Scouting Doughton Park in the Fog

· Reading Time: 13 minutes

Friday, May 10, 2019

Broken Rails“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk 2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Today was a bit of a strange day with the camera.  I had been watching the weather most of the day yesterday and saw everything from sun to rain stretching across the state for Friday.  I wanted to get out for a bit, but just really had no idea where to go.  The original plan was to stay kind of close to home as the weather was looking more favorable here with some cloud variations.  I was thinking about going to Hanging Rock and hiking up to the summit which I hadn’t done in quite a while.  With some nice low clouds and breaks in them I was expecting some pretty good images.  As the day came to a close though, the weather started to shift a little bit and the clouds were looking a little thicker around Danbury, so I started to consider Stone Mountain as an alternative.  The clouds were not going to be heavy enough to support waterfall photography, but I was really hoping that they would lend themselves to some nice grand landscapes.  I had the two places in mind and the destination would be determined in the morning when I saw where the rain was and where the clouds were.

On Friday morning, I woke up and checked the weather.  It had changed again.  The clouds were thinning out over the mountains where there had been a great chance for rain.  It appeared that they had shifted to the East and the heaviest clouds were now over the Piedmont.  Thinking about my composition ideas at Hanging Rock, I figured that this was not going to work, so I started to look at Stone Mountain.  There was a decent chance for some good clouds, but it looked like by late morning the sky would be mostly clear.  I set my sights on a quick hike up to see Stone Mountain and hope for some dramatic skies.  My alternate was going to be going to the Blue Ridge Parkway and checking out Doughton Park which wasn’t open yet, but I could at least go through and see if anything has changed since last year.

As I was leaving the neighborhood the rain started to fall.  This was not really supposed to happen just yet, but it was light so I wasn’t all that worried about it.  As I continued down the highway headed West, the rain started to get heavier and heavier.  So much for the clouds breaking apart and possibly causing conditions too bright.  When I turned up Hwy 21 and started gaining altitude I could tell that I was starting to drive into the clouds which was not a good sign for Stone Mountain.  Everything that I would want to shoot there would need to have some visibility, and the low clouds I was already driving in would not work at all.  I made an on the fly decision to pass Stone Mountain and just head for the Blue Ridge Parkway to try and get above the clouds.

An Offering“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

When I got to the Parkway, I was nowhere near the top of the clouds.  It was misty and foggy and just generally lousy.  I started to think woodland images with the fog and tried to pick out subjects on the side of the road.  I found a few that might have worked, but the rain was too hard to really make it worth my while.  I was starting to really feel like I just needed to turn around and call it a day at this point.  Nothing was working out for me out here and the weather forecast was apparently completely off.  The only thing that kept me going was the chance that I might get something cool with a tree, so I kept looking.

As luck would have it, when I got to Doughton Park the clouds were starting to break up a bit and the sun was shining through.  There was some wonderful light and I was excited to take advantage of it on a grand scale looking out over the rolling mountains.  Since the gate was closed for the off season, I opted to continue on for a bit more on the Parkway and check out Alligator’s Back on the other side of the park.  When I got there though, the clouds were fully enveloping the landscape and there was nothing to capture with a camera here.  I continued on a bit further before giving up and wanting to get back on top of the clouds.

By the time I got back to Doughton (less than 10 minutes later) the clouds were back there as well.  What the heck, I was here, might as well scout out the location for the workshop coming up next month.  I parked at the visitor’s center in front of the restaurant which I am still working on finding out if it will be open when the park is officially opened for the season.  I grabbed my gear and started on the mile walk into the park.  As I walked, I was getting rained on and it was not looking like it was going to be a fruitful morning at all.  I stopped about midway to the picnic area where there was a tree that caught my eye.  I worked on finding a composition and realized that the rain was just getting harder and harder.  The composition wasn’t that great so I just continued on to the meadow where I was really hoping that I would have better luck.

When I finally got to the meadow, I found it completely socked in with fog.  I wanted to get up to the ridge where I know of a loan tree that is a lot of fun to shoot on conditions like this.  As I was starting to slog my way through the drenched meadow it really hit home that I had chosen poorly today.  I was in the wrong boots as these were getting saturated and my socks were already wet.  I should have put on my waterfall boots and been protected from this.  Oh, and while I was at it, should have gone to shoot a waterfall today.  The conditions were perfect for that.  Such a shame I really wasn’t feeling working with waterfalls today.

Spring Ridge“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, no filters

I stopped to check on my favorite fallen tree which was pretty much gone after years of decay.  Looking up the hill, I saw no signs of clearing so I decided to turn around and just go back to the truck.  I was wet and just not having any fun at all.  When I got back down to the base of the meadow I saw a tree next to the split rail fence that caught my attention.  I looked at it for a moment and decided it would be better to capture it from the other side of the fence.  I worked my way around and got into position.  The mist was still falling, but it was faint at this point.  The fog was thinning a bit, so I was getting a decent amount of color to the scene.  I picked out my spot and grabbed the camera which was built with my 24-70mm lens.  Initially, I used no filters because I really didn’t see much need in it.  That was soon to change as the sun started to shine a little more.

After several exposures, I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which instantly warmed the scene and gave a slight pop to the greens.  I started to fine tune the composition while holding my hat over the lens to keep the mist from causing any problems with the front element or filter.  I tried a few different perspectives to accentuate the fence a little differently.  In the end, I liked the opening image the best of all of them because it had the best balance of all of the images.  The other part that went into the decision was how the leaves registered.  There was a breeze, so I tried to release the shutter when there was a lull in the breeze.  I also had to make sure that my depth of field was enough to register the leaves at the top of the frame (physically the closest) relatively sharp while keeping the fence and the tree sharp as well.  It was a balancing act for sure, but one that was hopefully going to make the ride out to the mountains worth it.

While I felt good about the images that I was capturing at the fence, I wasn’t really sure that they were going to be all that great.  I wanted something more out of this trip, and with the sun trying to burn through the clouds I saw an opportunity to shoot the tree at the top of the ridge that I love so much.  I packed up the camera and made my way back to the meadow once again and worked my way through the slop that was soaking my socks quicker now than before.  As I hiked up the hill, I lost all sense of where the tree was since I could no longer see anything beyond about 20 feet in front of me.  Something kept me going though and I finally found the tree…right where I left it last time.  I wasn’t impressed with the lighting, but knew that it would be changing.  I worked on finding a composition and picked a place out for my camera to be set up.

I used a 16-35mm lens and didn’t bother with a polarizer because at the ultra wide angles, the blue in the sky will polarize at different densities which I wanted to avoid.  Since my main subject was covering the clouds in the background, I didn’t want to darken that with an ND Grad.  There was just no need for any filters on this shot.  All that was left was to wait for the conditions to change and present some drama in the background.  I was prepared for, and shot several images with nothing but a blank sky in the background with the intentions on another black and white image of this tree.  Even though, I was prepared for that, I was hoping that the sky would do something spectacular.

Well, it wasn’t spectacular, but for a few minutes, the clouds cleared and the sun shone through from my right.  The blue sky was visible in places, and I was really glad that I had opted for my 16-35mm lens in order to capture the largest chunk of sky possible.  I fired off about four frames while the sky was visible and just hoped that I would be able to pull the detail out when I got home considering that the sky was the brightest part of the whole image and I was trying to retain shadow detail with the tree.  Fortunately, it all came together in the image above.  I would have loved it if the sun was a little brighter on the tree, but I was happy that you can see plenty of detail in the bark, and the rolling hills are full of life under the dramatic clouds above.  This actually turned into one of my favorite images from the morning quickly when I started to process the images.

Cradle of Branches“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted in Lightroom

At this point in the morning, I realized that my main goal was more or less capturing trees.  They work the best with these types of conditions, and the fact that there were still a lot of bare trees around, it was something that I had a few options with.  I looked around the edge of the wood line for some more compositional options, and waited to see what the sky did.  Well, it didn’t do anything particularly interesting, so I decided to work my way back down to the other meadow to see if there was anything over there that was worth my time.  I’ll save you the effort of wondering…there wasn’t anything over there.  It was still completely shrouded in fog.  I opted to take my 2 basic subjects and pack it in for the day.  I started the mile hike back to the truck and decided to take one quick detour before exiting the park.  Just on the other side of the gate is the turn to go to the old hotel.  I wanted to go and see if there was anything over there that might capture my attention.

As I got close, I could see the fog rolling past a tree that I have seen many times before, but it never caught my attention like it did today.  The leaves were just coming in and they were glowing in the light.  The fog was really showing off the shapes of the branches which had a lot of tension and drama to them.  I decided that this was going to be worth a few shots.  I grabbed the camera and mounted my 70-200mm lens with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer.  This is my lens of choice when it comes to photographing the woodland because of the compression, but as I worked my way in close to the tree, I realized the error of my way.  This was not going to show off the scope of the tree like I wanted.  I quickly swapped out lenses to my 24-70mm and kept the polarizer attached.  This was the trick.  I got in close and found two compositions that really showed off the awesome branches as the fog rolled past.  I shot the tree vertical and horizontal with both thick fog, and just background fog.  This was turning out really nice, and I was getting excited about these shots more than anything else I had been shooting this morning.

As I was working this tree, a van rolled up beside me and the window rolled down.  The guy inside said that he had the same idea as I did and was wanting to shoot the tree too.  I said it was looking awesome and he should join me before the fog lifted.  He parked and when he came out he said something that resonated with me.  He wasn’t sure if I would mind another photographer shooting in the same location because many photographers get possessive about where they are shooting.  My answer to him….I don’t own any of this, and have no reason to keep anyone from enjoying it as I was.  With that exchange, there was a mutual respect between us, and eventually we introduced ourselves.  As it turns out, he was a travel photographer making his way through the area.  His name is Jason Barnette of Road Trips & Coffee.  We actually spoke for a brief time about our own desires for photography and where we were in our personal plans.  It was a nice meeting, and Jason seems like a really great guy.  I hope I have the opportunity to run into him again, and possibly work with him at some point in the future.

With the morning wearing on, I decided it was time to call it a day.  I had captured 93 images in the camera which sounds impressive, but I was figuring only a handful would pan out.  The vast majority of the shots were series of the same composition with different fog densities or cloud positions.  This is the nature of landscape shoots like this.  You never know when the light will be the best, so you keep shooting it hoping that you don’t miss the best lighting for the subject as it changes by the second.  I didn’t know what I had that would be worth keeping, but I knew that each subject that I shot was better than the one before it.  This gave me hope that I would have a few pictures to show for the morning.

When I was going through them at home later in the day, I actually surprised myself in a few ways.  The first image of the fence and tree that I had really liked in the field didn’t have the same impact that I was hoping for when it showed up on the monitor.  I was actually going to trash it until Toni came in and said that she really liked it.  Because I trust her judgement, I decided that I would keep that image in the collection.  The one from the top of the ridge turned out much better than I expected and even though I had high hopes for it, I was really happy with how the colors came out and how the sky looked in the final presentation.  The biggest surprises were the tree from the end of the morning.  I had shot these thinking color images with an ethereal look to them.  As it turned out, the ones with a little more contrast made excellent black and white studies.  I ended up converting them both over to monochrome which really affected the visual impact of the images.

It was not a great trek by any stretch, but I did get to the mountains and I did come back with some pictures.  I met another photographer, and walked a good bit.  All in all, it was a great day.  The four pictures here are just the icing on the cake for the day.