More often than not I set out with a particular set of photographs in mind. I'm not always sure how I'm going to shoot but usually I have some idea of where I want to be and when. Then there are times when I don't really know what I am planning to do. I just go and let the day direct my plans. Oddly enough those days can produce some of my own favorite pieces of work. One of these unplanned days happened again a couple weeks ago. I was back in Cade's Cove. If you know me at all then you know how connected I am to that place. That valley. My mountains. It's a place where I prefer to go alone with very rare exception. If you have ever been there with me you should know that you must have meant something to me.
So, after a full course of thunderstorms the night before, I set out early from the campground on foot. I'm here to test out some ND filters for a review I am writing and the weather is going to have to deal with me. It's still raining. Not much, but it's there. The morning air is cool and I can still see my breath out in front of me as I walk. A calm breeze carries the sweet scent of the wet earth and rhododendrons and I know that I'm home. When I make the gate to the eleven mile loop I'm nearly at a jog.
Maybe a half mile into the Cove I come upon a familiar sight. There is a big oak that sits just next to the road and I've photographed it before on other trips into the valley. It's just a nice frame and it always offers a good shot no matter the season. The cars have started to come through and I find myself walking along the side of the road. I pass the tree and make it a couple hundred feet before I decide to stop and take in the sight of the rain clouds rolling through the mountains. I put down my camera rig and hang my pack on a fence post.
Looking back up the road I see the old tree and the clouds moving along against a post-storm sky. It looks nice. One of those quiet calms that seems uneasy. I think to myself, "Self, why not make a couple of fucking pictures?"...myself always uses bad language when it talks to me...but I find myself in total agreement with me on this so I snatch up the camera and tripod. Just as I find my spot in the road and remove my camera's rain cover a car leisurely make's it's way over the hill towards me. Dutifully I move from the road to let the bastard pass and smile that polite smile I have which hides the rage which is building underneath. What's this? The car is slowing down...not here...don't park th.... Of course. He pulls off right in front of my tree. Completely raping any hopes I had of getting my image. The gentleman ignores me and produces a camera and tripod from his car and makes his way across the road. I remind myself of the harsh and liver-shredding reality of my situation: I do in fact have to share this place. So I just stand there. Hoping either the man will get his photos quickly or realize he has somewhat intruded. All that was needed was for him to pull forward maybe twenty feet. Anyway, I keep standing there and he keeps shooting. I just enjoy the scenery and wait. Which is fine. Finally he is satisfied and looks at me as he folds his tripod. He gives a polite nod and gets back in his car. All clear.
Not wanting to waste another chance I move quick. I get back in the road and set up the tripod with the dexterity of a four-armed Eskimo filling an ice tray. I've shot this scene before and I want something different. I want a low perspective but not too low because I need the reflection of the wet asphalt. I want the road as perpendicular to the horizon as possible with the ridge of the mountains leading close to the base of the tree. Preferably, I wish I could have waited for the clouds in the top left of the frame to move further to the east so the tree had no bright sky in the background. I know that the next car probably isn't far away so I don't wait. I fire off four exposures with apertures ranging from f8-f22. As often happens, the first shot was my best and this is the image I chose: ISO 50 at f/8 for 1/8 seconds with a 25mm focal length.
The processing was meticulous and I wanted to convey the sense of calmness that comes with the passing of a storm. In Lightroom I started by slightly straightening the image. You might have heard about the research I've been doing with the Fibonacci spiral or the so-called "Golden Spiral" and incorporating it in my landscape compositions. Well, this is one of those images. It might not be apparent and I'm not able to flip the crop overlay but the origin of the spiral begins at the base of the tree and radiates outwards and frames the mountains. Grab a vomit bag and look at this screen shot showing the overlay.
Does this sacred geometry add anything to the image? I'm not sure. But it's definitely something I will pursue in the future and talk about at spine-numbing lengths to folks who really don't care.
After the straightening I begin with a couple graduated neutral density filters(GND) on the sky and the foreground. After that I made some selective adjustments to the sharpness and exposure with the gradient brush as well as some global adjustments of the same. I then adjusted the luminance and saturation of the greens and yellows, warmed the white balance a bit and then made some more tweaks to the overall exposure and vibrance. Each one of these markers represents a different point of selective adjustment.
Overall, I was really pleased with how it turned out from beginning to end. Like I said, this wasn't an image I had set out to make that morning but it proved to be my favorite from the entire trip.