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.

I just returned from the Kingston Fossil Plant Disaster!

Well, the visit was a very educational one, to say the least! Police everywhere with no access permitted. I had to make my images from accross the lake with a 400mm lens. I’ll be posting them as I get them digitally processed. Here’s a 180-degree panoramic, made by stitching multiple images together in Photoshop.  I shot the images with my Canon Powershot G9, love this little camera! Also, here’s the latest information on the disaster.


A coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee that experts were already calling the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States is more than three times as large as initially estimated, according to an updated survey by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Officials at the authority initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant, about 40 miles west of Knoxville, gave way on Monday. But on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep.

The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

A test of river water near the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders, said John Moulton, a spokesman for the T.V.A., which owns the electrical generating plant, one of the authority’s largest.

Mr. Moulton said Friday that the levels exceeded safety limits for drinking water, but that both metals were filtered out by water treatment processes.

Mercury and arsenic, he said, were “barely detectable” in the samples.

The ash pond was adjacent to the Emory River and near a residential area, where three houses were destroyed by the tide of muddy ash. Water sampled several miles downstream from the spill was safe to drink, but its iron and manganese content exceeded the secondary drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which govern taste and odor but not potential health effects, Mr. Moulton said.

Neither the authority nor the E.P.A. has released the results of tests of soil or the ash itself. Authority officials have said that the ash is not harmful, and the authority has not warned residents of potential dangers, though federal studies show that coal ash can contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and carcinogens.

“You’re not going to be endangered by touching the ash material,” said Barbara Martocci, a spokeswoman for the T.V.A. “You’d have to eat it. You have to get it in your body.”

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also released a statement saying there was no indication of risk unless the ash was ingested.

But residents like Deanna Copeland were thinking further into the future.

“Our concern is, what happens if this liquid dries out?” Ms. Copeland said. “There are huge health concerns. It’s going to get in our house. We’re going to breathe it in. It would be like walking through a dust bowl, and we don’t know what’s in the dust.”

A round-the-clock cleanup effort continued on Friday, much of it clearing roads and railway tracks that were blocked by the sludge. Several booms, or skimmers, were installed on nearby rivers to catch floating cenospheres, a valuable component of the ash used to make bowling balls and other manufactured goods. A weir, or underwater dam, that would keep settled ash from moving downstream was about one-fifth completed,
T.V.A. officials said.

Some nearby residents said that the authority had done little to address their concerns.

“We’re terribly frustrated,” said Donald Smith, 58, a laboratory facilities manager who lives in the affected area. “It seems like T.V.A. is just throwing darts at the problem, and they don’t have a clue how to really fix it.

“It was nice that they came by to talk to us. They’re making an effort. But what upsets me is they didn’t have a plan in place. Why hadn’t anybody thought, `What happens if this thing bursts?’ ”

Residents said they were stunned by the new figure for the size of the spill.

“That’s scary to know that they can be off by that much,” said Angela Spurgeon, whose dock and yard are swamped with ash. “I don’t think it was intentional, but it upsets me to know that a number was given of what the pond could hold, and the number now is more than double.”

Authority officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, saying the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time.

Ms. Spurgeon said the scope of the disaster was difficult to fathom, even from photos.

“This is not a thin coating of ash,” she said. “These are boulders. There’s one in our cove that’s probably the size of our home.”

The spill has reignited a debate over whether coal ash should be federally regulated as a hazardous material.

Environmentalists have long argued that coal ash, which can contaminate groundwater and poison aquatic environments, should be stored in lined landfills. The ash ponds at Kingston were separated from the river only by earthen dikes. Coal plants around the country, most near rivers that supply the water they need to operate, store coal ash in unlined embankments and ponds, and in some areas coal ash is recycled as fill material.

The T.V.A. is still investigating the cause of the breach, but officials have suggested that unusually heavy rain and freezing temperatures may have been factors.

Oxeye daisy #1, Brasstown Bald, GA

Hey all! Yes, I’ve been busting my a#* again with two book projects and now they’re at the printers so I’ve got a little time to post an image or two. Back weeks ago I posted a few images of my north Georgia trip back in June and here’s another. I shot this with my little Canon Powershot G9. I really love this camera for shooting images such as these. Tack sharp and handheld!

Fawn at play, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

I took a few minutes away from book design to process a couple of photos from my recent trip to the Shenandoah NP. What a wonderful couple of days photographing the fawns and deer at play. I’ll post more after I get through this upcoming deadline.

Canon EOS 5D, Sigma 80-400 EX OS @ 400mm, no filters, RAW file processed with Capture One 4.1

Turkey beard and meadow, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Well, I went to photograph the fawns but I couldn’t resist the temptations to shoot a few landscapes! This was a beautiful scene with the prolific bloom of turkey beard accented by ferns and mountain grasses.

Canon EOS 5D, TS-E 24mm, f/18 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 320 (due to wind!)

Fawns, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

I’ve just returned from a quick trip to Shenandoah National Park to photograph the fawns. I’ll post more tomorrow when I get the images processed. Here’s one of my favorites!

Canon EOS 5D, Sigma 80-400 EX OS lens at 400mm (this is the first time that I’ve really shot my 80-400 since getting it back from Sigma. There was a problem with the focus and it’s now fixed! Very Sharp!!!)

Woodall Shoals Reflection #2, Chattooga National Wild & Scenic River, GA & SC

Here’s another Woodall Shoals reflection image from my GA/SC trip last week. I decided to crop in a little more on this scene, concentrating on the perfect reflection.

Also, just a note, I processed this photo using the new CaptureOne 4.1 and also my new “docked” Dell Precision M4300 mobile workstation. Man, this thing is FAST! I’ll post the build info later in this post.

Canon EOS 5D, TS-E 24mm w/ fall and tilt, polarizer

What a wonderful find! Lake Tugalo at first light.


What a wonderful find! As I left for northern Georgia I knew where I was heading but I wasn’t sure how the overnight accommodations would work out. I usually like to find a quite place near my morning destination to park and sleep in my truck. As I pulled up to Tallulah George State Park I noticed a sign leading to Stone Place. It also stated 4-wheel drive required, so I headed toward Stone Place! When I came to the end of the road I found a nice level spot, set my clock and I was fast off to sleep. At 5:30am my alarm went off and I slowly rolled out of the truck and decided to find out what this Stone Place was all about. As I walked around the grove of trees I noticed that, before me, was a beautiful mountain lake! I went back to the truck, grabbed my camera gear and headed to the lakes edge. I spent the next two hours photographing the many changes that the landscape went through as we transcended early morning.  This is the first image taken on the trip!


Canon EOS 5D, TS-E 45mm, no filters, ISO 200, f/11 @ 25sec


RAW processed with CaptureOne Pro & Adobe PhotoShop CS3 Extended