Skyline Drive

Waiting for Spring by Todd Henson

Waiting for Spring, April 2018

I write these words in December. It’s winter, there’s a cold breeze blowing outside. We’ve seen the first snowfall of the season, with who knows how many more to come. I do enjoy this time of year. The fresh feeling of the cold air. The pure, glistening white of snow and ice. The interesting sensation of feeling warm and relaxed under the layers of clothing, while the cold wind leaves a tingling sensation on the cheeks.

But I also look forward (or back) to spring, when the air begins to warm, the sun stays up longer, and plant life prepares to spring back to life. I look to mid-April, along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The trees atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia are still devoid of leaves, though that will change before long. The sun backlights a couple of trees in a field, lights up a few clouds in the sky, and creates a soft glow with the haze around the mountains in the distance. I imagine warmth, but that is just my imagination; it’s still fairly cool outside, especially atop the mountains.

I do enjoy the winter. But I’m also waiting for spring.

Waiting for Spring is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products in my Pixels online store.

To Mary's Rock Tunnel by Todd Henson

A car drives past, heading towards Mary’s Rock Tunnel.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy going on day trips with my folks. During some of these trips we end up driving portions of Skyline Drive over top the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. This was one of those trips.

It was mid to late October. We’d hoped to see a little colorful foliage but it was still almost entirely green with only hints of what might be to come. But it was a beautiful day with nice cool temperatures, and though there were lots of visitors to the park it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as it can get when the foliage begins to change.

As we approached Mary’s Rock Mountain I had an idea for some photographs, so we pulled over into the overlook just before Mary’s Rock Tunnel. From here I kneeled down behind some rocks between the road and the overlook and rested my camera on the rocks. I was using a 6.5mm fisheye lens to capture both the road to my left and as much of the view from the overlook as possible. I would have preferred if there were fewer cars parked at the overlook, but it was unlikely to clear up anytime soon, so I took what I could get.

My plan was to stop the aperture down as far as necessary to allow me to slow the shutter speed enough to blur the cars driving towards the tunnel. I didn’t want to blur them beyond recognition, though, so I had to experiment a little to get just the right amount of motion blur. There were plenty of cars driving by so it didn’t take too long to get it right. In the end I settled on an aperture that gave me 1/25 second shutter speed.

One concern I had was exposure. It was late afternoon and the overlook was in open shade. But the sky beyond the overlook was still brightly lit. So I had to balance getting enough exposure for the cars going by without blowing out the highlights in the sky. Thankfully, today’s cameras have a fair bit of dynamic range and I was able to balance the exposure on each side of the photo in post-processing.

In the end I was very pleased with the photographs. They had started as a spur of the moment idea, one I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull off. And even if they hadn’t worked, it was still a beautiful day out with my family. Can’t get much better than that.

Stopping down the aperture allows me to slow the shutter speed enough to blur the moving car.

Gear Talk

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The lens I used in these photographs was an Opteka 6.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye Lens. It’s a great inexpensive fisheye that lets you experiment with what fisheye lenses can do without going to the much greater expense of name brand lenses. I wasn’t sure what to expect, given the price, but ended up being very happy with the lens so far. The controls are not as smooth as you would expect from name brands such as Nikon or Canon, but for the price, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Be aware, this Opteka fisheye is a manual lens, requiring you to manually focus and set the exposure. The aperture is set using an aperture ring on the lens, not using the camera’s controls. So be sure it is compatible with your camera before purchasing.

Evening in the Blue Ridge by Todd Henson

Evening in the Blue Ridge

You just never know what a scene will look like when you travel any distance from your home. Sometimes it’s less than you might have hoped for. Other times it far exceeds your expectations. But it’s always worth bringing along a camera, just in case.

Today’s image (click on it for a larger view) was created in March of 2015 just after 6 in the evening. We had spent the day elsewhere but decided to head home by way of Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This road weaves over the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the park, offering many scenic pull offs. There are also many miles of trails if you have enough time to hike or camp.

This particular evening had a nice mix of clouds in the sky and a few lower lying clouds hovering in the valleys. The sun was low and the light was shaped by and sometimes blocked by the various clouds.

I had originally bracketed the shot so I could process it as a high dynamic range photograph to capture as much tonal range in the shadows and highlights. Then I converted it to black and white and performed some dodging and burning to lighten and darken different areas of the image, bringing out the textures of the mountain slopes and the clouds.

I think it worked reasonably well. Let me know what you think. Maybe you would have processed it a bit differently?

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.