Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway, June 2017Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway, June 2017

My Approach to Landscape Photography: What questions to ask?

March 20, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Do you have a standard process you use with your landscape photography to help produce consistent results?  Is it even possible to have such a process when you face so many different situations and conditions?  To a point I think you can.  Experienced photographers likely have such a process they go through in their mind, which is so embedded that it's likely not even conscious to them.  But if you're just starting out it can be hard to remember all the different compositional possibilities, camera settings, etc.  

I've been doing landscape photography for several years now and there is always something new to learn and to apply to your process.  That's one of the things I love about photography.  There's always something new to learn.  For me, that certainly rings true.

So today's blog is intended to offer some suggestions on how to develop a process and not to overwhelm yourself.  You don't have to do everything right away but rather add those elements that are most meaningful to you.  Let's get started.

Previously, I wrote a blog post (see blog from 11/17/17)  on moving around the scene you wish to photograph with your camera checking out possible compositions.  So I think this remains #1 in terms of a process step but with some other considerations too.  How many times have you seen people arrive at a shooting location only to pull out their tripod, extend the legs fully, attach the camera and shoot away only to leave the location possibly missing better images?  I've seen it play out all too often.  I was certainly guilty of it when I first started.

When you arrive at your location, put your gear down, grab your camera and explore the area.  Now this does assume you do not have fleeting lighting conditions, people entering the scene, etc.  In those cases, grab what you can so you don't miss an opportunity.  But if conditions present themselves, take some time to see the possibilities.  Review my earlier blog post for more information.

The second step is reflecting on the image you want to create.  Ask yourself these types of questions:

  1. What are the possible compositions for your image?
  2. Should you shoot in landscape or portrait orientation?
  3. Is aperture or depth of field of primary importance?
  4. What lens focal length will best capture a scene?  Which lens is best to use?
  5. What shutter speed do I want?  Do you want to stop action or portray movement with a long exposure?  Will any filters, e.g., neutral density, circular polarizer, be needed remembering you'll lose exposure stops?
  6. What ISO is required to provide a clean image at the aperture and shutter speed you've picked?
  7. If the scene has a deep depth of field, will you need to use focus stacking?
  8. If there is a wide variety of lighting conditions?  Will you need to use HDR (high dynamic range)?
  9. If shooting a long exposure, e.g., moving water, is there anything around the water you do not want to appear blurry in the final image such as blowing leaves?
  10. Are there any distracting elements in the composition, e.g., downed trees, people?
  11. Where do you need to focus to get the image sharpness you desire?


These questions are not an exhaustive list but for someone getting started, it will help you to not forget many of the important things you need to consider before clicking your shutter button?

In future blog posts, I'll dive into more depth on each of these questions so stay tuned.






Should Photographs Represent Reality or Are They Art?

July 21, 2022  •  1 Comment

With the advancements in post processing software and tools, there are varying opinions on what photography should represent.  For the sake of this discussion, let's focus on landscape and macro photography.  Some feel photographs should represent the reality of what the photographer saw through the view finder while others view photography as an art, where the photographer is free to interpret and present the scene as they imagined it.  For example, my two siblings view the soft silky look of a waterfall shot using a long exposure as not real life and would prefer seeing the individual droplets of water splashing about.  My clear preference, if you've seen my waterfall photographs, is one using long exposure to give the illusion of movement and the flow of the water.  Recent advancements in the tools available to photographers such as sky replacements and textures provide even more opportunities for the creation of "art".


So who is "right"?  My personal belief is that, as a photographer, I'm creating art.  Using my imagination to not only present my subject but to present it in such a way that I believe represents all it could be.  This could simply be increasing the color saturation a bit or erasing distracting elements.  It may mean replacing a totally blown out bright hazy sky with one having nice puffy white clouds.  


No digital photos are produced without some post processing.  Even when you snap off a photo with your camera set on "auto" or with your phone, the camera is doing some processing automatically.  But with today's cameras you can take photos in RAW format vs. JPEG, which provides much more information to use in post processing.  This allows photographers to use every pixel of information in the original image whereas a JPEG photo only has a fraction of the information.


One reason I may do some "extra" post processing is that most times I visit a location hoping for exceptional conditions which does not really materialize.  Let me give you an example.


Last weekend I visited a new waterfall, the Lower Waterfall on Hungry River.  This was after we stopped at Case Falls just outside Hendersonville, NC.  By the time I reached the Hungry River, the sky was very bright and there was no way of getting an evenly exposed photograph with an even range of brights and darks.  Even by blending an underexposed photo for the sky with another image processed for everything else would leave a totally boring sky.  I made the decision while shooting that I would likely  need to use the sky replacement tool in Photoshop to save the photo.  Here is the unprocessed photo.

As I tried various skies with nice clouds, the photo looked much better but just was not making a great image.  The main reason was the waterfall itself.  It did not look great with its water flow.  I then thought about using a night sky.  That presented challenges by "matching" the surrounding landscape to a nighttime scene with the proper color temperature.  I tried a sky with the Milky Way in it and that led me to this final image.

Lower Falls on Hungry River  July 2022Lower Falls on Hungry River July 2022

You can probably see the extensive dodging and burning that was needed to arrive at a believable lighting scheme.  Another issue was adapting the color temperature to that of a nighttime photo.  I lowered the color temperature more to the blue or cooler part of the spectrum.  I also had to be sure to adjust any areas on the trees or elsewhere that had some brighter sunlight hitting it.  Then, finally, to add a bit of mystery to the image I added some light to the window of the abandoned building.  This is the image that showed the full potential for this scene in my mind.


Then another question comes up when you want to post the photo online.  Do you indicate that the photo was processed with a replacement sky or allow the viewer to think this is the actual scene you saw?  While I would like to take credit for taking the image like it appears I always give an indication that I creatively used Photoshop to get the result.


Let me give you another example of another method to enhance a photo but without any post processing.  My interest in macro photography, especially with flowers, is increasing.  But often times the background of the image, even after using a wide open aperture to blur it, detracts from the image.  To provide a more pleasing background, I purchase textures which, in this case, appears to be a nice blurry green.  These textures are printed and glued on a foam board.  Then, while taking the photo, I simply hold the foam board behind the flower.  The result is shown here.

Using this technique removes the ugly brownish background and replaces it with a pleasing background that looks like you were in a plush garden.  This can also be accomplished in photoshop but I find this approach much easier.  I have about six of these printed textures with me all with a different pattern and color.


So is photography as discussed here supposed to present realism or should it be considered art and its many creative possibilities?  Each photographer needs to answer that question for themselves.  There is no one answer for everyone.  It is your photo after all.  Do what YOU like.


Enjoy your photography journey!!


Wildflower Season in the Carolinas

April 20, 2022  •  1 Comment

It's been a long seven months since my last post.  I had open heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm in late September. It was an up and down recovery with two additional weeks back in the hospital for two other relatively simple procedures to correct some issues that arose. But I'm getting back on some easier hikes and hope to be back to somewhat normal shortly. I am so ready to get back out.

Luckily, I have been getting out to enjoy the wildflower season in North and South Carolina.  Tomorrow I head to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to hunt for more wildflowers there.  The wildflower season seems a bit late this year.  Our weather has been so up and down this spring.  One day in the upper 70s and then back down to lows in the 30s.

I've added to my macro gear in preparation for this wildflower season.  I bought the Nikon 105mm macro lens and also the brand new Lensbaby Soft Focus II optic.  I already had the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens, which is a great macro lens when used with macro filters as well as their Sweet 50.  For their softness or "glow", I think I like the Lensbaby but for autofocus the Nikon wins since Lensbaby lenses are all totally manual. Given that fact, I also use two macro focusing rails, which really helps get pinpoint sharp focus.

Shooting wildflowers can be challenging since they are so small, requiring the photographer to get down to their level for most compositions.  I also had to watch out when I was lying on the ground so I wasn't crushing other nearby wildflowers.  Being a flexible contortionist helps to get into certain, let's say, uncomfortable, positions for the image in you have in mind.  Knee and elbow pads are a welcome item in my gear for this work.

The photographs shown below just happen to be taken by my Lensbaby lenses.

This first photo is of the Carolina Springbeauty.  Given they aren't more than a two inches tall, they look like simple white flowers from a standing position. But on closer inspection you see the purple lines and yellow center.  Without the benefits of a macro lens, you'd never even notice their delicate beauty.


The next flower isn't technically a wildflower.  I only had to look into my wife's garden to capture this Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine.  This was taken with the Lensbaby Soft Focus II with a +4 macro filter.  I also blended three photos to capture different aperture settings.  You can see the glow this lens produces at wider apertures.

Another photo of the Blue Columbine from above - just using a different composition.  That's why so many pros suggest looking at your subject from many different angles as they may yield another perspective that is better than the first.  I actually prefer this version myself.

There are a multitude of trilliums in the Carolinas. The Catesby's Trillium is a new one to me.  But it is pretty unique.  This photo was taken with my Lensbaby Velvet 85 with a +2 macro filter.

Finally, this is a Sweet White Trillium, which you will find in numerous forests.  This was also taken with my Lensbaby Velvet 85.  Not only can Lensbabys produce a nice glow to their subjects, they can also show great detail when needed.

Another nice thing about Lensbaby lenses is that the cost is much less than traditional fast macro lenses. I highly recommend them not only for flower photography but for other types as well.



Grand Teton National Park

September 09, 2021  •  1 Comment

In June and July this past summer I had the joy of making my third trip to the Grand Teton National Park.  A photo buddy, Frank, and I piled our gear into my car and drove from Asheville, NC to the Tetons.  It was a long 3-day drive but once the first day was out of the way, the drive really wasn't too bad.  Having downloaded plenty of Netflix movies to my iPad helped pass the time when I wasn't driving.  But the excitement of our destination helped motivate us during the long drive.

Before we left, Frank and I met to lay out our desired locations and identify the prime locations we wanted to shoot in the mornings.  We were only going to have five days in the park before packing up and heading to the Rocky Mountain National Park for four days before heading back home.  The trouble is there are so many fantastic locations that would all look their best photographed with early morning light.  Our top picks were Schwabacher Landing, the Moulton Barns, Taggart Lake and Spring Lake.  This would be my first time hiking to Taggart and Spring Lakes.

Family and friends thought we should have flown to the Tetons vs. driving all that way.  But flying would mean limiting the gear we were able to take and we didn't want to get there and not have what we needed to get the desired result.

Weather turned out to be a key factor.  We got caught up with the heat wave affecting the western states.  So the high temperature each day was around 90 degrees.  At least the humidity was low and that did help.  Nonetheless, when it's 90 and you're averaging hiking five miles per day, you're hot.  While the mornings were great, the light quickly became very harsh after sunrise.  This really limited getting winning shots during the day.  And since we were getting up at 3am each morning, we chose not to be in the park in the evening.  I regret that decision now.  But by late afternoon, we were hot and pretty tired.

We arrived in the Tetons mid afternoon.  Since our check-in time was late afternoon, we decided to visit Mormon Row and the Moulton barns to scout the location.  It had been nine years since my last visit and the first time for Frank.  My preferred location at the T.A. Moulton barn is on the left side near a small patch of trees.  Since this area is rather small, knowing your favorite spot to set up your composition is important as this location can be packed at sunrise.  We were determined to be the first ones there.

So we're up early at 3am and get ready to go.  It was a bit of drive to the location but we got there around 5:40am and we were the first ones there.  Others started to arrive around 6am.  The odd thing was that everyone else that came set up directly in front of the barn.  Not exactly a good composition in my mind.  But good for us as we had the better spot all to ourselves and allowed us to move around a bit.  The last time I was there, there was hoard of photographers packed into that small area shoulder to shoulder.

If you've been to the T. A. Moulton barn you want to be there early to not only catch the sunrise shining on the Tetons but also catch the wonderful warm glow that lights up the front of the barn as the sun reaches over the mountains to the east.  Just not on this morning since there were too many low clouds in the east.  This blocked the sun from lighting up the barn.  Pretty disappointing but with a little help with post processing, here is the image I got.


T.A. Moulton Barn - July 2021T.A. Moulton Barn - July 2021 So even though Mother Nature wasn't on our side on this morning, I was still able to create some of the warm light on the barn.  Hopefully, you'll also agree that setting up in the trees provides a more pleasing composition.

Our next stop was to hopefully get to the Antelope Flats area just east of the barns to capture some wildflowers in the foreground.  But first we made a quick stop to get a few shots of the John Moulton Barn.


John Moulton Barn - July 2021John Moulton Barn - July 2021

In hindsight, knowing now the wildflowers would be in harsh light, I would have spent a bit more time at this location getting some additional compositions.  Guess I'll have to go back for the fourth time.

To truly get some spectacular wildflower images, we would have had to be in the park about two to three weeks earlier.  There still were numerous flowers just more spotty and looking a bit aged.  It would have been best to have gotten there earlier or better yet on a cloudy day.  I tried as best I could but this was the best shot for that morning.  This is a 15 shot stacked image.


Antelope Flats Wildflowers - July 2021Antelope Flats Wildflowers - July 2021


We then headed to Oxbow Bend to get the classic shot of Mt. Moran.  But, unfortunately, it was already early afternoon and the Mt. Moran's reflection in the water was long gone.  This is definitely a sunrise location.  We just didn't have enough days to fit everything in.  Nothing I photographed made the cut.

As you have likely read in many landscape photography articles, professional photographers always recommend scouting a location prior to shooting.  That's exactly what we did next.  Since we were hiking to Taggart Lake early the next morning and had learned how short the sunrise light lasted, we decided to scout out Taggart Lake before hiking it the next morning.  We were already hot and tired but I'm so glad we made the effort.  The roundtrip hike was about 3.5 miles including looking around at the lake.  I hadn't been to Taggart before so getting the lay of the land for possible compositions proved wise.  We found the locations we wanted to shoot first during the good morning light.

Once again we were up at 3am and got to the trailhead before dawn.  The cooler morning temps made the hike up to Taggart more pleasant.  Sometimes you just get lucky and I came away with this photo.  It turned out to be one of my favorite photographs of the trip.


Taggart Lake - July 2021Taggart Lake - July 2021


Our first stop the next day would be to hike to Spring and Leigh Lakes. This was the first time I've been to these lakes so we didn't know what to expect other than seeing photos from these locations.  Arriving at the trailhead shortly before dawn we started hiking.  The trail was in great condition and flat.  But by the time we reached the first spot we wanted to set up, the mountains had lost the alpine glow.  Nevertheless, it is stunningly beautiful along the way.  Here is one image I took.

Spring Lake - July 2021Spring Lake - July 2021

There was already a bit of a breeze and hard enough to not allow mountain  reflections in the lake.  Oh well.  We spent several hours here and took a lot of photos but I still have to process more from the hike.

We then headed east out of the park near Moran Junction on US 26/287.  A short distance up the hill, there is a hard to see turnoff to the right.  If you drive in there a little bit, you'll come to a beautiful overlook of the entire park with aspen trees in the foreground.  Here's what we saw.  This was taken around 2:30pm so the sun was high overhead.  This would be much better in the very early morning.  That was the theme of the trip as we learned.

Teton Range Distant View - July 2021Teton Range Distant View - July 2021

As we heading back into the park, we saw the sign for the turnoff to the Cunningham Cabin.  We weren't real excited to see it but we had the time so why not.

It was already late afternoon so it took a little creativity to get an acceptable photograph.  The Teton range was brightly lit at the time.  The cabin itself wan't all that spectacular.  Its shape looked a bit like a shoebox.  As I entered one of the rooms, the window showed a wonderful view of the Tetons.  With blending a few images I got a shot I liked.


Cunningham Cabin View - July 2021Cunningham Cabin View - July 2021 Afterwards, I walked around the perimeter of the cabin and saw a great curvy log fence, which would make a great leading line to the Tetons.  But looking at the photo during post processing the foreground was rather dull with all the sage brush.  Typically when the photo doesn't have a lot of color interest I try converting it to black and white to see if it gets any better.  In this case it didn't seem to help much.  But using Silver Efex Pro, I tried a number of their filters finally ending up with one with a sepia vintage tone.  This look may not be for everyone but here it is.


Cunningham Cabin Vintage Fence - July 2021Cunningham Cabin Vintage Fence - July 2021

On our final day in the park, we couldn't wait to get to the iconic Schwabacher Landing.  This location has been photographed in nearly every way possible but we still wanted to get OUR shot.  We got up once again at "stupid o'clock" and made it there well ahead of sunrise.  There were some good clouds so we were hoping for some great shots.  We were not disappointed.

There was already a crowd of people at the parking lot and we thought our spots might be packed.  We lucked out in that the majority of the people stayed near the parking lot.  We walked down the trail to one of the main   photograph compositions.  As I waited along with only three other photographers a mother moose and her offspring walked out of the woods and stopped to dine in the marsh.  My long lens, 80-400mm, was in the car, so I asked the guys to watch my gear while I ran to my car to grab it.  The moose were still there when I got back but, you guessed it, by the time I got it set up and ready to shoot, they left.  Agony.  I missed a priceless shot.   But I quickly brushed the loss off as I saw the morning light hit the peaks.  I took a longer exposure with great colorful clouds and here's what I got.


Schwabacher Landing Radiating Morning - July 2021Schwabacher Landing Radiating Morning - July 2021

As the sun rose higher the light lit up the lake a bit.  I was beside myself.


Schwabacher Landing Morning - July 2021Schwabacher Landing Morning - July 2021

I moved down the trail a bit and snapped off this one before the colors faded.


Schwabacher Landing Teton Morning - July 2021Schwabacher Landing Teton Morning - July 2021

As the sun rose higher the color quickly faded and the clouds began to dissipate.  I headed back toward the parking lot and grabbed this image with a lush marsh in the foreground.  I added a touch of Orton Effect to it using Luminar 4.

Schwabacher Landing Marshland - July 2021Schwabacher Landing Marshland - July 2021

A friend of mine, Jeff Clow, was leading a photo tour this week and he suggested going to another location at Schwabachers.  As you drive down the entrance road you'll see a left turn to a small parking lot before the main parking lot.  He said go here and follow the trail to the left to see four beaver dams and some great reflections.  It was so worth it.  There were many great compositions.  You could shoot a week of mornings here.

Schwabacher Landing Wildflowers - July 2021Schwabacher Landing Wildflowers - July 2021

Although the clouds were gone by now we still got some great mountain reflections.  There were tons of fading wildflowers along this trail but we were two to three weeks late to hit the peak.

Overall, it was a great trip to the Tetons.  If you've never been, I hope these images have motivated you to visit yourself.  


Spring Flowers Are Blooming

April 25, 2021  •  1 Comment

In my last post I wrote about my new lenses from Lensbaby, the Velvet 85 and Sweet 50.  During the past month I've been using them a lot and I fall more in love with them during every outing.  Spring wild flowers have really never been my "thing" but these lenses have changed my mind.  I can't get enough of them now.  Two good friends are really into wild flowers so they have been showing me all of their great locations.

There is great fun in tramping around forests looking for a hint of color.  Sometimes the wild flowers such as trillium cover the forest floor like a blanket.  What a show that presents.  Most of the flowers are very tiny and, of course, are close to the ground.  While during my "normal" landscape work of hiking to waterfalls and climbing around rocks and streams searching for the right compositions key.  Likewise, searching for the "right" wild flower and composition is really quite the challenge and equally tiring.  You often have to lay on the ground and contort yourself into odd positions to get the desired compositions.  

While composition is always important, so is getting just the right focus when doing macro work.  My eyes are not that sharp anymore so I struggled getting the proper point(s) in focus.  Many times I thought I nailed the focus only to get it up on my computer monitor and realizing I missed it.  Even with using focus stacking you may not capture it.  One of my friends has a macro focusing rail that he let me borrow for a while.  He was always shooting handheld and didn't use it.  Handholding doesn't work for me.  But when I started using the rail I was amazed how much better my focusing became.  The LCD screen on the back of my camera works well but when I magnify the screen and use the rail I can get pinpoint focus most of the time.  So I knew I had to get one.  If you've been challenged with getting macro shots in focus, I suggest you try one out.

Here is a photo of one.  This one is adjustable on two planes so you can move your camera side-to-side or front to back in very tiny increments.  


Really Right Stuff B150-B Macro Focusing Rail - Panorama accessories -  Tripods

This first photo is a Blood Root bud.  This was taken with my Lensbaby Velvet 85 at about f/4.  The blurred backgrounds are really quite nice with Lensbaby lenses.  The Blood Root is very small and short.  Taking these types of shots is not very comfortable as you have to put your body in some unnatural positions.  But when you get these types of results, it is well worth it.  This was one of the first shots I took using the macro rails.  You can see I captured the tiny vertical lines on the petals.  

Blood Root BudBlood Root Bud


This wild flower is a Trout Lily.  You can't really see its super thin stem.  A big challenge photographing wild flowers is wind.  It takes so little to play havoc on getting a clean sharp image.  One good thing is that you're usually using a wide open aperture so that improves shutter speed. Luckily, I shoot with a Nikon D850, which has very good resolution at high ISOs.  So even if I'm shooting at ISO 1000 to get my shutter speeds near 1/320th second, I can still obtain clean images.


Trout LilyTrout Lily

Another great tool for macro work is the Plamp, shown here.  This version fits over a screw driver that goes into the ground.  The flexible arm is very sturdy and is strong enough to hold a small diffuser.  There are other versions that can clamp on a tripod leg.  I have two Plamps.  Sometimes I use one to hold the flower stem and another to hold a diffuser.  They work great.



While photographing this tulip, I used a piece of 8 x 10 foam board with a texture print glued to it.  My Plamp came in handy to hold the texture behind the tulip. This can be very useful when the actual background is not very attractive.  During post processing I also applied a bit of the Orton effect using Luminar 4.  It adds a nice tone to images in some cases.

Tulip with TextureTulip with Texture


My wife had some straw flowers so I photographed this one with my Velvet 85.  Instead of placing a texture foam board behind it I chose to blend a texture in during post processing.  It can create quite a different feel for the image.


Straw Flower with TextureStraw Flower with Texture

This last image is a branch of a dogwood tree from a neighbor's yard.  Lensbabys are great for many types of photography.  You can give a totally different look to subjects using them.  Here you can see the softness the lens creates to the blossoms.


Dogwood BranchDogwood Branch

One way to add a different look and feel to your photography is to use a Lensbaby lens.  There are many different versions - all provide a different look.  But even if you don't have a Lensbaby lens, I encourage you to try out macro photography.  There is a whole new tiny world to capture out there and its beautiful.

If you like this post or not, please drop me a note.  I loved to hear your comments.

Happy shooting, Reid 

Welcome to the Artistic World of Lensbaby Lenses

March 10, 2021  •  1 Comment

Toward the end of last year, I started to see some images on Instagram and Facebook of these absolutely beautifully different flowers.  Different not in the type of flower but in the way they were presented and processed.  There was something that I couldn't explain.  For the most part it was the lenses that were being used to photograph the flowers.  They were from Lensbaby.

I had heard of Lensbaby but they never really caught my eye until now.  I began to really admire the work of two professional flower photographers who use Lensbaby lenses a great deal.  They are Kathleen Clemons and Anne Belmont.  If you have not heard of them, look them up on Google and study their images.  Their images are so artistic and abstract in some cases. Their work really lit an interest in me to study more about Lensbaby lenses.

If you're not familiar with Lensbaby, I encourage you to check out their website.  All of their lenses are prime, meaning they have a fixed focal length.  They are also fully manual, i.e., no auto focusing.  You need to adjust the aperture with a dial on the lens itself just like in the old days.  At small apertures, most of their lenses are very sharp.  But the beauty of Lensbaby lenses comes in the larger apertures.  They produce an ethereal "glow" around the edges of objects.  At f1/8, very little of the photo will be in focus creating an incredible bokeh, not replicated in "normal" lenses.  Search for YouTube videos by Anne Belmont or Kathleen Clemons.  They will share their technique and the wonderful results.

This is my first photo using my Lensbaby Velvet 85.  I love this lens.  This first experiment really didn't do justice to Lensbaby.  But you can see the "glow" around the edges that they can produce.  This was an indoor shoot using off camera speed lights in softboxes with a green back drop.

White LilyWhite Lily

Here in my second attempt with a yellow rose.  I used a wider aperture and you can really get a sense of the softness the lens provides.  This was also shot using my Velvet 85 and used speed lights in soft boxes.

Yellow RoseYellow Rose

In the image below I began to experiment with textures.  If you look at Kathleen Clemons online store, she sells sets of beautiful textures, which can be applied with Photoshop and other comparable software.  Here, I used a somewhat muted pinkish texture to help provide a bit of color.  You can begin to see the artistic element the lens provides.  The creative possibilities are endless.

Pink CameliaPink Camelia

In this final image I tried something entirely new for me that I picked up from a video from a Kathleen Clemons' course in Creative Live.  Not only does it add a texture but then adds a layer mask to gently allow some of the unaltered image show through the texture.  The "look" may not be for everyone but I love it.  It can allow your creativity to run wild.

Pink HyacinthPink Hyacinth

If you do visit the Lensbaby website, you'll seen many different uses for them.  Portraits are particularly nice.  Still life photos could also do well using a Lensbaby.  I'm not sure landscape photography would be great with them however.

With spring quickly approaching I'm really looking forward to getting to some gardens to see what I can create with these lenses. If you do ever buy one, be aware there is a learning curve when using them.  I can become frustrated with myself.  But when I get a keeper, it makes it all worthwhile.

Until next time, happy shooting.





Branching Out

February 07, 2021  •  2 Comments

In late September 2020, the autumn colors were just beginning to pop in western North Carolina.  My  friend, Charles, and I took off early on this Saturday morning to visit Sams Branch Falls.  I had been to Sams Branch Falls before but it didn't really do much for me.  But Charles had never seen it so off we went.  Located not too far south of Sunburst Falls on NC215, it's trail head is not easy to find and has no real markings.  

The start of the hike is a short but steep climb.  As I was going up I wondered how the heck I was going to get down.  The hike is pretty short and pretty easy.  We heard the falls before we could see it and from the sound we expected good water flow.  The trail gets a bit more challenging once you get to the waterfall as you have to leave the trail and descend a steep hillside a short ways.  From there you have to maneuver up and around wet slippery rocks and boulders.  But when you see the waterfall, it is so worth it.

Sams Branch Falls - Sept 2020Sams Branch Falls - Sept 2020

You can see some of the rocks you have to get around to capture new compositions.  But the early morning light was soft and wonderful.

After shooting here for awhile, Charles wanted to try to find Lower Bubbling Springs Branch Falls.  The trailhead was located on NC 215 just south of where it crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had tried to find this falls with another friend but we couldn't follow the directions and never found it.  Charles and I started off and made several false starts again.  But the process of elimination and sheer stubbornness finally paid off.  There were a few stream crossings along the way and the final stretch was walking in the stream, which was pretty slippery.  At this point all we were doing was following the water upstream heading toward the sound of the waterfall.  But once again, our efforts paid off and we reached it.

Lower Bubbling Springs Branch Falls - Sept. 2020Lower Bubbling Springs Branch Falls - Sept. 2020

There were only a couple of places to safely set up a tripod.  As you can see, the rocks were covered with very slippery moss, which made moving around very difficult.  Conditions were still good with the sun not yet hitting the water here.  So moving quickly we got off as many shots as we could.  But our luck did not last for long and the bright sun poured out onto the water bringing a great morning to an end.

But what a successful day.  Revisited one waterfall in excellent conditions with blooming autumn colors and another seen for the first time.  A winning day for sure.  I could hardly wait for my next autumn adventure.


Visit to Upper Sols Creek Falls - A True Masterpiece of Nature

February 02, 2021  •  2 Comments

It's been much too long since I added a post so I'll be trying to make up for lost time.  I'll start by sharing images and stories of some of my best autumn images taken last year.  While 2020 will always be known for the COVID-19 pandemic, there was one bright spot - the autumn colors.  We've lived here in western North Carolina for six autumn seasons and, by far, the color in 2020 was the best I've seen here.  Just spectacular.  Additionally, we had some heavy rains, which for the most part really helped waterfalls perk up.  

My first good autumn outing was a new waterfall, Upper Sols Creek Falls.  I saw a nice image on it taken in mid-September by a friend of mine.  Sometime ago, I did try to find the waterfall but just had no luck.  Lots of streams to cross, which made the going tough.  My friend said it was quite easy to find so I decided to give it a go again.  While it wasn't without some mishaps, I'm so glad I persisted and finally got there albeit a bit wet.

The day I went was one of those perfect days when everything comes together.  Good cloud cover to provide nice even light, no wind, and a waterfall too difficult and off the beaten path to have other people running around it.  So I got up early one morning and took off.  The first hurdle was just finding the trailhead.  I used the directions provided in Kevin Adams' waterfall book.  His mileage tends not to agree with my odometer as was the case this day.  But eventually I found the guardrail by a stream he noted.  Following his trail directions and those of my friend I set out.

The first stream came up quickly.  With recent rains, the water was really flowing and was just under knee high.  Luckily, this time, I got across the slippery stream OK.  There were some trail markers that helped for a while.  But then the trail markings and Kevin's directions didn't match up.  Following the trail markings seemed right so I followed them...that is, until they stopped.  This is after I made another slippery stream crossing.  At this point I could hear the waterfall and it sounded big.  So I decided to follow the trail, what little there was, and the sound of the waterfall.  But then the trail evaporated.  So now what?  The waterfall couldn't be too far away but how to get to it?  This is where my better judgement left me.  Oh, and did I mention I went alone?  Yeah, not a good idea but I did have a Garmin emergency beacon if I got into trouble.

So I decided to try to walk the stream to find it.  I was obviously off course but I wasn't going to quit now when I'm so close.  Then I come to some very large trees that had fallen across the stream.  OK, now what do I do?  Oh, what the hell, climb over them, right?  But once over, I find this just isn't my day and I realize I'm not going to find this waterfall.  So, reluctantly, I turned around and head back.  Getting back over the downed trees going downstream proved much more difficult.  So as I was trying to slip my feet back into the stream, they slipped and down I went into the stream getting totally submerged.  My only thought is..."oh, *#&%(*$, MY GEAR!!"  "*#&%*(@##".  I got up and managed to walk the stream to the bank and pondered just how bad the damage was.  Somehow, nothing was damaged.  My camera and lenses all worked. The interior of my camera bag was dry.  OMG!!  Even my phone and Garmin still worked.

Dejected and wet, I decided that was it and headed back to the car.  As I was nearing my car, I realized this day had such prime conditions that I may never have them again.  So, still soggy, I turned around and headed back.  This time, however, I didn't follow the trail tape at one stream crossing and tried to make sense of Kevin Adams' directions.  I walked upstream but on the other side of the stream from where I was before and sure enough I found a little thin trail.  It went steeply up at first, which made me wonder if this was correct but eventually I could hear the sound of the waterfall getting louder.  Eventually, the waterfall came into view and this is what greeted me.

Upper Sols Creek Falls - October 2020Upper Sols Creek Falls - October 2020 Did I say conditions were perfect?  My jaw dropped.  What an incredible sight to see.  On this day, I'm not sure there was a more stunning waterfall to see.  And, I had it all to myself!!  But as I tried to maneuver around I quickly realized I found another big problem.  All the rocks I needed to walk on were covered with wet slippery leaves on top of slimy terribly slippery moss.  It was just like trying to walk on wet ice.  No footing at all.  I don't know how I managed not to fall down several times.  At times, I just went on all fours to move a bit.  Getting my tripod and camera set up was very difficult as was just standing upright long enough to take some shots.  While I would have liked to roam around the area a bit, I only moved to three vantage points to shoot.  I felt I used up all of my luck on this day and I still needed to cross a few creeks to get back to my car.  So I snapped off these photos before calling it a day.

Upper Sols Creek Falls - October 2020Upper Sols Creek Falls - October 2020

Upper Sols Creek Falls - October 2020Upper Sols Creek Falls - October 2020

I took many different shots with varying focus points and exposures so I would hopefully get some "keepers" to remember the day.  So I was thrilled and, yes, still very wet, but I was happy to have found this beauty and was ready to head home.  I managed to get back to my car in one piece with my gear and body intact.

When I loaded my images into Lightroom, my jaw dropped again when I saw what I got.  These may be among the best images I've ever taken.  I was so pleased with the great fall colors that day as well as near perfect water flow.  I couldn't have asked for anything better.  And the fall shooting season was just getting started.

Coming up, I'll share more photos I took this past autumn season.  After that, I'll share how I discovered the wonderful world of Lensbaby artistic lenses.

A Great Landscape Photography Tool

October 11, 2020  •  1 Comment

There are so many camera gadgets out there today.  Sellers try to lure you into buying trying to raise your hopes they will improve your photographs.  While some are essential, e.g., tripod, circular polarizers, neutral density filters, many make promises they can't keep.  The surest way to make better photos is to learn how to use your camera and some composition basics.

However, I have found one unconventional piece of camera "gear" that you may not think much about.  Water boots.  Yup, water boots.  Now I have waterproof hiking boots but that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about those knee high rubber boots.

A friend of mine gave me an extra pair he had and I can't believe I didn't get them sooner.  Since I really love waterfalls and do not really enjoy getting my feet wet, I was limiting the compositions I could get.  I would just slip on some cheap beach shoes for some level of foot protection but in western North Carolina the water in the streams is very cold.  This limits how long I stay in the water.  When I use water boots, I'm very comfortable and can move around easily provided the water is not higher than the boots.  

I find know that my compositional possibilities have increased when I visit waterfalls or cascades now.  I have revisited waterfalls and found new ways to photograph them.  Many are much better.

Of course, there are a few downsides of using boots or just getting in the water for that matter.  The primary one is you slip and your equipment takes a bath and no longer works.  Not to mention you could get hurt too.  The other is that they weigh more than regular hiking boots.  I slip them on before I hit the trail and just hike in them vs. trying to carry them with me.  They're pretty comfortable to hike in.  But when you do a two mile hike downhill to your destination they seem a lot heavier when you have to walk back uphill.  It is worth it to me for the flexibility they provide.  When I visit a new location, I try to determine if there will be any benefit in wearing them.  I talk to others who have been there or looked at videos to see if I see compositions from being in the water.  But when in doubt, I wear them.  So far so good.

So if you like waterfalls and moving water, think about water boots.  They just may become essential gear you always want to have with you.

Safety First - How To Protect Yourself on the Trail

September 04, 2020  •  1 Comment

With temps starting to gradually fall, we're all looking forward to getting out with our cameras to enjoy and photograph the autumn colors.  But I wanted to write a post I've not often seen much or discussed, SAFETY.  As I continue to add to my age, the body is getting older and some health issues are cropping up.  So safety when I'm hiking in the middle of nowhere and without cell phone coverage is important no matter what your age.  Anyone can easily slip or twist or break an ankle.  Not taking the proper safety precautions may put you in a dire situation.  So what can you do to mitigate some typical safety concerns?  The following suggestions won't be exhaustive by any means.  I'm sure many of you can provide many other important risk mitigators.

Use the Buddy System

This one is self-explanatory.  There is safety in numbers.  If you're heading out into the wilderness or just out of cell phone range, go out with a friend or two.  Then, in case something were to happen, there is someone to seek help and provide aid.

Inform Someone Where You Are Going

Again, a no brainer but how many times have you forgotten to do it.  Let someone know that you're heading out, where you'll be and approximately when you'll be back.  If you forget to check in, someone will know approximately where you are and can call for help.

Water / Snacks

While this may be obvious, having enough water with you is essential to your safety and comfort.  You are burning a lot of calories while hiking and you need to stay hydrated.  By the time you realize you have sun stroke, it could be too late.  Always have a few high energy snacks with you to provide a little bit of a boost while you're out on the trail.

Get an Emergency Beacon

I use a Garmin SE Reach+ GPS device for this purpose.  This unit has a "SOS" button.  When activated it will send your exact GPS coordinates to someone who will get help to you.  One word of caution.  The device must have a clear view of the sky.  If your are in a cave or a very thick forest, the device may not be able to connect to the satellite.  So be aware of that point.

also have the ability to text to provide information to first responders.  One thing I use all the time are its three predefined and "free" texts to your specified emergency contact.  For me, that's my wife.  Depending on the monthly plan you subscribe to, you only get so many texts before they get costly.  With the predefined texts I can tell my contact; (1) I'm starting my hike, (2) Something came up, I'm OK but will be late, or , (3) I'm on my way home.  The messages can be anything you choose.  

There are several other advanced features like downloading trail maps, setting waypoints, etc.

This unit is around $350 and I use the cheapest monthly plan of $13 per month.  Not cheap but is it worth your safety and peace of mind.  

Trail Tape

I always have a roll of orange trail tape with me.  Most of the time it isn't necessary as I'm on marked well-groomed trails.  But lately, I've been visiting new more remote waterfalls.  Trails are sketchy at best. So I use the tape to tie on tree branches along my way in so I can find my way out.  This has already saved me twice this year. This tape is only a few dollars.

Correct Footwear

This may be obvious but all too often I see people hiking with flip-flops.  I good pair of sturdy hiking boots will help protect your feet and provide much better support and footing.  Trails can be slippery and feet slip. Protect yourself from twisting an ankle or foot or little biting bugs.  Some trails can be along high ridges or with steep drop-offs.  If you lose one of the flip-flops, you're stuck with a bare foot.

Whistle and Flashlight

These are not expensive and could save your life.  Just last year a friend and I were down in the Linville gorge in western North Carolina shooting a waterfall during autumn.  We had absolutely perfect conditions and were having a load of fun.  Time got away from us and we realized that we stayed past sunset and it was quickly getting dark.  The hike up the trail isn't easy even in the daylight but doing it in the dark would have been impossible.  But we had flashlights with us.  Even with those, it was challenging, and a bit creepy I might add, climbing up in the darkness.  It was very disorienting.  Had we not had the flashlights, we would have been staying the night in very cold conditions.

Whistles are obviously for calling for help or letting your hiking partner know where you are.  Recently, a whistle proved very helpful during a hike.  Normally when I photograph with someone, we agree to stick relatively close together.  But this time, I went back up the trail and off trail a bit.  In the dense woods, I couldn't be seen.  But with the whistle, I was able to let my friend know where I was.

Hiking Poles

Hiking with poles might be something most people just do not want to bother with.  When I shoot waterfalls, I'm often in the stream. Poles come in very handy for me to provide extra balance when I'm maneuvering on slippery rocks.  For me, they also take pressure off my legs as I'm using my arms and shoulders to climb uphill.

In western North Carolina, I'm always out in the deep woods.  We have two poisonous snakes here, copperheads and rattlesnakes.  Lovely, right?  While I primarily use my poles for support, they come in very handy when checking for snakes.  I never step over a log or reach up somewhere I can't see without taking my pole and doing a little probing.  They come in handy too when I'm off trail and I can use them to clear leaves in front of me in case a snake is around.  I've been very fortunate that in five years living here, I've never seen one.  Oh, one thing I've learned is that rattlesnakes don't always use their rattler to let you know you're too close so be careful.  

No Brainers...maybe

Some obvious things you might also have with you in your car are sun screen, bug spray, and a first aid kit.  I do keep a first aid kit in my car.  But that won't do me much good if I need it out on a trail.  But you can only carry so much in your bag.   If you live in bear country, don't forget bear spray and know how to us it.  In NC we have plenty of black bears but they are not normally aggressive towards humans so I forego spray.  If it's hunting season, wearing bright clothing or baseball cap could also be a good safeguard.  

For Those on Blood Thinners

My doctor put me on blood thinners earlier this year.  I really didn't think much about it.  That is, until recently.  A few weeks ago I was out, by myself, visiting a new waterfall, which was definitely off the beaten path.  While climbing around the wet rocks, my foot slipped and my knee banged a bit on a rock.  Not thinking much about it, I finished up and climbed back up to my car and headed home.  When I got home and showered, I realized my knee had become very swollen and was beginning to hurt.

​​​​​​​Since I was on a blood thinner I was concerned I still might be continuing to bleed around the knee.  I had it checked out and it was fine but three weeks later I still have a big knot below my knee.  So I'll be seeing a doctor about the best way to hopefully drain whatever is left in there.

But it got me thinking about what if something else had happened like slipping and cracking my head.  Instead of getting a good bump and a headache, I might be in some real trouble.  So, while extreme as it is, I'm going to take extra precautions going forward.  I'll be wearing a helmet along with elbow and knee pads.  My doctor thought that was very advisable for anyone on blood thinners.

Be Safe Out There

I hope you found this post useful.  The items I mentioned are largely very light and won't weigh you down.  Most of us don't really consider hiking as dangerous.  Most of the time, that's absolutely correct.  But you don't expect your house to burn down either but we all have insurance just in case.  The measures above could be life saving on the trail just in case something unexpected happens.  Stay safe.

Adventures in Photography

August 27, 2020  •  1 Comment

One of my photography goals for 2020 was finding and visiting new waterfalls.  I've been in western North Carolina for five years now and have gotten into a bit of a rut repeatedly going to the same locations.  Some of that was by choice, i.e., wanting to catch the location in prime conditions.  But now I have taken some of those images and was needing some new places to further motivate me.  Additionally, I was a bit more accepting to take on more challenging locations as long as I could do so safely.

The past month I've been pretty fortunate to have visited four new waterfalls.  I'll feature two here as the others, Scotsman Falls and Thunderhole Falls, did not have good conditions during my visit.  Both were very weak in water flow, which surprised me given all the rain we have had in August.

One great waterfall was Yellow Creek Falls located near Robbinsville, NC.  It's gorgeous and very photogenic.  The site is also clean of downed trees so there are multiple possible compositions.  On the day I was there the water flow was a bit high for my liking.  I'll definitely go back when it's down a bit.  Autumn colors would be incredible here.

Yellow Creek Falls - Aug 2020Yellow Creek Falls - Aug 2020

The view above let's you see there are some great little cascades downstream.  There are many ways to capture foreground interest and add leading lines to make stronger compositions.  In the photo below you can see that there are several large boulders in the water that add interest too.

Yellow Creek Falls - Aug 2020Yellow Creek Falls - Aug 2020

The hike in is pretty easy and short so that's nice for a change.  But that also makes it a popular place for people.  So if  you decide to visit, I'd go early.  And please don't do what I did by leaving a tripod there.  I was about two hours away when I realized it so I had to hustle back and luckily it was still there.  Whew!!

The next new waterfall I visited was Gage Falls, which I had never heard of.  I discovered it by looking through Kevin Adam's book on North Carolina waterfalls.  It's located not too far off the Blue Ridge Parkway by heading south on Hwy 215.  The trailhead wasn't too hard to find but you'd likely want to take a higher clearance vehicle.  The gravel road isn't too bad, however.  Once you reach the spot to find the trailhead is where the fun begins.  Since not many people visit this waterfall, the "trail" is not maintained and very overgrown, being nearly invisible in sections.  I was leaving trail markers throughout to help us find our way out.  The initial 75 yards of the trail are pretty easy but when you come to the stream there is no apparent trail on the other side.  You have to walk the creek briefly toward the right and you'll see it.

Just be sure to parallel the stream the entire way as you follow the trail.  In about 1/2 mile you'll see the top of the waterfall.  There is no trail to the falls itself.  Go back the trail a bit and you'll see the slope down to the stream that  is more manageable.  From here you'll just have to be careful and bushwhack your way down to the stream.  Once there, the easiest way back to the waterfall is walking the creek.  You'll need to be very careful here getting over some small cascades.  At the larger one, I just bushwhacked through some rhododendrons to get around it.  Then it was free sailing.  Here's the reward.

Gage Falls - Aug 2020Gage Falls - Aug 2020

We were greeted with stellar conditions.  The waterfall is nestled in with thick trees.  So even if you go on a sunny day you will have good conditions as long as you visit early.  By mid morning some sun will begin shining on the falls.  There is a lot of bright moss which adds so much to an image.  As I got a bit closer on the other side I took this photo.

Gage Falls - Aug 2020Gage Falls - Aug 2020

You can spend some time here getting your compositions worked out.  Plus it's simply a beautiful place to just enjoy the view and relax.  Getting out wasn't too bad but it was good I left trail tape as it really helped us finding our way out.  Please be careful if you go.  This is an isolated location.  The rocks are very slippery and it's very easy to fall.  There are some downed trees on the trail, which requires crawling under them.  

In my next post, I'll provide some hiking safety tips, which turns out I need to follow myself.  Happy shooting!!


Great New Finds

July 16, 2020  •  1 Comment

After living here in western North Carolina now for five years, I really needed to find some new places to visit.  While I revisited some familiar places I was able to find some great new locations.  Even better... I found them on near perfect days with great conditions.

Early to mid-June brings the annual blooms of the wonderful catawba rhododendrons all over the mountains.  Two prime locations to photograph them in a stunning setting is along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Roan Mountain.  But I was shut out again this year in capturing the sort of image I was seeking.  The blooms were a bit late this year and are never really predictable.

A few years ago for some reason, park personnel cut down numerous rhododendron plants on the Parkway.  I think it may be because too many people were stopping along the road to photograph them.  Prime locations are now are essentially bare.  It was likely done for safety reasons as too many "less intelligent" tourists were causing traffic issues.  Once again, a few bad apples ruin it for everyone.  So I have to work with the ones that remain to get a good image.  The photo below is one I do like from this year.

Parkway Blooms -      June 2020Parkway Blooms - June 2020 One of the best places to photograph rhododendrons is on Roan Mountain.  Most of my photography friends noted this was one of the hardest years to get good images.  Most days were extremely foggy and rainy.  The day I went was suppose to be good.  But when I started to reach the top of Round Bald I was met with horrendously high winds.  It was a bit late in the bloom season there too.  So I had to write off Roan Mountain for this year and look forward to 2021.

While the rhododendron season may not have gone well, things turned around with some early waterfall outings.  I visited several wonderful new waterfalls and revisited some I hadn't been to in years.

One new waterfall I hiked to was Grassy Creek Falls.  How have I missed going here before?  While it's on private property, the owners have allowed visitors. But recently I've heard that has either changed or may be changing.  But I was lucky enough to have made it there in time.

Grassy Creek Falls - June 2020Grassy Creek Falls - June 2020 The day I visited the conditions were not the best as it was partly sunny.  For numerous compositions I had to wait for a passing cloud before snapping off the shutter.  This photo only shows the top portion of the total waterfall.  Below here are a couple more small drops and cascades.

One of the early waterfalls I visited upon moving to North Carolina was Dill Falls.  While it's nice I never really found it particularly good to photograph.  But one day I was nearby and I thought I'd revisit it.  I'm so glad I did.  During my previous visits my compositional skills were lacking.  That's not to say they're great today but I have improved in that respect.  I now know to explore more, which includes getting into the stream.  When safe, that is.  So that's what I did during this visit, i.e., got my feet wet.

Dill Falls - June 2020Dill Falls - June 2020

In earlier visits I was more to the right of this position.  There are a lot of downed trees, which reduce the quality of the image.  But by moving my vantage point, I was able to exclude that tree rubble and get a more interesting image in my opinion.  Given the closeness to the foreground leaves, I needed to focus stack four exposures to get a full range of detail focus.

My last image is once again from a waterfall in South Carolina that I visited a long time ago.  My first visit  to Virginia Hawkins Falls resulted in zero quality images mainly due to my poor photography skills at the time.  I just wasn't seeing the potential of the waterfall.  Then storms dropped a lot of large trees which totally ruined any chances of getting a quality image.

But recently I saw a photo of the falls and it was gorgeous so I knew I had to go back.  Apparently, a few well intentioned men got permission to clear out the downed trees.  They did an absolutely incredible job on what must have been days of very hard work.  But their efforts provide visitors to see a truly beautiful waterfall during good conditions.

During my recent visit we had just had some good rain so water levels were up a bit.  But on this day the flow could have been a bit better but everything else was perfect.

Virginia Hawkins Falls - June 2020Virginia Hawkins Falls - June 2020 This first image was from the far side of the falls.  Moving around those rocks was difficult as they were extremely slippery.  But as you can see the downed trees have been removed leaving just a beautiful, almost tropical scene.

The following photo was taken further up and to the right side of the falls.

Virginia Hawkins Falls - June 2020Virginia Hawkins Falls - June 2020

I felt so lucky to have been able to visit this spectacular waterfall with such good conditions.  I plan to go back after some harder rains.

The weather now is western North Carolina is the typical dry and warm weather we get in summer.  That has limited my excursions but I hope to make it out again soon.

For those of you who are out and about, please follow good personal practices for COVID-19.  Please wear a mask to help protect others and hopefully get a handle of this deadly virus.  Working together we can beat this thing and get back to normal.  Stay safe and take care.





Oh, It Feels So Good - But Still Social Distancing

June 15, 2020  •  1 Comment

It is now mid-June and we're still dealing with the COVID-19 virus.  While I am still seriously practicing social distancing and always wear a protective mask while near people, it is good to be getting out  more.  While self protection is still very important, I'm surprised at the vast majority of people in our area who might feel the pandemic is over.  With hospitalizations on the rise, I hope you are staying safe and helping to keep others the same way.  Nuff said.

The weather in western NC has been pretty good for the most part.  We did get a period of prolonged heavy rain, which really made waterfalls simply too full to be good photographically.  If you do long exposure photography like I do, when water flow is hard and fast, the flow just looks like a big blob of white.  Slower flows allow some shrieks of water yielding more personality to the waterfall.  That's just my opinion.

The heavy flow rule notwithstanding, a good waterfall that really benefits from heavy rains is Duggars Falls.  Duggars is located right off the parking lot at the visitor's center at Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Be prepared to get your feet at this one if you want to get the better compositions.


Duggars FallsDuggars Falls Duggars is normally a trickle of water.  But after really heavy rains, it starts looking really nice in its setting.  It is nestled in a mini-canyon of sorts as you can see above. Thick moss is on the side rocks which really adds a lot of spark and personality.  There are two pools of water downstream of the waterfall.  This photo shows the second one.  I'm standing in the first pool since its not nearly as deep.  Where I was standing it was just beneath my knees and a little slippery.  The second pool would be about waist high and I just don't want to risk my equipment if I would fall.  When conditions are right, like here, Duggars is really a good little waterfall.

Another waterfall I like that also benefits from very heavy rain is Moore Cove Falls located outside Brevard, NC.  Under normal conditions, the flow of the waterfall is extremely weak and not worth the hike.  But like pictured below, it makes a fairly nice subject to photograph.

Moore Cove FallsMoore Cove Falls

This waterfall posts some challenges to photograph.  The flow, even though fairly light, does create a breeze that really gets the nearby plants to move.  And I hate blur in my photos when not intended.  From this position the sun is to my back just after sunrise.  I started my hike at first light and it was pretty dark.  It was supposed to a sunny day so to have any hope of a decent shot I needed to be there early.

Another issue with the waterfall is that the water flow is so light, even when it's heavy, is that long exposure photos tend to make the water a bit invisible.  So I needed to clone in some water in a spots to connect the top flow to the bottom flow.  Hopefully, you can't tell where I did it.  

This is an extremely popular waterfall.  Even when the flow is terrible, the small parking area is full all day.  Don't really see the attraction. Perhaps it's simply the hike itself, which is pretty easy and not too long.


The next waterfalls are found in the northwest corner of South Carolina.  This area has tons of waterfalls.  A new friend has shown me several of them and I hope to see more coming up with him.

This first waterfall is Falls Creek Falls.  We visited three waterfalls this day all within very short proximity of each other on the stream.  This is the final one of the three.  I really didn't get very good photos of the other two.

Falls Creek FallsFalls Creek Falls

While I really like the waterfall itself, I feel it's hard to get a quality photo here because it lacks a good foreground element.  Luckily, there was this lone rock with some moss on it that I could use.  Otherwise you're sort of squeezed into a somewhat small area so you can't back up much to add anything else.  But I still enjoyed my time there.

Close by was another nice waterfall, Spoonauger Falls.  Like Falls Creek Falls, this was a new one for me. 

Spoonauger FallsSpoonauger Falls

Unlike Falls Creek Falls, Spoonauger provided some opportunity for a foreground.  You had to climb around a bit to get this angle but it wasn't too bad.  It was getting near midday here on a very sunny day.  I needed to do an HDR here, which I normally hate for waterfalls.  I feel it makes the water look really funky.  But I used Lightroom HDR after trying HDR Efex Pro and I don't think it looks too bad.  Not really print worthy but OK.  I'll definitely have to go back on a cloudy day or at least earlier in the morning.

For my last entry I think this is among my all-time favorite photographs.  It is the old Beech tree near the start of the Craggy Pinnacle Trail at Craggy Gardens along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I got up at stupid o'clock to get there early and hopefully get some early morning fog.  I lucked out and there was some thin fog in the area.  This tree is so picturesque due to the roots spreading out like a spider and all the ferns tucked between them.  Add to it the path for some leading lines and it makes for an interesting composition.

I really wish I had a 14mm super wide angle lens for this photo.  I would have like to got a bit more of the tree.  But even with my Nikon 17-15mm lens, I couldn't back up enough to adjust the composition.  I've tried to get a good shot of this tree for sometime and I think this time it turned out pretty well.

So far, I'm happy with how the year is starting off, photographically speaking of course.  I hope you're starting to get out yourself a bit.  Please be safe wherever you are and protect yourself and others from this deadly virus.

Please feel free to leave comments. I'd love to hear what you're shooting and what you think of my website.






Photography and Covid-19

May 15, 2020  •  2 Comments

I sincerely hope you and your family have been well and safe amidst the Covid-19 virus outbreak.  It's amazing how the world has changed in just a few months.  Fortunately, I have known only one person to have contracted it and after a month in the hospital including two weeks on a ventilator, they made it through OK.  

My wife and I have taken the stay at home suggestions to heart.  Being retired, it hasn't meant a huge change in our lifestyle but it is getting a bit old.  Nonetheless, even as North Carolina opens, we'll continue to listen to the experts and stay put.  But I must admit, I sure would like to go to some restaurants and movies again.  It does concern me that states are opening too quickly and that the virus will storm back.  If you venture out, for the sake of others and the medical community, please practice social distancing and wear a face mask.

In terms of photography, I haven't been doing much opting to try to stay away from other hikers and possible crowds.  But if I find a good weather day, I may head out to some of places where I know I won't run into people.  Before the virus really hit I managed to get to a small nearby waterfall that I've never been to before, Key Falls.  For this waterfall to be photogenic, it has to be seen after some heavy rains.  This was taken about two days after some rains.

Key FallsKey Falls

The area around the falls is very small and tight.  This is about the only decent composition I could get but I feel it still works.  I needed to use my 17-35mm wide angle lens to get the entire falls in frame.  Even though this photo was taken in early February, the waterfall is surrounded by thick rhododendrons, which provide a nice wrapping of green.

During the initial weeks of the virus outbreak, I just wasn't feeling like photography.  I thought I'd try some still life but with florists being closed and wanting to avoid food markets, my creativity for coming up with a composition wasn't good enough.

But then spring came and my wife's flowers started popping up.  That motivated me a bit to try some floral still life images.  This first image are some roses from my wife's garden.  I'm still experimenting with still life compositions.  While it may seem easy, trust me, it's not.  This is a very simple arrangement.  And, of course, the flowers are red and white, which for me, are rather difficult to light.  I would have preferred more of a pastel color.  But I'm happy overall with the result.  To finish off the post processing, I took the photo into Topaz Studio and applied one of the abstract presets.  But I really toned it down trying to add just a bit of the effect.  Both of these photos were shot with my Nikon 200mm macro lens.


This second photo is a simple branch off one of our azalea bushes.  For the composition, I tried to make it look somewhat tree-like. Lighting was fairly straightforward.  These two photo were lit by two Nikon SB-910 speed lights in soft boxes.


The Blue Ridge Parkway will be opening up this weekend.  I will likely head up to an area north of Asheville known as Craggy Gardens in a few weeks to photograph the beautiful blooming Catawba Rhododendrons.  Framing them with the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains in the background is such a gorgeous sight.  I would like to go out to many more places but with social distancing and needing to go alone, it will limit my locations.  I generally like to go out with a friend not only fun but also safety.  Please stay safe and well.  I'd love to hear from you on how you're dealing with the virus and what photography you've been able to do.  Drop me a note.

Thanks for visiting.  Reid

Goal for 2020 - Focus Stacking

March 13, 2020  •  2 Comments

It's been a while since my last post.  The weather has not been conducive for photography to a large extent.  Here in western North Carolina, we had a very mild winter - unusually wet and warm.  Waterfalls have been running much too hard.  Those warm temperatures are meaning a very early start to spring.  Pear trees are in full bloom as are the daffodils.  Tulips won't be far behind.

As I review my photos from last year I'm satisfied to a large extent.  But I do see a certain lack of sharpness in some of my photos.  So for 2020, my goal is to work on having sharper photos. One of the main ways I was to reach my goal is increasing my use of focus stacking.

Focus stacking is the process of taking a series of photographs and, using a post processing tool such as Photoshop, blending the best of each of those images to nail really sharp photos.  So, for example, in a typical (if there is such a thing) landscape scene with a waterfall the background with some interesting foreground (hopefully), you might take three photos.  One for the foreground, one for the middle and the last of the background.  In each of those compositions you would need to ensure you are focusing on something in each of those areas.

Another challenge for me in doing this is stopping my tendency of use small apertures like f/16 - f/22 rather than using one with more sharpness like f/8 or so.  Since my primary interest are waterfalls or cascading streams, I want to get a shutter speed of between 1-4 seconds to bring out that lovely dreamy silky water. But if I use f/10, the typical lighting conditions would not allow me to get those slow speeds even with, perhaps, a 3-stop ND filter.  The answer then becomes a stronger ND filter such as a 6-stop one.  Given that it's difficult to auto focus with this dark of a filter, my workflow will become slower.  Focusing would need to be set before the ND filter is on the lens and then there is a need to compute the shutter speed using various phone apps. Using these longer shutter times take longer.  So if conditions are changing rapidly you may miss an opportunity.  My nature is not one of having a ton of patience so it will take some work to slow down.

If you enjoy flower photography, focus stacking is nearly a must to use if you want sharpness throughout your main flower. This is especially so if you are using a macro lens.  There is definitely a bit of a learning curve here as it is very easy to miss a focus point and get a small area of blur in the final image.  Depending on the type of flower, it can many "focal planes".  This winter I've tried my luck at it and haven't faired too badly.  Luckily, I shoot with a Nikon D850 with the focus peaking feature.  Using Live-View, focus peaking outlines areas of focus in red.  So starting at the closest focus area you slowly focus at each further focus point until you hopefully hit each one.  Then you use Photoshop to auto stack focus layers into a single photo.  Pretty easy to do.

The Nikon D850 also has an auto stacking feature but I haven't really used it much.  I do need to spend a bit of time learning about it as that may smooth out my in-the-field workflow a bit.

Another method I need to use is setting focus at the "hyper-focal" distance.  But this is a subject I will cover in a future post.

Thanks for reading.



January February March April May (5) June (4) July August (6) September (2) October (6) November (3) December
January February March April (4) May (4) June (2) July (1) August (2) September October November December
January February (2) March (1) April (1) May June July August September (1) October November December
January February March April (1) May June July (1) August September October November December
January February March (1) April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December