The Road to Cedar Breaks

The Road to Cedar Breaks

The view along UT 14 as it winds its way up from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument

Since I visit the western US to shoot mostly during the fall, I’ve had the opportunity to see the aspens at peak fall color on several occasions. It’s always a magnificent experience. While planning this trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, I hoped that our schedule, elevation, and an aspen forest would intersect at some point. While at Great Basin National Park, the aspen forest had already turned and shed its leaves. Even so, the park was fun to visit and beautiful.

But, as we headed southeast toward Cedar City, I hoped that a beautiful aspen forest at the peak of fall color would be visible along the way. About thirty minutes out from Cedar City I began to see the mountains rising in the distance. I *thought* I could see pops of yellow on the mountainsides but I convinced myself that it was simply the way the sun was hitting the mountains. As we got closer, though, it became obvious that the large patches of yellow and orange that we could see were actually huge aspen groves. Needless to say, I got pretty excited.

I became even more excited once we dropped off our bags and headed up the mountain from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument. While on prior trips to southern Utah I had heard of Cedar Breaks and its beauty but I had never visited. So, I was pretty stoked to pay it a visit. What I hadn’t anticipated was the amazing beauty of the road up the mountain. It was one of those drives where we were stopping at least once a mile, and sometimes more often, just to gape at the landscape. I had gone from no leaves on the aspen trees to grove after grove at the peak of their fall beauty. And, I hadn’t even made it to the main attraction yet!

This shot was taken during one of those stops. There was a county park where we parked the car and moved up and down the road for a while. I loved the way that he fence and the road led my eye into the mass of the aspen-covered mountain we had just driven past. The colors were amazing and there were even a few clouds in the sky to break up the otherwise perfect blue sky overhead. The scenery was so beautiful that we utterly enjoyed two or three trips up and down the mountain pass just so we could soak it all in. I hope this image conveys some sense of the beauty of the scene that we experienced.

Coast Live Oak and Field at Sunset

Coast Live Oak and Field at Sunset

A Coast Live Oak in a recently cultivated field illuminated by the golden rays of the setting sun

Earlier this summer I had a business opportunity that Pamela and I decided to extend into a vacation and a chance to visit family. My business was in Irvine, CA for a couple of days. Since we were experiencing a bit of early empty nest syndrome with all three of our kids working or volunteering for the summer, we decided to drive on up the coast to visit family and to vacation for a few days.

I have two uncles who decided to move to California after World War Two. One of them passed away several years ago, but the other still lives in San Luis Obispo County. Two of his children who are closer to my age also live there. We’ve been able to visit them a few times over the last ten years or so. It’s always great fun to catch up with all of them. It’s a bonus that the central California coast is an absolutely spectacular beautiful spot in the world.

My cousins live on two adjoining properties located among farms and wineries. The views from all around their home are spectacular. One evening while we were visiting, the light on the surrounding properties turned spectacular. Obviously my attention must have drifted from the conversation to the photography potential outside and my cousin took pity on me. She asked if I wanted to be driven further up the road they live on to a higher elevation where I might catch the sunset. (Have I mentioned how cool my California family is?) I quickly accepted and this shot resulted.

The Coast Live Oak is found throughout much of central and northern California. It is often seen standing alone in a field much as it is depicted here. In the right light the trees are simply beautiful. I think this was the right light. Hopefully I’ve captured the beauty that I saw on the warm, summer evening in the Golden State. Enjoy.

From Under the Canopy

From Under the Canopy

Looking out onto the lush Irish landscape from an adjacent tree-lined road

On our day trip to Northern Ireland we stopped twice at the Dark Hedges. I was hoping to have the place to myself with some great light streaming through the trees. Instead, I realized that I was in a shrine to all things related to the television series Game of Thrones. There was a constant stream of traffic down the road I was trying to shoot. I think I could have waited all day long and only had a few brief intervals without a car or walker in my shot.

As is often the case Pamela saw the shot that I didn’t see this day. As I was fretting over the shot that I couldn’t have she drew my attention to what was happening beyond the tree-lined street we were standing on. The late afternoon light in the fields surrounding the Dark Hedges was becoming beautiful. I quickly moved my tripod and began to set up a shot to capture the scene.

This is a perfect illustration of how about half of my keeper shots come about. I have a destination or particular shot in mind but along the way I stumble onto a shot I never even thought about. I suppose there is a life lesson there about being flexible, enjoying the journey, keeping one’s mind open to all the possibilities, etc. All I know is that I have learned to keep my eyes open while practicing my craft. Sometimes the best shots are ones that I never saw coming. Enjoy.

Edisto Island Sunrise

Edisto Island Sunrise

Sunrise paints the sky over Edisto Island, South Carolina

I probably had unrealistic expectations for my time at Botany Bay and Edisto Island. My hope was for a brilliant sunset that filled the sky with red, orange, and pink tinted clouds reflected in a calm sea with the perfect skeleton oak tree standing against the tide. And, even though there was a pretty sunrise, it wasn’t the one I had hoped for. Then, the clouds that could have been lit up beautifully by the rising sun actually obscured the sun shortly after it rose over the horizon.

I stuck around because I was still engrossed in my work, but I began to lose interest as the light flattened. So, I packed up my gear and began to slowly walk back toward the trailhead. As I walked, though, I kept checking the view behind me and toward the ocean. I suppose I hoped that the sun would reappear and create incredible conditions for a window of time.

As I walked along the beach this tree caught my eye. Although it wasn’t far out in the water, it was far enough out that the tide occasionally pushed past it. The receding water left enough moisture on the surface on the sand to create a bit of a reflection. Even though the sun was obscured by clouds it still was creating an orange glow on the horizon. I decided to stop and make a few images of the scene.

Interestingly, the longer I shot the more the scene appealed to me. I tried vertical and horizontal compositions, cropped the tree tightly and included mostly sky, and played with longer exposures. Finally, this composition emerged. It’s shot at f/16 for 1/20 second. I also used a polarizer and did some post-processing with Color Efex Pro to simulate the look of a graduated neutral density filter. As always, I processed the RAW file with Apple’s Aperture and did some spot removal as well.

I’m not sure if this is my favorite image from the trip, but it’s certainly one of the top five. And it’s only whetted my appetite for Botany Bay. I’m already looking forward to another trip to the Charleston area and another shot at a brilliant sunrise from Botany Bay. Enjoy.

Edisto Island Sunrise

Dawn at Edisto Island

A tree in the boneyard off Edisto Island under a colorful dawn sky

Sunrise at Edisto Island

The sun crosses the horizon over the Atlantic Ocean and the skeleton trees of Edisto Island

I mentioned earlier in a previous post that I had several shots in mind during my trip to Charleston and the South Carolina low country. High on my list was an area on Edisto Island that I hadn’t visited before, Botany Bay Plantation.

On an earlier trip I had visited the Edisto Beach State Park where a boneyard similar to the one at Botany Bay Plantation is located. Those trees, however, are mostly at the shoreline and are difficult to isolate as photography subjects. At Botany Bay, some of the trees are still standing much further away from the wrack line.

I thought I had scouted the location enough since I had visited the island before and I knew when sunrise would occur. Unfortunately, my GPS was very confused about the route to take and told me that a thirty minute drive would take more than an hour. Being a slave to GPS, I got up forty-five minutes earlier than necessary and found myself sitting at the entry gate before the gate had opened. To add insult to injury the gate didn’t open on time so I spent about an hour cooling my heels that I could have been sleeping!

The gates finally opened, but only about thirty minutes before sunrise. By the time I drove to the parking lot where the trail head to the beach was located the sky was already turning some pretty awesome shades of pink and purple. Tempted as I was to stop, I hiked double time in order to make to the beach and find a decent scene to put in front of the colorful sunrise.

When I made it to the beach it was high tide. The good news was that lots of trees were in the water and could make great subjects. The bad news was that there was precious little beach real estate available to stand on without getting my feet and my gear wet. My compromise once I found my subject tree was to scramble up another tree a bit away and shoot while perched there. It was probably a pretty funny sight to see a large man balanced in a tree with gear hanging off various tree limbs in the vicinity.

I got my shot, though. Actually I got quite a few. I posted two of those here just because I couldn’t decide which one I liked best. The pre-sunrise shot is beautiful to me because of the pastel colors in the sky and the long exposure I was able to utilize which yielded a silky ocean around the base of the tree. The second shot is attractive for obvious reasons. Seeing the sun hanging on the horizon while casting its first warm rays of the morning on the ocean and the boneyard trees makes for an interesting shot.

I hope you enjoy one or both of them. Thanks for stopping by.

Live Oak and Cooper River

Live Oak and Cooper River

This ancient live oak hangs over the Cooper River on the grounds of Mepkin Abbey

I don’t often process images in black and white, but this one seemed well suited to it. This ancient live oak is on the grounds of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. The abbey is on the grounds of a former plantation and is filled with beautiful old trees, a cemetery, and of course the monastery. The property is on the Cooper River which winds its way through the lowcountry of South Carolina to join the Atlantic Ocean in Charleston.

It’s a fun exercise to follow the roads near Charleston and Savannah looking for ones that parallel rivers. Since the original settlers used the rivers for navigation, that’s the easiest way to locate old plantation locations. My son Matt and I found this place a few years ago in just that way. Matt was so enchanted by the place that he wanted to go back on our recent exploration of the lowcountry.

We had hoped for a partly cloudy day with beautiful blue sky and passing clouds. Instead we found ourselves in a deteriorating weather situation. It became obvious that heavy rain would fall on us while we were at Mepkin Abbey. Fortunately for our photography purposes, the rain and gloom made for some very interesting images. I’m particularly fond of this shot of a live oak that has developed a distinct lean toward the Cooper River. I don’t know if the weight of the tree in the soft soil has caused the lean or if trees sometimes actually lean toward their water source. I suspect the former is the case rather than the latter. In either case, the tree dipping gracefully into Cooper River’s surface dappled by raindrops makes for a beautiful image. There’s more to come from Mepkin Abbey. Enjoy.

Alley of Oaks in Spring

Alley of Oaks in Spring

A lush carpet of green grass grows beneath this beautiful alley of oaks in Hollywood, SC

I posted an image from Hollywood, SC a few days ago. The image was of a beautiful alley of oaks leading to a beautiful house by the Edisto River. I presume that the property was a plantation site at some point based on its location. I don’t know that for certain, but whomever planted the alley of oaks certainly planned to be there for a while.

This image is of the other side of the oaks. Usually the manicured part of these alleys is the part between the trees. As there is in this location, a road usually runs through the alley. I suppose the intent is to impress guests by leading them through some magnificent landscape before they arrive at the home of the owner. In this case, the other side of the alley is equally impressive. The oaks overhang a lush green lawn making for a wonderful contrast between the deep browns and greens of the oaks and the vibrant green of the grass.

This location is like a Beatles 45 record (now I’m showing my age). The B side is often just as fun to listen to as the A side. I hope you enjoy this image nearly as much as a classic by the Beatles!

Hollywood, SC Alley of Oaks

Hollywood, SC Alley of Oaks

This alley of oaks beautifully frames the home at the end of the lane

When I visit the lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina, one of my favorite pastimes is to find old oak alleys. Many of them have survived since colonial days, but others must have been planted since then. I’m no horticulturist so I don’t have a great idea of how old the trees I am viewing truly are. The oaks in this image seem relatively young compared to others I have seen but still must be many decades, if not more than a hundred years, old. Apparently, some of these beautiful trees are as much as fifteen hundred years old.

The fact that someone had enough forethought to plant trees that would take decades to form these beautiful alleys is fascinating to me. In today’s world people are so consume by instantaneous results that few would have the patience or desire to plant in this fashion. I suppose that is why I enjoy looking out for these beautiful scenes. They are the consummate combination of nature’s beauty and man’s creative spirit.

I have a few more of these to post from other locations. Stay tuned if you enjoy these types of images.


Oconaluftee River in Late Fall

Oconaluftee River in Late Fall

Some late fall color lingers on trees and along the stream bed of the Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’m always looking for images to make on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since I often spend the night on the Tennessee side I tend to shoot there more often. So, when I travel through to the North Carolina side, I try to leave enough time to look for images there. I’m not always successful, but I certainly give it a try.

My focus is often the Oconaluftee River or one of the streams that feed it as it spills down from the higher reaches of the Smokies. On this particular trip some color lingered on the trees near the stream. In other spots the trees were completely bare. As I drove down from Newfound Gap I pulled over at each potential bend in the river to see if the view was something I wanted to photograph. The first five or six locations looked good at first but when I looked in more detail weren’t that great. When I arrived at this location I hoped for better results.

I scrambled down the stream bank and began to scout the location. I went through my mental checklist of conditions I wanted to see. Was there enough flow in the river at this point? Check. Was the stream relatively free of downed trees and other clutter? Check. Was there some color visible from overhanging trees? Check. In addition to all these, there were also some moss-covered rocks that added visual interest to the scene.

So, I set up my tripod and began to select compositions to shoot. I quickly became engrossed in my task and spent a happy hour or so clicking the shutter, moving my tripod to new locations, and generally enjoying the beauty of the scene.

I’ve included another of those compositions below. This one makes the Oconaluftee River the central element of the image. I like both for different reasons. Hopefully you will like one or both as well. Enjoy.

Oconaluftee River in Late Fall - Portrait

The Oconaluftee River with late fall color clinging to a few trees