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Friday, 27 March 2015 00:00

Just Morphing Into Spring

Luftee Overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quintessential Smokies high country. Like a sentinel it watches over Beech Flats Prong and the headwaters of the Oconaluftee River; and even though it is considered one of the finest sunrise locations in the Southern Appalachians, it is so much more besides. Regardless of the season or time of day, Luftee always has the potential to inspire awe. On a late afternoon last week I stood watching as the light periodically broke through the clouds and highlighted the forest near and far. This game of highlight and shadow played itself out across the landscape to the far horizon, but I waited to release the shutter until the breaking light illuminated the foreground immediately below me. A focal length of 72mm gave me the angle of view I wanted with about 1/3 sky and clouds and 2/3 ridge and valley. An aperture of f/20 allowed for depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/4th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

Saturday, 21 March 2015 00:00

Between a Rock and a Wet Place

One of my favorite locations as winter morphs into spring is the Greenbrier Section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River and its primary tributary, Porter's Creek, come together in glorious turmoil, especially when spring rains have filled both streambeds to brimming. Both of these watercourses are literally choked with boulders from the varied and various sandstone formations, especially Thunderhead, whose strata underlie these ancient uplifts. And while there are many ways to express this confluence of waters, my favorite is with a wide-angle lens close up against an appealing boulder in the foreground with the rushing stream trailing out into the midground and the opposing bank in the background. On this occasion I found a stone about thrice the size of a football to serve as a foreground element. As it happened, the water was high enough to wash over the near edge of the rock before swerving between it and an adjacent boulder to rejoin the main flow. I allowed the rocks to take up nearly 45% of the image, with the flow of the stream nearly horizontal through the mid-section, and the opposite shoreline covered with still-winter trees and boulders in the background. A focal length of 18mm accomplished several things, including a close-focusing capability and a lens distortion which together magnified the apparent size of the boulders.  An aperture of f/22 gave depth of field; and a shutter speed of 6.0 seconds at ISO 100 gave an overall medium exposure. There were some choices available that included raising my ISO, however I decided that I appreciated the visual flow of the water as it is, and so decided to use the settings I mentioned.

Saturday, 14 March 2015 00:00

The Zen of Morton

There are times of the year when Morton Overlook, the quintessential Smokies sunset location, is just not a viable place to photograph sunset. This is because of where the sun sets in relation to Sugarland Mountain. In writing in my quarterly newsletter, A Song for the Asking, I always mention this, but I always point out that, even so, Morton Overlook in certain conditions - any time of year - can be an amazing opportunity. Earlier this week I was gifted with such an occasion as I was on my way between Cherokee and Gatlinburg. A shower that had come up the valley of Walker Camp Prong was slowly clearing as it rose, creating some incredible cloud and forest scenes across the valley on Anakeesta Ridge. The real effort was to watch and wait patiently while the mists sifted through the trees, revealing here and obscuring there, looking for contrasts, relationships, and shapes that offered striking patterns of elements. The most attractive compositions, in my mind, came with long telephoto focal lengths that allowed small areas of mountainside to be isolated and emphasized. Being able to quickly react to slight changes as the relationships altered was a definite plus. A focal length of 450mm gave me the angle of view and isolation I wanted. An aperture of f/16 gave me depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1/8 second at ISO 100 gave me a somewhat-lighter-than-medium overall exposure. 

Saturday, 07 March 2015 00:00

An Intimate Dilemma

While there can be no doubt that the humble tobacco plant is the source of more ill in our society than can easily be recounted, it may also be accurate to say that it carries some positive effects, in biomedical applications among others, that we only dimly appreciate at present. Very few local farmers cultivate tobacco any longer; but a handful still do; and when you come upon a tobacco harvest story unfolding, it is certainly a reminder of the rich tradition that supported farmers in these hills when little else could be found to do so. My grandfather had a Ford 801 series tractor on his farm in the North Georgia piedmont, and finding this one still in use was like waking into a dream. When I saw this scene taking shape I knew that I wanted to tell an intimate landscape story of tractor, wagon, and tobacco stalks with no extraneous additional information. The wagon, parked just inside the barn opening, was being unloaded from the rear, so I was able to set up and compose without interfering in the work. A focal length of 90mm gave me the angle of view I wanted which included part of a rear tire and fender, a front headlight, part of the seat and steering wheel, and the portion of the wagon immediately behind the tractor. An aperture of f/16 and a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds at ISO 400 gave me an overall medium exposure. A combination of patience and a higher ISO setting allowed me to freeze the motion created by the intermittent activity in the rear of the wagon.

Saturday, 28 February 2015 00:00

Holding By a Thread

The Tom Brown Barn and its farm is one of my favorite locations. This old farmstead, dating to the 1800's, is nestled at the foot of some of the most rugged country in Madison County, North Carolina, not far from the old Federal Highway through the Unaka Mountains into Tennessee. At one time it was surely a showcase of rural mountain life, but now it is slowly being reclaimed by the land. I was so attracted to the story told by the bottom level barn door hanging on its hinge, even after I had wandered around the entire structure several times. It persisted in calling me back. I looked at it from every angle I could imagine, but this perspective from slightly higher than the doorway and from an angle that showed the relationship between the door and its opening, and their location in relation to the barn's upper story, was what finally stopped me. I decided to reveal the entire edge of the building in order to give a little context. A focal length of 102mm - short telephoto range - allowed me to isolate the elements I wanted. An aperture of f/18 provided depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

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