Tag Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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!


How not to get burned shooting Fireflies.

Ok, so Fireflies don’t give off any heat, but getting great images of them is still not easy. Much easier now, though, than when I tried with film years ago. The most interesting fireflies (lightning bugs) are the Synchronous variety found most numerous in the Great Smoky Mountains. Last part of May into June, these luminous insects arise and light their fire for the world to see.

How do you start photographing the faint light at night? Well, here are a few tips.

  1. Get there early (before sunset) and compose your scene. That way you can make sure your focus is good and there aren’t any distractions. If you find a scene after dark, a flashlight helps you find your elements (besides the fire flies) and focus.
  2. Don’t pack it up to early when the fireflies haven’t shown up. They seem to come out 30 minutes or even later after sunset.
  3. Use a high ISO. I find that shooting between 2000- 5000 ISO works well and picks up even faint, distant lightning bugs. I try not to shoot over 30 second exposures, because the noise builds up.
  4. Use a wide-angle lens. Unless you want to do macro, anything from a 50mm and wider will do.
  5. F stop 5.6 or larger (more wide open). If you are using a wide-angle lens, then the DOF (Depth of Field) will still be pretty good except really close to the lens. Using a wide open lens lets you use lower ISO and that means less noise.
  6. Take multiple shots over time. I usually shoot 15-30 second exposures for 30-100 exposures using an intervelometer (in camera for most Nikons, electronic release for Canon). Then I can build up the image I want using Layers in Photoshop and Blend Mode of Lighten.
  7. Light paint some trees or other subjects to add to your blended image. I use a Surefire LX2 Lumamax which is 200 Lumens on high. You can even get a red and a blue filter to fit on front. I also carry a 2 Million Candle Power spot light and a set of filters. This works when your subject is further away.
  8. Glow Stick- This is great to wrap on your tripod leg to help you keep track of it in the dark without having to shine a light around (even using a red light on a head lamp can light contaminate your scene). I use Pre Wrap like athletes use to tape it on the tripod (any athletic sporting goods store, ask for Prewrap).
  9. Red head lamp- helps maneuver around and check settings between shots and doesn’t destroy your night vision.
  10. Filters for your LED flashlight for light painting – I use colored plastic dividers I get at Staples but some people use Rosco Filters and Kevin Adams has designed a plastic filter holder that looks like it works great.

Spring Flower Tips – Lenses and composition

When we talk about composition, we usually talk about “Rule of Thirds” and foreground/ background, diagonal lines, leading lines, repeating elements and so forth. Have you ever considered the composition effect that changing lenses would have on how your subject relates to its surroundings?

I started doing Closeup Wide Angle images at least 15 years ago and used a small 8mm extension tube with my 17-35 wide angle lens to great effect. Instead of an intimate portrait of a flower, you now get a portrait but in a setting of the flowers surroundings. This gives the flower and home to live in as opposed to a setup that could be anywhere. I think it tells more of an environmental story to have more of the home surroundings of a subject. We are so concerned about the environment and where things are going, it is nice to show the environment even when you are doing a close up portrait.

Well, the 8mm extension tube doesn’t work on the 17-35 with digital cameras. Even the full  frame Nikon D4 just wouldn’t focus. I tried and I can share some images, but it wasn’t pretty. Alternatives are to use a diopter (big glass filter than screws in front of your lens). I use a Canon 500D diopter filter. Yes, Canon filters will work on Nikon glass. Why use Canon diopter? Because I can? Well, yes, but better answer is that Nikon doesn’t make a diopter in 77mm size. I also use the Nikon 5T and 6T diopters on my Nikon 200 micro when I want to get closer than 1:1. (This is full life size, meaning the image area you are capturing is the same size as the sensor area).

Yesterday, I was trying hard to make the 8mm extension tube and 17-35 Wide Angle thing work and wasn’t happy. I guess I thought I would get lucky and it would start working on the D4 where it hadn’t worked on the D2x or D3s or D3x.. Wrong. Then I remembered.. I’ve got a 24mm PCE (tilt shift) lens in my bag. The cool thing is that it is a Micro lens. So I got it out and started playing. It doesn’t give me quite the background area that the 17mm did, but it works.

So here are a few images, first shoot with 200 Micro then with 24 Micro. See the difference..

Later this weekend, I will show some images put together using Helicon Focus Stacking. Creates a different image than trying to get everything sharp by using a large DOF when doing macro work..

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.

Smokies Fall Color Report

Ok, I just got back from cruising the Smokies, checking out the color. I started at Clingmans Dome at sunrise. It was a nice sunrise with fog down in the valleys. It wasn’t cold (about 50˚F) and clear skies.

Smokies Sunrise from Clingmans Dome

While up there I played with some multiple exposures, in camera. The Mountain Ash have lost their leaves but their berries are stunning. This is a method that I learned from Mark Johnson on his website Mark Johnson Photography . Mark has some great training videos, video tutorial books and ebooks. This technique is call Multiple-Exposure-Monet and you create little movements between exposures so it looks like little brush strokes. Here are my first attempt.


Mountain Ash Multiple Exposure Monet 1

Mountain Ash Multiple Exposure Monet 2

From Clingmans Dome I drove slowly down 441 toward Sugarlands. The color is starting, but nothing like peak. I would say 5-10 days away at the top. There were a few high ridges with a little more color change that most, west of Chimney’s Picnic area.

From Sugarlands I followed Little River Road, looking for color. Especially looking for color reflected in the streams. Not much color change yet, but soon enough. I did find one spot I liked that was good until about 10 am. It was a pullout just before you get to the Sinks from Sugarlands. The walk (climb) is for the sure footed, but reasonably doable for most people, even with gear. (CAUTION!! wet leaves and wet rocks are dangerous. Be very careful climbing around on the rocks with leaves, wet moss and wet boots). I was able to play with some reflections and one that even reminded me of a Monet, without any specially effects in camera or in computer (ok, I did flip it from being upside down.. Not that you could really tell). I did find out that my back up boots are not waterproof. Sigh, anyone know how to get your Lowa boots resoled? I’ve had mine for about ten years and do not want to break in another pair. But the soles are peeling off the boots (even so, they were still waterproof. Yeah Lowa).

Here are the stream shots.


From here I headed to Cades Cove.. Wrong decision to make at 1115 with all the Leaf Peepers out.. Slow going until I bailed out at Rich Mountain Road. There were a couple of photographers out with big lens just before the Methodist Church. Bear I would guess. Going back in the next couple of days, early.

Along Rich Mountain Road I stopped to experiment with some HDRs and color.


And then to finish things off, I played with another technique from Mark S Johnson’s book on Photoshop Impressionism. This is an in-camera technique (for those of us who shoot Nikon and have multiple exposures). This technique uses multiple exposure but a zoom and twist at the same time. Mark calls this Mutliple Exposure Rotate and Zoom Montage (MERZ for short).  To do this, your zoom lens must have a tripod collar. I used my 70 -200 f2.8 Nikon, but could use my 200-400 f4 also. I found that if I zoom in to my final composition and then hold the zoom ring still while I rotate the camera body to my start position, it works well. Then start the multiple exposure and move the camera back toward the starting position while holding the zoom ring stable. This will result in multiple image in an arc along with the framing zooming in at the same time. I used to do things like this with film, but you never knew what you would get and it was a pain to calculate the exposure. More reports to come as I get back out there. Still trying to nail down some info on the War on Photography. Maybe by Monday.