Monday, March 23, 2015

SEVEN DAYS WITH THE FUJI X-T1

The first place I headed after landing in San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. 1/200 @ f9, ISO 200.
The first place I headed after landing in San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. 1/200 @ f9, ISO 200.
I recently spent seven days in and around San Francisco, California, with the Fujifilm X-T1. The X-T1 is the fourth of the Fuji X cameras that I've had the chance to use, starting with the X-10 in 2012 and most recently the X-Pro1 during seven days in New York. Of course, my everyday carry camera continues to be the X100S.
Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera. Photo courtesy of Fujifilm.com
Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera. Photo courtesy of Fujifilm.com
As with the X-Pro1 and my first experience with the X100S, I rented the X-T1 along with the 18-55mm kit lens and a spare battery from Borrowlenses.com. Before a review camera arrives, I download the manual, then read and watch other reviews or tutorials in order to familiarize myself with all the features. Then once the camera arrives I check to make sure the firmware has been updated and in this case while the camera was up-to-date, I did have to update the lens.

I never really felt as comfortable doing street photography with this camera as I have with previous Fuji X rangefinders such as the X-Pro1 and the X100S. 1/15 @ f6.4, ISO 200.
I never really felt as comfortable doing street photography with this camera as I have with previous Fuji X rangefinders such as the X-Pro1 and the X100S. 1/15 @ f6.4, ISO 200.
Right out of the box I liked Fuji's attention to detail and style. The camera felt nice in my hands and the shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO dials were solid and easily accessible on top of the camera. In fact, once I went through the electronic menus and set up my preferences, I did not have to return to them for most shooting situations. Fuji really has this down and with the Q menu feature, which is now standard, your most used menu items are only one-click away, and if not, then you can customize them.

I found the 18-55mm lens very sharp at all focal lengths and appreciated the zoom, especially during this review period where I was covering a variety of scenes. 1/13 @ f4.5, ISO 200.
I found the 18-55mm lens very sharp at all focal lengths and appreciated the zoom, especially during this review period where I was covering a variety of scenes. 1/13 @ f4.5, ISO 200.
Three things I noticed right away that made this camera different from previous Fuji cameras I've reviewed. It is not a rangefinder, the SD card slot is separate from the battery chamber and there is a tiltable LCD screen. Two of these I really liked.

The rangefinder is what first attracted me to the Fuji cameras and it remains what I like best about my X100S. In the X100S and the X-Pro1 you have a choice between an Optical Viewfinder (OVF) and an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), but with the X-T1 you only have the EVF. And while the EVF is good, using it all the time felt like I was missing something. a connection with my subjects. This was especially true when I was shooting in continuous focus mode and it never seemed to lock focus. When I took the photo and the preview would appear, the photo was sharp, but while framing shots the focus just never seemed to lock in, even with camera on a tripod.

Having a tiltable LCD screen meant that it was extremely easy to take this shot with the camera pointing straight up. 0.3 sec @ f14, ISO 200.
Having a tiltable LCD screen meant that it was extremely easy to take this shot with the camera pointing straight up. 0.3 sec @ f14, ISO 200.
I never gave tiltable LCD screens a second thought. In fact, when reading rumors of an X-Pro2 it always mentioned a tiltable screen and I would roll my eyes. However after using the tiltable screen on the X-T1, I think I'm a convert and found myself using it often. It saved me from laying on my stomach when shooting macro or low angles and seemed to be a wonderful option when shooting straight up.

Lastly, having the card slot separate from the battery compartment seems insignificant, but there were definitely times when it comes in handy. Such as when the camera was mounted on a tripod (or has the tripod plate attached) it is nice to still be able to access the camera card. Maybe it is just me, but I always seem to release the battery when what I really want to do is eject the camera card, and this eliminates any chances of that. Although I think the real reason Fuji did this was to accommodate the vertical battery grip which I'm sure also adds balance to the camera, especially with longer lenses attached.

Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f 2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom lens. Photo courtesy of www.bhphotovideo.com
Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f 2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom lens. Photo courtesy of www.bhphotovideo.com
During the review, I used the Fujinon XF18-55mm f 2.8-4.0 zoom lens "kit lens." A "kit lens" normally denotes an inexpensive starter lens that comes with a camera, but I found that this lens performed very well. I noticed good contrast and sharpness throughout the zoom range and nothing felt "cheap" about it. One feature I did miss was having the f-stops printed on the lens barrel. I typically shoot in aperture priority mode, so knowing what f-stop I'm at is critical to controlling my exposure. When walking around with my camera, I'm always checking my camera settings so that as light or situations change, I can make adjustments before I'm ready to shoot. With this lens, I had to bring the camera up to my eye and look into the viewfinder. A new Fujinon XF 16-55mm f2.8 lens is now available and would have been my choice if street or low light photography was my goal. 

This camera does not have a built in ND filter like the X100S, so the slowest shutter speed I could get was 1/18 in this situation when I would have preferred something slower. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.
This camera does not have a built in ND filter like the X100S, so the slowest shutter speed I could get was 1/18 in this situation when I would have preferred something slower. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.
The 18-55mm lens has Optical Image Stabilization, which I left it on during the entire review period, so I don't have any examples of it turned off for comparison, however, looking at my photos now, even shots taken hand-held at fairly slow shutter speeds, they are sharp. A small lens shade is included, although I experienced considerable lens flare, even with the sun at 90 degrees. This is something I did not notice when using the XF 35 f 1.4 lens during my review of the X-Pro1.

One thing about carrying a mirrorless camera, I am much more likely to notice shots like this during lunch in Sausalito. 1/140 @ f5, ISO 400.
One thing about carrying a mirrorless camera, I am much more likely to notice shots like this during lunch in Sausalito. 1/140 @ f5, ISO 400.
I spent the majority of the seven days shooting landscape or outdoor scenes with the camera on a tripod which is very different than my previous reviews of the X-Pro1 and the X100S. So while that let me learn a few things about this camera, it really made me feel like I was missing what I really like about Fuji X cameras - street photography. The X100S and the X-Pro1 are naturals for street photography, but I just never got the same feel with this camera. For some reason, I also seemed to draw more attention to myself with this camera. The lens does stick out from the body which might be more intimidating, or I maybe I just didn't appear comfortable or casual while carrying it.

There is built-in WiFi that when paired with an IOS or Android device, lets you browse and transfer images or control the camera remotely. After some initial difficulty getting the camera to pair with my phone*, I found that it worked well. And it was useful to browse photos and transfer some for sharing on social media which I previously did using an Eyefi Mobi card. What I really would have found useful in this App, is to have the film simulation modes so I could process the photos without having to do it in-camera first.  

Like with previous cameras, I set the X-T1 to shoot Raw + JPEG with the JPEG set to MONOCHROME + Ye filter. With the Firmware V3.00 update, you will be able to enable the classic chrome film simulation mode. 1/600 @ f7.1, ISO 400.
Like with previous cameras, I set the X-T1 to shoot Raw + JPEG with the JPEG set to MONOCHROME + Ye filter. With the Firmware V3.00 update, you will be able to enable the classic chrome film simulation mode. 1/600 @ f7.1, ISO 400.
Final thoughts. This is another nice camera from Fuji and I would have no problem recommending it to someone as their primary camera, even to someone considering going pro. If, however, you already own a DSLR and are looking for a second camera to carry around every day or when working the streets, then I would stick with the X100S or the new X100T.

But you know what I really want is an update to the X-Pro1. An updated rangefinder with interchangeable lenses. Now that's what will get me to spend my money.

*I originally downloaded the wrong App, which wasn't very clear in the Play Store. And based on the one-star reviews, I don't think I was only person making this mistake.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

PHOTOGRAPHING THE KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL

Bourbon barrels aging at Woodford Reserve. 1/15 @ f2.0, ISO 400.
Bourbon barrels aging at Woodford Reserve. 1/15 @ f2.0, ISO 400.
Two weeks ago on my way to photograph the Great Smoky Mountains I decided to spend a few days traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. What? Yes there is such a thing as a bourbon trail. In 1999 the Kentucky Distillers' Association formed the bourbon trail to educate visitors on the rich history and traditions of bourbon, which in 1964 Congress declared a "distinctive product of the United States."

Okay, so now that we've determined that there is such a thing as the bourbon trail, what does it have to do with photography? And that's a fair question. Although I often enjoy a glass of bourbon following a day of shooting or while editing my photographs, it was really a decision to document journey along the trail via social media which brings us closer to a photography theme. Like many of my trips I choose to shoot all the photos with my Fujifilm X100S 16.3 Megapixel Mirrorless Camera*, only this time I used a 16 GB Eyefi Mobi SDHC Card** paired via WiFi to my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. Now I had a blog post.

So while you enjoy a few photos of my trip, this really is a blog post about using the Eyefi Mobi with the goal of posting one Instagram photo and a Tweet following each of the nine stops along the bourbon trail. Besides, can you think of a better way to test this setup?

Early morning light at the Brown-Forman distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. I always seem to be drawn to oversize versions of everyday items. 1/640 @ f5.6, ISO 200.
Early morning light at the Brown-Forman distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. I always seem to be drawn to oversize versions of everyday items. 1/640 @ f5.6, ISO 200.
Before I go any further, you might be wondering if my goal was to simply share photos on Instagram and Twitter, why didn't I just take the photos with my cell phone, which after all is capable of taking decent quality images. Yes, it is true that I could have just used my phone, but as a photographer who has a camera with him all the time, why sacrifice quality and future use of the photos beyond the immediacy of social. The best camera is a camera.

What is the Eyefi Mobi and does it make sense for you?

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

From their website:
Add instant photo transfer to the camera you own. Eyefi Mobi sends pictures from your DSLR or point and shoot camera to your phone, tablet or desktop as soon as you take them so you can kiss the cords goodbye.
Sounds pretty simple and it is. Download and launch the Eyefi App, enter the 10-digit activation code located on the device., put the card in the camera and shoot a few jpeg images, then watch as they appear on your device. It really is that easy. I have the App running on both an Android phone and iPad 2 tablet.

All the ingredients to make bourbon are in these tank at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. 1/70 @ f5.6, ISO 200.
All the ingredients to make bourbon are in these tank at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. 1/70 @ f5.6, ISO 200.
Advantages:

Provides instant backup. It's nice to have an instant backup of your images without even having to think about it. As always with my Fuji, I have it configured to shoot jpeg+raw, so as the jpegs are backed up instantly and ready to share, I simply download the raw files (and jpegs) to my hard drive at the end of each day.

High quality images ready to share. I can't emphasize enough how nice it is to not have to compromise quality just because you want to share your work over the internet quickly. I retain all the advantages of my Fujifilm X100S camera, including the ability to capture raw photos, while still being able to share almost instantly. You do have to leave your camera on.

Open fermentation tanks at the Woodford Reserve distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. 1/320 @ f2.0, ISO 800.
Open fermentation tanks at the Woodford Reserve distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. 1/320 @ f2.0, ISO 800.

Disadvantages:

Only transfers jpegs. Not a big deal if you are using this as I do, transferring to a phone or tablet for quick sharing to social media. However if you using this as the only means of transferring photos from you camera to computer, it could be a problem.

Camera battery drain. The biggest issue I have experienced when using the Eyefi is that my camera battery drains about twice as fast. Also, as the battery level gets low, photos will stop transferring. You will need a second battery for your camera.
Take note of the shutters at the Makers Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. 1/420 @ f8, ISO 400.
Take note of the shutters at the Makers Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. 1/420 @ f8, ISO 400.
Conclusion:

Even though once in a while I noticed that the WiFi connection had dropped and photos didn't transfer, it was very rare and easily remedied by turning the camera on and off or reconnecting the WiFi through the phone settings. Actually, the biggest problem was getting a phone signal in some of the remote Kentucky locations.

While this isn't my everyday SD card, it does serve a real purpose and combined with low cost and ease of use, should be an easy decision to make the purchase.

For those that may be wondering, my Tweets along the trail have been some of my most favorited and retweeted posts since I joined Twitter in 2008. And I have the high-resolution images to prove it.

The bottling line at Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Kentucky. None of the distilleries I visited put any restrictions on still photography, although a few requested no video be recorded. 1/25 @ f5.6, ISO 800.
The bottling line at Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Kentucky. None of the distilleries I visited placed any restrictions on still photography, although a few requested no video be recorded. 1/25 @ f5.6, ISO 800.

The Fujifilm X100S is becoming harder to get and has been replaced by the Fujifilm X100T which I have not had the chance to try. The Fujifilm X-T1 has built-in WiFi.

** The list of cameras that this device works with is long, however you should still check for camera compatibility on their site.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

PHOTOGRAPHING IN THE GREAT SMOKIES - FINAL DAY

Smoky Stream. 8 @ f20, ISO 100, two graduated ND filters stacked.
Smoky Stream. 8 @ f20, ISO 100, two graduated ND filters stacked.
Day three and the final day of this trip started at 6 a.m. with a 16 mile drive from Gatlinburg to the Newfound Gap Overlook. When I planned this trip, this location is what I had been most looking forward too as the place where I would get the iconic shot of the Great Smoky Mountains.

When I started the drive that morning I knew that the photo probably wasn't going to happen. It was drizzling and visibility was not good, and that was at the bottom of the mountain. Well sure enough when I reached the overlook at 5,046 foot right on the Tennessee - North Carolina border, it was socked it. I don't give up easily while on location, however after two and a half hours of waiting, I was pretty sure that it wasn't going to clear up.

While the clouds blocked any chance of a view from the summit, just below it there were short glimpses of the mountainside. 1/400 @ f9, ISO 400.
While the clouds blocked any chance of a view from the Newfound Gap overlook, just below it there were short glimpses of the mountainside. 1/400 @ f9, ISO 400.
While it was clear that I would have to wait until another time to get the iconic shot, there had to be something to photograph. As I mentioned yesterday, there are pull-offs along the Newfound Gap Road, so I figured I would head back down the mountain to see if it was any clearer and if there was something - anything, to photograph.

I came across a stream running down the mountain that looked like I would be able to access it from a pull-off a short distance away. Photographing a stream was also the perfect opportunity to work with my Cokin Z Pro Series ND Graduated Filter Kit in order to slow the shutter long enough to achieve the silky look of the running water. Because these filters are 4x6 inches, I was able to use them in an unconventional way, to cover the entire front of my 24-70mm lens. Further, I doubled up the filters in order to slow the shutter speed to between 4-10 seconds, but still maintain a proper exposure. In a future post I will go into much more detail on using these filters.

When something on the side of the road catches your eye you have to make a decision as to whether or not you are going to make a u-turn and photograph it. I urge you to make more u-turns. 1/300 @ f8, ISO 200.
When something on the side of the road catches your eye you have to make a decision as to whether or not you are going to make a u-turn and photograph it. I urge you to make more u-turns. 1/300 @ f8, ISO 200.
Finally, I decided that I would just head down the mountain and start making my way to Boone, N.C., via the Blue Ridge Parkway, but first I made a stop at the Cataloochee visitors center. There I verified with the park ranger that it was not going to clear up. Instinctively I probably knew that, but it never hurts to check with someone who knows the area well. Even more so since I was seeing blue skies and nice clouds, it was good to have the reassurance that nothing had changed at the summit.

Right after leaving the visitors center my plans changed when I was confronted by a closed Blue Ridge Parkway. I wrote in my original post about doing research before a trip and I did plenty on the Great Smoky Mountains, but the extent of my research on getting to Boone from Gatlinburg via the Parkway was to simply look at a map. When I finally had cell coverage and pulled up their website, I saw that many of the sections I wanted to drive were closed during the winter of 2014 - 2015 for repairs. (There is also a real-time road closure website.)

Along the very short section of the Blue Ridge Parkway I traveled there were plenty of scenic overlooks, without much of a grand view, but these trees still proved interesting when taken from a low angle with a 14-24mm, 1/125 @ f22, ISO 200
Along the very short section of the Blue Ridge Parkway I traveled there were plenty of scenic overlooks, without much of a grand view, but these trees still proved interesting when taken from a low angle with a 14-24mm, 1/125 @ f22, ISO 200

Now that a nice leisurely drive along the Parkway was out, I still tried to stick to back roads on the drive to Boone, but it wasn't the same. The only positive was this happened during the middle of the day, a time that I typically take a break from shooting.

Originally when I stopped at this lake, I didn't think there was anything special about it to photograph. With a little exploring however, I found these nice patterns in the ice which makes the photo. 1/250 @ f20, ISO 200.
Originally when I stopped at this lake, I didn't think there was anything special about it to photograph. With a little exploring however, I found these nice patterns in the ice which makes the photo. 1/250 @ f20, ISO 200.
Fortunately after checking into my hotel and getting on my computer, I did find a 15 mile section open from Blowing Rock heading south to just past the Linn Cove Visitors Center. As bad as the weather was earlier in the day, it was looking really nice now. The Blue Ridge Parkway meanders 469 miles and even if I were to pull over every time I had the opportunity in the 15 miles I covered, the sun would have set long before I finished. Many of the scenic overlooks are not that scenic, even with no leaves on the trees, so you have to trust your instincts a bit and keep an eye on the sun and light.

Once again it pays to turn around from the setting sun. This sunlight kissing the tops of these trees lasted only five minutes. 1/80 @ f9, ISO 200.
Once again it pays to turn around from the setting sun. This sunlight kissing the tops of these trees lasted only five minutes. 1/80 @ f9, ISO 200.
I also realized that some of the grand views were not all that grand this time of the year. Unlike the contrasts of color I found in the Smokies, all I saw along this short section of the Parkway was brown. Now in the Fall I'm sure these views are spectacular, but for now I just moved on from one overlook to the next, finally settling on a frozen Price Lake to make my final photos of the trip.

If you get the chance to visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park, even for a day, make every effort to do so. If you are a photographer, I would plan on spending a minimum of three days so that you can cover a few different locations during different times of the day. There are also plenty of hikes, some short, that will get you away from the crowds and offer you even more opportunities to make wonderful images in the second most visited National Park.

Previous posts in this series:

PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - THE PLAN AND THE GEAR
PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - DAY ONE
PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - DAY TWO

Sunday, March 01, 2015

PHOTOGRAPHING IN THE GREAT SMOKIES - DAY TWO


Great Smokies
Low clouds back lit by the rising sun. 1/50 @f22, ISO 400.
What a difference a day makes. I entered the Cades Cove loop through the already open gate at 7 a.m. and headed straight to the location I had decided on yesterday, passing only one other person along the way. The sky was clear and there was a cloud layer that was moving fast across the top of the mountains.

It is exciting to imagine photos coming together in your mind as you are driving along and it took everything I had not to stop and start shooting prior to arriving at my pre-planned destination.

Once I parked and set up my tripod and camera with a 24-70mm, I forced myself to take a breath and relax. While it seems everything is happening fast, often there is more time than you realize. It is better to get it right, than realize your ISO was still on 3200 from the night before. In this case I worked the sunrise for almost 30 minutes before it was completely up over the mountain. In that time I was able use multiple lenses, bracket, try out my new split neutral density filters and move about 50 yards down the road for a slightly different composition.

Cades Cove Sunrise
Switched to the 24-70mm with a Cokin split neutral density filter just as the sun rose above the clouds. You can see how the clouds just stuck to the top of the mountains. 1/60 @ f22, ISO 200.
Remember as the sun is rising and consuming your attention, all that great light is falling somewhere and that somewhere is behind you. When I did finally turn around I immediately was drawn to the tops of the mountains and those clouds which were slightly back lit, yet at the same time light was falling on the face of the mountain. I only had to cross the street and climb a slight embankment when I saw that the sun was hitting the trees in the foreground.

Great Smokies Clouds
Once the sun rose above the clouds I turned around and was treated to some wonderful light. 1/40 @ f22, ISO 200.
When I see layers like this, I think of long lenses and compression. It doesn't matter if the layers are created by color, tonal quality, or texture, compressing and flattening the scene makes a pleasing photograph.

On my drive in I saw plenty of deer and thought it was time to move to a new location and with only a few other cars on the loop, I was able to exit and re-enter in about 20 minutes. Once back on the loop I stopped a few times and waited in locations where I had seen wildlife the previous day and sure enough I spotted four deer off in the distance in the same field I had seen the coyotes.

They were a fair distance off so I grabbed my 300mm with a 2x converter. It was then that I noticed there were three bucks and a doe. After waiting a watching it became clear that the bucks were going to interact and sure enough they locked antlers several times. It also become clear that they were slowly moving in a direction that would have them crossing the road just below where I had spent the morning. I debated staying put, but sometimes you have to take a chance and move.

I'm glad I did. As I parked the deer were still heading in the same direction so I moved to the exact location that I had taken the above photograph earlier. As the deer continued to head in my direction they were still slightly back lit, but after they crossed the road the light was perfect and when they started to run as a car approached, I just started shooting. I had a long lens on which was nice to capture the deer, but meant I was unable to include any background or context.

Buck
I moved to higher ground in order to capture this photo of a male whitetail deer. Thinking ahead in order to place yourself in the right spot is key to getting the photograph you envision. 1/800 @ f7.1, ISO 200.
By mid-morning I decided to pack up and leave Cades Cove and explore more the Great Smoky Mountains, but not before one more stop at Tipton place. Only this time I was across the road photographing the double-pen corn crib and cantilever barn when the dripping water from the roof caught my attention. Up until this point everything I had photographed, other than wildlife, was medium or wide angle, so it was nice to get a detail shot.

Tipton Place
Sometimes it's about the details. With locations like Cades Cove the tendency is to focus only on the vistas, but sometimes a photo like this tells the story of melting snow. 1/640 @ f2.8, ISO 200.
On the way to Gatlinburg I stopped at the Sugarlands visitor center and looked around the museum. This is a great thing to do in the middle of the day and besides giving you a break, it gives you some history and context,which may lead to additional photo ideas. Additionally, rangers can be a wonderful source of information on hidden shooting locations.

After leaving the visitors center I thought I would drive the 13 miles to the Newfound Gap outlook and scout out locations for the next morning. It is a really pretty drive although it soon became apparent as I increased in elevation that I would be entering the clouds by the time I reached the summit. Of course these were the same clouds that I had been photographing in the morning.

So before I was fully in the clouds, I stopped about a quarter mile from the top and took a few photos of the clouds moving by which added some softness to the bare trees. Tomorrow I plan on heading back to the summit to photograph the sunrise even though the forecast calls for rain.

Newfoundland Gap
Just short of the Newfound Gap summit, the clouds were already rolling in and provided just the right amount of softness you see in this photograph. 1/800 @ f7.1, ISO 200, Exp. Comp. +1

PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - DAY ONE

Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just after first light.* 1/250 @ f10, ISO 400.
Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just after first light. 1/250 @ f10, ISO 400.
Day one began at the entrance to the 11-mile one-way Cades Cove loop road along with a half dozen other cars waiting for the park ranger to open the gate. The plan was to photograph sunrise, however the ranger didn't open the road until roughly 7:20, so the sun was already over the horizon. The first day of any assignment, whether a paid job - or like this, a self-assignment - brings with it some anxiety and anticipation. I've never been able to shake that, but of course the only thing to do is just start shooting. Anything will do, the point is to just start shooting.

Because temperatures remained cold in the morning, recent snow still stuck to the trees, offering nice contrast between the bare trees in the foreground and the pines in the back. 1/320 @ f13, ISO 400. TIP: Using a long telephoto lens compresses the scene and enhances the contrast between foreground and background.
Because temperatures remained cold in the morning, recent snow still stuck to the trees, offering nice contrast between the bare trees in the foreground and the pines in the back. 1/320 @ f13, ISO 400. TIP: Using a long telephoto lens compresses the scene and enhances the contrast between foreground and background.
So as I entered the loop with the sun already rising fast, I pulled over at the first opportunity and began taking photographs. It wasn't great, but it did fit the idea that I start shooting. Ideally I would have been able to scout the location so that I had a better idea of where to stop along the 11-mile loop to get that first shot. With 11 miles to cover you never really know what's ahead of you and since it is one-way loop, you can't turn back. I did four trips around the loop, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Still fairly early in the morning there was a slight warmth to the sky while the mountain has a blue-green look. The colors change throughout the day offering many looks at the same scene. 1/800 @ f16, ISO 400.
Still fairly early in the morning there was a slight warmth to the sky while the mountain has a blue-green look. The colors change throughout the day offering many looks at the same scene. 1/800 @ f16, ISO 400.
Being unfamiliar with the route, I pulled over almost every opportunity, got out of the car and looked around. Sometimes I grabbed my camera and shot, other times, I quickly returned to the car and headed for the next turnout. My goal was to make at least one loop as fast as possible, without missing shoots along the way and then take more time during subsequent loops.

Deer were the most visible wildlife I saw during my visit. Here two bucks greeting each other. 1/250 @ f8, ISO 400.
Deer were the most visible wildlife I saw during my visit. Here two bucks greeting each other. 1/250 @ f8, ISO 400.
One thing almost all visitors to Cades Cove are sure to see is wildlife. Everything from horses, deer, turkey, elk, wolves, fox, coyotes and black bear*. Your chances of just spotting these creatures is reduced while driving, especially by yourself. I did spot some bucks in the distance and stopped to photograph them for about 20 minutes. I then walked to the other side of the street and that is when I spotted two coyotes moving across the field and finally before getting back in the car, spotted a bird Flicker Woodpecker off to the left. Three nice animals all because I stayed put for a while.

Not all wildlife is large and easy to spot. This Flicker Woodpecker (yet to be identified) was only a short distance from my feet as I was standing around looking at the great vistas. 1/200 @ f13, ISO 400. TIP: Don't forget to look down and always be ready to shoot.
Not all wildlife is large and easy to spot. This Flicker Woodpecker (yet to be identified) was only a short distance from my feet as I was standing around looking at the great vistas. 1/200 @ f13, ISO 400. TIP: Don't forget to look down and always be ready to shoot.
But it is the Great Smoky Mountains, so much of the time on the first loop was spent photographing them. One thing I noticed is that the color temp and look of these mountains change throughout the day depending on light and angles. That was fun; it was like taking a completely different photo of the same scene each time.

Later in the day the mountains took on a different color and with the warming temperatures and snow melting, more of the grass became visible and provided a warm contrast to the cool mountains and sky. 1/50 @ f22, ISO 200, Cokin graduated ND filter.
Later in the day the mountains took on a different color and with the warming temperatures and snow melting, more of the grass became visible and provided a warm contrast to the cool mountains and sky. 1/50 @ f22, ISO 200, Cokin graduated ND filter.
Along the way there are a number of structures and old cabins to explore. During the second loop as the sun rose, but still provided some quality light, I made sure to explore a few and am glad I did. I was drawn by the warm look of the wood that contrasted with the snow and also the shadows created by fences and the buildings.

Tipton Place is near the end of the loop and offered several structures to photograph. 1/160 @ f20, ISO 400, Exp. Comp. +1. TIP: I shot from a low angle since the snow surrounding the area had been trampled.
Tipton Place is near the end of the loop and offered several structures to photograph. 1/160 @ f20, ISO 400, Exp. Comp. +1. TIP: I choose to shoot from a low angle since the snow surrounding the area had been trampled.
Typically there is more parking located at these sites and since I was already exploring the buildings, it seemed like a good time to explore the surrounding woods. Don't be afraid to walk off the road and into the woods, you might be surprised what is just out of site.

This small stream runs past Tipton Place and allowed me to take advantage of some nice light streaming though the trees. 1/50 @ f20, ISO 400, Exp. Comp. +1. TIP: When shooting into the sun, use the tree or branch to block light from hitting your lens.
This small stream runs past Tipton Place and allowed me to take advantage of some nice light streaming though the trees. 1/50 @ f20, ISO 400, Exp. Comp. +1. TIP: When shooting into the sun, use the tree or branch to block light from hitting your lens.
When I returned in the afternoon it was a different experience for several reasons. First, the temperature had risen 30 degrees which meant the snow was melting fast. The first place I noticed this was the trees. Also, the number of cars making the loop had more than tripled quadrupled, which meant traffic jams as people would just stop in the middle of the one-lane road, mostly to look at deer. So it took more than twice as long to make the loop as it did in the morning. And this is the winter, so be prepared in the Spring. Again, my suggestion would be to take your time and not worry about spending too much time in one location. Why not let the wildlife come to you.

Clouds started to build and the moon came out in the late afternoon once again giving a very different look to the mountains. 1/50 @ f22, ISO 200, Cokin graduated ND filter. TIP: When you have interesting clouds, grab a wide angle and aim high.
Clouds started to build and the moon came out in the late afternoon once again giving a very different look to the mountains. 1/50 @ f22, ISO 200, Cokin graduated ND filter. TIP: When you have interesting clouds, grab a wide angle and aim high.
That's the first day down of shooting down and I'm on my way. Tomorrows plan is to return to Cades Cove to a few locations I've identified along the loop in the hopes of getting a better sunrise. Then I'll start making my way to Gatlinburg, shooting and scouting along the way.


* Bears hibernate in the winter.