Angles and Clouds

We just returned from our annual cruise, this year aboard the almost-brand-new Celebrity Solstice. What a beautiful ship and what a wonderful vacation! It’s Kathy’s reward for following me around the mountains in October and November chasing fall color.

One afternoon while lounging by the pool I happened to notice these glass panels that serve as a wind break between sections of the deck. From certain angles they reflected the clouds, but I just liked the way the shapes interacted with the clouds, without reflection. I didn’t even have to get out of my chair for this shot – proof that if you look around you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

I’ll be posting some more of these artsy shots as well as some vacation snaps soon!

Snow Job!

Our latest magazine assignment was to shoot photos for an article about Banner Elk, NC for the January/February issue of WNC magazine. Since the article is to feature activities in the winter months, and since Banner Elk is known for being a ski destination, we kinda needed to get some snow to make it look like someplace you’d actually go and ski, right?

I was sweating this one, because I needed to have the photos turned in around the beginning of December, I really wanted to get some snow shots, and most importantly, it doesn’t usually snow very much there in November, and when it does it doesn’t always stick around very long. I also don’t have any more unscheduled vacation days from my day job, so it would be really convenient for me if it would snow on, say, a Friday so I could go there on a Saturday.

Needless to say, luck was a-shinin’ on me, because this past Thursday night and Friday morning Banner Elk got about 6 inches of the beautious white stuff. Add that up with a really helpful marketing director at Sugar Mountain Resort and Kathy & I copped a trip on the chair lift to the top of 5300′ Sugar Mountain! Lots of ski and snowboard shots, and everything just looked so nice and winterly with a good coat of snow.

This view is from the top of Sugar Mountain looking down over Banner Elk and the Elk River Valley. Those tracks in the foreground? The ones that look like they lead off a cliff? They lead to an actual ski trail called Boulder Dash, which is a not-for-sissies black diamond trail. I didn’t think I would try to look over the edge!

2009 Calendar Available!

My primary goal for this weekend was to complete my 2009 calendar, which I offer for sale to friends and co-workers each year. The price is a mere $20, which essentially covers my cost to print them. If I order enough I do get a quantity discount, but it doesn’t even cover the cost of the few that I give away as gifts and promotional items.

This year’s theme is “A Year of Color” and consists of 12 images from 2008. A complete sample of the images can be found at my website. Click on the “2009 Calendar” link. Contact me by 11/30/08 at the link on my website to order a copy.

Snow Geese!

I am now hopelessly behind. I made the mistake last night of adding up the number of images I have taken since and including our trip to the coast in September. With the exception of a few images I have processed and those done and turned in for magazine assignments I now have approximately 5000 images to edit and process. Yikes and thank goodness for Lightroom!

A number of people have asked about the Snow Geese we shot at Chincoteague this past weekend. What an amazing trip and a wonderful place to photograph! More to come on that.

This was a quick one to answer some questions I had gotten about what Snow Geese look like. Here are a bunch of them!

Even More Fall

Starting to wade back through the images from the last several weeks. This was one of those “stop-the-car-I’ve-got-to-shoot-this” moments. Found along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, just south of Fancy Gap.

For anyone interested the tractor is a McCormick-Deering Farmall F-14, probably 1939-ish.

Small Scenes and Abstracts

Kathy and I spent what will officially be our last fall weekend of the year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is just about our favorite place in the world. One of my favorite spots for fall color in the Smokies is the Tremont area, on the Tennessee side but away from the mayhem of Cades Cove and Gatlinburg. Tremont is an out of the way gem with plenty of places for exploring, from literally steps to miles from the road.

I love capturing small scenes that give the impression of huge color, especially reflections of sunlit trees in shaded water. This particular rock was in an area of stream that was simultaneously reflecting yellow leaves and deep blue sky. I juiced the colors just a little for contrast but this is really what it looked like.

More to come as I get caught up on processing!

More Fall

I came across this gem from last week’s trip to Brevard and had to share. This was shot from Cherry Cove Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. See the previous post for the story about how this stop turned out to be the three hour shooting extravaganza of the weekend. This is one of my favorites and I am dying for time to see how it looks when printed!

Looking Vs. Seeing

We had an interesting experience this past weekend that has gotten me to thinking. Usually when we head to a location I have a general idea of the places I am going to go, and I come up with some ideas of the types of things we are going to try to shoot based on what my notes or my research tell me about a place, with lots of flexibility built in for serendipity and opportunity. Certain locations lend themselves to specific subjects, such as colors reflected in pools of water along a river or stream, agricultural vistas, layers of mountain ridges, etc. There’s often a dilemma about sunrise or sunset, because often the good locations for sunrise and sunset are mutually exclusive of places that might have other characteristics, such as waterfalls and places with easy access to water, etc.

Such was the case this past weekend. Pounding Mill Overlook is unsurpassed for a sunrise location near Brevard, and Cowee Mountains Overlook is the absolute tops for sunset this time of the year. Pounding Mill is a 30-minute drive from Brevard, not bad, but it is also 30-minutes or more back down to the good spots for water. That section of the Parkway has a high potential for dramatic atmospherics under certain conditions. This past Saturday was a typically excellent Pounding Mill morning, with clouds and fog in the valley and a clear sky above, enough wind to move the clouds around the ridges, over some of the lower ones and just generally keeping things interesting. Sun comes up, shoot the contours and textures, wait to see what happens, clouds roll in and that’s it. Socked in. Now what? Stay and see what happens? Head down to the valley and see if the fog is thin enough to get some dreamy color but not so thick that you can’t see? Drive up and down the Parkway looking for that perfect scene? Tough choice.

I was with a group, which is not usually the case, but it was only four cars and individuals that I have come to know as flexible and easy going, instead of the manic-panic-gotta-drive-until-I-find-the-perfect-place-even-if-it-means-racing-around-like-a-maniac-until-dark-and-never-getting-any-pictures types. These are probably the same people who drive 10 minutes out of their way to avoid a 5 minute traffic jam (topic for another essay – people who are always in a hurry but never get anywhere and still are always late). Oops, digression! We decided that our best bet would be to head to either a lower elevation or a higher elevation, knowing that lower would maybe get us soft, diffused light but that higher would maybe get us dramatic clouds in the valleys. A just-right elevation would maybe get us the best of both, with clouds rolling in and out, creating a soft light then revealing a dramatic valley.

As happens way too often on the Parkway, we headed south and in the first mile passed a number of beautiful scenes that were nowhere close to an overlook and had no possible safe parking for a group of 4 cars. We passed from lovely views of the valley to shafts of sunlight blasting through the fog. We ended up stopping at Cherry Cove Overlook, which was socked in at the time, to discuss our options. While we were standing around talking about what to do next, the clouds rolled out to reveal a stunning view of the valley below. Once in a while the fog would be the perfect thickness for beams and sunbursts. A few minutes later the clouds rolled out again. Hmm, interesting. Finally someone (it might have been me) pulled out a camera, which of course caused the clouds to roll back in, creating a soft fog that muted the contrast and made for a dreamy fall scene. More cameras come out, one of our group spotted a chipmunk and started stalking it. I spotted a place where the sunbeams blasted through pinholes in the trees and created some amazing starbursts. A couple of us headed up a trail to see if we could find a better view and ended up with some nice isolation scenics. We ended up there for over three hours! All from a place we “just stopped” to regroup.

The lesson for me is one that I continue to learn and that bears repeating and reinforcement. The best way to see is with a camera in hand, contemplating a scene, the light, the conditions. While it’s possible to stumble across a scene while driving down the road, it’s a lot easier to see when you stop and take the time to look. Otherwise you’re just trophy-hunting. That works fine for a lot of people and I’ll admit to doing my share. But for me, the best way to approach a scene creatively is to stop, let it speak to you and listen to what it has to say. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for me landscape photography is about engaging with a scene, seeing what’s there and responding to it. I’m ultimately a lot happier working with what is in front of me that worrying about where else I might be and what else I might be missing. I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t be everywhere, I’m always missing something, that I don’t always make the best guess. I’m ok with that. And I think I am a lot better off for it. I certainly seem to come away from those days happier with me, and am in most cases happier with my results.

The photo is a shot of Looking Glass Rock and was taken pre-sunrise from Pounding Mill Overlook.

Fall Wears Me Out!

Just returned from an amazing weekend in the Brevard, NC area chasing more fall color. Wow! The problem is knowing when to stop. I have already accepted the fact that I can’t get everything, I’m always going to miss something and that it’s not the end of the world, but geez! Color, color everywhere and no possible way to get all of it, no way to stay focused on a theme or project or any kind of plan. Just shoot what you see and figure it out later! Not exactly, but this is “going with the flow” at it’s finest.

“Only” 452 images this weekend, as compared to last week’s 628, but it rained Friday. Really, really rained, to the point that I only shot a few photos in the Grove Arcade in Asheville where we stopped to visit our friends at WNC Magazine.

Off to Cherokee this coming weekend, here’s hoping for some more amazing color and great weather. Whew!

This image is actually my last one of the day today. Playing around with motion blur and decided to try zooming the lens while pointed way up at some really tall trees with great color and a Carolina Blue sky. The location is the woods near Slickrock Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

And This Is Why We Go

Kathy & I spent the weekend in the Mount Airy, NC area, celebrating our 28th anniversary with more of a photography-oriented weekend than most people might do, but we were treated to a spectacular show of color. We slept in this morning after a great meal and wine last night at Chateau Morrisette, and almost wrote today off when we awoke to a severe-clear blue sky day. We were of a mindset to check out some locations for a future trip and head home early, but kept coming across these scenes that were irresistible. The light was so beautiful this afternoon that we stayed on the Parkway until sunset, which we never do on a Sunday!

This photo was one of a number from this afternoon. This was taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway near MP 236 and overlooks a pastoral valley near Sparta, NC. The late afternoon sun was really bringing out the textures in the land and the colors in the trees.

I have over 600 new images from this weekend, and I will try to post more as I process them in the days to come. But we’re off to Brevard, NC this coming weekend to chase more color and hopefully visit some waterfalls.

Photographs and stuff!