The second day of the Blue Ridge Parkway trip began with heavy fog, but it began to break up just after daybreak, thereby blocking any possible color for sunrise, while any lingering atmospherics in the valley or nearby, was short lived. As it turned out, after it did dissipate, the skies cleared leaving the rest of the day under brilliant sunshine and blue skies, and had me searching for shade and rock walls that might have some interesting subjects and less harsh light.
I began the day at the East Fork Overlook, driving there in heavy fog and arriving while still dark. I watched as the sky brightened to see mostly fog, disappointed that there would be no color at sunrise, but began taking photos as it broke apart, drifting through the valley below, sometimes lit by the sun and obscuring the view of many areas. So it was a constant battle against a very changeable scene, swinging the 70-300mm lens from one spot to the next while having to bracket exposures quite a bit because of the wide tonal range between bright sunshine and dark shadows deep in the valley. The image above was one of the very few that illustrated both the sunlight and the quickly moving areas of fog.
The image below shows how difficult it can be to single out a subject among the chaos of trees and color across the valley. Sometimes the subject can be a bare, solitary tree while surrounded by those still clinging to their leaves. But it was the soft, fleeting, filtered light raking across the hillside that creates the gentle definition within the elements.
After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, I traveled from Graveyard Fields to the Parkway’s southern terminus at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and then up to Newfound Gap. The hope was to revisit a spot adjacent to the parking lot where I had taken one of my earliest satisfactory photographs after switching to digital a month before in 2012. It was a beautifully colored, crumbling slate wall (photo below) that now had signs indicating that the area was closed! But it was completely in the harsh light of midday and lacking the yellow plants from that year, and there was nothing else to coax the camera out of the bag.
So I spent most of the remaining afternoon working my way back toward Graveyard Fields, with many stops along the way to investigate any possibility that jumped out as I drove. There was no hurry, so quite often, nothing came of some of those stops. The first was at a pullout along the Oconaluftee River where I spotted an area of red leaves among the other fall colors. Although I liked the straight image of backlit leaves and leaning trunks, I tried an Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) as well, that provided a more abstract view of the same scene. These ICM’s are not a one and done endeavor; rather, they are an exercise in a learning curve; finding what works and what does not. Moving up or moving down, or both; too much or not enough movement; or adjusting the initial camera placement for balance within the frame, all have an affect on the final image. Simply stated, it’s trial and error until you’re finally satisfied with the result.
So, continuing back along the Blue Ridge Parkway, there were many stops when something caught my eye with a few of them below. The images on either end were basically “no-brainers” in that they were seen just about the way they appear in the frame. However, the one in the center was a frame at the end of a series of images taken of a larger section of the wall containing this lighter intrusion. Each image of the large section left me with ambivalence, and it wasn’t until I really zoomed in more tightly, was I satisfied and ready to move on. In the larger frames, the tiny rhododendron was insignificant, when the purpose was for it to be more prominent. It was the long white intrusion that overpowered it, and by zooming in, the rhododendron was on a more equal footing with the intrusion, and created a better balance between the two objects, as well as the image itself.
One note here though, in each of these photos, a polarizer was used to eliminate any glare from the leaves, and in the case of the center image, the very wet rock wall. The difference was quite dramatic, and regret not having taken a frame without its affect to illustrate the point.
Since the sky refused to produce any clouds, I opted to go beyond my preferred sunset location, and drive on to Graveyard Fields once again. It was most likely just to kill a bit of time before there was a need to be at a sunset location, but there was an interesting shaft of light through the center of the valley that encouraged the camera out of the bag. But it wasn’t enough to skip doubling back to the Cowee Overlook again.
Since there were still no clouds at all when I left Graveyard Fields and returned to the Cowee Overlook, I shot directly into the sun to show the ridges and some backlit bushes nearby, but the internal refractions were a menace. So I took one image with my hat actually in the frame at the top right corner to get a frame without those annoying circles. The idea was to combine one with, and one without the refractions in Photoshop. It wasn’t too difficult, and was very happy with the result. But, and this is a very big but, zoomed in at 100% back in Lightroom, I noticed that the branches and leaves of those nearby, backlit bushes, had ghost images because I had combined that area using a brush that was not at 100% opacity! So the whole process needed to be repeated and extra, unnecessary time was spent in front of the computer!!! There was a lot of tedious blending around the middle fir tree, and I was annoyed with myself for having flubbed the initial processing.
After the sun dropped behind the distant ridge line, I waited a while for the color to intensify along the horizon and the light values to even out more toward the darker ridges, and clicked off a three panel pano (top) using a two-stop split ND filter to darken the sky. There is nothing that illustrates the distances involved than the ridges fading as they get further away, with the bonus of haze between each ridgeline. There was no hanging around afterward to do some more Milky Way shots because of the cooler temperatures and a stiff breeze that would have made any foreground trees a blur with the necessary 25 or 30 second exposures. So the day ended with another camp meal back at the tent, and an early night looking forward, with fingers crossed for clouds, to the final sunrise of the trip the following morning.