Thursday, October 14, 2021
Remember when I had to leave Price Lake unexpectedly right when I was ready to get some Fall Foliage images from there? Of course you do, I wrote about it quite recently as a matter of fact. I had figured that was going to be my last chance to get the images that I wanted from there since I was going to be rather busy for the rest of the week, and even if I wasn’t, the weather was not looking promising at all. I had come to terms with that possibility and had made my peace with it. There will be plenty of other opportunities for Fall images before the season is finished. The plan was to start getting ready for a maternity shoot that I have scheduled this weekend in Winston Salem. It will be a location shoot, so I’ll have to get all the gear that I anticipate needing and have it ready for travel. I am also needing to try a couple of techniques that will come in handy for that shoot. That leaves very little time for landscape photography unfortunately, but that is the cost of doing business when print sales are down and I’m having to fund my business in some form or fashion.
The plans changed when I looked at the weather on Wednesday night though. It appeared that there were going to be a lot of high level clouds between 6-6am in the area of Boone and Blowing Rock. It was a good formula for a colorful sunrise so I really considered getting up early and heading out to Price Lake in hopes that the leaves were still in good shape. It was going to mean getting up around 5am or so in order to be at the lake well before sunrise in hopes of getting some great blue hour color. When Toni and I went to sleep, I set my clock to check the weather in the morning fully expecting the forecast to change to completely clear skies. I was only about 30% prepared to get up and go, but it was enough to get me in the mindset of doing some more landscape photography in the morning.
When the clock rang, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I figured out quick enough that I needed to turn the alarm off. Toni kept asking me how I turned the alarm off on her phone and didn’t quite understand that she didn’t have an alarm set. We got that all sorted out and she went back to sleep after she gently suggested that since I was awake I needed to go and try. The weather hadn’t really changed from what I had seen last night and it was still looking like a short window of high clouds right at sunrise. There was also a fog warning for the lower areas which was a nice addition for me. It meant that even if the clouds didn’t show up, I might still have fog over the lake which makes for great atmosphere. If I were extremely lucky, there would be fire in the sky, fog over the water, and bright colorful leaves once the sun came up. My fingers were crossed and I was due for a little good luck at Price Lake.
I was on my way at 5:30 and noticed that the stars were quite bright in the sky above which meant that there were no clouds to speak of. Since I was traveling about 30 miles away I had hopes that the weather would change by the time that I got there. I was expecting to see some of the fog as I went through Deep Gap, but there was nothing. Everything was crystal clear, including the sky. Maybe the clouds were just taking their time getting into place. I still had an hour and a half before the sun came up so I continued on with my plans.
At 6:30 I pulled into the parking area at Price Lake and parked. It was still very much dark so I wasn’t sure what the weather was going to have in store for me just yet. I got out and walked down the little footpath to the area that I intended to shoot from. There was a chilly breeze that was causing a lot of ripples to the water but that wasn’t really a problem. The issue was that I saw no traces of clouds in the sky. There was also not a big of fog anywhere to be found. What I was looking at was a very high contrast scene with no color potential. I didn’t even get the camera out because I was seriously doubting that anything was going to work out here. I did decide to wait until 7:15 which was kind of the last chance for getting set up in time to get anything before the sun became problematic. I sat in the truck and waited.
The longer I waited the more I regretted getting up so early. The sky was getting brighter, but that was it. The few wisps of clouds were insignificant when it came to sunrise color. There was no atmosphere on the lake, and to add insult to injury I was starting to be able to see the trees at this point. While there was still some color on them, they were mostly bare in the places that I needed the color to be. I was too late, and even if I wasn’t, the lighting was going to be much too harsh here in a matter of minutes. There was no salvaging this location today. A few minutes after 7 I put the truck in gear and headed back North to home.
I really hated getting up this early in the middle of Fall and not getting at least one picture, but it isn’t the first time that has happened to me. Still, I wanted to at least find something to try and photograph before I got home. I checked a few areas on the Parkway that I had been keeping an eye out for but found that the light was just wrong for the compositions. I did find a great little scene with some low fog in the field for a foreground, a nice mountain the background which was going to have some color to it when the sun hit it. The problem with that scene was there were no clouds overhead so the sky which would have to take up a decent portion of the frame would be negative space, or more accurately “empty space” which I didn’t want at all. I just drove on by and kept working my way down the Parkway. I thought about going to Doughton Park and checking on that tree, but I knew that a clear blue sky wouldn’t be right for that scene at all. I was at a loss as to what to put in front of my camera. I guess the simple option was to just go home and chalk this one up to a failed outing.
I was coming through the area near West Jefferson because my intention was to take Hwy 16 home to check out the old house and the tree to see if it was getting close to being ready yet. There was an old Army bobtail tractor with a trailer attached which had caught my eye before, but it was parked next to another regular tractor trailer which I didn’t like. It was all alone in the field now and I wanted to see if there was a composition to be had with it so I turned down the road and started to look at my angles. Nothing was really working out with it and as long as it was attached to the big white trailer I would probably never be able to get an image of it because the trailer would draw too much of the attention since the tractor was camouflaged. I started to look for a place to get turned around but quickly realized that the fog was looking good though here so I just continued for a bit. I was seeing barns, but nothing that was ready for a photograph. It was the fog that kept me going and I’m glad that it did. Off in the distance, I could see the back of a farm truck on the shoulder of the road and something told me that this wasn’t going to be a newer vehicle. I slowed as I passed by and found that it was a wide fender Ford truck from the ’60’s it appeared.
This truck was in decent shape actually and had very little patina on it. The bed on it had some nice rust to it, but that wasn’t what drew me to the scene. In fact, it wasn’t really the truck at all. What I was seeing was the sunlight hitting a grove of trees in the background at the base of a hill. Those trees were covered in yellows and oranges and fit my want for capturing Fall images. The truck was in the shade and the cab was painted a light teal which kind of matched the tones of the sky. As it turned out, teal and orange are great contrasting colors and I could see a successful image with the scene. I got turned around and pulled of the road just in front of the truck. I could see a family out on the front porch of the house across the street and they were watching me.
I was liking this scene too good to pass up and with the sun getting increasingly higher in the sky I knew that this was my now or never moment for photography this morning. I got out and greeted the family. They waved and all seemed very good so I just asked them if they owned the truck. They didn’t which took a lot of the following questions out of play and left me with a quick statement more than anything. I let them know if they were OK with it, I was going to take a couple of photographs of the old truck. They had no problem with it and bid me a good day. I quickly got my camera out because I knew that I had only a matter of minutes before this scene was going to be over. I fitted my 24-70mm lens and mounted it to the tripod with my Color Combo Polarizer. The light was even enough that I didn’t worry about any grad filters.
I found a quick composition and got everything dialed in for the exposure. I fired off a shot and saw that I was clipping some of the details in the sky. I backed off of the shutter speed 1/3 of a stop and fired again. That got the right exposure, but I wasn’t liking the composition as much as I thought I would. I started to play around with the location of the camera until I found the right spot. I then had to elevate the camera pretty much to the top of the 7ft travel of the tripod. That gave me a nice uninterrupted view of the colors behind the truck. I could see that the sun was starting to bathe that whole area in warm light and I was taking exposures leading up to that moment when the light and the colors all came together. The problem that the sun was causing was that I was starting to clip the highlights once again and was having to drop the shutter speed to the point where I was worried that I was going to lose detail in the truck which I wanted to have as a predominant feature in the image. I pulled off my 82mm polarizer and ran back to the truck. I grabbed the Lee 100 filter holder and clipped on the 105mm polarizer before sliding a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad into the first sleeve. I took all of that back to the camera along with the adapter ring which allowed me to reduce the exposure of the sky by a significant amount.
Once I got all of that back on the camera I was able to bring up the exposure by a stop and a third from where it was. I knew I wasn’t going to get the whole 3-stop benefit of the filter because I was only using the transition space of the filter which made for a very gradual look to the effect, and gave me enough room to be able to get the entire image to expose correctly. I kept firing off exposures as the light was building but eventually saw that the shadows were getting deeper once again in comparison to the bright light in the background. I didn’t want to add another filter because that effect would be too easy to spot in the final image. I had another trick in my bag though for times like this with no wind. I dropped the exposure to get the sky well out of the highlight area and fired my first frame. I then increased the exposure a full stop and fired another one. That was for the midtones, and then I increased the exposure by another full stop and fired off my last frame to capture the shadows. I really didn’t need to do this as I would have been able to pull all of the detail out of the single images that I had been capturing, but I didn’t want to introduce the noise into the final image. The HDR that I just shot would alleviate that issue and give me tons of information to work with in the image.
The HDR capture was at the height of the sunlight in my opinion. After I was done with the third image, I felt that the light had lost its color and was getting too intense. Just like that, I was done. I had committed to this single composition once I dialed it in and then stuck with it through several evolutions of exposure to arrive at what was going to be only a single image for the day. I packed my gear up and got back out on the Parkway headed towards home. The light was much too bright at this point to even think about getting more photographs, but I was happy knowing that I had one shot in the bag for the day. It wasn’t the one that I had set out to capture, and wasn’t even in the same category as the lake at sunrise, but had I not been out here desperate to find something I would not have found this truck at this particular moment in time. Fate just treats us like that sometimes.
When I got home and started to go through the images, I blended the HDR first and then started to work through the images from last to first. I found four that I was interested in editing, and out of those four, I found two which I felt would give me the best chance at success. One was the HDR and the other was from a bit earlier in the morning when the sun was just barely hitting the grove of trees. I liked them both, but I preferred the space that the sunlight took up in the HDR image the best. I also knew that I was going to have a much easier time extracting details from that last image. That was the image that I went forward with for the edit, and I am happy that it came out as well as it did.
It was a short trek, but one that I feel was worth the time and effort….and even the frustration involved. I hope that you enjoy this bit of rural Fall which fits in quite nicely with some of the other recent images from the season. If this one speaks to you, I would love to get you matched up with a print of your very own. Of course, all of my images are available as prints and these photographs make fantastic gifts for the Holidays. There is still plenty of time to get your print selected and shipped, so let me know what I can create for your walls…or for that somebody special.
Until next time….