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Saturday, 30 May 2015 00:00

It Was Spring Then

It seems to have happened so quickly, that just a few days ago the new growth on the hardwoods and conifers of the Smokies had unfurled to reveal a fresh season of green; but now summer has arrived way ahead of time. In the last week of April, on an otherwise sunny day, I visited Middle Prong of Little River in the Tremont section of the Park in late-mid-afternoon. There were just enough floating stratocumuli to break the worst of the contrast, but I decided to use them to my advantage, so I waited until a small one diffused a bit of the direct light, in particular, lighting the sycamores on river right while shading the trees on river left. I was prepared with my composition and had taken a couple of test images to help gauge my exposure settings and to determine where my ultimate values should be. When the cloud reduced the overall light, the exposure was just what I wanted, so I released the shutter and then made a couple of spare files to have before the cloud floated past. There is a lot of information in the scene, so careful placement of elements was necessary for the outcome, most importantly deciding what to exclude and how. A focal length of 45mm, a "normal" focal length, gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/14, given the camera-to-subject distance, gave sufficient depth-of-field. And a shutter speed of 1/6th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

Friday, 22 May 2015 00:00


As Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River gets ready to brook the lower rapid near the Greenbrier entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it ponds behind the outcropped rock strata that stretches across the stream. There it turns to seek the relatively narrow openings where it can pass through to continue its journey to meet its siblings, East Fork and West Prong, all on their way to the great French Broad, Long Man. At the lip of the cataract the flow turns past the rock and drops over the 5' ledge to the plunge pool below. I have long been attracted to to movement of the water here and spent some time with it earlier this spring when the late afternoon light cast its gold reflections across the scene. A telephoto focal length of 375mm gave me the abstraction I was seeking. An aperture of f/11 gave sufficient depth of field; and a shutter speed of 1/10th second at ISO 200 gave me an overall medium exposure and the texture in the water I wanted.

Saturday, 16 May 2015 00:00

Glittering and Mostly Golden

There are more than nine hundred miles of streams in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making a personal choice for "favorite stretch of water" more than just a little difficult. I do know that very near the top of the list would always be Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River as it flows downstream from the Ramsay Cascades Trail bridge. I can sit on its edge and watch its flow, pondering for hours the amazing boulder field that fills its ancient bed. At certain times of the year, when the sky is not overcast, the very late afternoon light fills the cove hardwood forest upstream and gives the feeling that liquid gold has been poured over the trees. It always gives me a richer sense of what it means to work in the "golden hour," a peacefulness beyond comprehension.  With so many ways to express this single location, I chose a focal length of 27mm, moderately wide-angle, to emphasize the diagonal reverse-C curve of the stream. An aperture of f/16 gave me depth-of-field, and ISO 200 allowed me a shutter speed of 0.8 second, fast enough, here, to retain some texture in the water and slow enough to create sufficient milkiness.

Friday, 08 May 2015 00:00

How Grand is Your Great House?

One year ago yesterday I found myself in Chaco Culture National Historical Park for the first time. I was excited to be there. I had read books, studied maps, consulted the sunrise/sunset tables for the area, and talked to everyone I knew who had been there and even to a couple of the interpretive rangers who work there. All the information was helpful in prompting me to arrive timely so that I could photograph sunrise near Fajada Butte and then get to Pueblo Bonito as quickly as possible after the sun arose. Pueblo Bonito is the grandest of the several "Great Houses" that dot Chaco Canyon. It was built and occupied between AD850-1150, and it was the center of the Chacoan Ancestral Puebloan world. As prepared as I thought I was to see it for the first time, I was completely blown away by the awesomeness of this magnificent structure. Seeing it once served only to make me want to see it again; and now having visited it, I will be even more prepared to seek out its photographic essences. For my first interaction with the grand house I used a focal length of 27mm to try to reveal some sense of the vast size and depth of the structure. An aperture of f/20 gave me depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1/15th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure. I was careful to avoid creating a merger between the right edge of the frame and the base of the low foreground wall; and my focal length was chosen to avoid introducing too much sky in the image, but enough to show the low stratus clouds streaming over the north wall of the canyon.

Saturday, 02 May 2015 00:00

Silver Bell City in Green

Knowing when to be somewhere at the right time is always helpful; but sometimes you find an unexpected surprise waiting. When I went to play with the sidelight streaming across the base of Sugarland Mountain and upper Sugarland Valley, I was completely surprised by the sheer numbers of blooming Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina). Silverbell is common in the Smokies, but the bloom this year has been truly amazing. Last week the greening-up had just reached the base of Sugarland Mountain and the silverbell there were fully present. In this expression I decided to use a horizontal line of the tops of some silverbell and greening hardwoods in the bottom third of the image and then let the eye follow the sweep of color, shape, and line across the valley and into the lower spur ridges of the mountain with their "V" shaped coves in between. A focal length of 36mm, almost wide-angle, gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/20 gave me depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/8th second at ISO 100 gave me a very-slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure. 

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