Behind the Lens: Beauty Spot

Autumn’s morning light, Appalachian Trail, Beauty Spot

Recently, I decided to take a sunrise drive up to one of my favorite local spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains to assess the impending fall colors. Beauty Spot (altitude 4,400 ft) is in the Unaka Mountains, along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Access is easy due to FS Road 230 (Beauty Spot Gap Road) and by the Appalachian Trail. This easy access can be a double-edged sword though, with regards to people and on beautiful weekends be aware that you will always have campers scattered throughout the open bald. Also, know that sunset is almost always crowded in the summer and fall seasons.

Beauty Spot is most notably a sunset location, but I love working with early light as it filters in over my shoulder. I’d planned this fall season composition in my head many times, but just couldn’t get all the needed elements to align. The foreground elements are never the problem if the autumn goldenrod and golden grasses haven’t been mowed, but this does happen every few years, just as it does on Round Bald in the Roan Highlands.  Also, it’s much better if the wind is light, but that’s not a huge factor with the modern digital camera and their ability to capture beautiful image files at high ISO. Anyway, on this day everything did align, minus epic sunrise color, with the clouds streaming in exactly like I wanted.

My goal in this composition was to use the iconic Appalachian Trail as my leading line and all the elements, including the sky, to converge on the far peaks in the center of the photograph. I used an ultrawide angle lens to exaggerate the visual movement through the photograph. An Ultrawide lens distorts the composition and adds to the feeling of depth. I don’t feel that this image is diminished due to the missing orange glow of sunrise. The wonderful fall grasses and wildflowers with the addition of the cloud movement makes this a powerful image and it will certainly find its way into my Blue Ridge Mountains portfolio. I’ve added a visual aid below showing my design idea for this composition.

I used a Canon EOS R with drop-in CPL filter mount adapter EF-EOS R and Irix 11mm f4 Firefly lens (Exposure: 1/30 sec; f/14; ISO 800). Support was provided by a Feisol Elite Tripod CT-3372 Rapid and Carbon Fiber Ballhead CB-50DC.

Jerry is a professional outdoor photographer and author with a focus on conservation and the environment. Jerry is also a photographic book printing consultant/broker with 20 years of industry experience. He leads photography works throughout the United States. To see his work, purchase image licenses or prints and review his workshop schedule visit You can also follow him on Instagram, twitter, and Facebook.