Spring Blooms At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC

Hopeland Gardens

Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, SC is truly a photographic treasure chest.  This spot has been and continues to be my go-to location for composing macro pieces.  The Rye Patch is a ten acre estate immediately adjacent to Hopeland Gardens with its own rose garden.  I normally search for suitable subjects by exploring both areas, especially since you can easily walk between the two.  During certain peak blooming times in the spring, the azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and other flowering plants and trees really spruce things up.

 

Path with blooming spring flowers at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Hopeland Gardens Path

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The bricks in my Hopeland Gardens Path piece lead to a small wooden bridge that spans a spillway from a water fountain and caries you along the blooms beside them.  On the other side of the brick wall in the background is the normally busy Whiskey road.  Hopeland Gardens is like a sanctuary right in the heart of the city.

 

The remaining pieces below are all straight ahead, frame-filing takes that showcase both the abundant blooms and gorgeous, old trees within the combined boundaries.  It is easy to see why so many weddings (including my brother’s many years ago), receptions, and other events are held here and why wedding and engagement photographers choose this location as their outdoor backdrop.  The Spring Arrives and Hopeland Spring Dress pieces were both composed within Hopeland Gardens while the Rye Patch Blooms piece was created just outside the Rye Patch along the path that runs from the main building to the rose garden.

 

Flowers blooming at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Spring Arrives

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Flowers blooming at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Hopeland Spring Dress

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Flowers blooming at Rye Patch in Aiken, South Carolina
Rye Patch Blooms

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Golden Light On Chalk Cliffs At Hitchcock Woods In Aiken, SC

Chalk Cliffs

Hitchcock Woods is a wonderful asset to have in our little town.  It is one of the largest urban forests in United States and is reportedly two or three times the size of New York City’s Central Park.  Since Aiken is primarily known for its association with horses (even the street signs have horse heads on them), you will most likely come across a rider or two while hiking on the 70 miles of trails that run through it.  Maps are available, and some of the trails will give you a good workout with their hills and loose sand.  I’ve hiked every trail and even have a couple of favorite routes.

The pieces from the Chalk Cliffs area were composed during one of those ‘right place at the right time’ outings.  This particular session resulted in an important learning opportunity where, as a photographer, you realize that your destiny with good light can be planned.  I had arrived as the sun was setting, but before the golden hour started.  I spent some time surveying potential locations and was elated when golden light began to fall on nearly everything in my viewfinder.

 

Sunset near Chalk Cliffs at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
Hitchcock Sunset

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In the Hitchcock Sunset piece, I decided to showcase the magic light enveloping the horse trail and pumping up the oranges and yellows of the clay and sand.  I used the crack running through the protruding surface feature (left, foreground) as a leading line pointing towards the trail.  This also allowed me to pick up light beams coming across the scene from the foreground to the middleground as well as golden painted rocks with shadows from nearby trees.  Sharpness from the foreground to the background was achieved by using a fairly small f-stop.  Due only to illumination from the right light, the visual transformation was stunning, and I appreciated being able to witness it firsthand.

 

Sunset near Chalk Cliffs at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
Golden Light Site

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For Golden Light Site, there was no spectacular light show in the middleground.  Since this was composed a few minutes later, the light was heading towards a more orange tone.  Which was perfect for this spot because it really brought out the orange and yellow hues in the rocks and dirt.  I used the tree in the foreground as an anchor and let the light and erosion channel create a path to the middleground.  A fairly small f-stop was used here as well, to maintain sharpness from the little foreground stones to the pine needles in the background.  I love the colors in this piece, and it is my favorite of the group.

 

Sunset on Chalk Cliffs at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
Chalk Cliffs

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Chalk Cliffs is a straight ahead, frame-filling take.  It required a longer shutter speed to gather enough light to illuminate the darker areas of the cliffs.  Capturing the details on the face of the wall and the subtle patterns within the fallen dirt was an important, character forming, aesthetic choice.  The light painted highlights across the frame serve as visual icing on the cake.

 

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Water Moccasin At Phinizy Swamp Nature Park Plays Dead

Thanatosis….Or Not

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I’m an opportunistic wildlife shooter.  That is, if there is an opportunity, I’ll create a piece, but I don’t normally go out specifically looking for those types of shots.  On this particular morning I was making my way through one of the smaller swampy areas, across the road from the main campus, in the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, when I came upon what looked like a decapitated Cottonmouth snake.  I thought that, because I couldn’t see a tail or a head.  Just the body of a completely motionless, at least three foot long, snake laying there.  The CSRA was in the middle of a drought that eventually completely dried up that section of the park, but at the time, with my snake boots on, I was standing in about four inches of water.  I figured an animal had killed and dropped it when I disturbed their breakfast while sloshing through the weeds.  I was also thinking it would be pretty cool to have a Water Moccasin skin.  I did consider picking it up, but luckily that insane thought was quickly replaced with determining if it had a head before physically touching it.  I examined it the best I was able to, but could not ascertain if it was dead or headless.  Since I had my tripod with me, I decided to poke it with one of the legs and see what reaction that would bring.  I gave it a thump, and there was absolutely no response.  After a couple of seconds, I gave it two pretty good back-to-back bumps, and it still appeared to be dead to the world.  While watching and waiting for any sign of life, I thought, “I’ll give this one last try and then it should be safe to lift it up out of the water.”  So I gave it two more ‘this time I mean it’ pops and POW, in the blink of an eye, out comes an unhappy, hissing, white-mouthed monster.  I was scared (but just for a second since this wasn’t my first run in with one of these – I’ve got an even better story about another encounter that I wasn’t able to capture), but I think I was more startled than anything because I was beginning to believe that it was actually dead.  At that point, the photographer in me took over and as fast as I could I put the tripod down, grabbed the camera, composed the piece, focused, and hit the button on the remote switch.  The entire incident took place so fast that it was the only chance I got.  Before I even knew what happened, the snake had moved off towards the shore where the cattails and weeds were much taller.

I had a macro rig on the camera, so this piece is essentially a head-shot with the snake’s body as the primary background.  That also allowed for lots of detail in the head and mouth areas.  I like the eye, the oily surface, and the wetness which brings out a more saturated look across the body.

So kids, don’t try this at home or in a swamp near you.  While they may be “playing dead”, the operative word here is playing.

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