It’s that time again, the time when we turn the calendar to a new year. While in many ways it is an artificial time period – my friend Paul refers to January 1 and December 31 as “markers” – it’s as good a way as any to mark the passage of time, and if we wish, to reflect back and look ahead.
A lot of people seem to be expending an awful lot of energy worrying about 2017, but that’s mostly wasted on things that can’t be changed or controlled. Kathy & I take a more positive view and look at every new year as a new opportunity for adventure. We get a new allotment of vacation days (yay!) and replenish our vacation budget (yay!) and start looking for interesting ways to spend them both.
We started off the new year with a trip to the NC mountains. The threat of possible snow and ice eliminated our plans for a quiet midnight at one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we still made the best of a damp and dreary weekend.
I hope everyone’s 2017 is off to a good start and look forward to sharing a new adventure this coming year!
This past weekend, Kathy & I paid a long-overdue visit to one of our favorite day-trip destinations, Chateau Morrisette on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. Those who know us well understand that most of our favorite destinations involve something to do with food and wine. Chateau Morrisette is one of the largest wineries in Virginia, and also happens to operate an award-winning, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. Chateau Morrisette has both food and wine!
Our timing worked out that we were able to have a nice dinner, proceed to one of my favorite sunset destinations for photography, and return to the restaurant for dessert before starting the drive home. How hard is that?
The Saddle Overlook is a few miles north of the winery in an area called Rocky Knob, and is so named because the “saddle” is a low area between the two peaks of Rocky Knob. It has both easterly and westerly views, so depending on the time of day there are frequently interesting things to photograph. Most of my time there has been spent at sunset. The west view has an interesting panorama of the valley and Buffalo Mountain in the distance, but as with most sunset locations it is most interesting when conditions result in a nice sky.
When we first arrived at the parking area there were a few cars, mostly families returning from an earlier hike and a few people just hanging out in their cars. No obvious overload of photographers like some of the more popular spots in North Carolina. Not too much was happening in the sky, and with a general absence of clouds I knew that the best photographs would likely come after the sun had set.
The parking lot has a really nice view, so it is possible to just sit in the car and watch the sun go down. And I could have simply set my camera up in front of the car so I didn’t have to go far. But preferring to work alone and having been at this place before, I have a favorite spot down the hill and off to the side so I can get out of the way of the “tourists” and generally avoid the chatter that inevitably happens when the “drive-by cell phone photographers” start filtering in right at sunset.
Things happened pretty much as expected, and as soon as the ball of the sun sunk below the horizon, the engines started firing up, car doors slammed and in 5 minutes the place was practically deserted. Figuring that it was probably safe to retreat to a spot closer to the car before it was too dark to see, I gathered my gear and headed back up the hill toward the car to complete my evening’s work. I set up my tripod again and framed up a few more shots.
Pretty soon I hear a couple of guys behind me that were looking at the image on my LCD and commenting on the great color I was getting. One guy walked over and started asking me questions and repeated his comment about the nice color I was getting, and I explained that even though it was dark, there was a lot of color in the sky until well after the sun goes down, but that most people miss it because the best color often happens after most people have packed up and left. That they think the sun crossing the horizon is the “main event.” He seemed surprised to hear that but agreed that based on what he saw on my screen it must be true. Seeing is believing! With that, his buddy announced that it was time to go, and he ambled off with a “nice talking to you” and was gone.
I never mind chatting photography with an interested observer. I probably didn’t make a convert, but hopefully I spread a little knowledge. It interests me though the most people just don’t take the time to look, or to think about the things that we photography nuts take for granted.
My buddy Paul has been documenting a strange phenomenon regarding shoes – sometimes pairs but occasionally single shoes – left unexplainably in strange locations. I have had my own sightings from time to time, and here is the latest. I have no idea what has happened to the owners of these shoes, but Paul’s theory – and I’m a believer – is that these poor folks have been abducted by aliens. No idea why the aliens don’t want the shoes – that remains a mystery!
Kathy & I spent a nice quiet weekend in the Waynesville, NC area last week. It was sort of a birthday celebration but was primarily an excuse to escape the Charlotte heat and get away to the quiet and cool of the mountains. We ate at a few of our favorite restaurants and explored a bit of the area, but mostly we “chilled.”
We had a nice hike in the Smokies along a quiet mountain stream, had a picnic lunch and spent some time at a few overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but nothing especially noteworthy.
At one point while sitting at a picnic table having lunch, one of us remarked at the number of people who come roaring into the parking area, race to the bathroom and barely have time for the car to cool down before they fire it up and race on to the next destination. Once in a while someone would “picnic,” which basically involved carrying their fast food container and half emptied “Big Gulp” over to a table, gobbling down some unrecognizable carbohydrate, then do the same hop back into the car and roar off thing.
We see the same thing happen at an overlook on the Parkway. We’ll be sitting in the car enjoying the quiet and the view, and car after car will drive in, stop without even putting the car in Park, stick an arm or a camera/phone out the window then drive off. Drive-by sightseeing!
One of us mentioned that – if they ever even took the time to notice anyone was there – these people would think we were crazy for just sitting around doing “nothing.” But what they fail to realize that “nothing” is actually “something,” but that too many people don’t bother to think about the benefits of just sitting and enjoying the view!
Kathy & I made a late afternoon stop this past Saturday at the Little Glade Mill Pond along the Blue Ridge Parkway, not too far from the intersection with US21. The light was right, the colors were great and I mixed up the fuzzy and the sharp. I don’t get to pull out the 55-200 often, but it was just the ticket for this group of photos.
I’ve got a few more, so there may be a follow up post. Stay tuned!
I’ve recently begun a project to go back and “finish” processing photos from prior years that I never got around to finishing. These are photos that I had marked as “Picks” but for many reasons just never took the time to finish. It’s been an interesting project so far, and there have been a few photos that, now that I have gone back and looked at them again, are ones that I wonder how I overlooked.
I’ll write about the details in a future post, but my Lightroom catalog contained more than 8,000 photos that had Pick flags but had not been processed. That number is miniscule by many people’s standards, but it has been a huge personal monkey on my back for a long time, so I decided to do something about it. I finished 2011, then decided to go back to the Beginning of Time. So far I’ve completed 2005 and the number is now down to 6,700. Woo-Hoo! 😉
2005 was a good year. I purchased my first digital SLR, a Canon 20D along with a few lenses in April that year. We traveled to the Smokies early that year, and I have a few decent photos from there and spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In May we headed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week. We also spent some time in the mountains later in the month.
In July we took the first of our two trips to Alaska, this one to celebrate our 25th anniversary. That was a Really Big Deal, and I brought back a few decent photographs.
After that it was back to North Carolina, mostly the mountains in the fall, a cruise and that was about it. It was a fairly “light” year as far as photos are concerned, and my Lightroom catalog for 2005 now contains only 755 photos. I was still shooting film then, and there are about 90 scanned slides in a different folder. Chances are if I ever decide to use any of those they will need to be rescanned, since I don’t think they are up to today’s standards. Plus, the more I work with digital files the less I want to work with the old film scans.
My conclusion after looking at all these files is that I was still a very “subject oriented” photographer back then. I made a lot of documentary shots, with a few of them showing signs of what I feel I am looking at today. Considering that I was just learning digital photography and really just getting started in photography in general, it shows that I still had a lot to learn but had a pretty decent start.
This month’s wallpaper continues the abstract theme. I don’t have many landscape motion abstracts, and the ones I do have tend to be vertical images. Those would make good tablet or phone wallpaper but not so much on the computer screen. I do have a lot of moving water abstracts that I really like, primarily because I spend a lot more time shooting water at the beach than shooting mountains. Plus, making good motion landscapes is hard! It seems that I have a lot more luck getting water abstracts that I like. But no matter.
This image is titled Flat Rock, Morning, was one of my first print sales a few years ago and continues to be one of my most popular photographs. So out of the archives it comes to live for a month on your desktop if you so choose!
Kathy & I will be headed to the beach later this month, so don’t be surprised to see some more moving water photos in June!
Generally when I am in the process of taking a photograph, I have a basic idea what it is going to look like when I am finished processing it. When I’m sitting at the computer working on an image, it just sort of “develops itself.” Most of the time the direction I need to go with an becomes pretty clear to me. I open up an image in Lightroom, work on it a bit, and after a few basic tweaks it is pretty much done. Unless I’m going to make a print, there isn’t a whole lot more I do.
This particular photograph has me a little perplexed. I processed it exactly how I expected to. It’s a little more processed than usual, but there’s quite a lot of dynamic range going on here. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get comfortable with it. There’s nothing really “wrong” with it, in fact a lot of people would probably wish that they had taken it themselves. But for some reason I am struggling with it.
It’s a typical Cowee Mountains Overlook sunset. It’s got a nice sky, detail in the foreground, and there’s a lot going on. Too much, I think. It is a very “busy” image, as opposed to a lot of my photographs that are a bit more simplified. I’ve definitely processed it a lot more than I usually process an image. Maybe that’s it, I’m not sure.
I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that it doesn’t seem like it’s mine. It’s the sort of landscape photograph that I’ve taken for years, but I just can’t seem to connect with this one. No, I didn’t switch memory cards with someone by mistake, but it’s just such a departure from the type of photography I’ve been doing recently that I may just have to spend some time with it to figure it out. In the mean time, it just doesn’t feel like my style, and I find that interesting.
I’ve written lately about how I feel like I am in a bit of a slump, photographically. Many readers have made comments along the lines of “gee, I’d love to have a slump like that.” But I’ve recently come to realize what I mean by what I’ve written. What I’ve pretty much decided is that doing the kind of photography I like to do requires an investment of time, energy and dedication that, for a number of reasons, I just haven’t been committing to this year. And this applies not just to the shooting, but to the processing and printing parts of the process as well.
As much as I’d like to think I can, I can’t just show up at a place and take meaningful photographs. I can take photographs for sure, and many of them may be good technically. But to create photographs with meaning requires more time. I need to get to a place, get my mind and my heart tuned in to what is happening, and sometimes just sit for a while until I start hearing the voices. “Being open to the gifts” is what my friend Les Saucier likes to say. I can’t just pull the magic out of my camera bag, toss it out there and expect to take meaningful photographs.
Mostly what this requires is an investment of time. Time partly to allow things to happen, but also time to get to a place in plenty of time for whatever is happening. Sunsets are a good example. I can’t just show up at a spot 10 minutes before sunset, pull out the camera and start taking amazing photos. Sometimes the best photos come well before the actual setting of the sun, sometimes as much as an hour before, such as when the sun is moving behind a low-lying layer of clouds and casting sunbeams, or highlighting ridgelines as they recede into the distance. Often by the time the sun sets all the magic is gone. Occasionally, the magic is just beginning at sunset, as the real color begins to appear after the sun has gone below the horizon. But I need time to “tune in,” to see what is happening, and to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it.
The other way that my photography requires an investment of time is in having plenty of time to enjoy myself. Kathy & I enjoy good meals at nice restaurants, both at home and when we travel. That generally doesn’t involve sitting at an overlook with cold chicken and potato salad. Sometimes it does, but not usually. So in order to do a little bit of both, it’s often necessary to have more than just 24 hours in a place in order to really do it justice and to find that balance between sunset on the Parkway and dinner in Waynesville (or wherever). One of the ways that this year has differed from previous years is that we have been taking more 2-day weekends and fewer 3 or 4-day weekends. This results in less time in a specific place, and I find that this takes time away from everything. I don’t like to feel like the clock is ticking while I am photographing. And the smaller window of opportunity that is dictated by a shorter weekend makes that clock tick like a parade of Harleys going by! With less time, success is more dependent on luck than creativity, and I don’t work so well when I am depending on luck.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means several things. First and foremost, I think it means that I need to do a better job of managing my time so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to do the kind of photographic work I find most inspiring while also finding time to do the other things I love. Photography and fine dining aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Some times of the year they are, so I’ll need to work that out. Sometimes it will mean a nice but late dinner, and sometimes it will mean cold chicken on the Parkway. The other thing it means is possibly traveling less frequently but for longer periods of time. And perhaps staying longer in one place instead of trying to see multiple locations and moving around constantly. I generally shy away from what I refer to as the photographic “death march” and don’t do a lot of good photography while I’m driving down the road. Give me a place to sit and chill for a while and I’m more likely to get inspired.
I’ve done some good work this past year and hope to do some more before it’s done. This year has been a little weird for a lot of reasons, and I’m looking forward to settling back into my usual routine next year. We’ll see where that leads, but I’m hoping it will lead to more fulfilling photography for me, and less of my whining about it to Kathy!
I didn’t shoot a lot of desktop-worthy fall color last year, so I had to go back two years for this one. While it isn’t “fall leaves and acorns” it is nevertheless color in the sky that you just don’t get too often over the summer. Not until the humidity blows off do you get these vibrant colors in the mornings.
Pounding Mill Overlook is on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of the SR 276 intersection, so whether you are in Brevard or Waynesville it is an easy sunrise destination, especially in the fall when sunrise is at a very civilized time. People don’t believe me when I say that the best color is often 30 minutes or more before sunrise. Why? Because people don’t usually start looking that soon, and because it is still really, really dark. But the color is there, you just have to be ready for it.
Kathy & I have a little bit of fall travel planned, although we will mostly be making day trips. I’ve used up nearly all of my vacation time for this year, and we’re holding onto what few of our vacation dollars are left until we can close on our house.