Don McGowan

Don McGowan

Saturday, 20 January 2018 09:17

The Hills Are Alive

High above the verdant valley of Spring Sreek, North Carolina is a farm that seems straight out of the Sound of Music. Perhaps there are other barns in Madison County with greater physical character or architectural beauty, but none can surpass the magnitude of the setting of the Maris barn, built in the early decades of the twentieth century. Last week, on the heels of the snow and rime ice that graced the high ridges of the Newfound Mountains, Bonnie and I headed directly for this magical setting in the last rays of the setting sun. The green hillsides will abound soon enough, but on this day their emptying into white was more than enough to hold our amazement.

 

A focal length of 28mm, well-into wide-angleland, gave me an angle-of-view that allowed the barn to dominate the scene, but still be seen as overshadowed by its surroundings. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 0.5 seconds in the still air at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

 

This amazing structure has stood on its own in the face of many Appalachian winters, and still it sings its song of communion to the surrounding hills.

Saturday, 13 January 2018 11:40

On the Way to Hot Springs

Madison County, North Carolina is a magical land filled with magical places, and none more so than Spring Creek Gorge. Forming high on the slopes of Sandymush Bald, Spring Creek runs the length of an unusually straight upland valley before dropping beteen the long massif of Spring Creek Mountain topped by Hap Mountain on the east, and the equally massive block of Bluff Mountain on the west. At the end of this run the French Broad River at Hot Springs awaits, but looking upstream from the area known as Vann Cliff, the creek knows only the precipitous plunge of its forested gorge and the delight of mountain waters. After a light snow had salted the tops and slopes of the mountain, the breaking clouds cast moving light over the land below and magic happens. 

 

A focal length of 97mm, right in the middle of short telephoto, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/11, since the nearest foreground ridge was more than a quarter mile away, gave me depth-of-field (after focusing almost halfway into the scene); and a shutter speed of 1/8th second at ISO 100, which the larger aperture sizing allowed, gave me a medium overall exposure and a way of creating a bit more texture in the moving clouds.

 

We find beauty all around us, that will remain as long as we actively engage in its preservation. 

Friday, 05 January 2018 13:58

Just How Cold Is It?

Haygood Mill County Park in Pickens County, South Carolina is a wonderful time warp in today's world. An 1845 gristmill is the center piece of a collection of historical structures, and included, over and above this, is one of the most amazing collections of prehistoric petroglyphs in the Southeast. Not long ago I was wandering through this incredible place with some dear friends. It was just downright cold, so cold that the water in a barrel at the side of the mill had frozen solid. The ripples of the frozen liquid reflecting the clear blue sky produced some of the most appealing abstractions I've seen in a long time.

 

Using a 28-300mm lens at just outside the working distance at a focal length of 98mm, I moved until the tonalities and reflective angles expressed what I wanted, making sure to place the camera parallel to the ice in such a way that I did not photograph my own reflection. An Aperture of f/20 insured depth-of-field and edge-to-edge sharp focus; and a shutter speed of 2.0 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly lighter-than-medium exposure. The dark area is actually the edge of the wooden barrel. To visit anywhere with the idea that all that is available to be seen is something literal is to negate worlds of creative possibility. 

Friday, 29 December 2017 16:23

A Light to Set the Table

It is in the far northwestern corner of South Carolina that the first uplifts of the Blue Ridge Mountains come into view from the southeast: the Blue Wall, as it is often called. To the Tsalagi it was, indeed, the Blue Wall, a magical land of mountains and waterfalls, almost beyond number, and now dotted with a ring of magnificent state parks along both sides of North Carolina-South Carolina line. As development pressures mount along this line, the Blue Wall will need help from all of us who love the natural beauty of this amazing land. I have been invited by the South Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation to lead a pair of weekend photography workshops in Table Rock State Park and in Devil's Fork State Park in March 2018. It would be a wonderful opportunity to familiarize yourself with this delightful area, and enjoy some fun, friendship, and creativity as well.

 

Several days ago Bonnie and I made an early morning jaunt to Table Rock. In the waters of Lake Oolenoy we found much on which to reflect as the sun slowly peeped over the Piedmont. A focal length of 32mm, just inside of wide-angleland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/16 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/30th second at ISO 200, chosen to give a little more surface tension control to the already still water, provided a medium overall exposure.

 

The Blue Wall is so much more than just a place; it is a state of mind that calls for us to share with love and care. 

Friday, 22 December 2017 10:57

In Beauty I Walk

The wonder-filled world that is Zion National Park is a place of nooks and crannies, so that for all of the grand designs to be found there, the intimate landscapes are always quick to capture my attention and my imagination. Pine Creek is one of those places. Dropping off the east shoulder of Deertrap Mountain, Pine Creek joins Clear Creek before falling down through a technical slot canyon and sliding below the Great Arch, past the base of East Temple, and on to rendezvous with the Virgin River at Canyon Junction. The middle section of this meandering is a gurgling, pool-filled place of solitude that has become increasingly popular with hikers and canyoneering lovers over the past several years, but it continues to draw me in whenever I am there. In a corner of the south wall I found a shaded area where a quiet pool reflected the unseen tip of East Temple as the light began to pour in all around. A focal length of 24mm, moderate wide-angle, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, still an intimate scene. An aperture of f/16 provided depth-of-field, given the camera to subject distance; and a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds in calm air at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. As with the Smokies, we are loving Zion perhaps to death. How can we keep from destroying that which we so deeply love?

Friday, 15 December 2017 21:51

Reflecting on the Place of the Sermon

Shortly after the Virgin River has gnawed its way through The Narrows, bursting into the great canyon that is Zion, it flows toward the base of an amazing piece of geology, a resistant sandstone remnant called The Pulpit. In the late afternoon autumn light, when the west wall of the main canyon is shaded below, the waning day illuminates the rock and its apron of golden fall cottonwoods, casting its colors back upstream across the shallow, rock-strewn waters. Standing mid-stream, I moved side-to-side until I could maximize the reflectant surface, keeping in mind that I wanted to have the glowing rock remain near the top-left power point. The lines of the stream, the two streambanks and the trees along the right bank, all came into play as leading lines for the eyes toward the rock. This perspective also allowed me to isolate The Pulpit against the far (east) wall, some distance away. A focal length of 22mm, moderately wide-angle, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 3.0 seconds at ISO 100 gave me a slightly-darker-than-medium exposure. Zion National Park broke its all-time attendance record in the 2017 calendar year. How this will be factored into the planning for this incredible place remains to be seen. How can we love it, but not to death?

Tuesday, 05 December 2017 23:03

Whiter Shade of Autumn

Sometimes in the midst of a weather pattern you are handed a surprise to play with, and so it was that on October 29th, the class at Arrowmont was treated with a major dusting of snow that settled itself all over the autumn colors which had barely found their way to peak condition. With the main road closed to our fondest wish otherwise, we made do with a trip down Little River Road and were surprised by the wonderful juxtaposition of fall foliage dipped in white that created a wonderland of intimate landscapes. A focal length of 82mm, short telephoto, isolated the angle-of-view that attracted me. An aperture of f/16 and a shutter speed of 1/6th second at ISO 200 gave me an overall medium exposure; and of equal importance, it allowed me, with patience, to work with the very slight breeze that wafted through the trees above me. Weather surprises can be a lot of fun most any time, especially when they create wonderful seasonal contrasts for your enjoyment and creative energies.

 

Saturday, 02 December 2017 13:33

Southwest by the Crest

Southwest from Clingman's Dome, the Appalachian Trail traces the Smokies Crest Ridge across Sliers Bald, Cold Spring Knob, Derrick Knob, and Thunderhead Mountain before starting its long, slow descent into the valley of the Little Tennessee River at Fontana. From boundary to boundary it is 72.371 miles of some of the most beautiful land on Earth. It seems to me as though my soul was born here. On an overcast October morning I watched the clouds moving from the northwest across the face of this ridge as I stood in Webb Overlook on Thomas Divide where the colors of fall were almost at peak. Light from the East raked across the face of the forests and beauty in multiple forms was on display.

 

I want to gratefully acknowledge all of the kind expressions I have received in the wake of my mother's passing, Your beautiful thoughts will go with me always. She and my father brought me to this place for the first time in 1955, and I knew then that this was home. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

 

A focal length of 90mm, still fairly short telephoto, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field and a shutter speed of 0.8 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall very slightly-darker-than-medium exposure.

Friday, 24 November 2017 09:48

Flying Too Close To the Ground

 We never know where our angels may come from, or when they may show up in our lives, or for how long. Sometimes they come disguised as parents. Some years ago as I wandered though the beautiful burying ground in Savannah known as Bonaventure Cemetery, I came across this lovely piece of statuary whose bowl had been filled with camellia blossoms by some photographer before me. Today she serves as a reminder of an angel I have lost. Walk in Beauty Virginia McGowan (9-30-1926~11-23-2017). We probably disagreed much more than we agreed, but love-without question-was always between us, and always will be. She taught me how to think critically.

 I wanted to eliminate all extraneous reference to the place itself, so I used a focal length of 300mm to achieve the narrow angle-of-view I wanted and to magnify the fairly diminutive statue. An aperture of f/16, focused on her chin, provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds, among the shading live oaks, at ISO 100 gave me a somewhat-lighter-than-medium exposure.

Friday, 17 November 2017 08:58

I'll Fly Away

Not so long ago I was visiting the Southern Appalachian Highlands Learning Center at Purchase Knob, one of my favorite places in the Smokies. It was almost too foggy to consider the sun rising above the distant ridges, but what easily caught my attention was one of the deteriorating birdhouses anchoring the endpost in the fence at the edge of the cleared yard, looking into the thickly growing grasses and wildflowers on the hillside beyond. "Poignant" was the word that came to my mind, which expressed itself in a small portion of the fence with its birdhouse and the thick grasses laced heavily with the foggy morning. A focal length of 75mm, very short telephoto, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field and a shutter speed of 1/13th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly-darker-than-medium exposure. Sometimes being in the right place means forgetting why you came to that place in the first place.

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