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Saturday, 28 April 2012 23:13

The Devil's Courthouse

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina there are innumerable incredible views into the lower valleys. The ridge crest typically runs above 4500' and so the scene is generally one looking down. Nowhere is this more spectacularly portrayed than at the high rock outcrop known as The Devil's Courthouse. At 5,720' in altitude the Courthouse commands an imposing view of the Pisgah National Forest, and from its heights four states can be seen. I wanted to create a wide-angle expression of this amazing place, so I positioned the camera about 16" above the surface of the rock and allowed the folds and textures to lead the eye downward toward the lowering ridges. Where the rock merges into vegetation is merely a continuation of the ridge as it winds toward the low knob in the middle of the image. From there, the eye picks up the lines of the lower ridges as they arc from right to left downward toward to top of the frame where they exit the image at the horizon just below the clouds. The approaching thunderstorm created definite visual interest so that I wanted to include some amount of sky. I chose to create the top of the frame near the top of the on-coming textured cloud to help emphasize the line of small puffy billows just beneath it. The contrasting white and gray tones in the clouds were certainly a part of my decision to retain those that I did. With a focal length of 18mm and an aperture of f/22 I could maximize my depth-of-field. At ISO 100 I could achieve an overall medium exposure with a shutter speed of 1/8 second.


Sunday, 22 April 2012 08:14

The Forks at Greenbrier

Some of the most beautiful water in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be found in the watershed of Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River in Greenbrier. Ramsay Prong, Eagle Rocks Prong, Porter's Creek, and, of course, Middle Prong are but a few. Perhaps the most well-known location is the confluence of Middle Prong and Porter's Creek in what was once a fairly densely populated area that included the well-known Hotel LeConte and several small homesteads. And it's one of my favorite places too. Over thousands of years the rushing streams of this steeply-sided drainage have contributed to the mass-wasting of tons of rock, some of which still litters the streambeds of the watershed in the form of river-washed boulders. There are so many ways to photograph this wonderful place that every time I go there it speaks to me in some new voice. One winter, not long ago, I happened to be there and decided to look at a stream's-eye view. The water level, which can often vary as conditions change, was the determining factor: a stronger flow would have covered the boulders in the river entirely, taking away important elements; a weaker flow would have meant no water coming over the lower-right foreground rock, reducing the drama and interest of the foreground. I was literally lying on a flat boulder just on the edge of the water about 5-6' from the foreground rock. At that distance, using hyperfocal focusing, I could get everything in the image sharp with an aperture of f/11. This was important because, even this open, it still left me with a shutter speed of 2.0 seconds, which was barely fast enough to keep the flow of the water from being too much of a white blur. I wanted to include all of the confluence by shooting across Porter's Creek and into the on-coming forks of Middle Prong, but with no light from the overcast sky, so a focal length of 21mm was needed. My ISO was 100

Sunday, 15 April 2012 08:09

A Reflection on What Has Been

Church Street in Charleston, South Carolina, especially the south end near its intersection with South Battery, is a walk through the pages of history. That portion of Church Street remains a narrow brick passage, much as it was in the early nineteenth century when horse-drawn carriages transported the prominent of Charleston society back and forth from their stately homes near White Point Park to their affairs Downtown. It is a reminder of the grandeur and charm of days gone by, a reflection on what has been, preserved in kiln-fired mud. Recently I wandered down Church Street on the morning after a strong storm had emptied its waters over the city during the night and was delighted when I rounded a bend and found myself face-to-face with this wonderful puddle and its reflection of the columns of a residential garden entrance gate. It was intimacy with the past and a sense of the wabi-sabi nature of our lives. Although I took several versions of the composition, I preferred this one because of the proportions of street/brick to puddle/reflection and sidewalk, and because it contained none of the actual columns or gate or house, only their reflections. In order to exclude all of the unwanted information I chose a short telephoto focal length of 143mm, with an aperture of f/20. My shutter speed for a proper exposure was 3.0 seconds at an ISO of 100

Sunday, 08 April 2012 08:18

Sunrise in the Cove

Most of the time when one thinks of photographing sunrise, one thinks of something involving all, or at least some part, of that large sphere that daily makes its rounds through the sky. In Cades Cove, however, sunrise is a different proposition. Surrounded on three sides, including east, by significantly higher real estate, by the time the sun appears above Allnight and Anthony Ridges and the dip of Crib Gap, down in the Cove the light is already fairly harsh. Thinking of images that do not include the sun directly is usually a more productive strategy; and since early morning fog is often a possibility here, some knowledge of weather goes a long way. Checking the Townsend, Tennessee forecast for the coming morning can usually provide a sense of the likelihood of encountering fog in the valley; and when it is present, there are nearly as many ways to use it for sunrise as there are locations in Cades Cove from which to shoot. On this morning I stood on the edge of Sparks Lane looking northeast as the sun ascended more directly from the east sending slanting shafts of light through the mist. Knowing that any lighter areas in the frame would lessen the contrast with the light rays, I chose to zoom out and eliminate as much of the brightness above the tree line as I could. I also decided to leave in the foreground only a small strip that included the backlit grasses, and I panned to the left to include as broad of a fan of light as I could. My focal length was 225mm with an aperture of f/22 and a shutter speed of 1/25 second at ISO 100.      


Sunday, 01 April 2012 07:45

A Great Surprise

The light is full of surprises, and I never cease to be awed by what it can bring. Being willing to avail yourself of a surprise when it offers itself is essential. I was headed up the Colorado River valley on the way to Fisher Towers when the clouds over the mesas began to break revealing the towering San Juan Mountains behind them; and the late afternoon light filtering through began to sweep across a line of cottonwoods still golden in their fall foliage. But the light on the back end of day changes quickly, so it was necessary to stop and find a place to set up to take advantage of all the wonderful elements at hand. What struck me almost immediately was the contrast in the highlighted and shadow areas that seemed to lead the eye from place to place and throughout the frame to the clouds and mountains in the background. Beginning in the bottom left foreground, the light carries the view across the colored trees to the far right where it momentarily finds a shadow, but is then picked up by a highlight at the base of a diagonal that slants right to left to the foot of the mesa into another shadow that is taken up by the highlight on the large mesa wall on the left. That highlight is the lower left of a digonal  that leads across to the right, to the base of the snow-covered peaks. There are many kinds of contrast in photography, and highlight/shadow is just one pair. I knew I wanted a short telephoto focal length, so I chose 120mm, which gave an angle of view of 20+ degrees. I chose f/22 as an apreture to maximize depth-of-field, although f/16 probably would have worked. The shutter speed was 0.4 second at ISO 100.     

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