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

Autumn Photo Season

November 24, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

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. 

Skinny Dip Falls  2015Skinny Dip Falls 2015Skinny Dip Falls - Blue Ridge Parkway

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.

 

Linville Falls Oct. 2019Linville Falls Oct. 2019  

 

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.
Pearson Falls  Oct. 2019Pearson Falls Oct. 2019

 

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".

Spruce Flats Falls Oct. 2019Spruce Flats Falls Oct. 2019

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.

Tremont Autumn Cascade    November 2017Tremont Autumn Cascade November 2017

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.

Minnehaha Falls Oct. 2019Minnehaha Falls Oct. 2019  

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.

 

Raper Creek Falls Oct. 2019Raper Creek Falls Oct. 2019

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.

Rural Georgia Oct. 2019Rural Georgia Oct. 2019

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.

 

 

 


Fall is Fleeting

November 08, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

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.

Woody Falls  Oct. 2020Woody Falls Oct. 2020

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.

Hooker FallsHooker Falls

Hooker Falls - Oct. 2019Hooker Falls - Oct. 2019

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.

Triple Falls - Oct. 2019Triple Falls - Oct. 2019

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?

Oct 2019Oct 2019

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.

Linville Falls - Oct. 2019Linville Falls - Oct. 2019

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.

Dry Falls - Oct. 2019Dry Falls - Oct. 2019 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Importance of Insuring Your Photography Equipment

October 27, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

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.

 


Fall Color Report for Western North Carolina

October 22, 2019  •  1 Comment

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.

Woody Falls  Oct. 2020Woody Falls Oct. 2020

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.

Hooker Falls - Oct. 2019Hooker Falls - Oct. 2019

Hooker FallsHooker Falls

My next stop in DuPont was Triple Falls.  Colors appeared to be near or at peak.

Triple Falls - Oct. 2019Triple Falls - Oct. 2019

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.

Oct 2019Oct 2019

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. 

Dry Falls - Oct. 2019Dry Falls - Oct. 2019

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!!


Western North Carolina Autumn Color Report Oct. 1

October 05, 2019  •  2 Comments

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.


Eastatoe Falls - RIP!!

September 14, 2019  •  1 Comment

Well, we were told it was going to happen and today I found out that it's happened.  The new owners have shut down Eastatoe Falls.  I went there this morning hoping for one more chance to photograph this beautiful waterfall.  But instead I was greeted with this "friendly" notice.  I fully understand the owners have the right to do with their property what they like.  But it just seems to me this sign sort of pokes us in the eye.  New Rules....really?  I think they could have said something like they couldn't accept the liability risk or anything else.  I just didn't care for this sign.

I was lucky enough to visit this lovely waterfall probably 20+ times so I've had my opportunities.  I feel bad that many people will try to visit only to be disappointed for not getting their chance.

Eastatoe Falls - I bid you adieu.  

 


Access to Estatoe Falls to End

August 09, 2019  •  1 Comment

I'm sad to report that access to Eastatoe Falls will soon, if not already, be stopped.  Good sources report that the current owner has sold the property.  Unfortunately, the new owner has said they will not allow visitors on the property.  This is very disappointing news but was likely to happen eventually as the current owner was getting older.

I am aware that the Nature Conservancy had offered to purchase the property some time ago but the owner wanted too high of a price for the property.

Eastatoe Falls was perhaps the most beautiful of all the North Carolina waterfalls.  I have visited the waterfall likely more than 20 times in the past four years.  It presented so many photographic compositions and moods that being there was always a joy.

If you want to still photograph it, you better do it quickly.  Here is what we'll be missing.

Tropical EastatoeTropical Eastatoe ​​​​​​​

 


Private Digital Photography Lessons and Tours

June 22, 2019  •  1 Comment

If you are new to digital photography or just can't get out of using Auto mode or need some in the field instruction, please contact me for private lessons.  There is no better way to learn than from personal one-on-one instruction.  Yes, YouTube has great material, but I guarantee I will advance your photography knowledge much faster than watching videos.  I'll help you set up your camera menus to get the best results.  If needed, I can cover all the basic photography terms you will need to understand, such as;

  • What is aperture and how does it apply to depth of field?
  • What is shutter speed and what is the best speed to use in different scenarios?
  • ​​​​​​​What is ISO and why is it important?
  • How do I use other shooting modes like aperture priority, shutter priority or even the scary manual mode?
  • What is exposure compensation?

For those wanting more advanced instruction, I will help you understand, for example;

  • HDR or high dynamic range photography
  • Focus stacking and why and when it's needed
  • Shooting multiple images to later blend in Photoshop
  • How to shoot long exposure photographs and what equipment is needed
  • Proper focusing techniques to ensure maximum sharpness in your photos

If all you want is help finding the best locations to shoot in western North Carolina, I can get you into some prime locations.  Whether it be one of the hundreds of waterfalls we have to the grand landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I will get you there at the right time to capture beautiful photographs.

For more information, use the contact form to reach me.


Put Linville Falls on your next hiking trip

May 25, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

 

It's been about two years since my last visit to Linville Falls and I've really missed it.  It's often featured in many publications where there is a reference to North Carolina waterfalls.  As you can see in the photos that follow, it's very understandable.  It's simply gorgeous.

To find Linville Falls, go to Milepost 316.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is about a mile north of US221.  There are two primary hiking trails from the Visitor Center.  If you take the trail to the right it will take you up to a few overlooks.  The first is an overlook from the top of the waterfall.  Interesting but not really photogenic.  Up the hill a bit further is Erwins View, about .90 miles from the Visitor Center and is a steady moderate hike.  From Erwins View, you can see Linville Falls from quite a distance.  In my opinion, it's not the best photo opportunity but provides a great view of the Linville Gorge.

The best views of the falls are by taking the hiking trails to the left of the Visitors Center; the Plunge Basin Overlook or the Plunge Basin Trail.  The Plunge Basin Overlook hike is just under 0.6 miles and is a moderately easy hike.  The photos below was taken from the overlook while the Carolina Rhododendrons were in bloom.

Linville Falls - May 2019Linville Falls - May 2019

Linville Falls - May 2019Linville Falls - May 2019

 

 

The Plunge Basin Trail veers off to the left at about 0.3 miles and is a fairly difficult hike with steep grades with lots of roots and rocks.  An ankle buster for sure.  But if you're careful, it should not present a problem to the physically fit.  Once at the bottom, head to the right to get great views of the falls.  Getting close to the base of the falls can be a bit of challenge requiring crawling on rocks and using fallen logs as a footbridge.  During high water, do not attempt getting close to the base.  Swift currents could easily drag you downstream from the extremely slippery rocks.  On this visit, I also had to be careful going across uneven rocks with lots of loose slippery sand on them.

On this recent visit we were greeted with the trifecta of perfect conditions, i.e., cloudy skies, calm winds and no people.  It doesn't get much better.  There are many interesting photo compositions possible of the falls from down in the gorge.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from my visit.  My plan is to go back in autumn if I can time the changing leaves correctly.

But if you have never seen Linville Falls, it's one to definitely put on your waterfall hiking list.  You'll love it.

Linville Falls - May 2019Linville Falls - May 2019 Linville Falls - May 2019Linville Falls - May 2019 Linville Falls - May 2019Linville Falls - May 2019 If you enjoy fishing, this a great place to fish.  My hiking partner brought along his fishing pole and some worms.  When he was done shooting he fished and in just a little while had caught 16 of different varieties including a nice trout.


Issaqueena Falls - A South Carolina Beauty

May 16, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Finally visited Isaqueena Falls for the first time.  What a beautiful waterfall!  As you can see from the photograph below, it has numerous possible compositions.  You will find many lenses handy to have with you when you visit.  Primarily a super wide angle lens of at least 16mm on a full frame camera would be the most useful.  Then a 24-120mm midrange as well as up to a 300mm telephoto lens to capture isolation shots.  Be careful when changing lenses as the falls generate some spray and breeze.

Isaqueena Falls is located just outside Walhalla, SC in the Stumphouse Tunnel Park.  Please search the web for directions.

There is a very short walk to an observation deck, where this photo was taken.  If you're more adventurous and sure footed, there is a steep path off to the right of the deck.  The footing is very poor requiring you to grab unto any rock, root or tree limb you can.  Use caution should you chose to go down to the base.  Be very careful to avoid all the poison ivy that is everywhere.  Getting up seemed to be much easier than going down.  Additionally, be very careful at the base.  The rocks can be slippery and there are places where you could easily fall off a sharp drop with the falls.

Since this waterfall has open sun on it, visit it on a very cloudy day.  My friend and I arrived there around 5:30pm and got to the base around 6pm (we were taking our time getting some shots along the way).  Even on a sunny evening in mid-May, the sun was low enough behind the trees that the light on the falls was very soft and even.  We had to rush a bit as we only had 45-60 minutes to shoot.  The park closes at 8pm.  And even at that hour, there were still plenty of people arriving.

Legend has it that the falls is named for an Indian maiden, Issaqueena, who warning the white settlers of an Indian attack, was then chased by Indians and she appeared to jump over the falls. By actually hiding behind the falls (or some legend-tellers say she hid behind a stump, hence Stumphouse Tunnel), she tricked her pursuers and survived. (credit http://www.oconeecountry.com/stumphouse.html).

If you love waterfalls, you definitely have to put this one high on your list.

Isaqueena Falls - May 2019Isaqueena Falls - May 2019

Issaqueena Falls - May 2019Issaqueena Falls - May 2019
 


First Visit to Spruce Flats Falls - Great Smoky Mountain National Park

May 13, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Spruce Flats Falls is a waterfall I've wanted to visit for a long time.  Now I know why.  It's wonderful and is a photographic treasure.  Spruce Flats Falls is located in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  The trailhead is located at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute.  The hike is moderately difficult and is 3/4 miles one-way.  The trail in is mostly uphill with many rocks and roots to contend with.  Once you near the falls, you have a short steep descent to the waterfall.

The falls are stunning and are best seen with moderate water flow.  I wouldn't go if its been dry or exceedingly wet for a while.  Go on a cloudy day with little to no wind as there is a large tree branch overhanging the falls.

There are many photographic compositional opportunities present.  If you are careful you can move around without too much trouble to get close-up shots near the falls or farther back to take in everything.  There are also some dropping cascades just in front of the photo below.  Take your time and scout around. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the falls.

Spruce Flat Falls - May 2019Spruce Flat Falls - May 2019


Carolina Rhododendrons Hawksbill Mountain and The Chimneys

April 29, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

The Carolina Rhododendrons bloomed about ten days early on Hawksbill Mountain and the Chimneys, which overlooks the Linville Gorge.  A friend told me about them otherwise I would have hiked up there for nothing.  Whew!!  If you've not seen them before, it's well worth the difficult hike.

While I've been up to Hawksbill Mountain several times, I had my first visit to The Chimneys.  This was a really interesting location.  From the Hawksbill trailhead, just continue down the road about 7 more miles.  It will seem pretty long given you're on a rugged gravel road most of the way.  You end up at the trailhead for Table Rock.  The trail for the Chimneys is in the opposite direction.  To get to the Chimneys area takes about 3/4 mile moderate trail.  Be careful here too as there are sheer drops in many locations.  The Chimneys are known for their unique rock formations with pillars of rock jutting out into the gorge.

NOTE:  Please be aware that the trail up Hawksbill Mountain is less than a mile but is very steep.  The top of Hawksbill can be very dangerous as there are sheer drops all over the top.  Do not get too close to the edge, especially if the rocks are wet.  Keep your gear secured as well.

 

The Chimneys - May 2019The Chimneys - May 2019 Hawksbill 2019Hawksbill 2019


Mouse Creek Falls

April 29, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Just came from a photo outing to Mouse Creek Falls.  The trail head is near the TN / NC border off I-40.  Directions to the trailhead are easily found on the internet.  

If you want to get some outstanding photo ops, try to get there soon while the new leaf growth is still coming in.  The lightness of the leaves are just effervescent and vibrant.  Water flow is excellent.

On this day, we truly lucked out.  We had the place to ourselves, little wind, cloudy skies, and good (actually a tad hard for my taste) water flow. 

The hike to Mouse Creek Falls is about 2.1 miles one-way.  The trail is uphill the entire way but it is moderate.  But when carrying a camera back weighing about 25 lbs., it can get a bit heavy.  But the hike is well worth it.  For most of the way, you'll hear the sound of rushing water paralleling the route.  At several places along the way after getting to the one mile mark, you'll have the opportunity to go off trail and get some excellent photos of the stream and its many cascades, see below for an example.

 

Cascades on Mouse CreekCascades on Mouse Creek

While it may not look like it, I did very little processing on this photo.  The colors and vibrance of the trees were very close to this.  The light was really amazing. It just draws you deep into the photo.

I'll be adding photos shortly of Mouse Creek Falls shortly so please stop back.

 


Getting Started in Still Photography / Building Your Own Studio

March 17, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

When I first started in photography in 2012, I didn't have a clue what I was doing.  I didn't know anyone who knew anything about photography and I was pretty much on my own.  This likely isn't much different from most people getting started in photography.  There were so many questions; what equipment to buy, how to use my camera, what do all those buttons and dials mean, and how to make sense of all of those menu items to name just a few.  But after countless YouTube videos and video lessons on Adorama.com, I slowly began to learn and practiced a lot.

My primary photographic interest was with landscapes.  Four years ago, we retired to western North Carolina and I was immersed in the region's beautiful scenery, especially all of its stunning waterfalls.  I've taken thousands of photos and while I'm far from an expert, I have improved my landscape photography.

But I'm mostly a fair weather photographer.  Yeah, yeah, I know the best photographs are often found in less than desirable weather.  I do get out in lousy weather at times but in the heat of summer or the cold of winter, I often can't motivate myself to get out.  We've endured droughts where waterfalls have turned into a mere trickle and flooding rains where they turn into muddy torrents.  So there are periods of time when I want to photograph but my normal landscape options are limited.

For those times when getting outside may not be an option, I was looking for another photographic avenue to pursue.  I watched a ton of videos and really started to like still life photography including food photography.  The creativity of it and the challenge of having total control of all aspects of the shoot appealed to me.  But man, this is not simple.  Lighting, staging, styling, composition are all up to the photographer.  You're in control.  You don't have to worry (most of the time) where the sun is, the wind or having people walk into your composition.  But if you mess up, you did it.

Early on when I didn't know what I was doing, I bought a Nikon SB-600 speedlight.  I thought I'd use it mostly for indoor family gathering times and group shots.  But I had no idea on how to really use it.  I never found a good source of flash education.  Yeah, I bought some books and a DVD course but they didn't help much as they seemed too advanced for me.  YouTube videos also seemed hard to use as they weren't about my specific flash unit.  Later on I also learned that all speedlights don't all produce the same amount of light.  In the end, I never used it all that much.

Later on, I made some DYI lights using clamp lights from the hardware store hung on makeshift light stands.  But the results weren't all that great.  In several videos, the use of two light sources were touted.  Since speedlights were the less expensive options and I didn't understand the different types of lighting, I opted to buy a Nikon SB-910 speedlight to give me the two light option.

At that time, Nikon used their Creative Light System (CLS) for triggering off camera flashes.  I learned early on the benefits of using off camera flash, i.e., where  the flash(es) aren't attached to the camera.  Using CLS, your other off camera speedlights would trigger from the flash emitted from the camera's pop-up flash. The pop-up flash functions only as a trigger and does not add light to the scene.  The advantage of this method is that it is relatively easy to use and it doesn't require the use of remote triggers like Pocket Wizards.  On the negative side, CLS required line-of-sight from the pop-up flash to the other off camera speed lights.  The Nikon speed lights have a sensor on them that must be lined up to "see" the remote pop-up flash.  This is often not possible.

But I continued to stumble along never really getting the hang of using speedlights.  Last year western North Carolina set record rainfall amounts, which really affected landscape photography possibilities.  Waterfalls looked terrible, trails were washed out, trees were down and some roads were closed by mudslides.  So I became really motivated to learn how to use my speedlights.  Additionally, I bought the new Nikon D850 in the spring.  Nikon decided to remove the pop-up flash on the camera so if you wanted to use off camera flash you had to get radio triggers.  Oh boy - more gear to buy.

Since I was unfamiliar with radio triggers I again had no clue what to do.  Luckily a guy in my camera club was familiar with flash photography.  We discussed the many trigger possibilities and how I planned to use them.  I opted to get the same ones that he uses both because they were well rated, had a "reasonable" price and he was available to help tutor me.  I purchased the Phottix Odin II trigger and receivers for Nikon.  Be sure your triggers match up to your camera.  They don't come with any real manual and YouTube really doesn't have any good videos on them.  So I was lucky my buddy could help me out.  So without too much trouble I was up and running.

Earlier in my photographic journey when I was initially getting interested in flash photography I learned that using speedlights generally produced harsh shadowy light.  So I got some umbrellas to use to soften the light.  They are very cheap and easy to set up and use.  But as tried out my gear with various still life compositions and the more I learned about flash photography, I learned that using umbrellas have limitations.  The main ones are you lose a lot of light as it is reflected light and the light goes everywhere and can't really be directionally controlled.  Some people use natural light by shooting next to a window.  That wasn't an option for me as the only place I had to shoot in my house wasn't near a window.

So I did a lot of research on lighting and decided to go the soft box route.  But man, there is a lot to know and they can get very expensive quickly.  I thought at some point in the future if I really like still life, I might get into doing some portraits.  I purchased a Profoto RFi Octabox 3'.  It seems like a good compromise size at three feet.  Plus the octagon shape would give some nice looking catchlights for portraits.  But these aren't inexpensive.  Since speed lights only emit so much light, I got a soft box bracket that could hold two speed lights, the Profoto RFi speedring - again, not cheap but its built like a tank.  The soft light it produces is fantastic.

For my other speed light I was modifying the light with a Rogue Large Flashbender.  This is a really cool little accessory for flash photography.  It can act like a mini softbox that can be bent into a few shapes to provide more directional lighting.  It was also be shaped into a snoot.  For an on-the-go flash, this is a very nice and relatively cheap light modifier.  But after seeing the results of my Profoto softbox, I was itching to get another softbox.  Since I had my main soft box I looked for a less expensive alternative.  The Godox 80cm square softbox filled the bill.  With the softbox, grid and mount, it was only around $65.  If produces nice soft light.  But you get what you pay for.  The Godox is not nearly as "beefy" and well made as the Profoto but it's a great value.  One disadvantage that isn't too bad is that the soft box attaches to the mount by simply snapping into place around the mount.  So its not the most secure connection but I haven't really had trouble with it yet.  But you would probably not want to use it outside and carefully move it around your setup in case it fell off.

Another consideration for using speedlights is that they use batteries and eat up a lot of power.  For me, since I was not anticipating recycle time to be a major consideration I went with rechargeable batteries.  In the short run, they are more expensive and you have to buy a charging unit.  But you should easily save quite a bit in the longer run.  I also bought two chargers to help shorten the time needed to recharge all my batteries.

Finally, for still photography you generally need some type of backdrop.  There are an exhaustive list of these.  I chose to use simple rolls of black and white paper for the time being.  You can get really creative if you want.  But with backgrounds you also have to have some way of holding them.  Thinking a bit longer term I went for the Savage Multiple Background Stand. It can hold up to two rolls of paper or any other type of backdrop.  So if you want to easily switch backgrounds it can be done very quickly.  Its a quality product and is very sturdy.  It also has the ability to get quite wide should you need it.

Lastly, if you want to try food photography, you will need some backgrounds on which to place your food.  Take a look at this video for ideas, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eiipb1EuyVg&t=4s.  The "Bite Shop" is a great YouTube channel for food photography as is "We Eat Together".  I used the ideas from this video to make three backgrounds. But going forward I'm just going to buy vinyl sheets.  They look great and don't cost much.


Here are some early photos I took with my setup.

AlstroemeriaAlstroemeria

So what are "my" lesson learned?  If I had to do it all over again, I'd likely go with studio strobes vs. speedlights.  They can be costly for sure.  But they are more flexible and have more power than speedlights.  There are also more light modifiers available for them.  You can also get continuous lights which help you see in advance where the light is falling and the amount of shadows you'll have and where they are.  But if this isn't going to be your primary photographic interest, studio strobes might be a bit of overkill.  For me, I think my overall cost would have been less.  But if you want to see some fantastic flash photography with speed lights, check out Joe McNally on YouTube.  He is the Jedi Knight of speed lights.

The key takeaway in today's blog is to do lots of research in advance of getting any gear.  And you get what you pay for.  Yes, you can get some cheaper speed lights from China, but you'll lose key features of your camera if you don't get their models.  Be sure to know what you'll be getting if you go the off brand route.

Here are just a few key questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to get into flash photography?
  • Is this an interest you are committed to for the long term?
  • What area of your photography requires artificial light, i.e., portraits, weddings, still life, food, macro?
  • Would DYI lights and modifiers work just as well as flash accessories?
  • What is your budget?
  • Can you rent or borrow equipment to test it out?
  • Do you know the difference between speedlights and studio strobes?
  • Do you mind using power cords or do you need the flexibility of batteries or battery packs?
  • Do you know about triggering your off camera flashes, i.e., radio triggers?
  • How many lights do you need? Why?
  • ​​​​​​​Do you understand the power ratings for flash units?
  • Do you understand how to consider the color rating of your flash units?
  • What type of backdrops and backgrounds do you need?  Why?
  • ​​​​​​​Do you have the physical space to set up your lighting equipment?  While it's not really difficult to set up or tear down, it is a bit of a pain and takes some time.

 

This has been a pretty long posting but I hope you've gathered something from it.  If you have any questions, I'll try to help.  Just drop me a line.


North Georgia in Autumn

March 05, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

If you travel in northern Georgia you are in for quite a treat.  The landscape is very beautiful, not quite up to North Carolina standards, but still great.  Since the autumn colors in much of North Carolina had passed and weren't all that great, I decided to visit Georgia to see if I'd have better photographic luck.  I was not disappointed.  Even though its a bit of a trip from my home base, it was well worth the ride.

My first stop was near Hwy 196 just east of Hwy 76.  As I was passing a large field I caught a glimpse of a potential photograph.  Turning around to get a better view I found the little shed below stuck way out in a field.  Since there were no homes to be seen I grabbed my gear to see what I could get.  I'm happy with the result.

Rural Georgia Shed Oct. 2018Rural Georgia Shed Oct. 2018

The next stop was a revisit to Minnehaha Falls near Rabun Lake.  This is a very easy hike.  This was the first time visiting this waterfall in autumn and it was beautiful.  Water flow changes a lot for this waterfall so visit often to see its many personalities. The only bad thing was that my 17-35mm wide angle lens was in the shop being repaired.  I would have loved to have it here.

Minnehaha Falls Oct. 2018Minnehaha Falls Oct. 2018

Next on my list was Raper Creek​​​​​​​ Falls in Habersham County, GA.  This is a very short hike.  It's easy to find but there are only about two spaces for parking.  It's not very well marked and you're in the middle of nowhere.  I would suggest for safety reasons to use the buddy system here.  The trail gets pretty steep in the lower section so some slipping is almost guaranteed.  Plus there can be lots of spray near the falls and the footing on the rocks is very slippery.  Again, I could really have used my wide angle lens here.  I would have been able to catch more autumn trees across the stream.  Guess I'll have to go back next fall.
Raper Creek Falls Oct. 2018Raper Creek Falls Oct. 2018

I had tried to get to another waterfall just outside Clayton, GA.  It wasn't easy to find the trailhead but I finally did.  The trail was suppose to be pretty easy.  But looking down the trail it seemed anything but.  Since I was by myself and the sun was quickly setting with rain starting, I opted to play it safe and skip it for this trip.  But as I was heading back toward Clayton, I found this little beauty just off the road.  A nice way to end a long day.

Georgia Barn Oct. 2018Georgia Barn Oct. 2018

I revisited the area a few days later to catch some places I wasn't able to get to the other day.  My first stop was the Tallulah Gorge State Park.  The gorge is two miles long and is 1000 feet deep.  There are a few waterfalls found along the gorge.  In the photo below you can see L'Eau d'Or Falls.  There are several trails in the park.  Some are easy, others require some tougher hiking.

Talullah Gorge Oct. 2018Talullah Gorge Oct. 2018

If you take the South Rim Trail you can descend into the gorge.  But bear in mind you'll have to take a total of 1136 steps to reach the floor and come back up.  At some times, you're allowed to hike through the gorge.  On the day I was there, the gorge was closed off except to see Hurricane Falls (see below).  But I saw no way on how you could hike anywhere.  There was no apparent trail that I could see. But Hurricane Falls was enough of a reward at the bottom for me.  But the hike back up all those steps was a killer.

So if you're able to visit northeast Georgia, you will not be disappointed.  Just don't go in summer unless you love hot humid weather.

 

 

 

 

 

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