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Saturday, 25 May 2013 20:56

Life Lines in Stone

I'm not even sure I can imagine the forces that were present during the twisting and bending of the hot igneous materials which ultimately cooled into the granite and quartz veins flowing through the layers of gneiss and schist, whose origins themselves bespeak of metamorphic processes of unimaginable pressure and stress. The Earth is truly an amazing place and the geological stories told in its history are so infinitely fascinating I cannot fathom that I should ever tire of learning them. They are the stories of home and of my understanding of my place in it. Black Balsam Knob, at 6214', is the second highest of the Great Balsam Mountains, a smaller province within the larger Blue Ridge. Intense fires in the early- and mid-twentieth century burned so deeply into the mountain's soil that its continued fragility still will not support tree growth; but the views from its summit are so spectacular that the fire's damage can almost be overlooked. The Art Loeb Trail crosses Black Balsam on its way to the majesty of Cold Mountain, some half dozen miles to the north, but Black Balsam is so much of a wonderful destination that its very easy to stop there with no desire to continue. Hiking along Art Loeb toward the summit it's not difficult to be sidetracked by the banded layers. After that it's a matter of playing with the elements of graphic design and arranging the lines, patterns, and shapes into an interesting visual. A focal length of 168mm at a distance of about 14" gave the narrow angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/11 gave plenty of depth to a flat scene. A shutter speed of 1/125th second at ISO 100 gave an overall medium exposure. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013 19:58

Shapes and Shadows

To me one of the most quintessential elements of a Southern Appalachian spring is the interplay of light and shadow on the surface of the land under a sky filled with billowy cumulus clouds. In mid-spring the warming thermals can produce wonderful bands of these small, puffy atmospherics, that usually sit at a certain elevation and move like herds of giant grazing buffalo. Shadows, and thus bands and lines of contrast, come and go; and the fun is sitting in a location watching the movement of the light as it illuminates first one and then another part of the larger landscape. As it does so, it emphasizes the shapes in the shadows, especially when they are set in contrast with a lighted background. Patience is often the key to finding the combination that works. In this particular composition I wanted to enlarge the foreground firs, so I chose a focal length of 69mm for some slight magnification. An aperture of f/22 at a shutter speed of 0.4 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013 20:41

In the Light of a Cherohala Afternoon

Often when I want to get away from the crowds in the Smokies or along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I drive the extra distance to Graham County where I can access the Cherohala Skyway, that 40-mile long mini-BRP, which runs between Robbinsville, North Carolina and Tellico Plains, Tennessee through awesome stretches of the contiguous Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. In the late afternoon of a spring day the sun drops behind the 5,429' prominence of Hooper Bald creating a wonderful backlight in the West that alternatingly highlights the sides of the ridges and casts their coves and hollows in shadow. The now-dead hemlocks stand in mute reminder of the destruction that can be wrought upon nature by our carelessness. When I first began photographing along the Cherohala in the late-90's just after the highway opened, they were very much alive. Climbing up the highway from Robbinsville, I simply found a location from which I could introduce as many backlit ridges as possible without bringing in an obvious section of highway. In this instance I decided to let the zig-zags of the short ridges come in about a third of the distance from the left edge of the frame.  The rest was a matter of deciding how to layer the contrasts of light and shade to create the greatest sense of depth and visual interest. Here, at the conclusion of composition I had to decide whether to allow in or to eliminate the small backlit ridge in the upper right corner. A focal length of 69mm gave me the angle of view I wanted. At an aperture of f/22, a shutter speed of 1/5th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure. 

Wednesday, 01 May 2013 20:54

Nodding Beauty

Beginning in 1712 and continuing intermittently until 1726 young Mark Catesby, an Englishman with an intense love of natural history, roamed the woods of the Virginia Colony and the West Indies looking at the flora and fauna of this new land (to the Europeans). In 1722 he was commissioned to undertake a plant-collecting expedition to the Carolinas on behalf of the Royal Society, the most prestigious botanical society in Great Britain. He spent four years at the task and then returned to England to spend seventeen more years preparing his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, the first-ever published description of the plants and animals of the New World. One of his discoveries, which was named in his honor, is the beautiful Catesby's Trillium (Trillium catesbaei), an uncommom and uncommonly delightful discovery on any walk in the spring woods. Since the flower shyly hangs down below the three large leaves, is it usually necessary to get very low in order to shoot at eye level, and the sepals curve back around in such a way that deciding how to focus in a single frame can be a real challenge. What I was really glad for was the relatively long distance from the flower to the background, which allowed me to use a smaller aperture for slightly greater depth-of-field without bringing the background into distracting detail. With the three leaves I created a triange with its apex in the upper right corner of the image. The even light of the dense forest was bright enough that I could use a fairly fast shutter speed of 0.3 second at an aperture of f/11 at ISO 100 to achieve a medium exposure. The focal length was 135mm.  

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