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

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.