Category Archives: GSMNP

Happy Thanksgiving – A Great Day To Be Grateful

Happy Thanksgiving. A great day to share with family and friends. Today I am grateful for natural beauty where I live. To celebrate that I’m sharing a couple of photos I entered in the Leconte Photographic Society competition last month. It is a great camera club with some awesome creative talent. So here are last month’s entries.

An extreme crop of a spideweb I was shooting, backlit with reflections of the cove in each droplet.
An extreme crop of a spideweb I was shooting, backlit with reflections of the cove in each droplet.

I’ll share one of my favorite prayers to celebrate this day. I am grateful for this prayer. If I can remember it, it will bring me through any situation I find myself in.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

This is the second photo I entered. This scene can pretty much be shot any time of year, and is always available.

A very long exposure to blur the spray flying at the bottom of this minature falls.
A very long exposure to blur the spray flying at the bottom of this miniature falls.

So I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.

Happy New Year – 2011

Any resolutions? I’ve not made any since history has shown that the grand designs imposed on New Years day typically do not work for me. A better approach for me has been using a daily resolution. Simpler and less daunting, but still requires a great deal of effort for the things that really matter. But there are things I want to change, one of them being the amount of time I spend with images, so in that vein here are a couple I took a couple days after Christmas. We had one of the largest snowfalls that I have seen since I’ve been down here. Over the Christmas weekend I believe we had around 9″ of snow, which is a lot for here. So the following Monday I headed out to Greenbrier. Basically all the roads in the park were closed, but Greenbrier is a decent spot to park at and hike in. I chose not to use the cross country skis, as they can be cumbersome and actually slow me down with that much gear. Plus the snow was very soft with an ice base so there would not be much glide using the skis.

I used two approaches for these shots, both from basically the same point. The first is a six shot HDR. I like using the HDR approach to capture a wider range of tones, but also for the dreamlike effect that can be created using it. Sometimes I will try to make the effect very subtle, as to not be noticeable, but other times I am looking for the effect to create an image that will stand out from the many images that were shot there that day. This one was done with six images, varying the shutter speed between exposures from 1.6 sec to 1/20 sec. One of the problems that day was being able to come up with a shutter speed slow enough to give some blur to the water. Even at ISO 50, I was stacking two ND grad filters, adjusted so that the dark area covered the entire lens, and still could not achieve a normal shutter speed of over a second. So the HDR effect helps the blur the water some in the final image. Here the HDR created image, after final tone and saturation adjustments in Lightrooom.

Greenbrier In Snow 6 shot HDR
Greenbrier In Snow 6 shot HDR

Here is the same shot as a single exposure after tone and color adjustments in Lightroom.

Greenbrier In Snow single exposure 1/2 sec at f16
Greenbrier In Snow single exposure 1/2 sec at f16

As you can see, the single shot has a bit more contrast and less motion blur than the HDR shot. The sensor does do a great job of capturing the range of tones in single shot though, but I do prefer the HDR image. The best advice I can give is that when you find a spot that you think is visually appealing, shoot it every which way but loose. Its always nice to have a choice when you back home and are going through the images. I spent 1/2 hour to 40 minutes at this spot for these images, and also stopped at the same spot on the way back to capture the following one because I had forgotten to capture it when I was doing the others.

This is a simple two shot pano stitched together in Photoshop. I was going to do a three shot HDR Pano, but my battery failed in the middle of shooting it. I need new batteries for my camera, so in the cold they fail really fast. I do keep them warm by placing them next my body, but once they get into the cold camera they don’t last long. Another trick you can use with a camera pack is to throw a hand warmer in a compartment with the batteries in your pack. You can only do this with a separate compartment! It is important to make sure the camera and lenses stay at ambient air temperature during your shoot. Otherwise you will have fog or ice on the lenses.

Greenbrier In Snow 2 shot Pano 1/50 sec at f16
Greenbrier In Snow 2 shot Pano 1/50 sec at f16

On this I did some brush work in lightroom to adjust the saturation in specific areas of the image after the overall tone and color adjustments.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, if you are so inclined. One of my goals (not resolutions) is to keep the blog updated more frequently, so look for more in the coming year.

Keep on clikin,


Time to put Pen to Paper

Figuratively anyway. Time to get some posts up at least.

This is the photograph that got me hooked. Technically not perfect, but the composition just spoke to me. From this point on I was committed to the art. Shot with a fixed lens 5 mp Sony on a frozen section of Lake Superior. George and I are hiking out on the lake to get to the ice caves on Mawikwe Bay. These are sea caves carved out by the waves on Lake Superior. During the winter they become a wonder land of ice falls, ice stalagtites, and other ice formations. Occasionally the lake will freeze over hard enough that you can hike out to them.

Trekking to the Mawiki Ice Caves

Trekking to the Mawikwi Ice Caves

Be sure to call before you go. The National Park Service maintains the trail as part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The water by the cliffs that you are hiking on can run up to 60′ deep, and as we well know from song, Lake Superior does not up give her dead. You don’t want to push the edge on this one.

Mawikwi Ice Caves

Mawikwi Ice Caves

As the water flows through mineral deposits, different colors appear in the ice created by it.

As the water flows through mineral deposits, different colors appear in the ice.

Vacation is Over, Time to get back In

Enough catching up. Its time to jump back in with both feet. I had been taking things a little light, getting caught up etc, etc, but now its time to get moving again. I need to feel the camera in my hands again. I got a little burned out with the gallery, but now the itch has come back. Yesterday I hiked about 5 miles up the Big Creek trail in the GSMNP. I’d almost forgot how gorgeous it is. It was an almost perfect day, largely cloudy, a bit cooler, and I took the little camera, so I could focus more on the hike and why I moved here. Days like this help get perspective remind me that I’m not in charge of things. Kudos to Darwin and all that, but it is difficult to perceive such a perfect beautiful scene could be evolved from survival of the fittist. Survival tends to bring out mean ugly details, beauty lies in the communal harmony of coexistence on a grander scale.

Anyway I took the little camera and no tripod, so I could move easier and try to get out that perfect grand scene mentality. Its time to put some fun back into the art. The little one is a Panasonic Lumix Fz50. A not bad fixed lens SLR like point and shoot. One of the biggest factors in choosing this one was ability to manually focus. So yesterday was all about enjoying the day and playing around. Sometimes its nice to just shoot the scene and not have to worry with setting a grand shot. Probably nothing print worthy out of the day, but it was an excellent shoot just for the change of perspective.

Here are a few of the shots:

A random cascade along the creek with a bit of birch bark to spice up the foreground

Another of the many cascades with a couple leaves as foreground.
Another of the many cascades with a couple leaves as foreground.

And of course you can’t pass Mouse Creek Falls without a token shot.

Mouse Creek Falls
Mouse Creek Falls

All in all, a very good day, just to be out clikin.

Gotta do some real work now. Keep on clikin.


Spring has Sprung!

Or least the flowers are popping up. The Dogwoods and Redbuds outside the park have had a happy spring, the ones inside the park are not popping yet. We had some cold weather last week that may have slowed them down a bit. I saw very few flowering Dogwoods in the Greenbrier area this Saturday, and only 1 Redbud. The Cosby area had a number of Dogwoods flowering, but it looked like the cold affected them, the blooms did not have the usual white pop to them. Good news for the Trillium though, they are going strong along the Porter Creek Trail. Yellow Trillium are very abundant, and the Large Flower Trillium, and Sweet White Trilliumare plentiful. Pahcelia is blanketing the the forest floor and areas, and if you look close you can find Dutchmans Breeches in full bloom. The Crested Dwarf Iris along this trail have about a week to go, although I heard they are already blooming near the Ramsey’s Cascade trailhead. It looks to be a good year for wild flowers, providing we don’t have any suprises through the spring. Here are a few shots from Saturday. These have not been edited yet but they will give you an idea of what is going on.

Back to work. Keep on clikin!


The Perfect Snow

I have been remiss again. This post should have been a couple weeks ago.

We are expecting a gorgeous St Patty’s day in Gatlinburg. The parade today is a combination Santa/St Patricks day parade, so I guess we are in for a red, white, and green day.  Should be interesting.

Last Tuesday I hiked up toward Spruce Flats Falls in shorts and a tshirt. The Tuesday before I was shooting in 6″ of snow at about 15 degrees.  Thats the kind of variety I love. The great thing is, that at lower elevations we only had a dusting of snow. Snow you visit and then leave. Thats what I call the perfect snow.

I had to “crab” my way under the rhododendrons, the branches were reaching the ground in places due to the weight of the snow. The cold also meant there where some nice ice formations in the rivers.

W prong Little Pigeon River
W prong Little Pigeon River

All in all I love the variety here.  I was bummed this morning because the fog seemed perfect this morning. But alas I had to come open the shop. I would have loved to be shooting instead. I did snap a couple from the back porch though.

It looks to be a great wild flower show this year. The Barlet Pears and Daffodils are in full bloom, and the Redbuds and Dogwoods are starting to strut their stuff. If we don’t have a late freeze, with the amount of water we have had lately it should be a good year.

That’s all for now, got to go back to work.

Remember, today is important because I am trading a day of life for it.



Is Winter Over?

It almost seems as if winter has decided to leave town. While I’m sure there will be more cold nights to come, having temperatures in the upper 60’s makes me wonder. We have a storm bearing down on us today, but that will be rain and wind. Although once it passes we will return to more normal seasonal temperatures of lows around freezing and highs in the 40’s.

It will be a rough day hiking today. The showers are projected to start around 1pm, and will bring wind gusts up to 60 mph. A good gale force blow. Yesterday though was almost ideal. I hiked up the Mt Sterling trail to the fire tower and campsite there, and then hiked a little ways down the Mt Sterling trail. For the uphill I definitely did not need the jacket. The trail starts from Cove Creek road (Old NC 284). Getting to the trail head was the adventurous part. When I got to the point where the road enters the park, a ranger was coming up the road. He asked where I was going. When I told him I was going to the Mt Sterling trailhead he said it was iffy for my little Hyundai Tiburon because of the mud on the road. He was right it was a little iffy at times surfing the shark on the steep switchbacks going up. But the little guy weighs about as much as a tricked out go kart, so I was able to get enough traction to keep going. Although it was pretty interesting at times. The hike from Cove Creek road is relatively steep. The trail ascends about 1900 feet over 2.7 miles. The trail is rocky in parts, to too much mud considering it is also a horse trail. I’ve never seen horse trailers at the trail head though. Its a pretty constant slope up. Once at the the top where the trail meets the Mt Sterling Ridge trail, it is a short hike to the fire tower and campsite #38, which is one of the higher campsites in the park. The view from the fire tower is spectacular, although the haze yesterday precluded any good shots. But this was more of a scouting trip anyway. The mountain top is covered in Firs, so the only scenic views are from the fire tower. It is open so it is accessible. At the top you are shooting through small window panes though so shooting panoramas from the top of the tower would be difficult. All in all it was nice hike. Beautiful weather for a February day, light jacket was all that was needed. I took the little camera on this hike (Panasonic Lumix FZ50 point and shoot) and forgot about shooting a little video while I was up there. The hills were definitely blue yesterday. So far this looks to be one of the best spots I’ve found for Sunrise shots, although you would pretty much have to camp up there to get it. And definitely not be afraid of heights. You would have to be very self conscious of your footing in the fire tower to make sure you do not fall through the opening. Especially while it is dark. So not an easy shot to get. But I may go for it in March.

Mt Sterling Firetower - View to the west
Mt Sterling Firetower - View to the west

For February though It was a great hike. Gorgeous weather. I would not want be up there today though. Despite the fact that my car probably would not make it after it gets the downpours today, and the winds gusting to 60 mph in a little box 100 feet off the earth, supported by a metal tower, with possible lightning strikes……… I don’t think so. Not worth the shot today.

Mt Sterling Fire Tower
Mt Sterling Fire Tower
A little hot and cold
A little hot and cold

Have a great today

Keep on clickn.

I guess we’ll get a little winter after all

We just had a couple of days with single digit lows, cold enough for here, but it definitely beats the 25 below in Aurora, IL. I think I can live with this. It was nice to get out and get a couple shots yesterday morning. I haven’t done any below freezing work lately. I stopped at Noisy Falls on the way to Pigeon Forge for the Smokies Wilderness Week. The cascade was pretty much frozen over with just a few spots where you could still see the water flowing. It had some nice formations on it, but the falls are a pretty busy scene so in the shots of the whole cascade its kinda tough to find something for your eye to rest on. Shooting the 100 to 400 yielded some not bad close ups though. I’ll have to see what they look like after a little processing. For some reason I decided not to shoot a vertical panorama of it, settling for straight hdr shots. I was there in mid day so I was also shooting into the sun which may or may not yield a decent image. I don’t think I’ve done an extensive HDR shot with the sun in the image yet, so I will have to see how that turns out. I did a 6 shot HDR at 1 stop increments, so hopefully I can cover the range and maybe get a decent fire and ice kind of theme. After about 1/2 hour though the battery in the camera died, and the backup did not have much charge to it, so its time to take the batteries out of the camera bag and put them in my coat pocket so they will stay warm. I was out to big creek a couple weeks ago practicing the HDR panoramic technique, and shot a 10 shot pano x 3 shot HDR for a 30 shot composition. That’s a lot of fun to process. After processing each of the 10 shots for the HDR, I have to split the photomerge into to 2 5 shot batches and then merge those together. I’m only getting 3 gb memory on my main computer so photoshop was choking on me. The resulting image was 2.8 GB, but once I flattened and cropped the image it was just under 2 GB. If I decide to print it, at 24 inches tall it will be roughly 6 1/2 feet wide. It may make a decent canvas. It covered about 270 degrees at Midnight Pool so it covers the area before the pool with the interesting tree roots, all the way around to the downstream view of Big Creek. Right now I’m mostly trying to get a good handle on the technique, so that when spring hits I’ll be comfortable with it. It’s a lot of fun seeing what the camera can do, but it does require quite a bit of backend processing.

Todays forecast calls for a decent chance of snow later and tonight, continuing through Monday and a slight chance Tuesday. Accumulation will probably not be more than an inch in Gatlinburg, although they could get 2-4 inches around Newfound Gap. We did have some freezing rain in the area last night so 321 north of Gatlinburg was pretty slick early this morning, although it was mostly gone by the time I went through it. There were quite a few areas around that had slick roads, with I-40 being closed for a while west of Knoxville.

If possible plan ahead for next year to catch Wilderness Week in Pigeon Forge. It is a great event with lots of info on photography, music history,  and everything Smokies related, including classes on dowsing! And its free! Its tough to beat this one.

Have a great day! And keep on clicking.