Amazing Sky after dark

It was just after sunset, the temps were dropping and we were once again skunked by the cloud cover while at the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains. We wanted to take in the setting sun, but it didn’t work out for us. Don’t get me wrong, I will take clouds over an empty sky any day. When the conditions are right, the clouds light up providing a spectacular sight as the sun dips below the horizon. It just wasn’t our lucky day. The wind was blowing pretty good and I noticed that the clouds were also moving at a pretty good speed. Our lucky break was, that the wind was in our face, so I took advantage and pulled out my 10 stop ND filter. I shot my test image and adjusted my exposure to be 1/2 sec at ISO 200. Don’t remember what my aperture was because it wasn’t important at the time. I just know that when I add my 10 stop filter onto the camera my exposure goes from 1/2 sec to 4 minutes, which was what I wanted for good cloud movement in the sky. I made sure I focused and composed ahead of time, set my exposure to the bulb setting and then added my 10 stop filter. I use my phone to time the exposure and fired away. The tough part about this is that the light is rapidly falling off as the earth turns. So on my 2nd and 3rd exposures, I either added a minute onto the exposure or opened up a stop. I also turned off my long exposure noise reduction to make sure I was able to shoot a few sequential shots and adjust my exposure. This prevents a second 4 minute exposure with the shutter closed (the method the camera uses to reduce the noise). The trade off is, that I have quite a bit of hot pixels to deal with in post processing. The image you see is pretty much right off the camera. I cleaned up the hot spots, of which I’m sure I missed some, but I’m happy with it at the moment. Hope you enjoy…


Long Exposure atop Clingmans Dome - Great Smoky Mountains NP © Rob Loughrey

Long Exposure atop Clingmans Dome – Great Smoky Mountains NP © Rob Loughrey

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More from the Smoky Mountains…

On the second day of my trip, we made plans to view the sunrise from Clingmans Dome. We had not been there yet, so we gave ourselves an early wake up call to make sure we were on-site with an hour to spare. We arrived while it was still very dark. There were clouds moving through and the wind was blowing. We were amazed to see the temperature change go from in 60′s in the valley to around 38 degrees up on top of the mountain. We were a little disoriented being on the mountain top – not knowing which was East. We figured it out pretty quickly and setup our tripods to capture the sun cresting over the mountains. Unfortunately for us, there was some heavy cloud cover looking East, so we never actually saw the sun rise. There was a rain storm in the distance blocking our view but filtering the sun. The sky was light up a bright orange with the dark clouds above, making for some great contrast in colors. I set my camera to Tungsten mode to make the clouds and sky a cooler tone.  I used my 80-200mm f/2.8 lens with a 2.0 tele-converter to zoom in tight on the mountains and rain. I shot a number of shots moving from left to right and stitched them together in Photoshop to create this panoramic image. Minimal processing after the image was stitched using On One Software for Tonal Contrast and increasing the saturation slightly. Hope you enjoy…

Daybreak from Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains  © Rob Loughrey

Daybreak from Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains © Rob Loughrey

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Amazing cascades

During a trip to an area like the Great Smoky Mountains, something that I often seek out is one of the many cascades running off the top of the mountain. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by anything from small streams to large rivers. On the way up to Clingmans Dome one evening, we noticed a small brook right at a vehicle pull over. We were running plenty early for the sunset time, so we decided to make a stop and check it out. Before I knew it, I was heading deeper into the woods, climbing higher and higher along the waters edge. Evertime I took a few more steps, I found something else I liked. For me, the moss covered rocks and subdued lighting in the late afternoon really makes for great photographs of these areas. I also like to bring along a set of hip or chest waders with me on trips like this. This allows me to get right into the stream, setup my tripod, perhaps kneeling down in the water to get a nice low perspective on the water. Being in the scene as I like to call it. For this image, I did just that. Nikon D800, Induro Tripod, Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, Really Right Stuff Ball Head. I used a 24mm PC lens and shifted left to right to create the panoramic shot. Hope you enjoy…


Forest cascades, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, TN © Rob Loughrey

Forest cascades, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, TN © Rob Loughrey

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Springtime trip to Tennessee

Just returned from a trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. I visited with a fellow photographer Ian, spending 4 days venturing around the park. On the first night of the trip, we drove straight to the top of the mountain to visit Clingmans Dome at sunset. The day before, a storm had rolled through and dumped 6-8″ of snow on top of the mountain. The temperature change between the valley and peak of the mountain was 30+ degrees. Needless to say we were not expecting such a difference. To make it worse, upon arriving at the access road to the dome, we discovered that the access road was closed until April 1st. We were there 2 days early – unlucky for us. We made the best of the circumstances and visited an overlook a little lower than what we were hoping for and adjusted our plans accordingly. The trip was great and we both brought home some great images to share. We are already planning our next trip – perhaps in the fall.

This first shot is from a few days later at Sunrise. The clouds were thick and blocked the sun as it passed over the horizon. We stayed around for about 45 minutes past sunrise and were presented with this view.

Hope you enjoy…

Early morning atop Clingmans Dome - Great Smoky Mountains National Park  © Rob Loughrey

Early morning atop Clingmans Dome – Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Loughrey

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Winter wonderland

We have been seeing a good bit of cold weather here in Maryland, along with the recent snowfall, I feel like I am living in upstate PA right now. I think this is the longest time I can remember that we have had freezing or below temps for an extended period of time. I have taken advantage of some of the recent storms and gone out braving the weather looking for some good shots. The wind was blowing with 30-40 mph gusts while I was out this morning earlier in the month. The direction of wind forced me to turn towards the sun for my shots, to protect me and my camera/lens. I found a spot in a field that had some interesting wind carved snow and setup my tripod low to the ground. My camera was only a few inches of the ground, forcing me to lay down to compose my shot. I was well prepared with coat and pants so this was an easy choice for me. Shooting into the sun I knew I was going to need something to help diffuse or block the bright area in my image even tho I was using a 2 stop ND grad filter, so I used the tree branches to accomplish this. I setup to that as the sun moved to the right, it would go further behind a limb for a minute or two before appearing on the other side. Using a smaller aperture of around f/16 helped me achieve a good star-burst effect on the sun.  I processed the image using a sharp foreground photo with a sharp image of the tree, manually blending them in Photoshop. Hope you enjoy…

Snow covered field, Maryland Sunrise Farms, Anne Arundel County, MD © Rob Loughrey

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