This is my Photo Blog detailing my adventures into the world. From exploring the waterfalls, mountains, and the beauty that is Western North Carolina, urban exploration, to anywhere my lens takes me across the country. Also visit my site The Digital Mirage

Adorama "TechTock" interview with The Digital Mirage's Walter Arnold

Adorama's Jack Howard (Author of "Practical HDRi") interviews me about my photography, techniques, workflow and other tips and tricks.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

10-15-2008 - Looming Leviathans - In Search of the Colossus

While exploring the finger lakes region of upstate NY last month my friend Andy and I went out on a mission to track down and find some windmills they had recently installed outside of Bath/Hammondsport. As we neared the area where the arrays were set up we started seeing windmills peeking over the tops of the hills all around the valley. Now I knew these things were big but I had not imagined them as massive as these were! We drove all around the valley looking for an access road or anything that appeared to lead up to the top of the hills where these giants were located.

We stumbled upon an old gravel road that went straight up a very steep hill into a large cornfield. We took a wild guess and headed up in the Prius. Judging by the incline I knew we were going to need some speed to make it up so I gassed the little car as hard as I could, kicking up rocks everywhere, we made it halfway up when the car started to slide backwards down the very loose gravel. When we stopped sliding backwards I put on the emergency brake and we rocked the car a bit to see if it would slide back or not. We hopped out and hoofed it to the top of the hill. Once we got there we realized that the windmill was still about a half mile away. These things were so big that our frame of reference in judging the distance to them was way off.

Somewhat disappointed we hiked back to the car (hoping it had not slid down the hill) and began the very scary act of backing/sliding about 200 yards back down the hill. We breathed a sigh of relief after making it down in one piece.

After driving around some more we were about to give up when Andy spotted a truck with windmill logos and two men in orange service uniforms. Jackpot! These guys would lead us to the titans! We followed them about a mile on a winding back-road.

As we crested the top of a hill the tree cover broke up and opened up to a massive section of farms and open fields littered with windmills all around! We pulled off onto the side of the road no more than 100 yards from a giant windmill in the middle of a carved out cornfield. We got out of the car and stood in awe. Never satisfied, I declared that I wanted to walk down to the base of the windmill. After a minute of debating the legality and safeness (getting shot by the owner of the land) we decided to go ahead. I don’t think I have ever felt smaller and more insignificant as I did standing at the base looking up it. It was dizzying! Even with my 10-20mm ultra wide I still had to get almost 60 yards back from the base to be able to fit the whole windmill in frame! If you look closely to the left of the base you can see Andy for a size comparison. We found one other field that day filled with barley that I took a few shots in as well. This was only one of about 3-4 adventures that day! Well worth the drive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rural Ruins in Upstate NY 10/12/2008

While vacationing in Upstate NY, on a tip from my dad, I discovered this weird two story structure. To get to it, I had to go into an area that had signs warning of live fire in progress with guns etc...after standing on the side of the road for about 5 minutes and hearing no guns or people I choose to run across the field and up the hill to this building. There were no windows of any kind, just solid walls going up two stories and tapering to a point where at one time a roof must have been present. The entrance was a 2.5 foot wide 'doorway' that extended upwards almost the entire height of the structure. Not sure if this was a barn or storage building of some kind but it was different that's for sure. Once inside, I walked through weeds growing up between small cracks of scorched earth and burnt debris. All around were shell casings, ammo boxes and a few spent tear gas grenades. Thankfully no gun toting people came around while I was there :) Shot on a Nikon d300 with a Sigma 10-20mm 9 shot HDR's processed in Photomatix and adjusted in Photoshop CS3.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hawthorne Florida Junkyard - The World of Mark and Mark

I was down in Florida for Labor Day weekend to see my Grandmother for her surprise 80th birthday. I had a few days to kill so my dad and I ventured out to take some pictures. We were about 30 miles outside Gainesville FL and the area was very rural.

Not 15 minutes after we had been driving my dad yelled “Pull over! That was a junk yard back there with some old rusty cars out front. Let’s see if we can poke around and take some shots!” He had me at ‘rusty cars’, so we turned around and parked on the side of the road.. As we got out of the car we could tell this was not your traditional junk yard. People clearly lived there. But it was a sprawling place, most of it not visible from the road, crammed with old cars, machinery, school buses, boats on trailers, etc. These are the places that I LOVE to explore.

As we crossed the road and started down a very long driveway, two unleashed dogs raced toward us, barking. I’ve seen too many movies about junkyard dogs and I was ready to run but an older, bearded man appeared at the far end of the driveway and yelled at the dogs to stop. We started walking down the long driveway giving a friendly wave to the man at the end. Suddenly the dusty sand we walked on changed. I looked down and realized that most of the driveway, which was at least 20 feet wide and well over100 feet long was covered in a blanket of crushed flattened beer cans! There had to be thousands if not tens of thousands, three and four cans deep. I had never seen anything like it . It was almost slippery to walk on them.

A second man emerged from behind a truck where he was working. He looked to be in his mid to late 30’s, shirtless and well built,wearing jeans and a black leather cowboy hat. I introduced myself as a photographer and said I was interested in taking pictures of his place. The first gentleman, who was in his late 50’s or early 60’s, stared blankly for a moment from behind a gray bushy beard then asked me a simple question:

“You do nudes?”

Not knowing exactly how to respond, and with scenes of Deliverance flashing through my mind, I chuckled nervously and told him that I was really only interested in photographing some of his old cars and busses that adorned his property. Ignoring me he continued:

“Because my wife, she’s pretty f*@#ing hot, she’s got some real nice black lace panties she could put on and…”

I cut him off there by handing him my business card that featured an HDR I had done of the interior of an old abandoned school bus. Finally he looked at the card, saw the picture, and said:

“Wow!” (I thought he was going to tell me it was a great shot)
“That looks like a 76 seater”

I told him I was not sure of the seating capacity, but I really liked exploring places like his and would like to take some similar shots of his vehicles. Finally he agreed and told us we could poke around anywhere we wanted! He introduced himself as Mark, and he introduced the younger guy as Mark as well. As my dad began to say something about two Marks, the guy stopped him and said:

“Ya we’re Mark and Mark….Don’t say it twice or you’ll sound like a hair-lipped dog!”

I headed back to the car grabbed my tripod mounted Nikon D300 with my Sigma 10-20mm, and slung my Nikon D50 with my 50mm 1.4 prime around my neck. Like an idiot I did not have jeans on, just kaki shorts sneakers and a tee, so I sprayed the better part of a can of “Off” all over my legs, handed some extra gear to my dad to carry, and headed back to explore.
I started by shooting a wide angle HDR of the driveway full of beer cans. As I did, Mark, explained the origins: “We call this ‘Beer Can Alley’. Every now and then a bunch o’ my Harley buddies come over and will race their bikes over the beer cans. You should see it! They rev up their engines and peel out over the cans, sending beer cans flying into the air like a deck of cards being sprayed out! If you stand behind them, so many cans go flying into the air you can barely see anything else! I am planning on putting more cans down to make the road longer” (He gestured to a 6x8 utility shed that was nearly FULL of cans! I’m talking 6x8 feet and chest deep of already crushed and flattened cans!)

My dad asked him when the next time his buddies were going to be over so we could take pictures, but he was not sure. He said:

“I’d get my bike out and show ya, but I been drinkin’ all day. Had my first beer around 7:30 this mornin’ right after I finished my coffee!”

We proceeded to carefully explore the place, not sure if our tetanus shots were up to date. We first peeked our heads into the old busses. One was full of filing cabinets, another full of old tools.He promptly informed us:

“That bus is my tool shed. Got everything in there, including my old dental equipment that I used to use.”

I shuddered at the thought…
As we moved out of his ‘work area’ where it appeared he worked on machines and cars, we emerged into a large wooded field full of old cars, trucks, boats, RV’s, busses, scrap metal and anything else you can imagine in a place like this. He told us it went back several acres and we could walk around wherever we wanted. But he warned us:

“Got lots of snakes around here. My buddy, Mark, just caught a rattler out there the other day.”

We headed out to explore the junkyard anyway. We climbed all over cars and trucks, peering in broken windows of old cars, avoiding rusty edges, glass, and snake hangouts. I snapped pictures of everything in sight, wiping away liters of sweat that fell like rain from my face. It was the 99% humidity and 93 degrees that remind me of one of the reasons I moved from Florida to North Carolina!

Slowly we made out way back to the workshop area.

My dad pointed out an interesting scene with about 50 old rusty lockers so I set up and was shooting

when Mark came over and said:

“I noticed you were taking pictures of the jacks on the lockers (I didn’t even notice that there were old jacks lining the top of the lockers) so I wanted to show you THIS!”

He presented us with a perfectly clean unused red jack. This was a prized possession because it was patent number zero, the first one made. They were very proud to show it off .

Older Mark walked us around back to show us his new house that he had built. We rounded a corner and stood face to face with a very skinny two story house. The front door to the house took up almost half of the house’s width. It could not have been more than 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, but it sure was two stories!

I got a few good shots of older Mark posed with his beer can in the front door to the house that took him 4 days to build.

(I learned later that if a house is built with less than a 200 square foot foundation, it doesn’t have to be inspected by the county. Which partly explains why he at one point asked, “You ain’t from the county are you? If you are, I’ll kill you.” He claimed that the county has been trying to shut down his entire operation.)

Right behind me I noticed a long 5 foot tall culvert with a door on the end and full of junk.

I was taking an HDR of this scene when I heard younger Mark ask:

“You wanna see the rattler?”

He came around the corner with a purple pillow case that promptly started RATTLING! As he stood right in front of us he reached his hand into the sack, and produced the biggest rattler I’ve ever seen that wasn’t behind zoo glass. We made it abundantly clear that he did not need to come any closer than he was! Without any prompting, Mark had unknowingly posed himself with one knee up on a pile of junk, the head of rattler gripped down with his thumb on top, black leather hat and smoldering cigarette from the the corner of his mouth. It was just about the coolest portrait I could have asked for!

After rattling off about 20 shots of Mark holding the snake, he put it back in the bag, and I felt just a bit safer.

My dad asked if the snake could strike through the thin cloth of the pillow case. Older Mark said, “Sure, if you poke it like this.” And he proceeded to poke it with his finger! Then he mused, “We can’t decide if we’re gonna feed her or eat her.”

After exchanging a few more stories, we decided it was time to head out, but before we could, older Mark had a change of heart! He put his empty beer can down and said,

“Ahh hell with it, I’ll show ya how we ride down Beer Can Alley!”

He proceeded to go around back and pull out a beautiful red Harley. I don’t know much about bikes but this was very nice, made for highway travel. He backed the bike around to the end of the alley as I set up my camera a few feet behind him. Not know what to expect, I used my tripod mounted Nikon D300 as a shield and cowered behind it as Mark revved the engine. He turned and looked back and me and yelled: “YOU READY???” I gave him a thumbs up and he gassed that sucker! Beer cans sprayed up behind his bike as he roared away, sliding right and left down the alley. Riding on all those cans must have been about as stable as riding on a icedover pond. He made a couple runs and young Mark razzed him about a wussy performance.
As we once again made our way back toward our car, we passed Mark’s wife. He said:

“Honey, these are the photographers I was telling you about. Why don’t you run inside and put on that little black nightie…”

She grinned and gave him a love punch in the gut. (I had to admit--he wasn’t wrong about her!!!)We got Mark’s address before we drove away and promised to send him some prints. I think he’s going to like them!

You can view more of my work over at:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Connestee Falls NC 07-27-2008

After visiting Maidenhiar falls I drove down the road a few miles to Connestee Falls. I had been here once before but from the overlook you could barely see anything. This time I "figured out" a way to get down to the base of the upper portion of the falls. I don't think they want people down there so I can't recommend it to others, but it was not difficult to get down nor too dangerous. (As long as you don't get near the edge!) Across the gorge I noticed some other people at a different overlook that had a MUCH better view, but I am not sure how to get over to that side.

This shot is the upper portion of the falls, you can't see it but the overlook is at the top left of the frame behind the trees looking down on the falls.

After taking a few shots from this 'platform' I scrambled down to a lower one about 8 feet below and got this shot.

Even with a 10-20mm wide angle, I still had to back up right to the edge of the falls behind me to get this in frame, that was a bit unnerving.

For this next shot all I had to do was rotate the camera 180 degrees from the previous shot and look down. Yikes! Don't slip here! You can see the other overlook in the top right of the frame, right next to where the far cascade begins. I'd love to figure out how to get over there and get both portions of the falls in frame.

Maidenhair Falls NC 07-27-2008

While reading through some books and searching the net for my next falls to visit I came across some info about Maidenhair Falls just south of Brevard. The Pictures I saw looked beautiful but no one listed directions to the falls since it was on private property and you had to cross private property to get to it. With the help of one website that listed the lat. and long. coords, and a topographical map and a .50 compass I headed out!

Off of 276S I found the back road that looked like it got nearest to the falls. I drove down the dirt road until I came to the end and parked along the side. Luckily I could hear running water so I figured that must be the creek the falls was on.

Walking sheepishly through someones back yard I spotted what looked to be a small trail. I followed the trail winding through the forest for a little less than a mile, crossing the creek once. This beautiful falls had a large initial drop of about 40 feet then cascaded down 2 separate landings about 15 feet wide. I was able to climb up to the first landing to get some shots. Unfortunately my timing was bad since the sun had just climbed above the trees and was shining down right on the water. This shots I got were not very good due to that so I spent about an hour sitting and wading around in the water.

I did manage to get this cool looking shot in a shaded area of the falls. I contorted the tripod about 2 inches off the ground with one leg sticking into the crevasse of the overhang and the other 2 legs splayed out on the rocks. The growth under the overhand made for an interesting HDR.

I plan on going back to this falls next weekend in the early morning before the sun gets too high, and hopefully I'll have some better shots then!

Cedar Rock Falls NC 07-26-2008

Well I am getting back into my normal routine of getting out on the weekends and hiking to waterfalls. This Saturday I went into Pisgah Forest to visit Cedar Rock Falls. I had never been to this one before so I was excited! Parked at the Pisgah Center and found the trail. It was just about a mile walk on a very easy trail. I did not pass a single person on my way up to the falls.

This was a beautiful little area with many boulders around to climb on and get some interesting shots!

I spent about an hour and a half there shooting and sitting, and not a single person ever came by. This is a great place to reflect and enjoy nature!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Raven Rock Falls / Eastatoe Falls 07/19 - 07/20/2008

Spent the weekend exploring some new waterfalls in Western NC, I spent an hour shooting Eastatoe falls before I realized that I was shooting in ISO 6400 mode and had to reshoot everything :( (I was playing around with night time shots the previous evening).

I've been trying really hard to pull back on the HDR processing so as not to get too much oversaturation or unrealistic results. The HDRs are all 9 shot RAWs processed in Photomatix Pro 3 and adjusted in CS3. All taken with a Nikon d300 and Sigma 10-20mm except for the last 2 which were on a 18-200mm lens. Hope you enjoy.

Raven Rock Falls HDRs: This was my first time to Raven Rock Falls. It is north of Lake Toxaway off Cold Mtn Rd. It was a short hike down to the falls, passing under rocky overhangs and other areas much suited to snakes and the like! The falls area was beautiful and a perfect area to just sit and reflect, which is just what I did between shots!

I was able to climb (somewhat safely) up the falls about halfway. The bedrock was beautiful and had plant life and moss growing all around.

Eastatoe Falls HDRs: Went back to one of my favorite falls in the area to get some more shots.

Eastatoe Falls "Eye of the Vine":

While shooting at Eastatoe Falls I looked up and noticed some bug eaten leaves with some beautiful diffuse light shining through that I had to capture (non HDR :) )

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Watkins Glen NY 06-22-2008

I recently flew to NY to go see my younger brother get married. Two days after the wedding, the same day my plane flew out, I headed over to Watkins Glen with my dad. I had been here many times as a kid but had not been in many years. As an adult (although some would argue that!) I have much more appreciation for the magnitude of this place, and the years of erosion that has taken place to create this beautiful marvel. We parked at the top and started the hike down.

The area had received a fair amount of rain over the last few weeks so water was constantly dripping off the edges of the cliffs and falling down all over me and the camera, so it was a challenge to hide the camera under my shirt and pull it out, mount it on the tripod and rattle off nine shots in a row in order to create these shots.

All of these shots were done with a Nikon d300 and shot in HDRi, so each of these shots are a blend of nine images at different exposures. This technique came in very handy being as it was a very bright pretty much cloudless day. I had to wait many times for a few minutes to get a shot where no one was in the frame, and my dad did a great job of crowd control and keeping people from walking into the shot. We had a very short visit but I managed to get a few good shots.

I would love to come back here in the fall and get some shots with the leaves changing. What a beautiful place!!!

About Me

My photo
Hendersonville, NC, United States
Check out my professional photography site at The Digital Mirage I post also my photos over at Flickr! Check them out