Unforseen Events

General Thoughts
Jordan Lake Sunset  © jj raia

Jordan Lake Sunset © jj raia

I was out renewing my driver’s license back in early February, and of course it took much longer than I expected, which caused me to drive home late in the afternoon. I noticed the sky, which had been cloudy all day, was just beginning to clear along the western horizon, and I immediately started driving with a bit more purpose in order to get home, collect my gear and head to the lake for the possibility of a good sunset. I rushed to a spot I knew would face west, parked the car along the road and started hiking through the woods to get to the water’s edge. As I walked, I began to envision what the image might look like. Even though the lake was not very wide at that point, I figured to use a wide-angle lens to make the opposite shore appear much further away than it really was and include as much sky as possible, and I would need a split neutral density filter to even out the light values of the sky and water. I was thinking ahead so when I arrived I would immediately know what needed to be done to get the shot I wanted. But time was getting short and the sun was already setting through a sliver of an opening in the cloud cover. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hike to the spot before the sun went down, however I hoped I would get there just as the clouds lit up. But down I went, really hard with all my weight landing directly on my shoulder; I knew immediately it was bad. I couldn’t even lift up my arm; it just hung there by my side and It was extremely painful. I got up slowly and kept moving until I got to the edge of the lake. Somehow, I managed to get the camera out of the bag and onto the tripod using the one good arm and the other hand, but never lifting it from my side. Then I had to change the lens on the camera, get the filter on, compose (which was pretty painful and difficult using a ball head) and managed to click off a few frames just before the beautiful light vanished. A two second exposure smoothed out the water a bit since it was not completely still and mirror-like; otherwise it would have just looked blurry without much in the way of reflections. I was happy I was able to get through the pain to photograph the great light on the clouds, but I paid the price on the walk back to the car, my shoulder was throbbing with every step. I had to drive using only one hand because I couldn’t get my other hand up to hold the wheel, and it wouldn’t have been too bad except that I drive a manual transmission… always have.

The shoulder seemed to improve just a bit the next day, so I felt I may not have broken anything, and although it was still pretty painful, it continued to improve just a tiny bit each day until I finally had some semblance of normal movement back. It is still not right today, after over two months, but the events of that afternoon really made me think that I needed to be a bit more cautious when I’m out alone. When I head out west, or anywhere away from home for that matter, for photography, I tend to travel alone and am pretty conservative, trying not to put myself into any situations that could lead to disaster. But here near home, I have rethought my approach to being alone when I photograph as well. I could have really injured myself that night and been left lying there unable to get back to the car. Luckily I did have a cell phone, so that would have helped, but only if I had remained conscious! I came away with the realization that in a split second, things can change dramatically, and your life could possibly never be the same thereafter. I count my blessings that it wasn’t anything more serious than it was that night.

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Being Lucky

General Thoughts
Pollen Flow No. 1 — Jordan Lake  © jj raia

Pollen Flow No. 1 — Jordan Lake © jj raia

Here in North Carolina, the pollen season has begun with a vengeance. It is more than just a light dusting of the stuff on your car, it is a green haze or fog everywhere. It is seeing footprints on sidewalks and following those footprints right onto the floors in your house and even tire tracks on your street. There is so much on my front porch, I can sweep it up with a broom!!
I recall one morning a few years back when I was still new to North Carolina and went to nearby Jordan Lake to photograph a sunrise, I was on a small bridge over the water and I noticed a yellow/brown/green slick that ran for hundreds of feet on the surface of the water. The runoff from the previous nights heavy rain took with it all the pollen that lay on the ground and produced a pollen flow, no more than ten feet wide, slowly making its way under the bridge and into the main body of the lake. Since the sun had just risen, the light raked across the pollen accentuating its texture, and the slow movement caused it to swirl, bunch up and continually reform its design on the water’s surface. There were varying shades in the monochromatic designs and when small air bubbles rose to the surface, they were unable to burst because of the pollen coating, and appeared like tiny, side-lit pearls. The variations in designs were limitless and I took what seemed like the same number of photos (digital allows that freedom) using a telephoto zoom looking straight down over the side of the bridge.

Pollen Flow No. 2 — Jordan Lake © jj raia

Pollen Flow No. 2 — Jordan Lake © jj raia

Although I was lucky to witness this set of circumstances come together and completely fascinated by this phenomena, I was not completely satisfied with my photographic results. Many images were not as sharp and crisp as I would have preferred. I suppose hanging over the side of the bridge with cars rumbling behind me causing it to shake, hand holding a heavy 200mm and shooting a moving target all worked against it. But I did manage a number that were acceptably sharp, although some designs I really liked were not. If I had sufficiently boosted up the ISO, I probably would have had a higher percentage of sharp images and any noise would have been lost in the sandpaper texture of the pollen. Although I say so many times after seeing something so unique, “I would love to give it a try again next year…” I have never seen it again, including so far this year. Maybe I’ll get lucky again someday, but at least I’ll have the advantage of knowing to look. That in itself should increase my odds of being lucky.

Pollen Flow No. 3 — Jordan Lake © jj raia

Pollen Flow No. 3 — Jordan Lake © jj raia

Lemonade from Lemons

General Thoughts
Just Before Sunrise — Jordan Lake  © jj raia

Just Before Sunrise — Jordan Lake © jj raia

In the last post, I mentioned that generally we look for clouds when photographing a sunrise or sunset. So yesterday morning when I looked out the window while it was still dark, I didn’t see any, but looking on the radar of a weather app, it showed a band of clouds approaching from the west and their movement appeared they might be overhead in time for the sunrise with the eastern horizon still clear. The ideal is for just a sliver of an opening on the horizon for the red rays of the setting or rising sun to squeeze through. It didn’t look like the ideal, but the conditions held promise. So I packed up my gear and headed out to Jordan Lake, but as the sky began to lighten, I came to realize there were no clouds to be seen anywhere. It looked like I wouldn’t even take the camera out of the bag, which for me is not all that rare; especially when I was still shooting film, which has only been 2-1/2 years since then.
Since I was already out, scouting a few spots I hadn’t seen at sunrise yet seemed to be a good way to make lemonade from lemons. The first spot I went to around the lake was gated until 8am, so that was out unless I wanted to do some serious walking around it. I decided to head toward a bridge I had shot from previously and had noticed what appeared to be a trail leading into the woods nearby. I figured it might be one used to get to the edge of the lake by fishermen and I would check it out as a possible sunrise location for future reference. It was still just before sunrise when I arrived, followed the trail and indeed, it did lead to a small spot along the lake. There was even a beaver pond just behind the lake as well and since the winds were calm, the waters were completely still; but still no clouds. The one interesting element though was mist rising from the water since it had been very cold overnight with frost warnings for the area. The sun was just about to pop over the trees on the far side of the lake and really glowed red against the bald blue sky and since the water level was relatively high, some of the bushes along the edge were surrounded by water and their reflections mirrored. It was a difficult spot in which to maneuver to get a decent composition, but I was finally able to spot something even though I saw a few small distracting branches intruding into the edge of the frame. But they could be trimmed out in post processing. As usual, I had a two-stop hard edge split neutral density filter in front of the lens to balance out the light values of the sky and water.

Spring Buds — Jordan Lake  © jj raia

Spring Buds — Jordan Lake © jj raia

After just a few shots, I headed back up the trail to the bridge where I thought I might see some of the new spring buds backlit by the sun, and even tried shooting through some front lit (generally against some rule) green buds to some red maple buds, blurring the green using selective focus and a wide open aperture for a more abstract look. Heading back to the car, I noticed one of the first dogwoods to bloom along with a redbud above. The top of the scene was lit by the sun while the bottom remained in the shade, but I liked the opposition of the cool and warm light within the frame. I exposed for each separately thinking I might blend them together later, but managed to work through the differing values using a single average-metered image, retaining that differentiation. I also took a closer view from a different angle of the dogwood blooms alone which also showed the differing light, but this time it was foreground and background rather than top and bottom.

Dogwoods and Redbuds No. 1  © jj raia

Dogwoods and Redbuds No. 1 © jj raia

But it gnawed at me all day to try the spot again when the entire scene was evenly lit, so I returned later toward the end of the day when it would be in complete shade. But by then, the sky had turned overcast so the cool color of a blue sky would not work its way into the forest…it was a completely different image than I had hoped for. But I may return yet again if the conditions come together before the blooms disappear. Or I can file it away for next spring.
This is what I spoke of in a recent post about shooting in the rain, how we may see something that we want to photograph, but the lighting is not right at the time we see it and imagine what it would look under different conditions, file it away and return when those conditions are there.

Spring Buds — Jordan Lake  © jj raia

Spring Buds        Jordan Lake           © jj raia

Blurrede Maple Buds — Jordan Lake  © jj raia

Blurred Maple Buds     Jordan Lake         © jj raia

Sometimes you pre-visualize what you’re after but conditions don’t work in your favor, so remain flexible and work with what is there. It makes you see more of what is possible rather than chasing something that is not.