Landscape

Milky Way over Clingmans Dome

Last week during a trip to the smokies with a few friends, we had the opportunity to photograph the milky way.  The weather was clear, there was very little moon, and it didn't even rise until after the milky way was to set anyway.  The weather was cooperating, so we just needed a place to shoot it.

After consulting my PhotoPills app and considering a few other places, we decided to try our luck at Clingmans Dome.  There isn't much as far as interesting foreground elements go in the parking lot there, so we decided to make the walk up to the observation tower and use that as a foreground element.  That walk, by the way, is not very fat friendly.  It is only about a half mile, but has an elevation gain of 331 feet.  That probably doesn't sound too bad reading it, but after a 1/4 of the way your thighs will let you know how bad it actually is.  We also did this at 3:00 AM.

We shot a few images at the base of the observation tower then one of my friends and I decided to walk up to the top of the tower to get above the trees and see how the compositions would look.  I'm sure glad we did.  Although the images from the base of the tower were great, what you could see from the top was incredible!  

You could not fit the milky way into the frame, even at 15mm, so this is a 6 shot panoramic image.  This was taken just minutes before the galactic center was to disappear behind the horizon. This was the first image I processed from my trip once I returned home.  I knew it looked pretty good on the camera's LCD, but I was just hoping it lined up and stitched together OK.  Lightroom Classic had no issues stitching the images.  I made sure to overlap each image by about 25% or so.  I'm pretty happy with the way this one turned out.

Equipment list: Nikon D850, Tamron SP 15-30 F/2.8 Di VC USD, Sirui Tripod and K-40 Ballhead

EXIF Info: Manual exposure, 30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 17mm

 

Roaring Fork

The Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite destinations in the park.  I love photographing water, so that automatically gives it an advantage.  The mossy greens on the rocks in the springtime are absolutely fabulous, too.  I also love that the water, in most places, isn't more than knee deep, so it's easy to get in the water and create more pleasing compositions than from the stream side.

The weather was bright overcast on the day I visited Roaring Fork.  That allowed me to shoot in that area for several hours...and I did indeed.  It's such a great area of the park, especially if you enjoy the water, and it isn't anywhere near as crowded as some of the other areas.

I used a 24mm lens here with a circular polarizer.  I never shoot water without a good polarizer.  It makes a huge difference in your images.  In this scene, it doesn't only kill a lot of the reflections off of the rocks and water, it also helps to make the greens a little more saturated.

Equipment list: Nikon D850, Tamron SP 24-70 F/2.8 Di VC USD, Sirui Circular Polarizer, Sirui Tripod and K-40 Ballhead

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 4 sec, f/16, ISO 64, Compensation: +1/3, 24mm

John Moulton Barn

In Grand Teton National Park resides two of the most photographed barns on the planet.  The T.A. Moulton Barn, which is the most popular of the two, and The John Moulton Barn.  Both of these barns reside in an area known as Mormon Row and they are about a quarter of a mile apart.

The road to get to these barns is closed in the winter, so if you want to visit them, you will need to make a walk of about a mile, however, the walk is well worth the effort.

On this particular day, we hiked out in the dark to make sure we were at The John Moulton Barn before sunrise.  The area hadn't had near as much snow as normal this year, so the hike out was really easy.  It was cold, though, at -1 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Due to the lack of snow, it seemed several other people had been in the area before us.  What that meant was we had a lot of footprints in the snow to deal with.  The best, and easiest, way to deal with them was to get back from the barn a bit, lower your perspective and use the sagebrush to block as much of the footprints as possible. 

Aperture-priority, 0.5 sec, f/11, ISO 100, 24mm

This image was made just before the sun hit the mountain peaks.  The sky gave us a hint of color as the moon was setting.  I believe any morning is a beautiful morning in this area, but spending a morning here with friends, a camera and a sunrise is tough to beat!

Image made with my Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70mm Lens and Sirui 3 stop GND Filter.  Gear supported by my Sirui W-2204 Tripod and G-20X Ballhead.

Snake River Overlook

During our visit to The Grand Tetons last week, we were hoping for some great sunrise and sunset opportunities, however, mother nature doesn't always work on your travel schedule.  We did get a at least one decent sunset and sunrise, but there were several days it was all clouds.

This is an image I made at The Snake River Overlook.  The scene from the overlook is one of my favorite scenes in the entire park.  It really doesn't have anything to do with it being famous, either...I just love that scene.

This image was taken about 30 minutes before sunrise and as the moon was setting.  There were clouds that had a lot of promise of lighting up for a gorgeous sunrise, but there were also clouds to the east that did a good job of hiding the sun.  All was not lost, though.  I really like this image with the moon.  The exposure on this was 8 seconds.  Just enough to show a little cloud movement, which is another aspect of this image I like.

Aperture-priority, 8 sec, f/8, ISO 100, 24 mm

This image was made using my Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70 G2 Lens and Sirui 2 Stop GND Filter.  I also used my Sirui W-2204 Tripod and G-20X Ballhead for support.

Top Ten of 2017

I didn't do as much traveling in 2017 as I have done in previous years, so I had initially considered it a "down" year...until I started looking through my images and trying to pick my favorite ten.  During that process I felt like I had underappreciated 2017.  Even though I spent a lot more time closer to home than usual, I still got to see a number of amazing things, and I'm always grateful for that.

Note that I said these were my favorite images.  That doesn't mean they are technically my best.  It means these mean something more to me.  It could be the subject, the stories behind the image or the people I was with at the time that made these special to me.

Feel free to browse the self-guided slideshow above.  I'll try to explain a little about why each of these images made the list.

1. Snake River Overlook, GTNP, January 2017 - This is probably my favorite scene in GTNP, although it is very tough to pick just one.  This morning it was -30 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest weather I have ever been outside in.  There was a ton of snow in the valley and the scene was just incredible.  It was a morning I will never forget.

2. Merlin, Mobile, AL, February 2017 -  This was taken on a trip to Mobile, AL when David Akoubian and I were scouting for an upcoming bird workshop.  The sky wasn't great here, but it was the first Merlin I had ever seen, let alone photographed.  It cooperated with us for several minutes, too.  

3. Backyard Bluebird, Huntsville, AL, April, 2017 - The bluebirds are always special to me, every year.  I am no birder by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll never pass up an opportunity to photograph any bird.  It makes it easier if they live in your backyard.  I've had about 3 or 4 years in a row now that Eastern Bluebirds have nested in my yard and I am thankful for it every year.  2017 was no exception. 

4. Tree Swallow, Huntsville, AL, April, 2017 - This image is probably not very special to many people.  I was just excited that a pair of Tree Swallows decided to nest in my backyard.  I had never had that happen and I had read that is a fairly rare thing.  As soon as I saw them bringing in nesting material I grabbed the camera and headed out.  I got several shots of them bringing in straw so it was hard to pick one, but I think this was my favorite.

5. Coyote, GSMNP, May 2017 - This was the year of the coyote for me.  I got the best coyote pictures I have ever taken this year in multiple locations.  This coyote in Cades Cove was special for me.  Although I had seen many coyotes in Cades Cove before, I'd never really had a good opportunity to photograph one until this day.  It having the spring wildflowers around it was icing on the cake.

6. Double Rainbow, Mormon Row, GTNP, June 2017 - This is another one of those "I'll never forget this morning" shots.  The weather was absolute crap.  Thunder and lightning everywhere.  I looked out the hotel room and told the guys I was traveling with we were going out despite the conditions.  I wanted someplace wide open in hopes of capturing some good lightning shots over the mountains.  I picked Mormon Row.  I had no idea what we were in for.  Right at sunrise the rain stopped and the sunrise broke through creating this double rainbow.  It lasted about a minute or two and then it rained the rest of the day.  This could have been my luckiest day of the year...I probably should've bought a lottery ticket that day, too.

7. Hops Barn, Swan Valley, ID, June 2017 - Another time being out shooting in a downpour paid off.  As we were driving over to this barn, it was raining sideways.  The rain had lightened up a little by the time we had arrived, but it was still coming down steadily.  In fact, we were taking turns shooting.  We would stand underneath the rear door of the SUV with our camera ready, then one at a time, would run out grab a quick shot and run back underneath the door.  As I sat in the car looking at the images on the camera I remember thinking "These won't be horrible, you can actually see some detail in the sky."  I had no idea until I started processing how much I loved theses images.  Especially in black and white.

8. River the Bald Eagle, Teton Raptor Center, June 2017 - You might have noticed in the two previous notes that rain was in abundance while I was in the Tetons this spring.  On a whim, with the weather not cooperating, we decided to visit this place we saw advertised called The Teton Raptor Center.  We initially went over on a day that they weren't doing shows, but the people there were so friendly and inviting that we went ahead and bought our tickets then for the next show.  It turned out to be a chance to get within feet of some majestic birds.  This particular Bald Eagle was named River.  She was recovering from some wing injuries.  After all of the cool, science things they told us about the birds, they let River fly around and pose for pictures.  She did a great job.  This particular image was just after she had dipped down into a small swimming pool they had setup for her and she was just drying off.

9. Osprey, Blythe Ferry, TN, July 2017 - I had visited the Blythe Ferry area before, but never while the osprey were nesting.  I thought I had missed it again this year since I wasn't able to get up there until July.  The osprey chicks had not fledged yet, however, and the parents were trying really hard to convenience them to.  That allowed me to capture many flight shots.  This one in particular was during a quick, summer rain storm.  You don't mind standing out in these rain storms near as much in July.  The rain made for a great element in the photo, too.  Being able to get so close to such awesome birds is a real treat.  If you are close, you should certainly go when the osprey start to nest.

10. Minnehaha Falls, Lakemont, GA, October 2017 - If you;'ve followed me for any amount of time you know I love waterfall photography.  I had to include at least one of them in this list.  I've only been to Minnehaha a few times.  Although we were there before the peak fall colors arrived, the fallen leaves around the rocks did give you a bit of the feeling of fall. So did the cold water!  This was a vertical pano that I put together in an effort to keep this composition but include the entire waterfall in the scene.

That's it.  My 10 favorite from 2017.  2018 is going to be starting off with a bang and I am looking forward to getting out and creating more images.  Thanks to all of you that like, comment, share and support me and my photography.  

More from the Madison County Nature Trail

This is a follow up post from yesterday's image from The Madison County Nature Trail.  The park is a very popular place in the fall, when the colors are great.  This means it gets photographed a lot.  When I am in a situation like that, I try to look for different and unique perspectives and compositions.

Aperture-priority, 1/40 sec, f/8, ISO 640, Compensation: -2/3, 76 mm

This was taken from very close to the same spot yesterday's image was made.  I stepped a little to the right, got lower and included the foreground foliage with the bridge in the background.  I choose an aperture that would give me a depth of field that would make the foliage stand out from the background.

Image made with my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm Lens.  Gear supported by my Sirui Tripod and Ballhead.

Madison County Nature Trail

So, I've been trying my best to chase fall color around for the past few weeks.  I think the best I found was this past weekend, near my house.  There is a very nice area near my house called The Madison County Nature Trail, or some call it The Green Mountain Nature Trail.  The colors there were amazing this past weekend!  Word spread quickly, though and I think every photographer in the area made the trek there.  There were tons of people and photographers when I showed up.  A lot of photographers doing family portraits and other families just enjoying the colors and nice weather.

Aperture-priority, 1/40 sec, f/8, ISO 800, 86 mm

I was there to photograph the colors, and boy were they there!  This little covered bridge is a popular spot in the park.  You will often encounter people having their portraits made around this bridge.  It also makes for a great reflection...especially with these colors.

A few things I like to do when photographing fall colors is to use a circular polarizer and under exposure just a touch.  Using a circular polarizer will not only remove any glare off of foliage but also enhance the colors a bit.  Also, under exposing the image by 1/3 - 2/3 stop will also help to make the colors pop a little more.  It's a good idea to check your histogram to make sure you aren't getting too dark, or losing a lot of shadow detail.  It also never hurts to find a good spot with a reflection!

This image was made using my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm Lens.  My gear was supported by my Sirui Tripod and Ballhead.

Important, Overlooked Items For Waterfall Photography

Yesterday, I headed to Southern Tennessee to do some waterfall photography.  The places I went I had visited several times in the past, but these are also places that could never get old.

When I left the house it was steadily sprinkling rain and had been for several hours.  Perfect weather!  When I got out to start photographing, of course the rain got heavier.  However, I was prepared.

Aside from all of the critically important things, like a solid tripod and circular polarizing filter, there are several things that often get overlooked that can make you leave happier.  First, a lens cloth.  I took several yesterday, and needed them all.  Even if it isn't raining steadily, a lens cloth can be used to wipe water spots off the front of your filter.  I tend to create wide angle compositions and put my lens really close to a cascade.  I place this cascade in the foreground to anchor the image.  Even it is isn't raining, splash from the cascade finds it's way onto the front of my filter.  The lens cloth saves the day!  There isn't much worse than getting home and finding blobs all over your image.  Another important item is a shower cap.  Although keeping my hair looking stellar is of utmost importance, I am using the shower cap to keep my camera and lens dry.  It is cheap, and works remarkably well.  I have a weather sealed camera body and lens, but I still throw the shower cap on as added protection.  It's not a bad idea to have one even if it isn't raining, too.  It can keep those splashes off of the camera.  A good item to keep in the camera bag is a terry cloth.  Typically if I am putting my camera in the bag and it is even a little wet, I will wrap it in the terry cloth and let the cloth absorb any moisture.  I never "wipe" the camera.  This could force moisture into tiny cracks and crevasses.  The best method is the dab the areas, or just wrap it up and let the cloth do the work.  Silica Gel is another item I keep in the camera bag.  You know those little packets you get in packages that come with the "do not eat" warning.  Those are designed to absorb moisture.  They can be purchased cheap online, or you can just save them from any packages you receive.  I typically keep a few pouches in my camera bag at all times, but I especially make sure I have them in there if I am going to be shooting near water.  A few last things to consider are bath towels and a change of clothes.  These items can save you from a long, soaked, cold ride home.  

Here is one of the images I made yesterday at Short Springs Natural Area in Tullahoma, TN.  This is such a great area to visit if you are nearby and love photographing water.  

Aperture-priority, 6 sec, f/16, ISO 100

This image was made using my Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70 G2 Lens, Sirui Circular Polarizer and Sirui W-2204 Tripod.

Water...Of Course!

With all the storm damage in Cades Cove, especially to the trees along Sparks Lane, I was searching out other interesting compositions along Sparks.  

Initially, we had gone down the road a bit and photographed directly down the road in the fog, which was a great scene, but I was still looking for something else.  Then I turned around.  The water from the creek was flowing across the road at a pretty good rate.  Then the sun was trying to break through the fog a bit, too.  I knew I wanted to use the water as a strong point in my composition, so I got down at a low angle and included as much of it as I could.  I adjusted my circular polarizer to knock off the glare from the water, then I set my aperture to F/16 so I could get a long shutter speed to blur the water.  The sun lighting up the right side of the frame a bit was just a bonus.

Aperture-priority, 1.3 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 24 mm

Everything came together for this scene....the fog, the water, the light.  It was a great morning.

Image created with my Canon 5D Mk IV and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All supported by my Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-20x Ballhead.

Smoky Mountains

Last week we held our Smoky Mountains Photography Workshop.  David and I arrived on Wednesday to get a little early shooting in.  We had plans to go to Roaring Fork on Thursday morning...promptly after a sop at The Log Cabin Pancake House, of course.  When we got to Roaring Fork, we realized we were in trouble.  I was getting out of the car every few hundred feet to move limbs and branches.  One time we came across a tree that was big enough we both had to get out and move it.  Then we started seeing the trees bend in half, it seemed.  The winds were howling.  We finally came to a tree blocking the road that was too big to move, so we had to turn around and go out the wrong way.  Once we got out, we notified the park service and by the time we had gotten to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, almost everything within the park was closed due to downed trees.  Our workshop started on Friday morning.  Everything was still closed in the park until late Friday afternoon, and then the only thing opened was Cades Cove and a small portion of the road to Tremont.  We photographed at Tremont Friday evening, then spent the next day and a half in the cove.  Our group was super, though!  They all had a wonderful time, despite our limitations and, from what I've seen, they all got some amazing images!

The landscape of Cades Cove did change a bit.  There were several downed trees and limbs.  The iconic image of Sparks Lane will never be the same.  One of the trees had some massive branches that came down and virtually looks like it's half of what it used to be.

I guess because of having to deal with all of those issues (either that or as my late birthday present), mother nature rewarded us Sunday Morning with a morning full of beautiful foggy scenes.  The fog seemed to last forever and we were able to capture several different subjects in it.  One of my favorite scenes from the fog was this fence line, that I'm certain I've never noticed before.  We were parked along Sparks Lane looking for different shots, since "the shot" was not very appealing anymore, and we found this fence line off the road...and it just looked great in the fog.

Aperture-priority, 0.5 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 31mm

When I composed this scene, I knew I wanted to have a solid anchor for the foreground.  I also knew I wanted to use a fence post for that.  I picked out a nice one, placed it in the scene where I wanted and let the fence line and fog do the rest.

Image made with my Canon 5D Mk IV and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  I stabilized my gear with a Sirui W-2204 Tripod and Sirui K-20X Ballhead.