McWay Falls

McWay Falls

McWay Falls empties directly into the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast

I’ve seen much prettier images of McWay Falls, but this one isn’t bad. The scene I would have loved to capture would have been at sunrise or sunset with dramatic, pastel-colored skies instead of a contrasty, blue-sky day. But, when you only have one bite at the apple, you make do with what you have.

If you’ve never traveled up the Big Sur coast, a stop at McWay Falls is a must. The viewpoint is quite easy to access and the scene is impressive. Even with clear skies, the water color, waterfall spilling into the Pacific, and sheltered cove are a spectacular sight. Even though conditions weren’t perfect, I’m glad we stopped. Only a week or so later, fires burning down the mountainsides closed this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway for a few days. Even though I’m sure the landscape would benefit from it in the long-term, it would be a shame to see this area torched by a wildfire. Hopefully, this image conveys a fraction of the beauty of the region. Enjoy.


The Road to Big Sur

The Road to Big Sur

The last bit of straight road before hitting the bends and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway along the Big Sur coast

As we worked our way up the California coast, I was anxious to get to the twists and turns of CA-1 and the jaw-dropping views from high atop the cliffs of Big Sur. I had experienced the road a few times before and I was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to my high expectations.

Before we made it to the twisty bits, we came upon this view. Given my expectation of winding roads I hadn’t remembered this long straight stretch before we entered the coastal range. It was one of those “Wow! I’d better stop the car and capture this!” moments. I have quite a few of those as I’m out shooting. In fact, my favorite shots are often ones that I hadn’t visualized and catch me quite unawares.

So, I quickly pulled off the road, made a u-turn, and worked my way back to where I first saw the shot. I took a few different angles including these in the middle of the road. Fortunately, Pamela was there to act as my spotter. Otherwise I likely would have been so absorbed in taking the shot that I would have been struck by another photographer’s car as they soaked in the sights oblivious to my presence.

I love leading lines in my images. It doesn’t get much better than the yellow center stripe of a perfectly straight stretch of road with a scenic vista at the end. Hopefully, you will enjoy the image as well.

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.

Moonstone Beach at Sunset

Moonstone Beach at Sunset

Seagulls at rest and native vegetation on Moonstone Beach near sunset

I spent an evening on Moonstone Beach hoping for epic sunset conditions. I had hoped for some clouds in the sky that would turn to brilliant red, pink, and orange against the setting sun. Instead I got a cloudless sky. The benefit was that as the sun dropped toward the horizon everything turned golden. There were some pretty amazing shooting conditions for an hour or so.

I made several compositions, but this is one of my favorites. I’ve blown out the sun but it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize what it would have looked like. I managed to capture the backlit vegetation on the cliffs of Moonstone Beach and a flock of resting seagulls on the beach below. This image captures the feel of this part of the central California coast as well as anything else I shot on the trip. 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.

Foggy Fall Morning in the Smokies

Foggy Fall Morning in the Smokies

Fog hangs in the valleys as the rising sun lights up the fall foliage on the southeastern corner of the Great Smoky Mountains

One of the reasons I love shooting at sunrise is the continuous light show that I get to experience. Arriving as much as an hour before sunrise, I still see stars hanging in the sky. Soon, the warm glow in the eastern sky indicates that sunrise is approaching. Perhaps twenty minutes before sunrise, the sky often turns incredible shades of pink, orange, and red while the glow extends much further across the sky. A few minutes before sunrise, there is so much reflected light in the atmosphere that objects in the foreground once hidden in shadow are now plainly visible. On a morning where the cloud cover does not extend to the horizon watching the sun come up over the horizon always gives me a thrill. Feeling the first warm rays of the day on my face is always a special experience. Even as the sun rises higher in the sky its rays still create warm, soft light over the landscape.

That is the point of the morning when this image was captured. The sun had been up for thirty minutes or more but was still dancing in and out of the clouds creating a wonderful variety of conditions. The low slanted sunlight created wonderful backlight for the trees in the left foreground. Some of the trees on the valley floor that are being kissed by sunlight have also turned to reveal their warm red, orange, and yellow tones. The far ridges are still in shadow because the sun has not risen high enough to illuminate them just yet. The fog will soon melt away, but for now it still hangs stubbornly in the cool, shadowed valleys. It was a wonderful beginning to another beautiful day in the Smokies. Enjoy.


A New Day Breaks on Grandfather Mountain

Daybreak on Grandfather Mountain

The sun peeks over the horizon near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

These two images were taken on the same morning as the last post. A weak front moving through the region created just the right amount of clouds to allow for a spectacular sky at sunrise. Some mornings are so overcast that you never even realize that the sun has risen. Others have no clouds and the sun quickly becomes a giant ball of light that is almost indistinguishable from the surrounding sky. When the sky holds a bit of moisture and clouds, the chances of a spectacular light show increases dramatically.

This was one of those mornings. I stayed in place for forty-five minutes or so just watching the changing light and capturing as much of the beauty as possible. The shot below isn’t quite as dramatic but it is cool to see the sun through the layers of atmosphere as a perfect orb hanging above the horizon. Enjoy.

A New Day on Grandfather Mountain

The full sun emerges to begin a new day over the hills of western North Carolina