Category Archives: Southeast U.S.A.

Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach Photography Tips

As a landscape photographer who lives in Florida, I find myself on airplanes a lot. Although I adore the Sunshine State, most of the landscapes that excite my camera are far, far away. This is why finding a killer landscape photography location I can drive to in a few hours is a Godsend.

Jekyll Island is one of the small coastal barrier islands off the south coast of Georgia. It was once the playground of the ultra-rich during the Victorian era but now the whole island is the crown jewel of the Georgia state park system. It is beautiful and quaint…which is why it is now a popular vacation destination. But what interests photographers is a small, 1/2 mile stretch of beach on the northern edge of the Island known as Driftwood Beach.

Over the years, the ocean has nibbled away at the beach in front of an old grove of trees that have gradually succumbed to the saltwater. Now their skeletons litter the beach, which is why some playfully call it “Boneyard Beach.” But by whatever name, the result is a playground for landscape photographers. I recently spent three days there and want to share some tips for other photographers that might get a chance to visit.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
Morning Monolith


Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips

Jekyll Island is about halfway between Savannah Ga. and Jacksonville, Fl. and less than 15 miles from I-95. There is an $8 fee to enter the island via a causeway. You have a wealth of options when you decide where to stay..ranging from the luxury of the Jekyll Island Club to AirBNBs and hotels and even a campground. The Island is only 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide but you will need a car to get around.

Finding the Beach

Driftwood is near the northern point of the Island. Just take BeachView Drive to the north tip of the island. Unfortunately, there are no signs for Driftwood Beach (I suggest you just use Google Maps on your phone…there is excellent cell service). If you pass Maurice Drive, the Campground, or the Horton House, you’ve gone too far.

Parking is easy: there are three free parking areas located alongside the road.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
Three Parking Areas…

The walk to the beach is less than five minutes. Most of the really interesting trees are within a pretty small 800′ section on the beach. I strongly suggest you scout the area during the daytime ahead of time, so you know which trees you want to photograph when you come back in the pre-dawn morning.

When to Go

Frankly, the season of year really doesn’t matter. Driftwood Beach looks pretty much the same in the winter as it does in the summer, so just pick a date that works with your schedule.

The time of day does matter. Driftwood Beach is really a sunrise and morning location (although Milky Way photography would also be fun).

Do yourself a favor and be on the beach at least 45 minutes BEFORE the scheduled sunrise to catch the most colorful skies. Trust me, I arrived 20 minutes early the first morning, then 30 minutes early the second day, and missed the peak both times!

Some folks like shooting at low tide, others at high tide. Good images can be made at either but personally, I prefer high tide since it ensures that many of the trees will actually be standing in the water (as opposed to being high and dry in the sand).


Obviously, a tripod is a necessity due to the low light.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips

A mid-range zoom is perfect here. More than 90% of my shots were taken with a 24-70mm on a full-frame camera. You might also bring a 14mm for that occasional wide-angle shot and a macro lens would come in handy for shooting close-ups of the wild patterns in the weathered wood.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
Warm sunrise light just can’t be beat…

If the tide is up, a pair of wading shoes/boots will allow you to get the shots that would otherwise result in you driving home with cold, wet, and wrinkled feet.

A dark ND filter will allow you to make the long exposures (more than 2 seconds) that result in those images with long, silky lines of surf stretching across the beach without overexposing your image. For the best look, wait until the water reaches its high point on the beach and hit your shutter as it starts to recede.


Unless you want the trees to show as solid black silhouettes I’d suggest using exposure bracketing (3 to 5 stops) since the dynamic range can be pretty dramatic. Consider trying some HDR or plan to manually blend multiple exposures.

Try shooting from a few inches over the sand rather than at eye-level. The difference in perspective might surprise you.

If the tide is up, there will be shallow reflecting pools of water that you can use as foregrounds.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
Use the reflections in the puddles to break-up your foregrounds…

There are usually shrimp boats working the coast well before dawn. They can be nice additions on the horizon if you can work one into your composition.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
“Kraken” Stalking a tasty shrimp boat on the horizon.

Be aware of your depth of field. If you are working with close foregrounds you will have to adjust your aperture (f/22 or higher) to ensure good focus through-out your image (focus-stacking is another option).


Landscape photographers lust over partial cloudy skies for sunrises and sunsets, but Driftwood Beach has serious photographic potential under nearly any weather conditions.

Clear Skies

No clouds? Use the silhouettes of the tree skeletons and the long shadows they create as long leading lines. The result is a kind of minimalist photography that can be striking.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
Boneyard Blues

Use limbs or trunks to partially block the sun and create sunbursts.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips

Overcast Skies

My first day at Driftwood Beach was overcast and I frankly thought that photography would be a bust…but I changed my mind a few minutes later when I recognized that the contrast between the trees, surf and clouds was pretty eye-catching.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
“Fallen Foe” I converted this image to B&W with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and then added some tinting and an edge/border to emphasize the scene’s inherent drama

The tide was up this morning, which made for a much different look than my first day.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
I was able to emphasize the lines in the surf via a long exposure thanks to a dark 6ND filter. A bi-color filter and a subtle vignette.

The lack of sunlight made black and white processing an obvious choice. Also consider the use of tinting, vignettes, and creative borders to add interest.

Partly Cloudy Skies

Yes, every photographer’s nirvana…a sunrise with partly cloudy skies! If you are blessed with a wicked sunrise AND you have scouted the area well, you should be able to quickly shift between a half dozen pre-chosen spots and capture them all during those elusive minutes when your fleeting sunrise is at it’s best.

Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
My first shot of the morning. I grabbed this image, picked up my tripod, and then…
Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
jogged 50′ south and captured this shot a few minutes later, then…
Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach Photography Tips
walked less than 100′ to this scene, adjusted my aperture to f/22, and coaxed a nice starburst from the sunrise peaking around this stump.

I consider Driftwood Beach to be an underappreciated landscape photography location with incredible potential. If you have a family and live on the east coast, I think you might find it to be a fine vacation destination…and you would still be able to get your’ photography fix’ every morning before the spouse and kids manage to drag themselves out of bed.

What more can any photographer ask?

Happy Holidays!


Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach Photography Tips

Also posted in Photo Tips and Guides

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

Horseshoe Bend is one of the true photographic icons of the American Southwest.

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

Check out the front leg of the tripod…next step: 1,000 feet straight down!

I’ve photographed there many a time (even written a guide with tips on how to best photograph there…see this link).  But no matter how many times I visit, my heart always starts beating harder…not just because it is impressive, but because, to be honest, it scares me a bit.

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

One good gust of air and….

I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but when I stand at Horseshoe’s sheer 1000′ cliff edge, can create a few butterflies in my nether-regions.  I’ve actually watched visibly shaken tourists walk toward the edge only to repeatedly turn around.  Some of those folks, no joke, actually crawl up to the edge on their belly to take their pictures.

That’s why I was glad to see today that the government is going to add a railing along part of the cliff where the trail currently ends.  They are also going to upgrade the trail to make it ADA compliant, which will be a lot easier than walking in the parts of it that were soft sand.

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

Will this affect photography?  Judging by the illustration the NPS released (see below), the fence will be short enough that you will be able to easily shoot over it with a tripod.  Plus if you want to avoid the fence completely, you will just need to walk a couple dozen yards to the left or right past the end of the fence and you can still shoot right on the cliff’s edge.

Seeing youngsters run around at the cliff’s edge has always made me nervous and there have been fatalities recorded here.  The new fence will make the area much safer as well as keep heart-rates down for some of us as well.

Construction is scheduled for November and construction should be completed before January of 2018.  You can read more about the details here.


Safety Upgrade at Horseshoe Bend

Conceptual Drawing – Horseshoe Bend Rim Viewing Area
NPS Image

With all the recent cut-backs you read about affecting our Federal lands and parks, it was nice to hear about this modest investment!

Take care,


Safety Upgrade at Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Sunset: One of those “OMG” moments that will soon be a bit safer

Safety Upgrade at Horseshoe Bend

Also posted in Photo Tips and Guides Tagged |

Rainy Days and Mondays….

My son, Ryan, has recently been bitten by the photography/travel bug.  Like a proud papa of a newborn, I have been lavishing time and attention on his growing hobby.  Earlier this month, we drove up to the Smokies with the goal of getting some real-world experience with his new camera, tripod, lenses and all the other paraphernalia that photographers surround themselves with.  Or, as my son said:  “Jeeze Dad, all this other stuff is going to cost me more than the camera!”  Oh yeah baby!…welcome to the addiction world of photography my son…

Of course, I hoped to get some decent photographs as well, but we had missed most of the fall color and the weather was just plain ugly.  Rain, clouds, more rain.   Not ideal weather for the glorious sunrises or the mountainsides of autumn color my son had hoped to catch.  But, if there is one truism about photography, it is that bad weather can make good photos!  Rain does help to saturate colors and overcast skies are ideal for photographing streams and waterfalls. So we grabbed our raingear and headed out.

Middle Prong of Little River in Tremont

I managed to find one tree on the river with a bit of color left…and made the most of it!

My favorite stream in the Smokies is the Middle Prong of the Little River in the Tremont area.  Ryan and I spent nearly a full day there dodging squalls and exploring the hundreds of beautiful vignettes that populate this three mile stretch of heaven.

Another of my favorite streams is along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

2015 Smokies Fall 11 07 008507

“Spooky Hallow” Those woods aren’t filled with fog…that’s rain. But the look is equally moody.

We spent hours working this area.  And the rain kept all the tourists in Gatlinburg, so we had it nearly to ourselves!

On our last day, the rain stopped briefly so we went off in search of fall color.  Oddly enough, the best we found was in the hills right above Gatlinburg.

2015 Smokies Fall 11 08 026708

Ryan working the road…

We drove up to Clingman’s Dome nearly every morning and evening hoping to capture one of those iconic Smokies, layered-mountain scenes…but it was not to be on this trip.  My best effort was on the way back down the mountain when the clouds parted briefly and I swerved off onto an overlook to grab this shot.2015 Smokies Fall 11 08 018308

So, all in all, it wasn’t the trip I had planned and hoped for.  But I got to spend quality time with my son and he got hours of personal instruction with his new DSLR.  So, maybe I didn’t come home with any award-winning shots, but perhaps the memories are the real prize.


PS:  On the way to the Smokies, I made a small detour to stop at one of my all-time favorite waterfalls: Minnehaha in north Georgia.  It isn’t well known and I’m happy about that since it is never crowded.  This is a big, beautiful cascade that always envelops me in a sense of peace.  It is now one of Ryan’s favorites as well.

Minnehaha Falls...not famous...but it should be!

Minnehaha Falls…not famous…but it should be!


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Milky Way Photography in the Smokies: Clingman’s Dome

In late April  I found myself alone atop the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.  It was 4am, and I had just gotten out of my car in the freezing parking lot at  Clingman’s Dome.  It had been about an hour and a half since my iPhone alarm had roused me from my toasty room in Cherokee, NC and I was having second thoughts.

So, why would I want to be there…and at THAT hour?  Well, I had my heart set on photographing the Milky Way from the top of the mountain, but according to my Sky Safari app, it wouldn’t rise high enough above the horizon for a decent photo until 3:30am.   I had just driven up from Florida the evening before and my 50+ year old body was cranky and sleep-deprived as I hiked up the path to the Observation Tower.  About halfway up the trail, I stopped and looked up.  My fatigue was instantly forgotten as I glimpsed the Milky Way with my bare eyes for the first time in nearly six months:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

No matter how many times I see it, sight of the Milky Way always leaves me in awe. ____Nikon D800E/Nikkor 14-24 lens/f/2.8/ISO 3200/30 sec.

At the end of the short but steep trail, I reached the observation tower.   The Milky Way was pretty high in the sky and I set up my tripod almost directly below the tower.  From this perspective, the ramp seemed to lead all the way to the band of starts:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

“Tower of Terror” ________Nikon D800E/Nikkor 14-24 lens/f/2.8/ISO 3200/30 sec.

I used my headlamp to briefly illuminate the tower for a few seconds during the 30 second exposures.  It took quite a bit of trial and error to avoid having one section overexposed and the other dark, but eventually I got the hang of it.

After a while, I moved further away from the tower which allowed the Milky Way to wind over the serpentine tower:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

♫Meet George Jetson, his boy Elroy…♪__Nikon D800E/Nikkor 14-24 lens/f/2.8/ISO 2200/30 sec.

After about an hour and a half, I noticed that the Milky Way was starting to fade as dawn approached.  That gave me just enough time to try something new.  I had been reading about time-lapse photography and thought this would be a great venue to give it a first shot.  So I set my Nikon up to automatically take a series of 30 second exposures…one after another.  I started it up and sat back as the camera started snapping away.  Well, I only had about ten minutes to spare before I had to hit the trail and since it takes 30 frames to make one second of a time-lapse, that means that I ended up with less than one second of  actual ‘film.’  See the clip below if you have a free moment (literally) to spare:).

Did you miss it?  Yup…that is what you call a short video!  Not a terrible first effort…but it was clear that next time I would need to shoot for a few hours.  Plus I would bring warmer gloves, a folding stool and a book so I could stick it out long enough to make a real video.

I hiked back to the Subaru and then joined the other photographers setting up for the sunrise on the edge of the parking lot.  The lack of clouds eliminated any chance of a ‘National Geographic’ shot, but even an average dawn at Clingman’s is wonderful.  There is nothing like the view of the dancing orange sky behind those blue mountain ridges receding off into infinity:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

Smokies Icon

Well, as it turns out, there wasn’t another clear night the whole week I was there, so I didn’t get another shot at my time-lapse.    But I’m not whining…I learned a lot and besides, now I have something to look forward to on my next trip to the Smokies!

Milky Way Tips for Photographers:

Check out my Milky Way how-to Blog to learn about the basics for this type of photography

Specific Tips for Milky Way Photography at Clingman’s Dome:

  • Locations:

    Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

    “The Emergence” __D800E/Sigma 15mm Fisheye/f2.8/ISO 3200/ 30 sec

  1. Most photographers set up right on the edge of the parking lot at the top of Clingman’s.  It is a good location facing south with unobstructed views stretching from east to west.  But, there is quite a bit of light pollution on the horizon with nothing to block it out. Sometimes that can work to your advantage like it did for me in the shot shown to the right:
  2. The trail to the Observation Tower can work out well.  Keep looking over your shoulder as you walk up the trail and look for views in which the Milky Way is framed by the trees (like the first shot shown in this blog).
  3. Shots that include the Observation Tower are my personal favorite.  The design is so “Jetsons”  and futuristic that it just cries out to be silhouetted against the cosmos in a Milky Way shot.
    1. The paved trail from the parking lot is only a half mile but it isn’t lighted and it is steep…plus you will be carrying a tripod and the rest of your equipment.  Give yourself at least a half hour.
    2. Also, if you aren’t used to the lack of oxygen at 6643′, you might find yourself out of breath.  I’m from Florida and our highest point is only 345′, and trust me, there is a difference!
  • Equipment
  1. Dress warm.  It is often 20 degrees cooler at Clingman’s than it is in Gatlinburg or Cherokee.
  2. Dress dry.  I swear that I get wet at least half the time I’m on Clingman’s even if the rest of the park is dry.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but pack your rain gear for you and your equipment.
  • Safety
  1. Like any isolated spot, you should consider your safety at Clingman’s, especially  if you are there for a night shoot.  I’ve never personally had a bit of trouble but leaving valuables in plain sight in your car would be tempting fate.
  2. Yes, there are bears in the Smokies, lots of them, but unless you try to kidnap a cub from it’s mother or have a pork chop hanging around your neck, you should be fine.
  • Time of year
  1. Spring thru Fall is the best time of the year to observe the Milky Way in the Smokies.  However, it is most visible during the summer. Also, it isn’t visible early in the evening during the spring but by late fall you can see it right after sunset. Use the internet or a smartphone app so you know exactly when it will rise…that way you can plan when you should be at Clingman’s.
  2. The Milky Way also shifts where it appears in the sky during the course of the year.  During the spring it appears more in the southeastern sky but by the fall it will shift to the southwest.  Again, apps like Sky Safari will let you know where to expect it.

Enjoy your Milky Way Photography at Clingman’s and best of luck!


Also posted in Milky Way Photography, Night Photography Tagged , , |

Karma at Clingman’s

I’m not a superstitious guy so I’ve never really totally bought into the idea of Karma.  Sure, if you do good things for people, they certainly tend to return the favor…plus you sleep a lot better at night.  But the idea of being rewarded in the future for doing a kindness for a total stranger that you will never meet again, well no.   I mean, sure that would be nice, but just because if might be nice doesn’t make it so.

Or does it?

2015 Smokies_04_30_03129

The weather just gets worse…

I’m not quite so sure now…because of a experience that happened to me a couple weeks back that still has me scratching my head.

I was photographing in the Smoky Mountain National Park and it was getting late.  And the weather had turned ugly.  Overcast.  Rain.  Not exactly ideal for a nice sunset photo.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So I started driving up into the mountains hoping to get higher than the bad weather.  Up I drove…but the weather didn’t improve.  I got to Newfound Gap and it was still terrible, so I decided to go all the way to the top of Clingman’s dome (at 6643′ it is the tallest peak in the Smokies and the third highest east of the Mississippi).

Well, the weather went from bad to worse as I snaked my little Subaru around the twisted road.  Visibility forced me to drop to less than 10 mph at spots (those sheer drop-offs on either side of the road did a great job encouraging caution).  Then, I noticed that the rain was weird.  It wasn’t clear…heck, it was white!  It was snowing!

Hey, I might be a Florida boy, but I grew up in the north and I spend my share of time photographing in the snow, so it’s not like I’d never seen it before.  But this was the last day of April…and the temperature had been in the 60s an hour ago.   Snow?  Really?!

It took me over a half hour to drive the 7 miles to the peak.  When I finally got to the top, it was covered in a full-scale blizzard.  The wind was wicked and the snow was coming in hard.  Clingman’s is usually packed with people…but it was totally deserted  Not a soul in sight and the parking lot was empty (it turns out that the rangers had closed Clingman’s:  my car was the last one thru before they barricaded the road).  I decided that I might as well wait and see if the weather would break.   I pulled on my parka, hat and gloves, pushed my seat all the way back and grabbed my book to help pass the 40 minutes till sunset.

BAM! BAM! BAM!  My door window shook and I jerked my head around to see a guy standing next to the car.  I didn’t know where the heck he had come from and frankly, it startled the crap out of me!  He looked pretty rough…kinda like a homeless guy and there was a nice 12″ sheath knife on his belt…not exactly what you want to see when you are on top of a mountain all alone.

But I took a second look and noticed he was in shorts and a thin jacket, shivering…obviously cold…and maybe looking a bit scared.2015 untitled shoot 30 April 19653 He said his name was AJ and he had been hiking the Appalachian Trail and had just reached Clingsman’s when the storm hit.  He and another hiker had taken shelter in one of the National Park bathrooms.  AJ said they had no heat and were freezing…and the bathrooms stunk (if you’ve ever been in one of those bathrooms, you know what he meant.)  He asked if I would give them a ride off the mountain.

Now, I have never in my life picked up a hitch-hiker.  Too many bad stories in the paper.  And this was far from an ideal situation.  It was getting dark, I was alone, no cell coverage.  But I’d been a Scoutmaster long enough to see that these guys were truly hikers…so…for some reason, I told them; Sure, I can get you out of here.

They tossed their backpacks in the car and climbed in…all the time rubbing their hands together, trying to get some circulation back.  I took a deep breath and thought I should just blow off the sunset (slight as the chance of seeing one was) and just take them down the mountain to Gatlinburg where they could find a place to stay.

Well, the drive down was as every bit as bad as it had been on the way up and it took us a while to reach the main road at Newfound Gap. We had time to spare and started talking.  AJ said I could call him ‘Deju Vu’ (later I learned that his real name was Alexander Devaux).  He was very talkative.  Heck, even frozen solid, that boy could talk.  Jim Buker turned out to be the name of the other fella but he was pretty quiet until he started to warm up a bit later.

When we finally reached the end of the Clingman road, I made the turn toward Gatlinburg.   As I did so, I noticed a streak of pale orange out of the corner of my eye.  I slowed and noticed that there was a sliver of sky clear to the west peeking under the solid overcast.  So I pulled into the next overlook to check it out.

That slice of pale orange got my attention.

That slice of pale orange got my attention.

It wasn’t much.  But I had photographed from this same spot (Morton’s Overlook) the night before…and knew that the sun would set right in that clear gap above the valley between the mountains.  The chances for a decent shot were slim.  But the chances were zero if I just got back in the car and drove away… so I asked the guys if they would mind waiting a half hour so I could try a sunset shot.  They seemed to be pretty happy campers just warming up in the car and had no objections.

I got the tripod and camera set up.  It wasn’t quite freezing anymore but it sure was chilly…and a nice sleeting rain was falling.  I shuffled my feet back and forth over the next 20 minutes as my fingers slowly went numb.  I stole envious glimpses at AJ and Jim in my warm, dry car and realized that they were probably a heck of a lot smarter than me.

Just then the sun slid into that clear slice of the sky.  I looked into my viewfinder and took the shot:

2015 Smokies_04_30_03253_HDR

♪Here comes the sun…♫


I thought, well…that’s a nice image…but certainly not worth standing in the freezing rain for 20 minutes.


But then, a couple of seconds later…the…valley…below…me…EXPLODED!

Morton's Overlook Sunset Photo by Jeff Stamer

Most photographers will look at this shot and think I oversaturated the heck out of it in Photoshop. And honestly, when I first processed this shot I thought the same. I went back to the raw shot and saw that, no, this is really what the camera saw. I knew it was incredible while I was standing there looking at it, but even now, seeing the photo, it is still hard for me to believe…

I’d never seen anything like it.  One second everything was dark and monochrome…but a moment later crimson sunlight was brilliantly ricocheting across the fog-laden valley in a riot of color.   I heard the car door open and AJ or Jim blurted “Holy Crap!” (well, maybe something a bit stronger than that). Vehicles driving by hit their brakes, swerved over and camera phones started clicking while voices excitedly pointed out the view in urgent tones.

After that first burst of red light the intensity of the colors cooled a bit as you can see in this next shot…but it didn’t lessen the suburb vista. Morton's Overlook Sunset Photo by Jeff Stamer

I know that some of the most dramatic landscape photographs are taken during poor weather or clearing storms.  I’ve taken more than a few shots in those conditions, but this scene was on a whole different level of magnitude.

I was shooting quickly.  Checking my focus…making sure my settings were right…trying different compositions.

2015 Smokies_04_30_03361

Just like that…the moment was gone.

But, it didn’t last.  In less than 4 minutes…it was over.

The sun stumbled below the horizon and a dark, heavy shroud fell upon the valley.   I shook my head in wonder at what I had just witnessed and broke down my gear.

AJ and Jim were excitedly talking about the sunset when I got back to the car.  I turned over the engine and pulled onto the road.  Then I looked in the rear-view mirror, caught their eyes in the reflection and said:  ‘Thanks.”

They furled their brows and said ‘What are you thanking us for?’

I smiled and told them that if I hadn’t picked them up, I would still be on top of Clingman’s praying for a break in the clouds.  I would have missed the single most glorious sunset of my life.  I owed them a debt of gratitude.

Karma, Good Luck, Dumb Chance?  Heck, I don’t know.   Whatever the reason, I was grateful.  Because I will carry the memory of those 240 seconds for the rest of my life.



PS:   AJ and Jim are both blogging about their 2168 mile trek on the Appalachian Trail.  You can follow their adventures here and here.  Join me in wishing them safe travels!

Technical Notes for Photographers

  • All these photos were taken on a tripod with a Nikon D800E mounted with a Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8. The only exception was the iPhone shot of the snow covered bathroom the hikers were huddled in.
  • Since I knew there was going to be a widedynamic range, I set camera for 7 shot auto-bracketing.   This  gave me images ranging from -3 exposure to +3 for each shot.
    • During processing, I selected two frames of each 7 shot group (one overexposed and one underexposed) and hand blended these in Photoshop.  I tried some HDR, but the results looked ‘fake’ so I went with the more subtle hand-blended option (even though the results still don’t look subtle!)
  • I had the shot pre-focused and composed before the sun made an appearance, so all I had to do was trip the shutter with my remote.  However, the challenge I did have was water droplets on the lens from the rain (despite the lens cap).  As a result, I had to dry the lens between each shot (I carry a big microfiber cloth with me for just this type of problem).  But I still had some ‘spots’ on my images I had to remove with photo shop.
  • I ruined a few shots with bad focus.  Even though I had pre-focused, I managed to bump the focus ring when wiping rain off the lens.
    • No, I didn’t check the focus after every shot on my LCD.  But I will next time.
  • I used an ISO of 200 and kept my lens at f8 (its sharpest setting).  I shot in aperture priority and let the camera select the shutter speed.  I set the camera on manual focus and used my Live View feature to make sure the image was sharp from front to back.
  • Morton’s Overlook is a wonderful sunset spot during the spring and summer.  The sun settles in the valley that stretches before you with mountains on either side.  By fall, however, the sun is out of position for good composition and you will want to seek out a different location for your sunset shot (like Clingman’s or the overlooks on the last 20 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway).
  • I set the camera on Auto White Balance, so those intense colors aren’t the result of a ‘Vivid’ or ‘Cloudy’ setting.
    • Frankly, I still get a bit uncomfortable when I look at that first photo of the sunset exploding over the valley…even though I didn’t saturate the reds, it sure does look like I did.  For those of you who also think it is a bit much, I’ve done another version in which I subdued the colors (especially red).

Morton's Overlook Sunset Photo by Jeff Stamer

This version is perhaps a bit less dramatic than what we actually saw, but even ‘toned-down’ I still think gives you a good idea of that amazing scene.


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The Cubs of Cades Cove

I have to admit that I’ve become a bit jaded when it comes to the topic of bears.  Well, black bears anyway…I don’t think I will ever take a Grizzly for granted!  I live near a state park and see black bears walking thru my yard all the time.  So last week when I was photographing a sunset in the Smokies and the guy next to me insisted I see the bear photos he had taken the day before, I took a deep breath, hid my lack of enthusiasm and glanced over at his smartphone.  And what I saw took my breath away.  He didn’t have your garden-variety photos of bears…he had photos of bear cubs!

Keep reading to find out how I got this adorable shot.

Keep reading to find out how I met this cute little fella…

I had lived around bears for twenty years but realized in that moment that I had never seen a cub.  And Lord…they were so incredibly cute!   Although I had made my trip to the Smokies intent on photographing landscapes and spring wildflowers, that focus suddenly shifted.

Black Bear Cub Photography

I was lucky to find some Mountain Laurel which anchored this image.

A couple days later, I was taking a sunrise shot from the Foothills Parkway when a lady pulls into the overlook and sets up her tripod.  I couldn’t help notice that she was still in her PJs…and that started a conversation.  It turns out she was a local (she had rushed out of her nearby home to photograph the sunrise and didn’t have time to change, which explained the PJs).  As we talked, I realized that I had seen her photography on Facebook.   Her name is Kellie Walls Sharpe and a friendlier person doesn’t exist on this earth.  As we worked the sunrise, I mentioned the bear cubs.  Kellie knew all about them and told me exactly where they could be found (her local knowledge of wildlife and photography locations was amazing). Well, as soon as the sunrise had faded, I thanked Kellie and headed off to the spot in Cades Cove she had told me about.  About an hour later I was hiking across a field and sure enough, spotted a bear.  But it was just a yearling…kinda scrawny and not terribly photogenic. So I kept walking and looking.  Ten minutes later movement caught my eye near the base of a hill.  I ambled up and saw a pair of cubs…and a big mama bear about 20 feet beyond them.

Now, let me say that the Park regulations require you to keep a 50 yard distance from bears.  And although black bears are not usually aggressive, only a fool would get between a mother and her cubs.  Fortunately, I had brought my Nikon 200-400 with a 1.4 teleconverter, so I was able to keep my distance and still get tack-sharp images.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Twins: Up they go!

The twins immediately scrambled up a tree.  Mama took a hard look at me, decided I was just another fool photographer and then promptly and totally ignored me for the rest of the day.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Mama checking me out…’

I lifted all seven plus pounds of the 200-400 for the first time and started shooting.

Black Bear Cub Photography

These little guys could really climb.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Well, now I really understand what inspired the first ‘Teddy Bear’

The cubs were delightful.  They played like a couple kittens…taking swipes at each other, rolling around in the grass, tripping over their own feet…just adorable.

Black Bear Cub Photography

It’s time to go kids!

Soon I noticed that the bears had a system.  Mama bear would look up at the tree…make a series of short grunts and the cubs would climb down.  Then she would rumble about a hundred feet away to a new patch of the forest and start scavenging for food.  The cubs would tag right along behind her and as soon as she stopped, they would head right up the nearest tree.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Snacktime for the cubs

Being youngsters, they had big appetites.  They nursed at least twice over the next few hours.    Afterwards, I think mama needed a break, so she took a good stretch and rubbed her back against a tree.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Nothing like a good scratch in the right place.

By late morning the cubs were getting tired.  They climbed a big walnut tree, settled in a comfy fork between two branches, stretched, took a good look around, snuggled together and started to snooze.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Mama tucks in her cubs for their nap.


Black Bear Cub Photography

Getting settled in for naptime

Black Bear Cub Photography

One last peek!

I hung around for another 20 minutes but the cubs didn’t move an inch.  And frankly, by then I had been following them for three hours and had lifted that darn 200-400 what felt like a million times.  No, I hadn’t brought my monopod.  I had figured that if I did see bears, it would be for only a few minutes, so why bother bringing another piece of equipment?  I’ll never make that mistake again…my arms were jelly…heck, my elbows still hurt now and it’s a full week later!

Anyway,  I figured the 1500 frames I had were plenty, so I left mama and babies in peace and hiked by to the old Subaru. As I walked back I counted my lucky stars.  It had been a blessing to spend the morning with my little ‘Bruin’ family observing their antics.  I knew that I had captured some nice images and even if I drove home right then, my trip would have been a success.

But little did I know that the best was yet to be. With that teaser, I’ll conclude this story.  You’ll just have to wait till next week for the rest!

Till then,


Black Bear Cub Photography

If you don’t have floss, you just make do with what you can find.


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North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Last week I had a conference in Atlanta and found myself with a free day afterwards.  Of course I’d brought my camera gear (Question: “How do you know when you are a photographer?   Answer:  When you travel with two large backpacks stuffed with photo gear and a single miniscule bag with the unimportant stuff (like medicine, clothes and toiletries!”)

In years past, I’d already hit metro Atlanta’s photo spots (the Zoo, Aquarium, Stone Mountain,  Botanical Gardens, etc) and besides, I really wanted to get out of the city.  A fellow photographer had told me that there were neat waterfalls in the Georgia mountains only about an hour and a half from Atlanta, so the next morning I got in the car and headed north.  Oddly enough, although I’ve driven thru the area dozens of times, I had never stopped to explore it before.

Toccoa Falls

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Taccoa Falls…only 95 miles north of Atlanta!

My first stop was Toccoa Falls which is on the grounds of a private university (Toccoa Falls College).  Although not well known, I was surprised to learn that Toccoa is one of the larger falls east of the Mississippi with a drop of 186’ (57m).  After a brief five minute walk up a gravel path, I came upon the view you see above. Unlike Niagara or Yosemite, Toccoa doesn’t overwhelm you with grandeur, but its smaller scale makes it somehow more intimate and personal. It certainly wasn’t crowded, I saw only a few other folks during my Tuesday morning visit.

The setting is certainly peaceful, but it was the site of tragedy in 1977 when a dam burst upstream of the falls sweeping 39 people to their deaths.  You will see a granite memorial inscribed with the victims names located on the trail

Photo Tips:

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Gate Cottage: Park next to this this building

Finding the falls was a bit of a challenge.  My GPS tried to take me off-road when I typed in “Toccoa Falls.”  Instead, use Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia as your GPS destination.  This is a small, quiet campus and you will find plenty of signs directing you to the falls.  Drive to the end of Forrest Drive and park when you see the “Gate Cottage.”  It opens at 8am and there is a small admission fee (I think it was $2).  Here is a link to Google Maps that you might find helpful.

The best time of the day for photography is either right after sunrise while the falls are totally shaded or mid-morning when the entire falls are illuminated.  Often the sun is already hitting the falls by the time the Gate Cottage opens, so you might not really have a choice.  Although most waterfalls are best photographed on overcast days or when shaded, I think Toccoa is an exception to that rule.

The best vantage spot for photography might be among the easiest to get to.  Just walk to the base of the falls at the end of the gravel path.   There are some large flat rocks in the water and if you set up your tripod on top of them you will be treated to a really nice perspective of the Falls.  There is a also a small (and slippery) trail running up the left side of the falls.  I took a number of shots along the trail, but none of those viewpoints are as nice as the first one I mentioned.  I didn’t see an easy way to get to the other side of the stream, I might give it a try the next time I visit to see if the views are good from that angle.

Experiment with different shutter speeds to see the resulting effect on moving water.  Personally, I often use HDR since it allows me to capture the attractive ‘silky’ look of rushing water and the full dynamic range often present in waterfalls (especially when in direct sunlight).

Back Road SurprisesNorth Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

On my way to my next stop, 2014  Georgia Waterfalls  May 13 00099_ hwy 255 1 mile n of 114I rolled down the windows and enjoyed the cool morning as I rode small two lane country roads.  At the junction of Hwy 255 and 115, I saw a sign for the Stoval Mills Covered Bridge and took a 3 mile detour. As covered bridges go, it wasn’t terribly impressive, but they are a rare sight in the south and worth a photo.

The barn on the photo to the right resulted in another unplanned stop a few minutes down the road.  I loved the brilliant field of yellow flowers contrasted against the green hill and blue sky.

Anna Ruby Falls

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Disappointing Panorama

After a leisurely hour drive from Toccoa,  I passed the quaint (and tourist intensive) Alpine village of Helen and reached the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.  My goal was Anna Ruby Falls, which is actually two separate streams that fall over the same granite cliff, then merge before heading to the Chattahoochee River and finally concluding its journey 500 miles later in the Gulf of Mexico.   It was a much shorter trip for me:  I was setting up my tripod after a short (.8 mile) walk on the asphalt trail.

I photographed the falls for nearly an half hour, but to be honest, I wasn’t able to find a perspective that attractively showed both falls.  Trees and the walkway seemed to conspire to block my shots and it wasn’t until I gave up on a ‘grand panorama’ and instead concentrated on smaller views of the site that it began to yield some decent frames.

North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Once you look for details. there is plenty to photograph!

This is a very popular location: you won’t find yourself alone.  Nonetheless, the area is beautiful and the park is well maintained by the US Forest Service.

Photo Tips:

North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and GuideThis link will take you to a Google Map that will help you find the falls.  North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and GuideYou actually first drive through Unicoi State Park before you reach a small guard shack near the parking lot for Anna Ruby Falls ($3 entrance fee).

You might be able to capture both falls in a single shot in the winter when the trees are bare, otherwise, concentrate on smaller sections of the view.  The wonderful cascades you will pass on the path to the falls will likely keep you entertained as well.

Minnehaha Falls

Another hour in the car and I found what turned out to be my favorite location of the day:  Minnehaha Falls.  It was an adventure even finding this one…my directions eventually took me down a poorly marked, remote and twisting gravel road.  Believe it or not, I actually had a pack of howling dogs chase my car for a bit.  If I had heard somebody playing banjo music right about then, I would have had my Prius rocketing down that road like a 4×4 Monster Truck!   I was about to give up and turn around when I noticed this wood walkway on the side of road.

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Can you see “To Minnehaha” carved into the handrail? Easy to miss…but it is your only clue!

This small trail marker was next to the handrail...but it is nearly impossible to see from the road

This small trail marker was next to the handrail…but it is nearly impossible to see from the road

The walkway led to a short dirt trail (6/10th of  mile each way) and the soothing sounds of falling water intensified with each step.  I didn’t see a soul at the falls…it was certainly the least visited and most isolated location of the day.  When I pushed aside the last branch at the end of the trail, I could see that Minnehaha is really a huge series of cascades…not a ‘classic’ vertical waterfall.   Although the total height is only 60 feet, the falls widen with every 4 foot drop and it is impressively wide by the time it settles into a pool at the bottom.  It is an exceptionally beautiful and tranquil setting.  I wish I could have stayed for hours

North Georgia Photo Trip: Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

I let the lightly colored rounded boulders at the end of the cascade anchor the bottom right corner of the image. Overall, Minnehaha is one of the most photogenic waterfalls I have seen anywhere.

Photo Tips:

  1. First of all, don’t get these falls confused with the better known Minnehaha Falls located in Minnesota!   Click on this linkto access an interactive map.  The map should help get you to Seed Lake Road which runs along Crow Creek. However, I found that things got a bit confusing after that.  Here are some details that will help make it a bit easier for you:
    • Once you turn off Seed Lake Road onto Low Gap Rd, you will immediately cross a bridge over Crow Creek (you can see the small Nacoochee Dam to the right from the bridge).
    • About 500’ past the bridge, you will turn left onto a dirt road called Bear Gap Rd.  This road runs along the south bank of Crow Creek (it looked like a river to me).
    • Continue 1.7 miles. After a sharp left turn, watch the hillside on the right for that handrail inscribed with “To Minnihaha”.
    • Parking is nothing more than a wide shoulder on the left side of the dirt road.
  2. The falls are heavily shaded and receive little direct sunlight.  This means you won’t have severe problems with dynamic range which is often the case with waterfalls caught in direct sunlight.  No need to wait for an overcast day.
  3. The hillsides on either side of the falls are filled with rhododendron which bloom in mid to late May (if only I had been there two weeks later!)

Final Thoughts

I only had 8 hours available for this daytrip, but there are other photogenic locations in the area (like Amicalola Falls, Tallulah Gorge, Ravens Cliff Falls and many more).  One thing is for sure, on my next fall trip to the Smokies, I certainly won’t be driving nonstop like I have in the past…I’ll be stopping for a day or two in the mountains of north Georgia!


 North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

North Georgia Photo Trip:  Waterfall Photo Tips and Guide

Also posted in Waterfalls Tagged , |

Georgia Aquarium Photo Tips: Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and Belugas…oh My!

One item on my “bucket list” is to snorkel off the Yucatan coast and photograph Whale Sharks.   Alas, my budget this year is already blown due to trips planned to Yosemite this spring and the Arctic in September (if only that darn Powerball number had come thru!)  Anyway, I took my beautiful daughter to Atlanta recently for a cheerleading competition.  With free time on our hands between events, I convinced her to visit a few downtown venues near our hotel that would allow her old Dad to get his photography “fix.”  We had a blast at both Centennial Park and Zoo Atlanta…but it was the Georgia Aquarium that really rocked me back on my heels because…guess what?:  They have whale sharks!

Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

Massive…just incredible creatures!


Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

They are nasty and invasive…but the camera loves Lionfish!

It’s funny, I probably visited Atlanta 50 times or more during the 3 decades that I slaved away in my corporate job, but I never even heard of the Georgia Aquarium until a couple weeks ago when I Googled “photo ops in Atlanta.”  Boy, I’ll tell you, it is impressive.  It’s the second largest aquarium in the world, and the only one outside of Asia that has whale sharks.  I’ve been to a number of other aquariums over the years, but this one is in a class of its own.  And as a photographer, it is a gold mine! You could easily spend a full day here and I would have done exactly that..if it hadn’t been for my daughter dragging me away so she could also see the twin baby Pandas at Zoo Atlanta.

The Basics:

  • The Georgia Aquarium is located in downtown Atlanta right next to the World of Coke and the Centennial Park (see this link). They have on-site parking for $10
  • Admission is $36…which isn’t cheap (but a lot cheaper than airfare to Cancun)!
    • If you have time to visit more than just the Aquarium, the CityPass is a great option.Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.
    • CityPass costs $75 and gets you access to the Aquarium, Zoo Atlanta, World of Coca Cola, and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.
  • The aquarium is open 365 days a year. Doors open at 10 a.m.  and it closes at 5 p.m. (except Saturday, 9am to 6pm).
  • Get there early and try to visit on a weekday.  This place gets BUSY and as you can imagine, it is often packed with kids on field trips.  If you get there at opening, you will have the place nearly to yourself for an hour or two.

Photography Tips:

  • Don’t bother with a tripod or amonopod.  The aquarium does allow them, but most of the critters you will photograph are moving…so  a tripod would help you capture the background perfectly, but moving animals would still be out of focus.

    Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

    Use a F-A-S-T shutter speed and pan your camera with the otter to freeze the action!

  • You probably won’t want to bring a stobe either.  Most of the exhibits have signs prohibiting flash photography.
  • Shoot in RAW.  There can be a wide dynamic range of light in the tanks.  If your exposures are in the RAW format, you have a better chance of being able to dial back the overexposed highlights and lighten up the deep shadows.
  • Bring your fastest lens.  Light levels are low, so you will want to open your lens up to its widest possible aperture.
  • Experiment with your shutter speed at each exhibit and then select the slowest shutter speed that will actually freeze the action.  I found that I could shoot jellyfish at 1/60th a second but the energetic otters required nothing less than 1/160th of a second!
  • You won’t need a telephoto lens…and there is isn’t much need for wide angle glass either.  Nearly all my shots were between 85-120mm
  • You’ll want a camera with good low-light/high-ISO performance.  Full frame cameras were made for this type of thing but some of the newer APS-C DSLRs are pretty impressive as well.
  • Take a series of shots with a range of ISO settings.  Then review them and see how high you need to set the ISO to get decent exposure.  Depending on your camera, the higher ISO setting will likely result in some ‘grain’  that you will need to clean up in Photoshop.
  • Spend extra time reviewing your shots to see if you nailed the focus.  With your lens opened all the way up, you often will have a pretty small range of perfect focus in your photo.Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.  Try to focus on the eyes of your subject and don’t hesitiate to switch to manual focus if the lack of light is too much for your camera’s auto focus.
  • Watch carefully for reflections on the plexiglass.  If you position yourself at angle to the glass (not at 90 degrees), you can often avoid the worst of them.
  • Also look for the vertical seams in the glass that run from the floor to the ceiling in the larger tanks.  Try to take shots when your subject is not directly behind them.



  • The aquarium’s central attraction and largest exhibit is the Ocean Voyager: 

    Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

    The biggest in the world…both the fish AND the tank!

    This is the largest indoor tank in the world ( 6.3 million US gallons (24,000 m3) and contains over 50 species and several thousand fish.

    • Here is where you will find the Whale Sharks…and Manta Rays, Sawfish and dozens of other species that will help you fill up that memory card.
    • There is also a glass tunnel that runs undera section of the tank.  Thiscan be a great spot to get shots from below…which can be an interesting perspective.  The tunnel has a moving walkway but there is room off on both sides where you can stand and take shots.

      Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

      Beluga Ballet

    • The viewing area for this exhibit has two levels and since it is over 60 feet long, there are a number of different angles you can shoot from.  Take a walk around first and explore your options before you start shooting.
  • Cold Water Quest has a floor to the ceiling tank with four Belugas.   They are incredibly graceful creatures that move like they are practicing an underwater ballet.  This exhibit also has sea otters (who are fun but challenging to photograph), penquins and sea dragons (which are the most wicked sea-horses you will ever see).
  • Tropical Diver has a wonderfully illuminated tank of jellyfish that I could spend hours photographing (actually, my daughter accused me of doing exactly that!)  A large pacific reef covered with brightly colored tropical fish might actually get you to put your camera down and just enjoy the relaxing view.Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.
  • There are two or three other exhibits and all of them have some wonderful photo ops.  The only one you might want to skip is Dolphin Tales.  This is a theatrical show featuring human and dolphin actors.  You are not allowed to take photos during the show and frankly, my daughter and I thought it was pretty corny although some of the dolphin stunts were neat.  If you have small children, however, they would probably love it.

Finally, if you want to try something really different, the aquarium offers you the chance to actually swim in the Whale Shark tank.  Cost is about $240 and you are in the water for about 30 minutes (details at this link).  Sound pretty wicked to me, but I think I’ll wait until I can do it for real in Mexico.Photo Tips for the Georgia Aquarium. How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

Have a great week!

PS:  Sometimes my wife accuses me of never taking photos of people.  Just to prove her wrong, here is a shot of my daughter during her competition:

131207Emy Cheer00157-73

My Emily Rose…performing her heart out!





 Georgia Aquarium Photo Tips

Georgia Aquarium Photo Tips: How to take great photos at the Georgia Aquarium.

Georgia Aquarium Photo Tips:  Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and Belugas…oh My!



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Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

Beach sunrise & sunset photos aren’t exactly a rarity in Florida.  Heck, with 1,350 miles of coastline, I doubt if there is a Floridian that lives more than an hour from a beach.  But from a photographer’s perspective, what might originally seem like a golden bonanza tends to tarnish a bit when you come to realize that many of the beaches look pretty much the same.  Nice sand, dunes, sea oats….and that’s about it.  Great if you are out to get a tan and enjoy the ocean, but as a photographer, I’d prefer to have some waves smashing against boulders, mountains dropping off into the surf…something other than just sand, ocean and sky.  Don’t get me wrong, a simple beach sunrise shot can be beautiful, but when I’m scouting beach locations, I’m always looking for something more.

I found myself on Amelia Island last week and I found one of those beach locations with a bit more. What do you think?:

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

One of those sunrises that make you very happy you dragged yourself out of bed! Click on the photo to see a full resolution image.

I really think this is the best sunrise location on the Island.  Even better, this wood pier is easy to get to and very accessible. Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location It is located just a couple hundred feet south of Public Beach Access #31..which includes a small public parking lot (even better, the parking is free).  This is located right off of South Fletcher Ave. (A1A) at Hutchins Ave (look for the blue and white Beach Access sign marked #31…see photo to the right ).  You should be able to get here in 30 minutes or less from any point on Amelia Island. Click here for a google map with directions to this spot  Don’t confuse this pier with the large concrete one a bit north in Ft. Clinch State Park (the park doesn’t open until after sunrise).

The great thing about sunrise shots that incorporate a fishing pier is that you can just walk a few hundred yards down the beach and now get a shot sans pier:

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

I liked how the foam on the bottom right mirrored the clouds above…

Of  course, once the sun is up you can hang around the pier and play with long exposures that turn the surf into that silky look:

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

A few sunrise/sunset tips for my fellow photographers:

  • Be early!  Color is usually best before the actual sunrise…often 30 minutes or more before.  I learned this lesson the hard way last year in Charleston when I walked out of my hotel room twenty minutes before sunrise and looked up to behold one of the most glorious sunrises I’ve ever seen.  By the time I got to my pre-scouted sunrise location (despite running the ENTIRE *&$^@} way), the sunrise had faded to one that was nothing special.
  • Another frustration to be avoided is when you get to the beach just in time to capture the sunrise’s peak…and then notice that your lens has fogged over.  With humidity close to 100% during the summer, condensation on your lens is a common occurrence in Florida. You can avoid this by just driving to the  beach with your windows down and AC off…your camera/lens will acclimatize in ten minutes or less.
  • Bracket your shots.  The dynamic range of sunrises/sunsets is pretty, well, dynamic!  A range of exposures will ensure that you get at least one shot that you can work with.  It also gives you the option to use HDR.
  • Bring your tripod.  Some of your shots may take several seconds.
  • Wear watershoes.  You will likely need to get your feet wet.  Otherwise you will end up running back and forth like a sandpiper.
  • If you set you tripod up in the surf, be aware that receding waves will dig sand out from under your tripod…which can result in blurred shots.
  • Move around.  Some folks scout out a location, pick the best spot and never move.  I would have missed many of my best shots on this beach if I had set up my tripod and kept it there.
  • Bring your wide angle lens to allow you to get the whole scene.  A wide angle zoom is even better since you can change your perspective without actually moving.
  • If your camera has a Live View feature, use it to get your focus perfect.  Limited light can make it difficult for autofocus to work properly.

Once the sunrise burns itself out, there are a number of other photogenic locations on Amelia Island:

  1. Ft. Clinch
    • This is a state park at the northern end of the island that features a Civil War era brick fort.

      Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

      Ft. Clinch

  2. TheFernadina Beach Lighthouse.
    • Best views are from the Egans Creek Overlook within Ft. Clinch State park or parked alongside Atlantic Ave across from Atlantic Park
    • You usually can’t get close since it is located behind a locked fence and it is only open the first and third weekend of the month (website)

      Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

      Fernadina Lighthouse as seen from Ft. Clinch park across the Salt Marsh

  3. Fernadina Beach ‘Old Town’
    • Find Centre Street on your GPS and head there after sunrise.  Park your car and take a stroll…the street is quiet and deserted before 9am so you can walk the sidewalks by yourself and capture the antique buildings in soft morning light.
    • Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise LocationAmelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location
  4. Cumberland Island/St. Marys
    • My wife and I enjoyed the Amelia Island Boat Tour.  Cost is $28/each and for that you get a well-narrated 2 hour tour that leaves from the little harbor at the end of Centre Street in downtown Fernadina Beach.    You  have a good chance of seeing dolphins as well as wild horses on Cumberland Island (bring your longest lens).  You can get nice shots of Ft. Clinch as well distant views of nuclear subs at the base at Lake Mary’s.  See reviews of this tour on Trip Advisor by clicking this link.
    • Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise LocationAmelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise LocationAmelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location
  5. Sunsets are a bit more challenging to capture than sunrises.
    • This shot was taken from harbor at the end of Centre Street (next to Brett’s Waterway Café)Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location
    • If you are a guest at the Omni resort, you might want to try shooting the sunset from the boardwalk at Drummond Park (on Sea Marsh Road past the Golf Clubhouse).  The sunsets during my visit were lackluster, but I’d bet that a decent one would look pretty impressive over the salt marsh.  If you aren’t a guest at the Omni, I believe you could still get to the park if you have reservations for dinner at the lodge…if so, they will allow you access thru the guard gate.

I won’t be able to post again for a couple weeks, but I have a great excuse:  I’m leaving this Friday for a two week trip to Hawaii (I know, poor me!)  I’ve spent the last two months planning every sunrise and sunset shot…dozens of hours on the internet looking for tips, eons on Google Earth figuring out angles and shadows, forever on Trip Advisor trying to figure out the best tours…but I wouldn’t have it any other way!  I’m looking forward to sharing my photos with you when I get back.  In the meantime, have fun and keep shooting!

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

Doesn’t get much better than this…

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

One last shot….I was blessed with two consecutive killer sunrises!

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips and a great Sunrise Location

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Locations

Amelia Island and Fernadina Beach: Photo Tips & Sunrise Location

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Old Sheldon Church Photo Tips and Guide

I’d never had the chance to really get to know Charleston but since it was on the way to a photo shoot in the Smokies, I decided to invest a couple of days and see what there was to see.

Now, before we talk about Charleston itself, let me tell you a few photo tips  about a killer location about an hour from the city that you really need to see:  The Ruins of Old Sheldon Church.

Old sheldon church photo tips

The Fire Within

photo tips for Old Sheldon Church

Sinking gravestone the field behind the church

This place is a dream for a photographer.  The skeleton of this church is hauntingly beautiful, especially near the end of the day when shadows stream thru the columns.  Shots early in the day with the site shrouded in fog would be worth the trip too. If you like black and white photography, you could have a field day here!   In addition, there are bits and pieces of an old graveyard around the church.  This particular tombstone caught my eye:

The church has an incredible history…burnt twice, once during the Revolution and then again by Sherman’s troops nearly a century later.  It sits on a nicely maintained site and is free to visit.  It is a peaceful place with very few visitors.

The address is 919 Old Sheldon Church Rd. Yemassee, SC 29945.  To get there from I-95 take Exit 33 (U.S. Highway 17 north) towards Beaufort.  Follow U.S. 17 north for about 3 miles (5 km).  Turn left onto Cotton Hall Road (S-7-48).  After 2.5 miles (4 km), the road will come to an angled intersection with Old Sheldon Church Road. Make a slight right turn onto Old Sheldon Church Road and follow it for just under one mile (1.5 km).  The ruins are located on the left. Parking is available along the curb of the road or in a small gravel lot across the street…just be careful of all the trees, I managed to back into one on my way out:(

32°37′6.7″N 80°46′49.7″W / 32.618528°N 80.780472°W / 32.618528; -80.780472:

I had done a lot of on-line research before this trip looking for photo sites in Charleston, but Old Sheldon Church wasn’t on my radar.  If it wasn’t for a great tour guide in Savannah (Bobby Davis  I would have driven right by it without a clue.  I think this is a truly unappreciated photo op that doesn’t seem to be well known to anyone but the locals.   Don’t miss it!

Next, on to Charleston.



Also posted in Buildings/Ruins, Historical Tagged , , , , , , , |