Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Elk of Cataloochee

The elk in the Great Smoky National Park were reintroduced nearly ten years ago after over-hunting, disease, etc. wiped out the herd in the 1800's.  A small herd of elk were brought over from Kentucky (Land-between-the-Lakes) nearly ten years ago, and they have flourished in these beautiful mountain ranges of Tennessee and North Carolina.  Cataloochee is a lush, green valley hidden deep within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side between Waynesville and Maggie Valley.  I don't know all the details about the elk herd, and more details about the park can be found here:  GSMNP-Cataloochee.

Cataloochee Valley has gained in popularity with visitors to the park, so you must pack your patience for managing the frequent bumper-to-bumper traffic, the "one in every crowd" who thinks it's okay to break the rules, and the city-folk who haven't learned how to be quiet to fully enjoy the display of wildlife.  The elk are wild.  There are no fences to keep the elk in the park, and certainly no barriers to keep the elk safe from tourists.

I've been visiting Cataloochee for the past four years. In the Springtime it's fun to see the new calves amongst all the wildflowers in the valley. In September/October the bull elk begin their bugling for the cows, mating, and sparring between bulls.  There is a small campground at the valley entrance which provides more convenience for late night and early morning visits to the valley.  The bugling between bulls can be heard echoing off the mountain sides all the way to the campground. In the still of the morning, a solo bugle will send shivers down my spine as I lay half awake trying to talk myself into getting an early morning photo. The bugle usually motivates me to venture out before sunrise to see these beautiful creatures.

My latest visit to the valley would prove to be the best yet. In my previous visits, I've only witnessed bulls chasing other bulls away.  This time however, I finally was able to witness the full bull on bull sparring.  It's an experience I won't soon forget.

Arriving in the valley in the early evening proved to be popular as we quickly encountered stopped traffic and tons of fellow onlookers.  I crept along in my vehicle until I reached a parking space about 1 mile in.  I figured we could get farther by walking than sitting in a vehicle.  My friend Ally and I headed deeper into the valley when about 100 yards away were two elk.  As we looked closer, it appeared that one bull elk (with a large rack) was teaching a smaller elk how to spar.  The encounter was non-violent and included several face nudges, licking, and chin rubs by the big bull.  Such a sweet exchange between what we deemed father and son (or maybe grandfather/grandson.)

Before long, there were several more male elk making their way into the open field.  The sun was in its golden hour casting a golden light onto the bull's rack and also outlined their bodies with the light.  Once the sun finally disappeared behind the tree line the cool evening air gave a new energy.  The elk stopped grazing and started noticing the other males standing near them.  Soon, several sets of elk began the sniffing process followed by the lowering of the heads.       It was time to spar! 
The cow (female) looking onward as the two bulls challenge one another to a duel.

Two wild elk bulls spar while two wild turkeys meander through the edge of the tree line.
Head to Head
"Boys Night Out"
Four elk sparring at Cataloochee Valley

This visit was by far my most favorite!  Despite the passing vehicles, the crowds gathering in around me, chit-chatting with the photographer next to me, I became so drawn into watching these magical creatures in nature that time felt like it was standing still.  I was lost in another world even if only for a little while.  And when it was finished, I looked around me and became amazed at what I saw.  There were people as far as the eye could see, all wrapped around that big open field, together - as one - to watch nature.  Truly spectacular! 
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. ~ WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

It's All About Madi

Let's begin this entry by talking about Madi (formerly known as Madison Mueller.)  She is the eldest daughter of my neighbor friends, The Muellers. 

Offering Madi and her then fiancĂ©, Cody, a special portrait for their wedding day seemed like a great idea.  What a better gift than photography?  I offered Madi the opportunity to shoot her Bridal Portrait in a beach setting (her wedding was going to be a beach wedding) and, asked her if she would be willing to also be a "model" for me for the rest of the day. She agreed - so that set the plans in motion! We were going to have a formal "Bridal Portrait" session and a"Trash the Wedding Dress" shoot at the ocean, on the same day, and Madi would be the star for the day!

Very soon thereafter, I found a mint-condition, in-the-box, fairly modern-style, used wedding gown with a veil at a thrift store for a mere $40. It was perfect for what I wanted for the Trash shoot I was planning.

Everything fell into place quickly. And after weeks of anticipation, the weekend arrived!  We traveled to Pawley's Island, SC with 12 other photographers for a 'photo trip', and Madi and Cody arrived the next day from Wilmington, NC.

The location we chose for the Bridal Portraits was South Carolina's Huntington Beach State Park at Atalaya Castle. It seemed to be a popular bridal location as there were four other brides being photographed (who knew.) We were short on time, but Madi and Cody were very accommodating with requests. Click, click, click and away we went.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the day:

Everything went smoothly, and Madi's Dad even made a surprise appearance just as we headed off for the shoot. She really enjoyed having her Daddy there for the special occasion. As a photographer, I try not to get wrapped up in the emotional side of what I'm shooting, but thinking about how much the day meant to all of us, and that her dad drove 6 hours to be there and he caught us just as we were leaving for the shoot, and how glad Madi was to see him - well, it made me shed a tear or two.  I often wonder if the connection a photographer has to the subject matter being shot comes through in the final pictures.  It was such a blessed day all the way around. I felt really good about the shots captured on location and hope people can get a feel for the spirit shared through the images.
So, next up was getting Madi changed out of 'her' dress and into the thrift store dress for the "Trash the Dress" shots.  Having a bride in full wedding glamour, flowers, a beach setting, and a dozen photographers on hand doesn't happen every day!  Mother Nature also played well with us as we were entering the 'Golden Hour.'  This special natural lighting happens as the sun is descending towards the horizon. It normally begins about 2 hours prior to sunset - and were right on time with the shoot. It's a magical time to capture beautiful glows of pinks, yellows, etc. from the sunset.

Everything went according to plan! Here are some of my favorite shots from the "Trash the Dress" shoot (again, this was not Madi's actual wedding dress):

Keep in mind, it was April (still chilly), so we didn't put Madi into the ocean for a number of reasons (the water was freezing, and the tulle in the dress when saturated was too heavy for even the best swimmer) so we opted to stay on the safe side. I was so proud of Madi!  This was her first modeling gig, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect arrangement.

250+  years of marital history in this picture
Incidentally, the Mueller family later asked me to photograph the wedding of Madi and Cody.  I was thrilled to be considered!  We all traveled to Topsail Island on the coast of North Carolina for a beach destination wedding. So much fun getting to know all the Mueller's, Heinton's, and Polera's! It still blows my mind to think about the lengthy marriage examples that Madi and Cody have to draw from within their family (with all four sets of grandparents and the two sets of parents) there are 250 years of marriage!  Isn't that awesome???
Destination wedding - Delivered!  Here are some of my favorite shots from Madi and Cody's Wedding:


 So, here we are at the end of this journey - which is the beginning of a new journey for Madi (and Cody.)  I wish these two special people a most joyful, lengthy union.  I'm thankful for having the opportunity to get to know them and their families, and to capture their spirit through photography.   I love these kids!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Wedding

What a delight to receive a call asking if I would consider shooting a wedding and reception!  The back story was the previously hired photographer had a death in the family and was unable to make the trip to Asheville, North Carolina to shoot the wedding.

One of my friends recommended me for the short-notice nuptials.  A quick phone call to discuss the details left me only 24 hours to prepare for an entire day of shooting for people I hadn't yet met.

I met Corinne at the salon where she and her Maid of Honor were getting hair and make-up. Next, on to the ceremony location and then later back into town for the reception venue.

It was a lovely day with intermittent sun and clouds.  For photographers, a mix of sun and clouds means it's basically a mixed bag of how the light will affect each shot.  I sure had my work cut out for me during the outdoor ceremony.  Aside from the sun/shade effects, I'm pretty happy with the shots I captured. 

Corinne was a beautiful bride which made my work as her photographer a lot easier.  She kept a smile the entire day and was probably one of the most laid-back brides I will ever get to work with.  (I hope there will be many more as easy going as she was!)

Corinne and Cody's ceremony was very sweet and they incorporated many personal touches within.  Here they are sealing the deal with "The Kiss" and friends and family tossed rose petals as they came by as husband and wife.

The reception venue was located inside the Broadway Arts Building on Broadway Avenue in Downtown Asheville.  There was a DJ playing hip-hop 90's tunes which kept the dance floor hopping all night long!

What a great experience to shoot my first solo wedding.  I'm pleased with the outcome of the shots and hope this will be a first of many more weddings to come!  Thanks again to Corinne and Cody for letting me document your special day.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hello Studio Shooting!

Wowza!  What a start to 2014 it was for Lisa Hale Photos !  I had the absolute pleasure of working with Donna Cutting, CSP, Customer Training Expert/Consultant and her team in Asheville, NC during their Annual Retreat in January 2014.  Donna is a professional public speaker and asked for some shots of her team members: Katie and Rachel.  Donna's platform is 'Red Carpet Customer Service' and she wanted to incorporate some of her brand into the images.  (For more information on Donna's business click here.)

With the help of Tony Hood at French Broad Imaging, I rented out his studio space and Tony and I set-up the background and lights (well..ok, Tony did most of it, but I watched and learned.)  We used a white floor and white background to best meet Donna's needs.

The team arrived and after a brief wardrobe, hair, and make-up session we began!  I think we were all nervous in the beginning, but soon loosened up and had fun.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the day:


and lastly - we made sure to have some laughs!  Here a few of those moments:

 Sometimes you just go with what you know and trust yourself for the rest.  I knew it would be a stretch outside my normal comfort zone to do a full-on studio shoot with real, live people in a real studio, but I have to say that in the end it all came together nicely.  And coming from someone who normally photographs landscapes and wildlife...this was a nice change of pace.  I can sure use some more practice before I add 'studio shooting' to my repertoire, but having this experience behind me makes it that much more possible.
Happy shooting!