CAMERAS IN THE MIST

I was in Florida looking at some property and took note of this small grove of trees and thought it might be worthwhile returning to photograph it at some point. Then several days later when I awoke to fog, I knew exactly where I was I was headed. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/4 @ f14, ISO 200.

I was in Florida looking at some property and took note of this small grove of trees and thought it might be worthwhile returning to photograph it at some point. Then several days later when I awoke to fog, I knew exactly where I was I was headed. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/4 @ f14, ISO 200.

The biggest problem with photographing landscapes in the fog is actually predicting when there will be fog. And while timing, location, and a little luck are important, an understanding of the types and causes of fog may help lift the veil and put you, and your camera, in the right place at the right time.

But before we get into the details, why would you want to shoot in the fog anyway? For me, fog provides a softness or ethereal feeling that adds interest to the landscape. It's the unknown, the mystery. Fog can also obscure unwanted backgrounds and help to isolate a subject. But it really is that otherworldly feeling that gets me excited. 

I choose to shoot a little tighter in order to emphasize the Spanish moss hanging from the tree. It's scenes like this that scream for fog. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/4 @ f11, ISO 200.

I choose to shoot a little tighter in order to emphasize the Spanish moss hanging from the tree. It's scenes like this that scream for fog. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/4 @ f11, ISO 200.

So then what is fog? It might help to think of it as clouds at ground level. Made up of condensed water droplets which are the result of air being cooled to the point where it can no longer hold all the water vapor it contains.

There are four types of fog.

Radiation fog is formed on clear nights with relatively little or no wind present and usually forms in low-lying areas like mountain valleys. Radiation fog usually burns off as the sun and temperature rises.

Advection fog is when a layer of warm, moist air moves over a cool surface and is most common in coastal areas where sea breezes blow the air over cooler landmasses.

Upslope fog happens when moist stable air is forced up sloping land like a mountain range. Unlike radiation fog, upslope and advection fog may not burn off with the morning sun and may persist for days.

And finally, steam fog forms when cold, dry air moves over warm water and as it rises, resembles smoke. It is most common over bodies of water during the coldest times of the year.

Fog softens and obscures all the distractions from the background, allowing the tree to take center stage. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 35mm, 1/13 @ f8, ISO 200.

Fog softens and obscures all the distractions from the background, allowing the tree to take center stage. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 35mm, 1/13 @ f8, ISO 200.

Understanding the types of fog and when they might occur may help you to predict when and where it will happen. Or like me, you might just get lucky. 

And unlike John Carpenter's movie "The Fog", you probably won't encounter any vengeful ghosts of shipwrecked mariners, but the fact that you don't know for sure is what will add interest to your photographs. And if it adds interest for you, then it will certainly add interest to viewers of your photography.

REALLY RIGHT (EXPENSIVE) STUFF

A tale of three ball heads. The Arca-Swiss, left, was expensive and too large, the Demon, right, was inexpensive and underwhelming, but the RRS BH-30, while not cheap, was just right.

A tale of three ball heads. The Arca-Swiss, left, was expensive and too large, the Demon, right, was inexpensive and underwhelming, but the RRS BH-30, while not cheap, was just right.

Right up front, this is not a complaint about the price of Really Right Stuff (RRS) products. Yes, RRS gear can be expensive. It is also quality gear and more than likely will last you a lifetime of photography.

My grandfather often said that you have to pay for an education. So it's natural for new photographers, after spending a significant amount of money on a camera and lens, to look for a bargain on accessories. Only after purchasing those bargain accessories do they realize that they have to now spend more money buying what they should have considered buying in the first place.

Which brings me to point of this blog. I've used several ball heads on my Gitzo Mountaineer series 0 tripod in the past, starting with the Arca Swiss Monoball B1. That is an expensive ball head, so it isn't always about the bargain for me, sometimes I just need to do more research. That ball head was overkill for my tripod, especially when I switched from a DSLR to a Fujifilm X-Pro2 for my landscape photography. In an initial effort to go lighter and smaller, I purchased the Demon DB-46 Tripod Ball Head. At around that same time, I also purchased my first L-Plate, the universal quick release L-Bracket. Both the ball head and the L-bracket worked fine, and for a total investment at the time of around $60, I guess it worked well enough for me to get by for two years. But it was my grandfather's advice that would come back to haunt me.

The RRS BH-30 Ball Head with the BXPro2 L-Plate for the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

The RRS BH-30 Ball Head with the BXPro2 L-Plate for the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

Then I was reading the new RRS magazine, Light & Shadow, and was intrigued enough to visit their website and check out some gear. The first thing that caught my attention was the RRS BXPro2-L Set L-Plate. The difference between this L-Plate and the knock-off I owned was night and day. Sure, the other L-Plate worked, but it always felt like it was just an accessory and somewhat in the way. The RRS L-Plate is custom made for the camera and in my case, fits the X-Pro2 perfectly. I can access the battery compartment and the connections on the side of the camera without having to remove or loosen it. After several weeks of use, it really is part of the camera, almost as if Fuji had added it themselves. Then during a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I started to become frustrated with the Demon ball head. It wasn't smooth and I was never quite sure when turning the locking knob if I was tightening or loosening the ball head. Besides, it seemed like a crime using this really nice RRS L-Plate on a substandard ball head. So, when I returned home, I was right back on the RRS website and ended up purchasing the RRS BH-30 Ball Head with Mini Screw-Knob Clamp. I had to think a bit about the cost, $260.00, but again, after using this ball head for several weeks now, I'm glad I did.

The ball head is smooth, light and just right for my camera. A feature I really appreciate is the oversized spring-loaded locking T-lever that can be pulled out and repositioned. A nice bit of attention to detail. Even in the dark, with gloves on, there is no fumbling around when making adjustments.

I was lucky to get great advice from a mentor when I was purchasing my first professional camera gear in 1985. At the time I wasn't sure I really wanted to spend around $250 for a tripod, but guess what, I still have that Bogan 3020 Series tripod today. It's a little heavy and only gets used if I'm working out of the car, but the point is that it was money well spent.

So my advice is to do the research, buy quality gear and only buy it once.

VLOG REBOOT

In this video, I discuss my recent vlog attempts, why I mostly failed, and my path to vlog again.

One reason for my limited success recently is due to bad audio, complicated by relying on a Zoom H1 digital recorder to record the audio and then syncing with the video in post-production. Just one example, you are not going to get good audio if you plug the Rode Lavalier microphone into the H1's headphone jack.

This isn't just a gear review though, I do include a few outtakes from my attempts and even include some photographs at the end.

My current setup moving forward:

GoPro Hero 5 Black 
GoPro Pro 3.5mm Mic Adaptor
Rode VideoMicro On-Camera Microphone
Aluminum Alloy Housing for GoPro Black Hero 5
 

5 TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING IN CADES COVE

An hour after sunrise, the first light reaches the valley and washes across Sparks Lane. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/60 @ f11, ISO 200.

An hour after sunrise, the first light reaches the valley and washes across Sparks Lane. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/60 @ f11, ISO 200.

Cades Cove is located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And if the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, then Cades Cove is the most visited section of the most visited national park in the United States.

And for good reason. Located 27 miles from Gatlinburg or just nine miles from Townsend, Tenn., Cades Cove offers something for every photographer: wildlife, landscapes, waterfalls and historic structures.

So whether you plan to spend one day or five days exploring Cades Cove, these five tips will help to make the experience a joy rather than a frustration.

1. Patience. Cades Cove is circled by an 11-mile one-way paved road with a 20 mph posted speed limit, which means that even with no other cars it would take you 33 minutes to complete the loop. This will never happen. Give yourself plenty of time and trust me if you are a photographer, you must. Plan for at least two to four hours making the loop, especially considering you will want to make frequent stops to take in the scenery and wildlife.  

Also note that late October, early November for the fall colors and spring for the wildflowers are the busiest times to visit, along with almost all weekends.

As the sun rises in Cades Cove, it falls first on the tops of the surrounding mountains. In this photograph, the sun lights the fall foliage on the side of the mountain in the background. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/30 @ f11, ISO 200.

As the sun rises in Cades Cove, it falls first on the tops of the surrounding mountains. In this photograph, the sun lights the fall foliage on the side of the mountain in the background. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/30 @ f11, ISO 200.

2. Arrive early. The loop road will not open to automobiles until sunrise and the queue begins at least an hour before that. I recommend you join them, bring coffee and breakfast and refer to tip number one. Use this time to go over your gear and make sure you are ready to start taking pictures the moment you arrive at your first location because the sun will be rising fast.

On Wednesday and Saturday mornings from early May until late September prior to 10 a.m., the park is only open to bicycles and foot traffic. This is a great option to consider if the thought of traffic is already causing you stress.

In this early morning photograph taken on Hyatt Lane, I was able to get a few shots without cars in the scene. What you don't see are the two cars and a van loaded with photographers behind me. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/15 @ f10, ISO 200.

In this early morning photograph taken on Hyatt Lane, I was able to get a few shots without cars in the scene. What you don't see are the two cars and a van loaded with photographers behind me. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/15 @ f10, ISO 200.

3. Take a shortcut. There are two roads that cut across the center of Cades Cove, Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane. Both are two-way, so they offer the option to cut your visit short or return back to the loop road from the direction you came. They are also great places to photograph, especially during early morning or late afternoon. One thing that will surely test your patience, is getting to your first shooting location quickly after the ranger opens the gate. While you have some leeway because the sun will take a little bit to rise above the mountains, you still want to be in place early.

So while non-photographers will normally concentrate on traveling around the loop, I suggest making the first left onto Sparks Lane shortly after entering Cades Cove and setting up to capture the sunrise. You will most likely be among the first ones there, or at a minimum, joined by other photographers. Park in the small area to your left just after you cross the creek and then explore the lane on foot.

The Eligah Oliver Place is just one of over a dozen historic structures located either close to the road or a short hike away. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/500 @ f8, ISO 200.

The Eligah Oliver Place is just one of over a dozen historic structures located either close to the road or a short hike away. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/500 @ f8, ISO 200.

4. Take your time. Spend the whole day or spend half a day, but don't rush your visit. Give yourself time to explore and after you've taken that sunrise or first light photograph, visit the restored cabins, barns, or churches. Take a hike, leave the paved road, venture into the woods. Look for locations that you want to return to later that day or the next day. Just remember to pack a lunch, bring water, a bag chair, whatever will make your day more comfortable and ease the temptation to rush.

A bear cub photographed with a 50mm (75mm equivalent) and cropped. Park rules require you to keep a 50-yard distance from all wildlife. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/500 @ f2, ISO 800.

A bear cub photographed with a 50mm (75mm equivalent) and cropped. Park rules require you to keep a 50-yard distance from all wildlife. Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/500 @ f2, ISO 800.

5. Don't forget the wildlife. Cades Cove is full of creatures, big and small. White-tailed deer, bear, turkey, coyotes and other animals are numerous throughout the valley. And the nice thing is you don't need a super long telephoto lens to get great shots. Be respectful and maintain a 50-yard distance from all animals and of course pull off the road. One strategy I've used is to pick a location, park and wait for the wildlife to come to me. After only a few visits you will begin to get a sense of where wildlife will typically appear. Sometimes it might take an hour or longer, but every time I've done this, I've been rewarded. 

There are probably many tips I could offer, but really it boils down to having patience and taking your time. Despite a large number of visitors, Cades Cove is an incredibly peaceful place and no visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be complete without spending time. It is also a great place to meet other photographers and to find out what their favorite spots are to photograph. I've always found that most are very eager to share.

WHY I'M SWITCHING BACK TO A NECK STRAP

Wrist strap purchased on Etsy from McMurray and Blonde. The strap is good quality, looks good, is priced right and after eight months of almost daily use, showed little wear.

Wrist strap purchased on Etsy from McMurray and Blonde. The strap is good quality, looks good, is priced right and after eight months of almost daily use, showed little wear.

Eight months ago I switched to a wrist strap, so why am I thinking of reverting back to a neck strap?

First, let me explain some of the advantages of a wrist strap and why I switched. I carry my camera in a backpack every day and the wrist strap makes it much easier to pack in and out of the bag. When I'm shooting on the street, I like to have my camera at the ready and a wrist strap is perfect for that. In fact, when using a neck strap, I used to wrap it around my wrist in similar shooting situations, but the wrist strap is purpose-built for that and gave a sense of security from inadvertently dropping the camera if I suddenly needed to use my hands.

Also when out and about I often stop for a drink or bite to eat and when sitting the camera on a table or bar, the neck strap always seemed to be the way or hanging over the edge, where there was a risk of it getting snagged and pulled to the floor.

So with all the reasons above, why would I even consider switching back? I suppose it came down to options and with a wrist strap, I had only one, the wrist. And even though I just gave a bunch of advantages the wrist strap had over the neck strap, I think I need those options back. If I wasn't carrying a backpack or some other type of bag, then the only option was to have the camera dangling from my wrist, like a one-pound piece of jewelry that you can't take off.

I also like to have the camera at the ready when hiking or backpacking and a wrist strap just isn't practical in those situations. It forced me to keep the camera in a bag or waist pouch.

I suspect like everything else in photography, there isn't a perfect solution to my wrist strap versus neck strap problem. Afterall, there's not one perfect lens or certainly not a perfect camera bag (look in my closet). And is there really a perfect camera, or camera format?

So, why should I expect there to be the perfect camera strap? Please let me know in the comments below if you have found a solution, otherwise stay tuned for another blog post eight months from now titled, "Why I'm Switching Back to a Wrist Strap?".