Monday, April 27, 2015

MAKING THE BEST OF WORLDWIDE PINHOLE DAY

Pinhole photo of Saguaro cactus taken with a Nikon D4S. One-second exposure, aperture unknown.
Pinhole photo of Saguaro cactus taken with a Nikon D4S. One-second exposure, aperture unknown.
I really enjoy pinhole photography and ever since I built a camera and took that first shot in 2013, I've made it a point to participate in the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD). This international event is held each year the last Sunday in April in order to promote and celebrate the art of pinhole photography.

Surrounded by digital in my full-time job, I enjoy the opportunity to produce an image on photographic paper using nothing more than a box with a tiny hole and some chemicals. It always provides a challenge and seeing a negative appear on paper as it sits in the developer, reminds me of excitement I felt the first time I stepped into a darkroom over 35 years ago.

So this year I was disappointed when I realized that because of an early flight on Sunday to Tucson, Arizona, for an assignment meant that I was not going to be able participate this year. After all, it was not practical to bring my pinhole camera and chemicals with me. I briefly thought about pre-loading my camera and bringing it along, or maybe get up early and taking one photo before my flight, but neither of these options seemed to excite me enough to do them.

During the flight, I began thinking about missing out on WPPD and that's when it hit me. What is a pinhole camera and why not just use what I had with me, a Nikon D4S with a body cap, to make one. One of the reasons I left so early from Washington, D.C., was so that I could arrive in Tucson early enough to spend some time in the Saguaro National Park before my assignment started on Monday. So I had the time and now I had an idea on what I would do.

Tools used to make the hole in the camera's body cap.
Tools I used to make the hole in the camera's body cap.
After landing, I stopped at a local drug store and picked up a pack of sewing needles, a small roll of duck tape and a package of lighters. Total cost was $4.50. I secured a small pebble to the top of the needle using the duck tape and then using the lighter, heated the tip so that I could push it through the center of the body cap. It took a few tries, but really there was nothing more to it.

One big difference of course between this "pinhole camera" and mine is that I was able to see the results of my efforts on the digital display instantly and make adjustments until I had the proper exposure. Too easy.

It wasn't as much fun as previous years, but I can say that I participated in WPPD 2015, and that makes it all worthwhile to me.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5 TIPS FOR SHOOTING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

The Golden Gate Bridge a half hour prior to sunrise. 30 sec. @ f8, ISO 200.
The Golden Gate Bridge a half hour prior to sunrise. 30 sec. @ f8, ISO 200.
Before I get to my five tips, I will state right up front that much like my blog post, Five Tips for Shooting Antelope Canyon, this was my first time photographing the Golden Gate Bridge. I say that only to admit that I'm not the expert and in fact I welcome comments, additional tips or even to tell me I'm wrong.

However, as a professional photographer, you might find it interesting how I approach a subject that I never photographed and only have a limited time to do so. In this case, I was in San Francisco for three days, but all of that time was not dedicated to taking pictures of possibly the most photographed bridge in the world. Also of note, all of the photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera that I had for review.

Consider a rental car or Zip car so you can get to locations away from the crowds, like this photograph of the bridge taken from Point Bonita Lighthouse just before sunset. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.
Consider a rental car or Zip car so you can get to locations away from the crowds, like this photograph of the bridge taken from Point Bonita Lighthouse just before sunset. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.
Also while it is possible to get to the Golden Gate Bridge via public transportation, tour bus or even by bike, renting a car seems to be the easiest and most convenient way to get to many of the shooting locations, especially if you have limited time or want the ultimate flexibility to chase light.

1. Location, location, location. There are numerous locations or vantage points to photograph the bridge and I'll cover just a few even though I'm sure locals have all kinds of hidden spots picked out.

I shot from three basic locations on the North side and two on the South or San Francisco side of the bridge. On the North, it was Vista Point, Battery Spencer, Marin Headlands (Hawk Hill) and on the South, Lands End, and the South Side parking lot.

Vista Point is the first exit after crossing the bridge heading north and while it offers an alright view of the bridge, my suggestion would be to skip the crowded parking lot and head down the hill towards the Coast Guard Station where you can view the bridge from a low angle. Then walk up to the Vista Point visitors center for an additional view.

A different look at the bridge from Battery Spencer. 1/1700 @ f3.2, ISO 400.
A different look at the bridge from Battery Spencer. 1/1700 @ f3.2, ISO 400.
After leaving Vista Point cross under the bridge and start the climb up Conzelman Rd. making Battery Spencer your first stop. This is a great location and it was the first place that I stopped to photograph the bridge. I was surprised how close the bridge was and you feel like you are at eye level with the bridge towers. Nice vantage point to shoot verticals too.

After leaving Battery Spencer, you continue to climb until you reach the highest point, Hawk Hill. From this vantage point, you get a great overview of the bridge with the city behind it. Don't forget to explore the old World War II batteries while you are there and if you continue on foot through former gun emplacement tunnels to the other side, you will have a bonus view of the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

There are several stopping points along the way so take your time and pull over every chance you get either on the way up or on the return trip, because the view is different and unique each time.

Screen shot from my iPad of the SunSeeker App showing my location and sun direction on the morning of March 17, 2015, as I was attempting to photograph sunrise. One of the nice things about this App is that you can pick a day and time in the future so that there are no surprises, except maybe rain and fog.
Screen shot from my iPad of the SunSeeker App showing my location and sun direction on the morning of March 17, 2015, as I was attempting to photograph sunrise. One of the nice things about this App is that you can pick a day and time in the future so that there are no surprises, except maybe rain and fog. 
2. Timing is everything. Make sure to leave yourself enough time and shooting days to capture the bridge during different times of the day. If you are planning to shoot sunrise or pre-sunrise from Hawk Hill, Conzelman Rd. is closed about a half mile from the top until after sunrise. There is a parking lot, so join the bicyclists and joggers as you make your way to the top. Not too bad, but don't be surprised as I was.

Once again, I used the Sunseeker App to determine sun direction which helps determine where I'm going to start and end my day. Knowing where the sun will be during certain times of the day can help you pre-visualize photographs as you drive around scouting locations.

The Vista Point visitor center gets crowded with both cars and people. I found most people moved on quickly so if you want a particular shot, just wait a few minutes. 1/100 @ f11, ISO 200.
The Vista Point visitor center gets crowded with both cars and people. I found most people moved on quickly so if you want a particular shot, just wait a few minutes. 1/100 @ f11, ISO 200.
3. Avoid the crowds. It is clear that you are not the first person who has thought about photographing the Golden Gate Bridge, so be prepared for crowds, especially at the visitors centers. Sometimes you may also have to pass by a pull-over because it is full, but remember there will be another. It was my experience that if you have a little patience while people grab their selfies, they will move on allowing you to get your shot.

And as in most situations, you lessen your chance of running into crowds by getting there early and staying late. After all, isn't that the best time to shoot anyway? So take a break in the middle of the day and head over to Sausalito for some tacos and Mexican beer at the Salsalita Taco Shop while everyone else is fighting for a spot to photograph the bridge in the noon time sun.

Think about details and capturing pieces of the bridge, even from underneath. This was taken while walking from the Coast Guard station up the hill to the Vista Point parking area. 1/350 @ f9, ISO 200.
Think about details and capturing pieces of the bridge, even from underneath. This was taken while walking from the Coast Guard station up the hill to the Vista Point parking area. 1/350 @ f9, ISO 200.
4. Look for something different. The temptation is to go wide and take in the entire bridge. That makes a nice shot and sets the stage, but don't forget about details. With a telephoto lens, you can pick out details from many of the shooting locations I mentioned previously, but there are also places to access the bridge from underneath. And while I didn't get the chance on this trip, you can also walk or bike across the bridge, which would certainly get you up close and personal.

Among the first photographs I took of the bridge, was as I made the short climb at Battery Spencer which puts you at eye level with the bridge towers and in this case almost in the clouds. 1/60 @ f10, ISO 400.
Among the first photographs I took of the bridge, was as I made the short climb at Battery Spencer which puts you at eye level with the bridge towers and in this case almost in the clouds. 1/60 @ f10, ISO 400.
5. Weather can be your friend. I could state the obvious and just say that the weather, especially clouds and fog, are unpredictable in San Francisco, or I could tell you to embrace it and use it to your advantage. On my first day photographing the bridge, I could only make it half way up Conzelman Rd. before the visibility dropped to near zero. But those same clouds added something to my photos taken from Battery Spencer when they covered just the top of the bridge.

The point is, don't make a judgment from your hotel room downtown. Get out to the locations you scouted and see for yourself because you never know when the weather will change and maybe even change in such a way that takes your photograph from alright to awesome.

Photographed from the trail at Lands End. I rarely use presets, but something about this photograph reminded me of a classic postcard, so I added Yesteryear, and Rounded Corners White presets in Lightroom 5. 1/2000 @ f4, ISO 200.
Photographed from the trail at Lands End. I rarely use presets, but something about this photograph reminded me of a classic postcard, so I added Yesteryear, and Rounded Corners White presets in Lightroom 5. 1/2000 @ f4, ISO 200.
As I said at the beginning of this blog post, there are many more locations to explore and photograph the bridge such as Crissy Field, Fort Point, Point Cavallo, Baker Beach and many, many more. In fact, maybe three days is not enough time.

So make the trip, have fun, and when not photographing the bridge, there are all kinds of other locations around the city to photograph.

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