Long Exposure at The Old Guilford Mill

· Reading Time: 8 minutes

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Old Mill of Guilford

To set the scene, the Southeastern US is getting over Hurricane Michael which hit Thursday afternoon.  While we didn’t get hit nearly as hard as the Panhandle of Florida, North Carolina received a great deal of rain and some very high winds during the mid afternoon hours.  My plan Thursday was to go after work to the Old Mill of Guilford to take advantage of the dramatic clouds and the extra water that should be in the stream.  Well, shortly after 4, I got word that all units were being held over to be a storm response team.  By 5 I was out answering calls.  The hurricane passed through quickly though and by the time I got out of the office the rain had stopped.  The clouds were wonderful, and the lighting was just what I was after.  I was hoping that it wasn’t going to take more than an hour to deal with the extra call load.  Boy was I mistaken!  I was at work until 11pm dealing with downed trees and such.

During the time that I was out in the field, all I could think about was how great the conditions were for the composition that I had in mind of the Old Mill.  By the next day, the clouds were all gone, and I was back at work dealing with the damage.  It hit us a lot harder than I had thought while I was sitting in the office prior to it passing over Greensboro.  The forecast for the weekend was looking pretty much as expected after a major storm passes though.  That’s right, it was straight sunshine all weekend long.  I wasn’t going to get my clouds, and there was even a chance that I wouldn’t get any photography done.

When I got home on Friday, the sky was still crystal clear and while I had a little time to go out with the camera, I really saw no need.  I decided to mow instead.  While I got the mowing done, I ended up doing it under one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve seen over the house.  The color was completely covering the sky from West to East.  I was a little upset that I wasn’t out with the camera, but it did get me thinking that I could possibly catch some really nice sunset colors over the Old Mill instead of the clouds that I was after.  If I was really lucky, I would hit magic light and have the mill bathed in warm light while the sky was shaded in subtle hues.

I started to look at the weather predictions for Saturday and found that there was supposed to be a really good sunset, or at least the conditions were favorable for a good sunset.  Knowing that the water would still be up, I decided to give it a shot and hope that the few clouds that were forecasted would actually pick up the color.  In the meantime, I would have the chance to work on some video productions that I had been planning.

I started early on Saturday morning setting up my studio.  I had my bag set up and my video camera (cell phone) on a tripod elevated just right.  I was going to do a tour of my bag with all of the contents.  I started the recording and started my presentation.  Of course, I goofed when I started so I went and checked everything and made a few adjustments before starting to record again.  This one went great.  I was going through everything in the bag and telling the purpose behind each thing and why I had it where I did.  At the end of the production, it looked like I had been talking for about 35 minutes.  Perfect!

I went to turn off the recording and was greeted by a black screen on the phone.  I opened it up and found that the video had stopped long before I had finished, or even gotten into the good stuff.  I noted that there were some alerts that had popped up and I thought that might have stopped the recording so I put the phone in airplane mode before starting again.

Not wanting to spend another 35 minutes talking again, I decided to reduce the content and just focus on the filters that I use.  I was rolling and feeling really good about things and stopped at the 15 minute mark to check my progress on the phone.  Black screen again!  It stopped at the 5 minute mark, which was exactly where it stopped on the first one.  Now I knew that I had only 5 minutes to work with for a video.  I thought about doing one more take but this is how it would have gone.

Roll camera
Here is my bag
It is full of stuff
These are the filters
This is the camera
It is really comfortable

Not wanting to sound aggravated I opted to just put things away and try again another day.  For the rest of the morning, I took care of some things on the computer and kept an eye out for the weather at sunset.  It was promising that there were some nice puffy clouds rolling in, but the sun was too harsh to take advantage of them.  I was working out plans for what kind of compositions I would try at the mill, and even started thinking about alternate plans just in case that didn’t work out.

Old Mill of Guilford in B&W

When it was about an hour and a half before sunset I looked outside.  There were some very thin clouds working their way from the West.  The East was pretty blank and that was the direction that I was going to be shooting.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try anyway.  I arrived just about an hour before sunset, and took a view of the scene.  The banks of the stream were grown over more than I was expecting but the water was at least flowing well.  The mill was mostly in the shadows which was not really to my liking.  However, on a cloudy day, it would have worked with the sun higher in the sky as my original plan had been.  It is nice to know that the concept is valid, I’ll just have to wait to get another chance to shoot it in those conditions.

Since I was here I did set the camera up.  Looking at the available compositions I opted to go with the exact one that I had previsualized a few days ago.  I positioned on the bank near the roadway, but over the culvert that took the stream under the highway.  I made sure that the tripod was stable in the moist ground and mounted the camera with my 24-70mm lens.  I was shooting water, so I added the B+W polarizer which is a slim mount and allowed me to mount my Lee filter holder in front of that.  I knew that I was going to have to pull the exposure down on the sky to make this work since I only had some very thin clouds in the sky to work with.  I started with two different ND Grads and shot with 5 total stops of light reduction.  This was working, but I wanted a different effect.  I wanted the thin clouds to move a little and give some smoothing to the sky to match the water.  I left my 3-stop Hard Edge Galen Rowell ND Grad attached and added another Singh-Ray Filter, the 10-Stop Mor Slo ND Filter.  This was what I needed to really slow the exposure down.  I figured out my exposure and shot at ISO100, f/13, at 2.5 minutes.  The resulting image looked like it had some promise with the elements that I was after being represented.

I worked on some other variations on this theme with different exposures and compositions and ultimately decided that the sky was just getting more and more boring.  I packed up and cautiously made my way back along the railing trying not to slip down the embankment.  I looked around for more compositions and more specifically, isolations.  The lighting was not good on the mill for this and I ended up not pulling the camera back out again.  I decided to leave right at sunset.  I had managed to get a total of 17 images from the evening.  It was all one angle really, so that was a lot of shots, and I was looking forward to seeing what I had to work with.  My last set of three shots was looking like the best of the bunch though and they were vertical shots.

When I got home and loaded them in the computer, those were still my favorites.  However, I really wanted to see how the two long exposures I did turned out.  These always look a little off as digital negatives, and I wanted to see just what I could do with them.  I picked my favorite of the two which happened to be the shorter exposure of the two (151 seconds vs 210 seconds).  I started to work with it and the more I developed the shot the more I really liked it.  In the end, this was my favorite shot of the day, and I didn’t even bother processing the others.

When I pulled the image into Photoshop to prepare for the web, I decided to try a quick conversion to monochrome to see how I liked it.  I played with it a little bit and decided that I had a nice moody image, but something wasn’t quite right about it.  I started to play around and added a blue filter to see what that would do.  It gave a slightly cool tone to the image which I really liked.  I actually liked it enough to add the monochrome shot to my keepers from the evening.  It is a little bit of a moody piece where the color one has a completely different feeling.  I think that they both say very different things and I like that about them.

It wasn’t the image that I had previsualized, but I had proven to myself that the concept would work with the right conditions and I managed to pull a pretty good image out of the lackluster evening thanks to some filters on the camera.

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