Hitchcock Woods is an amazing resource to have right in our city, and I’ve written about it in previous blog posts. That being said, I don’t usually hunt for subjects within it using my macro rig. But, this particular morning I didn’t have any luck finding something to point my camera at on the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum so I decided to hike down some of the horse trails to see what I could find.
The leaf in my I Heart Nature piece immediately drew me in primarily due to its shape. After all, the heart symbol is a universal ideograph that represents love, and, being a nature lover, I had a strong desire to capture a scene expressing that sentiment. I also found the greens quite attractive. In fact, one of my artistic goals was to find an angle that allowed me to fill the background with as much green as possible while avoiding the creation of darker brown areas where the dirt on the ground could be seen behind/under the leaves. Additional aesthetic concerns were leaf placement (both angle and position in the frame) as well as depth of field control. I put the leaf in the sensor on a diagonal so that it wouldn’t feel static or centered even though I gave the subject about the same amount of breathing room on either side and kept the distance from the top of the frame nearly equal to the space at the bottom. I sought as much detail as I could get in and on the leaf’s surface, but I also wanted the background to quickly fade away. When there is sufficient distance from the subject to the background, depth of field can be increased while maintaining good bokeh, but when objects in the background are close to the subject, you have to compromise. In this case, I had to open the lens incrementally until I found the right amount for this composition (i.e., where I was getting as much detail as possible from the subject while simultaneously decreasing features of the background leaves). This is another time where your camera’s depth of field preview really pays off because you can use it to dial in the setting while you observe the effect across your work. Even though I reduced the depth of field, the high level of captured detail allows surface texture to be seen.
After working the area near the shelter where we had lunch, we hiked down a connector trail that leads to the Little Gap Trail. I discovered the bark in my Flakes composition on a side trail that leads down to the water. I was initially attracted to the bark by the abstract patterns, but the colors convinced me that I needed to find a way to fill a frame with them. I searched the surface until I found a section that piqued my artistic eye. My goal was to pull in as much color as possible with an interesting design while keeping as much of the rougher outer layer of bark out of the frame.
The cabin check out time was later, so I used the morning of our final day to shoot on Botany Bay. I had been looking at the spot where Botany Bay Marsh was composed as I passed by it all week because I felt that, under the right conditions, a composition could be created. As you head toward the beach on the trail, this marsh is on your left. Since the scenes at the beach were normally much more enticing, it had been difficult to justify spending any time someplace other than the oceanfront (especially when most of the time the photographers were racing each other to get there). That changed with the twilight colors in the sky this morning. I was thrilled with the reflections off the water and the streaks in the sky. I didn’t stay long though, the beach was strongly pulling me with visions of what I was missing.
I was attracted to the scene in my Tree Mountain piece by the sheer size of the canopy this group of trees provide. Stepping back to take it all in, I was fascinated with how tall they were and by the width of the covered area. This is another section along the driveway close to the mansion. With the prolific Spanish moss filling in most of the gaps between the leaves, it felt and looked like the top of a small mountain.
The massive, beautifully adorned tree in Perimeter is at the edge of the side yard to the East of the mansion. Following the gravel road that runs beside it into the middleground of the frame will take you to a corner. If you then turned right, you would be on the Alexander Pond Trail. We saw several alligators and lots of birds from the start of that trail, across the bridge, and to the woods along the Rice Field Dike.
As soon as the magic light dissipated, I made my way off the beach. It was too windy the previous morning to successfully create compositions of the fairly nice palm fronds that were beside the beach trail. After completing my works on the beach, the wind speed was low, but I didn’t have a suitable lens with me. Because I didn’t want to carry the weight of an extra lens around or expose the inner workings of my camera (or the sensor) to the dust/dirt at the beach while exchanging lenses, I had to hightail it all the way back to the car to get one. Once inside the car with the door shut, I felt that it was safe to change the lens. After swapping the lens, I headed back to the beach trail. There was still plenty of golden hour light remaining as I worked the camera into position.
For my Sand Trap composition, I made the aesthetic decision to utilize the spine and the yellow color along it as a diagonal line. That also allowed the fronds to fan out in a nearly 360 degree circle which endows it with a sense of movement or motion. The white sand scattered in and around the folds provides natural highlights as does the subtler morning dew drops. The high level of detail allows individual dew drops and surface textures to be seen.
The golden hour light is on full display in my Gold Fronds piece. With the morning sun lighting it up, there was no way I could reject this opportunity. Here too, I made the artistic choice of utilizing the spine and yellow colors along it as a diagonal line (albeit in the opposite direction). It also has morning dew drops, and the fronds span a nearly 360 degree circle. Once again, the high level of detail allows individual dew drops to be seen.
While hiking on a trail not far from the red mountain laurel, I discovered another flower that I had never seen before. Luckily the subject in Black Rock Mountain Trillium was right next to the stairs and not too far from the trail head which made it easy to get to after returning to my car and gathering my gear. I like the arcs and curls as well as the random sprinkling of color between the yellow strips of pollen on the stamen. The high level of detail allows surface textures, individual hairs, and pieces of pollen to be seen.
The change of perspective in my Beckon piece makes the curls seem as if they are drawing you in or subtly calling out, asking you to come closer. Their curvature creates a sense of pulling towards the center of the flower. The high level of detail allows surface textures, individual hairs, and pieces of pollen to be seen here as well.
I came upon the subject in Rat Snake while hiking on a trail in the Hickory Top WMA on the next to last full day of my SC AIR trip. I was thrilled to find such a large snake (at least four feet long) just hanging out almost waiting for a photographer to come along and feature it in a composition. While it appears to be staring intently, perhaps measuring every movement being made and assessing risk factors, the arc of its mouth seems to give it a smirk. The high level of detail allows tiny pieces of a decaying tree (similar to saw dust) to be seen on the snake’s head, face, and eye. After allowing several compositions to be created, the snake retreated back into the tree where it presumably came from and likely picked up the aforementioned particles.
I noted this site along Otter Trail in Cuddo East while doing some scouting the afternoon of the third full day of my SC AIR trip. In fact, this is very near the area where the herd of wild pigs (mentioned in a previous post) was observed. I arrived before the golden hour to position my tripod and camera in a favorable location. After preparing for the sun to descend into the scene, I experienced another one of the trip highlights I wrote about in a prior post. Sitting here in this spot, watching the golden light filter down through the trees, is where I heard the coyotes wailing. Their boisterous excitement seemed to serenade the retreating sun and add an aural element that served as icing on the cake to a wonderfully enriching time with nature. Fighting off ever increasing numbers of mosquitos, I waited until the magic light streaked across the duckweed covered canal and completely enveloped the opening at the tree line in the background before creating the composition in Otter Trail Sunset.
During a previous outing to Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve for a hike, I learned that the area supported some interesting plants and flowers after reading the information board at the trail head. Since my current body of work lacked some of them, I made a mental note to return when I would have an opportunity to capture something. I was especially excited about the prospect of finding a Shooting Star as I had never seen one in the wild. I don’t know if it was their peak time or not, but when I returned there was an abundance of subjects like the one in Incoming. I liked how this one gave me the impression of falling from the sky with white-hot flames spinning and trailing behind it. What a cool looking little flower growing right out in the middle of a fairly wooded area.
I discovered the subject in Trail Star just off the trail in an area along the bank of a small creek. Perhaps they prefer being close to a water source or up on its banks because there were even more flowers in that location. I like how the stem loops up underneath this one and the petals provide a sense of flying.
I got lucky with the bokeh in my Stevens Creek Shooting Star piece. Not only is it very blurred, but the color and shadow gradations create an impression of motion; like the flower was zipping past me when I captured it. I also love the color and detail in and around the ring area. This is my favorite from the group.
I was encouraged to enter some of my artwork in a contest hosted by the South Carolina State Parks known as the Artist In Residence (AIR). Never having entered any contests (or having shown my work to anyone outside of friends and family), I was pleasantly surprised upon winning a slot. Being a recipient gave me a free one week stay at a cabin in Santee State Park in exchange for a donation of my work. It was a fantastic opportunity, and I brought back more than 1,400 images (it was like a photographic vacation). I spent most of my early mornings within the state park boundaries, but I used the remainder of the days to discover areas of the National Wildlife Refuge that I did not previously know existed (e.g., Bluff Unit, Dingle Pond Unit, Pine Island Unit, and the superb Cuddo East).
I wanted to add some sunrise compositions to my body of work, so I used Google Maps to get a feel for spots within the park that offered the possibility of a good view before I left home. I planned to explore the Lake Marion shoreline for an area that had some foreground interest while being positioned to catch the sun coming up. After checking in, I used the remaining daylight to do some scouting and found a pretty good location just off from the connector trail that runs from the Cypress View Campground to the Bike Trail.
From a photographic perspective, the first morning was a bust. The sky was so choked with clouds that color couldn’t even be seen through them. As far as an outdoor nature experience goes, I enjoyed myself regardless of not creating a single composition.
The second morning, Mother Nature didn’t present what I had initially envisioned, but she provided an excellent option none-the-less. In my Surf’s Up piece, Lake Marion was riled by blowing winds and waves that were rolling to the point of producing white caps. Since the area that I planned on using was cloud choked again, I moved my tripod so that I could position the camera to where some color was able to break through above the horizon. Compared to an ocean or one of the Great Lakes, Lake Marion is fairly small which made me feel like what I was witnessing was unusual. It was captivating to hear the water crash into the shore and watch it fly up in the air. To show the power of the wind and waves breaking along the shore, I used a shutter speed that captured the spray.
The third morning, I decided to try a different location, but it was unproductive, so on the fourth morning I returned to the original site. Compared to the second morning, the mood was peaceful and calm. While clouds were blocking the sun, the magic light still found its way into my Socked In piece. Using the longest shutter speed possible without going to a special setting really brought out the feeling of tranquility. Because of the shutter speed, the lake is velvety smooth and the mixture of pastel colors helps convey the serenity I felt that morning. I love the raccoon tracks in the sand near the shoreline on the lower left hand side, and the logs and roots make a visually interesting foreground contrasted against the silky lake.
On the fifth morning, Mother Nature produced a constantly changing light show. The intensity of the light and the warmth it generated was welcome on that early spring morning. To create that feeling in my Shore Glow piece, I, once again, used the longest shutter speed to smooth out the surface of the lake and capture the reflection of light on its surface from the horizon all the way back to the shore.
Not even ten minutes had passed before I created Got Silk?, and the clouds blocking the light had continued to change and shift. More light was available but it wasn’t as intense, and that made the scene feel a bit cooler. To portray that, I switched to a horizontal orientation that allowed for more of the blues to come in and increased the shutter speed while keeping the lake surface somewhat flat.
After watching the light transform for nearly another half an hour, I created Lake Marion Sunrise. This was very close to what I had imagined capturing before arriving and while scouting potential sites. Watching the gold, orange, and red colors shimmer on the water was a real treat. I love sunrises. To me, the root system looks a bit like an oar fish with an open mouth and a large eye looking back at the viewer. I was pleased to be able to donate a print of this to the Santee State Park, and if you visit the Ranger Station, you’ll see it hanging on their wall.