I Love It...No, I Hate It...No wait... - RJ Wilner

04/04/2019

Clingmans Dome 080, 10/22/2013

Location: Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Date/Time Captured: 10/22/2013 @ 08:38

I suspect most, if not all,  photographers have at least one image in their collection with which they have a love<->hate relationship. This image from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one such image for me.  The tale of woe.....

I had made my way up to Clingmans Dome for a sunrise session on this particular morning. Anyone that's shot in Great Smoky Mtn Nat'l Park knows what a crapshoot shooting 'The Dome' can be at just about any time of day, and it seems at sunrise in particular. I've had some excellent photogs tell me they've never had much luck there. Myself... I've probably made attempts to shoot sunrise 8-10 times and have encountered just about every meteorological condition imaginable. I've arrived when the fog was so thick there wasn't much more than 100 ft of visibility in any direction.  I've planned to shoot Ocunaluftee Overlook (along the main drag through the park and 'just down the hill' from The Dome) and upon arrival there found that thick dense fog making that location a no-go....and then decide to take the short drive up to The Dome...just for grins....to see how thick the fog may be up there...only to find a virtually cloudless sky and bright sunshine. It turned out the thick fog layer was all in lower elevations on that occasion.  That was the clearest sky I've encountered there. All the other sunrise attempts found at least fairly to mostly cloudy conditions.

And as can be seen in this image, the cloud cover was pretty thick on this morning as well. I drove into the parking lot approximately 20 minutes prior to sunrise. As I was setting up the gear along 'Photographers Row', it became clear the larger group of folks there for the same purpose were participants in a workshop. For the first half hour or so, there wasn't a whole lot of light available to shoot anything, and it was pretty clear there wasn't likely to be much of a color extravaganza for sunrise.  But I fired off occasional test shots and whiled away the time eavesdropping on the discussions the workshop leader was having with his charges. Starting to get a bit discouraged at the apparent lack of drama to be encountered on this morning, I finally settled on this location just because if anything did happen, this particular view would be about as good as any.  And again started firing off the occasional test shot and eavesdropping some more. The leader of the workshop was good...very thorough in his explanations of what might transpire and how to be prepared for it. Good info from him.

And then the show started. Over the next 30 minutes or so, sun rays started popping up in various locations in the frame. There would single large rays almost centered in the frame, and then a smaller distant double ray off in the distance, and more singles, then a triple way off in the distance toward the left edge of the frame. And so it went over a span of 15-20 minutes with intermittent periods absent anything than the cloud cover. All the while Workshop Leader Guy is passing out helpful tips to his group with a gradually increasing level of excitement in his voice. And then the array of rays (pun intended :) ) you see in this image appeared before us. I think myself and Workshop Leader Guy noticed it at about the same time because, as he was now excitedly exhorting his group...'Are you seeing this people!!!!??!!', I was having my own....."Oh good gravy Wavy, don't let me blank  this up!" moment.

Over the span of time the sun rays were putting on their show, I must have tripped the shutter 50-60 times.  And I was especially excited about this one when I got my first view of the RAW file. But I also had some misgivings about it because there is nothing remotely 'minimalist' about it..... it is more than a bit of a 'busy' image. And I knew that business was going to make the processing of it more than a smidgeon of a challenge. And that turned out to be precisely the case. I must have tried at least a half dozen approaches to processing in the immediate time frame after returning home from the trip, and each time there was something disappointing about the result. It was the thick, but broken cloud cover that was my nemesis. The gentle horizontal lines formed by the cloud cover crossing the path of the primarily diagonals of the sun rays always seemed to cause the sky portion of the image to wind up looking like a skewed tic-tac-toe board and preventing me from finding a means of giving the sun rays the 'leading actor in a starring role' due they deserved. 

I believe I've shared at least one variation or another of the shot in the years since it was originally captured, but it was always with a chunk of hot flaming trepidation that I did so  because it never felt quite 'right'. But I think with this latest go at it  you see here, I've finally developed a 'score' I actually like.  It's taken a long time and a lot of (sometimes mis-) firing synapses to reach a point of contentment. But I do believe the Love<->Hate meter is now leaning more towards the love side than it ever has previously. :)

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