Jumpin’ Off Rocks For Sunrise

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

King of the Mountain

This was an odd trek to say the least.  It wasn’t well planned, and was more or less a complete gamble.  I had been sick for the majority of the week and hadn’t really put much thought at all into where I might want to go, and what little energy I had was spent working on the Behind the Camera feature that was released earlier today.  So when the weekend rolled around, I was feeling better and needed to start looking at where I might want to go.  Checking the weather, it was looking like the mountains were all going to be seeing about the same conditions with 70-75% cloud cover through most of the day, and the potential for storms in the mid afternoon.  These are definitely favorable conditions for photography as the unsettled atmosphere usually produces some really great skies and lighting.

The question was, where to go in the mountains.  What I was really waning to do was shoot Catawba Falls, but I had a feeling that the clouds were not going to be thick enough for that to work.  I kept it as an alternate in the back of my mind, but I was looking to focus more on landscapes.  I tossed around the idea of going back to the area of Boone where I always have great luck, but having recently been there, I opted to nix that plan.  There was always Doughton Park which I enjoy, but I wasn’t really wanting to do anything there since I don’t have any new ideas for compositions.  There was an overlook that I had been thinking about trying for sunrise at The Lump Overlook, and that wasn’t too far from the house at about 1.5 hours away.  That was going to be my destination for the morning.

Amber Waves

My day started early as would be expected with the clock ringing at 3:30am.  As you know, I checked the forecast, and the sunrise was expected to be less than stellar, but the actual cloud conditions were looking promising for a sunrise.  The downside, was the cloud cover was showing to be thinning a bit as the day moved on.  Even more disturbing, the hourly forecast showed cloudy conditions currently, but the actual reported forecast was showing clear conditions.  This, of course, put the entire forecast in question.  OK, I know that my history with forecasts should put every forecast in question, and it does.  This time, I had evidence that things were not as expected already.  But…I was already awake, and my mind was going.  I figured I would give it a try, even if I went out and just stayed for a little while.

The trip went quick, and the entire way up to the mountains I could see the moon and the stars above.  It was not looking good at all, but I was going to be in the mountains and that is always a good thing.  When I hit the Parkway I could still see the stars, but oddly enough I was starting to pass through some fog here and there.  This kind of got me excited because I could work with fog in the valleys below.  I started to look out over the overlooks and wasn’t really finding anything that caught my eye.  When I got to “The Lump” I drove around the circle and found one other car there.  That wouldn’t be a problem.  I could see the hill that I was thinking about shooting, but for some reason it just really didn’t catch my eye at all.  I wasn’t feeling this location at all, and the lack of interest in the sky was not doing this location any favors at all.  I decided to abandon this overlook and go searching for something else.

Resting Easy

I started to head out towards Doughton with the hopes of finding something along the way that would work.  I pulled into several overlooks which had great views, but nothing really to anchor the image.  When I arrived at the Jumpin’ Off Rocks Overlook I could see some nice fog between the rolling hills.  I knew that there was a short trail that lead to an overlook, but I didn’t have the time to make that hike.  This was my last chance to catch whatever sunrise had to offer on this morning.  I was pleased to see that there were some clouds in the sky now which offered the possibility of some color.

I got the camera set up quickly with my 24-70mm lens with the Lee filter holder attached.  I was expecting some situations to present themselves which would mandate some ND Grads to be used.  I started to frame up compositions with the pale color in the sky just in case they got completely washed out when the sun came up.  Fairly quickly, I decided that 70mm was just too wide for the color that I was seeing.  I moved to my 70-200mm lens and skipped the Lee Filter Holder since I was seeing that the exposures were pretty simple so far.

One of the things that caught my attention was this one lone house atop the major mountain in this view.  Usually, houses won’t draw much interest from me, but this one was different.  It was all alone in this grand landscape as the only visible house for miles and miles.  The tract of land that it was on was well cleared, and it was right on top of the mountain.  This really stood out to me, so much that I wanted to capture it in some way.  I had shot it a few times with the normal lens, but now that I had my telephoto lens on, I was going to be able to get in much closer.  What I found was the closer I got, the less impressive it became.  Then it came to me…Panorama!

I got the tripod leveled, and did a dry sweep to check plum with the camera.  I set the focus and double checked the exposure before starting my six image sweep of the landscape.  Each exposure was several seconds long because of the low light so I was really worried that the quality of light would change drastically between the start and the finish of the series.  According to my histogram, it all recorded as expected.  It was my one and only attempt at a panorama shot, and it actually worked out pretty decent.

Foggy View

As the sun came up, I shot several more in hopes that I could avoid lens flare which is a weakness of my telephoto lens.  While I was shooting the sun coming up, I was watching my back to see what the light was doing on the other side of the ridge I was on.  There was some pretty dense fog over there and I knew that there were some other mountain ranges in that direction.  Feeling pretty good about what I had shot thus far I walked across the street to check that scene out.  There was this one tree that was set right next to cabin which caught my attention.  I got positioned so that I could place a distant mountain top in the background beyond the tree and I flipped the camera on its side for the shot.  It took a few tries to get this image because I wanted just the right amount of fog in the view.  The cabin needed to be visible, but not so much as to make you want to see the rest of it.  I wanted the soft covering of the fog over the entire image, and yet I wanted to be able to see off into the distance.  I had one frame that fit that concept.

While shooting this scene and some other compositions with the distant mountains another Parkway visitor arrived at the overlook and walked over to me.  He struck up a conversation and before I knew it I realized that I was talking to another Law Enforcement Officer.  He was from the Charlotte area and was looking to retire in the mountains.  Small world since that is my goal as well.  He was a bit closer to retirement than I am, but not by much.  There I was on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway talking shop and the benefits of a 25 year retirement with a deputy while shooting a foggy scene such as this.  It was a bit odd but a nice conversation nonetheless.

Twists and Textures

Finding it increasingly hard to fight the fog on the other side of the Parkway I decided to go back over to the other side and see what the light was doing.  I found some nice morning light hitting one of the trees feet away from my truck that I decided to capture.  I left the telephoto lens attached and narrowed the depth of field a bit to capture this image. The slight twist of the trunk was pretty cool, and the extreme side light helped to accentuate that twisting.  I did a few different compositions of this tree but in the end I found that the more intimate capture was the one that worked the best.

Cradled in Fog

Before calling it quits at this location, I wanted to take advantage of the layers created by the fog in the valley.  In order to do this, I needed a bit more reach than my 200mm lens would offer.  I added my 2x teleconverter and zoomed in to 400mm to pick out some abstracts.  Since the light was less than colorful and the mountains were hazy and dark, I shot these images thinking that they would become black and white shots.  It did work out with the various shades of gray moving from darker to lighter.  This was my favorite of the intimate hill captures.  My eyes keep moving all around the image seeing every texture and taking time to appreciate every ridge near to far.

Golden Hour

One thing that I wasn’t expecting at this point was any real color in the sky.  I was actually surprised to look over to my right and see some faint yellows still hanging around in the sky.  There was still a good bit of fog in the lower areas, and the clouds were doing some interesting things above the color as well.  I went ahead and trained my (extra) long lens in that direction to frame up this shot.  It was a strange phenomenon and one that I really can’t explain accurately.  I can say that there were no filters applied to the lens for this shot, and Lightroom was only used to pull out the colors that were present when the shutter was released.  My favorite part of this image is the background which is largely hidden in the fog.  If you look closely though, you can see the distant ridges which are completely bathed in the warm light of sunrise.  I resisted the urge to really do much in the way of processing this image because I wanted to keep it as accurate as possible to the experience.

This did represent the last image shot from this location.  I had shot a lot of frames here and quite honestly wasn’t sure if any of them would work as keepers.  Sunrises are so hard to really determine since the preview in the camera is set with no contrast and no saturation.  It gives me a more accurate histogram, but the cost is I can’t really see how the colors are turning out.  Regardless, I was pretty sure I had a few that were decent from the experience, and I was satisfied with my morning.  It was time to move on to a different location to try some more shots.

Organized Field

As I started to dive North on the Parkway I was seeing that the clouds were all thinning out pretty quickly.  I was finding myself driving into a bright and low sun which said that the light quality was going to be pretty lousy for most directions at this point.  I did happen to pass by a field a few miles down the road which seemed to have a decent quality of light falling on it.  As a bonus, there was a mountain in the background with some of the low fog right at the horizon.  The composition wasn’t a classic one, but it was worth trying a few frames out.

I got the camera out and set up with my 24-70mm lens since I wanted to include the broken fence in the foreground.  I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to help bring out the colors in the grass and sky as well.  I started to work on compositions, but the trees on either side of the field really made things difficult for me.  If I included both banks of trees then the image seemed very compressed and didn’t have room to breathe.  By flipping the camera and shooting a portrait shot, I was able to include the fence, the distant mountain, and only one of the banks of trees for balance.  This was the only composition that I felt worked for this scene.  It had a very nice flow and the lighting was fair for it.  I really liked the different textures as your eyes moved through the scene.

This was going to be my last set for the day.  I had full intentions of sticking around for a while and shooting some different areas, but the lack of clouds had other ideas.  My options were to kill a few hours and wait until mid afternoon when the storms were supposed to be rolling in, or head back to the house.  I chose the latter since that just made more sense to me.  It was a fun few hours on the Parkway and I was very happy that I got to the mountains for a bit.  I would have loved to have been out there longer, but I was happy having shot 83 frames in this time.  The days images aren’t spectacular, but they do represent a little bit of experimentation with techniques which is always worth while.

We have officially reached that part of summer where I am ready for the fall colors to get started.  Everything is just so green with all of the rain that we have had this year.  I need something to break that up!  Soon…very soon.