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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.

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- Scott Hotaling

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