For me, there is no "bad time" to be in the mountains. Still, when the leaves begin to change in the Appalachians, there's not many places that are more beautiful. The high country always gives way to the colors of autumn first and then the bright colors seep down into the lowlands and all the valleys turn to fire. The smells change. Instead of the sweet scent of the wild summer rhododendrons there is a strong and constant presence of Earth and dried wood. The whole forest takes on a sense of quiet grief. The wind blows and the trees shed themselves of their leafy coats which rain down in showers of red and yellow.
This was the second time my friends and I had hiked to the 6,200ft summit of Mount Leconte which is the second highest point in Tennessee. After a heavy paced 13 mile trek to the top and back we were all ready to finally make our camp for the night at Elkmont. After feasting with the delighted gluttony of a Syrian pimp we all settled in for a long needed sleep along the banks of the Little River.
The next morning came all too soon and we woke to a frosty sunrise. We set ourselves to relighting the fire and huddled around the pathetic flames as I heated water for coffee. After a brief warming stage we felt cavalier enough to begin packing up camp. The sun was about midway through the trees to the East and was shining as bright shafts of light through the mist onto the river. "I need to take a picture" I thought to myself...and myself replied "You're damn right you do." So myself and I grabbed our camera and bounded to the riverbank with a freshly minted cup of cheap instant coffee.
I had originally wanted to capture the white water with the intent of making a black and white image that was brooding and plain. The light was such that most of the water would be dark except for the spots being lit by the selective sunlight. I didn't want a completely blurry whitewater but didn't want to completely arrest the motion either...just enough blur to impart a sense of motion but leave most of the details intact. I made a few exposures with my 50mm prime that I felt were sufficient and then decided to slow down the exposure just in case. I'm glad I did. The original goal of the black and white of the whitewater was accomplished with the image below. I like it, but I felt there was something more to the scene than this was able to convey.
ISO 100 at F/9 for 1/40 seconds
I decided to slow the shutter down to blur the water and shot a few more times. We packed up and hit the road to the nearest Cracker Barrel for pancakes a few minutes later.
I after I looked through my exposures I realized that this one could be special. The colors and tones could really be great. I processed the image and payed close attention to emphasize all the different colors that where reflecting not only on the surface of the water but also from beneath. What I came up with really testifies to the feeling I had standing there in that cold mountain morning on the bank of that river. All the hues of the dying leaves seemed to bury themselves in the water and the sun showed them all to us in a few fleeting moments. Again, here is the final image exposed at ISO 100 for 1/3 second at F/20.