Friday, November 8, 2019
So there I was, standing on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway, not able to feel my fingers. It was 27 degrees and my Matin Gloves were woefully inadequate for keeping my hands warm as I tried to make exposures. I was fumbling with the buttons, and even almost dropped the Singh-Ray Astro Vision Filter that I was evaluating when I removed it for the comparison shots. It was then and there that I decided that I was going to have to invest in a new pair of gloves for photography if I was going to be working in the cold any at all this winter. The cold wasn’t my only issue either. I picked the wrong night to come out and do the testing on the new filter since it was an almost full moon and it was bright in the sky. In fact, there were shadows being cast all around me How do I get myself into these messes?
Well, it all started around lunch time when Toni was asking if I was going to go out trekking any during the day. With the sky very cloudless, there was no real reason to go out and do anything with the camera so I informed her that I would be staying home. Well, she wasn’t too keen on that idea because she wanted some quiet time to herself since Sierra was off dog sitting. Since Toni was pushing me out of the house, I looked at my options. There was really nothing at all that I wanted to shoot which could be done with the current conditions. However, I did still need to do some more testing of my latest Singh-Ray Filter which required a clear night sky. I figured that if I was going to have to go out, trying some astro photography would be the trick. It was more a test than a trek to get portfolio images, so there wasn’t much pressure on me to bring back anything in particular.
I had been thinking about doing my next test at the famous trees in Blowing Rock off of the Blue Ridge Parkway known as Fred and Ethel, but I call them the twins. I’ve shot these trees in several conditions and knew that there was going to be some light pollution to deal with in the distance which I was actually looking for. I checked the “Clear Outside” app and saw that the mountains would be clear as a bell until about 10pm or so when the clouds would start to come in a little bit. I neglected to pay attention to the phase of the moon which I would regret later.
I grabbed a quick dinner and was on my way about 6pm heading West in the dark. It was a familiar feeling to be leaving in the dark, but the minute I got on the highway that feeling of familiarity ended. I was stuck in traffic, and that traffic would continue to be rather heavy well into Watauga County when I exited off of the highway onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had been watching the temperature drop from around 50 degrees at home to a rather chilly 27 degrees on the Parkway. I had been planning for this and had my thick coat with a hood as well as a toboggan in my camera bag. I also had a pair of photography gloves with removable tips on the pointers and thumbs. I had used these gloves for several winters and knew that they were not the best at keeping my fingers warm, but they have worked decently well thus far.
When I arrived at the trees, I got out and felt the cold hit me the minute I stepped out of the truck. I went around to the back of the truck to get my gear and I put on all of my cold weather gear. It felt good and I was able to build the camera with a 16-35mm lens which I knew was what I was wanting to use. I added the Astro Vision Filter to the lens since I was going to be shooting the stars and this was what I was testing out in the first place. I also used the remote shutter release to minimize any camera shake with the long exposure I was going to be using. All of this was mounted to the Acratech GP-SS Ballhead atop the Manfrotto 055 CXPRO3 tripod for stability.
As I was getting things put together I was noticing that it was really bright outside and saw that the moon was almost full. That wasn’t going to be good at all, especially since the moon was right over the trees from the angle I was trying to photograph the scene from. This is like shooting directly into the sun since the moon is just a giant reflector for the sun. That was not the image that I was after and I was actually wanting to get the stars in the frame. I decided to try to set up a composition that would exclude the moon and just get the trees and the stars. I was able to do that, but there was some really bad lens flare from the moon which kept creeping into the image. After about 4 exposures, I abandoned that location and decided to move on to another view of the trees at a 90 degree angle from where I was. I walked along the fence until I found a view that I thought would work. I got everything set up and got an exposure. It actually worked well, and I got the image that I was after.
Now I could start the actual evaluation of the filter, so I started to remove the filter with my exposed fingers only to realize that I had no feeling in any of my fingers at all. Something I have always hated is removing 82mm filters when I can’t feel my fingers. The last thing I wanted to do was to drop the filter as I got it unscrewed…and that was if I was actually unscrewing it in the first place. It did come off though, and sure enough I almost dropped it. Only by pure luck was I able to catch it without touching the actual filter. Whew! I somehow managed to put it in the case and turned my attention back to the camera for two different exposures for comparison sake. I’ll get into the review at another time after I have finished with the testing, but I have included one of the images that I shot with the filter attached which I think turned out decent. It was not the best situation for what I was trying to accomplish, and the lighting is a bit strange being totally moonlit. However, it does have a certain quality that I like about it.
Needing to get back in the heat, I called it a night here and went back to the truck. I got everything stowed away and decided that I would see if the moon was in a better location at Price Lake, not too far down the road. I had a composition in mind to make use of the stars and the lake, but when I got there, the moon was just too bright to deal with. I needed a much darker sky for an accurate test of the filter, and what I was seeing here was not particularly interesting for my own needs. I just threw in the towel and considered this as a learning experience. I needed to pay much closer attention to the moon phase when I was doing astro photography in the future.
With my tail firmly between my legs, I headed home knowing that at best, I had a series of shots for evaluation purposes, and only possibly a single image that might be worth processing through. I was still wanting to create something as my vision for the trees hadn’t worked out at all. I had my old school incandescent Maglite with me, so I would be able to do some light painting if I found a decent subject for it. That opened up my possibilities a little bit. I started thinking what was between the mountains and home that I could do some light painting with. It didn’t take long to decide that I could stop by my favorite ’40’s Pontiac in Yadkin County and give it a try. I’ve already gotten some really good images from this car, but nothing at night just yet. I had the time, and I had the tools with me..might as well give it a try.
When I got there, I just made sure that the house was empty and unoccupied as I had been assuming all of these years. I then went over to the car and started to look at the setting in detail. It had been quite a while since I had been here and the weeds had really grown up around the car quite a bit. My first thought was to get the same composition that I have done several times in the past, but I didn’t want to repeat that same formula for this. I decided to go the other side which was always difficult to shoot during the day. It would seem that night was not much different, but at least the background was going to be less cluttered in the darkness. My only issue was the weeds in front of the car which kind of blocked the view. It wasn’t terrible, and it did fit the scene so I decided to give it a try.
I pulled out the camera and fitted the standard 24-70mm lens on it which would give me the right focal length to make this work out. There was no need for any filters for this shot, but I was going to need my remote release for the bulb exposure which was needed in order for me to have time to paint the car with light. I got it all mounted to the tripod and started to find my composition. There was a lot of moving around to find the right relationship of elements from this angle. I was really wishing that I had been out here earlier to get a composition dialed in because it was really hard to see what I was doing in the dark, only illuminating sections at a time to see where they fell in the frame. It was slow, but I finally arrived at a composition that I liked and I thought worked for the car. I started the exposure and made it just over 70 seconds. I saw where I needed to spend more time lighting the scene and tried another few times before I arrived at a 97 second exposure that worked very well to get the car illuminated the way that I visualized it.
Curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to give my old trusted composition a try. I moved the rig over to the other side of the car under the clothesline and got it dialed in. This went quicker because it was a much simpler view, and I had shot the composition a number of times in the past. I went with the same formula and started making exposures until I figured out where to light and for how long. This exposure ended up being just over a minute and a half. Both of these exposures were much quicker than I was thinking they should be, but the histogram was showing that I was getting all the right information in all the right places so I trusted what I was seeing. As it turned out, the exposures were dead on with just the right highlight details and shadow details present. I had shot about five exposures on each side, each one being different than the previous. I knew I would have plenty of choices when I got home as to which I liked the best. In both situations though, I liked the last exposure the best out of each bunch.
By this time, it was around 11:15, and I had been gone for about five hours. In that time, I had shot a total of 26 images between the two locations. I wasn’t sure if any of them would turn out or not, but I was going to have to wait until the next night before I could process any of them. I had to get to bed because I was going to be doing a portrait shoot Saturday afternoon that going to take about three hours to get to. I’m still not sure how I got roped into doing a portrait shoot since I don’t photograph people, but there I was…about to do a portrait session. This evening’s shoot was just going to have to wait until I had the time to process it.
Here I am, 24 hours later with three images that I deemed good enough to keep from the evening and finishing up the blog entry. It seems like a lot of work for so little, but I did learn a lot about night shooting, and also picked up a bit more experience with light painting which is always a good thing. I’m really starting to appreciate this light painting for the art form that it is. It adds a level of unique creativity to images that you just can’t get during the day. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but it does bring about a response that I enjoy seeing in folks. it is something different, and that is always good when we are talking about photography. It just seems that these days, it is all looking like everyone is doing the same things, the same ways. To break the mold is to be something special. I’m always trying to stand out in a very talented crowd of photographer. Only you can be the judge if I am doing that or not.
Thanks for joining me, and I am going to be finishing up the evaluation of the new filter soon I hope and getting a review done on it. Remember, if you happen to see an image in the blog that you would like a print of, just let me know so I can get you matched up with the perfect print for your space.
Until next time…