Well, You Can’t Win Them All

· Reading Time: 25 minutes

Saturday, October 9, 2021

It would seem that I have been on a roll here lately with my Autumn Treks on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  For the most part, the weather has cooperated when I’ve needed it to and the crowds have remained at bay for the most part.  This, of course, makes me very happy as a photographer and it makes me want to get out there and do more and more with the Fall colors.  The problem is, we are pretty well rooted in a very wet weather pattern here in Western NC.  For the better part of the last week or so, there has been more rain than not, and for the last few days it has been pretty much a washout each day.  As the week came to an end I was looking at the weather forecasts and it was looking like I was going to be stuck in the office on Saturday writing my next Behind the Camera which I believe will be dealing with how I build a composition.  I think that that topic will take some time to really flesh out and I’m wanting to get an early start on it if possible.  However, going out for new photographs takes priority right now with the leaves starting to change colors.  Since that is such a short time frame in the grand scheme of things I have to get out when I can.

The forecast for Saturday started out with a nearly 60% chance all day both here in Wilkes County and through most of the Parkway that I would be working with.  When I went to bed on Friday night, I decided to check the weather when I woke up to see if there was going to be a chance that I could get out and get some pictures since I was sure to have some clouds for the day if nothing else.  I didn’t set an alarm because I wasn’t interested in getting a sunrise at all.  I just woke up on my own a little before 8am and checked the weather.  Sure enough, things had changed and while it was pouring here at the house, the mountains were showing no rain, just low clouds.  The rain wasn’t forecasted there until around 2pm or so and at that point the weather here at home was supposed to be clearing up a bit.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was worth getting out there to see what I could find to photograph.

I got my morning office work done and grabbed my gear to head up Hwy 16 to check the old house that I’m hoping will have a yellow tree next to it very soon.  When I got to that house, the rain was still falling so I didn’t worry about stopping, but I looked to see the status of the tree.  There were just a few leaves on it that were starting to change, but it was still mostly green.  Since I had a really good photo of this house with the green foliage, I didn’t give it another thought at this point.  I’ll just keep checking on it to see when I can get the photograph that I have in mind.  I continued North, headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway, but as I got closer, I could see that the leaves were changing the closer I was getting to Jefferson.  As a last minute decision I made the choice to go past the Parkway and continue North on 16.  I had photographed a nice red barn out that way a while back and wanted to see what it was looking like now with a bit of color behind it.  I knew that I didn’t want the entire background in Fall dress, but I figured some subtle colors on the hill behind it would suffice quite nicely.

I didn’t recall exactly where this barn was, but I knew the route that would lead me there.  It was a bit further out than I had suspected, but I did get there soon enough.  The rain had been on and off the entire drive out this way, but for the moment, it looked like the rain had subsided.  I pulled off onto the side road where the barn was located and checked out the surrounding area to see if there was a composition to be had.  I knew that the sky was going to cause a problem because unlike last time, I didn’t have an interesting sky to work with.  This time, there was very little detail present and the low clouds were moving around creating a fog at the top of the hill.  This wasn’t terrible by any stretch and the low clouds gave the blank sky a bit of context which would make it work out.  I had worked out most of the compositions on this barn the last time I was here, but I knew that this time I wasn’t going to be able to get up close to it because that would make the sky a bigger part of the composition.  This time, I wanted to be a little further away and use a tighter focal length while keeping the roof of the barn below the horizon line.

A Quilt for Fall“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop hard ND Grad

I really thought that this was something that I could do with the existing weather so I put the truck in park and got out with my 24-70mm lens loaded onto the camera.  I knew that I was going to be using a grad filter, so I spun the adapter ring on and mounted the Lee 100 holder with the 105mm polarizer ring holding my Color Combo Polarizer.  I then set about finding the composition that I wanted.  I knew the approximate area to set up so that was where I started out.  I moved around until I found the right place.  I thought that right place was going to be in the middle of the road, but the composition and a passing pickup truck convinced me that was not the right choice.  I moved in just to the shoulder of the road and found a good spot to set up.  I did a 16:9 crop in camera to minimize the sky and cut out some of the grass that didn’t add much interest.  Looking at the histogram, the sky was really blowing out and I knew that I was going to need to do something to control it before I started making exposures.

With the fairly straight line of the horizon of the hill, I knew I could get away with a hard edge grad and that would be the best choice because there wasn’t much sky present so I needed to get that full effect rather quickly with the filter.  Because of the large disparity in exposures, I opted for a 3-stop Galen Rowell Grad, which was put in at an angle settling right on the top of the hill.  That got the histogram to look right so I was ready to start making exposures.  As I was clicking the button and making slight changes to the framing, I noticed that the clouds were changing up at the top of the hill and the low clouds were coming in very nicely just over the barn.  I started to time my exposures with how the clouds were looking just over the barn and I finally got one where you could still make out the line of the horizon, but there was enough low clouds to keep the empty sky in context.  I was actually feeling pretty good about this early capture and by the end of the day it was my favorite image.

Even though I was happy with this one scene, I knew that there was more for me to capture and I wasn’t going to find it sitting here all day.  I got the camera loaded back up in the truck which turned out to be the right time to do it as the rain had caught me.  It started as a slight mist and then turned into a heavy drizzle, just enough to get my filters wet.  Before packing them away I got them all cleaned off again which was ironic because I had just gone through and cleaned up all my filters after my last trek because of the rain.  Like I said, we have been stuck in a very wet weather pattern for a while now.

An Autumn Silo“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I got turned back around and started back towards the Parkway, and back into the rain once again.  There had been a couple of locations that interested me on the way up that I wanted to get a second look at on the way back.  I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be able to shoot them today, but I wanted to get an idea if they might work out later on.  The subject that looked the best was an old house tucked off of the roadway which I turned into the driveway of.  Right there on the side of the fence was a large sign that said “Private Property, No Trespassing”.  I was going to need to get on the other side of that fence (open gate) in order to get the composition that I was after.  However, there were a lot of problems with the composition and ultimately I decided that it wasn’t quite worth finding the owner and asking permission.  I just backed back out into the road and went on about my way.  There was another barn that I stopped at which might be a good subject in different light and with a bit of color behind it, but since the trees were all still very green, I decided to save this attempt for another time.

I ended up turning onto the Parkway and heading North.  I knew that there were a couple of scenes around Doughton Park which I was wanting to capture when the leaves turned.  The further North I drove, the heavier the rain got.  By the time I made it to Doughton, the sky was completely clouded over and it was pouring.  I checked the locations that I could for color, but there were some that I couldn’t see at all due to the clouds and fog.  What I would be able to photograph wasn’t ready yet, and what was probably ready I just couldn’t see.  I wrote this location off and headed back South in the rain.

Feeling that I had better luck off of the Parkway in terms of the rain, I turned off on Hwy 18 and headed North.  I had been given a tip about a barn not too far from here and I wanted to go and check it out.  I was sure I had seen it before, but I didn’t recall the reason why I didn’t shoot it then.  The rain slacked off when I left the Parkway, but it was still with me.  When I found the barn, the rain was almost finished so I could have gotten out to photograph the barn, but I remembered why I hadn’t shot it before.  It was just too close to the road and the brush was too high around it which took away its foundation.  It was an interesting barn for sure, but I wasn’t sure if I could make an image work here or not.  It might work better for a Winter composition when the brush has died down.  I’ll come back and check again in a month or two to see if that would work.

In all of my detours, I ended up on a side road that I was pretty sure would lead me back to the Parkway.  I had never been on it from this direction, or this far from the Parkway so I just settled in and took in the sights.  There were a couple of places that might have been decent on another day, but the light wasn’t doing them any favors on this day.  I didn’t get discouraged because I had originally thought that I wasn’t going to be able to get out at all today, and when I was able to, I already had a good photograph to show for it. Anything else was going to be gravy for the day.

As I was driving down the road I saw a silo in the distance to the right underneath a tree.  It was enough to catch my attention and when I got closer to it, there was a nice block barn sitting next to it.  The light was good on it and more importantly, it wasn’t raining.  That had become my deciding factor to try for a photograph or not.  I pulled off on the side of the road and tried to get a better idea of how the composition would work.  As I was sitting there, I noticed a truck pulling out from the driveway next door.  This could either be good or bad for me.  When I saw him slowing down and rolling his window down, I rolled mine down as well.  It was obvious that he was concerned about the fact that I was pulled off on the side of the road so I just told him that I was a photographer and I enjoyed capturing old barns.  I confirmed that this was his property and asked if he minded if I got a few images.  He agreed and since his demeanor seemed to change for the better I asked if I could get in closer than the side of the road if the composition needed it.  He agreed and gave me his blessing to photograph the old barn.

I got out and grabbed my camera with the 24-70mm lens attached.  Since I knew there would be no need for a grad filter, I just screwed on my 82mm Color Combo Polarizer and the lens hood.  Hey, I knew it was a matter of when it started raining again and not whether it would or not.  I started to go through the process of figuring out the composition that I wanted to go with.  I had thought that I was going to want to go in close for the perspective change, but I found that introduced too much sky in the upper left corner.  I backed up and went with the longer end of the zoom range for the lens trying to get the sky out of the frame.  Even though I had gotten permission to be as close as needed, I found that the best place to be was actually across the road which gave me the ability to shoot at 50mm effectively cropping out the sky.

Now, I will be totally up front with this picture.  There has been a bit of Photoshop applied to it.  It is still a single image, but the trees behind the barn were still largely green.  There was a hint of yellowing to them, but they had not changed.  I really thought that this would work out just fine when I got the image home, and that was just how I processed the RAW file.  I had it looking just like I wanted it, but before committing to the edit, I looked at the other color profiles in Lightroom.  One of the ones that I have used regularly with Fall flavored images really looked good for this scene and it made the trees pop.  However, it also changed the color interpretation on the grass which didn’t look good.  I was stuck with a pretty much totally green image, or one that looked fantastic as a Fall photograph, but with terrible grass colors.  If there was only a way to blend the two color profiles…..

Oh wait, there is.  I made a virtual copy of the image and applied the new color profile to it.  I then sent both over to Photoshop as layers.  From there it was just a matter of applying a mask and blending the two images together.  It isn’t what I would call manipulating the image because everything here was from the same RAW file, but I just did a bit more with the edit than I would typically do.  It still isn’t sky replacement or adding significant elements to the scene…or removing them, so I feel that this is still an honest image.  It was how my mind wanted to see it, and I think that this is the best way to present this particular scene.  I just wanted to let you know what was done to this image so I was not misleading you by how I did the edit on it.

Lining up the Season“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

When I was done with the barn, or should I say when the rain caught up with me and forced me back to the truck, I continued down the road that I was on which as I had guessed took me back to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As I was coming up to it, I recognized a barn and a house that I had photographed before and knew that I was right on the edge of Doughton Park.  While it wasn’t raining hard, it was raining, so I didn’t bother going North again.  I just went South with the intention of exiting around Blowing Rock.  The way things went for me was whenever the rain would stop I would look for something to shoot.  I pulled off a number of times and did some woodland images which none of them turned out.  One of the stops that I made was at area that I had shot a couple of years before with less than satisfactory results.

This time, the lighting was much better, I had a bit of Fall color in the midground, and the sky was actually looking good.  I had learned from my last attempt when I focused on the rows of pine trees as a large foreground.  That had not worked out well at all and had too much visual weight.  This time, wanted to focus on the midground, which meant just adding a portion of the area that they occupied.  In order to get this composition the way that I was thinking, I was going to need my long lens as opposed to the 24-70mm that I had used before.  With the clouds needing all the help that they could get, I added the 82mm polarizer on a 77-82mm step-up ring.  While this prevented me from using my hood, I still didn’t have to worry about light getting in behind the filter as I do with the 105mm on the Lee filter holder.  I started to look for my composition which was mostly a matter of cropping out a light pole and placing the mountains in the background in suitable locations.

When I finally landed on the composition that I wanted, I started to fire off some exposures as the clouds were moving.  I guess as they moved, they brought with them the rain once again.  With the drops starting to fall, I needed to get my lens hood back on, so I unscrewed the polarizer and ran back to the truck to grab the hood.  I added that to the camera and got the exposure set to compensate for the missing filter. It was at this time the sun came out and provided just a bit of light on the landscape which really helped to highlight the Fall Foliage.  I wasn’t really missing anything without the filter as the clouds had just enough bite to them and the filter hadn’t really made much difference at all.

When the rain got too heavy and the sun hid behind those rain clouds, I took that as my cue to pack it up.  I was back on the road headed South still playing the game of when the rain stops, so do I.  Well, the rain did stop at a location where I had shot a panorama a couple of months ago.  I had remembered there being a really cool tree situated at the woodline that I had tried to shoot that day.  I guess I was going to try it again today since the rain had let up.  I knew that it was close on my heels so I just went ahead and loaded up the 70-200mm lens once again and just left the filters off.  I wanted to use the hood more than anything at this point.  The tree was fully in the fog which was nice, but I was having a hard time finding the right contrast with the dense fog.  using the long lens was also proving to be a problem.  I thought that it was going to work out better than the 16-35mm that I had used the last time.  No matter where I set up though, I couldn’t find a composition that I liked.  The closest I came was from across the street, but the fog was just too thick that there was no detail at all to be had.  I tried vertical and horizontal and realized that I was having no better luck this time than what I had last time here.  With the rain coming back into the area I decided that this was not going to work.  I packed up my gear in what was becoming a downpour and got back on the road once again.

Fog in the Field“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

The next time that the rain stopped, I found myself at another tree that has gotten my attention from time to time.  I have never tried to photograph it before because there just hasn’t been an interesting composition.  This time, there was a bit of Fall color wrapped around the trunk of the tree, much like the previous tree I had worked on at my last stop.  I didn’t know how this was going to turn out, but since I didn’t have any rain to worry about I figured I would give it a try.  Once again, I loaded up my 70-200mm lens with the hood instead of a filter.  I worked on framing up a composition both vertically and horizontally.  I made several exposures, but I was thinking that they weren’t going to work out.  There was just no flow to the composition and it was a jumble of branches with no real shapes.  After about 10 minutes I gave up on the tree.  It just wasn’t working out at all.

There was a barbed wire fence here with an open gate that had caught my eye as well.  Beyond the fence was a field full of tall brush and a nice pine tree stuck out from the trees in the background.  While I had been working on the one tree, the low clouds had started to blow through the area which provided a lot of separation from the tree in the midground to the ones in the background.  It was just interesting enough to give it a try.  I left the camera built like it was and worked on finding the location to shoot from.  I ended up positioning right at the edge of the road with the camera extended as far up as it would go in order to eliminate as much of the sky as possible and to keep the end of the fence right at the line of the field for simplicity.

When I got it lined up, I started making exposures as the clouds moved through the field.  I was getting a lot of different looks here, but the one that I was after showed enough of the trees in the background to let you see the Fall colors, while still having a bit of fog over them for that separation.  I was lucky enough to get a couple of images like that in this series.  These weren’t outstanding images by any stretch, but they did capture a certain Fall mood, at least for the mountains.  When I think of Fall, scenes like this come to mind first and foremost.  The bright sunny days with the bright colors on the trees look good for postcards, but they just don’t capture the true essence of the mountains during this season.  It is a wet and cloudy season and that is just what I am out trying to capture this year.

Speaking of the rainy weather, you probably guess it already, but the rain was back.  I was packing away the gear once again very thankful for the raised hatch which provided shelter from the rain.  I tell you what, the 4Runner will be hard to replace when the time comes to do so because it is just the perfect vehicle for landscape photography.  Once I got everything dried off and packed away I got back in the driver’s seat and continued on down the road.  This time, the rain didn’t let up and there were no more stops on the Parkway.  In fact, I was finding myself in a caravan of about 10 cars which told me that I probably needed to leave the Parkway due to crowds.  When I came up on US 421, I made my exit and started down the road towards home.

It had been a relatively successful trek despite playing hide and seek with the rain.  I had shot a couple of barns that I was kind of excited about and I was hoping that some of my landscape scenes were going to work out, but I realized that most of those were just experiments and playing around more than anything else.  I was still looking for something else to photograph, but I was pretty sure that I was going to be done.  The rain was falling heavy all the way down the mountain and it didn’t ease up until I got into Wilkes County.  The sky was actually starting to look pretty good and wanted to get at least one other scene before I called it a day.  I knew of one location that I had been waiting for the right time to shoot and this might just be it.

Outcast“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2 , No filters

There is a mountain off to the side of 421 that Toni and I use as a landmark to know when to turn onto Boone Trail.  The top of the mountain is a bit unique with the dirt paths very visible from the roadway and there is a lone tree at the top of the mountain.  It isn’t exactly pretty, but it has character to it which makes it stand out.  In fact, this is kind of the answer to one of the questions that I get from time to time about why I choose what I choose to photograph.  The first and most important thing is that there is a quality or element in the scene that stands out and makes it special.  From there, I build a composition around that aspect.  In the past, when I have tried to build a composition around the parts of this mountain that I have liked, I haven’t been able to get enough context to the scene to make it make sense.  As I was coming up on it, I pulled off the road and looked at it critically for a moment.  This time the primary focus had several things going for it.  The sky was awesome which was a mandatory thing for this composition.  The trees just below the mountain on the right side of the road were starting to change a little bit and had gotten a good bit of yellow to them.  That was going to define the lower frame of this image which was important because I had to crop out the houses and the highway below.  It was good enough that I really wanted to give it a try, so I continued down the road to get a little closer to it but I found that I was losing the perspective that I had liked so much.  I got turned around and headed back North again, but instead of going back where I had been I pulled off into a small parking area for a closed store.

From here, I had roughly the same view as I had seen before, but I was closer.  The only thing that I had to worry about were two power lines which I was going to have to deal with no matter where I shot this from.  Since I was well out of traffic, and the second major criteria had been met….the rain had stopped, I parked and grabbed the camera with my long lens once again.  I knew I was going to need the reach for this one.  I left the filters off once again and opted for the lens hood since the smart money was on the rain returning in a few minutes.  I worked on finding the right place to stand which is usually not a big concern with the long lens in a situation like this, but I found that I could really move things around in this composition due to the comparative distances that were represented with the trees in the foreground.

I did finally land on a composition that I liked which included the colorful trees down in the lower right corner which introduced the image.  I placed the brightest tree right at the lowest point of the horizon to add a bit of emphasis to that area.  I then waited for the clouds to move around until they made sense in the scene.  The one that I liked the best had the brightest portion of the clouds in that same dip where the bright trees were which really brought the eyes into the image.  The rest of the clouds going higher seemed to radiate and point to the lone tree above which was important for the visual path to be followed in the image.  The trails that had been cut through the woodland gave the needed interest to keep the eyes following the shape of the mountain as it went to the one lone tree.

The image that has resulted is better than what I had been expecting from this location even though it has been one that Toni and I have been looking at for a photograph since we moved out here last year.  There are still things that I wished were different with the way the landscape comes together, but those things are out of my control.  For what I have to work with, this composition works quite well and I’m glad that I stopped to give it a try.  While I was stopped, I tried to shoot a few images of the old store, but when it was all said and done I didn’t really like any of the compositions.  There is really just one part of this old building that I really like and I have that photograph already.

My day was done, I had 118 frames which is an awful lot of exposures for the number of places that I stopped.  However, there was a lot of repeat compositions as I was waiting for the clouds to be just right, and there were quite a number of completely failed compositions that will never see the light of day.  There are a few images here that I really like, and a couple that I think are strong enough to be keepers.  My favorite of the day was that first composition of the red barn.  I think that it is the best blend of atmosphere and seasonal timing out of all of the images.  The one that I am most proud of though is the second barn that I shot.  This represents the most intensive post production that I have done with an image to date.  I learned a lot by doing this and I hope that the resulting image is one that you enjoy and appreciate.  I don’t like doing heavy post processing, but this is the vision that I had in my head of the scene and I think that the colors do it justice.

Thank you for joining me on this rather wet trek.  I hope that you enjoyed the travels as well as the images.  As always, if there are any of my photographs that speak to you on that deep level, please let me know, so we can talk about getting you a print of your very own.  If you will recall, I have added a new fine art rag paper to my choices and it has instantly become my favorite media for photographic prints.  It is a Baryta paper that is very thick with a slightly satin finish for perfect color saturation and sharp details.  It is archival, and the type of paper recommended for art gallery showings.  It is a little pricier than my other options, but I have no doubt that this paper is well worth the expense and I love making prints on this 13×19″ paper.

I’ve also got two portrait shoots scheduled this month, one is a couples maternity shoot on location and the other is a single portrait session in the studio.  If you are in the Piedmont, Foothills, or NW NC, and are interested in having a portrait session with me, let me know so we can get you scheduled.  This has become a pretty big deal for me over the Summer and I have kind of created a monster out of myself.  What started as a side form of income has turned into something much more than that.  The more that I learn, the more I want to learn, and the more avenues I want to explore.  Unlike, my landscape and decay photography though, I don’t have an endless source of subjects to capture.  I’m kind of at the mercy of people which makes this a rather slow process, but I’m taking it all in stride and trying to maintain my same quality of photography whether it is of a barn or a person.  Let’s get you that portrait that you have always been wanting!

Until next time…

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