Landscapes, Rural, and Decay…Oh My!

· Reading Time: 26 minutes

Saturday, June 22, 2019

If you happen to look back at my recent blog entries, you will see a certain theme that has developed.  The weather.  I have been fighting for some good photography weather for probably the past month now.  It seems that on days that I can go out with the camera the sun is shining brightly and there are really no clouds in the sky to speak of.  I’ve managed to pull a few rabbits out of my hat with the conditions that I have had, but I just haven’t been overly happy with the outcome, or in some cases the subject matter.  Last week, I went to Stone Mountain and found the first real clouds I have seen in quite a while.  It wasn’t exactly perfect, but I had a much better time than I have had in the previous weeks.  As this weekend approached, I was looking at the weather and saw that there were clouds in the forecast for the entire day Saturday.  This was really great news, but it came with a slight caveat.  There was also a chance of rain in the forecast as well which wasn’t as welcome.  I had gone to sleep with this forecast before and woke up to sunny skies the next day, so I wasn’t really holding my breath at all.  In fact, I didn’t even set a clock for the morning and just relied on Toni to wake me up when she got up to go to the gym.

The rough plan was to go to Hanging Rock which I haven’t been to since late in the year last year.  The reason that I chose Hanging Rock was that if there was actually heavy clouds and some rain, this would be a good time to work on some waterfalls.  If the rain stayed away and the clouds were interesting, I could hike out to the summit which I haven’t been to in quite some time.  I had a few ideas of shots that I wanted from the summit and I needed some interesting clouds to make it happen.  I went to sleep with thoughts of different compositions going through my mind and working on alternatives depending on the weather.  I was also thinking in the back of my mind that there would be no clouds and I would be mowing the yard.

Well, Toni finally got functioning just before 6am which was about an hour later than I had originally thought.  No worries because quite frankly, I had come to terms that I would be mowing the yard under a clear sky.  I did check the weather and saw that the clouds were still supposed to be sticking around for the day.  The chances of rain had dropped significantly as well.  It looked like my hike to the summit was on.  I had until early afternoon before the rain was supposed to hit which would give me plenty of time to get the shots that I wanted, and possibly go down to the lower portions and shoot some waterfalls.

I scrambled to get ready and grabbed my gear as I was going out the door.  The clouds were already starting to clear as I was heading North.  This was going to be another make due kind of day it appeared, but I was going to continue on with my plan.  The closer I got to Hanging Rock, the better the clouds were looking, and there were actually some nice low clouds as well which could prove interesting.  The further up in the park I got, the darker the conditions seemed to be.  There was a fog in the woods at certain levels which kind of got me excited.  I got parked by the trail head leading to the summit and put my Lowepro Whistler on my back.  I set off on what is a 1.3 mile hike at points straight up it seems.  I was hoping that this wasn’t going to be a waste of my time and that there would be good conditions at the top of the trail.

I was making good time and getting a little out of breath moving so quickly and climbing as I went.  As I got to the plateau right before the stairs something magical happened.  There was a nice layer of fog in the woods and that meant the possibility of some woodland images if I could just find the right composition.  I looked on both sides of the trail and just couldn’t find anything that I thought would make for a simplified composition, even with the fog.  Not wanting to squander the fog and clouds I continued on at a rapid pace thinking to myself that I really should keep myself open to finding an image here rather than hoping that I would find one later on.  Just as I rounded a slight curve in the trail it hit me.  Right in front of me was the simple image that I had been looking for.  The trail was snaking through the woodland and the fog was creating a lot of great definition to the trees.  There was a particularly nice one with a great root system just down the trail to the left.  That was going to be my foreground interest!

Woodland Stroll“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2

Looking at the scene, I figured that my best bet for a lens would be my 24-70mm as I didn’t want to overly emphasize the foreground for this shot.  I thought about adding my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, but I decided against it.  Looking at the scene and seeing it through the LCD on the camera I kind of liked the muted colors, and there really was no glare to speak of.  I took my chances shooting with no filters attached and just went for a pure image of this incredible scene.  I framed both horizontal and vertical compositions capturing the tree trunks to the left and leading the eye down the trail to where it snaked around a tall tree that became my background focal point.  I knew I had something really nice here because looking at the LCD review with very little color or contrast to speak of, I had the image that I was wanting in just the RAW capture.  I did work some other compositions trying to take advantage of the fog, but this turned out to be the strongest out of all of them.

While I was working on this scene, I was joined by another hiker and her two dogs.  She also enjoyed photography and stopped to work the scene that I was working.  We spoke briefly and while the conversation was going, the light started to shine through the trees in some awesome rays.  Sadly, I was not in the right position to take advantage of this.  I did get a couple of frames of the event, but the composition was far to week to really capture the scene the way I thought it should have been.  This is the problem when trying to converse while engaged in the act of making pictures.  Your mind gets distracted and you lose your focus at times.  I was guilty of that at this point and I didn’t know just how much it would hurt me until I got home and realized that the images that I had captured were not good enough to keep even though the light was phenomenal.

I didn’t let it get me down though as I was pretty sure I already had the image in the bag that would make this whole trek worth while.  I was even going through the processing that I planned on doing with it.  There was an off chance that I would end up doing it as a black and white, but I was pretty confident that I would keep it color and desaturate it to really mute the colors in the scene to make it look like it did in the image review.  The more I thought about it, the happier I was about this set of images and was looking forward to getting them home and figuring out which one worked the best.

Moore’s View“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray, Galen Rowell 2-Stop Hard Edge ND Grad, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

The final climb to the summit was taxing as always, but it did seem to go much quicker than I had remembered.  When I got to the top of the summit I could see the clouds in the sky were thin and not all that dramatic at all.  There were still some good inversions in the valley below which looked promising.  I started to scout areas where there might be compositions and I found that the one main composition that I had in mind wasn’t going to work out any time soon because the clouds were just too thin and the sun was too bright to the South.  I decided to move over to the other side of the summit and see if there was anything over there.  Normally I don’t mess with this side since for the most part the landscape is flat, however, this time I had the low level clouds in place that really helped the visual interest at the horizon.  The sky was also a little more detailed on this side.  I found a little bit of foreground interest and pulled the Canon 5D back out and fitted it with the 16-35mm lens which would help me get the vast expanse of space I wanted to capture.  As always, it was mounted on my Manfrotto tripod and Acratech GP-S Ballhead for stability.  I found the right place to capture the shot that allowed me to include the rocky ledge that I was standing on as a bit of foreground interest.  I elevated the tripod until Moore’s Knob was in the right position in the composition allowing for a sweeping view of the tree tops below.

I started to set the shot up and realized that while I had enough dynamic range in the camera to capture the scene, I was wanting a bit more bite to the sky.  I added my Lee Filter Foundation Kit which allowed me to slide in my Singh-Ray, Galen Rowell 2-Stop Hard Edge ND Grad to bring the exposure down in the sky just a tad.  Now I had a good even exposure to the image and I was looking at the predominant colors of blue and green.  There was not that much excitement in the colors, but I did like the textures and the composition.  The sun was even starting to play on the trees below adding just a bit more fun to the composition.  I all but decided that this was going to be a black and white image in the final rendering.  That would also allow me to grab a bit more detail out of the sky.  What I really liked about this shot was that the rock in the lower right pointed to the knob, as did the low clouds at the horizon.  In fact, the clouds in the upper right seemed to be pointing there also.  These are all important compositional tricks to bring the viewer’s eyes right to the focal point of the image.  The sunlight was also doing a great job of highlighting the knob while the less interesting areas were in the shadows.  I was feeling pretty good about this composition but was still really wanting to get my intended photograph of the summit with some dramatic skies behind it.

Stubborn Nature“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2

I looked back over that way and was still unimpressed with the sky.  I decided to move over to the main outcrop that is the Hanging Rock and look for something else that I could shoot taking advantage of the clouds moving over Moore’s Knob.  I actually found a tree that was growing up through the rocks which I have photographed a few times before.  This time, I wanted to focus mainly on the tree and not the landscape beyond it.  this is a different tactic than I’ve had previously.  The sky wasn’t overly interesting, and the majority of the landscape was rather bland as well.  The light hitting the tree was really nice, and that was what I wanted to capture.  Of course, I love finding trees that have taken root in rugged terrain like this which made this a fun picture to capture for the day.

I found my location for the shot and set the camera up still dressed out like it was previously with the exception of the filter had been removed.  I found the perfect location that allowed me to capture the tree as I saw it and locked the tripod in place.  About the time I had everything set up, the clouds behind me covered the sun and the tree went dark.  I knew that this would be short lived as the clouds were constantly moving.  That wasn’t going to be a problem, but I heard another issue coming up behind me.  There were hikers that were now arriving at the summit to enjoy the day.  Not having a shot ready, I had no reason to ask them to wait before going out on the summit.  The three hikers each asked if they could continue on, which I couldn’t object to.  They were enjoying the sights and I was hoping that they would settle into a location that was not a part of my composition.  that was not going to be the case though.  Early on, while there was just one of them out on the precipice I saw an opportunity while he was concealed by the trunk of the tree which was getting the light that I needed.  I grabbed a really quick shot and hoped that there was nothing visible of the hiker.  Looking in the LCD, I was happy to find that there was no signs of him anywhere.  Just in case, I kept the camera set up for when they left so I could continue to work the scene.

I sat and I sat, waiting on the trio to move, but they were seeming to be quite content sitting there.  The light was getting a bit harsher and I was losing the light that I had gotten excited over in the first place.  I decided to abandon this location and move to another vantage point where I could see over to the right.  There was a great composition, but there were two other hikers sitting on that outcropping which obstructed my shot.  At this point, I was getting frustrated and really had to reel myself in.  This was a place for us all to enjoy and I had no more claim to any of the park than anyone else.  I was trying to calm myself down and one of the three that had been out on the precipice for a while asked me a question about what I was doing.  I caught myself about to say something rude and just explained that I was waiting for folks to move so I could get a few images shot.

They graciously volunteered to move at this point.  As they were coming past me, I showed them in the LCD what I had been trying to capture.  This actually sparked a conversation about several different photography topics.  Ironically, one of them worked with Baptist Hospital which is where I have quite a number of prints hanging.  For me, this was a really cool conversation as I was talking with somebody who had more than likely seen my work, and now he knows a little about the photographer that shot the images.  He was also a photographer of sorts and we talked about gear for a bit.  While I really don’t care for conversation when I am in the zone, it was a nice reminder to myself that as photographers we need to respect other’s rights to enjoy the scenes that we are shooting.  By the time the conversation was over though, the light had changed dramatically and I had to forego any more tree images like I had started out with.

Expression in the Air“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Well, the light that I lost on the tree turned out to not be that much of a loss.  When I started looking for other compositions, I found a really great cloud developing over Moore’s Knob.  I moved out on the precipice where I had been shooting, and composed an image that included no foreground at all.  In fact, there was only a sliver of land in the shot.  My prime focus was the cloud above the Knob.  With the 16-35mm lens, I was having a little trouble fitting the whole scene in the frame.  Since I wasn’t needing any filters for the shot, I knew that my Rokinon 14mm lens would be the best choice at this point.  I made the quick swap and reframed the composition which wasn’t difficult at all since the Acratech Ballhead was still locked in position.  There was just a little fine tuning needed at this point and I dialed in an aperture of f/11 which was plenty to keep my depth of field in good shape.

I grabbed the shot and had mixed feelings about it.  I loved the composition in its simplicity, but had some reservations about the color balance.  Once again, I was looking at a picture that was just green a blue.  The color actually made this image a little boring in my eyes even with the dramatic cloud exploding above the mountain.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to process this one.  I wanted to keep it in color for that added bit of pop, but the more I thought about it, the more likely it was going to end up a monochrome image.  For this scene to be successful as a color image, it was going to need something else to balance out the green in the lower portions of the image.  That balance was about to happen too!

Carpet of Trees“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

The hikers that had been on the other outcropping had moved now, and in fact had come over to the side where I was at.  The other outcropping was devoid of people, just the way I like it.  I saw no reason to change my lens as the 14mm focal length was just perfect for this composition.  I wanted to include the remainder of the cloud above the Knob and also the outcropping to the North.  I could see this image getting a great deal of depth conveyed to the viewer.  I stopped down the manual aperture ring to f/16 for this one and focused on the tip of the outcropping which was right at infinity.  I adjusted the exposure using the optical viewfinder which is the best way to set an exposure with a manual aperture lens I’ve found.  The LCD review showed an image that I was immediately excited about.  The histogram had plenty of information in it so I knew that my exposure was spot on.  The composition looked strong and I was pretty sure that this would be a keeper.  I was glad about that since just after I captured this image more people started to come out on the rock.  I looked back towards the trail and saw 15 or more people milling about.  My time here was done.  Even with the clouds looking pretty awesome, I wasn’t going to be able to work the scene like I wanted to with all of these people so I made the decision to pack it all up and start the 1.3 mile hike back to the parking lot.

While I was hiking I must have passed 50 or more people with a few large groups.  I guess with it being the first weekend of Summer and good weather everyone was out enjoying the day.  I had been very fortunate to get here when I did and have a bit of alone time in two different areas for some very different photographs.  I had met several nice folks and had a chance to talk photography with them.  I was thinking that it would be a good time to call it a day.  However, the light was just about good enough to do some waterfalls which were but a short hike from the parking lot.  Should I go and get a few waterfall shots?

When I got to the parking lot, the crowds and cars still pouring in made my decision easy.  I was done at Hanging Rock for the day!  I can’t deal with that many people when it comes to trying to capture images.  I loaded everything up in the car and let Toni know that I was on the way home taking the scenic route.  I figured that I would see if there were any targets of opportunity to be found in Stokes County.  To be honest, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find anything, but I hated to go directly home after only being out for about three hours.  there were still clouds, and it wasn’t too hot either.

I set out heading North on Hwy 8 to see what I could get into.  I had been out this way many times and had explored many of the side roads during these travels.  I passed by a location that I had recently shot and found that the cars that I had photographed were all but totally hidden from view thanks to the new vegetation that was growing up around them.  I found an old Ford that I had shot in front of a service station which was kind of in the same predicament with the vegetation.  This really cemented the concept of why I do my rural and decay work during the late Fall through very early Spring.  The subjects are so much easier to find and to shoot.

I kept driving down memory lane seeing all the subjects that I have shot before, but not seeing anything else that I wanted to shoot at all.  The clouds were looking good still, and I really didn’t want to just turn around and go home.  I was actually really wanting to get in a few more exposures before going home.  The problem was a lack of subjects, and that kind of negated everything else.  I saw a road  that I didn’t remember driving down before and decided that I should take that and see where it went to.  Who knows, there might just be something down that way that I could put in front of my camera.

Stars and Stripes“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

It wasn’t long at all after turning on the road that I saw something that caught my eye.  There was an old barn atop a hill with a flag pole next to it.  I got turned around and saw that there was a gravel driveway leading up to the barn.  There was a graveyard beside the driveway so I figured that this was a good indication that it was reasonably accessible by the public.  I drove up the driveway and parked on the shoulder.  I grabbed my gear quickly just in case I was run off.  I looked at the scene and determined that I wanted the flag and the barn in the shot and I needed to include the clouds above.  In order not to distort the barn too much, I opted for my 24-70mm lens which had a moderate wide angle to it.  In order to get the blue to pop in the sky and to control the glare off of the roof, I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I was very fortunate that the wind was non-existent because I didn’t have the fastest shutter speed available with a narrow aperture and low ISO.  As it turned out, I didn’t need a faster shutter speed and 1/13 of a second did just fine.

I loved the clouds above this barn, and the diagonal that they introduced helped to point to the barn as well as accentuating the difference in height between the barn and the flag pole.  As an added benefit, there was even a wall of clouds to the right side of the frame that provided a visual framework to the image.  It really turned out well, and reminded me just how much I love shooting rural scenes.  I was back in the game and knew that there were new subjects in these parts that I had not found before.  After shooting a few more compositions (which I didn’t like any better), I was back on the road continuing my hunt.

I eventually found myself back out on Hwy 8 heading North again.  I found another street that I hadn’t been on before, and after turning on it, I was actually concerned that it wasn’t a street but a driveway.  Just around the bend I found that it was a street and I was fine to be driving on it.  This is the fun about rural exploration for me.  You just never know what you will find.  The further I went down the street though, the more it was looking like a driveway again.  This was definitely a family road and I was sure that there were all kinds of eyes on me.  I did continue because I was seeing a lot of potential down this road.  It was at the end that I found what I was looking for!

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

Sitting under the overhang of a barn was a Ford Galaxy 500 fully exposed.  I wasn’t all that happy with the barn, but I really liked the car and it was worth stopping for a few pictures.  Knowing that at any moment I was probably going to be run off, I went for my most flexible lens option.  The 24-70mm and Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer represented my most used combination for this type of photography.  I knew that I could get the most bang for my buck the quickest with this combination.  I looked for an overall shot of the car but sadly the roof support was right in the middle of the fender which broke up the lines of the car.  The tail was also in the light, and the barn didn’t fill the entire background of the image.  In short, a full on shot would be ugly.  I was going to do much better working on isolations with this car.  The patina of the paint and the front end were the portions of the car that I really liked.  This was what I was going to spend my time with.  I walked through knee high grass and got down low to capture the compositions that I had in mind. There was something raw about this car and I had to try and capture that mood.  Of course, I wanted to capture the headlights as they are the windows to the soul of any car.  To round this composition out, there was still a Ford Motorsports tag affixed to the bumper that shows off the same type of patina.

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

Strangely enough, while I was shooting this car I kept hearing what sounded like puppies in the barn.  They weren’t in distress, but it really sounded like newborn pups.  I watched carefully to make sure that I wasn’t disturbing a litter of puppies, but I never saw any signs of them.  However, once when I walked to the rear of the car I could hear a rather large dog starting to bark at me.  I never saw it, but I figured that Mama was close by and I was stressing her by being close to the barn.  Not knowing what the situation was, I decided to get back out of sight which worked to quiet her down.  As I was getting ready to get back in the car, I noticed a barn on the other side of the street that I had not really paid any attention to after seeing the Ford.  The barn was in sad shape and falling in on itself.  In short, it was my kind of barn!

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

I started to work out a composition on the barn and decided that this was going to get a very simple and straightforward shot.  I actually ended up standing right in the middle of the road to get the perspective I wanted at 35mm.  The sky was the problem with this composition and I had to be really careful with how I exposed it.  Just to be safe, I shot a four image HDR composition on the off chance that I couldn’t get it in a single exposure.  However, as I waited on the light to change, the dark clouds came in overhead and the sun started to hit the barn for a brief time.  This allowed me to get a really good exposure throughout the entire image with plenty of exposure latitude so that I could recover the shadows and highlights.  For a decay photographer, this was one of the best barns to find.  It was falling down, and much of the framing was visible.  It truly was in a state of decay.  I started to get more exited about this than I had the Ford that caused me to stop in the first place.  I was really looking forward to getting home and processing this one.

There really wasn’t much that I could do in the way of different compositions with this barn so, after waiting for the light to work out, I decided to pack it up and head on to the next spot.  I was actually getting tired at this point and considered heading home.  I was reluctant to do that since I was having such great luck in finding subjects to shoot.  Since I was still in the groove, I figured I would try one more side road before calling it a day.  I got back out to Hwy 8 and made my way up a little further before turning down yet another side road that I had not seen before.  Almost immediately, I saw what looked to be a Tri-5 Chevy sitting off in the woods next to an old abandoned house.  The grass was very much grown up and I really didn’t see much need in getting out on it right now.  This was going to be a better composition when the weeds dyed off, but something told me to pull over and get out to give it a look.

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

When I got out of the car, I thought about just walking up the hill and checking things out, but I ended up deciding to grab the camera.  Even without seeing exactly what I was going to compose, I automatically selected my 16-35mm lens to which I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  I’m honestly not sure why I chose this combination sight unseen, but I did and started to walk up the hill.  Once I got to the top of the hill, the grass was a lot thinner and the car actually showed up pretty good.  It was overtaken by vines and weeds.  The house behind it was deep in the shadows and didn’t really show up at all once I started looking at compositions.  That meant that my main option was going to be to shoot the Chevy.

The front end was mostly gone with all of the exterior panels missing.  The bumper was still there which gave me a point of interest where the front of the car would have been allowing some nice balance to the car.  I was instantly glad that I had my wide angle lens attached as I got in close and really accentuated the front bumper at 20mm and allowed the most visible part of the car to trail off into the woods.  The rear door was open which gave a little more blast of color in the frame which worked well for the angle I had to shoot it at.  There was a large hole in the windshield that also added to the character of the image.  Looking at it on the LCD review, I really wasn’t sure if this was going to turn out well so I continued shooting other compositions.  I even went to my 24-70mm lens to shoot some isolations.  None of these worked out, and the one dramatic front quarter shot actually turned out to be the best of the bunch.  I would like to have gotten some different shots and I do plan on returning when I can add the house in with the car.  This will be a really good scene in the winter I think.  It is not that far away from me, so I shouldn’t have a problem getting back to it to try some different compositions when the vegetation dies down a little bit.

With the conclusion of that subject, it was time to start heading home.  It was early afternoon at this point and I had a lot of work to do on the pictures and wanted to get started on them.  I had shot a total of 122 images for the day which included not only the grand landscapes that I had intended on shooting, but a very nice woodland shot which turned into my favorite for the day.  I also managed to find some rural scenes as well as some old iron.  I pretty much hit most of my photographic disciplines for the day.  It shows that I can transition between subjects rather easily with the kit that I carry.  At the end of the day, I ended up with only 10 images that I deemed worthy of keeping.  There were a lot of good compositions that I decided to toss because the lighting just wasn’t right.  There were also a lot of the same compositions that are featured here as I was waiting on clouds and light to change.  In those circumstances you end up with a lot of exposures because you never know when the light is going to be the best, so you just keep shooting.

This is the first trek in a while where I have felt really good about the pictures that resulted from it.  I do hope that you enjoy them as much as I have.  Remember, if one of them speaks to you on a deeper level, I would love to help get you matched up with a print.  It is always so nice to know that one of my images means enough to somebody for them to purchase it and hang it on their own walls.  It also helps fund the adventures that bring you more of these images.
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