Sirui

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

 

Bear Cub In The Grass

No trip to The Great Smoky Mountains is complete without at least one loop around Cades Cove.  Cades Cove can get pretty crowded, and quickly.  The earlier you can get there the better off you are.  The reason it gets so crowded is it is a very popular spot for viewing wildlife.  In the Spring and Summer it is especially popular for viewing black bears.

The Cades Cove Loop Road has a gate at the entrance that does not get opened until sunrise.  The strategy of getting there early means you want to get there 30-45 minutes before sunrise to get your spot in line.  During this time of waiting on the gate to open you get to see a lot of "interesting" characters.  At least the people watching passes the time.  

On one of our visits to Cades Cove we had the pleasure of seeing several bears.  I believe we counted about 15 in one day.  That's probably no record, but that's 15 more black bears than I would've seen at home, for sure.  So, I'm glad we went.  We saw what looked to be a lot of moms with cubs.  These bears looked a little worse for the wear.  I'm no bear expert, but I'm assuming that being in the den without food and feeding young ones was the cause of this.  The big bears that we saw alone, which I assume to have been males, looked much better than the moms with cubs.

We saw several cubs on our visit.  Most of them not much taller than the grass they were feeding in.  This made getting clear shots of them pretty tough unless they stood up.  After a lot of waiting for a clear shot I decided to try and get a shot of one of the little guys "peeking" through the grass.  After a lot of waiting, and several attempts, I was able to get a shot I was happy with.

You can see what I mean when I say they weren't much taller than the grass.  It was very difficult to get good clear shots of them, so I waited...and waited...and waited until I could clearly see both eyes through the grass.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600 F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2, Sirui Tripod and K-40 Ballhead

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1/3, 400mm

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

Bluebirds

I haven't had the best of luck with birds in the backyard this year, so far.  I've been plagued with some nuisance birds that think they own the place.  They have been trying their best to run off any other bird that comes into the yard.  However, my luck started to change as the month of May rolled in.  

I've seen several different species fighting for use of the bird box since then.  I've seen wrens, swallows and bluebirds all trying to claim the box as their own.  Time will tell who wins that fight.  Either way, I would be happy to photograph any of them.  Yesterday was my birthday and I started the day off with photographing those birds.

I was so worried that the bluebirds wouldn't show up this year.  They are usually here well before now.  So I am especially happy to see them in the backyard now...even if it only lasts for a few days.  This is the male Eastern Bluebird.  These bluebirds are easily one of my favorite birds to watch and photograph.  I was especailly happy to start my birthday off photographing them.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD, Sirui P-324 Monopod, Sirui L-20S Monopod Head

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 900, 450 mm

Immature Little Blue Heron

While visiting Jefferson Island near New Iberia, Louisiana we got to watch quite a few wading birds.  The most interesting looking one of those birds was this immature Little Blue Heron.  Little Blue Herons are entirely white until their second year.  As they molt the white feathers are replaced by the darker, blue-gray feathers you see in the adults.  We happened to catch this one in the middle of that stage.  

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 2800, Compensation: +1, 600 mm

This guy was quietly observing all the other birds as they fought for nesting territory. 

This image was made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD.  My camera was being supported by my Sirui P-324S Monopod.

1818 Farms

Every now and then Huntsville surprises you with something pretty cool.  Such was this case this past Saturday.  While my wife and I were driving home from the hardware store with items purchased to knock things off of my to do list, she showed me her phone and said "Have you these 1818 Farms people?".  To which I replied, "What is that?".

What it is is something really cool.  1818 Farms has a traveling cut flower shop ran out of the bed of a very cool, restored, 1965 F100 Ford Pickup Truck, effectively known as The Flower Truck.  This past Saturday, they were having the flower truck in downtown Huntsville.  We had to rush home, drop off our hardware store goods and rush downtown to see them before they left for the day.  I'm glad we did!

It's no secret that I tend to buy flowers from my local grocery store for macro photography.  Sometimes you have to end up buying an entire bouquet for one really good looking flower.  What I love about 1818 Farm's flower truck is they sell you one stem of any particular flower.  Oh, and every one of them looked amazing!  I ended up buying 5 or so different varieties. 

One of the flowers I bought that I thought was super cool was the Thistle.  I have never looked at Thistle like this before.  I always just thought of it as a nuisance weed.  The Thistle they had on the flower truck looked so good!  There was no way I wasn't getting one.  

So after I completed the items on my to do list.  I set in on doing some macro work.  I placed the Thistle in my Wimberly Clamp on my dining room table, setup my camera on my tripod and used a small handheld LED light to light my subject.  This is my typical setup for what I call "Dining Room Macro".

Aperture-priority, 0.4 sec, f/16, ISO 200, Compensation: +2/3, 90mm Macro

Here's one of the images I was able to capture.  I used my Nikon D850 with Tamron 90mm Macro Lens.  I had my camera supported by my Sirui W-2204 Tripod.  

Roseate Spoonbill

The Roseate Spoonbill is always one of the most popular wading birds among photographers.  When it is in full, breeding plumage there is no question why, either.  The vibrant pinks of this bird really make it an eye catcher!

During my visit to New Iberia recently we made a trip to Jefferson Island.  Jefferson Island is along the entrance road to Rip Van Winkle Gardens.  The birds were really just starting to nest on the island.  There were several different birds on the island, too.  There were Cattle Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills.  

I tried to capture images as the birds were moving around collecting sticks and other materials for their new nests.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 1400, Compensation: +1/3

On the day I captured this image it was heavy overcast lighting.  That works out great to see all the colors, contrast and details of the bird, you just have to remember to raise your ISO a bit to make sure your shutter speed doesn't drop too low that it may cause motion blur. 

This image was captured with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens resting atop my Sirui P-324S monopod.

Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention

Over the last several days I had the good fortune of being able to speak to and meet tons of really great people from the Gulf States Camera Club Council in New Iberia, LA.  I had a blast talking photography with them, shooting with them and enjoying the local Cajun cuisine.  

I had arrived a day before the event started so I could visit this place I had heard so much about from other photographers, Cazan Lake.  The lake has a pretty good sized rookery that several species of Egrets use, as well as some Rosette Spoonbills.  I was excited at the chance to photograph baby birds in the nest.  It appeared I was a bit early for Spoonbill babies, but there were several Egret babies begging their parents for food.

I quickly found out that it's not just the Cajun people in the area that enjoy a good crawfish, but the local Egrets, too.  I was able to capture a few different images of Egret parents feeding the babies crawfish.  

Cazan Lake is about an hour drive North of New Iberia, so I loaded up my gear and headed out so I could be there at sunrise.  I had no idea what to expect when I got there.  There was a small building upon arrival welcoming guests.  I tried to go in and find out where I needed to go but the door was locked.  Luckily a man pulled up in his pickup truck, advised me to put $10 in the drop box and gave me directions to the rookery.  All I had was a $20, so that's what I put in there.  I hope that man got the other $10 for helping me out.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 220, Compensation: +1/3

This is an image of one of the Egret Nests at the Lake.  I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens to capture this image.  I was moving around quick so instead of using a tripod, I went with my Sirui P-324S Monopod.  It really allowed me to move around quick and offer a bit of stability.  It also saved my arms from getting tired!

My go to formula for birds lately has been using Auto ISO.  I have my D500 setup in the menus to top the Auto ISO out at 12,800.  I have also set in the menu a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000th.  All I need to do then is set my aperture.  You can also do this using Manual Mode by simply turning Auto ISO on, then you set your shutter speed and aperture.  Using Auto ISO has saved many shoots for me that most likely would have been blurry from too slow a shutter speed.

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.