Getting the Shot

My Cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Location

This photo was captured from above my cabin in the blue ridge mountains of Virginia, near Shenandoah National Park. The cabin was built in 1979 and sits at an altitude of 3,000 feet, facing northwest, and serves as a great subject for evening sunsets.

Time

The photo was taken just after sunset in July. As the sun set, I recall that the humidity was thick and the temperature very warm. The air was still and almost heavy, creating a density and depth to the colors in the sky air above the mountain ridges.

Lighting

The combination of organic particles released by the trees in this region, along with a light refraction phenomenon known as Rayleigh scattering, which spreads the blue wavelength more forcefully than red, creates a bluish hue to the human eye. Other factors have also been put forth as to why the blue ridge mountains project their bluish hue. Given that sunsets in the blue ridge mountains are typically “bluer” in color, it was a rare treat to have witnessed a “golden moment” which lasted perhaps four to five minutes. It’s always a challenge to capture a dynamic range of light during many sunset photo opportunities, and at my cabin in particular, since the trees and cabin foreground quickly become darkly shaded while contrasting with the brighter sky. This required the use of bracketing to bring the light around the cabin and into the foreground. The goal, as always, was to try and recreate on the camera’s sensor, what my eyes were seeing.

Inspiration

Inspiration for subject matter abounds all around me in this near-idyllic setting, so for sunset photographs it was a matter of waiting for the right sunset to present itself. From the age of eight, I’ve backpacked and hiked every trail in Shenandoah National Park, and now volunteer as an overseer of a segment of the Appalachian trail in the park. During our backpacking adventures in our teens, my brother and I would always dream of one day living in a log cabin near this national treasure. In many respects, this cabin represents the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I can’t express how fortunate I am to have found this wonderful location and am constantly inspired by nature’s profound beauty all around me. I’ve owned the cabin for around five years and have seen many beautiful sunsets. This particular sunset created perhaps one of the top three most beautiful scenes that I had witnessed here to date.

Equipment

For this photograph, I used a Nikon D810 with a Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5 lens with tripod, remote shutter and polarizing filter.


Editing

I applied some minor processing techniques to try and capture the serenity of the moment. (e.g., highlights, graduated filter adjustment, shadowing, etc.). As a digital photographer/artist, one of the most important skills one can develop is in the area of photo post-processing. Building a solid foundation in Adobe Lightroom, and other post-processing software, enables a modern photographer to add subtle artistic stylings to make the photo an expression of the photographer’s subject as he/she/they saw it.

Equipment I Carry to Get the Shot

As a nature photographer, my subject matter is so varied that my bag is “purpose built” based on the particular subject I’m planning to capture. For many years I was a winter mountaineer, climbing in North, Central and South America. I have four backpacks that I’ve adapted to carry my camera gear. For wildlife, I’ve been using a Sigma AF-S 150-600mm S. For landscape photography, I typically use a Nikkor 28-300mm AF-S f3.5/5.6G and/or Nikkor AF-S 16-35mm f4G. I have a Nikon D810 and D850. I also have a bag that converts to a roller bag or backpack for travel, so I can carry my equipment while navigating airports and hike any reasonable distance to photograph. For travel, I carry my 28-300mm, 16-35mm, 105mm macro, and a Lee Filter system. I use a carbon fiber Manfrotto tripod with Sirui mount system.

Suggestions for Aspiring Photographers

If I were to impart any advice, I would say that when landscapes contain significant contrast you can benefit from either bracketing the photograph to achieve greater dynamic visual range, or by using a neutral density filter system. Every subject is different and honing in on the correct balance between sensor resolution, aperture (f-stop), and shutter speed requires practice to the point where you “feel” the correct settings and then fine tune from there. Often times there is not much time to capture a moment, so studying the subject in advance helps me target my camera settings so that honing in on the optimal settings and can be achieved in a shorter period of time. Practice makes you better.