Recently, I took what was my third short photo trip of the year and have come to realize that there are always too many options. This trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway was a bit early for spring buds at higher elevations, but it offered bare trees as they would be in winter (without snow) and beginning spring buds by simply driving to lower elevations. Dawn always presents difficult choices and critical decisions. Sometimes a choice has to be made between two great locations from which to photograph the sunrise, and no matter which is chosen, I always feel I made the wrong choice. Generally you want higher elevations for long distance views as the sky lightens and changes colors with the best light lasting only a few minutes. Even while there, you must choose between the grand scene, or zoom in with a telephoto to “extract” a smaller segment of the view. Often that requires changing lenses and even the time to do so could mean you’ve lost the light. In the past, I’ve seen beautiful light disappear in an instant, as though someone turn off a switch. Your inclination is to continue shooting after sunrise, yet there is always a pull to head to another location before the great light there is lost as the sun rises further in the sky.
Sunrise on the first morning had a few clouds, and the anticipation of them moving into the right position to light up ended in disappointment when for some reason, they failed to do so. But that soft light as the sun just breaks the horizon raked across some ridge lines warming their color, yet leaving the hollows between them in shadow with a contrasting cool blue (top photo). I used a long lens to focus on some of the diagonals that the light created while a friend of mine also used a telephoto to create something totally different. The next day when he showed me the shot, I loved it and wished I had taken something similar as well. Although he took it with a much longer lens, it made me wonder if our vision is influenced by our gear. Did he “see” the possibility because it was available with a lens he had in his bag, while I did not have the capability of taking the shot; and did he not “see” the shot I took because he was concentrating on his during that short time the light was right for both images? I still wish I had gotten that shot, though.
We quickly moved to another location where we could look across a narrow valley to the opposite side that had beautiful side lighting, while the side we were on was in shade. These conditions, along with near calm winds allowed for several options: taking images of the sidelit hillsides across the valley, some interesting trees in complete shade on the near side, or a combination of both! In addition, there were a few moments when some small bushes and their new buds were sidelit in front of a rock wall that remained in shade; perfect lighting.
After spending quite a while photographing there, we headed down to lower elevations looking for backlit buds against an opposite mountainside in shade. We finally came across a spot and played with various options for the same subject. I tried a straight in focus shot; a blurred image and a multiple exposure. The blurred image was done holding the camera steady initially to let the buds “burn in” a bit prior moving the camera before the shutter closed. This created an image that looked like stars traveling through space. For the multiple exposure, 10-exposures, each moved slightly from the previous one, were combined in camera into a single frame. The result was a more painterly look of a stiff bristle brush dabbed onto a canvas as in some of the Bob Ross paintings I’ve seen on television so many years ago, and probably are still shown today.
In each instance, many attempts were made before I felt I had what I was looking for. Each had a similar style, but differed in their overall look, but the method can always be brought out anytime you want to try something different from the normal, all in focus shot.
The final option that morning was whether to stop shooting to eat or continuing to shoot because you always feel there is another great shot lurking just around the bend. But we did finally head back down the mountain, and what originally was going to be breakfast, turned out to be lunch!!