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The Stories Behind the Images

Red Rock Blog

A trip to Cullowhee Falls

February 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A Trip to Cullowhee Falls

2015 was certainly full of adventures, one of which was quite epic, but also extremely hard on me. It was the trip to Cullowhee Falls. In April, I decided to head to Glenville, NC and witness the dam release of the Tuckasegee River and the resurgence of High Falls on the Tuck, also called Cullowhee Falls. The 150 foot tall Cullowhee Falls was once one of the most impressive and powerful waterfalls in Western North Carolina, now it is just a trickle in comparison. When the river was dammed up stream to create Lake Glenville, the falls lost their glory. Now about four to five times a year the dam is released to restore the class 4 and 5 rapids below the falls for whitewater kayaks to run. I decided to go to the first release of the season. 

 

I ventured out well before sunrise, leaving home around 5 am to get to the trail head early. I was the first one in the parking area and started hiking just after 7 am. I had never been on this trail and only had reports from other hikers as to the difficulty. The trail was only ¾ of a mile so it was not too intimidating. However, the trail descends 750 vertical feet in that ¾ mile. Translation, that is one steep descent.

The trail was not bad the first ¼ mile or so, but once it started going down it was a challenge for me. For those of you that do not know me well, I am not a tall individual. Even more descriptive, I have very short legs. I am about 5ft-6 but most of that is torso, someone else got my fair share of legs. Plus, I have a good bit of excess sexiness on my belly. I tell you this because whoever helped build the trail to Cullowhee Falls was likely about 7ft-7. There are stairs built out of logs and flat rocks for the last ½ mile of the trail, and the rise of each of the steps had to be 18 inches, way too big for my comfort. I was just thankful that I took my hiking stick to help me with the drop of each step with my short legs. It was not easy, and then the thought hit me of how much fun it was going to be getting out of here.

 

Once I reached the brink of the falls, I was relieved, not much farther now, I thought. Then I looked down the trail and saw the steepest section of the entire ¾ mile. It just kept going lower and lower, oh I was not looking forward to the return trip to my car. This is the "before" image as I was descending next to the falls, compare it to the "after" shot from the same spot on my way out below. 

 

 

This was the final descent.

I finally made it to the base, and noticed a few people across the river already sitting up on a rock and waiting for the dam release. There were no other cars in the trailhead parking lot so I wondered how they got there. Apparently, there is a much flatter trail that comes upstream but the trailhead is not highly published. It is longer, closer to 1-½ miles but I would gladly go that way as opposed to the descent of hell.

 

Two other hikers had caught up to me as I neared the falls so there were 5 or so people there to start. Before long there would be 30 or more people at the falls. I have since connected with several of the other adventure seekers that joined me that day, which is one of the most positive things to happen on this trip. 

User comments

 

I set up and started shooting some "before" photos to have a reference, I wanted to put a "before and after" together to show the incredible difference. I had no idea what I was about to see. This shot is 16 photos to capture the details of the falls. 

 

 

We had to wait until almost 10:30 am before the water from the release reached us but when it did, it was simply astonishing. The volume of water was so much greater than I could have imagined. I see why the kayakers come in droves to run this section of the river now. That is a whole lot of water.

 

 

About 45 seconds to a minute later a lovely smell accompanied the water. All of the loose sediment was washed up from the riverbed and was not very pleasant. The water was a wonderful dookie-brown color and as I said in my video at the time, smelled like someone flushed god’s toilet.

 

 It took almost an hour for the water to clear up, but when it did, I was envious of the position of the people on the other side of the river. In my chosen spot I was directly in the spray zone. The spray from the falls made shooting very difficult, as I had to keep my camera body covered and constantly had to wipe mist off of the lens. The river was too high for me to change and get to the other side, and if I had gone there before I would have to wait for the close of the dam at 4 pm to get back across and up to the car. The kayakers began running the river, as one after another, put in below the falls to run the several miles of class 4 and 5 rapids. I got a few shots of them as well as a few of the falls in all of its' glory. 

 

 

Unfortunately, I did not get the wonderful photos I had hoped for, just an amazing experience. I stayed until around 1 pm and then started heading up the trail. It was as challenging as I feared but I simply took my time, really, really slow. The word Tuckasegee is Cherokee for "slow moving like a turtle." I imagine that the Cherokee Native that named the river had a vision of the future, where they saw me hiking out of Cullowhee Falls, and then named the river after my hiking speed.

 

This is the "after" photo from the trail near the brink of the falls that I mentioned above. 

After about 45 minutes I was back to the car and my adventure was complete. Unfortunately, the steep steps, and the nature in which I lead with one leg down all the way to the falls, caused me to injure my back. I sprained my Sacro-Iliac joint and was out of commission for a few weeks. The things I do for my passion.

 

 

 I do plan to go back to Cullowhee Falls, but next time I am going to find the other trail. It has to be better for a short legged, chubby fellow, such as myself. However, I will wait until the second release or later, I could do without the smell next time too.

 

 


Evolution of a Panorama

January 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Winter is once again upon us in the Mountains of Western North Carolina and since I am certainly unmotivated to get out and shoot (current wind chill is 7), it would appear it is time to write and tell you about my 2015 season.

 

This time last year I was sitting at Hospice watching my Father in his final days. He passed away on January 24, 2015 at the age of 67. Cancer had invaded his body and Pap was ready to stop hurting. In the time we had after discovering his cancer he told me that I should continue to follow my dreams and cherish life, don’t give up on it, do everything I can to make it happen. So, as I sit here almost one year later, I can proudly say that I am continuing my dream and will enter 2016 promoting and selling my photography as my primary source of income. Thank you, Pap for encouraging me, and supporting me. We only get one trip on this rock we should make the best of it!

 

Sales for 2015 were up over 2014 but I am definitely not going to bore you with sales numbers and percentages. I use the line often that “I am a numbers guy,” but I know that reading a blog about my sales data for 2015 would be a sure fire way for you to hit the back button and spend your time in other ways. Instead, I will start my 2016 writings telling about the biggest progression in my craft for the year.

 

Evolution of a Panorama

 

Cowee InspirationCowee Inspiration

 

Over the past two years Summertime Dream has been my top selling photo, and it is not even close to being challenged. When I shot that scene in the summer of 2014, I took multiple photos with overlapping edges to build a panorama of the entire view. It took 21 photos to capture the entire scene. Then, I used my editing software to put them all together. If I had not shot that image, I could very likely be back in the traditional working world. It has had that much of an impact on my business, selling almost every time I set up my display.

 

Summertime DreamSummertime Dream

 

This inspired me to shoot other scenes in the same manner. I began doing it at waterfalls, and other sunrise or sunset views and was capturing images that typically would require an extremely wide-angle lens. One of my close photography friends even told me that shooting that way seemed silly, that I just needed a 10mm lens, but for me it was unique and was providing images that I was not seeing elsewhere.

 

In July of 2014, I ventured to a popular view of downtown Asheville and shot a 27-photo panorama of the city at sunset.

 

Asheville Summer SunsetAsheville Summer Sunset

 

I also built a 40 photo shot of Eastatoe Falls, capturing fine details that I typically was not able to see in my images.

 

Summer at EastatoeSummer at Eastatoe

 

I found that shooting this way was creating very large files, and basically turning an 18-megapixel image into a 300-megapixel masterpiece. The files would enlarge as big as a customer could want them and keep the clarity and fine detail of a medium format camera.

 

In the fall I went to Living Waters Ministry on Hwy 215 in the community of Balsam Grove, NC and shot the entire scene of two waterfalls and the red house. Usually a photographer can get Shoal Creek Falls next to the house and if you stand in the right spot you can get a side view of Shoal Creek and include Mill Shoals but I had never seen them in one image together with the house.

 

Autumn at Elysium FallsAutumn at Elysium Falls

 

These two waterfalls are collectively known as Elysium Falls, Shoal Creek Falls is on the right and Mill Shoals, aka French Broad Falls is on the left. This took 75 photos to build. The file was so large when I was trying to build it that my computer audibly laughed at me. I had to break it up into two halves and then put the two sides together for my computer to even consider processing it. But the results are certainly worth it.

 

I was building a nice collection of panoramas but in the early market season of 2015 a customer brought me an additional tool to help with my craft. A tripod head specifically designed for how I was shooting. He wasn’t using it and thought if I would have use for it then it would be better than it sitting in his closet.

 

 

I returned to Living Waters in summer of 2015 to shoot Bird Rock aka Cathedral Falls about ½ mile down stream. This would be my first time using the new panoramic head.

Bird Rock aka Cathedral Falls

 I included the video to give you a sense of scale, and to see where I was shooting from. 

Bird Rock aka Cathedral FallsBird Rock aka Cathedral Falls

 

This took 60 photos to complete, and is the only photo I have seen that incorporates the massive rock wall that makes this a special place. The vertical standing rock on the far left of the image is to your back when you are facing the waterfall. I have seen other images trying to include the rock but they cut off half of the waterfall due to the slope of the rock that I am standing on to shoot this.

 

French Broad SerenityFrench Broad Serenity

 

On my way out, I stopped at Lower Rooster Tail falls and shot a 24-image panorama, I would have included more to the left, but it was getting dark and my exposures were already at 30 seconds each.

 

The new pan head certainly made a difference in the ease of shooting this style. I found that my images were also merging easier in post processing. I spent the rest of the season taking two tripods with me to most of my shoots, one for single shots and the other for the panoramas.

 

 

When autumn arrived I began capturing some simply breathtaking images that I had only dreamed of before now.

 

Sunset over the Cowee MountainsSunset over the Cowee Mountains

Mouse Creek Falls and Big CreekMouse Creek Falls and Big Creek

 

The venture into panoramas was the most significant change to my business in 2015, even though it began in 2014, it became part of every shoot this past season. They accounted for one-third of my total sales of 2015. It looks like I have found my niche, at least for now.

 

You can see all of my panoramas in the “panorama gallery.” I can enlarge these to pretty much any size, so if you have a space you need filled just ask.

 

Thank you to all of my fans and customers; because of you I am able to continue following my passion. I have said it many times, but I will say again; “I am loving my life, not just living it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Stories behind the best sellers of 2014: #3 Sunflower's Glow

March 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Those of you that celebrate Christmas, in the traditional American way, of families reunited, with big meals and exchanging of gifts can relate to having that one gift that you received that you consider the best Christmas gift ever. Now, I know some people are not materialistic, and the best gift is the gathering itself, but if you could pick one item as your favorite gift what would it be? I know mine, it was Christmas of 2013 and my parents gave me an Annual Pass to the Biltmore Estate. For those of you that do not know, the Biltmore House is the largest private home in America. It was built by George Vanderbilt around 1895 and is still owned by his descendants. The Estate is amazing, yes I know it is a huge tourist attraction and some locals avoid it for that very reason, but I love going there. I used my pass every week last year, but not going and touring the home, I used it as a wonderful place to hike close to home and in a very safe environment. Multiple times last year, I hiked 5 and 10k distances on nicely maintained trails on different areas of the Estate. 

Most days, I start at the Lagoon, very close to the French Broad River and head out towards the Equestrian Center, from there, I head up around the Bass Pond, and back down towards the lagoon. That loop is right about a 5k, and takes me about an hour. The shot below is one of the Lagoon near where I start, looking up towards the House. 

My daughter loves to go too, she asks every time she is with me. She likes to walk around and find bamboo along the river, watch all of the animals on the property and spend time in Antler Hill playing in the children's area and around the barn. 

She also loves exploring the house, and visiting the library. She likes to peek into the key holes of the doors that are closed to see what she can see inside. I love that she enjoys it there, because I do too. 

Hiking at Biltmore has become part of my exercise routine, I lost 40 lbs in 2014, and plan to lose more in 2015. Hiking on the estate is a huge part of that. I usually go in the late afternoon and wrap up my hike near sunset.  In July of last year, there were some incredible sunsets. I remember one week, I hiked Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and was amazed at how great the sunsets were all week. The humidity was perfect and the clouds were producing stunning colors in the sky.  I decided that after my market on Wednesday, I needed to come shoot the sun setting behind Spivey Mountain from the Estate. As with any sunrise or sunset, the foreground is important. In July and August on the Estate there is a special treat, huge rows of sunflowers. I knew what my foreground was going to be, the subject to highlight the sunset, these amazing sunflowers. They stretch along an enormous pasture for several hundred yards all the way to Antler Hill Village.  I told my friend Tony that I was going and invited him to come shoot too. He met me at the field of sunflowers and we began shooting. This was the first image I took when I arrived, the clouds were fantastic and the lighting was just perfect.

I made the this second shot into a panorama in editing and it has become quite popular. 

I knew we were in for a treat when we started getting sun rays shining through the clouds. I was so hopeful that the sky would cooperate and it certainly did not disappoint. 

 

As the sun began to descend behind the Blue Ridge the sky lit up with orange and purple clouds, coupled with the green corn behind the sunflowers and the yellow blooms, there was so much color happening. Photographer gold was being discovered here. 

One thing about being around this many sunflowers is the constant and loud buzz. There were so many bees, bumble bees, honey bees, and hornets were primarily what I saw, for someone who was always terrified of bees it was a little unsettling. They were plenty preoccupied though, so I knew that there was nothing to worry about. 

Many people comment on how they like the one flower that stands a little taller, he wants to be seen, be different, kind of like a child standing up and saying, "watch what I can do."

It was one of the last shots of the day that has proven to be a best seller. I titled this Sunflower's Glow because of the glowing sun behind the mountains. I posted them all on social media and asked for everyone's opinion to find out which one people liked the most. Right off the bat, I sold a couple of canvas prints of this image. Within a week it had hit my top ten, and two weeks later it moved up to number three. I sell three primary sizes at markets, 4x6, 8x10 and 12x18. This one dominated the 4x6 category with over 30 sales from July to December. I believe that it will continue to be a strong seller in 2015. 

Having access to this beautiful land is so amazing. I renewed my Biltmore Pass for 2015 and will be back out on the trails again all spring, summer and fall. Maybe I will find another landscape that will be as magnificent as this and can compete for top spots in 2015. If you would like to purchase any of the sunflower sunset photos, go to the gallery and use the coupon code SUNFLOWER for a 20% discount. It will be good until the end of March 2015. 

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I was honored in January, when a local business called Local Flavor AVL, asked to use one of my images in an exhibit at the Asheville Airport. Local Flavor AVL is a free mobile app and website that helps connect people with local businesses in Asheville. It features restaurants, shops, breweries, art galleries and artists, locally owned hotels and so much more. Here is the link to the app http://asheville.localflavorapp.com/food. The exhibit is a free phone or device charging station near the baggage terminal. It features a wall of local images and a flat screen TV turned to resemble a phone that runs a slide show of advertisements for the businesses that are part of the app. One of my sunflower photos is in the slide show. It also has a soundtrack of all local music as well.  I am going to be part of the app this summer to see if it helps drive some tourists to the markets or shows where I am selling my work. I hope it works well for me. Marketing is such a difficult thing to figure out for artists. 

 

Thank you Flori and Ted, for including me in the festivities. I hope that Local Flavor AVL continues to be a huge success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The stories behind the best sellers of 2014: #2 Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock

February 09, 2015  •  1 Comment

One thing that photographers will tell you, is that we shoot a lot of images. Not very many people can go to a site, set up, take three or four photos and have that epic shot that we all aspire to have. Sometimes however, the shot that we want gets lost in the sheer number of images that we take. That is the story with my second best selling image of 2014, Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock. I typically would save the main image for last but in this story it needs to come first, since this is the tale of a full day of shooting, Sunrise to Sunset. 

Sunrise at Looking Glass RockSunrise at Looking Glass RockSunrise at Looking Glass Rock, shot from the Blue Ridge Parkway fall of 2013.

Let's rewind to fall of 2013, autumn is, by far, my favorite season to shoot. I love the fall colors in our mountains, and I am super motivated to go shoot during the entire month of October. I simply cannot seem to get enough photos with the bright yellows, reds and oranges, so I spend the entire month out shooting. I get up before sunrise to find a location facing east with an interesting foreground to give a subject to my sunrise, and I wait. I capture my sunrise and then head out as long as the light is good finding colorful ranges and vistas to add to my collection. I will hike to waterfalls when the colors should be changing at their specific altitude, and go all day if the lighting will allow. Then I find my sunset location and shoot until the sun has descended beyond the Blue Ridge and then I go home, sleep and repeat. 

Needless to say, when I have days like that I will shoot hundreds of photos each day. So it is understandable that some great images may get overlooked when sifting through the days. Most of the time I will shoot for three or four days before even sitting back at the computer to process. I usually get home, empty all of the RAW images onto my computer and external hard drive for back up, and then head back out the next day. So when I finally do sit down I could have well over 1000 images to cull. 

That was the case with Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock. I got out very early that morning thinking I would shoot at the popular Pounding Mill overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However when I got there, as is the case often in the fall, it was so foggy I could not see anything. I know that I took a photo with my phone that morning but cannot find the right one. This is from another day at Craggy but indicative of what I saw that morning at Pounding Mill. From the Car I could barely even see the sign for the overlook. So I waited a few minutes to see if the fog would lift and then heading farther South on the Parkway. 

I went a few overlooks past highway 276 and found myself out ahead of the Fog and got a few nice shots, but the sun had already risen some. I focused on the foggy valley below and was quite pleased with so many of the images. 

Morning MistMorning Mist

But the fog kept creeping in and I had to keep moving South. 

I stopped to shoot a few images of Looking Glass Rock but the Fog was moving too quickly. I had to move again, I wasn't certain if I would get what I wanted, but I kept on trying. 

When I finally got ahead of the fog for a few minutes, I captured this shot and a few others before the fog moved back in. 

I decided to stick out this location and wait to see what would happen. The fog was moving so fast, I thought that maybe it will pass and give me some clearer shots if I just have some patience. One key to capturing great images is patience, I have spent hours at a spot before, just waiting to see what would happen. Fortunately I did not have to wait long and captured about 10 to 15 images with a clear view of Looking Glass and some pretty amazing sun rays. The first being my Sunrise at Looking Glass Rock photo. However when culling (narrowing down photos to edit) my images, I skimmed right past this shot. I focused on several of the other images that I captured the same day, (I will address that in a minute), and did not finally print this photo for sale until late March.  Sunrise at Looking Glass RockSunrise at Looking Glass RockSunrise at Looking Glass Rock, shot from the Blue Ridge Parkway fall of 2013.

I still stayed and shot a little longer before venturing out to see what else I could find. This next shot distracted me from the above best seller because of the rays and shadows, but this is the first time I have shared this image. 

I spent the entire day shooting after leaving Looking Glass Rock. Next I spent quite a bit of time around Graveyard Fields, this next shot was my best selling waterfall photo for the year, this is Second Falls at Graveyard Fields. I shot it from the Parkway with a zoom lens, the color was phenomenal that day. 

I hiked down into Graveyard Fields too and took some shots at Yellowstone Prong, and the tunnel of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel that you hike through on the way in. 

Once down on Yellowstone Prong of the Pigeon River, I found a few nice scenes and shot for about an hour before hiking back out to go adventure more. The prong is unique and beautiful right above Second Falls. 

There are three waterfalls in Graveyard Fields but only two are readily visited. Upper Falls is the first, and amazingly enough, I have not photographed it. It is on my to do list though.  Second Falls, pictured two photos above, is the most well known and easiest to get to. The third is downstream and is called Yellowstone Falls, it is the tallest of the three and the most inaccessible. The best way to get there is to hike up from the Looking Glass Rock overlook from Skinny Dip Falls. I have not done that one either, but will one day. You can view it from the Blue Ridge Parkway if you pull off North of the overlook before Graveyard Fields and walk up on a small knob.

After leaving Graveyard Fields, I ventured further South on the Parkway and got onto Highway 215 traveling North towards Canton. I stopped at Bubbling Springs Branch and took some shots from the trail head of Bubbling Springs Branch Cascades and the surrounding mountain. 

 

Then I decided to descend the very steep grade to the falls and took a few more shots. There are so many waterfalls in this area, Bubbling Springs Branch also has three. This is the smallest and closest to the trail head. 

It isn't much to get overly excited about, but still a nice little cascade. From there I drove further North on 215 to Sunburst Falls, this roadside waterfall is on the West fork of the Pigeon River. It is one of the lesser known roadside waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest. 

From there I went down the mountain more towards Canton and stopped where another bridge crosses the Pigeon River. This nice little view would have been better a few days earlier when there were still leaves on all of those trees. 

I decided from here to go back up to the Parkway and then down the other side to check on Courthouse Creek, I assumed without taking altimeter readings that the color would be the same on the other side of the mountain and that Courthouse Falls would be approximately the same elevation. I was wrong. I got a nice shot of the creek but didn't venture out to the falls since the color was still at least a week away on the South facing slopes at that elevation. This is Courthouse Creek about one quarter mile above the falls. 

Since I was not seeing what I wanted here, back to the mountain tops I went. It was getting later in the day and I knew that I wanted to find a good sunset spot to end my day. I had, at this point, taken close to 400 photos for the day. I am one of those photographers that keeps all of my RAW files, (digital negatives, so to speak), so if I happen to overlook something nice, I can find it at a later date. 

Once back on the Parkway, I shot a few more decent images and settled back at Looking Glass for Sunset, but from a different angle. This was one of the last shots I took before setting up for sunset. 

Shooting Sunset at Looking Glass Rock is an atypical destination. From the Parkway looking at the Rock you are facing South, and there is not a good view of the setting sun. I was just hoping that the cloud formations would receive a color cast from the setting sun. Oh, what a day I had. I got my wish. The sun and clouds did not disappoint, I began to see that pinkish orange cast across the sky and was excited about what I captured. Even though this post is about my #2 best seller, the theme has been that of missing one image because of another. Since these were the last shots I took of the day, they were fresh in my mind. Therefore, I just did not go back and dig into the sunrise photos as much. This photo made it to #5 on my best sellers list. Many times last season, people purchased both of these images together due to fact that they were Sunrise and Sunset of the same day.

Sunset at Looking Glass Rock completely made me miss processing my sunrise shot. Thankfully, I went back and found it in March. Once I began printing Sunrise at LGR people commented on it at every show. For the season, I sold over 40 prints of it in 36 weeks. It is my best example of why I should always double and triple check my RAW files, you never know what you will miss. Even while writing this, I feel that a few of the images that I shared here are worthy of printing, maybe one will surprise me this year. 

 

The stories behind the best sellers of 2014, One at a time. Up first: Summertime Dream

January 29, 2015  •  1 Comment

Every photographer looks for that epic shot, they have it in their mind and they hope that they catch it every once in a while. I am no different, in 2014 I drove hundreds of miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, took back roads through the Southern Highlands of Western NC, hiked countless miles to waterfalls and on other trails all in effort to make great photos.  It was Ansel Adams that said, "You don't take a photo, you make it."

The idea that I can go out and capture amazing images and create art for people to enjoy, is so rewarding to me. My goal is to show you what I saw, the color, the depth of field, the mood, the emotion that I felt when I was standing there capturing that moment. When people connect with an image it elicits an emotion, a memory, a sensation, and that is what I want to convey to everyone who sees my work. 

This past June, I was on a quest for beautiful Rhododendron photos with the mountains as a backdrop. I had been driving up to the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway every few days to check the progress of the blooms of our native tree blossoms. I always look for days that the air is very clear, the ability to see far into the valleys draws people into the image. Therefore, lower humidity days are the best, especially after an overnight rain or a drop in temperature. The first Monday in June met all of my criteria, I was on my way to find an epic shot. 

I started out traveling South on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and quickly saw the purplish magenta blooms of the Catawba Rhododendron all around me.  The Catawba Rhododendron primarily grows in the Southern Ranges of the Appalachian Mountains and is plentiful along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can find them from Virginia down through Northern Alabama. I love the color they add to a mountain landscape.  Our other native Rhododendron is the Rosebay, they grow along the waterways and in shaded areas in the Southern Appalachians and bloom around a month later than the Catawba variety. The second photo below is of Eastatoe Falls with Rosebay blooms on the upper banks, but of course shot on a different day from this adventure. 

Catawba RhododendronCatawba Rhododendron

Rosebay Rhododendron at Eastatoe FallsRosebay Rhododendron at Eastatoe Falls

 

Back to my Parkway adventure, I was certainly thankful that there were nice, big, puffy clouds out as well to give drama to the sky. I always determine if I want to go shoot by the drama in the sky. A cloud free day just is not as exciting and bores me photographically so having nice big fluffy clouds makes me happy.

I went as far south as Haywood Gap before deciding to head back North, but I stopped at Devil's Courthouse and took a few shots. There was a group of four hikers that had just came down off of the peak of the Courthouse as I was setting up shooting, when one of the guys realized that he left his sunglasses on top. He proceeded to run back up the trail to retrieve them. It was quite funny to me, and I was amazed at how quickly he ascended the trail, which is decently steep, and returned back to the car. He probably did the two mile round trip in about 15 minutes, not bad on that terrain. The first of the next two shots made my top 25 in sales, it was taken near Haywood Gap looking North into Maggie Valley as far as I can figure. The second is Devil's Courthouse.

Rhody View

Devil's Courthouse

After that, I stopped near Graveyard Fields and captured a few shots. I always enjoy shooting around Graveyard Fields, and for those of you that do not know the story behind the name, during the late 1800's or early 1900's logging of the area left stumps throughout the valley. Before long, moss and lichens covered the stumps and they seemed to resemble graves. Then, a fire in the early 1900's burned all of those stumps away and sterilized the soil. Only now, are many of the plants and trees beginning to return and thrive. You can no longer see the moss covered stumps but the valley is still relatively barren compared to all of the surrounding forest. 

Rhody's at Graveyard Fields

This shot was in the curve right before the parking area of Graveyard Fields. I stopped along the way and took a few shots at Looking Glass Rock, but there wasn't a spot that I found that day that I could frame any Rhody's in with the scene, so I headed on down the mountain back to Asheville for lunch. 

After lunch, I debated what I was going to do. I wasn't sure if I was going to keep going and drive North or just pack it in and call it a day. I decided to keep going, certainly somewhere near Craggy Gardens I would find what I was looking for. So North I went, stopping at a few overlooks and finally arriving at Craggy Gardens. There were a few other photographers set up at the Craggy Visitor Center shooting time lapse photos and I set up and took a few shots of the mountains and the sun as it was getting lower in the sky. However the Rhody's were not blooming as well at that spot so I decided I needed to keep going. I drove over to Mt Mitchell State Park and found a few spots but nothing was really moving me. I knew that I wanted a great sunset spot and hoped I could find one with abundant blooms in the foreground. I did get this one shot near Mt Mitchell but it was only mediocre in my mind. 

After that I started heading back towards Craggy Gardens, I came around one curve and there was a huge male bear running along in the road. Once he heard me coming he found a spot and climbed up the bank blending in perfectly with the thick brush. I rarely seem to be ready for those moments when I encounter our woodland friends on my adventures. (see my "There are Bears in these hills" post from last year.)

A few miles further back towards Craggy, I spot something. A plethora of beautiful Catawba Rhododendron blooms down off of a western facing slope just below the wooden guard rail of the Parkway. This is it, this is my spot! I literally backed my car up on the Parkway, set my hazard lights on and got out of the car. I put my tripod in front of the car about 30 yards in the middle of the road and started shooting. If any cars came along they would just have to drive around me, I was not going to miss this shot. I knew that I had something special and stood there capturing the sun setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains. To my left, there were also the signature clouds or fog rolling over the gap between Craggy Dome and Craggy Pinnacle. Anyone that frequents Craggy knows that fog can move in or out in seconds up there. 

Rolling Fog of Craggy

I shot for around 15 minutes, standing in the middle of the road. For those of you that might ask, "why not pull off of the road?" this was in the Asheville Watershed, so pulling off anywhere other than designated overlooks is prohibited, plus there was nowhere to pull off right there. It was almost 9 PM so only 4 cars came by, and they saw what I saw and smiled and waved as they passed. 

I knew that I had something special but had no idea that it would turn out so well when I got home and processed my images. I shot the scene as a panorama, taking over 15 shots zoomed in slightly and panning after each one to capture a wider area with greater detail. Then combined all of the images together to create the final photograph. The shot that I had hoped for when I set out for the day was on my screen in front of me. My Summertime Dream. 

Summertime Dream

It had every thing that I wanted, the Rhody's, the mountains and the sunset. This is one of those shots that truly shows the beauty of Western North Carolina, and explains why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

I took the file to my local lab, and printed a few 10x22's and matted them to be ready for my next market. By Saturday, I had sold three. Summertime Dream quickly surpassed all of my other images and I sold a few a week all season long. I also fulfilled an order for my largest print ever back before Christmas, when a nice couple purchased a 24x53 print. Once I matted the print, it was five feet wide. 

I am so glad that I went back out after lunch that day, if I had went home I would have missed this. I guess it speaks to the photography rule or quote that I have heard a few times. Someone once asked a photographer how he captured such amazing images and he replied, "f8 and be there." Mine was f20 but the "be there," aspect is what is most significant to me. 

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I dedicate this post to my Father, Robert who passed away Saturday, January 24th. The reason it took so long to complete this post was due to his being admitted in the hospital and his passing two weeks later. My priorities were to be there for him and my family. My father was a photographer when he was younger. I remember him having a dark room in our basement when I was a child. Unfortunately, he sold all of his gear before my passion developed, but he always appreciated my work. This photo of my daughter at Chimney Rock was his favorite of my work, he had a 12x18 print framed at his house. I just look at it now and think that she is standing there reaching out to hug him.  I love you, Pap