Don McGowan

Don McGowan

Saturday, 11 November 2017 14:58

Liquid Light

There are certain watery locations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that are magical on several levels, and one of them absolutely has to be Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River in Greenbrier. I am convinced that I could never tire of seeing this stream in all of its many moods and postures. From extreme wide-angle to extremely abstract, there is something magical happening on this river every day of the year. During the recent Arrowmont class, we found this wonderful scene just above the first sets of rapids near the entrance to Greenbrier Cove. You may, of course, recognize it from other visits; but this is why we return time and again: it is always different, no matter how many times you go. On this day we were about two days after one of the highest water levels I have ever seen here, and the river was still running with quite a bit of volume and force. Picking out different abstract expressions made the time pass all too quickly. For this Image, I reached out to 300mm to get the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/10 at ISO 200 allowed for a shutter speed of 1/10th second, fast enough to stop some of the motion of the curling wavelets and create evident texture in the moving water. Going back to Greenbrier is never a chore. Beauty is everywhere you look.

Saturday, 04 November 2017 07:06

Long Ago Is Far Away

When "Carter" Shields sat on his front porch in those years between 1910-1921 when he called this cabin home, I've often wondered if there were dogwoods then, as now, at the edge of the yard to enjoy for their blossoms in spring and their deep red foliage in autumn. I have chosen to believe that they were there and that they must have given the old Civil War veteran hours of pleasure and solace as he watched the world changing before his dimming eyes. To include as much of the foliage as I wanted without introducing a distracting amount of sky, I used a focal length of 28mm, toward the long end of wide-angle. An aperture of f/16 gave me depth-of-field, and combined with an ISO of 200 gave me a shutter speed of 0.8 second. That shutter opening time, combined with a bit of patience, allowed me to stop the very slight motion in the leaves of a gentle wafting breeze.If there is a place in the valley that is quintessential "Cades Cove", this small cabin would definitely get my vote.

Saturday, 28 October 2017 15:48

Oh When the Sun Beats Down

Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River in the Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is as quintessential a mountain river as I can possibly imagine. Flowing down the steep slopes of the north face of the Smokies Crest Ridge between Laurel Top and Old Black as a collection of individual diminutive creeks with names like Eagle Rocks Prong, Buck Prong, Lost Prong, Peck's Branch, Shirt Tail Branch, Millfield Branch, and Chapman Prong, it collects Ramsey Prong and Porter's Creek on its way to meet West Prong and East Fork to become the Little Pigeon. Its addition to the French Broad is not insignificant; its beauty in all seasons, awesome. In fall, the golden light of a waning day reflects off the surrounding forest and lights a fire to the flowing waters. It is then, especially, that I love to stand along its edge. A focal length of 19mm, wide-angle to be sure, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field and a shutter speed of 0.5 second at ISO 400  gave me an overall medium exposure. The chosen ISO kept my shutter speed faster than a full second so that I could avoid more silkiness in the flow than I wanted. Middle Prong opens my heart to the haunting rush of mountain water.

Saturday, 21 October 2017 09:14

Into What Abyss?

From Angel's Window Overlook, Vishnu's Temple, seen beyond the edge of Freya Castle, seems poised on the edge of the abyss that makes the Grand Canyon one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. There is such a vastness to this place that it is sometimes easy to overlook the intimacies that can be created from small (relatively) portions of the chasm that stretches for so many miles in each direction. From high above, the great rocks and deep gorges seem almost like puffy, colored marshmallows or swirls of melted chocolate in a giant saucepan. A focal length of 78mm, very short telephoto, gave me the narrower angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/13th second at ISO 200 gave me an ovreall slightly darker-than-medium exposure. Even in small sections the abyss of the Canyon seems to point your gaze into the heart of the Earth.

Saturday, 14 October 2017 14:22

Somewhere Along the River

Its name from the Tsalagi translates roughly to "by the river," so that it perhaps refers to an ancient village that was located somewhere along the waters of the beautiful stream now known as Oconaluftee. Where Kephart Prong and Beech Flats Prong converge, perhaps half-a-mile upstream from here, the Oconaluftee is born and begins gathering its children as it plunges southward to its rendezvous with the Tuckaseegee on the way to the Little Tennessee. In autumn, the Oconaluftee's boulder-strewn bed and banks blaze with the colors of American beech; and following a gushing rain its flow turns frothy as it runs toward the sea. A focal length of 33mm, just inside of wide-angle, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 4.0 seconds at ISO 100, on a soggy, overcast day, gave me an overall medium exposure. As I reflect on the intimacy of this little landscape, I am reminded of the everyday beauty that surrounds us all of the time.

Saturday, 07 October 2017 08:50

A Day in the Life of a Bright Angel

There are so many wonderful locations along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon that it is very difficult to even consider a favorite, but when the late light just before sunset illuminates the great domes of the Brahma Temple and the Zoroaster Temple as they are seen from high up along the Bright Angle Point Trail, "favorite" takes on a whole new meaning. I wanted to frame the great rocks with the pinon and juniper just below the trail that were absorbed in the same golden light, leaving the depths of Bright Angel Canyon as contrasting shadow. A focal length of 56mm, as normal as you could ask, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. To focus, I chose a pinon growing down the slope out of view on the right of the frame a bit farther away than the pinon on the left. An aperture of f/18 afforded enough depth-of-field, maximized by that focus point. These settings, along with a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly darker-than-medium exposure. Perhaps one day I'll find an equally intriguing "favorite" place, but the Bright Angle Point Trail will always take my breath away.

Friday, 29 September 2017 12:51

All the Way To Tropic

The amazing structure that is erroneously called Bryce "Canyon" is geological wonderment at its finest. Rather than a canyon, it is a collection of interconnecting amphitheatres forming on the eastern slopes of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, in itself another geologic wonder, whose name comes from the Paiute word for "home of the beavers." As the Paunsaugunt began uplifting 10-20 million years before the present, its eastern slopes began an erosion of the underlying sandstone strata whose dissection led to the extravagant hoodoos of the Claron Formation. To stand along the rim of Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park as the morning light spreads through the silent sentinels of stone below is to witness the Earth's handiwork as it shares the marvels of its domain from the ground beneath my feet all the way to Tropic and beyond. A focal length of 90mm, short telephoto, isolated the hoodoos that were speaking to me. An aperture of f/16 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1.0 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly lighter-than-medium exposure of what seemed almost pastel in its tonalities.

Friday, 22 September 2017 19:09

As Shadows Spread

For nearly four hundred years the Chacoan culture flourished in the canyon that now bears its name. There, these Ancestral Puebloans fashioned a way of life and a technology not previously seen in that part of North America now known as the United States. The capstone of their construction, Pueblo Bonito, contained more than six hundred rooms and was both grand and great by any definition of the words. To the present-day Puebloan peoples, Pueblo Bonito and Chaco remain a place of the spirits, a place where ancestors arose and thrived. Every stone is sacred to their memory. Several days ago we made certain to be at the Great House an hour before sunset to catch the last rays of the day's light and to watch the shadows spread across the stones and into dusk. I found a location where I could use the lines of two long-ago reduced walls as leads across the ancient structures and into the far wall of the canyon beyond. A focal length of 28mm gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, spanning the entire central section of the pueblo. An aperture of f/16 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/13th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly lighter-than-medium overall exposure. As the evening wanes the voices of the past arise on the wind. Listen to their story.

Saturday, 16 September 2017 18:28

The Graphics of Pounding Mill

By the time the sun has traversed its lengthy arc from summer solstice to autumnal equinox, it rises into the southeastern corner of the Pink Beds, potentially, under the appropriate conditions. casting long rays of color across the forest below and into the far reaches of the French Broad River Valley many miles away. If the valley happens to be covered on a thick blanket of fog, the rays will color the topside of the fog as well. In the earlier minutes of our recent adventure to Pounding Mill Overlook, before the sun had topped the far ridges, the golden rays spread across the upper layers of the French Broad's valley of fog creating a graphic wonderland of color, shape, contrast, and light. A focal length of 230mm gave me the narrow angle-of-view and magnification I wanted. An apreture of f/8, given the camer-to-subject distance, provided depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1/60th second at ISO 200 gave me an overall somewhat darker-than-medium exposure, but not an undue amount of noise with which to process the result. When Pounding Mill is in "Show" mode, the show doesn't get any finer: graphics are good.

Sunday, 10 September 2017 00:51

Prelude to a Storm

Pounding Mill Overlook is one of the finest sunrise and early light locations on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and if there is fog wafting through the Pink Beds far below, there is created an ethereality that is almost otherworldly. Yesterday as the far outer bands of clouds of Hurricane Irma slowly, almost breathlessly, coalesced and marched over our heads, the valley floor of the Cradle of Forestry below flowed on a river of cotton. In between, the sun rose crimson and tangerine, and outside of our mountains the South braced itself for a wind from the depths of the lungs of the earth. We wish for all only safe travels and Godspeed. A focal length of 300mm, moderate telephoto with an angle-of-view of eight degrees, isolated the portion of the valley floor that attracted me. An aperture of f/11, given the camera-to-subject distance, provided depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1/60th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. For a brief moment, the world around us stood on a toe and did a slow pirouette into the new day.

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