Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Welcome back! This has been a rather busy month so far and we aren’t even half way done with it yet. I think that I’ve been out four times so far for Fall colors and each of those times I’ve been rained on, or had pretty thick fog to deal with. Those are the conditions that I prefer so I am not complaining one bit, but I do like a bit of variety from time to time so I was looking for a bit of sun to add a little punch to the colors for my next trek. Looking at the weather, it was looking like the weather was going to be pretty good Tuesday afternoon as the clouds were starting to build back in from a clear morning across the Blue Ridge Mountains. That left the morning open so I decided to head out and do a little scouting in the convertible before I committed to a destination for my ventures. My plan was simple, I was going to head up 16 to check out the old house that I have been wanting to capture with the tree next to it in full color. From there, I was going to hit the Parkway and see what things were looking like up there since it has been a couple of days since I was last there.
When I left the house, it felt great with temps in the low 60’s and there were plenty of clouds. In fact, the sky was looking really nice and I could have done some great photographs with it had I planned for it. I didn’t have anywhere in mind just yet so it was pointless to change up my plans and switch over to the truck with my gear. I just went on a nice morning drive to see what possibilities awaited. When I got to the house, the tree was still stalled out at 95% green which was really no different than the last time I shot the scene. However, as I was climbing the mountain towards Jefferson, I noticed the low clouds and fog around the mountain and that really got my attention. These were the conditions that I liked and they hadn’t really been forecasted. Instead of finishing up with my scouting drive, I decided to head back home and get the truck and camera gear out.
When I got everything loaded up I was on my way back up the same road that I had been on hoping to be able to take advantage of the conditions that I had just seen. They were still there, but I was having a hard time finding a composition as I was climbing the mountain. The closer I got to the top the more clear the sky became. At this point, I figured that I would have to chase what clouds I was seeing. There were some to the North which worked well because I was pretty sure that a few of the locations that I wanted to shoot at Doughton Park were probably ready by now.
As I was making my way up the road, I passed a section that I had just shot on one of my last visits which caught my eye once again. The sky was looking good overhead and the light was dappled again on the mountains. I got out and mounted my long lens with the teleconverter once again. I shot a bunch of frames here as the light changed around looking for that elusive composition that would really provide some visual impact. I found the right composition, but the light never did fill in the right places to really make it work. I was thinking that I could do it as a black and white image, but even that just lacked depth. In the end, the first 40 frames that I shot for the day ended up getting trashed. I tried to edit two of them and just really didn’t like them at all so I gave up on the edits so as not to become emotionally attached to them after time working on them.
After what turned into a fairly significant drain on my time for no real benefit I was back on the road headed North once again. As I was looking at the clouds over to the right of the road I was thinking that this might be the time to stop at Alligator Back which has been on my list of places to shoot for a while now. When I arrived, I found the sky absolutely perfect and the light on the scene quite nice. The colors that I was expecting weren’t there though. The rest of the equation was in good shape and I was the only one here so that kind of forced my hand. If nothing else, I would be able to get a test image here in case I was able to get similar conditions after the leaves changed in the lower elevations.
I got out and surveyed the scene to look for a composition. I had done this location years ago at night and knew that the balance was not good with the composition that I had chosen before so I wanted to do something different this time. The low sun was lighting up the pine trees in the foreground right next to the overlook which I loved. It provided that sense of warmth to the scene which balanced out the largely green mountains in the background. Finding the edges of the frame was going to be the hard part here. I knew that I just wanted a sliver of the overlook to be in the lower left corner of the frame, so that gave me a starting point. The right side of the frame was looking good to end right after a shorter tree which would give breathing room to the tallest tree in the composition. From here, I just chose where the horizon would be and that dictated the top and the bottom of the frame.
I know you are looking at the picture and rereading that last paragraph while muttering to yourself that I don’t know my left from my right. Yes, the description is opposite from the image. I chose to tell it like that because that was how I framed the image up. It wasn’t until after I got home and started to look at the image in Lightroom that I realized that it read better when I flipped it horizontally. My eyes were much more willing to go deeper into the frame since they started on the outside of the overlook. It is a minor change to the image and one that I have no problem doing with a landscape since there is really no correct left and right sides here.
Now that I had the composition figured out, I grabbed my camera and loaded up the 24-70mm lens which would allow me to have the same perspective that I had been working with when just looking at the scene. I wasn’t looking to do any tricks here with perspective or anything like that. This was going to be a pretty straightforward image just as my eyes were seeing it. I got the composition worked out in the camera to match what I had envisioned. I then added a polarizer to remove some of the glare from the rocks and trees as well as adding a bit of contrast to the clouds. Checking the histogram, I confirmed what I figured was going to happen here. The sky was much too bright for the camera to be able to deal with the latitude between shadow and highlight. That was a simple fix and one that I was already expecting. I just slid a 3-stop soft edge ND grad into the filter holder and lined it up with the horizon. That brought the histogram back in line and I was ready to roll.
At this point it was just a matter of waiting for the clouds and the light to shift so that I would get as much depth and separation as I could for this scene. While I was shooting the series of images a couple driving an RV arrived. As they were going to the overlook I fired off one last frame and let them know that they weren’t in my way at all. They looked out over the scene and grabbed a few cell phone shots before coming back to talk with me. They were visiting the Parkway for Fall and had been staying at Doughton Park and were on their way to Linville Falls today. We chatted about the Fall colors for a bit and they were on their way. I had thought that I was done with the images here, but I saw the light doing some more interesting things so I fired off a few more frames before packing it in.
Now that I had something in the bag that I was pretty happy about, I was feeling better about my chances at Doughton. It was just a few more miles down the road and I had a couple of ideas about what I wanted to shoot there. I started out with the tree by the visitor’s center which didn’t have good light on it currently, and the leaves were still unchanged from when I started looking at it. That was out for the day, so I went into the picnic area to check out the lodge where I was wanting to get some images from the upper deck. When I got there, I was greeted by nice lighting on the mountain, full colors in the trees, and if I worked fast, some good clouds for interest in the sky above.
Not wanting to commit to any equipment choices until I got ready to shoot I just grabbed my whole bag and went over to the lodge. I was out on the back deck area looking out over the field which was what I had been wanting to photograph for a while now. The colors were good and the light was good too. I just needed to decide on my composition. I started off with my 70-200mm lens and tried to capture the fence at the base of the hill to start with. There was too much separation there so I decided to go downstairs and try it again from lower. That fixed the separation issue, but now I had problems with the perspective. I swapped out to my 24-70mm lens and that fixed the perspective issue. I got in close to the fence and shot that composition several different ways. The more I looked at it though, the more I started to feel like the fence was a visual obstacle to the shot and didn’t need to be in there. I got in closer and framed up a shot without the fence in it. I liked that better, but the perspective was off. I needed more compression than I was getting.
I swapped back out to the long lens with a polarizer attached and tried to frame up something there. I was just too close for that to work so I went back to the lodge. From down low, the fence was causing issues so I needed to get a bit more altitude for my camera. I went back upstairs to where I had started this whole adventure and managed to frame up a composition that I really liked of the hill. It had that pop of color, shape, and the blue sky above the clouds really helped to close the image in along the top of the frame. This was the composition that I had in mind for this scene and I was really surprised that it took me this long to arrive at the right combination of elements.
The light was pretty stable so I was looking at the movement of the clouds more than anything here. I would occasionally fine tune the composition as the clouds changed, and I would go between the native 3:2 crop and a 16:9 crop depending on how the clouds were looking. I just wanted to make sure that I got the best light and conditions for this shot because I did like the composition so much. Once I was satisfied with the number of captures that I had I started to look around for alternate subjects to photograph. There really wasn’t much else here that I wanted to mess with. I moved out to the corner of the fence where I’ve shot a number of times recently and while the gate was open, there just wasn’t a compelling composition presenting itself here. The sky had gone mostly blank which wasn’t doing anything any favors. The areas where the clouds were just happened to be over areas with no color and not much in the way of subject matter underneath. I took that as my cue to call it a day here and start to go with my original concept for the day.
When I was seeing that there was going to be low clouds coming in gradually after noon around the area of Boone, I had figured that this was going to be the day that I got to shoot Price Lake. It had peeked a few days earlier, but the times that I had been down that way the water was still very low and that greatly affected the photographic potential of the scene. After all of the rain that we had seen this week I had seen on Facebook that the water levels were back to their normal position and I knew that the colors would still be in good shape. I just needed the low clouds to start to come in for that bit of interest in the sky. I had a little over an hour before that happened so I would have plenty of time to drive out there and get my position set up for when the clouds arrived.
As I was driving South on the Parkway, I was doing my normal thing of looking around to see if there were any other locations that I could photograph on the way. As I got close to the Mt Jefferson Overlook I passed a scene that I have passed so many times that I barely notice it anymore. However, this time, I happened to see that the trees along the ridge were looking very colorful and the light was just kissing them while the range in the background was largely in shadow. This hit me as a very interesting scene so I got turned around and pulled off onto the shoulder of the road. I was thinking that I would do a telephoto shot pulling in a few of the tree tops, but concentrating on the mountains in the distance along with the sky. For that I was going to need my long lens and possibly the teleconverter. I went ahead and built the camera that way to get started.
I found out quickly that I didn’t need or want the teleconverter because my composition were all looking like less than 200mm. I pulled that piece out and went back to framing up the composition. The more I fiddled with it, the more I didn’t like it at all. I kept wanting to include more of the colorful trees in the foreground, but to do that, I was losing balance and ultimately minimizing the mountains in the distance. I was getting rather frustrated because the light was so good right here and I just couldn’t figure out the right composition to make it all work. I was now out to 70mm and framing an image that was cropped at 16:9 which was getting there, but not quite. Seeing that the clouds were starting to cover up the light on my foreground I had to make some quick decisions. I could swap out to my 24-70mm lens which would get me closer to what I was after, or I could just swing for the fences and shoot a panorama with the lens that I had on.
I decided to go for the pano and got the tripod leveled out and flipped the camera on its side. I did a couple of dry passes to establish exposure and focus. Once I was done with that, I had spent about two minutes on setup and I was ready to start my series. From left to right I started making exposures and realized that half way through the exposure the sun was covered with clouds. Looking back through the image review I could tell that was going to be a mess with the foreground very unevenly lit. I got set up for a second string and waited for the sun to come back. Once it did, I fired off seven frames in quick succession as the light stayed mostly stable. Just in case I wanted to get another series and I waited for the sun to hit once again and did the string of images for a third time. This time, the lighting seemed to be more stable than the last time, but it was not nearly as intense.
As luck would have it, my second series was the one that worked out the best. The colors were more vibrant and the light was even enough that I was able to massage it to where you couldn’t tell where the frames began and ended. While I was shooting these three variations on the pano I was pretty sure that they weren’t going to turn out good at all. I had put the idea together too fast and was then racing for the light. I had put my money on the composition that followed after I swapped lenses because I was going to be able to get more consistent light through the entire scene. As it turned out though, the panoramas were the only images that I managed to get with the sunlight on the trees in the foreground. The subsequent ones they were all in the shadows. Even though I was able to plan out the composition a bit better for these latter shots, the lack of compelling light made them all throwaway images. It was that second panorama that nailed the concept and the lighting. It was also the image that turned into my favorite from the day.
I had spent about an hour here waiting for the light to come back but when it became very obvious that it wasn’t going to I decided to pack it up and head down to Price Lake as had been the plan. The rest of the way there I didn’t really see anything else that I wanted to photograph. I was seeing a bunch of people though which kind of surprised me for a Tuesday. Every one of the overlooks was packed and there were caravans of cars moving in unison on the road. By the time I got to Price Lake, I was excited to see the colors were still quite vibrant and that the water was looking very good. There were just a few people out on the water so I was pretty sure I would be able to get some images here.
I went back to my favorite spot by the boat rentals and got parked. There was still a few parking spaces left, but not many. Before getting out, I checked my phone as I had seen a bunch of emails coming in while I was driving. I went through those and read some bad news that kind of took the creative energy out of my sails. I debated sticking it out and making the images here that I had planned on, but I knew that my heart nor mind was going to be on it at this point. I just cranked the truck back up and headed home. My day was done. I didn’t even have the creative energy to do the edits on the images when I got home which is why I am just now getting finished with the blog entry. I had ended up with 149 frames which included three panoramas, and two HDR images. That was a lot more than I had expected. Sadly though, I was nowhere near my normal 10% keeper rate with these. I’m not sure if it is that my mind is still not completely in the game, or that the images were just really that substandard but there were only three images that finally made the cut from this day. I started edits on another four images, but they just didn’t do anything for me and I didn’t feel like putting average images out there.
I do hope that you enjoyed the trek and the images. While I didn’t get as many keepers as I would have liked, I’m actually very happy with the three that I am sharing with you here. As always, if there are any photographs that you see in this blog, or in my galleries here I would love to talk about matching you up with a print. It is that final stage of the photographic process in my eyes and one that I rarely get to engage in because I have no more room for framed prints here. That means that I get to live vicariously through you and your purchases. It is always an exciting moment when I get to hold a physical print for the first time to inspect it. I’ve got this new Baryta paper that is just phenomenal which I love to print on now. It has that perfect blend of contrast and depth to the colors while not being too shiny. I highly recommend this paper for anyone interested in ordering a 13×19″ print which is the size that I currently offer the paper in.
Until next time….