Sunday, December 7, 2008

Elk River Falls

Elk River Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in North Carolina and Tennessee. Because it is only a few miles from the state line, it is often included in books for waterfalls in Tennessee and books about waterfalls in North Carolina. The popularity is due to not only its height, but also due to its ease of access.

If you are traveling on 194 through the town of Elk Park, head north on 1303 and you will turn left on Elk River Road. The falls are easy to find not only because their are signs to follow, but because the road travels along the edge of the river. Elk Park is about 6 miles from the turnoff to Roan Mountain State Park.

While I will not promote jumping off waterfalls, this is one of the more popular of the waterfalls in the area for waterfall jumpers. It is a very busy spot in the summer for swimmers, picnics, hikers, and photographers. I am not sure if it was the final exams or the snow on the ground that kept the swimmers away today. I tried to take a few pictures from the top of the waterfall, but the ice and slick rocks prevented me from getting close enough to the edge.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Linville River Bridge on Blue Ridge Parkway

Unlike the Lin Cove Viaduct, the Linville River Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway almost goes undetectable. The Linville River Bridge is one of the largest stone arch bridges along the parkway.

The majestic bridge is easily accessed from the Linville River Picnic area. After turning into the picnic area make a left into the first parking area. The trails begins at the end of the parking lot and is only a short walk down to the river.

During the fall season, it is also worth a trip driving through the picnic area where there are numerous maple trees. It is a quick and easy location for fall foliage photographs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Whitetop Mountain and Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area

Whitetop Mountain and Elk Gardens, both in Virginia are two of the prettiest and wildest places, yet they are unknown to many. I was fortunate enough to run into a photographer a couple years ago that shared this information with me. Most of the people I run into that are familiar with it are hikers that went through the area on the Appalachian Trail.

Mt. Rogers is the highest point in Virginia and Whitetop Mountain is the second highest. Elk Gardens is located at the intersection of State Road 600 and the Appalachian trail and falls in between Mt. Rogers and Whitetop Mountain. It features open balds and pasture land with long range views making it an ideal place for sunrise and sunset pictures. A trail from Elk Gardens will take you to the top of Mt, Rogers, but the views are impacted by the dense forest. This area is a great place to hike in July because of the wild blueberries and blackberries, but please only take a few and leave them for the wildlife and others. A short video taken from Elk Gardens can be viewed on youtube by clicking here.

If you leave Elk Gardens and head south on State Road 600 there will be a turnoff to the right that will take you to the top of Whitetop Mountain. You will also intersect the AT trail on your way to the top of Whitetop Mountain. The area southwest of the intersection is one of my favorite places to photography wildflowers. If you go to this area please respect its sensitivity and stay on the trail. Use a telephoto lens to photography flowers off the trail instead of walking through the area. If you travel a little further down the trail you will reach a spring that is an excellent water source, but I think I am supposed to say here that you need to filter the water before drinking.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Moses Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway Near Blowing Rock

The Moses H. Cone Memorial Manor, also known as Flat Top Manor to the locals, is located at Mile Post 294 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock. In 1898 Moses H. Cone wanted to emulate the Vanderbilt's Biltmore Mansion and announced he was going to be a 13,000 square foot mansion for a cost of $25,000. (At that time you could buy a home for $200) Construction of the house started in 1899 and took two years to build.
Today the Manor is a visitor center and is best known as one of the Parkway's Craft Centers. The center features hundreds of crafts made by regional artist, quilters, candle makers, etc.
In addition to the crafts, visitors will enjoy walk around the property or taking a carriage ride through the
orchards and around Bass Lake. Moses loved nature and had numerous gardens, orchards, and Hemlock Trees. Visitors can still enjoy the lakes he constructed and the 10,000 parts of the apple orchard that once consisted of over 10,000 apple trees.
If you enjoy reading, this book goes into detail on the life of Moses Cone and his wife. It talks about life after the war, how they made their fortune in the textile industry, and how they practically adopted the town of blowing rock, and supplemented the teachers wages.

10 Affordable Gifts Ideas for Photographers

While photography equipment is known for being pricey, there are some very good and affordable gift ideas for individuals who want to buy a gift for a photographer without breaking the bank. We have compiled the ten best gift ideas to make your shopping as easy and affordable as possible.

1. Magazine Subscription – Outdoor Photographer is just one of the many photography magazines available, but is a good choice if the photographer enjoys taking picture of nature and landscape. The magazine offers gear reviews, tips for improving your knowledge in both photography and post processing, and provides insight on locations and workshops available. Retail $19.99

2. External Hard Drives – Too many photographers depend on their notebook or desktop to store their files. Not only does this slow down the computer, but it also prevents them from accessing the files if the hard drive fails. An external hard drive will allow you to work faster while providing you with a peace of mind knowing your files are safer. Retail Price $99-$250

3. Flashpoint 42-Inch 5 in 1 Collapsible Disk Reflector – This product is great for adding fill light to your subjects and contains translucent, white, silver, black, and soft gold. This product is easy to breakdown and carry in the field. Retail Price $45

4. Photography Books- There are some great books on photography available at reasonable prices. Pick books that relate to type of photography they enjoy. Also find out if they use Photoshop or another photo editor and see what books are available. John Shaw’s Nature Photography Field Guide should be on the bookshelf of every nature photographer. Retail Price $17-$25

5. Digital Photo Frame – The prices have dropped substantially recently without a decrease in quality. We have not found it worth the extra price in most cases to purchase the wireless frame as opposed to one that accepts memory cards or a USB slot. Retail Price $99-$150

6. Memory Cards – It seems every year larger and faster memory cards or available at a fraction of the cost of last year’s models. Most photographers always want to upgrade their memory cards for both size and speed. This will require you knowing what kind of memory card their camera utilizes. Retail Price $29-59

7. Photomatix – This software is used to produce High Dynamic Range photography. You can now capture high contract scenes without blowing out the highlights. While there are other programs that do this, Photomatix is the best we have tested to date. Retail Price $99

8. Filters – While most photographers have circular polarizer and ND Grad Filters, some do not carry warming filters or special effect filters. Cokin offers some affordable specialty filters for warming, cooling, and sunsets. It is also important to include a carrying case to prevent the filters from scratches and damage. The Cokin holder isn’t necessary as you can simply hold the filter over the lens to achieve the effect you desire.($29-49)

9. Photography Vest – I went through several photography cases before finally settling for a photography vest. It was actually a gift from a friend of mine that is a photographer. I am more efficient now since I can easily have everything organized and accessible. No more forgetting to put something in your camera bag.

10. Subscription to – While this site is free, a paid membership allows members unlimited gallery uploads, additional photo critique request, a personal imagePRO website, and a favorite image gallery. It is a great way to show off your work and get advice on your pictures. Retail Price $25

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Cades Cove is probably the most photographed area within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Located in East Tennessee, the cove is surrounded by mountains and is a haven for Deer, Turkey, Bears, numerous birds, and hundreds of wildflowers.

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." ~John Muir, 1913

Open from sunrise to sunset, visitors are allowed to travel an 11 mile one way loop road (a couple of shortcuts are available also). For those of you that prefer to get off the road, there are numerous trails and old buildings you can visit. Even though the loop is only 11 miles, it can take several hours, depending on the number of visitors. From May through September the loop road is open only to hikers and bikers from till 10 am on Wed and Sat mornings.

If you plan on birding in Cades Cove, make sure you check out the sewer lagoons. While the are is fenced, there is still an opportunity to see waterfowl common to the area. Another hot spot is hiking the stream section between Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane.

Back-country camping is permitted in designated locations, but a permit is required. Permits are free and can be obtained at the visitor center. Cades Cove has a very nice campground that visitors can use for about $20/day. The campground is very busy during the season so reservations are recommended. You may obtain reservations by clicking here.

And as always, remember that weather conditions change quickly in the mountains. If you venture out, make sure you are prepared.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Linn Cove Viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway is possibly the most photographed area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This marvel was considered to be the most complicated concrete bridge ever built.

Construction for the Blue Ridge Parkway began on September 11, 1935 and by 1967 all but 7.5 miles of the 469.1 miles had been completed. The final segment presented a challenge to engineers because they did not want the environmental impact of cutting into Grandfather Mountain to build the roadway. To overcome this challenge, they decided to build a bridge and "snake it" around the mountain. Building a bridge on the side of a mountain at 4100 feet in elevation offered many challenges that were overcome with patience, perseverance, and endurance. This marvel is a reminder of what great things are possible when people work together to overcome obstacles.

For more information on the history of the Linn Cove Viaduct please click here.

This picture was taken using a long exposure on a very windy morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tried capturing this image several times but everytime a car would appear, it would stop for a second or two on the viaduct to view the beautiful sunrise. It took some time, but finally I was able to find someone that was in such a hurry to get to work that they probably didn't even notice its beauty.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Swinging Bridge and Grandfather Mountain

"Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise. " George Washington Carver

At 5946 feet, Grandfather Mountain is the highest point along the Blue Ridge. It is also the only private park in the World that has been designated by United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve. (As of 2008, part of the park is being operated and owned by the National Forrest Service)

The Mile High Swinging Bridge is 228 Feet in Length and Spans an 80 ft ravine. The trip across leads to a Linville Peak and offers breathtaking views and photographing opportunities.

In addition to the hiking trails and vistas, the park offers a nature museum and wildlife exhibits. This is a great place for children to see deer, bears, mountain lions, owls, eagles, and otters.
Every spring the park offers a nature photography clinic and it is one of two weekends a year that guest are allowed to camp in the park. (Back-country camping is permitted but the sites are not near the main facilities. Permits are required for back-country camping and hiking).
For more information on Grandfather Mountain and to plan your visit please visit their website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hiking Linville Falls, North Carolina

"A strong man and a waterfall always channel their own path" source unknown

Known as the Grand Canyon of North Carolina, Linville Gorge contains the Linville River which drops some 2000 feet in 12 miles. While most of the terrain is step and difficult to traverse, there are some easy sections right off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

If you are traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway then Linville Falls should be on your "must visit list" It is located at Mile Post 316.3 and has trails for all levels. There are several easy trails that offer great views above and below the waterfall. There are also more strenous trails leading down to the bottom of the gorge. Caution should be taken hiking in the gorge because of steep and rocky terrain. Swimming is not allowed at the Linville Falls, but you are allowed to fish in Linville River.

If you desire to spend more time in the gorge I should point out that this is a rugged and wild place and deserves a great amount of respect. Conditions change quickly and access in and out is limited. I suggest stopping by the visitor center for trail maps and information.

For those interested in camping at Linville Falls, a campground is located near the near the visitors center for both primative and RV campers.

Outdoor Photography

"I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck." ~Emma Goldman

While I spend time browsing photography blogs I have found myself emailing the author several times asking about what gear they typically use. While this blog is not just about photography, I thought I would start things off by listing the gear I use.

- Canon 30D - Great camera with very few faults. I will probably upgrade to the 50D or 60D in 2009.

1. Telephoto - Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM - Great lens, if I had it to do over again I might settle for the 100-300 just because the extra weight does become a challenge on long hikes. There are times I have left it at home when it would have been nice to have it.

2. Wide Angle - Tokina 12-24mm f4 DX - This is a great wide angle lens and is one of my most used lenses.

3. General Purpose Lens - Tamron SP AF28-75/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) Macro Another great lens for the money.

4. Macro Lens - Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro This lens produces great pictures. I can't wait for the spring so I can add to my wildflower gallery.

1. I spent a fair amount of money on BW slim polarizer filters and wish I could go back and just buy a modest priced polarizer. The two I bought have not held up well.

2. Singh-Ray ND-Var Filter - Another expensive filter, but great for waterfalls.

3. A collection of Cokin ND Filters and warming filters.