Saturday, February 9, 2019
Funny how my last entry was about Reality vs Expectation and I follow it up with this particular trek. You see, I have been watching the weather all week and was really getting excited about some waterfall photography taking advantage of the clouds that would be overhead on Saturday. I had seen pictures of Soco Falls in Maggie Valley recently and had decided that was where I wanted to go for my next day out in the field. I was all set to make the 3 hour trip from home and then I started to look at the sunrise forecast for Saturday morning. According to that forecast, the conditions were going to be prime for what was looking like an awesome sunrise all across the state. That changed my plans just a little, but for the better. I decided that I would get up really early and divert the first leg of my journey to the mountains in order to capture sunrise on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After that, I would head Southwest to Maggie Valley and take advantage of the clouds for some waterfall photography. I was really excited about this since I hadn’t had time to get out last week for any photography. I turned in early so that I could get up nice and early with Toni.
While I was going to sleep, I was having some really great plans develop in my head for the next morning. I was going to work at either Price Lake to take advantage of the reflection in the water and might even use one of my Singh-Ray Mor Slo filters to smooth the water and add motion to the clouds. My other option was to go to the twin trees near Blowing Rock which make for great silhouettes against a colorful sky. I could always stop at Thunder Hill and shoot several different compositions. When I was done, I would take another road trip to Soco Falls and get there as the mid level clouds were coming in for that perfect lighting. I was going to work the twin waterfalls individually as well as together and had some good ideas for compositions there as well. It was going to be a great landscape kind of day.
Well, I tossed and turned all night long and had a really hard time staying asleep. 3:45am came really early for me and I really didn’t want to get out of bed. I did remember just how excited I had been going to sleep and I rolled over and looked at the weather. Not much had changed and it was still looking very promising for a great sunrise and the denser clouds were still supposed to make an appearance shortly before noon. Getting up was what I needed to do in order to make use of all of the mental planning I had done.
I was on the road by 4:45 and on the Blue Ridge Parkway by 6:15 which gave me plenty of time to finalize plans on my location. I started off checking out the standard overlooks near 421 to see if there was any fog or inversions present in the lower areas, but that was all clear. I proceeded on to Thunder Hill and found that I wasn’t all that happy with how the sky was looking at this location. It was still well before sunrise, but the textures were just wrong and I didn’t like any compositions. I was seeing that it wasn’t looking like the tremendous sunrise that I was hoping for, but I kept a positive outlook. Going to Price Lake would give me a nice reflection to make the most out of the colors in the sky, but if there wasn’t much color present, the image would suffer. I decided to pull over by the twin trees near Blowing Rock known affectionately as “Fred and Ethel” to see how things were looking there. The trees were awesome looking (as always) and I could see just a sliver of pink just on the horizon in the distance. I had a quick debate about going to Price Lake and then decided that my better option would be to stay right here. I have photographed these trees far less than I have Price Lake, so for that reason alone, I felt I was in the better place already.
I sat in the truck for about 15 minutes as the colors got a bit more intense so that I could maintain body heat for a bit longer. The wind was going strong and my thermometer was reading 21 degrees. I knew it would be cold outside of the truck. When the time came I hopped out and zipped up my coat all the way up to my nose and put the hood on. I added gloves the minute I got back to the camera bag to keep my fingers from going numb. That didn’t really work as they went numb within 10 minutes. I knew the composition that I wanted and I knew how I was going to get it. I fitted a 16-35mm lens to the camera and decided to keep the filters off of it for this situation. Since I was going to have very little of the ground in the frame, there was no real need for an ND Grad filter. I was just going to expose for the sky and let everything else fall where it may.
I got my exposure dialed in and locked the focus on the branches of the trees. All I had to do was wait for the light show in the clouds. Well, that hint of pink was fading and not growing like I had hoped. The clouds above remained a deep blue and didn’t inspire much confidence in a colorful sunrise. I decided to throw caution out the door and started looking at this scene as a black and white image. I could see the clouds adding some great textures in the background while the trees stood in silent silhouette giving structure to the entire image. This was looking promising and I started to make a few exposures with a monochrome presentation in mind. When I arrived home, I was very pleased to see that my intentions had worked with this alternate rendering of the scene.
It wasn’t until a few minutes after sunrise that I started to see some colors in the clouds. It was nothing like what I had hoped, but there were faint colors there and I could work with that. I made a few more exposures waiting on the wind to die down before releasing the shutter to keep the branches from swaying too much. The pink was still at the horizon, but there were now some warmer tones further up in the sky which was adding a bit of visual interest which I was after. I was very pleased to see how this digital negative turned out after massaging the tones in Lightroom. In all, I had shot 20 images of Fred and Ethel waiting on the lighting to change and give me the best version that I could capture.
After working on the twin trees for a while, I moved my attention just to the left where I could get a view of the distant mountains with the line of pink above them. I pulled out my 70-200mm lens and added a 2x teleconverter. I shot an additional seven images like this and ultimately decided that I didn’t like any of them enough to add to my collection. They were ok, but I had shot better and there was no need to force images that I didn’t work as well. I had no problem trashing that series of shots. At this point, I had to make a decision about what I was going to do next. My sunrise had flopped, but I had made due with what I had rather well. Looking at the sky to the South and West, I was seeing thinning clouds, not thickening as they were supposed to. I checked the weather reports on my phone and they were still looking good, but were not actually matching up with what I saw above my head.
I could have rolled the dice and driven the hour to Maggie Valley to shoot Soco Falls, but I had a feeling that would turn into an exercise in futility. Instead I opted to stay up on the Parkway for a while to see what I could see. The clouds were looking decent at the moment for some landscape shots. I did find a bunch of really interesting clouds over the Yadkin Valley that I pulled over to check out. I almost got out to set the camera up, but decided against it since the winter mountains just lacked any sort of interest for me. I felt that the sky would be wasted on the landscape and result in a less than pretty picture. At this point I was feeling rather beat down because grand landscapes were just not going to work with the February landscape I was seeing. The sky was quickly losing its interest which took even more wind out of my sails. I decided to go on a rural hung and started to take side roads off of the Parkway.
Just when I thought my day was done, I came upon a scene that I had driven by years ago with Toni and decided to pass it by since there was no place to pull off of the road. I was in a little different mindset today, and was actively looking for something to help make the journey worth while. I decided that the light was good enough on the truck and the pair of barns that I really should give it a shot. I pulled as far off the road as I could, but still leaving more than half of the 4Runner in the lane of travel. It was a long straightaway so there was decent visibility and I had activated my hazard lights just to be safe. I quickly built the camera using my 24-70mm lens and added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer. I went right up to the barbed wire fence and framed up my first composition. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I grossly misjudged the focal length needed here. I was able to get a few shots with the 24-70mm lens, but in order to get what I really wanted out of the scene, I was going to need to swap in my 70-20mm lens. I made the swap quickly not wanting to stay in the middle of the road for too long.
With the added reach, I was able to get the truck parked next to the 55gal drums which had caught my eye. I worked a few different angles on this truck and even added portions of the large barn as foreground in a few of the images. It was not the perfect setting, but it did tell a story, and everything did work together very nicely. After about 10 minutes I head a door open up at a neighboring house and I turned around. There was a guy coming out to a truck and he asked “Can I help you?” which normally translates in “What the hell are you doing, and why are you here?” I answered politely that I was fine and was just shooting some pictures. I finished up with….”if that is alright with you.” He waved and said OK. Well, that was anticlimactic, but I didn’t argue the point. I still needed to hurry though because I was parked in the middle of the road and traffic was starting to pick up a little more than I expected.
As I was wrapping up, I saw the potential for another shot that included the sky since there were some interesting clouds overhead. I racked out the long lens and realized that I just didn’t have enough angle on the subject so it was back to the truck really quick to swap lenses once again. I pulled the 24-70mm back out and added the polarizer back to it once more. This allowed me the opportunity to shoot this scene with the sky included. The ban was used as the foreground with the truck as midground and the trees and sky were the background. There was a lot going on with this image, but the scale of the barn can really be appreciated here. The plan was to do this as a color image, but when I got home I realized that I had enough color images from this location and it seemed to lack a little flare in full color. When I converted it over to black and white things started to change.
I’ve found that any time I have a great cloudy sky a monochrome conversion will really make the clouds pop. With the textures in the wood siding and trees, it really seemed to lend itself to a conversion. The sun was starting to light up sections of the ground so I waited until it moved into position over the smaller barn with the truck out front. This helped to increase the physical presence of this smaller element in the grand scheme. With everything together, the story could be told of this scene. You can see all the elements working together and it causes my imagination to run wild.
By the time I was done, I had 54 frames shot. My expectations for the day had been chewed up and spit out. The reality of the day was not too bad considering the hand I had been dealt. Like I have said in my previous blog entry, sometimes I change my expectations to match up with my reality. None of the images here were exactly what I had in mind for the morning, but at the end of the day, I have six images that I am happy with which makes for a pretty good reality. I’m still looking forward to going to Soco Falls sometime soon. We shall see if the reality matches the expectation from that trip.