Guest blogger, Don McGowan – Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Between a Rock and a Wet Place

One of my favorite locations as winter morphs into spring is the Greenbrier Section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River and its primary tributary, Porter’s Creek, come together in glorious turmoil, especially when spring rains have filled both streambeds to brimming.

Both of these watercourses are literally choked with boulders from the varied and various sandstone formations, especially Thunderhead, whose strata underlie these ancient uplifts. And while there are many ways to express this confluence of waters, my favorite is with a wide-angle lens close up against an appealing boulder in the foreground with the rushing stream trailing out into the midground and the opposing bank in the background.

On this occasion I found a stone about thrice the size of a football to serve as a foreground element. As it happened, the water was high enough to wash over the near edge of the rock before swerving between it and an adjacent boulder to rejoin the main flow. I allowed the rocks to take up nearly 45% of the image, with the flow of the stream nearly horizontal through the mid-section, and the opposite shoreline covered with still-winter trees and boulders in the background.

A focal length of 18mm accomplished several things, including a close-focusing capability and a lens distortion which together magnified the apparent size of the boulders.  An aperture of f/22 gave depth of field; and a shutter speed of 6.0 seconds at ISO 100 gave an overall medium exposure. There were some choices available that included raising my ISO, however I decided that I appreciated the visual flow of the water as it is, and so decided to use the settings I mentioned.    —  Originally published in Reprinted with permission.

**Ed note: To continue with more tips and techniques, McGowan produces a excellent quarterly newsletter, “Song for the Asking,” as well as a weekly favorite Images review, “Image for the Asking.” 

There are also spaces in his EarthSong Photography Smokies Spring Workshop. Contact Don McGowan: (828) 788-0687 or

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