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April 24, 2009


A Great Day in White Oak Sink, Great Smoky Mountain National Park

by josephrossbachphoto
Halfway between Townsend and Cades Cove of the Little River Road is a trail head that goes up into White Oak Sinks, an amazing location in the spring with a carpet of May Apple and Flox as well as many other species of flora including shooting stars, blue bells and lady slippers. Ian Plant and myself hiked up into the sinks on a warm and sunny day. Although the light and weather was not optimal for forest and flower photography, we wanted to try to make a shot from the waterfall near the sinks from the inside of the cave looking out with a sunstar in the background.
Cave of Light

Cave of Light

 Talk about tough shooting conditions! First of all, you have to climb down below the waterfall and into the cave. This is not any easy task with equipment going over slimy slick rocks and down a really, really steep incline. O.K. , that’s actually the easy part. The hard task comes when recording the image. You are shooting up and out of the cave and your lens is constantly covered in spray and mist from the waterfall. Not to mention the unbelievable high range of light and tone which makes a single exposure capture impossible at best. What I did to make this image was set up the shoot and framing and then wipe my lens down and put on the lens cap. It was then important to shoot 5 images at different exposures and focal points for the various levels of light and shadow. The first was for the sunstar, the second for the sky, the third for the moss on the outside of the cave, the fourth for the waterfall and finally the fifth for detail inside the rim of the cave. I had to thoroughly wipe the lens down in between each shot and I still came away with lots of glare and water drops.

I manually combined all images in Adobe Photoshop CS4 and used layers masks and brushes to mask and layer each image into one shot for the final result. It took me close to an hour at 100% just to clone the glare and water droplets!

May Apple amd Flox

May Apple amd Flox

After we finished up shooting images at the cave, we headed over to the section of the sinks that had the most beautiful carpet of wildflowers. The light was still harsh, so we waited around for a few hours until the sun dipped low in the afternoon sky and fell beyond the western ridge. At this point, the sinks were in shade and a soft warm reflected light bounced of the far rock wall to the east providing for some really sweet light. During the mid day, I scouted around looking for interesting pattern in the flowers and settled on this arrangement. Luckily the wind died down in time to make this image, but without a tilt/shift lens it was impossible to gain the extreme DOF I needed to keep everything sharp. To fix this problem, I shot to different images at two seperate focal points adn then manually combined the once again in Adobe Photoshop CS4. Hope you enjoyed and maybe learned a few tips and tricks as well, Joe.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 18 2010

    I appreciate the difficult shooting conditions described in the Cave of Light. It was worth it though!

  2. Excellent image! I hate shooting in areas where I’m covered by mist.


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