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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
During the recent Christmas season, I began to see many wonderful still life photos posted on social media. They motivated me to pull out my studio lights and give it a go myself.
Still life photography does not look overly difficult to the casual observer but for the novice it can be quite challenging. "How so?" you may ask. Well, the photographer has 100% complete control of everything. Composition, color balancing, styling, lighting, concept and, of course, the camera settings themselves. Being new to this myself, it can be a bit frustrating.
In this first photo, I used a decoration my wife made for Christmas. To my untrained eye, the colors seemed nice and in keeping with the holiday colors of red and green. The candle in the background is one of those artificial battery operated ones. These work in our home as we have three cats and we do not need them messing around with a real flame. But I needed something else and I remembered some other photos with background lights to create the bokeh effect you often see.
First, I set up my background stand using a black roll of paper. Over the stand, I draped about three strands of Christmas lights. I set up the decorations on a card table covered with a piece of black velvet. Black velvet is great to have with still life photography since it is not reflective. I played with the placement of the card table in terms of the distance it was from the black background. The further away the subject is from the background means the larger the bokeh effect you will achieve. If I had placed them close together even while using a wide aperture, the lights would be more defined rather than soft and blurry. Placing the table about four feet in front of the background provided the amount of bokeh I wanted.
I was surprised to see the lights were orange as I was thinking they were white. I tried to change the color during post processing but finally left them orange. In the end, I think it turned out OK. To fill in some blank areas, I cloned in some additional lights in Photoshop.
To light the scene, I used two Nikon SB-910 speed lights in a 3' Profoto and 2' Godox softboxes. They were set on the right and left sides. My Nikon D850 with Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens used a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second, its sync speed, and an aperture of f/2.5.
This next photo is not a favorite of mine. I show it to illustrate that still life, at least for me, is very challenging and takes lots of creativity and practice. Here, I wanted the story to be freshly baked cookies cooling down. I set everything up on a darkly stained wood background I made. Some greens were added as well as the background Christmas tree ornament to add a bit of seasonal color. The "hero" of the photo was the front toffee bar. Some other cookies were added to help lead the eye further into the photo. A bit of flour as sprinkled around to add a bit more realism. But in the end, compositionally, it doesn't seem to work very well.
This photo used a simpler composition using just peanut clusters. I swapped out the background using a faux granite. A Santa and some berries were added for color and the spatulas added some cooking props. The lighting and camera settings were nearly the same as before. Overall, I was happy with this photo. It doesn't seem cluttered to me and the colors seem to work. When I posted this photo on social media, one person said they really liked the photo but that he did not like the yellow spatula. It seemed OK to me but that is why understanding complementary colors in photography is so important.
This final photo is my favorite of all. I raised my tripod high to get a more overhead composition. Many food photographers have a camera arm that can take images from directly overhead. But not having one, I got as close to overhead as I could. Again, I tried to add some holiday colors by using some red cranberries along with some greens cut from our Christmas tree.
During the winter months I want to continue practicing my still life photography. The great thing about photography is that there are so many interesting facets of it. There is so much to take in, practice and enjoy. I encourage everyone to try out many areas of photography. You may find some new passion.
Continuing on my last blog, I have to think this may have not have been too bad of a fall season after all. Sure wish I could have those three lost days when I was waiting for my photo gear to be replaced. But overall, I'm satisfied with it. I was lucky to have captured some locations at good times even though I missed several too.
One of my early stops was Skinny Dip Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is always a very popular destination since it's beautiful and a fairly easy hike. I took this photo near the top of staircase leading down into the falls. Caught the colors just right. When shooting in the fall, ALWAYS use your circular polarizer. It helps remove not only the shine from the water and rocks but also the leaves providing more color saturation to your image.
The next image is Linville Falls from down in the gorge. As noted in my last post, the day was bright sunshine so my friend and I decided to meet at 4pm to hike down. By the time we reached the bottom the sun had just sunk below the tree line above the falls. Conditions were perfect; no wind, great colors, good water flow and no people. With sunset around 5:45 or so, we wanted to leave around 5:30 so we wouldn't be hiking out in the dark. Well with the great conditions we lost track of time as we tried to capture every possible composition we could think of. By the time we looked at our watches it was nearly 6pm and getting very dark quickly. So we packed up and barely found our way to the main trail before total darkness set in.
Luckily my buddy had a headlamp, which was a lifesaver, literally. I've never hiked out of anywhere in the dark and I'm not wanting to do it again. Even with a headlamp, it's very disorientating and very easy to lose track of the trail. But we took our time and finally got out.
I really wanted to hit Linville Falls in prime autumn conditions and I got my wish. I came away with several great images in my opinion.
A few days later, a couple of friends and I decided to take a look at Pearson Falls. Conditions were fairly good when we arrived but were expected to deteriorate quickly. I managed to get one photo I liked and it turned out very well in my humble opinion.
With leaf colors past peak around us, it was time to start heading west and south. In early November, I headed to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park - the Tremont area to be more specific. Weather conditions were expected to be good in the afternoon but to our dismay, the skies were very clear. So he had to wait until late in the day and hurry to get some shots in before dark. But we lucked out.
Our first stop was Spruce Flats Falls located at the Smoky Mountain Institute. The hike is 1.1 miles one-way and is moderately difficult, mostly at the front end. But this is a beautiful waterfall in the right conditions. On this day, the water flow was extremely light making a full frontal image not look particularly good. So after canvasing the area for possible compositions, I landed on the near left side of the falls. Most of the leaf color was gone but the one right near the falls provided the necessary "pop".
After hurrying back to our car, we rushed further down into the Tremont area. There is one cascade I particularly like. You might agree that it's pretty spectacular in the right conditions, which we had.
With the Smokys pretty much past fall color, it was time to head further south into northern Georgia. The Clayton area is very nice with many great photo locations. Our first stop this day was Minnehaha Falls near Lake Rabun. Water flow was very low but was good enough. It did allow us to move around, albeit with great caution being taken. The rocks were extremely slippery so footing was terrible. But by moving around, I was able to get some unique compositions that normally would not be possible under normal water flows.
Our next stop was Raper Creek Falls. When I was here last year, I didn't have my wide angle lens, which was in being repaired. My images were just OK and I knew if I had it I'd be able to really be able to get some much better compositions. I think this image proves my expectation.
On our way to our next location, we came across this curve in the road with the fence curving along with it. We knew we had to pull over and see what we could do with it.
Western North Carolina and the surrounding area is a great place to photograph in autumn. Start up north on the Blue Ridge Parkway around the Linville Gorge and Linn Cove Viaduct during the second week of October....generally. Work your way south and into the lower elevations such as Linville Falls. Continue south around the Brevard area in mid-October and you'll generally find fantastic color. Around this time as well is heading west toward the Cashiers and Highlands area. Conditions weren't good this year so I didn't have much of an opportunity to shoot there this season. In late October, the higher elevations of the Smokys start looking really good with the lower elevations peaking the first and second weeks on November. Finally, try out north Georgia in early to mid November for their autumn colors.
Patience is really needed during the fall season. Rain, wind and sunny skies are your enemy. Weather forecasts around western North Carolina are notoriously bad. So getting out early and staying out late should hopefully give you some good opportunities to capture some good images.
Well, we're going into our second week of November and autumn colors are quickly fading across western North Carolina. How'd you do with the fall photo season? It was a tough one in my opinion. With the warmer weather, colors up around the Blue Ridge Parkway were about two weeks late in starting. Coupled with the dry warm summer, water flows in rivers and streams were very low. So for early colors around streams and waterfalls, it wasn't the best time to photograph.
Luckily, we did start to get some rain, heavy in places, which did help replenish water levels and flows. I did manage to get some photos I liked.
This first one was taken at a new location a friend showed me. It was around Looking Glass Falls. We hit the colors near peak and conditions were perfect.
The morning of the same day I was in the DuPont State Forest at sunrise. I started at Hooker Falls and found wonderfully warm light and no real wind. This was taken before the recent rains but the waterfall flow was still great.
After Hooker Falls, I hiked up to Triple Falls. While this is a beautiful waterfall, I've never had much luck getting a photo I've really liked. But on this day I lucked out. It was still early in the morning and sky was clouded over. A bit of fog was even evident. So while not my best work, I like this the best of the photos I have of Triple Falls.
Colors around Grandfather Mountain were quickly fading when I was able to get up that way. The forecast said cloudy skies in the morning with light wind. Well, I got up there shortly after sunrise and skies were almost totally clear and the winds were really blowing hard around the Linn Cove Viaduct. That area was pretty well ruled out then. My friend and I decided to try shooting the bridge at the Roaring Fork turnout. It was a bit protected so the wind was less of an issue. Colors were pretty good but the water level, as you can see, was really low. But overall, it's an OK shot but I was hoping for so much more. But you take what you get, right?
One of the better outings I had was hiking down to Linville Falls late one afternoon. It was a very sunny day so getting there before sunset was the only good time to shoot this great waterfall. Luck was with us and conditions were perfect, i.e., no wind, no people, good water and great colors. We thought we'd have an hour to shoot before sunset but ended up staying longer and it was getting quite dark down there. We managed to get on the trail before is got totally dark but did have to hike up in the dark with one headlamp. I have not done that before and it's very disorienting and not easy to follow the trail. But for the great time we had, it was well worth it.
The last location I hit through mid-October was Dry Falls. I was holding a private workshop and took my client there late in the day. We lucked out and conditions were very good. If we had arrived a week later the water flow would have been awful with the heavy rains we had. Here, in the lower flow, the water had more character, which I prefer. This is one shot I was able to take while my client was busy with his shots.
So I guess it was a pretty good start to the autumn photo season. As I posted last time, I lost all of my gear late October and had to replace all of it. During the week it took to arrive, I missed three stellar days with great conditions. Grrrrr!! Oh well, there's always next year, right?
I'll be sharing more after I try to get to South Carolina and northern Georgia to catch the last of there autumn season.
Being the cautious type naturally, I've always been one to get all the insurance products I need. When I started to really upgrade my camera gear several years ago, I wanted to be sure my insurance policy covered it. Now, the insurance company I use for my home is likely not the same one you have. So it's important to talk to your agent to fully understand how exactly your gear is covered and for how much.
I learned a couple of days ago just how important it is to insure your gear. I lost everything in a freak accident. I was picked up by a couple friends to go to a new waterfall. As their gear was already in the back, I crammed my gear on top, shut the back hatch and off we went. Since my friends like to drive with the windows open, we didn't realize the back door reopened until we were about a mile away. The driver got out, closed the door and off we went. No one thought to check to see if all the gear was still in the back.
So we got to the waterfall, which was about an hour away and got out to get our gear. Well, mine wasn't there. It must have fallen out!! So we headed back to try to find it. Shortly thereafter, the Sheriff's Department called saying someone turned in my camera bag but that it had been hit my another car since it was dark outside. I lost a camera, three lenses, all my filters and other miscellanies items. Total loss was nearly $10k. But I did insure the big ticket items fortunately. But how much of the loss would really be covered?
For me, under my normal homeowner's policy, my gear would be covered at home or away from home. However, it would be subject to a deductible, depreciation and you'd likely only be covered for the replacement value. So if you have an expensive camera, after these deductions, you may still need to come up with some big money to replace it.
To avoid this and get the full value without any deductible and depreciation, you have to "schedule" each item you want to be insured. You provide the make and model and value you're insuring it for to your insurance company. These items would raise you premium. So for about $9000 worth of coverage I pay around $200 per year. I still have several items not covered such as all my filters, camera bag, etc.
So for my loss, I still am working through the claim. I have to provide photos of the damaged items, provide a full list of them including a description, serial number, where and when I purchased it and the purchase price, and finally copies of the invoices for all the replacement items.
For the items I had "scheduled" I should get the full value I had it insured for. So for example, I insured my camera for $3200 but it now costs $2800. If it is scheduled I expect to get $3200. If it were not scheduled, I'd have to pay the deductible and depreciation off the current market price of the camera. So I'd get much less than $3200. I'll find out what my true replacement cost will be once my claim is fully settled.
But the thing I want to stress, get your gear insured or you could potentially face having to come up with a lot of money to replace your gear. Everyone will need to take into consideration the cost/benefit of purchasing insurance. But in this case, I'd likely not be able to afford to repurchase all of my damaged gear at one time.
An alternative to using your homeowner's policy is to join PSA, the Photographic Society of America. With your membership they provide free insurance for your gear. I have not reviewed it so I can't tell you if it is good coverage.
If you don't have your gear insured, take some time to think about it and do some investigating to help protect it in the event of loss or damage. You won't be sorry.
We're heading toward the end of October and there is a lot of color activity going on around western North Carolina. Colors seem to be changing later this year likely due to the unusual warm weather we had in September and early October. But colors and quickly appearing and disappearing too.
Around the Hendersonville and Brevard area, the colors have peaked and after some heavy rains today, the trees may have lost a lost of their leaves. I was around the Looking Glass Falls area just yesterday, see image below, and I couldn't believe how fast the leaves were dropping.
Started my day at Hooker Falls in the DuPont State Forest and colors were very nice there. But don't think they will last much longer.
My next stop in DuPont was Triple Falls. Colors appeared to be near or at peak.
I'm heading up to Linville Falls tomorrow. I have seen photos and the colors appear to be reaching peak around the falls right now. The Linville Gorge itself is still pretty green at the moment.
I was around the Linn Cove Viaduct this past Sunday and the colors weren't great, plus it was super windy. We continued a bit north to Rough Ridge to photograph the bridge and the colors looked poor and beyond peak. Further north we stopped at the Boone Fork turnoff to photograph the bridge. Amazingly, the colors looked pretty good but the water levels were very low.
Further west around Cashiers and Highlands, colors were just getting started, at peak, or past peak. Whitewater Falls was just starting to get colors and I may revisit there Friday. Dry Falls was close to peak.
Finally, my understanding is that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is at peak for the highest elevations near Clingman's Dome. Lower elevations are just getting started.
I'll try to post shortly once I get back from far western North Carolina and the Smoky's. Rain is in our forecast beginning Sunday through most of the extended forecast. Enjoy autumn's show!!
A friend and I took a ride up to the northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Oct. 1st. We started at Linville Falls and walked to the Gorge Overlook. There was barely any evidence of colors changing at that time. As we rode north on the Parkway, there were some leaves with nice color but it was not common place. Next stop was Beacon Heights. No apparent color from the top there either. We ended the day at Price Lake and ran into just the slightest hint of the start of some colors. A friend recently posted a shot from the Cowee Overlook which is south of Graveyard Fields. There was some autumn colors in the valley, which surprised me.
The other disappointing element is the much reduced level of water around western North Carolina. Hooker Falls in the DuPont State Forest area has very low flow as of yesterday. Linville Falls looked good however. The creek flowing below the bridges at Rough Ridge and the Boone Fork Trail are barely flowing. We are finally get some light rain today but I don't think it will be enough to juice up water levels.
I'm planning on another tour of the area on 10/16 and will report my findings.