I live in the woods. Completely in the woods. Not in a subdivision with a few undeveloped acres or near a park, I mean really in the woods. My home is secluded and set way back from the road in a dense and untouched hardwood forest. My nearest neighbors are seasonal. I see no roads or other houses from my property, and all views are blocked by trees. If I don't go into town, I see more wildlife than people. It's great. It's peaceful. It does, however, have one drawback: winter. It is popular belief among nature photographers that a forest is the most difficult subject to photograph. Though it is comforting to the mind and pleasing to the eye to look out on the forest where I live, it is ironically very difficult to translate what I see and feel into a two dimensional plane when the trees are stripped bare. Forests are messy. During winter, hardwood forests are cluttered, and the flat grey tree trunks and crisscrossing branches are a nightmare to photograph. When the snows come and blanket the cluttered forest floor it can simplify a scene and interesting photos can be made. For whatever reason, the snows have not come yet this year to my neck of the woods. We experienced a very light flurry a couple weeks ago, but now daily high temps are well above freezing. The snow will come later, I'm sure. For now, I'm racking my brain to conjure up ideas for images. It's a slow time of year. Not much happens in the Appalachian woods during "stick season." I've barely seen any wildlife except for this one red tail hawk perched on a dead locust branch and the occasional deer moving through thick brown brambles at twilight. Even the non-migratory song birds seem to have clocked out early for winter this year. Finding something to put in front of my lens has been a challenge since returning home from the North Carolina coast after Thanksgiving.
Despite the limitations of this dreary and snow-less season, I've been pressing on and heading out this week in search of photographs elsewhere in the Blue Ridge. Two days ago, I was planning to shoot the sunset at Price Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway. When my wife and I arrived, it became apparent that the sunset that evening would not be very good. That's rare. It was a perfectly clear evening. That may sound nice to most, but to a photographer, it's flat out dull. I wanted a bright colorful sky with dramatic clouds and textures. Instead, the sun drooped behind the mountains with barely so much as a yellowish hue. We proceeded with Plan B and drove over to the Price Park picnic area to hop onto a trail that leads to a waterfall (that, as far as I know, has no name). At twilight, I made a few exposures, was decently pleased and we packed up and headed home. It was a textbook waterfall shoot. Slow shutter-speed, tripod, polarizer, nothing special. No dramatic light either. It's a very quiet scene. I'm pretty happy with my compositions, but overall the images lack excitement. It's up to the viewer to decide their merit, I guess. I am, after all, my biggest critic.
When we arrived home, the sky was clear and filled with bright stars. I've shot them over my house recently, but rather than simply pointing my lens up and including some dead branches at the edges of the frame as before, I prefer to have a clear subject. I decided that I would go back to Price Lake the following night to shoot the stars over Grandfather Mountain with the sky reflected in the lake. I've always wanted to pull off this particular shot, but have never been able to be there under the right circumstances. The lake is a 45 minute drive from my house, and timing is everything. I need the brightest part of the milky way over the lake with perfectly clear and dark skies and calm winds to pull it off. The weather forecast called for the conditions to be perfect. So, the following night, after running some Christmas-related errands in town, we drove out to the lake. We found the opposite of the forecast to be true. There was one hundred percent cloud cover! It was also very windy. The nature photographer can do nothing about the weather. You win some, you lose some.
I'm not making excuses and I'm really not complaining. I merely want to point out something to those of you in the process of learning and refining your craft (which is a constant and never ending process). Success in photography, like anything else, takes passion, patience, and, above all, persistence. It also takes a lot of creativity when under pressure or when photographing in less than ideal situations. And even if you still don't come away with the images you want under trying circumstances, you've at least succeeded in exercising your skills. It only makes you stronger. Trying is never failure. As cheesy as it sounds, only quitting is failure. Keep going. Keep creating. It pays dividends in the future.