Short Trip, Long Lens

· Reading Time: 15 minutes

August 26, 2021

Summer is wearing on me at this point.  I’m tired of being hot, I’m tired of sunny days, and I’m just ready for the cooler months to come back which makes it quite a bit more fun to be out and about with the camera, among other pursuits.  I know that the vast majority of folks out there love the warmer months and enjoy getting out and enjoying the sun.  As a photographer though, the Summer is about the most boring season there is for photography.  Everything is green, most of the textures are covered up with foliage, and the bugs are an irritant while standing behind the camera.  But that doesn’t mean that I shut down in the Summer though.  I still try to get out in the mornings before the heat of the day hits and while most people are still home in bed.  I find that the wind is calmer and the colors are generally a bit cleaner in the morning.  The only problem with that during the Summer is that the sky doesn’t usually get interesting until the afternoon when the storms start rolling in.  I would love to get out and do some storm photography, but it seems that every time I try it I just get rained on to the point that I can’t get the camera out.  Over the years, I’ve kind of lost interest in storm chasing because of that.  I’m just not good at staying out of the storm I guess.

Well, for the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been paying attention to the weather forecasts and looking for a nice cloudy morning to go out and have a nice long trek with the camera.  It was a simple enough request I thought, but it would seem that I just can’t buy a cloudy morning these days.  The forecast has been pretty much the same forever it seems.  Clear skies in the morning, yielding to partly cloudy skies in the early afternoon with storms rolling through.  The skies generally clear out by the end of the day leaving empty skies for sunset.  I’ve been surprise a couple of times by really good skies at the end of the day, but unfortunately, I had gotten involved with other things and wasn’t able to make use of those skies.  It has been frustrating to say the least.

After getting two yards taken care of on Wednesday, I was really kind of looking forward to resting and recovering (I’m not 40 anymore) from the long and arduous day that I had.  I happened to look at the phone to check out the forecast expecting it to be more of the same.  Well, it wasn’t quite the same.  There were some thin clouds forecasted for the morning here locally and to the West.  Those clouds would hang around until around 9am when they would start building up more into the storms of the afternoon.  This was promising, as there should be enough cloud cover to do some rural photography around mid morning.  As I continued checking the weather, the clouds were building up in the morning enough to where I thought that I might be able to get a sunrise image from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  That would be a great start to the day and I could work my way back into Wilkes County for some rural subject matter after sunrise.  It was a workable plan and even though my body had no desire to get rolling that early in the morning, it was the best chance for good weather in the next four or so days.  I had to give it a try.

I got into bed around 11pm with the intention of getting up at 4:30 which would get me up on the Parkway well before sunrise.  I had three locations in mind which were all roughly the same distance from home.  The plan was if there were no clouds overhead for the morning I would start off at Mt Jefferson looking for the Twilight Wedge in the sky to the West.  If the clouds were expected to come in a bit fuller, I would start at the Lump Overlook for an idea that I had looking off to the East.  If the clouds were looking thin enough to not be overly interesting, but enough to block the sun, I would start off at Thunder Hill where I had several options for compositions depending on what the sky ultimately did.

When the clock rang at 4:30, I turned off the racket and checked the weather.  The cloud cover had been reduced quite a bit since I had gone to sleep.  There wasn’t enough to really be interesting, and too much for me to see the Twilight Wedge.  There were still good clouds expected to come in after 9am though which mean that I could just get a later start to the day and go out once the sun had come up.  Wait a minute, that was a lazy way of being a photographer.  I had a plan in the event that the clouds weren’t going to be all that impressive.  It was Thunder Hill and I had plenty of time to get there.  But the bed was so comfortable for my back and legs which were still really sore from yesterday.  If I didn’t go this morning, it would be probably another week before I would get a good morning again.  Reluctantly, I got up and limped around to get ready to head out.

Summer Vibes“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

I actually left a little earlier than I had expected which was good.  It would allow me time to really evaluate what I was working with once I got up on the Parkway.  The closer I got to Thunder Hill the more I started to pay attention to the sky.  I could see stars and a conspicuous lack of clouds overhead.  What I did see that got my interest up was a nice inversion layer of clouds down in the lower altitudes.  Those are always fun to work with and I started to hope that the fog would be nice and thick on the back side of Thunder Hill because I knew of a composition that I wanted to shoot there if the conditions were good.  It was related to one that I had shot a few Falls ago, but I wanted to get in closer and isolate a much smaller portion of the scene this time.

When I arrived at Thunder Hill, I looked over into the valley where I wanted to work and found that it was completely devoid of clouds.  What a disappointment!  I pulled into the actual overlook parking lot to see what was going on to the East.  Well, even though there were very little clouds in the sky, the sky was picking up some color from the rising sun.  There was also a faint inversion which really made the rolling hills stand out amongst themselves.  I went ahead and got parked well out of the way and grabbed my tripod and bag.  I wasn’t really sure what I would be shooting so I wanted to make sure that I had it all with me.

I started out looking into the valley to the Northwest to see if there was anything that I could do with that.  I was really wanting to use my Rokinon 14mm lens which I hadn’t pulled out in a very long time and this is a good composition for that lens.  There was just no interest here though so I gave up on that and turned my attention to where there was some slight color in the sky over to the East.  I could see some nice compositions, but they were obscured by the vegetation on the side of the road.  I just kept walking to the overlook convinced that I was going to be turning back to the truck with no photographs here in a few minutes.  Well, as I started to look off of the parking lot I could see some of the same aspects that I had seen a minute or so ago that caught my eye.  There was a nice magenta sky over the shaded mountains with the low fog surrounding the peaks.  It was interesting, I just needed to find a composition that would work out here.

I set the tripod up on the side of the hill and pulled out my camera and the 70-200mm long lens so I could pick out isolations that appealed to me.  There was no need for filters here because the light was nice and even from the ground to the sky because the sun was still about 30 minutes from coming up over the horizon.  I worked around the area until I found a composition that worked.  I started to make a few exposures as I fined tuned the composition and made subtle changes.  The colors were faint, and looked even worse on my LCD because of how I have the camera set up to capture the most detail in my RAW files.  I was hopeful though that I was going to get something interesting here.

Middle Earth“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, 2X Mk3 Teleconverter, No filters

As the sun got higher, the sky started to lose the colors and the exposure started to be a little more contrasty so I decided that there was no sense waiting around here any longer.  I went across the street to check out the other side.  I could see that there were some clouds moving through the area that had been clear maybe 15 minutes ago.  This was going to work out after all.  I moved on down to the vantage point that I had picked out many years ago and started to frame up the shot that I was interesting in getting.  At 200mm I wasn’t able to isolate it as I had hoped so I reached into my bag and pulled out the 2X teleconverter which would get me in much closer.

That did the trick and allowed me to isolate one section down in the lower portion of the scene.  The fog was just perfect as it slowly moved through the area.  I just found my ideal composition and committed to it while I waited on the clouds to move in different patterns with different intensities on the different areas of the scene.  It was looking great in the LCD and I was really getting excited about how this composition was developing.  I stayed here for a while, maybe 30 minutes or so as the light changed and the pattern of fog changed.  The only reason that I stopped was that the fog below was building quite quickly there at the end and it was covering everything in its path.

Before pulling the camera apart, I considered using that 14mm once again because the foreground and midground were all looking really nice with the encroaching fog.  It was the sky that just let me down.  It was bland blue and just lacked drama.  Had there been some color up there, or even some interesting clouds I would have shot it, but I just didn’t like a blank sea of blue over the scene that was in front of me.  I didn’t even give it a try.  I just packed up the camera and started back to the truck again.  I was actually pretty happy with how the morning had gone.  I had two scenes that I had worked and I was pretty sure that I was going to have a workable composition from each of those to edit.

Convergence“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I was back on the road and my ultimate destination was back into Wilkes County for some rural subjects.  However, the more I drove, the more that I saw that the sky really wasn’t looking good at all.  The clouds were very few and far between.  While the light was still good, it wouldn’t last long as the sun gained intensity.  I checked some of my favorite places to shoot from and just didn’t see anything of interest to put in front of my camera.  Even the Blue Ridge Parkway starts to look boring on a bright sunny day.  As I got closer to 16 which would take me South, I decided to pull into the Lump Overlook which had been on my short list for destinations when I set out earlier.  Sunrise was long since over, but I had other plans for this location.  I know that it works well as a minimalist composition and I saw a single cloud over the ridge which was positioned pretty much perfect over the trail.

I got parked and pulled out the camera once again.  I loaded up the 70-200mm lens again since I knew that this was going to be the best lens for what I was wanting to capture.  This time though, I added a Color Combo Polarizer since the sun was out and I was wanting to get a little extra contrast in the cloud overhead.  I got the composition framed after figuring out exactly where I needed to stand to get the shot.  I shot a half dozen variations on the concept and really wasn’t all that happy with any of them.  It wasn’t until I got home and flipped the scene from left to right that it was a bit more pleasing to my eyes.  That did the trick and I was happier with that shot.

Slowly Waking“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

While I still wasn’t convinced that it was a good composition, I moved over the area where you could overlook the mountains to the East.  The haze was already starting up and the mountains were quite soft as they receded into the distance.  I thought that it was a good enough composition to take a minute to capture.  I was going to have to be very careful with how I got the camera set up though because I was pretty much going to be shooting underneath the sun so I had to make sure that I didn’t get any lens flare from the bright orb just out of frame.  It wasn’t as difficult as I was thinking and I ended up with an image that was rather similar to the opening scene from the day which wasn’t really a bad thing at all.

From there, I started to work the trees and the fence that I enjoy here at the Lump.  I realized quickly that the long lens was just too long to make these compositions work so I swapped it out with my standard lens.  That was what I used for the rest of the time here, but none of those images turned out good enough to keep.  The light was just too harsh by this point.  After trying in vain to get another composition figured out I packed up the camera and decided to head into Wilkes where the clouds were supposed to be.

Well, I made it down the mountain on 16 and found the sky to be looking pretty much identical to what I had been seeing up on the mountain.  The forecast had let me down and I was looking at a day not unlike the last couple of weeks.  I did a little scouting and figured out a potential composition on an old house that I have been wanting to shoot for about a year now.  The trick is going to be finding a place to park in order to get the shot.  I’ll also wait for the leaves to ether change colors, or fall off of the tree before I attempt the image.  The green tree really isn’t doing the old house any favors.  I am kind of excited about the possibilities there though.

I hadn’t been gone from home but a few hours at this point, but the sun was just too bright and there was no more sense in looking for photographs.  I set my course to go home to see what I had from the morning.  I had captured a total of 57 frames which most of those were from the valley at Thunder Hill.  I culled through them and ended up with 15 that I wanted to look at closer.  From those, I knocked it down to five which was just under 10% of what I had shot.  I did edits on all of those, and ultimately decided that I didn’t like the last composition which was one of the last ones from The Lump.  I was left with four that I wanted to be keepers.

Interestingly, two of these I ended up flipping horizontally so that they read better from left to right.  One I’ve already mentioned, but the other one was the second image from Thunder Hill.  It was the foreground patch of trees that threw me.  Originally, I had left it as shot with the trees on the right.  As I finished up the edit, I realized that the trees didn’t quite look right there so I flipped the scene placing the trees on the left.  They seemed to do a better job introducing the image in that location.  I was happy with it, and eventually called Toni down to see what I had captured.  As I was going through, I decided to show her the original orientation to get her input.  The second that the frame reversed to original, I liked it better.  I told her that I liked this one better now and she disagreed with me.  I could have taken the position of I’m the photographer and I choose, but I wanted to hear why she liked the reversed one over the original.  Her reasons were pretty much what I had come up with when I switched it the first time.  Since we both agreed on the reasons why it was better flipped, I went ahead and flipped it back and committed to that version.

I will say that these images were some of the easiest ones that I’ve edited in a while.  That was a nice treat after my last trek that yielded just a single image that took several hours to edit.  I think that I had done all five of the edits from this trek in less time than that one image which is really amazing when you think about it.  While I enjoy the editing process, I would much rather take the time shooting the images as I don’t like sitting here in front of Lightroom going through images for hours on end.  Even after all this time, I still shoot with a film frame of mind and try to get it as close as I can in camera so that the editing process is quick and simple.

I hope that you have enjoyed this trek as well as a return to the landscape once again.  It has been a slow process getting my mind wrapped around doing landscape photography this year, but for the most part, I’ve been very happy with the results from my landscape shoots where they can tend to blur by this point in the year.  I think I am going for more quality than quantity this year which is a very good thing.  If you agree and find the new images to your liking, please consider purchasing a print so that you can enjoy the scene in the manner in which it was intended.  These print orders help keep me going when it comes to photography by motivating me to create more as well as helping to finance these treks.  Just let me know how I can best serve you when it comes to matching you up with your own wall art.

Until next time…
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