For years I have taken photos of various scenes and landscapes and have come away with some pretty decent photos. This comes from years of practice and learning, some from others and some on my own. The success of those photos really only hinged on some planning and being in the right place at the right time. But during all of that, I had done myself a little bit of a disservice in the process. Most of the time, I showed up and took the photo and left. Very rarely did I wait around for anything to change, or even shown up early to prepare and maybe get a before the event photo.
This has changed. And a tough change it has been I might add. I am not a patient person, and couple that with a certain amount of impulsiveness it has been really difficult for me to get over this little hump in my photography life. And I will say that since working on that I really believe that the output of my photography, the final photos, really have elevated to another level. In other words I was able to take my photography from good to great just by exhibiting a little bit of patience. Now, this is not to say that I haven’t had any other help or changes along the way, but waiting and being patient has been the most significant difference in my photography. Fighting that urge to just go “meh, good enough” and leave is tough, but the result is so much better than I was hoping.
With a few examples to treat you to in this, I hope to show you where my patience has paid off. The first of which is from the Smoky Mountains trip recently and taking sunset photos at the Ben Morton Overlook on Route 441. I went up to the overlook a few hours early before sunset to do a few things. The first was to stake out a spot without being overrun by people, but the second was to be able to relax and enjoy the moment of the light and scenery changing as it led up to sunset. Also, admittedly, I just had a HUGE dinner down in town and I needed to relax from a bit of indigestion as well.
As time passed and the light changed, people came and went while I took the occasional snap of the scene. Previously I would have given into my boredom and left after the first hour or so. The good news was that I would have come away with a really nice photo that I am happy with and proud of. But by waiting it all out, I was able to capture a photo that really captured the feeling and mood of sunset in the Great Smoky Mountains. The difference between the two was only about 45 minutes.
The second example is one of wildlife photography. I love bald eagles and am always on the lookout for them when I know they might be around. Doing so has led to a lot of good photos over the years, but generally speaking are the same photo. It is generally an eagle perched in a tree looking majestic. Which in of itself is an awesome photo, but can sometimes be a bit lacking in that wow factor. So luckily I was at a campground where eagles have been known to nest and fly around. Partially because of the fish hatchery down the road I suspect, but I digress.
This particular day I had been watching the eagles fly around a little and noticed that they were nesting nearby. So I grabbed my camera and my telephoto lens and started tracking them. One landing in a pine tree nearby and hung out for a while. I took the majestic “perched in a tree” photo, but instead of “calling it a day” I hung out a little and watched. Within about 5 minutes that eagle left its perch and began to fly around again, so I went back to tracking. And just like that my new friend came swooping down, snatched a fish from the lake and took off. And I caught the whole sequence of events. Making the composite of 4 of the images from that sequence has been one of the highlights of my career as a photographer. I had finally gotten one of “those” photos that you see in magazines, and was super stoked and proud of what I captured. And all it took was 5 minutes to just chill out and wait and let the eagle tell the story. And what a story it told at that moment.
These are obviously just two very specific examples of what waiting a little bit, and having a little patience with your scene can do for your photography. Is this the ultimate solution? No, of course not. But like all the other tools on your belt, if you use this one wisely and to your advantage you can go from “wow, they got a really lucky shot” to creating your own luck in your photography to get the photo that everyone else raves over. It is said that the little things all put together will make the most difference, and I agree with that. Take this little thing and add it to your repertoire and I bet you will see immediate improvement in your finished photos.
Thank you as always for reading and following along on this journey. Let me know if you enjoyed this blog and video, and if there are any questions or suggestions for videos you want to see in the future.
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the Great Smoky Mountains between Tennessee and North Carolina. This is a location (among many others) that I have always wanted to go see and photograph. This is going to be a slight recap, plus what I learned along the way to help you plan a trip to the Smokies without missing the photos that you want. This blog will be broken down into several sections. First section is a “map” of the area. Second section is going to be some of my favorite locations that I visited, plus the ones that I didn’t get to see and will be going back for. The last section will be about some hints and tips that I have discovered and picked up from other resources along the way.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is situated in the southern Appalachian Mountains along the east coast of the US and is VAST in size. I will be honest, I was absolutely blown away with the enormity of the area and the park. The Smokies is home to the highest peak along the Appalachian Trail clocking in at just over 6600 feet. That is more than a mile above sea level. Since the park is located in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina along those state borders, but the AT follows those peaks in the park along that border pretty closely. The “base camp” towns for the Smokies that I saw are Gatlinburg and Townsend in Tennessee, and Cherokee and Bryson City in North Carolina. For this trip I stayed in Gatlinburg near the Roaring Forks Nature Trail, more on that later.
Through some research, reading blogs (like this one) and using resources like Google Maps, National Park Service website, and local tourism sites I settled on Gatlinburg as my base camp to explore the park from. The first area that I wanted to visit was the Roaring Fork Nature Trail that began just up the road from my hotel. This is an 11 mile road that is mostly one way and single lane with multiple stops and pulloffs to see the various sites along the way. Highlights for me were the Bud Ogle Homestead, and Place of a Thousand Drips. I missed the marquee sights of Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls because of timing, but I highly recommend Roaring Forks for a day trip exploring the various areas there. Another area that was an imperative for me is Clingman’s Dome. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Smokies and has a parking area that gives you panoramic views to the southeastern to southwestern Smokies. The walk up to the observation tower is about a half mile, and feels pretty much straight up the last bit of the mountain. For the uninitiated it will be a relatively difficult climb, but worth the effort. The last area that I set out to visit, and I am glad that I did for a few reasons was Cade’s Cove. Cade’s Cove is a scenic loop in the foothills of the Smokies with some pretty amazing sights and views along the way. A few of my favorite photos from the trip came from Cade’s Cove. It is about 25 miles from the Visitor’s Center and Park Headquarters just outside of Gatlinburg, but the windy road provides plenty of pulloffs for other views along the way.
The list of locations that I must come back for is nothing less than spectacular on their own of course, but because of time constraints and timing of the trip it was difficult to squeeze it all in. The first are going to be a group of hikes that I was unable to do. Specifically waterfall hikes to locations like Laurel Falls on the way out to Cade’s Cove, Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls on the Roaring Fork Nature trail. Another “must come back for” are a couple of events at Clingman’s Dome. The first is sunrise at Clingman’s which I had all planned out and ready to go, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with my schedule. The second event was for night sky and milky way photography from Clongman’s dome as well, but like sunrise conditions were an issue. There have been some wildfires in Western Canada that were making the night sky when it was not cloudy a bit murky and not optimal for getting photos of stars. These are certainly not exhaustive lists of what I wanted to do, and what I intend on going back for but are definitely a few things that you can get started on in the meantime.
The last part of all this are some hints, tips and “gotchas” that will help make your trip successful and more efficient. The first is a gotcha that I prepared for, but could have prepared better for. Time. When looking at a map and planning things out I did not account for the amount of time it took to get places. Now, I didn’t spend hours on the road getting to places, but the treks to get to various locations were significant. For example, among the distance to Cade’s Cove there was also things I didn’t account for like speed limits and traffic. The Smokies are a popular and beautiful location and are well attended. Then when you add the fact that some areas the speed limit is 25 miles per hour some of these distances take a little bit longer than what you might be used to. Clingman’s Dome looked like a relatively close run up the mountain to get to the parking area, when in reality it was about a 45 minute drive. So just going there and coming back to Gatlinburg was an hour and a half right off the bat. So make sure to factor in time and add to your estimates to make sure you get the time you need to get to where you are going. Another gotcha is temperature. Make sure you bring with you some gear to keep yourself warm. I went in Mid-May where temperatures in Gatlinburg were in the mid to high 70’s, but when you get into the heavily forested mountains and up on top of those mountains the temperature variations I saw were upwards of 25 degrees. That much variation turns a 75 degree day into a 50 degree day, and if you forget a jacket or sweatshirt it could get quite chilly for you.
So for a few hints and tips, some of these I took directly from the National Park Service themselves, and would recommend following them. The first is parking. After March 1st you will need a parking permit to park within the roadways and lots in the park. So having one is essential if you don’t want a ticket or be towed. These permits are $15 for a week and can be purchased online and printed at home, which I highly recommend you do. On the first day I went to the visitor center for some info and souvenirs and saw lines about 20 people deep at the kiosks for purchasing those permits. Because I had mine I was in and out of there in a few minutes. Next tip has to also do with time that I mentioned earlier. Some of these locations can be extremely popular, so getting there early is essential. I wanted to do the Grotto Falls hike with my wife for photos along the Roaring Fork Nature trail and every parking area leading up to and following the main parking area for the trailhead were packed by 10am. Clingman’s Dome parking area was also full when we got there at lunchtime the one day, and we got extremely lucky that there were a couple of motorcyclists leaving as we came around to the end of the loop. Going back to the Visitor’s Center for a moment, I would suggest going in there for information. They have a few free resources available, but also some guides for various activities that are $1 each. I dropped less than $5 for some guides that included a ton of information that I did not see online, so definitely a worthwhile investment.
So to wrap things up, I know this was a really long one, but I was really excited about this trip and wanted to share a few of my experiences. I know I have said it a few times, but this is definitely a trip that I will be repeating a few times to see things I missed, but also see things at different points of the year as well. If you have any questions at all, or want to know more about my experiences on this trip feel free to reach out, I will do my best to answer them. As always, thanks for supporting, and reading this and watching the accompanying video to this blog. All of the support is appreciated. Make sure to get out and take some great photos!!
Noisy photos are a thing of the past. Or are they? With newer technology in photography and built in noise reduction, plus the software we use to process our photos we can do a lot to eliminate noise in our photos. Noise in our photos is generated by the electronics in the camera, and as devices like the image sensor heat up, and become more sensitive to light the more noise will be present in your photos. Which is an interesting parallel to film photography because we also had noise in our film photos, or film grain.
The source of that noise and film grain were inherent to the technology of the time because there were photosensitive particles on the film substrate that would expose and make the gradients of gray on a single layer for a black and white photo, or on each layer the gradients of Red, Green and Blue to form a color image. The grain you would see in your film photos would actually be the particles that formed the images, much like a pixel in a digital image today. And with film photography the larger the particle, the more sensitive the film which in turn meant a higher ISO. Even with technology changes the elements of our photos remain relatively the same. Something that is amazing to me on a deep nerdy level.
Sorry for the divergence with a short look back in time, but the benefit we have now versus with film photography is that we have software that helps reduce the noise that is produced by our cameras to help create cleaner images. And this is not to say that noise or film grain has no place in photography, but there are times that it can hinder the ability to tell our story with our images.
In comes AI, or Artificial Intelligence. The process of removing noise from our photos has always been a manual process of tweaking some sliders in Photoshop or other image editing applications. With the development of machine learning and AI algorithms these features can now be automated to help us eliminate unwanted noise from our photos. In the video I went over two examples of applications that use that, but there are many many more on the market and available. With more coming every day. To see the video and demonstration of how Photoshop and Topaz AI DeNoise work feel free to check out the video at the bottom of this post.
Now, I don’t pretend to understand how the software works at all, and I really find it quite intriguing on how well it works. I am a very techy person and enjoy that level of detail into the algorithms that make things work, so that might be a rabbit hole deep dive that I take at some point. But the point is that these are tools to help you improve your photos and final images without costing you time that would prevent you from making other images. I always caution against relying solely on the tool to do the job for you, but these tools are certainly worth while to help with tweaks that would have to be done manually with varying degrees of success. So, use it wisely and don’t use it as an excuse to not make a good image in the field.
Like I said, for a full demonstration of these tools, be sure to check out the video below. But also go out and look at the other software available. There are many. Of the two I reviewed I preferred the image that was cleaned up in Photoshop more than Topaz, but it took a lot longer to process than Topaz. So I suspect that might be how both pieces of software evaluate, remove and clean up the noise. If I find any other applications that remove noise that I like, I will be sure to follow this blog up with that.
Thank you very much for reading today, and following along on this journey. I really do hope that you are learning something about how I make photos, and can apply it to your own photography. Don’t forget to follow me in all the places, and I will see you all soon! Make sure to get out there and take some great photos.
The grand purpose as a photographer is to capture light. Or capture the light that we see, right? We can wax philosophically about this all day long about chasing the good light and opportunities. But why not chase some bad light as well? I may be in the minority here, but get out and chase good light, and bad light. Ansel Adams had said, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” This is no exception. We talk about how to break other rules in photography for composition and such, why not break this one too?
The fact of the matter is that we can’t all be famous world traveling photographers that are out for the specific purpose of taking photos. But hey; we can all dream though, right? Of course we can. And we should take advantage of the times and opportunities we can get. And sometimes the only opportunity we get is going out at lunchtime or after the parts of the day that may be optimal. We can use these less than optimal times to really hone in our skills.
Taking advantage of these less than optimal conditions can provide us with a unique look at our subjects. And by unique I mean simply that you can take a scene or subject and quite literally show it in a different light. Using one of my favorite local cascades as the example I’ll show you some of what you can capture in these conditions, and will give you some tips on why you can use these conditions to your advantage.
In the first photo I took advantage of the top down light, and with a polarizer I was able to see “inside” this particular part of the cascade and see the rock and texture in the water. It made for a nice change to see what helps shape the water as it flows but also see the smoothness of that flow in that spot before it crashes and churns below. Being able to see the texture of the water, while seeing the texture of the rocks that create this particular cascade I found to be particularly interesting. Gave me a feel like I was looking into a terrarium seeing the different colors and textures present in water that was moving as quickly as it was.
In the next photo I took advantage of using a wider aperture and a neutral density filter to capture the motion of the cascade and get a nice milky flow of the water, but with the sunlight at the angle that it is it glistened off the droplets coming off the short falls creating some texture in the milky waterfall without having to composite two different images. Under normal conditions in order to capture both you would need to have an image showing all of the motion, but then another image to overlay that would show the water droplets and the texture. In fact without the light falling the way it is, you might not be able to capture the prismatic effect the water droplets are creating.
In this last photo, I used the same setup and zoomed into a portion of the cascade to get the water running over the moss covered rocks in these small cascading falls. This allowed me to capture the detail and color in that area while being able to capture the motion of the water without sacrificing any of that detail and color. The contrast between the lighter sunlit water, and the deeper and darker colors of the moss and rock ledge gives this image some contrast and depth that you may not have gotten at other times of the day.
What we get out of doing this is being able to use these conditions to our advantage in order to obtain sharp and detailed images with greater clarity. You can also use high contrast between light and dark areas during midday to create a dramatic effect in your photos. The bright sunlight can also help you achieve greater depth of field with a narrower aperture, allowing you to capture more depth in your images. This goes especially for wildlife photographers. If the conditions are especially bright where you can close your aperture a little while maintaining a quick shutter, you can really capture some great motion and/or drama in your wildlife photos. But at the end of the day, if you can master these less than optimal conditions you can capture the light no matter the situation with confidence. I hope this helps inspire you to get out at all hours of the day and night to capture photos, regardless of the light.
Color calibration is a crucial aspect of landscape photography that is often overlooked. A properly calibrated monitor can make all the difference in the quality of your final images. Without it you can plan for an epic photo, get all your gear put together, set up on location take your photo… edit… and post. Only then you find out that the calibration on your monitor is off and the photo looks terrible on your website or social media.
First and foremost, color calibration ensures that the colors in your images are accurate and consistent. A monitor that is not calibrated can display colors inaccurately, leading to images that look different on different screens or when printed. This can be especially problematic for landscape photographers who need to convey the beauty of nature through their images. A properly calibrated monitor will display colors accurately, allowing you to create images that look just as stunning on the screen as they do in real life. You will see some slight variations between devices, mainly because of the quality of the screens on those devices. But as long as you have calibrated for color it should keep the variances to a minimum.
Another benefit of color calibration is that it allows you to make more informed editing decisions. When your monitor is calibrated, you can trust that the colors you see on the screen are an accurate representation of the colors in your image. This makes it easier to make adjustments to things like saturation, contrast, and white balance without worrying that you are making the image look worse rather than better.
Calibrating your monitor also helps you to achieve better print quality. When you send an image to be printed, the printer will use its own color profile to interpret the colors in your image. If your monitor is not calibrated, the colors in your image may not match the printer's color profile, resulting in a print that looks different than what you saw on your screen. By calibrating your monitor, you can ensure that the colors in your image will match the printer's color profile, resulting in a print that looks just as good as it does on your screen.
Finally, color calibration can save you time and money in the long run. When your monitor is calibrated, you can trust that the colors you see on the screen are accurate, which means you can spend less time making adjustments to your images. This can be especially beneficial for landscape photographers who may need to edit hundreds or even thousands of images from a single shoot. By streamlining your editing process, you can save time and get more done in less time.
In conclusion, color calibration is an essential part of landscape photography that should not be overlooked. Calibrating your monitor ensures that the colors in your images are accurate and consistent, which can make all the difference in the quality of your final images. It also allows you to make more informed editing decisions, achieve better print quality, and save time and money in the long run. So, if you haven't already, invest in a color calibration tool like the Datacolor SpyderX Pro (Datacolor SpiderX PRO Affiliate LINK) and start creating stunning landscape images that accurately represent the beauty of nature.