This happened completely by accident.

I’ve actually got two funny stories that go with this image – one of discovery, and one that scared me to death.  I’ll save the story of what I screwed up (i.e. discovery – see what I did there?) for last.

If you’ve ever driven through Cades Cove, you’ve no doubt seen this grouping of trees in one of the last fields before you leave the Cove.  What you may not have known though, is that the grouping of trees is the small cemetery of the Ike LeQuire family (I took this image a number of years ago looking at the trees from the road side, the way 99% of people see it).  Well, I just love the setting of this cemetery as I just find that grouping of trees out on the hill to be particularly beautiful.  I’d been thinking of taking a picture of it with the Milky Way for some time, and so earlier in the summer I went and shot it.  Now, to get the Milky Way with the trees, you actually have to walk down into the field, past the cemetery, and then shoot back towards the road.  At this particular time of year the grass was pretty tall, and so I stuck to the trail that goes down to the cemetery and my plan was then to walk out into the tall grass, far enough to frame the trees how I wanted them.  By staying on the trail, I would avoid sticker bushes, and hopefully not scare up any animals that might be laying in the grass.  Well, as I’m walking right past the cemetery, the cemetery is on my right, and I’m looking out into the field on my left, with my headlamp the only light around, otherwise its pitch black.  Something on the right catches my eye so I pan back to the cemetery, to find a face staring back at me!!  Y’all, I literally about died standing there.  Now, it wasn’t a human face, but that of a barred owl, staring right at me from the fence post.  It was so close to me that I literally could have touched it with my elbow!!  It seemingly couldn’t care less about me (or couldn’t tell what I was since I was shining a bright light in its face with my headlamp) and so we just stood there staring at each other.  It never flew off!  I walked on by and it hung out for who knows how long (it occurred to me later I should have snapped a picture of it with my cell phone – but it was gone by the time I left). It was seriously one of those scares where you jump back, loose your breath, and immediately start sweating though!  I’ll not soon forget that!

Now, on to the accidental discovery.  Up till earlier this year, when I setup a Milky Way shot, I have done so at 14mm (for those not as familiar with photography, that’s a pretty wide angle).  I typically like that wide angle because it shows off as much of the galaxy as possible, and it subsequently makes it easier to setup foregrounds (last week’s Picture of the Week was at 14mm).  Almost all of the historical structures in the Smokies are set back in trees and to frame them with the sky you have to get really close to them, which then requires a wide angle lens to still see the sky.  You guys may be disappointed to learn, however, that I can be a pretty absent minded photographer.  Sometimes I’m a few shots in before I remember to check my focus.  Sometimes I’m a few shots in before I remember to pay close attention to the composition.  On this particular night, I setup my sky and shot it (more on that next week) without noticing that my lens was set on 24mm, rather than 14mm, which means that I was zoomed in quite a bit more on the sky than normal.  After I got over my initial annoyance of my own absent-mindedness, I finished the shot with the foreground and went with it, and ended up REALLY liking the result.  By shooting it tighter, it makes the Milky Way much more dramatic in the sky (I’ve since setup a scene at 35mm, but it’s not ready for prime time just yet – you may see it later this year), and I think gives a different feel.  Here in the Smokies, it does limit what you can shoot, because it requires backing up further from the subject, but there are plenty of trees and other things to work with.

More next week!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
LeQuire Cemetery
Cades Cove Loop Rd, Townsend, TN 37882, USA

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