Sunday, May 30, 2021
I’ve been rather quiet here in the blogs for the last month or so. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had a bit of a creative block going on for most of that time, but that wasn’t the only reason behind the lack of posting and new images. You see, I’ve been rather busy with workshops, Individual Instruction Sessions, and even a portrait shoot during the last month. That has kept me kind of preoccupied for the most part, and to add to that, I’ve had a few print sales that I have been needing to deal with. All of that has worked together to keep my mind more on the business end of my photography and not so much on the creative end. Things are starting to slow down a bit now as the portrait session is all finished up and I have my workshops behind me. With the free time, I’m able to get some things done around the house and to start thinking about creative outlets once again. It seems that my focus here lately has been on landscapes as that has been the focus of most of my workshops as well as Individual Instruction Sessions over the past few weeks. It is Spring after all, and that is the time when my focus does usually go to the more natural landscape rather than my rural explorations. The problem with that was I had gotten spoiled with my Decay Workshop which was back in April which followed an impromptu trip to the coast. Both of those things worked against me getting a drive to photograph the mountain landscape. I also had seen several great compositions with fantastic lighting during two of my workshops and hadn’t been able to get the shot for myself which left me feeling really let down photographically. I could have gotten the images, but it was more important for me to focus on my clients during these workshops and not worry about my own images. Sadly it fed into my self doubts I believe which added to my creative slump.
As we are coming up to another month, I didn’t want to let this funk carry through for any more time. With my attention moving away from clients and able to come back towards my own work, I started to feel a little more creative. The question was which direction I was feeling creative towards. The easy answer would be continuing with my hunt for rust which after a very slow winter has actually taken off a bit during the Spring which is odd. I could have gone with that as the safe answer, but I wanted to get out and do some landscapes and put to work some of the things that I had been teaching. I also needed to prepare for a 1-on-1 session at Linville Falls later in the week. I don’t do that many waterfalls anymore and in order to keep my instruction quality high, I wanted to get out and dive back into it a little bit. The only question was where to go and when should I give it a try?
As the weekend approached I was looking at the weather. Each day was going to be partly cloudy with a chance of showers. That formula had resulted in many a sunny day with a short period of rain which was followed by more sun. On the other end of the spectrum was the complete washout day where it was raining through the entire day. These were not the best conditions for photography with either scenario. It was looking like my best bet was going to be on Sunday when there were low clouds through the day with a chance of rain in the later afternoon. The low clouds generally don’t yield good colors for sunrise, but they can be interesting when my altitude is above them. The low clouds would also block the sun really nicely to work waterfalls during the day. It was going to be a chance to do both landscapes and waterfalls.
The plan was to start the day at Rough Ridge for an early morning sunrise with the hopes of either catching the clouds beneath me, or to find myself in the clouds. Once I was done with the morning, I would continue on down the Parkway to Linville Falls to get my feet wet once again with that area in preparation for my teaching later on in the week. If the weather maintained and I had time, I would shoot down to Roaring Fork Falls for another interesting waterfall opportunity. It would be a full day, and would be an early start with sunrise shortly after 6am. I was an hour and a half away from Rough Ridge, and I wanted to leave myself about 30 minutes to hike to a spot to set up in the dark. Needing to be there about fifteen minutes before sunrise meant that I was going to have to wake up at 3:15 and be on the road before 4:30.
That was just what I did and I was headed to Grandfather Mountain way too early in the morning. I wasn’t sure that it was going to work out though as the sky appeared to be quite clear above my head as I was leaving Wilkes County. I was up, might as well go and see what I can see. If I didn’t find anything it wasn’t going to be that big of an issue after the slow month I had been going through. It wasn’t like anyone would notice a lack of activity here in the blogs. I just continued on and eventually got to Rough Ridge to find only a single other car in the parking lot. This was great since it was a holiday weekend. I was afraid that there would be many hikers out there looking for first light just like me. I grabbed my gear and started hiking up the trail with my little flashlight to lead the way. I have done this so many times that I almost know it better in the dark than I do in the daylight.
I arrived at the boardwalk and the rock bald which I usually set up on. The sky wasn’t all that great and I was doubting that there would be any color to be seen when the sun came up. There were some clouds down in the valley which were moving my way which interested me a little bit. I started to look over the scene to determine what it was that I liked about it. I was struggling with ideas here, but I was hopeful that something would pop off and spark my eye.
As the sun came up the clouds started to come in closer and I found that there were more clouds which were sliding over the mountain to my rear. There wasn’t any color, but the clouds were making a very dramatic scene in front of me. I had the 16-35mm lens loaded up along with 2 grad filters so that I could hopefully keep the bright sky under control so that I could focus my attention on the actual landscape textures without throwing them all into shadows. As the clouds moved around I shifted my composition to incorporate them as best I could. I managed to grab a few different images before the light settled down and I had the opportunity to get the planned composition I was after. It wasn’t as colorful or dramatic as I had hoped, but the composition was strong using the boardwalk which I had walked up less than an hour before.
I stuck with the composition for a while as the light changed with the hopes that there would be some color in the sky. That color never showed and the overall tone of the image was just very blue which wasn’t what I was after. The clouds added great texture to the scene, but no color at all. I was thinking that I would probably do some or all of these images as black and white since the colors were just not quite right and they weren’t able to tell the story that I was wanting them to. As it turned out, I was right about this and ended up keeping one which was processed as a black and white for more visual drama without the color. The rest of the images from the morning worked well as color due to the different directions that I was shooting in.
While my attention had been towards the sunny side of the landscape, I had also been watching to the West to see what the light was doing. I wasn’t expecting to see the twilight wedge over Beacon Heights, but there it was. The beautiful pinks in the sky topping the blue shadowed sky just above the horizon captured my attention. That was the story for the morning. I repositioned my camera and swapped my lens for the much longer 70-200mm which was then used to reach out and grab the distant mountain. I was struggling for an interesting and balanced composition with so few clouds in the sky. I needed something to anchor the image and oddly enough I chose the tower atop Beacon Heights for that role. In the past, I have cloned that tower out as it was a distraction, but this time it was the story. The top of the antenna was right there at the division of the colors in the sky and the hard lines helped to physically stretch the mountain further into the composition. I was kind of liking how it was looking in the LCD, but decided to wait until I got home to decide for sure if I was going to keep it there.
As you can see, the tower atop the mountain actually works for this composition. Had the mountain been taller and more predominant in the scene I would have rather done without it, but it gave it the importance in the scene that I needed it to have. It stretched into the sky just enough to link the two major parts of the scene together as one. It was an interesting enough scene to my eyes that I wanted to really put the camera through its paces. With the relatively simple landscape in front of me I thought that a panorama would be a good idea here. I got the tripod leveled out and checked the camera for being level before I flipped it on its side. I did a couple of dry runs through the image to get an idea of how things were going to look and then I set the focus to infinity before locking in an exposure on the brightest part of the scene. I then shot seven frames from left to right for my first pano of the day.
Looking back through the images, I realized that I needed more to the left side of the image to keep the main anchor from being in the middle of the frame. I recomposed further to the left and shot another series of images starting with some clouds to the left. I did nine images on the second run with the same settings. I wasn’t sure if they would turn out or not, but I had to give it a try with the scene that was before me. With the twilight wedge fading quickly and the sky turning blue, I turned my attention to other parts of the landscape which were getting different qualities of light.
On the shaded side of the mountain I saw one of the rocky outcroppings poking through the low clouds which were flowing over behind me. I had photographed this outcropping many times in the past, but it was usually in the Fall when the leaves were quite colorful behind it. There was no color this time with the exception of the Spring greens, but it wasn’t the color that caught my eye this time. It was the soft foggy effect from the clouds highlighting the dark pine trees in the background that caught my attention this time. I still had the long lens on the camera and that was a pretty good choice for what I was after here. I got the tripod in a better position for this composition and dialed it in quickly. Even though the mountain stretched completely behind the rock it appeared as though there was open sky to the top of the frame thanks to the clouds. I managed to get a few shots off before the clouds totally enveloped the scene. I know from experience that this is the way of the clouds at Rough Ridge. They will flow over the mountain and do all sorts of strange things in a very quick timeframe. With the hill behind me covered in clouds once again, I started to look out over the landscape to see where the light was the best.
I saw the same scene that I had photographed earlier at Beacon Heights starting to look good again. The clouds were starting to pick up the early morning color and the top of the mountain had a nice warm glow to it now. The sky overhead was opposite of what it had been with the blues starting to come in from the top as the sun was getting higher in the sky to the East. I didn’t have much time to figure this one out, but what I liked was the patch of clouds between the two peaks. It was not a compelling composition to capture it as a single frame which left me with the option of another panorama for this scene. I got the tripod leveled out as well as the camera. I did a couple of dry runs to check out my composition before locking the focus and the exposure. I made a quick six image sweep of the scene making sure that the exposure was right for each one in the constantly changing light. It wasn’t a well thought out panorama, but I was hoping that it worked for what I was wanting to capture.
While I was shooting that panorama, I saw how the sun was starting to effect the distant horizon in the direction that I had started photographing before sunrise. There was a puffy cloud moving across the landscape with a slight break in it. Behind that the fragments of clouds were picking up the magenta hues of the sun as it climbed into the sky. The hills below the clouds were bathed in this warm sunny glow along with shadows from other hills and clouds. It was a very interesting scene, but it was one without much structure. I couldn’t come up with a composition that provided any leading lines, or even a firm subject, but it was this moment that I wanted to capture. Since I was already in a frame of mind for doing panoramas, I moved the camera over to another section of the rock I was standing on and went through the now very familiar steps of getting a panorama put together. Not wanting to waste too much time, I just dialed in an exposure on the left side of the scene which was the brightest and locked the focus on infinity. I picked a random area and just started to shoot to the right. I found the end of the cloud after nine exposures and figured that would be the end of the scene. I had captured just a string of images across the clouds with the hopes that something would work out for me when I got it home.
As an interesting aside here, I worked on this image for quite a while trying different crops before landing on one that focused on the break in the clouds more than anything else. I worked the edit out to bring out the colors that I had seen while I was there and still wasn’t overly happy with it. I was pretty much set to ditch it until Toni came down to check on me and took a look. She was like me and unsure of the image, but said that she liked it and that it would go well in our bedroom which still needs some pictures hung. If she was willing to consider that as a wall piece, I was committed to making it work. I went back to the crop that I had chosen and extended it to the right a good bit to bring in all of the frames that I had captured in the field. I change the top and bottom crop a tad to bring the focus more onto the colors of the sky and the low cloud. I tweaked the colors a bit more, and then went into color grading for a more unified tone throughout the frame. When I finished with the fine tuning of the edit I really liked the soft hues in the sky and the fact that the focus of the scene had nothing to do with the actual landscape, but it was there to provide a sense of scale. It is not my typical image, but I’m kind of liking it. I have no idea how it will be received, but I’m proud of it.
Once that panorama series was shot I looked around and saw that the sky was starting to lack any more interest for me. It was time to pack it up and move on. I had been thinking that I would be heading to Linville Falls after this, but the sky was much too clear for that and if memory served from looking at the weather, I still had about an hour and a half before the clouds would really come into the sky. I knew of another nice vantage point further along the trail that I thought might work out as long as the clouds were moving low across the landscape. I continued down the trail for a bit longer and found the jagged rock that I was wanting to photograph. The background had some good clouds right at the horizon which caught my attention so I climbed up on a neighboring rock and loaded up my 24-70mm lens which I knew was the perfect choice for this location.
As I was getting the shot set up, I was a little disappointed with how it was coming together. The distant clouds were great, but they just formed a line on the horizon and there was no linking them to the foreground. The sea of green trees fought for the attention of the viewer and the blue sky above was just too brilliant for my likes. The clouds and the rock were too subtle in color to really force the attention of the viewer. My solution was to capture this scene as a black and white scene where the brighter clouds and the lighter toned rocks would be the anchor for the eyes to land on. I would then leave the greens and blues in the darker tones to give body and depth to the image. It wasn’t exactly the concept that I had wanted, but it was going to work out pretty well to keep the story of the image clear. To make sure that the clouds worked out for me, I added a polarizer to bring out some contrast as well as a 2-stop hard edge ND Grad to allow for a bit more exposure on the foreground.
As I was photographing the changing light on the landscape I realized that there were clouds coming in from both the left and the right which were looking to converge right on top of me. They were coming slowly, but it was looking like they would obliterate the view if they collided over my head. I kept shooting while keeping my eyes out for the changing sky to come. I altered my composition a bit to elevate the camera and give a bit more length to the jagged rock as well as minimizing the importance of the sky above the clouds. I was going to be ready in case the sky kicked off and did what I wanted it to do.
It didn’t take long and the clouds were upon me. I had everything set up just right for the shot and the clouds coming overhead gave that perfect atmosphere to the midground trees and provided a bit of separation for the rocks in the foreground. I clicked the shutter every few seconds as the clouds and the light changed. Bits and pieces of the background would pop into focus every now and again which I wanted to capture. The whole idea was to have that sense of depth to the image while still keeping the focus on the foreground in relation to the surroundings. After about 20 frames with the clouds passing through I was pretty sure that I had what I wanted. I had shot about 150 frames so far this morning which really surprised me considering the difficulties that I had been having recently finding motivation to capture images. I had been out here about two hours at this point and I considered that a really good sign. The clouds were coming in and I needed to get to Linville before any crowds decided to join me.
In order to keep things simple, I am going to take a slight intermission here and end this first part. I’ll catch up to you again with part two of this adventure so you can see some of my new waterfall photographs from Linville Falls. I’ll give you a little teaser information about those pictures. I’ve created one of my favorite photographs from Duggar’s Creek Falls in quite some time even though the water flow wasn’t all that great. I’ve also come up with two abstracts from the Upper Falls which I am excited to share with you.
Until I return….