If you've ever had the pleasure of listening to Kevin Adams, a notable expert on waterfalls in western North Carolina, or reading one of his several book on the topic, he'll usually show photographs of English Falls. When he tells his audience and readers about the waterfall, he's sure to mention the high level of difficulty of getting to this particular waterfall. As a frequent user of his waterfall guide book, I've come to appreciate the accuracy of his ratings for beauty and difficulty of the noted waterfalls. With that said, English Falls has always intrigued me but the stated difficulty and danger of getting to this waterfall has always prevented me from trying to photograph it.
But last fall, I saw a photograph of English Falls posted by one of my photography friends. I reached out to him to see just how difficult he found it to be. He agreed with the assessment presented by Kevin Adams but said with the right preparations, it was doable. He said he could get me to it.
I thought this adventure over in my head and asked my buddy a couple more times about it and looked at some YouTube videos to check it out more. I finally decided to try it with the understanding if at any point it seemed too much I'd back off.
Mike and I met up on the Parkway, gathered our gear and ropes and headed off. The hike quickly began a steep descent requiring some butt slides and grabbing on to bushes to control sliding. We came to first very steep descent and Mike tied up a long length of rope. With a heavy pack on, this proved more difficult than I expected. I was very happy of my decision to bring along leather gloves. They definitely helped my grip. If you lose your grip here, you're in for a long slide without anything to grab unto. The result would likely be very painful.
Having made the first section OK, we skirted around a steep area finally reaching the second steep drop around some rock cliffs. Using another section of rope and with a lot of Mike's help, I made it down. We were then within sight of the waterfall. At this point, the top view really hid the overall beauty of the waterfall. The final hurdle was getting down a straight drop down a rock face of about 7-8 feet. We were out of rope at this point. With his much younger legs than mine, Mike jumped down OK. At this point, I was quite unsure if I should even try not knowing how to even attempt getting down much less knowing anything about how to get back up. Mike encouraged me to try with his help. He quite literally grabbed my legs as I lowered myself over the embankment and safely lowered me to the ground. It only worked because my buddy was big, young and strong. Otherwise, no way.
Then I saw the full waterfall and it was breathtaking. But there was a lot of spray off the waterfall since you have to be very close to it as there is very little area to walk around. The color in the trees above the falls was great but the sun was still too high so we had to wait about 30 minutes before shooting. I would have liked moving around a bit to get different compositions, but the rocks were wet and extremely slippery. A fall here meant broken bones or worse given the steep grade of the hill. However, another photographer showed up a bit later and he rock hopped across the stream to the other side. It wasn't worth the risk to try moving from my relatively safe flat small spot.
Finally the sun went done and we started clicking away being sure to constantly clean off our lenses from all the spray. Getting a very low exposure in this spray was impossible. I managed to get a 1.6 sec shutter speed. These photos were taken with a wide angle lens at 30mm and 32mm on a full frame Nikon D850. Anything larger would likely not work very well. We only had about 45 minutes to shoot as we had to be sure to get back to our car before darkness came.
The hardest part of the hike back was getting up the initial rock face. Mike gave me a strong boost up and handed me my pack. We then used our ropes to literally pull ourselves up the steep hill. There would have been no way to get up without ropes securely tied to trees. We did see some ropes there but their condition was extremely suspect. While the distance isn't far, it's the steepness that makes this a very difficult hike. But happily, we made it back safely. And for this old dog, I was quite pleased with the adventure and my buddy's help.
I was pretty pleased with the post processed photos I came away with, see two below. We were lucky with the colors, the flow of the water, and the overall lack of wind. But we still had to contend with the spray.
If you go, please understand this is a very hard hike. By far the hardest I ever have done. Have plenty of rope too. But the last sheer drop is the one to worry about. Getting down and back up should not be underestimated. I'm not providing directions as I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt. I'm not sure I'll ever attempt going here again. The internet provides directions if you feel you have to go.
The summer of 2018 in western North Carolina was super rainy and warm. For 2018, the region set an all-time rainfall record. The summer was not a good time for landscape photographers. Since I predominantly lean toward long exposure water photography, it was hard to find anything but flooding streams and raging waterfalls. Many people might think we'd be in heaven but not in my case. The water was just too high and brown with mud runoff.
So what to do when its raining hard but you still want to keep your photography juices flowing? Well, in my case I tried my hand at still life photography. I already had two speed lights and umbrellas. I went to a local florist and picked up a few flowers to photograph.
I find still life photography so different than shooting landscapes. The photographer is in complete control of all aspects of the shoot, i.e., set up, composition, background and, most importantly, the lighting. Post processing is another very important aspect of finishing the photograph. A few of my results are posted below. For my first attempt, I was generally pleased but you don't see how many throw aways I also had. But it was fun nonetheless and I learned quite a bit. Main thing is that while umbrellas will provide nice soft light, its not as good as using a good soft box.
I'll dive into flash photography a bit more in future posts. I'm in no way an expert in this aspect of photography but I'll try to share a few tidbits I have managed to learn. The key is to try and have fun learning another branch of photography.
I've been out of the blogging business for much too long. I had issues with the accuracy of my prints and my monitor's calibration. Since I only want to add high quality prints to my site, I had to wait until I got the issues resolved. Then came a long vacation to Maine and New Hampshire followed by a great fall season in the Smokys, western North Carolina and north Georgia.
But I have my calibration issues resolved so I can try to get back on top of adding posts on a regular basis.
In this post I want to briefly talk about how vital it is to have your monitor properly color calibrated. Have you ever sent one of your beautiful photos to print being so anxious to proudly display it only to get it back and be so disappointed with the result? Was it too dark and lifeless? It's not the photo or the printing facility, it's your monitor. Generally, any reputable external printing business, e.g., AdoramaPix or Black River Imaging, use a standard color calibration. I won't begin to discuss all the science behind it as it's over my head. But let's just say you have to match your monitor's color scheme to the printer you're going to use.
I was very fortunate in that a member of our camera club had a photo printing business and knew a lot about the issue. With his help we were able to successfully calibrate my monitor again. Generally, monitor calibration is very easy and straightforward but my prints were still not coming back the way I like them. So in the end, I still have to raise the exposure about .8 stops and add a touch for vibrance and saturation.
I use the Spyder 4 Elite colorimeter from Datacolor. This isn't the latest version but it still works for me. This model is no longer available and has been replaced with the Spyder5PRO. Search for it on Amazon. Price is $148. It will be the smartest $148 you'll spend. Before buying, look at videos on YouTube to learn more about it.
A friend from our local camera club invited me over to photograph hummingbirds in his backyard. He is an avid bird photographer and had quite the setup. Located in dense woods, it was a great location to attract these tiny birds. He had a quasi permanent set up to shoot from, being located under a portion of his home protected from any rain.
I always thought that you would need to use high shutter speeds to freeze the wings but that is not the case. The shutter speed was only set at 1/250th of a second. The key is using speed lights to freeze the movement. In this case four speed lights. ISO was set at 400 and I used an aperture of f/20. So how did we get the bokeh in the background? My friend had an enlarged photo of a blurred background hung from a light stand about seven feet behind the focus point. When you looked through the viewfinder, all you could see was the blurry background. Pretty slick.
He had all sorts of bird feeders set up. We were seeing woodpeckers only five feet from us along with bluebirds and many other types. Of course, there were several hummingbird feeders set up too. Once attracted to the feeder location, we swapped out the feeder for a flower squirted with sugar water. The hummingbirds just kept coming to the same location to continue feeding.
As stated, we used four speed lights. The flashes were not expensive in the least. Around $80 each I think. One was for the background and three for lighting the birds from each side and the bottom. Their power was set relatively low, only 1/16th power. I borrowed his Nikon 200-400mm lens to get in fairly close. The photo below was cropped to get in even tighter to show more detail. Then it was time to sit back in comfy lawn chairs and keep hitting the shutter every time the birds came around. Since we using low power on the flashes, the recycle time was very very short so you could press the shutter over and over without waiting for the flash. The birds didn't seem to mind the bursts of light at all. You can't time when to press the shutter so you hit it repeatedly and hope for the best. For my first attempt at photographing hummingbirds, I'm happy to have gotten a few keepers. The lens caught some incredible details in the feathers. Amazing.
Give it a try. Pretty fun.
I've been asked to display a large selection of my landscape prints at the Woodlands Gallery in downtown Hendersonville, NC. The address is 419 N. Main Street. The exhibit runs from August 12 to February 28, 2019. This comes after a fairly good showing at the Hollingsworth Gallery in Brevard, NC during July.
If you live nearby, please stop in to see it.
Most anyone reading this post has heard it many times. To improve your compositions, get low and get close. I wanted to illustrate that point here with two examples of Eastatoe Falls located in western North Carolina.
The first photo is a mid-falls isolation at 92mm. Beginning photographers often think you need to get an entire scene in your photo. Sometimes, in fact, many times, getting a closer composition can provide vastly better and interesting photos. Look for interesting lines and other compositional elements.
The second photo was taken at approximately the same distance but using a 24mm focal length on a wide angle lens. But rather than take it from a standing position, I got in the water and put my camera about 8 inches over the stream. I primarily did this is add a foreground element into my composition to get some interest in the viewfinder.
As another example of getting close, review your compositions for any flower photography you may do. Most often, you'll find photos other either a grouping of flowers or of a single flower. Take it in even closer to only get a portion of a flower. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you see.
In an earlier post I wrote about moving your body around to look at for various compositions from different angles. But as importantly, move you focal length in and out from where you are to look for compositions within a composition. I think you'll find your photography will improve.
During the winter months or the dry hot summer, I don't often get out as much as I'd like to for my normal landscape photography. So I've found myself bored but wanting to still photograph something. I've been slowly accumulating flash equipment and now finally have some flashes and modifiers get started experimenting. I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos on flash photography and still life photography and have actually picked up enough knowledge to get started. The kicker for me was when I switched to the Nikon D850, which does not have a pop-up flash. The Nikon cameras had used optical flash to trigger remote flashes, which was a bit of a pain. With the D850, I splurged on some Phottix triggers. After enlisting the help of a knowledgeable flash expert from my camera club, I got them to work (well . . . most of the time).
The photos below are all examples of flash photography using high speed sync. This is where you shoot at a higher shutter speed to cancel out all ambient light and only use flash to light the scene. The flower was in bright sunlight, which wouldn't look good. But by using flash, I could control the amount and direction of the light. I used a Rogue Flashbender to light it. The other two photos were taken at a nearby antique mall. Luckily the owner was very nice and let me set up some umbrellas I used to shoot the flash through to get softer light. The beer keg photo used one umbrella, the Rogue Flashbender and a black reflector to block out the distracting background.
While none of these would win any print competitions, it does illustrate the flexibility and creativity that can be achieved by using off-camera flash. If you've never considered trying flash out, its worth experimenting with during those times when getting out to hike to those lovely landscape scenes isn't possible. Then I'll also have something to continue shooting when my hiking days come to an end.
It's been a while since my last post. May was a month of record and flooding rains in western North Carolina. In the last two weeks of May, most of this area had in excess of 25 inches of rain. Waterfalls and streams had unheard amounts of water flowing through them. Many trails were closed with washouts and mudslides. Five people killed and damage in certain areas was extensive. So landscape photography took a bit of pause. Additionally, the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed and only reopened after most of the rhododendron bloom was past.
I had been looking forward to hiking the Appalachian Trail on Roan Mountain to catch the blooming rhododendrons and blaze azaleas but a bad back kept me sidelined until this past Monday. This has been a poor year for rhododendrons just about everywhere in western North Carolina and Roan Mountain was no exception. Even during peak blooms, blossoms were sparse. When I hiked there this week the vast majority of rhododendrons were gone, past peak or not able to be put into a favorable photo composition. While the blaze azaleas were a bit better, the bright sunny day didn't help matters either. On the hike back from Grassy Ridge, there was more cloud cover and I did find this one good bush of healthy blossoms on Round Bald. This was my only "good" shot of the day so I'm glad I saw it.
I'll be hoping for a better blooming season next year.
During the month of July, an exhibition of my photos will be held. If you're in the area, please stop by to take a look. The exhibition will be held at:
The Hollingsworth Gallery
147 East Main Street
In just a few days, much of western North Carolina has seen triple its normal "monthly" rainfall. Streams, creeks and rivers are flooding. Waterfalls are gushing with a super heavy flow of water. Most people would think this would be great for waterfalls. I disagree as I think most photographers would. Too much water in most waterfalls results in a lost of character and detail of the water flow. All you get is one immense patch of white. I don't think this creates a very photogenic image.
Some waterfalls, like Moore Cove Falls (pictured below) is normally a trickle. With our heavy rains, it had a nice flow. Great, right? Well, not so fast. The heavy flow of water creates its own wind and if there is any foliage nearby, the leaves will be blowing around. This was the case today when I hiked to Moore Cove Falls. There was no wind around but the water flow had nearby bushes blowing around. Hard to get a good photo in these conditions. Crank up the shutter speed? Even with raising my ISO to 3000 didn't even get the shutter much better than 1/80th of a sec. Conditions were generally on the darker side today. Increase the aperture? Then you get depth of field issues. Plus using a circular polarizer takes out about two stops of light too.
To handle this situation, I kept moving around to find a composition that would not contain the blowing leaves. I ended up walking under the waterfall and trying for a side shot. I also wanted to use a slower shutter to help blur the water flow. On the left side were the rock walls which were very dark, which also required using a longer shutter speed to expose this area properly.
So in the end, I'm generally happy with this photo given the less than perfect conditions with blowing leaves. If you run into these situations, keep moving around to attempt to find a composition that works. Keep trying as many options as you can.
On the some other photos I took I may also try to exposure blend a couple of images. One with a faster shutter to slow down the leaf movement and another to capture the waterfall with a longer exposure. In many cases, this is the best option. However, today was a bit unusual. But as always, getting out for a hike to a great place can't be beat.
After four years of trying to time the Carolina Rhododendrons up on Hawksbill Mountain, I finally got lucky and was blessed with overall good conditions. I made my first attempt for this year about ten days earlier and the buds were just starting to emerge. So when the forecast appeared good, I made the hike again with Greg Schneider.
If you've never been up Hawksbill Mountain, I will say its a bit of a tough hike when you are loaded down with heavy camera gear. While its short, only about 8/10 of a mile, the final half of the hike is very steep. The first half isn't a cake walk either. But we took our time and made it up OK. We were relieved to see the blooms out when we reached the top. Made the hike so worthwhile.
If you go, I would suggest leaving your longer lenses home. This place is made for wide angle or medium telephoto lenses. For 95% of my photos, I stuck with my favorite lens, the Nikon 17-35mm. I've managed to get out to practice with my D850 and must say I really like its focus peaking option. While using live-view and manual focus, it outlines those areas in focus with bright red (or a color of your choosing) lines. So even in fairly bright sunlight, you can see what is in focus.
Given the dynamic range of the light, I bracketed many of my photos, including those included here, and that seemed to work pretty well. I also used my Lee 2- and 3-stop GND filters along with the Lee 105mm polarizing filter. When using a circular polarizer filter on a wide angle lens, care needs to be taken to avoid getting some odd colorization in parts of the sky.
All in all, we stayed on top about three hours before heading back down. Since some nice clouds were just starting to roll in, I would have liked to stick around a bit longer but lunch was calling for us. : ).
I highly recommend making this hike next spring. But the weather on Hawksbill can be harsh and the blossoms are usually short lived. That's why I've missed them so many times. Give it a try next May, you may hit it just right. Hawksbill is also very nice in the fall.
Hawksbill Mountain is located near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Linville at the intersection of Hwy 183 and US221. Check Google for more specific directions in interested.
It was a bit too early for the Carolina Rhododendrons during my recent hike up Hawksbill Mountain on May 3rd. It seemed like they needed another 7-10 days to cook a bit more. If you've never been to Hawksbill, it can be a challenging hike with load of camera gear on your back and less than new legs to carry it on. But I did make the hike on a sunny warm day. Hawksbill can be a challenging short hike given its steep grade. At only about 3/4 mile, its not a long hike by any means. But the hike is more than a moderate hike, especially the last half of it. That's when the grade really steps up. Without gear, I don't find it particularly bad so its the extra load that slows you (me) down. Carry only the equipment you need. For instance, I left my 70-300mm telephoto lens at home.
Hawksbill can also be a challenge with exposure. The main compositions are north - south so its hard to get good look except during the early or late parts of the day. Cloudy days would be excellent. But since I live about two hours away, so getting there early or staying late and walking out in the dark doesn't work too well.
Given that you're pretty high and there is nothing to break the wind, there is always some wind at the top. So be ready to use a high ISO to get some respectable shutter speeds. The best I could do was about 1/160th of a second.
At the top, there are two good vantage points for photography. One of the north end and the other at the south side. Be extremely careful moving around. There are shear drop-offs so one bad step and you're a goner. That goes for dropping any gear too if its facing downhill. But use common sense and you'll be OK.
I hope to head back this coming week to hopefully have another shot at the rhododendron blooms.
Our local weather was finally suppose to be conducive for landscape photography so I headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to photograph Roaring Fork (pictured below) and Setrock Creek Falls again. These waterfalls are located near the junction of NC80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. After all the rain we've had recently, the falls were really flowing harder than I've ever seen. The water was quite high as well limiting where I could move around safely. The pace of the flow also created a draft which kept nearby leaves and branches moving. Not a good thing for long exposure photography. But it felt so good to get in a hike and practice with my new camera. I'll be heading up Hawksbill Mountain soon to try to catch the short-lived blooms on the Carolina Rhododendrons.
It's been too long since I entered anything in this blog. It wasn't by choice. Back issues this winter pretty much sidelined me from getting out and hiking. Camera gear isn't light as most of you already know. But hopefully that's behind me and I'll be able to resume my normal schedule. But not too long ago the weather was perfect for waterfall photography and with a friend we headed to Little Bradley Falls.
Little Bradley Falls is just east of Saluda, NC. It's not the easiest place to get to. To avoid a longer hike and several stream crossing, we opted for a short cut. Unfortunately, that involves descending a very steep roadside hill covered with rip rap rocks. But we took our time and paid attention to our footing and we got down OK. I kept telling my friend "It looks worse than it is". Yes - I lied.
But we were well rewarded for our efforts. Water flow was good. Wind was low. Few people to get in our way. With this being my first outing of the year and using my new Nikon D850, it was tough going. Having been off of photography for several months, my muscle memory wasn't good. Plus using a new camera added to my frustration. My friend was popping off his shutter and I was still setting up. Don't get me wrong, its a good problem to have.
I was also trying out some new techniques but finally gave up on those and went back to my normal methods. I need to get a better understanding of my camera to learn how it works.
But it was still a great day to get out with a friend and visit one of North Carolina's best waterfalls. Stayed tuned for more frequent blogs coming up.
It was just a matter of time, but once Nikon announced the D850, I knew at some point I just had to get one. I got mine about three weeks ago. I traded in my D810 and sold my nice stereo system to take some of the bite out of the upgrade cost.
I won't cover any of the technical features as there are a ton of excellent reviews on the internet that do a great job of it. But I will say, they all seem to be true. Sum it up to say, it's one great camera.
Before you go out an get one, let me tell you about some of the potential hidden costs that surprised me a bit.
(1) This camera upgrades the memory cards needed. It has two card slots. One for an XQD card. The advantage of this card is that its very fast and can handle the very large RAW files of this camera. The other slot is for SD card. Its recommended you use the UHS-II format. You can use a regular SD card but it you use burst mode, you'll likely have buffering issues as well as a longer download time into your computer. Both of these cards are a lot more expensive than the regular SD cards. Sony pretty much is the only provider of the XQD cards currently. You'll have to wait a couple of weeks to get them as every retailer has them on backorder. Given the expense, I will no longer keep my cards as a final backup source but have to rely on my external hard drive backup process.
(2) The battery grip of the D810 will not fit. You'll need to get the MDB-18 grip. So add another $400 there if you want the grip. Also, if you want to achieve the 9fps rate, you'll have to use the battery grip or you'll only 7fps without it.
(3) Then, of course, you will need new tripod plates if you use them. I use the Really Right Stuff plates so I got their new L-plate for the D850. Its a beast and is price accordingly at $200.
(4) Since the Nikon removed the pop-up flash from the D850, you'll likely need to get a radio trigger to fire your flashes. You still can use a camera mounted flash to use Nikon's CLS system but most photographers recommend going the radio trigger route to avoid the limitations of the line-of-sight limitations on their optical system. I bought the Phottix Odin II TTL transmitter and receivers. Again, this will mean additional cost if you want to use off camera flash.
(5) Contrary to the camera's hype, I do not seem to be getting better battery life. It actually seems to drain batteries faster. While I haven't been out for a full days' outing yet, I don't think one battery will be enough. I plan to bring three batteries in total for a full day's shooting. There are contradicting reviews on battery life on different forums.
(6) With the largest RAW file size, you'll be going through more memory cards. For me, I will likely need to buy two new 5TB hard drives once my current drives fill up this year. This is bound to happen. It will just happen sooner with these large files.
But besides these factors, its a beautiful camera. There are so many improvements to the D850. I'll cover some of the ones I really like so far.
(1) Higher resolution. A huge 45.7MP sensor. Enough said.
(2) Focus peaking. If you set your lens and the camera to manual focus and use Live View, you are able to see areas of focus outlined in red (or 3 other colors you can use). This will be very good for getting totally sharp focus throughout your photos. For macros, you won't have to guess what parts are in focus. You can take a series of shots, placing the focus where you want it and stack the resulting photos in post processing. For landscapes, you can do the same thing. I'll likely use it for getting a sharp focus on the foreground, middle and background. Can't wait to really start testing it.
(3) Focus shift. Here you let the camera take a series of different photos (up to 100) are varying focal points to later be stacked in post processing. This automates the process. This will be a great too for macro photography. You also have the option of placing the resulting photos in their own folder so you don't have to remember the first and last frames of the sequence.
(4) 9 frames per second if you use the Nikon MBD-18 battery grip. I don't do a lot of high speed photography but its there if you need it.
(5) 4K video. Look at other web reviews for this area but its suppose to be fantastic.
(6) Much better live view. The screen has great resolution for using live view. On my old D810, I didn't even bother with live view to shoot. Just not clear enough. Well, problem solved. You also have the ability to use the touch screen for selecting your focus point. There are more options on live view that I'm still exploring but I will likely use live view much more with this camera.
(7) Touch screen. Nikon has caught up with mirrorless cameras with the touch screen. It works well. Its nice flipping through menus or photos with a simple swipe.
(8) New location for ISO button. From the left side dial, they moved the ISO button to near the shutter so its easier to adjust all the elements of the exposure triangle with your right hand. I'll have to train my muscle memory with the change but it will be better.
(9) Easy exposure compensation. Before I knew about this I was bummed out since the normal exposure compensation button by the shutter release has been made more flush with the camera body. Therefore its not as easy to feel where it is and push. But then I found out about easy exposure compensation. If you are in aperture priority mode, you can use the rear dial to change the exposure compensation. Really easy.
(10) Flip screen. A great addition. Solid construction. Can fully tilt down or up. This will be great for getting low to the ground or when you want to raise your tripod to shoot from a higher vantage point. I do wish it could move right and left. Oh well.
(11) Multiple raw format sizes. You can select from one of three RAW file sizes. From small (11.4MP), medium (25.6MP) to large (45.7MP).
Those are the main features I like. I'm sure I'll be finding many more as I explore the camera and go out on some photo outings. But if you can bear the additional cost, I don't think you'll be disappointed. Let me know if you have any questions.