Tag Archives: spring

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

Evolution River

As a landscape photographer, it’s practically inevitable that for a lot of people my work be defined by a single image. That’s just the nature of the beast and frankly, it’s something that I embrace. Knowing that every photograph I take could be the only representation of my craft a person ever sees pushes me to work that much harder to make every image truly special. Or, to put it more bluntly, to never settle for the mundane.

Evolution River is a photograph that has fallen into that role brilliantly. I don’t mind being known for it because it symbolizes everything I’m proud of in my work. The location is remote, the conditions necessary for the image are extremely rare and at the risk of sounding arrogant (which isn’t my intention), it’s one of my best compositions. The photograph has taken on a life of it’s own as a centerpiece in many home art collections, winner of a variety of awards and the most asked about photograph in my collection by a landslide. This “life” of the image is one I’m more than happy to cultivate as it sheds positive light on the rest of what I do as well as the incredible beauty that can be found in the Appalachian mountains.

Evolution River

Canon 5D + Canon 17-40 L @ 17mm, 3.2 seconds @ f/16, ISO 100, 2-stop Soft Grad. ND & Circular Polarizing Filter.

First off, I’ll address an incredibly common question, Evolution River is not a real river. It’s just a name I’ve given this very off-the-beaten path location in the Cullasaja Gorge of western North Carolina. For those unfamiliar with ‘the Gorge’, it’s a wonderfully steep stretch of river located between Franklin and Highlands, North Carolina that parallels Highway 64. Anyways, this spot looks like something out a fairy tale to me. Big waterfalls, cascades, foliage closing in… it’s dramatic in a manner that I’ve very rarely seen in the eastern United States. And, since it’s in a deep canyon, the light falls in incredible ways depending on cloud cover, season, etc. If you can’t already tell, this is an important locale for me and it’s the location that has produced two of my favorite works. This is one of them, the other, Cullasaja Autumn can be seen here.

Photographing mountain waterfalls and streams is already a challenge. But, photographing waterfalls and streams where big waterfalls run like stairs around you is an even more difficult proposition. Every step has to be carefully selected as well as what conditions (weather, water levels, etc) you consider safe to ensure not only perpetuation of the gear in working order but perpetuation of life and limb too. It’s taken me a long time to figure out where to stand, where to cross, where the deep holes are, etc. in this gorge. That knowledge opens up a world of possibilities that weren’t there for me when I first discovered this spot in spring of 2004.

For this particular photograph, a hole in the bedrock swallows a large portion of the river. Seriously. It’s incredible. It’s captivating and I spent a couple of years trying to figure out just how in the world to shoot it and make the visual impact of being there translate to my audience. In order to capture the foreground hole and the distant falls, an incredibly precarious (but safe enough under the right conditions) position must be taken. Whenever I photograph this location, I kneel down or even sit in the water when shooting. Larger contact area on the river bottom and much more comfortable for knees/feet. Just colder, which is fine with me. Early morning light filtering into the canyon gave me the soft distant light I envisioned and a long shutter speed added a dynamic aspect that was very important. I used a 2-stop soft graduated neutral density filter to bring a bit of more balance to the exposure that my eye could see but camera couldn’t. A circular polarizer allowed me to control reflections and increase the wet saturation in the foliage.

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 About The Image, Landscape Photography | Also tagged , , , 48,757 Comments

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

Posted in Landscape Photography, Locations | Also tagged , , 36,671 Comments