Waterfall

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

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.  

That Lens Isn't Wide Enough

This past weekend, I met up with a small group of friends to do some waterfall photography in the back woods of North Georgia.  I am always up for waterfall photography!  When you throw in nice weather conditions and a waterfall I've never visited before, I will be even more excited.

I wanted to make sure I was traveling light for the trip, so I only took the Canon 5D IV and the new Tamron 24-70mm G2 Lens.  This was my second chance to try out the new Tamron Lens.  I have no idea how they did it, but they managed to make it even better than the previous 24-70, which I used more than any other lens in my arsenal. 

One of the falls we visited was Crow Creek Falls.  It has two parts, an Upper Crow Creek Falls and a Lower Crow Creek Falls.  I enjoyed the upper falls much more and spent more time photographing it. 

Did I mention that I only brought my 24-70mm lens?  When I typically shoot these water scenes, I like to use a wide angle lens and anchor the foreground with something.  In my experience going with a wider lens, like a 15-30mm is usually too wide for these scenes.  It also presents a bit of another problem in the fact that you will absolutely need a circular polarizer for these scenes...and although I have the polarizer setup for that lens, it is bulky and takes a bit of work to assemble.  I went the lazy route and stuck with the 24-70mm lens and its easy peasy, screw on polarizer.

Aperture-priority, 2.5 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 24mm

I wanted to use this group of rocks and small cascade as my foreground anchor, but when I tried that at 24mm I was losing the main waterfall in my composition.  I need to be wider!  Crap, I was lazy and didn't bring my wider lens.  What did I do?  I took two shots.  One for the foreground, then another including the main waterfall in the background overlapping the scene by about 30%.  In Lightroom I used the Photo Merge feature to create a panoramic out of the two images.  I got the composition I wanted and I could still be a little lazy by only bringing one lens...winner winner chicken dinner!

Image made with Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70mm G2 Lens and Sirui Circular Polarizer.  Gear supported by a Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-20x 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.

Machine Falls

This past weekend I got the chance to meet up with a friend that was traveling from New York to Texas and show him a few waterfalls in Tennessee.

This turned out to be a much better trip than I had ever anticipated.  We've had so little rain here in the last several months I didn't really expect there to be much water anywhere.  The water level at our first waterfall, Rutledge Falls,  was OK.  It was definitely low, but it was still good.  Then we moved onto to one of my favorite falls, especially near my home, Machine Falls.  Machine Falls still had a pretty good amount of water, which made for great shooting.

I've been to and photographed Machine Falls more times than I can count.  It's always a bit of a challenge to come up with something different while I am there.  

Aperture Priority, F/16, ISO 100, 6 seconds

I tried a composition I have tried in the past, only this time I was able to do it with a very wide angle lens in the Tamron 15-30.  I basically climbed right up next to this lower fall and shoved the lens right in it's face.  Then I used a circular polarizer by Vu Filters to cut all the glare off the rocks and water.

Canon 5D III, Tamron 15-30, Vu Filters, Sirui W-2204 tripod and K-20 Ballhead

 

The Narrows

While on the trip to Zion National Park, I took a hike with the guys from the Tamron Mobile Learning Center up into The Narrows.  If you haven't seen the video we made you can check that out on the Tamron Mobile Leanring Center Facebook page here.

Being a guy that cut his teeth in landscape photography by shooting waterfalls and flowing water, this was one of the highlights of the trip for me!  I can not wait to get back there when there are less people.  The summer months are super crowded and The Narrows were the most crowded of any of the places in the park we visited.  We literally saw thousands of people along this hike and in the river.

The Narrows is basically an area where The Virgin River flows in between these gigantic, colorful canyon walls.  Although the hike is relatively easy, most of the hike is in the river itself, which often requires renting special equipment.  The water temp was 62 degrees when we were there, but we still rented special neoprene socks and shoes to keep our feet warm and comfy.  We also rented dry bags and backpacks to carry our gear in.  In the colder months you need to rent a wet suit due to the fact that the water is much colder and typically higher.  We never got in water that was more than waist deep on our trip.

When you do what is known as the "bottom up" hike, which is the most typical one due to the fact that it doesn't require special permits like the "top down" hike does, you can only go 5 miles up river before you have to turn around.  We made it about 3 miles up the river to the area known as Wall Street before we turned around and headed back. 

Aperture Priority, F/11, ISO 100, 4 seconds

There was no way I was making this hike along the river without my tripod!  I knew I was going to be getting some slow shutter speed shots to show the water movement.

This image was made using my Canon 5D III and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  I took my Sirui N-3204X and K-30X Ballhead along for stability.  This was the only gear I took...aside from a circular polarizer that I kept mounted on my lens.  I traveled as light as possible.  After cramming my tripod in that backpack we rented I didn't have room for much else anyways.

 

 

Spruce Flat Falls

Here's an image of Spruce Flat Falls located in the Tremont area of GSMNP.  This is a really nice waterfall with the upper section being about 30 feet tall.  It is about a mile hike to get to, however.  The trail for this fall begins at the Tremont Institute.  

I took this image using my Tamron 15-30mm lens and just got as close to the water as I could.  You can't shoot these waterfall scenes without a circular polarizer.  I used a special filter mounting system designed for the Tamron 15-30 by Vu Filters.  It allows me to have a polarizer on that lens.  I can also add additional filters if needed, like a neutral density or graduated filter.

Sony A7R II, Metabones Adapter, Tamron 15-30, VU Filters Polarizer, Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-20 Ballhead.

Aperture Priority, F/16, ISO 100, 2 seconds, 16mm

 

Tremont

The Tremont area of The Great Smoky Mountains is one of my favorite areas to visit.  I love shooting the water and rivers of the smokies and Tremont is a fantastic place to do just that.  The river snakes along side the road offering many opportunities for lovely cascades and mini waterfalls. 

We visited this area just after a rain, which is a fantastic time to do this type of photography.  Notice how the rocks are wet from the rain.  Everything being wet offers much more contrast than under normal, dry conditions.  Be sure to pack in your circular polarizer though.  Wet also means reflective, so you'll need that polarizer to cut through the reflection and glare.

I like to get down very low on a scene like this, which means putting my camera and myself in some unusual positions.  This is where a few things come in very handy.  First, my Sirui tripod...I can always get it in the spot I want no matter where that spot is.  Secondly, the tilt screen on my camera...sometimes because my camera is in a position that doesn't allow me to look through the viewfinder, the tilt screen comes in super handy.

Image made with Sony A7R II, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter, Tamron 24-70mm Lens, Marumi Circular Polarizer, Sirui W-2004 Tripod and Sirui G-20 Ballhead.

 

 

Spring Fever

Over the last few days here, when it hasn't been raining, the weather has been off the charts good.  That has brought on a huge case of Spring Fever for me.

I have a few trips upcoming to focus on the plants and animals coming to life again, but I'm also super stoked about our upcoming Smoky Mountains workshop.  With all the rain the area has been receiving the rivers and streams should really be flowing this year.

ISO 100, 24mm, F/16 @ 1.3 seconds

This is an image from The Roaring Fork Motor Trail.  It is always a hot spot for nice flowing water against the green, mossy rocks.  Using a circular polarizer not only helps to reduce glare and reflections, but also helps to boost contrast, which makes the greens pop a little more, too.

This image was made with my Sony A7R, LA-EA4 Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.

Favorites of 2015

I've had a few months absence from posting to the blog.  I really took the last few months of 2015 to chill out and hang with the fam.

I see the "in" thing now seems to be everyone posting  their "best" or "favorites" from the year of 2015, so I thought I'd follow suit here.  Many of these photos are special to me for various reasons.  It's mostly the memories made more then the photographs made.  Spending time with friends, stories we will talk about for years to come, some killer breakfasts after sunrise, I could go on and on...the point is, I probably like these for reasons that wouldn't make much sense to many of you, but that's one of the aspects of photography that I enjoy the most; friends and memories.

I hope you enjoy!  I included 15 images, since it was well...2015.

You can click on each image to view it larger.