Fall color in the Smokies

Hi gang! Get ready for another image-rich post. Last week, we worked our way south from NJ to Tennessee via the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the end of my last post, we had just arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and were ready to head out and explore. Shortly after entering the park, we immediately realized that we had hit the sweet spot of fall color. Our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway was just ok when it came to that. We had hit a lot of it past peak, so there were more browns than we would have liked. But once we hit the Smokies, we were in beautiful, colorful bliss!

We spent a lot of time just driving around looking for scenes that best displayed the color, so we made a lot of stops to capture windy roads twisting through the woods, or low-lying branches over rivers that provided nice colorful reflections in the water. We also drove up to Clingman’s Dome, which is the second-highest point east of the Mississippi (the highest only trumps it by 40 feet), to shoot sunset one night. The sky put on a pretty good show, as you’ll see from the image below.

As an added bonus, we also got to see some black bears in the Smokies! You can tell that there are bears around by the number of cars backed up on the roads, and the rangers directing traffic. We were allowed to get close enough to get some good shots though. In some instances, the bears had climbed trees and we were shocked at how high those suckers can climb! They were so high (several stories) that it was hard to spot them when looking up at the treetops.

We were really happy with our time in the Smokies, and I ended up getting a lot of nice photos to show for it. If you ever plan on visiting the area, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, this park gets twice as many visitors than any other national park (because half the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of the place) so expect crowds. Fall is a spectacular time of year to visit. The whole area is wooded and when the leaves change, it’s just an explosion of color. The last thing I would say to keep in mind is that restaurant choices are fairly limited… unless you’re ok with places like “Hillbilly Barbecue.” Karen and I like to eat pretty healthy, and Karen doesn’t eat meat, so we had a bit of a hard time finding places. However, the Dancing Bear Lodge has a restaurant that is fantastic, and the lodge itself is beautiful. The only thing is that it’s pricy, but we ended up going twice because we had such a great experience there.

After leaving the Smokies, we made the one-day drive down to Atlanta, where the bus will hang out for a bit. We were happy to be there because it meant we could hang out with our wonderful friends Eddie Tapp and Judy Host, who are Atlanta locals. After a few days, I had to fly out to Seattle for a creativeLIVE event. More to come!


BenSmokies19Some of the black bears we saw in the Smokies


BenSmokies16Sunset at Clingman’s Dome, the second highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi

The rest of the images here are fall color shots I took in the Smokies… with a few of me and Karen thrown in there as well. Enjoy!












Click 2013

Hi everyone! We just wrapped up an excellent week at the California Photo Festival (aka Click!) in San Luis Obispo, CA. This was my second time teaching at this event, and I’d really recommend it to any and all photography lovers out there. Not only are the instructors awesome (and I’m not saying that because I am one… really!), but there is a lot of variety when it comes to classes. There are classes on photography itself, lighting, video, photoshop, etc. and many of the classes are hands-on shooting in the field. There are sunrise and sunset shoots at the vineyards in Paso Robles and on the California Coast. There are loads of after-dark, night photography shoots, and then there are in-studio shoots as well. So at this event, you not only leave with a lot of knowledge, but you also leave with a lot of great images. The festival is run by Victoria and Hal Schmitt of the Light Workshops.

Click2013-175One of Karen’s shots from the horse shoot at the beach.

I taught a bunch of classes over the course of the week, most of which focused on HDR photography and lightpainting. I had in-class lectures as well as live shoots in the field. We did some HDR shooting at the marina in Los Osos and also at a funky place called Sunny Acres, where there are lots of old cars & barns to shoot. For my lightpainting classes, we returned to Sunny Acres after dark and they positioned some of the vintage cars for everyone. We also had an “alternative lightpainting” class where we shot on the beach, creating orbs of light and swinging around molten steel wool to create some nice images. (With the steel wool shoot, I’m the only one handling the steel wool and I’m far enough away from the students that they, and their gear, stay safe.)

Aside from the class/shooting part of the event, I had a blast hanging out with the other instructors, some of which are old friends, and I’m happy to say that others have now become new friends. After the evening shoots, we’ll often meet up for dinner and/or drinks and either catch up or get to know each other. I’ll leave you with a bunch of photos from the event. More to come!

AttackGoose-webHere we are at Sunny Acres where I’m giving a rundown on shooting for HDR. The goose was literally attacking me as I was trying to talk. (It was attacking the other students as well) Eventually, he got put in his “time out” cage. 

SunnyAcres2013-25-EditThis was also shot at Sunny Acres, by Karen, during out lightpainting shoot there. 

MorroRock-SteelWool-3Here, my class gathered at the beach at Morro Bay and I was giving a demo on how to create a lightpainted orb. After it got dark out, we moved onto the beach and started shooting. 

BenSteelWoolOrbThis was one of the shots I created by swinging burning steel wool on the beach. The students loved this!

MorroRock-SteelWool-20Karen’s shot from the steel wool shoot on the beach. That’s me in the middle, swinging the steel wool around.

VineyardWinery-31-EditKaren went to one of the sunrise shoots in Paso Robles and this was one of her shots. 

BenDavidWells-webMe and David Wells, taking a lunch break between classes. 

More lightpainting & happy holidays!

Hi Gang! I’m writing this post from New Jersey, where I’ll be spending the holiday week with Karen’s family. We started off the week in Eugene, Oregon, where my vintage bus is having its interior worked on. Before we left, I spent some time chatting with the gang at Paradise Coach, making plans for the beginning of the project. Paradise Coach has just finished a 2-year restoration of a 1947 Silverside bus. I did a lightpainting of that bus, which I included in last week’s post. Karen and I also created a video tour of that bus, so if you want to see the kind of work this shop does, check out the video below. The Silverside is a brand of bus I really love and considered buying back when I was in the market for a vintage bus.


On Wednesday, we flew out of Portland and made an overnight stop in Las Vegas before continuing to New Jersey. We stayed with my great friends Steve and Beverly and stayed up into the wee hours catching up with them. In the morning we boarded our flight to Philadelphia and later arrived at Karen’s parents’ house, where the holiday festivities were in full swing. The family has been spending a lot of time preparing for the holidays, and the next couple days should be great.

Karen’s gingerbread house. She and her sister make these every year.

I also got to do another lightpainting shoot in NJ. Our friend Carl, dubbed the “Wine Wizard,” is one of the winemakers at Heritage Vineyards and has an incredible wine cellar of his own. In the past, Karen and I have had the privilege of attending one of his incredible cellar wine dinners, where he shared some of the most amazing wine we had ever tasted. Carl will be moving back to Texas soon, and we wanted to photograph his wine cellar for him, as a nice memory he could take with him to his new house. I spent about an hour and half lightpainting the cellar, and it proved to be one of my more challenging lightpaints because of how reflective the bottles are, and because many of them had to be back-lit to make sure they showed up properly. You can see the image below. The entire shot was lit with only the red ribbon light that’s found on the top of the cellar rack and a LED Lenser P5R Flashlight, which is my favorite small lighting instrument.

This one was rather crazy since it’s the combination of no fewer than 160 shots. It was very difficult to light in such a small room with bottles that look black if you don’t either back-light the whites or side light the reds. Just imagine trying to stand somewhere inside to light an area without having your body in the shot.

The final lightpaint. This image is made up of no fewer than 160 shots. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Karen’s shot of me shooting. Of course, when I was ACTUALLY lightpainting, it was pitch black in the room.

If you’re interested in this type of photography, you can learn to lightpaint with my 94-page e-book, The Fine Art of Painting With Light. It’s only $9.97 and you can get it HERE. If you prefer to learn hands-on, I’ve got a workshop coming up in March called “Mastering HDR & Lightpainting.” You can learn more about that event and register HERE.

Well, now it’s time to get back to the holidays festivities. I hope you all have a great holiday season! Best wishes to you and your families!