Weekly inspiration

Hi everyone,

During the 4th of July holiday, I visited family in North East PA. As one would imagine, I can’t go to PA without including plans to visit Ricketts Glen State Park with a fellow photographer and friend Ian. With everything we had planned, the only day we had open to visit the park was Saturday the 4th. Ian and I watched the forecast and as luck would have it, it was sketchy at best during the early morning. We didn’t let that stop us and got up early to make the 2 hour trek to the park. We arrived with gloomy skies which included intermittent rain and periods of downpour. Still not wanting to be deterred, we pressed forward. The recent increase in rainfall had the water at a level that I had never seen before. I was amazed at how much flow there was even in the smaller tributaries that feed into the main runs. We parked in the Lake Rose trailhead parking lot and headed down the Ganoga Glen side of the falls trail. The rain continued to be a menace making getting any shots challenging. We made the best of it and trekked down the falls trail all the way to the top of the 94′ Ganoga Falls. I stopped at each falls along the way and took in some shots. Most of my time I spent in the middle of the main run, shooting upstream in various spots. Here is one of my favorites from the trip of Oneida Falls. The amount of flow was so much on this falls that there was a wind driven spray even 50 feet from the base of the falls. At this particular location, the falls is exposed to the open sky, where the stream is mostly shaded by the canopy of trees along the edge. I don’t often process my images as monochromatic – it just isn’t my cup of tea. I played around with the highlights and shadows on this image and finally settled on the conversion. I think it evokes the mood of what we were experiencing that morning. If you are looking for a good place to shoot in the coming weeks, I highly recommend a trip here. The flows are likely still very high and will make for some fantastic waterfall photography. Thanks for stopping by to have a look at my work. Hope you enjoy! 

Tech details: Nikon D810, 17-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 25mm. ISO 400, .7 sec at f/11, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, Induro Tripod.  

Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Southwest images

During a recent trip for work, I was able to stay a weekend in White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The park is approximately 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes and is the largest mass of gypsum in the world. Gypsum isn’t usually found in large dunes like this because it dissolves in water. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum dunes and carry it out to sea. The reason this area is still around after thousands of years is because the rain has no where to go. The dunes are trapped in a large basin (Tularosa Basin) between the San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Yeah, I know what you are thinking – It is strange how mountains in New Mexico are named after areas in California. Rain that falls in the park, eventually dries out and crystallizes and the process repeats. Anyway – enough of a science lesson. The park is an amazing place to visit with a seemingly endless sea of white dunes as far as the eye can see. The only thing framing your view are the mountain ranges in the distance.

Life finds a way - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Life finds a way – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

At the cost of $3.00 to enter (good for 3 or 5 days) it is one of the cheaper National Monuments to visit. Families with kids were making a day out of exploring or sledding down the steep drops of the dunes, just like it was winter in New York State. It is quite easy to get lost while walking through the dunes. I trekked out for a couple of miles searching for dunes without any footprints. It took awhile to find, but they are out there. I used the sun as my guide and drew arrows in the wash areas leaving myself a map to return to my car.  The white gypsum reflects the sun so much that it is almost blinding. The air is very dry and dehydration will set in before you realize it. Plenty of water, sunscreen and good sunglasses are a must. There is primitive camping locations in a remote area of the dunes and motorhome camping at the entrance to the park. I believe a small fee permit is required along with a tent. Once a month, the park has moonlight walks in the dunes for small groups. This can be scheduled by reviewing the park website and submitting a request to attend. The high winds in the basin are what shape the dunes and carve patterns in the sand. This is one of the things that really interested me about the park.

Soaptree Yuca plant - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Soaptree Yuca plant – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

hese patterns in nature go on forever intermingled with Soaptree Yuca, Horay Rosemary Mint or Skunkbush Sumac plants. All of these have found a way to survive in the limited water environment. If you venture out far enough, the patterns in the dunes are only interrupted by the occasional lizard foot prints or by the movement of the leaves being pushed around by the winds. It is areas like this where you can feel truly alone and miles away from everything. 

Sunset - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Sunset – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

This is someplace I am already looking forward to visiting again. Hope you enjoy…

Fall Color – Pennsylvania Waterfalls

Hello all,
It has been a little while since I have had time to get out and photograph and post. Summer has passed and we are in full swing of Autumn now. I made a early morning trip to my one of my favorite spots a few days ago. The weather during the week at Ricketts Glen was showing dense fog for several days. On the 3rd day in a row, I decided to make the trek North. With it being the first week of October, I figured I had a good chance at fall color as well. During the entire drive through PA, it looked really promising. The temp and dew point collided and heavy fog was slowing my drive. I was amazed at how thick it was in some places – reminded me of being in Scotland again. It was great until I made the final turn onto Rt. 487 and I literally drove right out of the fog to the top of the mountain. All was not lost as there was a good cloud cover making for some great photography during my 6 hour hike. The flows were much lower than what I have seen before, but I still made the best of it. Here is a shot of B Reynolds Falls on the Glen Leigh side of the trail. I climbed all the way to the top of bottom of the falls (very slippery conditions) and found some fresh leaves to use in my foreground. I shot this looking back towards the bottom of the falls trying to include as much as possible of the fall color spectacular that was happening. Getting low to the ground with my tripod, I was constantly wiping my circular polarizer to remove the water drops. I was getting pretty wet myself from all of the splashing water. Well worth the effort though in my book. Hope you enjoy…

Fall Color at B Reynolds Falls - Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

In the creek

Hello everyone,
On a trip to Ricketts Glen back in May, I encountered some pretty good flows in Kitchen Creek. Having high levels in the creek has its good and bad sides. The bad – the water was running so hard that at most of the falls, there was a heavy mist making it difficult to get some of the shots I wanted.  When this happens, I spend some time along the creek looking for good compositions at small rapids. I always bring my hip waders to the making it easy for me to setup in the creek and spend some time composing my shot. When shooting images using a wide angle lens (in this case a 24mm) I get as low and close as possible to the foreground interest point. This helps to lead the viewer into the scene. The one issue with this in a fast flowing creek is the water drops flying around and hitting the front of the lens. You have to keep a constant eye on the front lens element. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion. Nikon D800, 24mm PC lens, Really Right Stuff ball head, Induro tripod, Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.



Hatteras dunes – continued

Just wanted to put out a quick post with another shot from my trip to Hatteras Island. For this image, I used a 24mm PC lens, low to the ground and tilted forward. I believe I had about 1 – 1.5 degrees of tilt after finding a focus point in the foreground. When using this lens, I often have to go back and forth between focus and tilt until I am confident that I have both foreground and distant objects in focus. Post processing was done in Adobe Lightroom (minimal), followed by Adobe Photoshop once again using TK luminosity masks. Hope you enjoy…

Morning light brings out the details in the sand on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC  © Rob Loughrey

Early summer at Ricketts Glen

I have had the opportunity to make a few trips to Ricketts Glen over the past couple of months. Once in mid May and most recently a few weeks ago in mid June. The water levels in May were really good. Results of the snow melt off in the mountains and spring getting into full swing. Some of the falls were running so well that there was either a strong wind coming off of the pool or there was so much mist in the air it made it difficult to get close. For times when the mist is heavy, I keep a clear shower cap in my bag. I know it sounds crazy, but it is really helpful in getting your camera setup and composing a picture. You can even adjust your polarizer with the shower cap in place.  I place the shower cap over the end of my lens before going down into the water and get setup. Once I’m happy with the composition and my exposure is set, I quickly take off the shower cap and snap a few images. At this point, I am going to start getting water build up on the front lens element, but if you move quick, you can get off a couple of good clear shots. After that, I usually remove my camera from the tripod, turn around with my back to the falls and wipe off any of the water. Put the shower cap back on and try again. Here are a few shots from my recent trips to Ricketts Glen. Hope you enjoy…

Mowhawk Falls - Ricketts Glen State Park, PA

Amazing Sky after dark

It was just after sunset, the temps were dropping and we were once again skunked by the cloud cover while at the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains. We wanted to take in the setting sun, but it didn’t work out for us. Don’t get me wrong, I will take clouds over an empty sky any day. When the conditions are right, the clouds light up providing a spectacular sight as the sun dips below the horizon. It just wasn’t our lucky day. The wind was blowing pretty good and I noticed that the clouds were also moving at a pretty good speed. Our lucky break was, that the wind was in our face, so I took advantage and pulled out my 10 stop ND filter. I shot my test image and adjusted my exposure to be 1/2 sec at ISO 200. Don’t remember what my aperture was because it wasn’t important at the time. I just know that when I add my 10 stop filter onto the camera my exposure goes from 1/2 sec to 4 minutes, which was what I wanted for good cloud movement in the sky. I made sure I focused and composed ahead of time, set my exposure to the bulb setting and then added my 10 stop filter. I use my phone to time the exposure and fired away. The tough part about this is that the light is rapidly falling off as the earth turns. So on my 2nd and 3rd exposures, I either added a minute onto the exposure or opened up a stop. I also turned off my long exposure noise reduction to make sure I was able to shoot a few sequential shots and adjust my exposure. This prevents a second 4 minute exposure with the shutter closed (the method the camera uses to reduce the noise). The trade off is, that I have quite a bit of hot pixels to deal with in post processing. The image you see is pretty much right off the camera. I cleaned up the hot spots, of which I’m sure I missed some, but I’m happy with it at the moment. Hope you enjoy…

Long Exposure atop Clingmans Dome - Great Smoky Mountains NP © Rob Loughrey

Amazing cascades

During a trip to an area like the Great Smoky Mountains, something that I often seek out is one of the many cascades running off the top of the mountain. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by anything from small streams to large rivers. On the way up to Clingmans Dome one evening, we noticed a small brook right at a vehicle pull over. We were running plenty early for the sunset time, so we decided to make a stop and check it out. Before I knew it, I was heading deeper into the woods, climbing higher and higher along the waters edge. Evertime I took a few more steps, I found something else I liked. For me, the moss covered rocks and subdued lighting in the late afternoon really makes for great photographs of these areas. I also like to bring along a set of hip or chest waders with me on trips like this. This allows me to get right into the stream, setup my tripod, perhaps kneeling down in the water to get a nice low perspective on the water. Being in the scene as I like to call it. For this image, I did just that. Nikon D800, Induro Tripod, Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, Really Right Stuff Ball Head. I used a 24mm PC lens and shifted left to right to create the panoramic shot. Hope you enjoy…

Forest cascades, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, TN © Rob Loughrey

Winter wonderland

We have been seeing a good bit of cold weather here in Maryland, along with the recent snowfall, I feel like I am living in upstate PA right now. I think this is the longest time I can remember that we have had freezing or below temps for an extended period of time. I have taken advantage of some of the recent storms and gone out braving the weather looking for some good shots. The wind was blowing with 30-40 mph gusts while I was out this morning earlier in the month. The direction of wind forced me to turn towards the sun for my shots, to protect me and my camera/lens. I found a spot in a field that had some interesting wind carved snow and setup my tripod low to the ground. My camera was only a few inches of the ground, forcing me to lay down to compose my shot. I was well prepared with coat and pants so this was an easy choice for me. Shooting into the sun I knew I was going to need something to help diffuse or block the bright area in my image even tho I was using a 2 stop ND grad filter, so I used the tree branches to accomplish this. I setup to that as the sun moved to the right, it would go further behind a limb for a minute or two before appearing on the other side. Using a smaller aperture of around f/16 helped me achieve a good star-burst effect on the sun.  I processed the image using a sharp foreground photo with a sharp image of the tree, manually blending them in Photoshop. Hope you enjoy…

Snow covered field, Maryland Sunrise Farms, Anne Arundel County, MD © Rob Loughrey

Long Exposure Comparison – No filter vs 10 stop ND filter

Hello everyone!
I was out taking some long exposure shots and decided to show a comparison between two exposures. If you have ever been interested in long exposure photography, here is an example of the difference between using no filter and a 10 stop neutral density filter. The first shot is without a filter and was at 1/5 sec at f/32. I tried adding a polarizer to help lengthen my exposure a bit. I adjusted accordingly to 15 sec at f/25. This still wasn’t what I was going for so,  I pulled out my 10 stop neutral density filter and changed my exposure to 4.5 minutes at f/32. I calculated my exposure from the first shot without any other filters and it came out to 4 minutes. I added the extra 30 seconds in just to play it safe. I have found when dealing with long exposures, it is always good to add 30 sec to a minute on just to make sure I have enough range in the RAW file.

If you are interested in this type of photography, there are a number of apps out there (for both iOS and Android phones) that provide some help. Search on Long Exposure Calculators and you will find plenty to choose from. You have the advantage of being in the digital age where you can view your shot right after it is captured. This will help you determine how to correct an exposure if it is off. Additionally, there are a number of publications out there that explain all of the aspects of long exposure photography. Just do a web search on it and you will find tons of information. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me. I would be happy to help you.

Which do you prefer? For me:  The first image is really boring – It doesn’t have much interest to it at all. I’ll probably delete it from my archive. The second – looks better – getting there but still lacking a bit. Third – a keeper. I will probably get a large print and hang it in my house. I love the look of the sky when the clouds have been blurred for several minutes. It is a way that we aren’t used to seeing things. Make the image look so much more surreal.

Hope you enjoy…


Long Exposure Comparison. 1/5 Sec at f/32 - No filter



Long Exposure Comaprison - 15 sec /f25 - Polarizer filter



Long Exposure Comparison - 267 sec @ f/32 All images © Rob Loughrey