PHOTOGRAPHING SUNRISE IN BIG MEADOWS

 1/15 @ f18, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 24-70mm at 70mm.

1/15 @ f18, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 24-70mm at 70mm.

This is the fourth time I've photographed "Big Meadows", located at mile marker 51 on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and each time it produces something different from what I expected. This time I was expecting wildflowers; what I encountered was something more dead than alive.

In order to prevent the meadow from becoming a forest, the park mows a portion, leaves a portion fallow and then burns a portion. Apparently they burned a portion on April 5th, which became apparent as the sky began to light up the field; and also when I looked down at my pants. 

As I worked my way along some of the many paths located in the meadow, I passed many of those burned out spots and I knew that they would provide some interesting photographs, but the sun was rising quickly so I made my way further into the meadow searching for something to put in the foreground. The tree in the above photo caught my eye for two reasons; it was the tallest thing in that part of the meadow and it was the only thing that wasn't brown. I knew the white bark would give me separation from the background and then I moved around looking to place the sun in different parts of the frame. It didn't take long before the sun was up and it was time to move on.

 1/15 @ f18, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 14-24mm at 16mm.

1/15 @ f18, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 14-24mm at 16mm.

Stripped of ground cover, the patches created by the prescribed burn provided a unique look at what the meadow floor looks like stripped of its cover and with the light low in the sky it created deep shadows which emphasized the roughness of the bare ground.

The other thing I noticed was a difference in color temperature between the warm yellow grass and the cool blue of the bare patches. So I decided to use that as one element to add depth to my photos. The other thing I did was include these little trees that seemed more like someone had just placed sticks in mud. It was just so different from the field of wildflowers I was expecting. Using a wide angle lens and getting close, it made these sticks appear more prominent in the scene and helps to draw you in.

 1/20 @ f20, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 14-24mm at 14mm.

1/20 @ f20, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 14-24mm at 14mm.

I moved on to another bare patch where a stick on the ground caught my eye. I lowered my tripod in order to emphasize the foreground and then used that stick as an element to lead you into the scene. Again, I also relied on the various color temps to add depth and interest.

 1/800 @ f7.1, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 24-70mm at 62mm.

1/800 @ f7.1, ISO 200. Nikon D4S, 24-70mm at 62mm.

For the final shot, I switched back to a longer lens and used the trees as a graphic element in the foreground. I like how my attention switches between foreground and background. One moment I'm focused on the trees, the next I'm trying look through them. Those layers provide the depth that draws you into the frame.

I don't know what photos I expect to get at Big Meadows, but I know that I haven't made them yet. In fact even as I look at the photos above, I can't help thinking that I could have done more, embraced the scene and accepted it for what it was and forget that it was not what I expected. I will return and keep an open mind.