Photography

Alabama Jubilee

Every weekend before Memorial Day is the Alabama Jubilee in Decatur, AL, which is not very far from where I live.  The Alabama Jubilee has many things to offer, but the biggest draw, for me, is always the hot air balloons.  They average about 60 balloons each year for the balloon events.  They offer many different balloon events, but the most popular is the "Hare and Hound" Race.  During the race one balloon designated as the "hare" will launch first.  Then a signal is given to the other balloons that they are allowed to inflate and launch.  Once in the air they try to follow the "hare".  After a time the "hare" will land and put-out a large fabric 'X' on which the following balloons will try to drop a bean-bag marker onto the center.  Whoever is closest wins.

I have been going to this event for 6 or 7 years now and many times the weather will keep the balloons from flying.  This year the weather was very iffy.  It had rained a ton the night before and it was pretty cloudy, and very wet Saturday morning.   The low clouds cause the postpone of the launch by an hour or so.  When they finally announced the race was on, many pilots still choose not to fly because of the weather conditions.  The balloons that did not fly still inflated and put on a show for the crowd.

Every year talking with photographers before the event, there are always a few things that come up.  First is the old "I didn't know which lens to bring"  and then, for those that have been there before, it's the "I hope I can get something different than before". 

The first is an easy choice for me.  Instead of trying to switch lenses back and forth, of carry multiple bodies around, I simply choose the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD with my Nikon D500.  Using this lens gives me the ability to shoot wide and long in a simple twist of the lens barrel and saves me from fumbling around with multiple lenses or bodies.  

The second topic of discussion about finding something different was a bit easier to deal with this year, too.  The low clouds were fantastic because once the balloons launched into the clouds, it looked as if they were simply disappearing.  Another thing were the rain puddles left over from the night before.  They made for a lot of soggy feet, but the trade off was some pretty great reflections of the balloons.  So, for those photographers that got up and gambled on the weather, they were rewarded with conditions you don't normally get for this event.

This image is one where the balloons looked as if they are simply disappearing into the clouds.  I really liked these images simply because it was something I had not seen or photographed at this event.  It was a very nice treat!

Equipment list: Nikon D500 and Tamron 18-400 F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 400, Compensation: +1

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

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

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.  

Osprey at Lake Martin

During my visit to The Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention last week, I was able to take a boat tour of Lake Martin.  On the particular morning I did the tour, it was pretty chilly...around 50 degrees or so.  Due to the chill we didn't see any gators, but we did see several species of birds that hang out at the lake.

One of those birds was this Osprey.  He had just caught a bass and was sitting in the sun feasting.  This Osprey was probably the best lit bird of the morning.  It was front lit and in plenty of morning light.  Most of the other birds were in dimly lit areas so I was excited to get some good light on a bird!

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 250, Compensation: -1/3

I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens to capture this image.  Since I was on a boat with several other people and there was no room for a tripod or monopod, I relied on the VC of the lens to help with any movement from either me or the boat.

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.

Eastern Phoebe

I got a chance to get out in the backyard and photograph some birds this past weekend.  That is something I haven't been able to do for a while.  If I have gotten a chance to get out there lately, then the birds just haven't cooperated much.  I was glad to see them cooperate a bit this weekend.

A bird that I have not photographed, or even seen, in the backyard before was this Eastern Phoebe.  It was nice to see a new bird.  This guy came in over and over and got his fill of tasty mealworms.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 280, Compensation: +2/3, 460 mm

If you hover over the image you can see my camera settings for this shot.  I shot this image at 460mm.  I prefer to include the entire bird, and even some of it's environment, in my composition.  I often times see bird images with tails that are cut off, or cropped really tightly to the edge of the frame.  I see photographers get a telephoto zoom lens and they want to use it extended all the way out to it's maximum focal length.  Just remember, it's more important to create a compelling and interesting composition than using your lens at it's longest end.

I shot this little guy with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.  As alwyas when I am in the backyard, I was using my Sirui N3204-x and PH-20 GImbal Head.

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.