Great Smoky Mountains

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

Center Composition

Composition seems to be the component in photography that allot of people struggle with.  You are told you must stick to the basic rules of composition.  Then, sometimes, you are told that it's OK to break those rules.  So, follow the rules...break the rules...it all makes sense now, right?

I generally base most of my compositions off the "rule of thirds".  The rule of thirds, if you aren't aware of it, is a composition rule that divides your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically so you have nine parts, or squares, like a tic tac toe board.  The idea is to place your main point of focus at one of the intersecting points of the squares.  This is supposed to make your image better balanced and give a more natural viewing experience.  Like I mentioned, this is the rule I base almost all of my compositions off of.  It's what I am always thinking about when I compose a shot through the viewfinder.

There are times, however, that I want my subject in the center of the frame.  You will hear many give advice against putting your subject in the dead center of the frame.  However, when I do it, I am still thinking about the rule of thirds.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

This elk, for example, is in the center of the frame.  As I was composing this shot, I was thinking about the rule of thirds, like always, and wanted to position his eyes on the "upper" third line.  Although the eyes aren't at one of the intersecting points, they are placed along the line of thirds.  In my opinion, this still works.  Being an outdoor/nature photographer, I use this type of composition most often when photographing wildlife.  In a scene like this one, where the critter is looking straight into the lens, I think it works well.  It gives you a sense of making direct eye contact with the critter.  Personally, I don't think you would get that instant sense if this scene were composed with the elk's eyes at one of the intersecting points.

Composition rules...follow them, bend them, break them.  Do whatever it takes to make the image a pleasurable experience for the viewer.  

This elk was photographed in Cataloochie Valley in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

This image was made using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 G2 Lens mounted on my Sirui Tripod with PH-20 Gimbal Head.  Camera settings can be viewed by hovering over the image.

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

 

Smoky Mountain Black Bears

One of the most popular areas in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove.  In the spring the black bears are easily found there.  One afternoon while in Cades Cove we ran across this mother and cub.  They were in the wooded area for a long time then came out into this field and eventually worked their way over to more woods on the other side of the field.  They were very fun to watch and photograph from a safe distance. They seemed to like performing for all the photographers that were watching. 

You can see here they have just came into the field.  The bear cub could care less about anything except eating and playing.  In fact, when they were crossing the field the cub got a little behind mom, then quickly ran to catch up doing a double front flip to stop.  

This image was made using my Sony a6300, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tmaron 150-600mm Lens.  Everything was resting atop my Sirui tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head, which made it very easy to follow these guys with my camera and long lens. 

Aperture Priority, F/6.3, ISO 6400, 1/1250th second, 280mm

Showy Orchis

While in The Great Smoky Mountains last month, we were on the lookout for various wildflowers in the area.  One of my favorites is The Showy Orchis.  According to the US Forrest Service website, the showy orchis only gets between 4-8 inches tall.  The showy orchis also has to maintain a relationship with a certain type of fungi in order to grow.  They also prefer moist soil, like somewhere near streams...The Great Smoky Mountains is a prime spot for them.

Here's an image a I made using my Sony A7R II, Metabones Lens Adapter and Tamron 90mm Macro Lens.  I shot this in Aperture Priority at F/4.  I wanted a very shallow depth of field so the background would fall off quickly.  Macro photography is much easier with a tripod.  I used my Sirui W-2204 and K-20 Ballhead for this image.

Here's all the EXIF info:  Aperture Priority, F/4, ISO 100, 1/50th second, 90mm, Exposure Compensation 0. 

You Shot That With A What?

One of the days we were in the smokies my teaching partner, David Akoubian, was going to be using his NIkon system for the day, so I decided to borrow his Canon 5D III for the day.

That's right using a Canon.  If you have followed me for any amount of time you know I used to shoot Canon before I switched to the Sony MIrrorless system.  So, I'm no stranger to the system.  I decided to give it a whirl on some of the macro images of the pink lady slippers.

The conditions were great for shooting macro shots of these flowers on this day.  It had rained the evening before and everything was still wet causing the colors to look more saturated.  It was also still very overcast, so there was no harsh light falling on any areas, which made for great light.

This is another one of those macro instances where I wanted to totally isolate the subject from the background so I shot wide open at F/2.8.

I shot this using the Canon 5D Mk III and Tamron 90mm Maccro Lens.  I always use a tripod when shooting macro and this time was no exception.  I had my Sirui W-2004 and G-20 Ballhead combo and it worked great, like always.

Aperture Priority Mode, F/2.8, ISO 100, 1/50th second, 0 Exposure Compensation

Smoky Mountain Sun Rays

While in the Smoky Mountains for our workshop we decided to go up to Clingman's Dome for sunset.  The idea was that the full moon was rising 15 minutes before sunset, so we were going to photograph both the moon rising and quickly adjust for sunset.  The weather had a different idea.  We stuck with our plans, though and waited it out at Clingman's Dome.  It's a good thing we did, too.  About thirty minutes before time for sunset, there was a small break in some clouds near the horizon that allowed these amazing sun rays to display.  They lasted for about 15 minutes or so.  There was no real sunset, but seeing these rays light up the mountain tops was a pretty decent trade off.

I shot this with my Sony A7RII, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 70-200mm Lens all resting on my Sirui W-2204 Tripod and G-20 Ballhead.  The 70-200 is my favorite lens for Clingman's Dome.  I use it to compress the scene and get that nice layering effect in the mountains.  

No real trick to processing this image, but I will tell you using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom CC helps enhance the rays a bit.

Aperture Priority, 1/60th second, F/11, ISO 100, Exposure Compensation -2

 

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.

 

 

Pink Lady Slippers

I returned home yesterday from our Spring workshop in The Great Smoky Mountains.  We had such an incredible group!  From the images I saw when working with some of them on processing, they got incredible shots, too!  I'm already looking forward to next year's workshop!

One area of focus when we visit the smokies in the spring is always the wildflowers.  There are so many lovely wildflowers there, but the "holy grail" of those is always The Pink Lady Slippers.  We've been fortunate enough to find a fairly large group of them the last few years and everyone has gotten great images of them.  This year was no exception.

Here's an image I took with the Tamron 90mm Macro Lens.  We counted over a hundred of these flowers in this area.  They usually grow in bunches, or groups of 4 or 5 in one spot, but I like singling one out when making images of them.  When photographing with a macro lens your depth of field is very shallow.  This usually results in you having to stop down your aperture in order to get everything you want in focus...and sometimes that isn't even enough!  However, this time I went with an aperture of F/2.8 because I wanted to make sure the background was a total blur.

Sony A7R II, Metabones Lens Adapter, Tamron 90mm Macro Lens, SIrui W-2004 Tripod and 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.