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Saturday, 30 March 2013 11:29

Just a Long Shot

When the mountains begin to wake up from their winter's nap and start to dress themselves for spring, they can display a finery that easily rivals their autumn splendor. And though we may choose to call it "greening up the mountains," what is really going on could never be so limited to a single color. In my mind, there is no better place to witness this marvelous unfolding and uprising than at Carlos Campbell Overlook on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, where the view across the upper Sugarlands Valley and into the base of the Bullhead, Mt. LeConte's western-most peak, is nothing short of amazing. It is a place where every lens you own can be used effectively. As I stood in the overlook on this spring morning, what really spoke to me was a narrow little area where the top of the valley meets the base of the mountain. It is a spot where lines and angles, aided by the colors and shapes of early-spring, create a visual flow that, to me, is fascinating; especially in the knowledge that, as you shorten your focal length, the entire mountainside and valley begin to come into view. The strong, early sidelight seemed to light the young foliage and to create a contrast with the still-bare branches and, sadly, the dead hemlocks, which was more compelling to me than if the sky had been overcast and the color saturation deeper and more even. A focal length of 195mm allowed me to isolate the area as I saw it. An aperture of f/13 gave me sufficient depth-of-field and a complementary shutter speed of 1/20th second, which was helpful in working with the slight breeze that was blowing up the valley. At ISO 100 all of this produced a slightly-darker-than-medium exposure.   

Saturday, 23 March 2013 22:14

Intimacy in the Key of "E"

When Eliot Porter spoke about taking a slice from the larger whole of the visual landscape and making of that slice an image that could tell the story of the whole at least as, if not more, effectively than the whole itself, he got my attention immediately. "Intimate landscape" was the term he applied to the approach he described, and the idea settled in my mind as an on-going and ever-present challenge to simplify. Since my general inclination is to look for the wider view of things, looking for intimate landscapes always forces me to operate outside of my comfort zone; but the rewards of living within that contradiction can be very pleasing indeed. Last year in early spring I was traveling through the Smokies looking precisely for a pairing of dogwood and redbud that might allow me to create an intimacy that reflected the wisdom of Porter's genius; and along the Foothills Parkway I found just the combination I was seeking. It became a matter of deciding how to frame the limbs of white and lavender in a balanced way.  Since there was a fair amount of depth in the space from the front to the back of the blossoms, I needed a good bit of depth-of-field to keep the blossoms in relative sharpness. It was also important to move laterally enough so that the larger trunks in the background lined up in a pleasing way and did not become distracting; and it was essential to use the new green leaflets in as much of a supporting way as possible. A focal length of 97mm gave the framing/angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/20 at a shutter speed of 0.4 second at ISO 100 gave an overall medium exposure. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013 15:13

Catching a Wooden Drift

As the shoreline of Kitchi Gami rounds Whitefish Point, it begins to turn southward into the opening of a much smaller and more contained body of water, Whitefish Bay. This narrows further still until it has constricted into the shape of a stream and enters the once mighty rapids of Sault Ste. Marie, the cataracts of the St.Mary's River. The greatest lake of them all has reached its outpouring conclusion. The southward turn at Whitefish Point is a place of treacherous currents where anything that floats can be tugged and pulled, and thus piled onto a beach of polished stones and glistening sand. There is a museum here that was once part of the old Coast Guard Lifeboat Station which was manned until 1970. The lighthouse is the oldest on Kitchi Gami. The log-littered margin is a testiment to the power of these waters. As I wandered along I was thinking about some of this, and I wanted to tell part of the story. At a slight indentation in the beach I noticed how the great logs had been aligned by the action of the waves and how, from a certain angle, they carried the eye into the pilings of the old warf and pointed the way into the mighty water beyond. Standing behind portions of the root systems of two of the trunks - and close enough to feel the texture of the decaying wood - I used their shapes to mimic the similar shapes in the mid-ground and create a line that led to the end of the pilings. Then I waited for an in-coming wave to break close to the shoreline. I made sure to stand high enough so that the focal length/angle of view I chose, 30mm, allowed me to see over the foreground without it becoming a barrier. It also allowed me to include most of the logs aligned on the shore, but to eliminate information that lay to either side which was extraneous to my story. The wonderfully textured cumuli in the blue sky were a gift. At f/22, a shutter speed of 1/10th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.       

Saturday, 09 March 2013 09:01

Icy Fingers Reaching Up

Just to remind us that winter is still here for yet a while longer, Mother Nature reached out this week and touched the mountains with white. It is always an act to inspire the realization of beauty, even as much as it can be a reminder of the power of nature to be destructive: such a paradox that teaches us both awe and humility. When there is frost on Morton Overlook there are usually many ways to consider photographing it. One of those, especially when the covering on the ground and in the trees in the upper drainage of Walker Camp Prong is not so thickly applied, is to consider how contrast - as between light and dark areas, as well as between highlight and shadow - can be used to point out elements and to lead the viewer's eye through the image. As I stood in the overlook I was aware of the sunlight coming through the breaking clouds and lighting various areas of the foreground as well as the distant ridges. I was also aware of the areas where the frost was not so present, which were thus darker by contrast. Using the line of small beeches below the overlook as a foreground, I tried to create alternating areas of light and dark to lead the eye initially to the face of the ridge on the right and then into the background. This was aided by the use of the diagonal lines created by the ridges and the valley. The clouds and patch of blue were interesting enough as elements that I wanted to include an amount of sky to make them evident and obvious as supporting themes. Of course, there are many other expressions here. For the chosen angle of view, a focal length of 30mm - fairly wide - worked well. At f/20 a shutter speed of 1/13th second at ISO 100 gave me a slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure.

Saturday, 02 March 2013 14:27

Hoodoo de Wahweap

About six miles downstream from the confluence of Wahweap Creek and two of its tributaries, Coyote and Nipple Creeks, the intermittent waters of Wahweap spend themselves into the questionable puddle of Lake Powell just below Wiregrass Spring. In the other direction, it is four miles upstream on the west side of Wahweap Wash that are found some of the most amazing sandstone formations on the planet, the Wahweap Hoodoos. The effort made to reach them is more than worth it. Though most of the member units of the Entrada Group are more pinkish-to-reddish in hue, the bottom sandstone layer of the Wahweap Hoodoos is a startling creamy white. These formations occurred when the underlying, and softer, Entrada rock was overlain with the harder, darker Dakota Formation, which serves as a caprock. Their strata were deposited somewhere around 150 million years ago when Jurassic Park was open for business, merely yesterday in geologic time. In most other places the Dakota Formation sits above the darker Morrison Formation, but not in this section of Wahweap Wash. Since the caprock erodes at a different, and slower, rate, the weathering of the Entrada layer produces the dramatic results by which we are awed. From sunrise to mid-day the light on the hoodoos can be dramatic; and, of course, when it's cloudy the light will be mostly even. In either instance the view will be incredible. It is a place that can be spoken in wide-angle terms, in intimate landscape language, or in a variety of telephoto dialects. For this image I decided to use a very short telephoto, 75mm focal length intimate landscape perspective. F/22 at a shutter speed of 0.4 second, set at ISO 100 gave me a slightly lighter than medium exposure.   

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