Twenty-two years ago I moved to Florence, Alabama for college. I grew up in Georgia and spent many of my teenage years exploring the beauty of the North Georgia mountains. So when I moved to Alabama, I did not think that it would have the type of beauty that I was used to seeing. It took one ecology class at the University of North Alabama to create a paradigm shift in my thinking. During a field study lab we visited a canyon in the Sipsey Wilderness Area called Turkeyfoot Canyon. I was in awe of the beauty that was before me. After my first exposure, I began visiting the Sipsey Wilderness Area regularly.
Another six years passed. My second child, Rebecca, was born. Digital cameras had just come down in prices so that the average person could afford one. I walked into a local pawn shop and sold my Ruger P89 9mm in order to purchase an Olympus C 2000z 2.1 MP point and shoot camera. I started taking it hiking with it me, and now I am writing this article for Light and Landscape Magazine. Of course, I shoot with a professional camera now (Canon EOS 6D).
North Alabama boasts both grand landscapes and hidden treasures for the landscape photographer. One of my favorite places that I love to shoot is the William Bankhead National Forest near Moulton, Alabama. It is sometimes called the "Land of a Thousand Waterfalls." During the winter and spring, the forest lives up to its reputation. Due to frequent rainfall, there are waterfalls around almost every turn within the sandstone canyons of the forest. Many of the pools below the falls have a turquoise blue color due to the underlying limestone bedrock.
Caney Creek Canyon, Parker Canyon, Collier Canyon, all of these are places that I love to visit because they are rarely visited and photographed. I always take my Canon 17-40mm L lens with me when I go. I really enjoy shooting with super-wide angle lenses because of the great depth of field they can capture. You might say I am a "wide-angle addict." It doesn't matter whether I am photographing waterfalls, streams, mountains, or sunsets in my kayak, I always try to compose my images in such a way as to make the viewer feel like they are there.
South of Bankhead National Forest is another spectacular sight to see and to photograph. Every year between Mother's Day and Father's Day, a plant called the Cahaba lily blooms in the shoals of the Cahaba River just outside West Blocton, Alabama. Their beautiful white blooms create a strong foreground subject to draw the viewer's eye into the scene. The best time to photograph the lilies is the first week of June, in the morning. The flowers are temperature sensitive, so they wilt by the afternoon. Try to get as close to the flowers as possible so that that the viewer knows what your subject is. You will have to use smaller apertures to gain the depth of field you will need to get the image sharp all the way through, or you can focus stack several images.
About 25 miles east of Huntsville is the town of Woodville, Alabama. Just outside the town is one of the best-kept secrets in North Alabama. The place is called Stephens Gap Cave. Often visited by cavers, it is also a beautiful place to visit and to photograph. If you decide to visit the cave, you must first get a permit from the Southeastern Cave Conservancy. Please make sure to read the use rules very carefully before going. The cave has two entrances, one you must repel into, the other you can walk down into. Once you enter the cave, you step into a true "underworld." There are three waterfalls in the cave. One comes in from the surface and the other two enter from the sides of the wall of the cave. If you are lucky, you might catch beams of light shining down into the cave. It is truly a magical experience.
Many people do not know that Alabama even has its own national park. It is called Little River Canyon National Preserve just outside of Fort Payne, Alabama. Little River Canyon is one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River. It is over 600 feet deep at its deepest point and over 12 miles long. The Little River carved the canyon and is one of the clearest and pristine rivers in Alabama. In fact, my family and I go snorkeling there in the summertime.
At the beginning of the canyon, you will find Little River Falls. It is 45 feet tall and over two hundred feet wide. In the winter and spring, the water just roars. It is best to use a neutral density filter so as to smooth out the water. A polarizer is not enough to slow the water down when it is at full flow. The best times to visit the canyon is the spring and the fall. During the spring, the water levels are up and all the waterfalls are flowing strong.
In the fall, the sides of the canyon are lined with vibrant colors. After a good rain, the canyon fills with fog, creating an ethereal atmosphere. If you are really adventurous, there are several marked trails that go down into the canyon. Here you can get a completely different view of the canyon. Beautiful cascades can be captured along with the vibrant spring or fall colors.
If you are like me, you are always looking for a new subject and composition to shoot. Hopefully, this has given you some new ideas. I also hope that this has made you aware of some of the beauty that Alabama offers the photographer to capture.
I am a professional educator, nature photographer and avid outdoorsman who is based in Hartselle, Alabama. I have been doing nature photography for almost 15 years. Many of my images are featured in national calendars and magazines. I conduct basic principles, digital processing, and travel workshops in the North Alabama area. I love exploring and photographing in the remote areas of Alabama as well as other beautiful places in the continental US.