Tag Archives: great smokies

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

Posted in Landscape Photography, Locations | Also tagged , , , , , 37,026 Comments

Finding a Fresh Perspective

This particular dogwood in Great Smoky Mountains National Park blooms along the Middle Prong of the Little River in the Tremont region of the park every spring. And, every spring, photographers line up to take very similar images of it. Part of the similarity is dictated by location (hard to access or shoot anything but cross-river shots) and part is due to familiarity and the location becoming a ‘standard’ shot in many ways. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a beautiful location, the usual composition works quite well and it’s easily accessible. For the passerby or non-local visiting photographer, it’s an easy “keeper.” But, for me, I enjoy seeking out fresh perspectives on common photographs, particularly in my “backyard”, the Great Smokies. Now, before I continue, I should add a quick disclaimer. I don’t mean to start a debate about which image is better or worse, the ‘typical’ shot is good for a reason and the two are decidedly different. The other image is given for reference and not as competition.

Middle Prong Spring

Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 17-40 L @ 20mm, 0.3 s, f/11, ISO 200, Circular Polarizing Filter.

For this shot, I utilized one of the most simple and effective ways for changing your perspective when photographing moving water, GETTING IN! Before you hop in any water with your camera gear, it’s a good idea to take an insurance plan covering loss and damage. While you likely won’t slip and fall, it could (and does) happen and it’s much, much better to be safe than sorry afterward.

Back to the photograph, I got into the water with the initial plan of getting a bit closer and giving the image the feeling of being more intimate. But, once in, I started playing with shutter speeds and quickly settled on ¼ of a second because it gave both the sense of motion I wanted, but also left a bit of clarity in the many smaller cascades. A portrait composition yielded a wonderful leading line that had the exposure been any longer, would have been lost in the motion of the river. This line combined with slightly cooler than usual post-processing gives the photo a very different feeling than the usual. I used a polarizing filter for this image to help saturate the wet foliage (it had rained recently) and to control the exact amount of reflection so that my leading line cascade would be the most prominent.

For reference, I have photographed this dogwood in the more ‘standard’ way and actually sell quite a few prints of it, I’ve titled it Smoky Mountain Spring for obvious reasons.

Smoky Mountain Spring

Canon 5D + Canon 17-40 L @ 20mm, 1.6 s, f/14, ISO 100, Circular Polarizing 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. And, if you’d like to share this article via the aforementioned social media websites, that can be done below as well and is greatly appreciated.

- Scott Hotaling

Posted in About The Image | Also tagged , , , 40,663 Comments

Winter Beauty

First of all, welcome to the new Light of the Wild blog. I’ll be updating this regularly with insight, photos and general musings about the natural world and how us photographers relate to it. For now, the best way to keep up with updates is via my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter or catch me on Facebook.

That said, it’s starting to get very hot here in the North Carolina mountains and that’s making me miss the cold and snows of winter, greatly. I’m an unusual soul in that I particularly enjoy what most would consider miserable conditions. Cold, snow, sleet, wind… bring it on. So, with that said, please enjoy a few of my favorite images from a wonderful 2011 winter on this first day of June.

Mount LeConte Winter:

 

Mount LeConte Winter

After a grueling backpack up the Alum Cave trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was greeted with 14″ of fresh snow on the summit of Mount LeConte. A frigid night gave way to a clear morning at Myrtle Point as rolling fog hung in the valleys at dawn. This is an image that I had in my mind’s eye for years and it was a real pleasure to see it all come together.

1.6 s @ f/14, ISO 200. Canon 5D Mark II with 17-40 L at 20mm. 2-stop hard-line graduated neutral density filter was used to control the exposure.

Alpine Light:

 

If the Colorado Rockies have one winter trademark, it’s wind. Cold, slicing, demoralizing wind. It seems to perpetually pound downslope from the 13,000′+ summits with little care or interest in whatever happens to be in its path. On this particular morning in the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park, I was climbing towards Longs Peak when I was greeted by a ferocious amount of wind. It was impossible to keep my balance during the hardest gusts so I decided rather than going for any summits that morning that I would take advantage of the wild conditions for some photographs.

Having given myself plenty of time to reach the summit of Longs Peak before dawn, I had around a 2-hour wait until the sun rose. Luckily, I brought a shovel with me for the trip and proceeded to excavate a wonderful snow cave/shelter just below treeline to wait until dawn. This image was shot looking directly downslope with the wind at my back. The “fog” is actually ice-laden wind!

1/13 @ f/18, ISO 200. Canon 5D Mark II with 17-40 L at 28mm. No filters.

Winter Spirit:

 

Finding compositional order in a chaotic forest can be one of the most difficult challenges a nature photographer faces. Stumbling around this particular grove of hardwoods near Soco Gap along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I finally settled on this composition looking up with the rising sun peeking into the frame. The jigsaw puzzle canopy frames this large tree in the center in a way that I could not have envisioned ahead of time.

1/125 @ f/18, ISO 160. Canon 5D Mark II with 17-40 L at 20mm. 2-stop soft-line graduated neutral density filter was used to control the exposure. No other filters used.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them below. I’m looking forward to the future of this blog and will be constantly on the lookout for ways to improve it.

- Scott Hotaling

Posted in Collection | Also tagged , , , , , , 50,889 Comments