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Saturday, 29 June 2013 17:55

Expecting the Unexpected

Over the past fifteen years that I have visited the magnificence of Roan Gardens in mid-June I have come to appreciate the presence there of another lovely blossom. For just about the time when the Catawbas are in their full display and the Gardens are filled with spectators, there is another, more subtle explosion of color that takes place about a foot-and-a-half off the ground, and typically on the open edge of the rhododendron forest, often unnoticed by the passers-by. There is a species of columbine in bloom; but it is not the Aquilegia canadensis that grows in the Smokies, which is supposedly the only native columbine east of the Rockies. Instead, it looks much more like the western species I have seen in places like Crested Butte. How it came to be in Roan Gardens is a mystery to me; but whenever I see it there I am always delighted by its beauty. I found this specimen surrounded by ferns and ground cover, underneath a cluster of rhododendron trunks; and in order to use the greenery as  background I framed a composition looking more down on the flower. This allowed me to use the two buds and a few of the leaves, which were lower on the stem, as out-of-focus supporting elements. It also allowed me to make the open bloom relatively larger in the frame and to treat the entire stem much as a spiral with the blossom at the upper end and the lower end disappearing into the background. A focal length of 330mm gave me the magnification and angle of view. An aperture of f/6.3 ensured shallow depth of field, but with sufficient sharpness in the bloom; and a shutter speed of 0.3 second at ISO 100 gave me a somewhat lighter-than-medium overall exposure.

Saturday, 22 June 2013 08:49

It's All About Light

Pluton monolith doesn't sound nearly as poetic as Looking Glass Rock, but they are an identity. Looking Glass Rock's magnificent granitic dome, in technical geological terms a pluton monolith, rises to an elevation of nearly 4000' from its valley floor in Pisgah National Forest; and though this alone makes it quite photogenic, it really is an ordinary documentary image most of the time, at least until the light and clouds conspire to make it extraordinary. I was playing along the Blue Ridge Parkway a few days ago working my way to a sunset location when the late afternoon sun broke through the clouds and began to bathe the rock and the valley in golden light. As the clouds and sun moved across their respective paths, various portions of the valley and the rock were alternatingly cast in light and shadow, and it was a matter of patience to wait for the light to illuminate the monolith and the foreground while leaving the background ridges (including John Rock in the distance) and valleys in shade.The contrast was, in my mind, spectacular, especially with the dark cloud bands moving across the sky. I wanted an angle of view that would not be overly expansive, but would yield enough telephoto magnification to show the presence of Looking Glass Rock in its environment while at the same time showing the environment itself. A focal length of 142mm gave me this result, while an aperture of f/20 for depth-of-field at a shutter speed of 1/8 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.    

Saturday, 15 June 2013 22:09

Then Upon a Cowee Sunset

They say the show isn't over until the large lady sings. Last week's Image for the Asking was taken shortly after 8:00p.m. facing mostly south, and about thirty minutes afterward there began to be some discussion among the assembled group of photographers as to whether it would be worthwhile to remain in place until sunset, which brings us to the current Image for the Asking. After all there was a considerable band of clouds along the horizon in the west where attention was now turned, and it seemed possible that the solar disk might simply disappear into that cloud, not to be seen again until morning. What seemed to be overlooked by some of them was that before the sun touched the top of the cloud band, there was going to a wide-angle opportunity in which ole' sol was only one player among several. For with a fairly wide focal length which would emphasize the collective lights and darks in the larger sky, there was really a nice show going on in front of us. I wanted to include just enough of the undulating mountaintops to create an anchor and provide some ground for the dark lower clouds in the nearer space, above which a still-blue sky with white cirrus showed. A focal length of 37mm gave me the angle of view I wanted, while at f/22, a shutter speed of 1/6th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. And just to finish the story, as it turned out, the cloud band on the horizon was not so thick as to obscure the ball completely until just before it dropped out of sight; and there was a short blaze of color in the clouds even after the sun had disappeared. When the singing was over the sunset had, indeed, been worth staying to see.  

Sunday, 09 June 2013 00:03

Once Upon a Cowee Afternoon

In my mind it is quite possibly the most quintesential overlook along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway in terms of expressing "These are the Blue Ridge Mountains." It is one of the most incredible wide mountain vista scenes anywhere; and when the weather is cooperative, Cowee Mountains Overlook is simply amazing. It is a place for every image from late-afternoon, layered ridges to atmospheric displays to sunsets filled with fireworks, and more. It lends itself to wide-angle landscapes as readily as it does to long telephoto graphics; and it begs to be expressed as intimate landscape and panorama. So many beautiful places all rolled into one, and at 6000' in elevation it's one of the last places reached by the greening foliage. Since I was in the neighborhood last night, I decided to drop by and check out the view; and as is regularly the case, I was not disappointed. A thunderstorm building to the east was drawing moisture-laden streams of clouds from the valley below, and the light in the last hour before sunset was magical on the new spring green. In this image I decided to frame a line of late-light-lit foliage in the bottom of the scene and have it connect with the mid-ground ridge topped with dark fir trees running diagonally into the middle distance to join with the lines of the lower ridges leading into the valley; but two thirds of the frame was all about the interest in the sky with the wispy clouds streaming overhead and the band of heavy, darker cumulus far in the distance. I would have framed wider than I did, but elements on either side just off the overlook constrained me to a 24mm focal length. At f/22 I had sufficient depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. Oh yes, my 5-stop graduated neutral density filter came in handy as well.   

Saturday, 01 June 2013 18:38

Hidden Among the Lupines

In late-spring the State of Maine is a flower gargen of delight, and Mount Desert Island is certainly a grand part of the show. One of the island's most famous citizens in mid-June is the stately and comely lupine, which, although an exotic to that area, has nonetheless been gladly adopted by the inhabitants as one of their own. Yet among the extensive fields of that wonderful legume there often grows a much smaller species that is easily overlooked  because of both its size and its comparative plainness. It's a member of the Ranunculus family known as "buttercup." When you examine a buttercup at macro level, however, you find an exquisite and delicate loveliness that cannot help but inspire art. As I wandered through the lupine patch I was struck by this particular buttercup with one blossom nearly open and two buds coming along. I got very low so that I could frame the flower at slightly below eye-level, and I moved so that I could accomplish two things: I created a diagonal line of the three buttercups, which also put them in as nearly the same plane as possible; and I placed them in front of a lupine plant which was as far away as possible in the background. With a 135mm macro lens (90x1.5) I got as close to the buttercups as I could. By focusing on the nearly open flower at an aperture of f/8 I was able to have enough depth-of-field to bring the buds into clear relief, even if unfocused. At the same time I was able to create enough detail in the lupine to have it be both color and shape in the background without being a distraction. The yellows, blue/purples, and greens complimented each other well. A shutter speed of 1/40th second at ISO 100 gave me a slightly lighter than medium exposure.    

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