For those of you who I forced to spend a few extra days in March…sorry. The weekend got away from me and before I knew it, well you know.
One of my favorite sunrise locations at any time of the year is Pounding Mill Overlook, on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of the junction with US-276 that runs between Brevard and Waynesville. It’s either hit or miss here, but generally speaking if you aren’t socked in with clouds you’ll get something worth pulling the camera out for. Fog in the Pink Beds is always a good bet, and a nice golden glow from the rising sun makes for a doubly special sunrise.
Things may be a little quiet here for the next week or so as we head out on our next adventure, but with any luck I’ll come back with some nice shots of the Shenandoah National Park area. They had a little snow at Big Meadows this morning, so you just never know what you might run in to!
Several years ago, a well-known car rental company described how much better they were than the competition by using the line, “There’s Us, and There’s Not Exactly.” We’ve used that line over the years to describe things that almost but not quite measure up to our hopes or expecations and feel like it aptly describes our last several weekends. We’ve had a lot of fun but somehow it seems like this year – at least from a creative standpoint – we’ve been coming up a little short.
But I’m not complaining! We just completed our third of four weekends chasing fall color. We’ve had a great time, I’ve gotten some good photos and overall it has been a great adventure, but we were talking on the drive home yesterday about some of the ups and downs of our recent weekends. Overall we’ve enjoyed ourselves, but haven’t come across that “Wow!” moment that can make a trip memorable, or that situation that makes you look back and think, “Man, I’m glad we were here!” Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. But that’s what keeps us coming back.
Several of my co-workers frequently ask me on Monday mornings how my weekend was. They know we’ve been on the go and claim to travel vicariously through our trips. We have had “Chamber of Commerce Weather” for three weekends in a row, and while that is great for tourists it is a challenge for photography. And I really sound silly complaining about beautiful weather! It’s not that you can’t make good photographs on sunny blue-sky days, but it can be a real challenge between morning and afternoon “prime time” when the light gets harsh. You can only photograph so many backlit leaves against a blue sky or so many sunstars, and I’ve done my share! From a standpoint of enjoying our travels it has been great, but a few clouds here and there would be nice, thank you very much.
If someone would have asked me to give odds on 3 cloudless weekends in a row I would have had to say they would be very low. So what do we do? A little sightseeing, lunch at a new restaurant, a hike or maybe even a nap. We never lack for something to do, it just doesn’t always involve a camera.
We typically like to maximize our time in the mountains in the fall, and most years we have either just taken a whole week off work or have taken every Friday or every Monday off, but this year we’ve used up just about all our vacation time and have had to limit our travel to the weekends, leaving town after work on Fridays and essentially just having all day Saturday and Sunday morning to get our shooting in. Having fewer chances at the good light has limited our opportunities and our variety.
In addition, we simply don’t have an interest in the all-day photography “death march” so we build in time for other activities such as sightseeing and nice dinners. The great thing about this time of year is that the more civilized sunrise and sunset times allow us to get a little more sleep in the morning and plenty of time for a nice dinner in the evening, but there is still only so much we can do! We hope to get back to our usual habits next year. I’m looking forward to a few more vacation days – a privilege of my tenure!
With the exception of a fabulous show around Grandfather Mountain a few weeks ago, color overall has been spotty and in many places very muted. It seems like elevation and orientation have been even more of a factor than usual this year, and we’ve been hard pressed to find the kinds of color displays we like to see. A lot of this is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and we tend to pick a destination and work it, for better or for worse. We prefer to work a smaller geographic area rather than spend a lot of time driving around chasing color, so combined with limited time that sometimes makes it tough to find the right mix. We’ve found some pretty nice color though.
Inspiration and Creativity
I’ve been pondering the “What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?” question for some time, and it sometimes rears its ugly head when I am out trying to find something to shoot. I have traditionally been a Grand Scenic sort of guy but have recently been delving into the Mindful-Thinking-Intimate-Scenic realm and sometimes get myself confused. Give me some trees and a little fog and I’m in heaven. Big puffy clouds, sunbeams and a hillside covered with color and I’m in business. Harsh, cloudless blue skies and Houston We’ve Got A Problem. I’m exaggerating of course, but you get the idea.
Again, this is not to imply that I’m struggling, because I’m not. We’re having a great time traveling and enjoying our time in the mountains. I do get a bit discouraged, but it’s primarily due to the fact that I’ve not always been able to find something to put my personal “stamp” on.
Fortunately we don’t have a strict definition for what constitutes a “successful” weekend, and we certainly don’t measure productivity based on how many photos we take or how many “keepers” we get. Any weekend not spent at work or doing household chores is a good one, and if we get to spend some time enjoying beautiful scenery, having a nice meal or two and generally spending some quality time together, that sounds like success to me. And if I come home with a few decent photographs that is just icing on the proverbial cake!
Fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia
Canon announced a new flagship camera yesterday, and immediately thereafter began the inevitable commentary about theoretical image quality. I find it amusing that there are so many people who find it necessary to speculate about the pros and cons of a newly-announced camera based on spec charts and such things as pixel density, photosite size, processor speed, number of focus points, etc. Why is this?
I suppose it is because there are just a lot of people out there whose interest in photography is rooted deeply in the gear, and pouring over things like MTF charts gives them something to do. The tech stuff excites them. They enjoy speculating about the next Canikonujilympus and their theoretical pros and cons and imagined image quality. Fuji recently announced a new camera that was immediately met with comments denouncing it’s smaller sensor as though there was no possible way it could take a decent photograph. But no one had actually used one to take a photograph!
I’m very interested in this new Canon camera. It would be an excellent upgrade from the cameras I currently use. But it’s a lot of money, heavy as heck, and frankly I’m just not convinced it would improve my photography. The weak link is still the operator! The cameras I currently use still work and still take pretty good photographs, and I’m not anxious to part with that kind of money just to have something new. I’m sure it will be a great camera, but I don’t need to be first in line, if I even decide to get in line.
Lately I’ve been seriously considering moving to a smaller camera just so I don’t have so much stuff to carry around. I’m thinking that smaller may be the way to go, and while I am very interested in the trend toward smaller, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, I’m content to see what develops over the coming months. Maybe something will come along that catches my eye. And maybe not. If I end up using my “obsolete” cameras for another year or two I don’t think my photography will suffer. But I’ll be out there taking actual photographs, not sitting in front of my computer analyzing camera specs!
Whatever comes along you can bet I won’t be standing in line for one until I see some actual photographs. Or I might be in the market for somebody’s used 1Ds Mark III.
Kathy & I spent this past weekend on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the first of several weekends planned around fall color. We spent most of our time on the section of the Parkway between Linville Falls and Craggy Gardens, knowing that early in the season the higher elevations would be the place for color. It’s always interesting to see how the color starts and progresses as the season comes and goes. The show generally begins at higher elevations, but climate and orientation to the sun & winds play an important role. As the color change progresses, areas farther South and with lower elevation will soon join in the show. It’s all very “scientrific” as my kids liked (and still like) to say.
Fall is a wonderful time of year for photography, but for me, Fall is also a difficult time to get in the groove and photograph creatively because of the temptation to point the camera at the color just because it is so beautiful. But it is important to remember that color in and of itself is not necessarily going to make a good photograph. Composition, light and weather all need to come together to make a compelling photograph regardless of the time of year. Of course, the lower sun angle, crystal clear air and blue sky can often combine to provide some wonderful ingredients.
As we traveled around I looked out over some of the scenes and decided that, while the color was certainly beautiful, the conditions often were just not conducive to making the kind of photographs I like to make. “Color” as a subject is very difficult to pull off. Many of the scenes, if viewed just a few months ago when everything was green, would have been just as beautiful but for a lot of people – photographers and non-photographers alike – would not have been something to get out of the car for.
Fall is also a difficult time for photography because it is such a popular time for travel and things can get busy. Fortunately, most of the good light happens before the throngs arrive and well after they have retreated to the comfort of their buffet dinner. But every time we pulled into an overlook, or sometimes just pulled off the side of the road for a shot, there would be at least one car – often several cars – that would stop right beside me or pull off in front or behind me to see what I was shooting. And of course they get out of the car, try to make small talk, and usually end up asking me to take their picture. Fortunately Kathy handles that business, since I usually just ignore them. She’s a lot nicer about it than I would be.
Sunday we got an early start and spent most of the morning at a nice quiet little spot along the Linville River near Linville Falls. We weren’t too far from the Parkway and could hear the traffic, but in the 2 hours or so we were there I think we only saw about 6 cars. We needed to get back to civilization early so a little after noon we decided to drive toward Blowing Rock, which took us past Grandfather Mountain. What a mess! People were lined up to get into overlooks, parked on the grass and just stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture. It was absolute mayhem, and certainly not a place I wanted to stop and take pictures! We ducked into the picnic area near Price Lake to use the rest room, but decided we had had enough and headed for the nearest exit.
In his most recent e-book “The Inspired Eye 3,” David duChemin discusses the role of solitude in the creative process. Among other points, he states that “if there is one thing we’re in need of as creatives in an increasingly noisy and chaotic world, it is solitude.” I know some people thrive on camaraderie and social interaction when they photograph. Not me. For the kind of photography I do I prefer to be by myself or with a small group of like-minded photographers. I’m not going to find my creative voice at an overlook with dozens of cell phone camera wielding tourists looking over my shoulder and jockeying for position. If that means I don’t come home with photographs from that overlook, so be it. They wouldn’t have been “my” photographs anyway, and any photographs I did take that reflected my mood at the time would certainly not be anything I’d want to share!
This past weekend was the latest of many where I have tried to find my own images in a world filled with many potential subjects. I learned a lot about how and where to find my place. Learning how to weed through the noise, distractions and mayhem is a difficult part of the process but necessary in order for me to successfully make photographs that reflect my vision. I’m looking forward to the next weekend!