Blog#94 – Autumn Color on the Blue Ridge

Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall.

I traveled to photo spots with a great group of photographers led by Adam Jones and Donna Eaton. Although I had photographed at some of these same spots before in past years, you never get the same images. Weather patterns and leaf color are difficult to predict and you have to come ready to photograph in all conditions.  The fun part of workshops is that you meet new people who share your passion for photography and don’t mind getting up at 5:30 AM to catch the dawn.

A perfect place to photograph sunrise is the Pounding Mill overlook. The following image is an HDR image that is the result of the combination of 3 images with different exposures taken from the same spot. HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. Since the camera does not have the ability to capture the same range of light as our eye sees, the HDR software will combine the 3 images into an image in which the darks and shadows still have some detail and the whites and highlights will not be blown out (all white). More about the description of HDR process is further down in the blog.

Sunrise on Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook
Sunrise on Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook

If you are not familiar with the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is a road that is 469 miles long that extends from Shenandoah Park in northern Virginia all the down to Cherokee in North Carolina.The Blue Ridge Parkway is the nation’s longest national park. Each mile is marked with a mile-marker so you can find an overlook that you are seeking. The road has one lane each way, and the speed is controlled (45 mph). There are many overlooks, some are overgrown but others have good views and a few have magnificent views. Pounding Mill is the latter type and is located at Milepost 413.

We lucked out on this particular day because the storms of the previous few days had left some clouds of moisture and clouds make for spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

In order to capture the color in the sky and show some details in the mountains below or the clouds above, you have to take multiple images and combine them into an HDR image. There are a number of companies that offer HDR software: Nik HDR Pro and Photomatix HDR. Photoshop CS6 or CC also gives you the ability to use HDR. For this image I used 4 images that I took by bracketing the exposures in my camera. (For information on bracketing, go to your camera manual and set it for 3 exposures that are set about 0.7 – 1.0 f stop apart.) Your camera will take 3 successive exposures of the same shot as long as you don’t move the position of the camera while it is taking the shots.  Here are 3 of the images I took with my camera. The 3 images are sent through the HDR software and the resulting image will be the best combination of the lights and darks for the scene in the image.

Image exposing for the hills and clouds below.

The final HDR image can be tweaked in Photoshop in order to straighten it or take out blemishes or dust spots.

More images from my Blue Ridge Parkway Fall 2014  trip will be posted in upcoming Blogs. Thanks for visiting. I welcome your comments.

Image exposing for the clouds above.
Image exposing for the clouds above.
Image Exposing for the Bright Orange Sky
Image Exposing for the Bright Orange Sky