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December 2013

December 2013 (5)

Saturday, 28 December 2013 20:03

A Contrast of Seasons

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Some of the most ruggedly beautiful terrain in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be easily observed from Newfound Gap Road. Looked at from the shoulder of Thomas Divide, the south slope of Mount Kephart plunges headlong into the upper reaches of the narrow valley of Beech Flats Prong, on its way to becoming the Oconaluftee River. In late October, some three years back, an early-season snowfall/hoarfrost descended on the top of the mountain, which straddles the Smokies' crest, while the lower elevation hardwoods remained in fall color. It's not an everyday occurrence; but it does happen, and when it does, the sight is truly amazing. It's a great opportunity to be creative with telephoto lenses, whose images tend to have less depth, but can be wonderfully graphic. In this example I really liked the way the lateral ridges come together with the facing ridge to create the "V" where the snow and frost merge into the colorful foliage. Some additional depth is created by the S-curve of the drainage lines as they ascend from bottom to top through the image; and having the crown of the facing ridge running roughly through the lefthand-third line added a nice touch. The top of the mountain was shrouded in thick fog, but I wanted to show only a trace of it. A focal length of 168mm gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/16 allowed plenty of depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/6th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

Saturday, 21 December 2013 06:59


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Some few years ago I was scouting the Cherohala Skyway along the North Carolina-Tennessee border for a winter workshop when I encountered an intermittent hoar frost on the tops of some of the high ridges that culminate in Hooper Bald. It was as if I had entered a winter wonderland, and a very chilly one at that. The feathery crystals of ice had formed on the branches of trees along those ridgetops which had been shrouded in moisture-filled, low-hanging clouds the previous night. I was really glad I had prepared for the inclement conditions. At first everything seemed like a jumbled white confusion of icy lines, but as I watched, the patterns, shapes, and lines began to reveal themselves in the images of intimate landscapes. The stunted oaks were relatively massive in contrast to the brittle understory branches, and they seemed to lend an anchoring, stabilizing energy to the ethereal scene. A focal length of 85mm gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/11 and a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall exposure of somewhat lighter than medium.  


Saturday, 14 December 2013 21:31

Light is Fading to Shadow

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The VIC 10-09-13-17

At one time there were two Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs) in Adirondack Park; however the turndown in the economy coerced the State of New York into closing the northernmost of these facilities, just north of the small community of Paul Smiths, home of a wonderful small liberal arts college of the same name. The center is a 3,000 acre wonderland containing every habitat found within Adirondack Park with the single exception of "alpine vegetation." It also has over 25 miles of trails that include 6 miles of interpretive trail. To watch this amazing place be closed and idle seemed a travesty to the folks at Paul Smiths College, so it entered into an agreement with the State to operate the VIC, both for educational and recreational purposes; and now the Paul Smiths College VIC is a showcase of what can be done when a community refuses to allow a valuable resource to vanish. On this morning in nearly-mid-October John DiGiacomo and I arrived early to find a thin sheet of ice on the short boardwalk leading into Heron Marsh and a moderate fog wafting across the water and through the trees. When I looked across this beautiful wetland the first word that came to mind was "contrast." About halfway across, the open shade in which I stood changed as the golden light found its way into the pond lighting up the reeds, grasses, and trees on the opposite bank. The dynamic range was not so great that I could not take it in with a single exposure keeping detail in all areas. The old snags seemed to be communicating with each other across the water, and the intimacy of it all described for me everything I felt in the larger visual field. A focal length of 117mm gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 and a shutter speed of 0.5 seconds at ISO 100 gave me a overall medium exposure.   

Saturday, 07 December 2013 21:51

Surfin' at Moonstone

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One of the rock beaches of iconical beauty along the Rhode Island Coast goes by the seemingly whimsical name "Moonstone," but not without good reason. Moonstone is one of nature's beautiful mineral treasures; and without being boring I'll just say that it is one of the plagioclase feldspars made of potassium, sodium, aluminum, and silica (silicon dioxide) with a pearly, opalescent luster. It comes in a variety of shades from white to brown; and when it has been rolled and tossed in the giant tumbler known as the Atlantic Ocean for thousands of years, its angular edges become rounded into drops of rock that seem to almost glow from within. Moonstone Beach's name is well-earned, and to be there at sundown with an incoming tide is a truly wonderful experience. The sun is setting down toward Montauk on the eastern edge of Long Island seventeen miles distant to the southwest, while directly south the rise of Block Island can be glimpsed across the waters thirteen miles away. I wanted to create the sense of the tide pulsing in to cover the beach-filled stones, so I knelt as close as I dared to the on-rushing tideline. There were a number of interesting compositional possibilities, but this one with the broken wave almost covering the rocks was one that I particularly enjoyed. Other than playing with various wave-rock combinations, my main concern was in not getting soaked by that "seventh wave" even if it is a mythical enumeration. A focal length of 33mm gave me the angle of view I wanted. As the sun was already below the horizon, I needed an aperture of f/11 with a shutter speed of 6.0 seconds at ISO 400 to create an overall medium exposure without drawing out the motion of the water into a textureless blur.   

Saturday, 30 November 2013 22:16

Roots Run Rampant

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Part of the great wonder of being in Adirondack Park at any time of the year, but especially in the fall, is the tremendous diversity of experience in the natural world that is everywhere you look. The relatively small area that includes Buttermilk Falls and its environs is a single, striking example. Near the base of the falls the rock outcrops that were cut through to form the cataract rise upward and outward from the water's edge. Centuries of weathering have created enough of a soil layer over part of them that small pines have taken root and flourished. Using their own needles as mulch they are continuously adding to the purchase as their roots, where they cannot go underground, spread out over the surface of the rock. They, of course, are not really roots, but rather lines and shapes in a foreground; and that is how I saw  them on this morning. I placed my camera and tripod so that the camera was about a foot away from the nearest point of the large root, which became a line leading the eye into the image. From there other roots pointed the path through the boulders to the top of the hill. A focal length of18mm gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 was needed for depth-of-field; and so I used an ISO of 200 so that I could obtain a shutter speed of 2.0 seconds for an overall medium exposure. There was just enough of a breeze off the falls that the wind was moving some of the detritus around.     

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