Making a Better Mouse Trap

Tuesday, Dec 26, 2017

Mountain Meditation
For the last two months, I have been wanting to get to Big Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to work some of the water there.  You see, this is the only place I know of in this part of the country where the water has an aqua or teal color to it.  I've been fascinated with it since the first time I visited the hiking trails years ago.  Beyond the color, I have always loved the creek itself for all the different personalities that it possesses.  I've seen it in droughts, and just after flooding.  Each time has been something special, and I've always come back with images that I have been really proud of.

My plan was to get some Fall color matched with the cool tones of the water.  The problems that I ran into ranged from lack of rain, to lack of time.  You see, Big Creek is a full 200 miles from my house.  That is an investment in both time and gas.  I try to schedule my trips out there when I know I will have the time to make the best use of it.  With several extra days off of work, and the promise of some clouds, I figured that now was as good a time as any.

Teal Wash
My day started early, earlier than I really needed it to.  I woke up at 3:30am so that I could see Anthony and his family off after they had spent the last couple of weeks here from Hawaii.  They left at 4am to catch their plane, and I followed about an hour later headed the opposite direction.  I was destined to see the Tennessee State Line before hooking back into North Carolina into Waterville.  The trip was pretty boring, with just a little heavier traffic than I was expecting.

The weather forecast was calling for partly cloudy skies with about 46% coverage for most of the day.  From my history, that could mean anything from rain, to clear blue skies.  There was no way to know what was in store for me unless I just went out there to see.  When the sun started to come up, I was very pleased to see that there was a nice thick cloud cover above and the lighting was pretty much perfect.  At least for the moment.  I could see sections of blue sky back to the South.  The hope was that the clouds would stay overhead while I was working Big Creek.

Chilled Creek
When I arrived, the conditions were nearly perfect.  The water levels were up, and the sun was hiding behind the clouds.  It was shaping up to be a great day with the camera.  There were only a couple of other cars in the parking area, so that meant that I was going to have the trails to myself for the most part.  That was the icing on the cake for sure.  Big Creek has a tendency to get crowded during much of the year, so I was pleased to see so few hikers around.

The first order of business was to get my gear.  That was a little less than automatic like it usually is.  This was the first time I had used my new camera bag that Toni had gotten me for Christmas.  It was taking a bit to get used to, and it allowed me to actually carry my tripod on the side of it.  It didn't take but a minute to mount it and get ready for the hike.  Getting all of the buckles cinched was another matter entirely.  I had fit it the previous night, but I had only been wearing a t-shirt.  With the sub freezing temperatures, I was wearing quite a few more layers of clothing this morning.  That just meant that I was going to need to adjust the straps a little bit.

Before too long, I was on my way down the trail.  Something that I really liked about this Whistler 350AW bag was that despite it being heavier than my previous Tamrac, it was actually quite comfortable to wear.  Everything felt nice a balanced which made hiking with this bag a breeze.

Electric Falls
Something that I try to avoid here is shooting the same shots over and over again.  If I think I can improve on them, then I am happy to try, but after a couple of very successful Treks here recently, I didn't think I could improve on most of the compositions.  That meant that I spent my time looking for new and exciting compositions.  This can be difficult since it requires going to different vantage points for familiar scenes and locating completely new subject matter in many cases.

Since the trees were mostly bare, I set out looking for intimate shots of elements of the creek.  That way, I could avoid the bare trees that weren't adding much to the compositions in most cases.  Of course, when I could fit the trees in, I did just that.  My main focus was to capture the aqua color in the water which is what I just love about this creek.  My secondary goal was to make it to Mouse Creek Falls.  That particular attraction is located about two miles down the trails from the parking area.  In the past, I've missed out on getting that far down because it started to rain in one case, and the sun came out in another.  The last time that I had photographed it was during the drought.  It turned out pretty good, but I wanted to get it with more water flow.

Abstract in Teal
The trick to photographing Big Creek is to use a polarizer.  For the most part, I used my Singh Ray Color Combo Polarizer which helped to increase the saturation in the water.  Depending on what I was shooting, I was using either my 24-70mm or my 70-200mm lens.  My goal was to hit between 1-3.2 seconds worth of exposure.  That was enough to get the water to blur like I like.  I shot some abstracts, and shot some full on compositions.  It was a day of trying new and different things.  I wasn't sure what I was going to have when I got home, but I was having a lot of fun moving around and trying different vantage points.

Something that I found very useful with my new camera bag was the fact that the tripod would secure easily to the side.  I thought that I would just use that for the main hike in, and out.  The reality was, I was using it between subjects to keep my hands empty.  This allowed me to be much more maneuverable than I had been in the past.  No longer was I stumbling along holding a bulky tripod in one hand.  I was able to use both of my hands to steady myself as I rock hopped, and went down embankments.  It was as if I wasn't even carrying my camera equipment, and that was really nice!  I can see this really helping me get to some locations that I have not been able to get to previously.  At least it will make getting to them much easier.

Creekside Lounge
While there are two named waterfalls along Big Creek, I've found that the cascades are in many cases more interesting to photograph.  There are so many boulder and rocks strewn about the creek bed that there is an abundance of cascades to play with.  I found myself looking for patterns in the cascades that lead to features on the opposing shore.  I found quite a few, but most had no organization to the pattern.  The one that I have included above, had a nice "S-Curve to the cascades and lead to the rock.  Had the rock not been an interesting shape, this probably would not have been as successful of an image.  As it sits, my eyes work completely through the frame following the cascades and then bouncing on the rock to retrace my steps.  It is a bit of a funky image, but one that I am liking a lot.

Midnight Freeze
When I got to Midnight Hole, my first inclination was to skip it.  I had shot a really great image there over the Summer and didn't think that I could top that.  However, there was a section of rapids just before Midnight Hole that I was working that kind of changed my mind.  You see, I was making my way along the shoreline getting closer and closer to the waterfall.  It was a view that I had not seen before.  There were a lot of rocks in the water, and even a couple of frozen twigs sticking out of the water.  My foreground for this waterfall has always been the pool, or the root system of a tree that was close to the pool.  What I was seeing here was something completely different.  I was liking it...a lot.  I decided to fit my long lens so that I could compress the elements and shrink the distance between the falls and the foreground.  It took some work to get the composition right, but I finally made it happen and grabbed a few frames.

I wasn't sure if I liked it or not though.  It wasn't until I got home and processed the images that I found that the composition actually worked very well for the waterfall.  It also gave some really good clues as to the time of year.  I had a splash of green above the falls, but the ice on the twigs tells a completely different story.  The more I look at this one, the more I like it!

Colorful Cascade
Cotton and Stone
One of the nice things I got to do with Big Creek is to play around with vertical and horizontal images of the same scenes.  The two compositions directly above are of the same section, just with a different composition.  They both have a completely different feel to the image.  They say different things, but you can see the benefits of trying different orientations with the same subject.  You can even compare the last one to Abstract in Teal and see what a difference a slightly tighter composition will make.  Again, there are two similar images, but each tells a different story, and has a different focal point.

Sunning Boulder
It is always a good idea to make use of the tools that you have.  I carry three
different lenses into the field each time I go.  As you can see, I really liked this section of the creek.  The color was very vibrant, and I spent a good deal of time here playing around.  I started out with my long lens, but decided to switch over to the 24-70mm, standard lens.  This allowed me the ability to open the shot up and get a completely different composition with the large boulder in the foreground.

Having easy access to my equipment is very important to me in the field.  One of the major complaints that I have had with my previous Tamrac bag was that in order to access my equipment, I had to place the back of the bag on the ground.  That doesn't seem like a big deal until you have to set it on the wet ground.  Then when you put the bag back on your have a wet back.  This Whistler bag has a rear opening compartment which means that the part of the bag that ends up on your back stays nice and dry...and clean.  It takes all of the hassle out of changing out your equipment.  I would have liked a bit more room to grow, but I do have enough room for what I currently carry, and that is good enough for me.

Fast Water
As I was getting closer to Mouse Creek Falls, I was seeing that the sun was starting to poke through the clouds more and more.  This was going to be problematic as it was nearing noon.  that would put the sun directly overhead and the highlights in the water would make for exposure problems.  I had a choice to make.  I could continue on with working the different rapids and cascades, or I could hurry on to the main falls and hope that it was looking good.  Since I had missed out on chances in the recent past, I opted to plow on and see if it was worth photographing before I worked any other scenes.

Emerging Shapes
I bypassed a couple of really good areas to shoot from, but I was comforted knowing that I had gotten good images from those areas in the past.  When I arrived at Mouse Creek, I was greeted by a water flow that I had never witnessed here before.  It was incredible to say the least.  I moved my way down the embankment, and built the camera with my standard 24-70mm lens because I wanted to capture some foreground interest to the falls.

Finding Your Way
I started with the self explanatory portrait shot and included some of the actual creek that was moving from right to left across the scene.  The rocks, shallow water, and cascades made for a very interesting foreground.  The colors in the water were incredible too.  I was very happy that I had skipped other compositions in order to get this subject.  I had never seen it quite this good before, and I was excited to work it for a while.  I tried a few different positions, and several different compositions.  I had thought I had a winner with the portrait shot, but I started to play around with a horizontal version as well, and found that I liked it even better.

Frosted Falls
The horizontal version brought the falls into an intimate composition that really suited it.  The viewer can see the ice which has formed along the edges of the falls.  This definitely gives it a sense of season, and adds a bit of chill to the image.  The power of the water is unmistakable and really helps to complete a dramatic composition.

About the time that I was shooting this one, the clouds were all moving out of the sky.  It seemed like in a matter of seconds the sky went from partly cloudy, to bright blue.  There were no more clouds in the sky, and the sun was now shining brightly.  My day was done, but it was after noon, and I was needing to get home anyway.  In about 4.5 hours, I had shot 131 frames of the teal water of Big Creek.  I had also gotten two great images of Mouse Creek Falls that actually changed my opinion of how good a waterfall it actually was.  I'll say it was a very good day behind the camera, and it was great to get back to Big Creek once again.

No comments:

Post a Comment