Category Archives: Locations

Roaring Fork Falls

It’s always interesting to me to visit waterfalls at dawn. Not an hour after, not on an overcast day necessarily, but at sunrise. Hiking in the dark and being there at the earliest hour. Some of my favorite waterfall images have come from these types of adventures and, while not always productive, they’re always a good start to the day.

Roaring Fork Falls is a waterfall I’ve visited many times but never been able to get a compelling image of. Whether it was water level, down trees, time of year, whatever. It just never came together. On Monday, my original plan was to shoot the sunrise from somewhere near the Mount Mitchell or Craggy Pinnacle area as the forecast of rain/fog is actually exactly what I like to hear for good light and drama in the skies. But, when I arrived in the area about an hour early (~5:15) I found dense fog with no signs of it letting up. Now, most times I would have waited and seen what would happen at sunrise but on this particular morning, I was tired and slightly frustrated (it was a 1.5 hour drive to get there) so I changed plans and headed to Roaring Fork Falls.

When I got parked and walked the easy 1/2 mile in,  it was about 20 minutes before sunrise so things were light enough to not need a headlamp. The composition was obvious… get in the big pool in front of the falls and shoot the zigzagging lines coming down whilst point the cascade to the bottom left of the frame. As the light got stronger, I noticed a discrepancy between the upper right corner (brighter) and the rest of the scene that wasn’t working out well for my long exposure times I needed. So, I used a 2-stop hard-line graduated neutral density filter to hold that part of the scene back. In post-processing, this decision required a bit of dodging and burning to hide my filter use (pretty typical). What resulted was an interesting exposure and one that has surprising depth for a cascading river scene.

Roaring Fork Falls

Canon 5D Mark II + 17-40 L @ 20mm, 20 seconds at f/14, ISO 200. Circular Polarizer, 2-stop Hard Grad. ND (hand-held).

As always, the best way to keep up with updates is via my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter or catch me on Facebook. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or shoot me an email via the form on the right side of the page. If you’d like to share this article via the aforementioned social media websites, that can be done below as well.

- Scott Hotaling


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The Oconaluftee River

At times, I’ve heard the Oconaluftee referred to as the “lifeblood of the Smokies” and as far as the east side of the park goes, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Hundreds of small streams and tributaries drain the airy heights of peaks like Clingmans Dome, all coming together to produce a formidable amount of water by the time the river makes its way to the gateway town of Cherokee, North Carolina.

For the image below, Mountain Cascade, I waited until a late afternoon thunderstorm had recently rolled through the mountains and was beginning to clear. As it did, I changed into swimming trunks and waded into a nearly waist deep pool of water below a cascade I’d visited on many occasions. With fog hanging along the banks of the river and warm, late evening light filtering through the trees, conditions were perfect. I used a 2-stop soft  graduated neutral density to control the overall dynamic range, the filter was  placed at an angle from right to left, following the line between river and surrounding foliage. The subtle curvature of the river, the angling foreground cascade and lush greens of the foliage all came together wonderfully.

Mountain Cascade

Canon 5D + 17-40 L @ 24mm, 6.0 seconds @ f/16, ISO 100. 2-stop Soft Graduated ND Filter + Circular Polarizer.

In the spring and summer, and on rare winter days after a snowfall, the Oconaluftee is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But, with throngs of visitors focusing their time on the western side of the park, it’s also surprisingly quiet for much of the year. This is especially remarkable considering the overall popularity of the park with its nearly 15 million visitors each year. It’s all too easy to ignore the Oconaluftee as you race up Highway 441 to the higher, more dramatic areas of the park.

Oconaluftee Spring

Canon 5D + 17-40 L @ 20mm, 5.0 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100. Circular Polarizer.

Usually, downstream compositions aren’t as compelling as those looking upstream. But, in this particular case, I found the early morning light and bend in the river to be strong enough elements to create a photograph around. When composing this shot, I was care to not crowd the little wisp of a cascade in the bottom right as I feel the line it makes coming into the shot is very important to the photograph’s overall success.

As always, the best way to keep up with updates is via my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter or catch me on Facebook. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or shoot me an email via the form on the right side of the page. If you’d like to share this article via the aforementioned social media websites, that can be done below as well.

- Scott Hotaling

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Black Balsam

Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, the Black Balsam area is a stunning, year-round location for productive landscape photography. Sandwiched between Devils Courthouse and Graveyard Fields, it’s easy to overlook the small spur road that leads off the Parkway to one of two parking locations in the area. But, those that know it’s there don’t forget! The first parking area is around 1 mile up the road and provides great (quick!) access through a forest to the open ridges and peaks the Black Balsam area is unique and famous for. The second parking area is a bit farther up the road where it dead-ends and provides a bit more typical parking with a small pit-style restroom. From here, a leisurely stroll along a level road-grade leads into the backcountry. The Art Loeb Trail passes through the area and if followed for a few extra miles, it eventually runs into the beautiful Shining Rock.

In spring and summer the balds consistently see thunderstorm activity as clouds, wind and harsh (compared to surrounding areas) weather rolls through. The ridge between Black Balsam Knob down to the saddle before nearby Tennent Mountain is one of my favorites for shooting crepuscular rays as seen below in my recent image Appalachian Light.

Appalachian Light

Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 17-40 L @ 40mm, 1/40 @ f/13, ISO 200. 3-stop Hard-line Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Winter brings more difficult access and greater reward, a common theme not only in the Appalachian Range but anywhere. A closed Blue Ridge Parkway means a ~3.5 miles hike or ski is required to access Black Balsam from the Highway 215 junction. But, for the hearty soul that makes the adventure after a snowstorm, beautiful scenes await.

Winter Flame

Canon 5D + Canon 17-40 L @ 24mm, 1/15 @ f/16, ISO 200. 2-stop Hard-line Graduated Neutral Density Filter

As always, the best way to keep up with updates is via my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter or catch me on Facebook. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or shoot me an email via the form on the right side of the page. If you’d like to share this article via the aforementioned social media websites, that can be done below.

- Scott Hotaling

Also posted in Landscape Photography | Tagged , , , | 36,624 Comments