Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Marblehead Lighthouse

Sunrise at the Marblehead Lighthouse - Click image to enlarge

Recently while going through some old photographs, I found an envelope full of photos I had taken of the kids at the Marblehead Lighthouse.  Given their ages at the time, I guessed that the photos were taken in 1992, so it had been 18 years since I last visited the lighthouse.  I thought it was definitely time for another visit, this time without the kids!  After some research I decided that the best time to photograph the lighthouse would be at sunrise, and on the late July day I planned to be there the moon would also be in a position in the sky so that it could be included in my images. In order to get there before sunrise I had to leave home at 3 AM, ugh! I remember looking at the clock in the car at 3:30 AM and thinking “This is crazy, you haven’t been to the lighthouse in almost 20 years, hopefully you can find it in the dark!”  Fortunately I kept going and as you can see in the image above it was worth the effort. When I arrived, it was very quiet and peaceful around the lighthouse and a another early riser was just starting to paddle his kayak out to watch the sunrise. I was blessed with a beautiful sunrise, with clouds to reflect the warm red, orange, and yellow colors of sunrise which enhanced the charm and character of the Marblehead Lighthouse.

The Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest, continuously operational lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Found on the northernmost tip of the Marblehead Peninsula in Ohio, this popular lighthouse’s history began in 1819 when the fifteenth U.S. Congress decided that the area was too dangerous to be navigated without some sort of beacon.  Funding was allocated for the construction of a light tower at the entrance to Sandusky Bay at Bay Point, Ohio.  Construction began in the late summer of 1821 and was completed 11 weeks later in November. Called the “Sandusky Bay Light” until 1870, the tower’s illustrious history boasts the first female lighthouse keeper in the United States (1832, Rachel Wolcott, wife of the first light keeper Benajah Wolcott), a rare three and one-half order Fresnel lens and a functional iron staircase dating to the early 1900’s. A masonry finish covers the original limestone exterior of the lighthouse. Inside you’ll find a brick stack constructed in the late 1800’s to raise the tower’s height by fifteen feet. The view from the top showcases several Lake Erie islands and a view of the Cleveland shoreline on clear days. The keeper’s house was built in 1880 and is now a museum staffed by historical society volunteers. A total of fifteen keepers have tended the light. The United States Coast guard is now responsible for the maintenance of the beacon.

You can see more of my Marblehead Lighthouse images in my gallery here. If you have any questions about this image or my photography, please click here to email me.

To find out more about the Marblehead Lighthouse, visit the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society or the Marblehead Lighthouse page at

Posted in Ohio State Park, Weekly Column Tagged , , , , , |

Smoky Mountain Sunset

Summer Smoky Mountain Sunset - Click image to enlarge

I had never visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park so I was excited about photographing there over a long weekend in late July 2011.  This trip was actually a “scouting mission” before a vacation my wife and I planned to take there in the fall.  Visit my gallery here to see images from both trips.  After a lot of research, I put together a shooting plan that I thought would allow me to make the best use of the time I had available.  One image at the top of my list was a “classic” Smoky Mountain sunset with the sun setting behind the receding ridgelines of the Smoky Mountains.  The Morton Overlook along the Newfound Rd. was reportedly one of the best places in the park to photograph this scene in late July if you wanted to include the sun in the composition.  Since I had never been to the park I arrived in the late afternoon so I would have enough time to get familiar with the area while it was still daylight, find the Morton Overlook and get set up well ahead of sunset.  As I approached the overlook I was totally shocked to see orange barrels, yellow caution tape and a large sign saying the overlook was closed due to construction – “this wasn’t part of my plan, how could this be” I thought!  The overlook was deserted and it looked like it was definitely safe enough for me to take a few shots so I drove a few hundred yards back down the road to a pull-off I had passed, parked and walked to the overlook with my gear.  I set up my tripod and camera and waited for the magic of sunset to begin.  I had been there maybe 20 minutes when some construction workers showed up and a PARK RANGER!  “They see thousands of photographers around the park and I obviously wasn’t up to anything sinister so surely they won’t make me leave” I thought.  Wrong!  I was told very firmly (but politely) that I would have to leave immediately.  They looked at me like “The big sign said CLOSED – UNDER CONSTUCTION, what didn’t you understand?!”  I pleaded my case that this was my first visit to the park, I just got here all the way from Ohio to get a sunset shot from this spot so couldn’t I stay long enough to get a few shots?  “No way, drive up the road to the next pull-off, you can take some nice pictures from there” the ranger said.  By now, it was getting close to sunset so I had to move fast.  I drove past the Morton Overlook, waived to my new “friends” and a few minutes later I found the pull-off the ranger talked about.  My heart sank when I saw that the only view of the western horizon was between two trees and to make matters worse a thick band of clouds on the horizon would completely obscure the setting sun in a few minutes.  Needless-to-say I set up my gear quickly and started shooting.  As you can see in the “Summer Smoky Mountain Sunset” image I managed to catch the setting sun just before it disappeared behind the thick clouds on the horizon.  It’s not quite the shot I had visualized getting at the Morton Overlook, but I was very pleased with the way it turned out!  What an exciting start to my trip I thought.  Luck (a lot of it in this case), patience, and perseverance all combined to help me get this shot!

For this particular image, the camera was tripod mounted, as it is for most of my work and I used my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens.  Although I would have preferred to use a wide angle lens to capture a wide vista of the sun setting behind the mountains, I had to shoot between 2 trees so I decided to use a telephoto lens, and compose a portrait oriented shot tight enough to eliminate the tree on the right side of the scene.  Even though the sun was setting and partially obscured by the clouds, the sky was still much brighter than the trees and bushes directly in front of me so I knew my exposure would be a little tricky.  If I set my exposure by metering the sky, the foreground trees and bushes would have been silhouetted.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted to bring out some detail in the foreground.  I kept the aperture the same, spot metered the sky to the right of the sun (the brightest part of the scene without the sun in the viewfinder), and then spot metered the foreground (the darkest part of the scene) to determine the number of “stops” of exposure difference.  I found that the dynamic range of the scene was about 2 stops greater than I could capture in a single exposure and still hold some detail in the foreground.  Shooting in manual mode, I set a shutter speed of 1/10 second, an aperture of f/11, ISO 100, a focal length of 100mm and I used a Lee 2-stop soft split graduated neutral density filter.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with split graduated neutral density filters, they are made of rectangular/square glass or resin and are dark on the top and clear on the bottom with a smooth transition area in the middle of the filter.  The filters come in various densities, 1, 2, and 3 stops are typical.  There are also “hard” edge filters which have a very sharp or hard transition area from dark to light in the middle.  Using the 2-stop filter reduced the brightness of the sky and kept it from being over exposed so I could bring out a little detail in the foreground bushes.  I could have gotten similar results using HDR techniques taking multiple images and combining them in post processing, or used software to simulate the filters’ effect, but I decided to use the soft split graduated neutral density filter to get the image I wanted with a single exposure.  One of the great advantages of shooting with digital cameras is that there are often multiple ways to solve the problems we photographers face to capture images the way we visualize them.  By the way, I know the process I used sounds pretty complex and time consuming, but with a little practice it can be done quickly and it’s definitely a lot faster compared to the amount of time it would take you to get the same results on the computer.

Posted in National Parks, Photographic Technique, Weekly Column Tagged , , , |

The “Devil’s Bathtub”

The "Devil's Bathtub" - Click image to enlarge

Tens of thousands of years of weathering and erosion has created many unusual formations carved in the Blackhand sandstone of Old Man’s Cave Gorge located in Hocking Hills State Park near Logan, OH. Formed by Old Man’s Creek as it flowed through Old Man’s Cave Gorge, one of the more unusual formations you’ll find is the “Devil’s Bathtub.” The sandstone in this area was cemented together more tightly than the other nearby layers of rock, and because of this it forced the water to carve in the only direction it could, straight down. Over time, the swirling action carved out the “bathtub” shape in the rock. Legend says the swirling drain goes all the way down to Hades itself, thus the name “Devil’s Bathtub.” In reality, the so called bathtub is only a few feet deep and the water flows out under the footbridge and on downstream through the rest of the gorge.

Most compositions of the Devil’s Bathtub are made from the footbridge above the bathtub or from the hiking path for a side view. For my composition shown above, I wanted to give the viewer a feeling of the speed and swirling motion of the water as it sped down, around and through the bathtub. To create this unusual view I had to get a little wet. I stood in the creek, used a low camera angle and positioned the camera and tripod just above the edge of the bathtub. To give the flowing water the look of speed and motion and maintain sharpness throughout the image I used a small aperture (f/16) and a slow shutter speed (.8 sec). I also used a circular polarizing filter to reduce some (but not all) of the reflections on the wet rocks and water. The sun broke through the cloud cover as I was shooting and the streaks of sun added some nice contrast to the scene. I hope you enjoy this image. I had a great time photographing it, but I did have to hike back to the car and put on dry socks and boots when I was done!

You can see more of my images from Hocking Hills State park in my gallery here. If you have any questions about this image or my photography, please click here to email me.

To find out more about the Hocking Hills area of Ohio, visit

Posted in Ohio State Park, Photographic Technique, Weekly Column Tagged , , |

Yosemite – A Special Place

Yosemite Valley - Click image to enlarge

There are many stunning landscapes all over the world, but there are only a few that will stir your soul like your first view of Yosemite Valley.  My first view was at 2:34 PM PST on May 12, 2008 from the “Tunnel View” location, and I will never forget it.  From this vantage point, the valley stretched out before me and I could see El Capitan , Half Dome in the distance, and Bridalveil Falls in full flow.  The view was absolutely breathtaking and so stunningly beautiful that it completely overwhelmed my senses such that I could barely set up my camera and tripod.  The thought that Ansel Adams created some of his most famous photographs within a few feet of where I stood, maybe even from the very spot I was standing on didn’t make it any easier.  The image above is the view I had that day, it’s is a favorite of mine it, and I still feel the excitement I felt that day every time I look at it.

Before going to Yosemite, Lisa and I read as much as we could about the park, I studied many of Ansel Adams’ famous photographs of the park, and put together a plan of everything I wanted to photograph so I was ready to “hit the ground shooting” when I got there!  After our first view of the valley I realized that what was most important wasn’t getting all the shots I wanted, it was about experiencing the “journey” the park offered, getting completely absorbed in its sights and sounds.  During our time in the park, we went to Mirror Lake, then we hiked past Happy Isles to Vernal Falls, up the mist trail to the top of Vernal Falls and on to Nevada Falls.  We stood in awe of the view from Glacier Point, drove to Mariposa Grove to see the magnificent Giant Sequoias, and wandered through the meadow on the floor of the valley.  Snow made the Tioga Road impassable so seeing the Toulumne Meadows and the high Sierra back country will have to wait for a future trip.  Over the 4 days we had to spend in the park I captured almost 1,000 images.

Half Dome from Cook's Meadow - Click image to enlarge

Yosemite National Park was established on October 1, 1890, and is this country’s 3rd oldest national park.  The park covers 1,200 square miles of the western Sierra Nevada including scenic wonders like the granite massifs El Capitan and Half Dome, alpine and subalpine wilderness, three groves of giant sequoia trees and waterfalls that are some of the world’s highest.  Yosemite was the birthplace of the Sierra Club and in 1984 became a World Heritage site.  4.1 million people visit Yosemite annually.

The wide expansive vistas with waterfalls dropping thousands of feet down vertical granite walls are overwhelming and will frustrate any photographer trying to capture it all.  That’s the problem with a place like Yosemite, everywhere you look you’re surrounded with such beauty that you want to photograph everything, and no matter how hard you try you just can’t capture it all.  Yosemite is truly a special place, and I know I’ll go back many times.  If you haven’t been there yet, it is an experience not to be missed.

To see a gallery of my images of Yosemite National Park, please click here.  If you have any questions about my photography or my site, please click here to email me.

More information about Yosemite National Park can be found at the National Park Service Yosemite Welcome Page, and at the Yosemite Convervancy.

Posted in National Parks, Weekly Column Tagged , , , , |