As I mentioned in the last post, there weren’t any clouds for most of the time on this trip along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway. There were only a few along the horizon at sunset, but none each day at sunrise. So there were no opportunities to photograph an incredible sky lit up by the sun as I was fortunate to do two falls ago. But that doesn’t mean you pack up and go home…you try to work with the conditions you’re presented with. Each morning I went to the ever popular Pounding Mills Overlook, but things didn’t work out. The first morning, instead of a boring and cloudless sunrise, I took a forest detail panorama (below) pitting the cool blue morning light just before sunrise against the warm yellow spring buds using a short telephoto.
After the sun rose a bit and cast it’s light across the valley below, I used my normal 50mm lens in portrait and clicked off three frames to include Looking Glass Rock in the upper right to create a more normally cropped scene that benefits from the increased resolution.
Hoping for some clouds on the second day at the same location, I was shut out again, so just before the sun rose, I hurried further down the parkway to an overlook just before Graveyard Fields to see if the view from there would be any better for a cloudless sky. I ended up taking a set of two overlapping images with the normal 50mm again to really get some fine detail in the closest hills in the image at the top of the post. It turned out I liked the framing of the hills on each side since there were no clouds and I could concentrate more on the graphic nature of the ridgelines going off in the distance. If there were clouds lighting up, then I might have used a 35mm to include the sides and panned up for the second (or third) shot to get more sky and combined them later into a vertical image.
My very first attempt of the trip at a forest detail panorama was on the opposide side of the road from the Cherry Gap Overlook. There were some interesting trees and buds and it was easy to see through the trees across the valley since they had not yet leafed out. What allowed me to take that shot was that, although it was mid afternoon, there were some clouds overhead which covered the sun to put the entire scene in shadow. In addition, the winds were pretty calm and I was able to snap off a few frames and not worry about blurry branches from movement and relatively slow shutter speeds. Here the light values were pretty consistant while in the image below, there was a lot of contrast between the backlit buds and shadows. A polarizer helped with the glare from the leaves and really saturated the colors; using a polarizer is almost a must when taking backlit images. In most cases, about a full stop of underexposure is needed to accurately render the leaves in an image like the one below. Almost two stops of underexposure is needed when taking shots of just a few leaves with a lot of shaded area behind them, I needed to boost the ISO to 800 for the image below in order to get a shutter speed fast enough to stop movement since the branches were in almost constant motion from a steady breeze.
The big advantage of combining images is the greater resolution. If you look at them in Lightroom at 1:1 magnification, the detail is astonishing. Prints can easily be enlarged to several feet wide while maintaining clarity. So if time allows, try several images to combine into a single; whether it is a true panorama or just a normally cropped image. But understand that circumstances do not always allow the time necessary to go through this process because of quickly changing conditions. But it’s just another tool to create better images that are more crisp, clean and sharp.