Tag Archives: Sunset

October’s Hunter’s Moon

Hunter's Moon October 2013

Hunter’s Moon October 2013 – Click image to enlarge



Several photography friends and I went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park back in October to photograph fall color. Although we were there over the 3rd weekend of October which is typically when peak color occurs, the color this year was below average at best but we had a great time and did capture some great shots!

Our first evening in the park was spent atop Clingman’s Dome for a sunset, followed closely by moonrise of the full Hunter’s  Moon. In October, the full moon can be either the Hunter’s Moon or the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox, and in every 2 out of 3 years it occurs in September, but in some years it does occur in October. This year, the October full moon was the Hunter’s Moon. Sky conditions were partly cloudy for sunset, which helped give us some nice color as the sun sank below the horizon. Unfortunately the fog rolled in shortly after sunset and obscured the sky. We stayed for about 45 more minutes after sunset and decided that the sky wasn’t going to clear enough for us to see the moon so it was time to pack up. Five photographers have a lot of gear, and by the time we got everything loaded and drove as far as the other end of the parking lot, the wind changed direction, blew the fog away and suddenly there was the bright, full moon. Of course we stopped, got some of our gear out and started shooting. The sky didn’t stay clear very long because thin high clouds moved in before we fired our first shots. All was not lost as the wind created some very interesting patterns in the clouds lit by the bright full moon as you can see in my images. In the second image, you can see that the fog is just about to blow over us again.


Hunter's Moon with fog rolling in - Click image to enlarge

Hunter’s Moon with fog rolling in – Click image to enlarge


Please click here to see more of my images from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you have any questions about this website or my photography, I’d love to hear from you.  Please click here to email me.

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Back to the Smoky Mountains Again!

I recently made another trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 2 ½ days of photography.  I had an ambitious schedule planned, with the first afternoon at the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill, then a sunset at the Morton Overlook later that evening.  The next day started with a sunrise from the Foothills Parkway West followed by Cades Cove, a hike to Abrams Falls, then photographing along the Middle Prong of the Little River in the Tremont area.  My last morning in the park was to be spent in the Roaring Fork area.

The historic Mingus Mill was originally built in the 1790’s by the Mingus Family who owned it until the 1930’s when the National Park Service acquired it.  The current mill, built in 1886 by Sion Early replaced the original mill and uses a water-powered turbine to power all the machinery in the mill instead of a traditional water wheel. Today you can buy cornmeal and other mill-related items in the mill house.  This view shows the water swiftly flowing through the millrace to the mill.  I used a polarizing filter to adjust the amount of reflection with a 4 second shutter speed to clearly show the motion of the fast moving water.


Fast moving water flows through the millrace to the mill - Click image to enlarge

Mingus Mill – Click image to enlarge


It was about a 20 mile drive across the Newfound Road to the Morton Overlook from the Mingus Mill.  The clouds were pretty heavy so I was keeping my fingers crossed when I arrived at the overlook that I would get some timely breaks in the clouds at sunset.   I chose the Morton Overlook for my sunset location because in late July the sun sets directly in the “V” of the receding ridgelines. As the time for sunset approached, the clouds were very heavy just above the horizon so I knew that once the sun reached those clouds it would be the last I’d see of the sun.  Although I’m pleased with the image below, it’s not quite the shot I hoped to get.  Little did I know that the cause of those heavy clouds on the horizon was a thunderstorm hidden from my view by the mountains.  I ran into it while driving the dark, narrow and twisty Little River Road to my hotel in Townsend, Tennessee….it was a very long, slow drive to Townsend!


Smoky Mountain Sunset from the Morton Overlook – Click image to enlarge

The next morning I woke to rain, but got dressed and headed out anyway. If you aren’t out there, you won’t get the shot so off I went! When I arrived at the 2nd overlook on the Foothills Parkway West, fog filled the entire valley between my vantage point and the mountains.  Only the tops of the trees were visible above the fog, with an orange glow in the sky from the rising sun.  Just minutes after this shot was taken, the fog shifted and I couldn’t see anything, including the sunrise!


Sunrise from the Foothills Parkway West - Click image to enlarge

Sunrise from the Foothills Parkway West – Click image to enlarge

After shooting in Cades Cove and hiking to Abrams Falls, I was hot and tired from my hike and decided it was past time to get away from all the people in Cades Cove. I thought seriously about going back to my hotel and relaxing, but decided to keep shooting for a few more hours and end my day in the Tremont area, which is a beautiful and much quieter area of the park.  I was really looking forward to the peace and quiet this part of the park offered!  As luck would have it, as I turned into the Tremont area it started raining again. Undeterred, I drove several miles until the paved road turned into a gravel road.  Having photographed in this area before, I knew that all along the gravel portion of the road there were great scenes of the Middle Prong of the Little River.  After getting my rain gear on, I started walking along the river and just a short distance from the car I came upon this scene.  The light was fantastic, the kind every landscape photographer dreams about (and knows won’t last long)…the rain, fog and mist combined to give this image a wonderful ethereal quality.  I could have easily gone back to the hotel and relaxed instead of staying out to shoot in the rain, I’m really glad I didn’t!


Middle Prong of the Little River - Click image to enlarge

Middle Prong of the Little River – Click image to enlarge

To see more of my photography from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please visit my gallery here.

If you have any questions about this website or my photography, I’d love to hear from you.  Please click here to email me.

Posted in General Photography, National Parks, Photographic Technique Also tagged , |

City Lights


Click to enlarge

Broad Street Bridge, LeVeque Tower, & Ohio Supreme Court – Click image to enlarge


Earlier this week I met up with some fellow photographers to do some night photography along the riverfront in downtown Columbus Ohio.  Along the riverfront where the Scioto River flows through the city, the City of Columbus built a very nice “urban oasis” made up of some 145 acres of parkland from the Arena District to the Whittier Peninsula  with an integrated system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths with fountains, restaurants, benches, swings and various attractions called the “Scioto Mile.”  Some of the main attractions are an amazing 15,000 square foot interactive fountain and an authentic replica of the Santa Maria.  Many of the bridges and buildings are attractively lighted which adds even more atmosphere to the area after dark and are the main subjects for our camera’s this evening.  Taken from the promenade along the east side of the riverfront, the image above includes the Broad Street Bridge, AEP Building, LeVeque Tower, and the Ohio Supreme Court.  Below is a close-up of the Rich Street Bridge.


The Rich St. Bridge accented by blue lights - Click image to enlarge

The Rich St. Bridge accented by blue lights – Click image to enlarge

If you have any questions about this website or my photography, I’d love to hear from you.  Please click here to email me.

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Clingmans Dome Sunset

Clingmans Dome Sunset, Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Click image to enlarge


At an elevation of 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River.  Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647 feet), both located in North Carolina are higher.  As you can imagine, sunsets from this location can be spectacular depending on the weather conditions and on this early October evening I was treated to a beautiful sunset.  I had experienced one previous sunset on Clingmans Dome and this time I was hoping for some clouds since my previous sunset was cloudless.  On this day, there were nice clouds in the sky about an hour before sunset but unfortunately they had mostly dissipated by the time sunset arrived and only a thick layer of clouds on the horizon was left with just a few breaks for the sun to shine through.  Clingmans Dome is one of the most popular places in the park for photographers at sunset and for this sunset there must have been at least 50-75 photographers lining the sidewalk at the west end of the parking lot.  One photographer was cooking dinner for he and his wife as they waited for sunset…I tried to place an order since the food smelled so good, and that lead to some fun conversation.  Temperatures at the dome drop quickly so be sure to dress in layers and have a jacket, gloves and a hat handy.  The image above was taken just after the sun sank into the thicker layer of clouds.  The oranges, reds, and yellows in the sky made for a beautiful sight above the vanishing ridgelines of the Smoky Mountains.

More information about Clingmans Dome and Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be found on the National Park Service’s website here.

If you have any questions about my website or my photography I’d love to hear from you, please click here to email me.

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Some Place WARM!

It’s been a very cold week in central Ohio with temperatures in the teens during the day and single digits at night so I couldn’t help thinking about being some place warm like a nice beach!  As I write this, it’s 16 degrees and snowing outside.


Sanibel Island Florida sunset with a Fisherman – Click image to enlarge


My thoughts drifted to the warmest place I’ve been recently which was Sanibel Island in Florida when Lisa and I were there on vacation back in October 2012.  As I mentioned in a previous post, we had a great time in Sanibel.  We were walking along the beach one evening and were treated to the beautiful sunset you see above.  As we watched the sun sink below the horizon with some nice clouds hanging above the horizon we could tell that it would be a very colorful sunset.  Of course, I had my camera with me just in case there was anything interesting to photograph.   Fortunately, just ahead of us was a fisherman standing in the surf and beyond him two other people throwing out nets so I was able to include them in my composition.  The next image was taken a few minutes later and is very similar but in this shot a very cooperative seagull landed not too far in front of me and positioned itself nicely so I could include it.  Believe it or not, both of these images were taken hand held!!  Without today’s low noise, high ISO capable camera sensors and image stabilized lens technology it would not have been possible to capture sharp images like these, hand held in such low light.  Both images were captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS (image stabilized) L lens.  Camera settings for the first image were 1/80 sec at f/11, focal length 75mm, ISO 1600, and 1/50 sec at f/11, focal length 75mm, ISO 1600 for the second image.


Sanibel Island Sunset with seagull – Click image to enlarge


Just looking at these images again make me feel nice and warm…..no doubt the cup of hot tea I’m drinking right now probably helps too!


You can see more of my photography of Sanibel Island in my Sanibel Captiva Island gallery here.

If you have any questions about this website or my photography, I’d love to hear from you.  Please click here to email me.

Posted in General Photography, Weekly Column Also tagged |

Sanibel & Captiva Islands

Sanibel and Captiva are barrier islands that lie a few miles off the west coast of Fort Myers, Florida.  My wife Lisa and I recently vacationed there and had a wonderful time.  To the credit of the residents and friends of the island, they have protected the island from over-development and have kept it from becoming another high-rise, fast food tourist trap.  About 45% of Sanibel has been set aside for the preservation of natural habitats by organizations like the Nature Conservancy.  Over 5,000 acres on the bay side of the island is the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, named in honor of the Pulitzer prize-winning political cartoonist and wildlife system pioneer Jay Norwood Darling.  The rest of the island is privately owned but is subject to the laws of a strict Land Use Plan. With the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve less than a 2 hour drive from Sanibel, this whole area of southwestern Florida is a wildlife photographer’s dream!  Add to this beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and shell covered beaches (the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva are considered among the best shelling areas in the world) you’re in a photographer’s wonderland.

The week Lisa and I vacationed on the island just happened to coincide with a week of special events held annually at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge called “Ding Darling Days.”  One of the special days closed the refuge to all vehicular traffic so you could walk or bike all the trails without any cars around.  We took advantage of this opportunity and rode the 8-mile round-trip Wildlife Trail through the refuge.  We saw numerous birds including the Roseate Spoonbill, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, and a Reddish Egret.  We were amazed at how close we could get to the birds without them flying off.  The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron below was feeding along the edge of the water and we had just watched it eat a small tree crab.  I was about 10 feet from it when I got this shot.  Serious wildlife and bird photography usually requires a long telephoto lens in the range of 400mm – 800mm to properly fill the frame with often small and distant subjects.  These lenses are very expensive so I was very happy that some of the birds let me get close since I was using a moderate telephoto Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens!


Yellow-crowned Night Heron – Click image to enlarge

In addition to all the wildlife, the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular on Sanibel and Captiva.  From where we were staying on the island, the sun rose directly behind the city of Fort Myers so all the buildings were silhouetted on the horizon and along with some nice clouds to reflect the beautiful light of the rising sun, the sunrises were wonderful.  The image below was taken the morning of our last day on the island, and was the best sunrise of the week.


Sanibel sunrise – Click image to enlarge

One final thought if you plan to visit the island….it’s a wonderful place to relax, enjoy the beach, bike, sightsee, and eat great food especially in mid-October after all the summer tourists have gone.  However, there is a very tiny biting insect called a “no-see-um” that you need to know about.  They are worst at dawn and dusk and their bites cause itchy red bumps that last for days.  Lisa and I have been home almost a week and the itching has finally stopped and the bumps are starting to go away.  We had some good insect spray which helped a little but wasn’t greatly effective.  We found out too late from some local islanders that a coating of Avon Skin Soft applied to all exposed body parts will keep them from biting.  Be sure to get some Benadryl spray or hydrocortisone cream, either will relieve the itching!

To see more of my photography of Sanibel and Captiva Islands as well as Everglades National Park, please visit my gallery here.

If you have any questions about this website or my photography, I’d love to hear from you.  Please click here to email me.

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Ohio Farm Sunset

Like many places in the USA this summer, central Ohio has been very hot and dry.  At last count, we’ve had 4 100+ degree days for a total of 43 days with temperatures over 90 degrees, WHEW!  We’ve been lucky in my area and have gotten some rain from a few late afternoon pop-up thunderstorms that passed over us.  Unfortunately there haven’t been very many nice sunsets with clouds turned red, orange, and pink by the setting sun, but this past Saturday we were blessed with just such a sunset so I thought I’d share it with you.


Rural Ohio Farm sunset – Click image to enlarge

This scene is of a farm in southern Union County Ohio surrounded by many acres of soybeans just a few minutes after sunset.  While driving in the area one day I spotted it and made a mental note that it might be a good location for a sunset shoot!  I got there about 30 minutes before sunset and as I looked at the scene I could tell that the sun would set right behind the farm houses from my vantage point.  The sky had nice puffy clouds that were already beginning to show beautiful pinks, oranges, yellows and reds.  The sky is what I wanted to emphasize in my image, but I had to decide how much of the rest of the landscape I wanted to include.  I could show the whole dynamic range of the scene using graduated neutral density filters or HDR processing techniques, but with acres and acres of soybeans in front of me, showing a lot of detail in the soybean field would really distract from the beautiful sky.  I finally decided to show just a little detail in the soybean field and the farm buildings.  To accomplish this I used a combination of several graduated neutral density filters for a total of 6 stops of filtration to maximize the sky’s colors and give the soybean field and farm buildings just enough exposure to show some detail and the warm glow of the sunset.

For about 30-45 minutes after sunset, the sky changes every minute and you just never know what you might see so don’t pack up your gear and leave too soon, the show might not be over!  The second image below was taken about 30 minutes after sunset, and in it you can see some unusual faint orange-red beams of sunlight against a darkening sky.   Not more than a minute or two after I took this image all the color was gone.  I really enjoyed nature’s show and was glad I made the effort to go out and experience it.  It was a very peaceful and beautiful end to the day.


30 minutes after sunset – click image to enlarge

If you have any questions about this website or my photography, I’d love to hear from you.  Please click here to email me.

Posted in Photographic Technique, Weekly Column

More from Yosemite

Sunset view of Yosemite Valley - Click image to enlarge

Every so often I take the time to look through images I’ve taken, and as much as the images remind me of a particular place and time, it’s a learning experience as well.  It always seems like I see something different in almost every image and think of a certain feeling or experience when I look at again after not seeing it for a while.  Next month it will have been 4 years since I visited Yosemite National Park, and after looking through all the images I took there, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was there.  As I stated in my previous post on Yosemite here, it is a stunningly beautiful place.  Whether you are a photographer or not, you just have to go there and experience it.  Christopher Robinson, Editor of Outdoor Photographer Magazine, says in his “In This Issue” column of the May 2012 issue that “Yosemite National Park is the George Clooney of the nature photography universe.  Its celebrity is unparalleled, it’s instantly recognized, and photographers flock to the iconic park in droves, jostling for spots to capture the view of the valley like paparazzi wrestling for a place near the red carpet of a film premier.”  Christopher goes on to say that he recently heard an interview with Clooney that made him think of a comparison to Yosemite.  As an international superstar, Clooney has no privacy, and just like Yosemite, everyone wants to take his picture.  What he has observed is that whether he’s saying hello to a fan or signing an autograph, the person has a camera phone sticking up, shooting video or snapping pictures.  Clooney’s observation was spot on when he said, “I think most people are experiencing less and recording more.”  My point in mentioning this is that as photographers we want to capture all the iconic images of great places like Yosemite, but we have to be sure to experience the place while we there.  Put down your camera for a few moments, listen to the sounds, smell the smells, and let your eyes take in the sights around you.  When you pick up your camera again, I guarantee you that you’ll take better images!

Upper Yosemite Falls from the valley - Click image to enlarge


Reflections - Click image to enlarge

Except for the Yosemite Valley Sunset, the other images were taken during the last few hours of our time in Yosemite.  Several times a day the Ansel Adams Gallery sponsors a photography walk with a gallery photographer.  During a fun and informative 2 hour walk around Cook’s Meadow in Yosemite Valley, the gallery photographer gives many great tips on how to set up and photograph various subjects during the walk.  It was great just wandering around the valley for a few hours.  I mostly listened and looked around as we walked, trying to take in the last few moments of my Yosemite “experience.”

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

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The Outer Banks of North Carolina and The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Atlantic sunrise, Fishing at dawn - Click image to enlarge

The Outer Banks of North Carolina will supply any photographer with a wonderfully diverse array of subjects to photograph.  Sand, sea, sky, wildlife, and some of the oldest and tallest lighthouses on the Atlantic coast are there for you to create memorable landscape and nature images.  My wife and I made our first visit in late October 2009, which turned out to be the perfect time to be there.  The summer tourist season was over, the temperatures were cooler, and we had our pick of places to stay.  We arrived with no reservations, turned south at Nags Head and drove down the coast until we spotted a nice house on the beach to rent in the town of Avon on Hatteras Island.  We had a fun and relaxing vacation and the photography was fantastic.  My favorite subjects were the lighthouses, sunrises and sunsets, and beach and seascapes.  Given its more than two century history, of particular interest was the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

There has been a light at Cape Hatteras since 1803 when the first tower was completed.  It was an eight-sided sandstone tower and was perched on a 20 foot sand hill.  Eighteen open-flame lamps created the light for the tower, and no matter how well the keeper tended the lamps, the light given off was not strong enough to reach across Diamond Shoals, dangerous ridges of underwater sand that could destroy a ship.

In 1854 the first tower was heightened to 150 feet and a first-order Fresnel lens was installed.  The tower was also painted white for the first seventy feet to stand out against green foliage in the background when viewed from the sea, and red for the rest of its height to contrast with a blue sky.   It served well until after the Civil War when it was discovered that the aging sandstone tower had cracks and was worn from wind erosion.

In March 1867, Congress appropriated $75,000 for a new lighthouse, the very best that could be built.  Work began in November of 1868 with the best materials available.  One and a quarter million dark-red bricks came from kilns along the James River, the dressed granite blocks for the quoins came from Vermont, and an enduring iron spiral staircase was cast by Bartlett and Robbins of Baltimore.

At the summit of the 198 foot tall tower, a twenty-four panel, first-order Fresnel lens sparkled when it was first lit in December 1870.  And in 1873 the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received its black and white spirals that helped it become world-renowned.

The iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - Click image to enlarge

Hatteras Island is a barrier island migrating southwestwardly, and the coastline has changed gradually due to erosion, driven by rising sea levels and prevailing water and wind currents.  In 1870 when the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was completed, the tower was about 1600 feet from high tide.  Over the years the beach eroded and by the 1920’s the ocean had advanced to within 300 feet of the tower.  In 1987 the National Park Service asked the National Academy of Sciences to study and provide definitive, achievable advice on how to save the lighthouse.  The goal was to provide a long-term solution of 100 years or more and preserve the natural processes of barrier island migration.  “Move the Lighthouse,” stated the Academy’s report.

The keepers quarters and other buildings were moved first and on June 17, 1999 the Lighthouse began its 2,900 foot move to its new home.  On September 14, 1999 the last brick of the Lighthouse’s new foundation was laid, and on Saturday November 13, 1999 the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse flashed its brilliant beams of light once again.  Of the more than one thousand lighthouses built by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the most recognized in America.  Today it has earned the esteemed rank of National Historic Landmark, a fitting tribute it retains after relocation.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, view from the beach - Click image to enlarge


The Outer Banks is a 150-mile long string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina that covers most of the coastline, beginning at the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach, and south to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on the east coast of the United States.  The major islands are Bodie (pronounced “body”), Roanoke, Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Portsmouth.  The Outer Banks is not anchored to offshore coral reefs like some other barrier islands and as a result significant beach erosion can occur during major storms.  In fact, the Outer Banks is the most hurricane-prone area north of Florida.  The treacherous seas off the Outer Banks and the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred there have given these seas the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

The Outer Banks is also a major tourist destination and is known for its temperate climate and wide expanse of open beachfront. The Wright brothers’ first flight in a powered, heavier-than-air vehicle took place on the Outer Banks on December 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills near the seafront town of Kitty Hawk. The Wright Brothers National Monument commemorates the historic flights.

The English Roanoke Colony—where the first person of English descent, Virginia Dare, was born on American soil—vanished from Roanoke Island in 1587. The Lost Colony, written and performed to commemorate the original colonists, is the longest running outdoor drama in the United States and its theater acts as a cultural focal point for much of the Outer Banks.

If your time in the Outer Banks is short, must see locations are the Currituck and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses, the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, Ocracoke Island (including the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse), and the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve.

To see more images of the Outer Banks, please visit my Outer Banks gallery here.  If you have any questions about my photography or my website, please send me an email.

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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.

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