Hanging Rock State Park is located near Danbury in the northwestern part of North Carolina. Nestled in the Sauratown Mountains, the park is home to several waterfalls. While not the tallest falls in the state, they are certainly pretty. Unlike so many waterfalls that require miles of hiking to reach, the well known falls of Hanging Rock State Park are all short hikes from convenient parking lots. In addition to the five publicized waterfalls, my understanding is that there are a few other falls hidden away and requiring a bit of effort and adventure to find. The following are a few photos and a video of Hidden Falls. All photos were taken with a Canon 7D. The video is a combination of footage from the 7D and from my SJCam SJ 4000 action camera.
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Every spring North Carolina is blessed with a brilliantly beautiful song bird living near blackwater streams, creeks and swamps. With bright yellow feathers resembling those of a canary, accented by gray-black wings, the Prothonotary Warbler is easily overlooked in the dense areas where it lives. Unquestionably, this is one of my favorite little song birds and one I find difficult to get in front of my lens for quality photos. The images below are from today’s efforts. I hope you enjoy them.
I took a drive up the coast a while back and while up that way I paid a visit to Lake Matamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. While I was basically just doing a quick scouting trip on my way back home, I stopped along the causeway to take a couple shots. If you’ve looked a many North Carolina landscape photos you’ve likely seen this view several times. Even though I knew it was one of those locations that has been photographed to the point of saturation, the mirror like water combined with the lovely sky was just too picturesque to pass by. Below are my interpretation of this classic North Carolina scene.
When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.
During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.
It’s not a new technique. Layering textures on photos has been around for a long time. It’s an interesting effect that can take a documentary style photo and turn into a piece of fine art. The process isn’t too difficult. You’ll need some kind of image processing software… Photo Shop, Elements, Paint Shop or others. The software needs to be capable of working with layers. Open the image you want to work with. You’ll then open an image of the texture you want to apply. (Choosing the right texture for an image is the real art to the entire process). Place the texture on top of your photo as a layer. Adjust the opacity of the texture layer so the photo below it shows through. Your taste, goals and artistic vision will play a role in how much opacity you want. You may want to use an eraser tool to reduce or remove the amount of texture over key areas of your subject such as the face, eyes, etc. Once you’re satisfied flatten the image. At this point I find the image usually lacks a bit of “pop”… seems a bit flat and boring. I like to create a duplicate layer and select a mode such as “soft light” or “overlay.” Then, if necessary I adjust the opacity of this layer as needed to get the look I want. It’s really that simple. Below are a few photos I worked up recently using the process described.
I worked up a couple more images of the pier. I have to admit that these might be favorites of the bunch
The weather broke a bit late this afternoon so I decided to venture out and see if I could find something interesting to photograph. The skies were still threatening a bit so I decided to stick to the car and explore some forest roads. That type of outing is always a bit hit or miss… with miss being the most common. I got lucky and notice a Rough Green Snake in the middle of the forest road. While they’re probably common enough their bright green color makes them very difficult to find when in vegetation. They are generally fairly tolerant of close contact with humans, seldom if ever bite so I decided to take advantage of those tendencies and used a macro lens combined with a 1.4x teleconverter and, eventually, an extension tube. For some of these shots the front of my lens was probably within 3 inches or so of the snake’s face.
I really can’t explain why it is but I really enjoy it when the Blackeyed Susans are blooming. Below are a few recent images of these bright yellow beauties.
I usually do my black and white conversions manually (and likely will continue to do so in the future), but I’ve heard so much about the Silver Efex Pro 2 module in the Nik software bundle that I decided to play. In addition to the Silver Efex Pro 2 module I used the Detail Extractor in Color Efex Pro 4 and reduced noise using the Define 2 module. One thing for sure, the Nik software has the ability to make ones workflow easy.
It would be nice if there were some magic pill that would make one an excellent photographer. The fact is that no such pill exists. However, by apply a few simple tricks you can make drastic improvements to your nature and wildlife images.
1) How Low Can You Go?
When you view a pair of photos of a similar subjects together… one taken by an amateur the other made by a professional photographer… you can usually pick the pro’s shot quickly just based on the perspective of the image. The professional shot will almost always be from a low vantage point. The amateur shot, on the other hand, will almost always be taken from the perspective of a person standing upright. Get low to add drama to your images.
2) Subject Eyes Sharp & In-focus.
It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In our everyday interactions we look into the eyes to check for things like honesty, empathy, warmth. It’s how we make a connection with other living beings. Having eyes sharp and in-focus helps viewers to make a connection with our photographs.
3) Get the Safe Shot then Experiment.
Novice or dyed in the wool pro we all do it. We see images that move us and visit the same locations to try our own hand at making a memorable photo. There are locations that have been photographed thousands, even millions of times. Images of these locations are usually similar… iconic. When visiting these locations go ahead and get the “safe shot,” that iconic, expected view we’re all used to seeing. Then experiment. Try different angles. Look for a view that hasn’t seen before. Go low. Go high. Go right or left. Take a hike. See if you can find an angle of this all too familiar location that hasn’t been worn out.
4) Rules Were Made to Be Broken… But Not Without Reason
If you visit many photography forums you’re bound to see a lot of posts by people proclaiming the virtues of breaking the rules. Often times their posts include an image… usually an image that doesn’t work. Being a rebel is great but be sure you have a reason for it. Compositional rules are based on centuries of artistic experimentation and observation. These guidelines work for a reason. Study about composition. Learn the various guidelines and apply them to build stronger images. Only then will you recognize those rare opportunities where breaking the rules will result in a stronger photograph.
4) Fill The Frame.
This isn’t earth shattering advice. It’s likely you’ve heard it before. There’s a reason for that, it works! Filling the frame with the subject is especially important when shooting a subject where there’s a lot of clutter around it. The clutter creates distractions that will divert the viewers eyes from the subject. By filling the frame with your subject you isolate it, focusing the viewers attention on it.
5) Include Negative Space!
In the last tip I suggested you needed to fill the frame of your photograph with the subject. But you’ll notice I included a qualifier; “where there’s a lot of clutter around it.” There are times that negative space can contribute to a stronger image. When photographing animals viewers may feel more comfortable when there’s some space in front of the animal for it to “move into.” Similarly the artist can create some tension, drama or mystery by putting negative space behind the animal and having it facing out of the frame.
6) Try a Vertical Orientation for Landscapes.
You should be familiar with two terms used when printing a document or image with your computer – Portrait and Landscape orientation. Landscapes are traditionally wider than they are tall while portraits are usually the opposite. Using the portrait orientation to photograph a landscape can produce an interesting and unique image of a tired, frequently photographed location.
7) Be a Photo Maker Not a Taker.
There are two kinds of photographers in this world, the takers and the makers. Takers aimlessly fire away, giving little if any thought to what the resulting image will look like. In contrast, a maker takes some time to study their subject, making decisions about perspective, point of view, and composition before pressing the shutter button. In order to consistently make good photographs you need to be a thinking photographer… a maker not a taker. Take a little time to look things over before you set-up your camera and tripod.
8) Gather Knowledge First, Pixels Second.
Most likely your best photos will be those made of subjects you’re familiar with. Whether you photograph animals, landscapes or specialize in macro imagery the more you know about your subject the better your photos are likely to be. Knowing a location, when the best light falls on it or having knowledge of a particular species of animal gives a photographer a huge advantage over those that have to depend on luck.
9) Don’t Be Afraid to Shoot in Bad Light.
Many photographers put away their gear when the golden hour passes. Learn to embrace and shooting in harsh light. Perfect lighting and conditions are a bit rare. If you make a habit of only shooting in the best of conditions you may have a problem when you make the photographic trip of a lifetime. If conditions are less than ideal and you’re not used to photographing in them you’re unlikely to bring home any decent images. Make a habit of shooting in tough conditions and you’ll have the knowledge and skills to salvage your trip.
10)) Learn to Use Post Processing Software.
It doesn’t matter whether you use Elements, Photoshop, Lightroom or some other software, post processing is nearly as important as your camera work. The images you see presented by your favorite photographers have likely received more work in in post than you think. Vignettes are added to concentrate the viewers attention on the subject, distractions are burnt down or cloned out, shadows darkened, highlights brightened, colors corrected… saturation, vibrance and white balance tweaked. Simply put artists have been making adjustments to their images as long as photography has existed. What was once done in the darkroom or with an airbrush is not done on the computer. Post processing is part of the artistry of photograph. Don’t expect your images straight out of the camera to have a chance of comparing with the work of an artist who knows how to use software to produce the results they wanted.