Category Archives: Location Scouting

Smokies Scouting Report Oct 9


So yesterday (October 9th) I started out my scouting with sunrise at Clingmans Dome parking lot. There was beautiful color in the sky and as I was winding down, I posted an image on FB.. A couple of minutes later I get a text from Paul Hassell that reads “It’s better over here : )” and an image that I can tell is within 100 yards of my position of the sunrise! Then I look around and there he is, about 80 yards further down the parking lot.. We had a good chat and then I headed back down the mountain.


The color up at Clingmans (other than the sunrise) was very muted and some leaves are already turning brownish. Then as you go further down the mountain, the yellow leaves begin to be more prominent.


It seemed that at about 4800 feet elevation go down I started to see occasional red maples turning along with some yellow leaves. The color is still very spotty but there is one gorgeous hillside that you can see from the parking areas above Chimney’s Picnic area and seem to be turning sooner. Below Chimney’s Picnic area the color is still predominately green, but dogwoods are turning and some maples are starting to think about turning color. I would say that within 10 days, the area above Chimney’s Picnic area will be in full color..



Have fun out there!


Where to photograph Red Efts!

I was first introduced to Colditz Cove almost 25 years ago. A friend said it was a great place for a hike with a nice waterfall. I went out to explore and the first time there I was amazed to see many small Red Efts climbing around on the moss. This intrigued me and I have made numerous trips back in late spring to enjoy the area and to photograph the Red Efts. Writing about Colditz Cove was my first venture into writing for Outdoor Photographer magazine back in the middle 90s.

Colditz Cove  is a Tennessee State Natural area that has 165 acres set aside for preservation and recreational enjoyment. Located just off SR 52 east of Allardt, TN, it is just a few miles west of historic Rugby, TN. Beautiful Northrup Falls cascades 60 feet down into the gorge from the Big Branch Creek. The bottom of the gorge area contains rhododendron and mountain laurel along the edges of the creek. You can walk under huge stone outcroppings (“rock houses”) and actually walk behind the falls along the trail.

As far as the Red Efts I have found there, more are found down in the gorge along the mossy covered rock walls. They don’t move quickly, so once you find them, you can set up a macro lens or wide angle or whatever you want to use. I’m hoping to go back this year and shoot more video of them crawling across the rocks and moss with the D4, which will make things much easier.

The trail isn’t long, maybe a mile or so down into the gorge and the falls. It is cooler down in the gorge, also, even when the temperature is warmer up on the Plateau. If you head that direction from Oak Ridge and go through historic Rugby, there are several old houses and churches to photograph and a museum and a café if you are hungry. Have fun and take your time down in the gorge, it is beautiful.

Weather and Lightning Safety Outdoors (Hoping for a safe Friday the 13th for everyone!)

I’m writing this for all those outdoor photographers out there who want more information about weather and safety while we are out shooting. But much of this applies to anyone who ventures outside during possible inclement weather. As outdoor photographers (this might even include portrait or wedding or commercial photographers when they are outside), we always want to know what to expect. In my previous blog I talked about iPhone apps, which give us Sun position, moon position, tide charts and more. These are important, but what’s the weather going to be?

Before smart phones, we were usually glued to the Weather Channel on TV, then the Weather Channel on the Internet. Now with smart phone apps, we can carry all that information with us on our phone. I really would like to have the radar built into my GPS screen on my Toyota 4Runner, but maybe the next one I buy.

So, to get the most up to date information, where do you go? The Weather Channel has an App for the iPhone that comes loaded on the iPhone in conjunction with Yahoo!. It’s ok, for a start, but there are better apps out there. My favorite is My-Cast by Garmin. It gives great choices for maps, including Radar that is not static and updates every 15 minutes. It gives up weather alerts as soon as they come from the NWS. AND, most importantly for safety, it has lightning strikes update every minute.

So, with My-Cast you can look at the forecast, see the radar for approaching rain or other events, look at current conditions including temperature, wind speed, humidity, dewpoint and barometric pressure. How does dewpoint help? Well, if you’re looking for fog to shoot, this can give you some indication whether or not fog will be present. How? Fog happens when the air temperature falls to or below the Dewpoint. This morning I went down to the lake knowing that fog would be over the lake as the Dewpoint was 39° and the temperature was 38°. Sure enough, fog over the lake.

As far as safety, the Lightning Strike indicator can be life saving. Have you ever heard the saying “a bolt out of the blue”? Well, that came from lightning striking even when there is blue sky. Jerry Monkman told me about a surfer on the coast of NH (first, until I knew Jerry, I didn’t know that NH had a coast and, second, aren’t most surfers, like, in California or Hawaii?) was struck by lightning while surfing with blue sky overhead, but a storm further inland. Lightning can strike up 10 miles or more away from the storm that generates it. Thunder, on the other hand, can usually only be heard 6-8 miles away. So if you hear thunder, you definitely should take cover.

So, safety tip of the day for all you outdoors enthusiasts, “If you see it, flee it (Lightning) and if you hear it, clear it (hearing thunder means get off the field or to safety.)

How do you keep safe if you can’t get away?

  1. Stay away from any bodies of water.
  2. NEVER stand under an isolated tree.
  3. Stay away from tall trees – keep twice as far from the tall tree as it is tall.
  4. Avoid being the tallest object around – but don’t lie down on the ground, squat. If you can put an insulating pad under you to stand on, it might help.
  5. Stay away from natural lightning rods—Towers, tall trees, telephone poles, metal objects.
  6. If you are in a group, spread out with 50 feet in between each person. This possibly prevents multiple people in a group being affect by a single strike.

What do you do if someone in your group is struck by lightning?

  1. It is ok to touch them; they don’t carry any residual electric charge.
  2. Check to see if they are breathing and their heart is beating.
  3. Start CPR if needed. Sometimes the heart will start back to beating on its own before the person starts breathing on their own.
  4. If a person is talking, moving, etc, they probably will be ok, move on to the person who is not breathing and heart is not beating. We call this Reverse Triage in wilderness medicine. Usually in multiple casualties, you attend to those who DON’T appear dead.
  5. Get help, call 911 if possible. Anyone struck by lightning, even if they are walking and talking, needs to go to the ER to be checked out.

For more information on lightning safety for the outdoors, go to the NOLS site.

Bill teaches Wilderness First Aid for Photographers as part of his experience as an ER doctor for 20 years and his activities in the wilderness spanning 35 years.

iPhone for Scouting

iPhone for scouting

I have always carried my phone with me when shooting, Especially when hiking. I really don’t want to be one of those people who call 911 when I run out of water or get lost, but if something bad happens when I am alone, I will use it to facilitate a rescue. I have been looking at the PLB (Personal Locator Beacons) and the Satellite Messengers (SPOT is one but I am holding out for the InReach by Delorme, which is currently only for Android phones.. Really? With all the iPhones out there?).

So what else do I carry my phone for? Well, my iPhone4 has a built in camera and also built in video. So this has become one of my scouting tools. Instead of carrying a larger compact camera, this camera has multiple functions, including the one my wife thinks that all phones should do only, and that is make and receive phone calls. Now, with my iPhone, I can take reference images and video. Take images and then share directly to Facebook. Take images and use Snapseed by NIK and play with them before sharing (Hey, it’s not Photoshop, but boy did they pack a lot of stuff in a program that fits on your phone).  Use reference apps for wildflowers, butterflies, birds, etc.

So for photo shooting and image enhancement, these are my top Apps:

  1. Pro HDR – 2 shot HDR method
  2. AutoStitch Panorama – Creates panoramic images
  3. Snapseed – creative enhancement to images and great sharing
  4. Pano  – Creates panoramic images
  5. Photoshop Express (PS Express)– still not regular PS, but fun to use.

For location and scouting, these are my tops Apps:

  1. Sun Seeker – great sunrise sunset position that even has a live image overlay mode.
  2. TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) – great for sun and moon information including phase of moon. (for those of you, like me, didn’t know what ephemeris means- “a table listing the future positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets over a given period of time”. So now you know.)
  3. Hi Tide – gives high and low tides for your position. Great for beach photography and especially tidal pool photography.
  4. SkySafari 3 – I use this to determine moon position in sky and also constellation positions for time lapse of the night sky.
  5. Offline Topo Maps  – You can download the maps for the area you will be in and have them on your phone, even without a internet connection.. Works great.

For in phone reference, these are my top Apps:

  1. Audubon Guides– Butterflies– Great resource
  2. Audubon Guides – Wildflowers
  3. GSM Wildflowers Great Smoky Mountains wildflower guide that is partnered with DLIA ( Discover Life in America) which is in charge of the ATBI (All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory).
  4. iBird Explorer Pro Birds of North America. Includes drawings, photos, songs and more. They have a sell on the app right now (April 12, 2012) for half price. It was worth it at full price!
  5. The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America– for all of you who have used David Allen Sibley’s guide books for birds, this is great. Get the full version!

I will be posting a blog tomorrow about some weather apps as well as useful information about weather conditions and also how to survive a lightning storm!

Scouting Report Smokies March 28

This day was spent up in Greenbriar area. With numerous spots to pull off and shoot the Little Pigeon River or go up to the confluence of the Little Pigeon River with the Middle Prong, the shooting was great. I walked up the trail, past Porter’s Flats and up Porter Creek trail. After Porter’s Flats, the flowers were much more sparse than down below. There are a preponderance of Yellow Trillium around, with Large Flowered Trillium also. This was the first place I’ve seen Dwarf Crested Iris blooming and also found some Little Brown Jug. Little Brown Jug is fun because the flowers lie on the ground and are actually pollinated by crawling insects such as ants. Sometimes you have to move some leaf debris to see the “Jugs”. I think they got this name because the shape of the flower is similar to a brown jug which you used to get “White Lightning” in before the Mason Jar become the prominent way of dispensing this Mountain delicacy.


Tomorrow I will be posting on different vantage points and lenses for flower/ forest composition.

Spring Flower shooting tips- Multiple Exposure

Spring has come to the Smokies extremely early this year. I am hearing from friends around the country that they are experiencing an early spring also. Some teaching tips for spring wildflowers from today’s shoot.

Consider using multiple exposure to achieve a dreamy look to go along with your images. Flowers images look good when using this technique. Ok, here’s the How to for Multiple Exposure ( Canon people, don’t feel left out, the new Canon EOS- 1D X now does in camera ME). These instructions are for the Nikon D4 but are similar to other Nikon dSLRs.


  • First go to Menu>Shooting Menu and scroll down to Multiple Exposure and press OK or the Right Arrow button on the Multi Selector.
  • Scroll down to Number of shots and choose 2 (in another Blog I will talk about techniques that use more than 2 images).
  • Leave Auto gain on at the bottom ( if you are shooting double exposures at night or a night shot combined with sunset image, turn Auto gain off).
  • Now scroll back to the top where it says Multiple exposure mode and click OK. This will take to the Mode dialogue box where you will choose On (single photo). This indicates that the multiple exposure mode will shut off once the required number of images is taken.


  • Once you are in ME mode and ready to shoot, take your first image at whatever f stop you would normally (say f11 or f16) and focused the way you want the focus point to be. Take your first image.
  • Next, change the f stop to 5.6 or lower. If you are in Aperature mode, the shutter speed will change automatically. If you are shooting in Manual mode, don’t forget to change your shutter speed to center. You don’t have to worry about under exposing either one of the images the way we had to with film. That is what the Auto Gain is all about.
  • After changing the f stop, then rack the focus closer to you (in front of your focus point). This will throw everything out of focus. You can occasionally get interesting images by racking the focus completely behind your normal focus point.
  • Take your second image. Wait for it, wait for it, done. Your Multiple exposure image appears in your Preview Monitor. This allows you to see if you want to change focus points or f Stops to achieve a different look.

Ok, now go out and play. Remember that Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

The next installment of Flower teaching tips will cover Light Modifiers.

Fear the Okra

Shack Up Inn

I just returned from visiting my Mom and friends in the MS Delta. These are my roots. I grew up walking and riding along gravel roads, cotton turn rows and the MS levee. My first introduction to the outdoors was through the eyes of my grandfather. He was a consummate outdoorsman. He hunted and fished about every season you could think of. But hunting and fishing was not his passion. Being in the outdoors, free to walk, listen, feel nature was his passion. He enjoyed watching the turkeys, listening to the ducks on their migration, watching squirrels hop from limb to limb in search of a better nut. Unfortunately he died too early for me to enjoy much of his company. I was 6 when he succumbed to a heart attack. But the memories I have of riding in the back of the jeep as we went to hunting camp and in the boat as we fished the little oxbow lakes off the Mississippi, these are what inspired me to love nature. Maybe the love of nature is in your nature when you’re born. Maybe my grandfather passed that down from his generation. I know that many people don’t have the same love of nature that I do.. That’s ok as long as they learn to respect nature..

My trip to the Delta brought back many memories. But I also made some new ones. I was able to travel to Cleveland to visit with my friend Henry Outlaw. Henry was my advisor at Delta State University. My mentor. One of the reasons I went to Delta State. When I called up DSU in the summer of 1977 and asked if their scholarship offer was still open, they said yes and someone would call me back. Henry was that person and the next day my Dad and I visited DSU all day long with Henry showing us all around campus. This is pretty unusual for the Chairman of the Physical Sciences Department. Except with Henry.. He is as much a people person and philosopher as he is a scientist.

Another stop along the way was out Highway 49 to visit Hopson Commisary and Shack Up Inn. After hearing so much about both, I thought it was time to go out and photograph these Delta landmarks. I had a great time and got to meet one of the owners of Shack Up Inn, Guy. As soon as he told me his name, I knew he was the brother of one of my high school classmates. So if you are ever in the Delta and need a place to stay near Clarksdale, look them up.. But my Mom says that you sometimes have to make reservations a year in advance. While you are in Clarksdale, there are now several great places to eat, but the one that has been there forever (1924) and we also go back to is Abe’s BBQ.. Abe’s is an institution.. You can’t go to the Delta and say you have visited without going to Abe’s. If you have a good appetite, order the Big Abe’s pork..  yummm!!!

Abe's BBQ

Ok, so why “Fear the Okra”? Well, we were the Delta State Statesmen.. But somewhere along the way they wanted to change the mascot to something else. Henry told me that the DSU Baseball team was thinking “Ok, what’s green?  Okra.. It’s prickly and green.. So we will be the Fighting Okra..”  It caught on, somehow.. And now my alma mater are the DSU Fighting Okra..