Setting Sun as Viewed from Moonstone Beach

Setting Sun as Viewed from Moonstone Beach

The setting sun descends into the Pacific over the rocks of Moonstone Beach

Although the sunset at Moonstone Beach was not as vibrant as I had hoped, it still turned out to be quite beautiful. The absence of clouds that could turn multi-hued pastel shades meant that all the rays of the setting sun could flood the beautiful California coastline. It’s magic hours like this that allow me to see at least one of the reasons California is called the Golden State. It certainly earned its nickname on this fine summer evening.

I had worked my way down the beach looking for vantage points and foregrounds that could showcase the setting sun and the rugged coastline. I finally settled on a rocky outcrop just off a local park where I could use the ocean as my foreground. I found this group of rocks that were absorbing the incoming tide where I could put the setting sun in the center of my frame.

I don’t normally like to put the most prominent feature of my images in the dead center of my composition. In this case, though, I wanted to feature many different elements including the ocean, the rocks, the graduated color of the sky and the distant hills descending into the Pacific. To do so, this was the composition that was the most pleasing to my eye. I used a relatively long shutter speed of 1/6 of a second to add some blur to the waves and introduce some sense of the action unfolding in front of me.

All in all, I love the image. I think it conveys a sense of the beautiful evening that I experienced. I hope the image conveys some of that sense to you as well. Enjoy.


Sunbeams on the Oconaluftee River

Sunbeams on the Oconaluftee River

Haze and fog on the Oconaluftee River is illuminated by sunlight streaking through the forest canopy

After a major summer rainstorm, the atmospheric conditions created a very light layer of fog and haze on the Oconaluftee River. I suppose it was the temperature and humidity variance between the river water and the hot, humid air mass that lingered after the storm the created the conditions. Whatever caused it, the conditions were perfect for a few hours of photography before heading up the mountain for sunset from Clingmans Dome.

As I left the shelter of my hotel after some pretty violent thunderstorms I was immediately struck by the potential for some interesting images with the fog over the river. In spots the fog was heavy. In other spots it was light, patchy, or even nonexistent. I immediately began to search for spots where the fog would cause conditions worth taking a series of images.

After searching for a while I found this location. There is a small footbridge that crosses the river at this point. I was using that vantage point to take some shots up and down the river. As I turned to look upstream I saw that the sun had emerged from the high cloud cover and sunlight was streaking through the forest canopy and fog to illuminate the river. I quickly repositioned my camera and tripod to maximize the contrast between the filtered sunlight and fog. This image is the result.

It’s a pretty standard long exposure stream image, but the sunlight makes the shot. If you look closely you can see that the streaks of sunlight are all up and down the river, not just as the focal point. In addition the colors of late spring/early summer are lush and vibrant. The moss on the rocks is still emerald-green due to the moisture in the area and the flow in the stream throughout the spring. This image was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time. It’s the reason that I go out and shoot in as many different weather situations as possible. Enjoy.

Oconaluftee River After A Storm

Oconaluftee River After A Storm

A light fog hangs over the cool water of the Oconaluftee River after a summer thunderstorm has saturated the atmosphere with moisture

As often happens in the Smokies in the spring and summer, afternoon thunderstorms popped up during my first full day of shooting there. Years ago, I would have had to wait for the rumble of thunder or to actually feel raindrops to know that rain was imminent. Now weather radar on my iPhone takes all the guesswork out of determining if it will rain. On this day, it *was* going to rain and I could tell it would probably be significant rainfall.

The weather radar did not lie and storms popped up around noon. These weren’t small storms that lasted fifteen minutes and moved on either. These were massive, drop two or three inches of rain in an hour storms that lasted for several hours. Fortunately, I had a hotel room to hunker down in and wait out the lightning and torrential rains.

When I ventured back outside, it was still a few hours before sunset. I decided to work my way slowly up the Oconaluftee Valley looking for stream shots in the late afternoon light. Soon after heading out I knew that I very well might find epic conditions. The cooler moisture-laden air left after the thunderstorms was hanging in a light fog over sections of the cooler Oconaluftee River. The lingering fog made for some unusual and interesting scenes.

I pulled over multiple times trying to capture the fog hanging over the river. Even though the fog is very light here and only really visible in the left background of the image, the soft lighting created by the thick cloud canopy made for awesome shooting conditions. The humidity was still close to 100 percent and I sweated a good bit, but the images in front of me were epic.

This image was shot at f/18 for two seconds on my D800 at ISO 100. It was shot from a tripod, of course. The resulting image is tack sharp and retains some of the vibrant green that is present after storms. I suppose the ozone released by the forest canopy creates unusually clear air. It is certainly refreshing to be out and about in those conditions. Enjoy the image. There is more to come from the mountains soon.

Late Spring on Roaring Fork

Late Spring on Roaring Fork

A view of Roaring Fork in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For those of you not from the South, the title of this post probably needs some translation. There’s no fork in this picture. For that matter there’s no spoon or knife either! No, the fork in the title refers to a stream or in this case a fork in the stream. In the Smokies the other prominent name for a tributary of a river is a prong. So, you have Roaring Fork and the Middle Prong of the Little River and other variations on the theme as names of streams all over the park.

As for the Roaring part of the name you need to be present in the area after a heavy rain to understand it. So much water pours into the stream and through the surrounding rocky bed that the resulting noise is a roar. Hence, the name Roaring Fork was given by the pioneers to this region of the Smokies.

The area is easy to access by the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. I guess that the current road follows a wagon track that was used by the locals to move through the valley. The area is very close to Gatlinburg. In fact, it’s so close that the distinction between the neon and traffic of Gatlinburg stands in stark contrast to the quite tranquility of Roaring Fork. I much prefer Roaring Fork to Gatlinburg. But, that’s a topic for another post altogether…

On the morning that I made this image I had risen early to capture the sunrise up on Clingmans Dome. Seeing that there was still some cloud cover moving through the area, I decided to take my chances down at Roaring Fork. The ideal conditions in which to shoot a stream like this are cloudy or overcast skies, mild temperatures, and a few days following significant rain. Fortunately for me this morning had all three.

The cloudy skies allow for nice, even exposures that don’t have hot spots in the water or on the rocks. Mild temperatures make it more bearable to zip off my convertible pant legs, take off my boots and socks, and wade into the still frigid stream! Heavy rains keep the moss green and put enough flow in the stream to make for interesting images. All three were present in abundance on this beautiful spring morning. I’m sure there were a few people shaking their heads at the crazy middle-aged guy wading in the stream before most of them had finished their morning coffee.

I spent a couple of hours wading up and down the stream looking for spots that would yield interesting images. Out of all the ones I shot, I think I like this one the best. It’s a simple shot of a stream and moss-covered rocks. I like the way the water leads my eye through the image from top to bottom. I managed to keep the shot mostly in focus from foreground to background by using an aperture of f/14. Using that small of an aperture in dim light at ISO 100 caused me to have to expose the image for eight seconds. It’s a bit too long and I lost some detail in the water, but I like how the milky flow contrasts with the brilliant green of the moss. By the way, there is no saturation added and only a very shallow tone curve has been applied to slightly increase contrast. This shot is basically straight out of the camera. Given that I’ve done virtually no image manipulation, I’m very pleased with it. I hope you enjoy it as well.