“Sunset at Buzzard’s Roost” by Robin Conover Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35 mm, 2.8 L IS USM lens at 16 mm ISO 100, ƒ16 at 1/25 second, Gitzo tripod
As a photographer, I’m always scouting for locations to shoot. It’s something I can’t turn off, always making mental notes of when and where to return to certain spots based on the season, direction of the sun or time of day to have the best chance of capturing an extraordinary image.
Returning to some of my favorite locations time and time again, some trips with more success than others, I’ve captured thousands of images of Tennessee’s landscape over the past 30 years.
Buzzard’s Roost is one such iconic location on the Cumberland Plateau for photographers, myself included. A lone Virginia Pine is anchored to this sandstone outcropping some 300 feet above the convergence of Cane Creek and Piney Creek within Fall Creek Falls State Park.
From Scenic Loop Road, two trails from Millikan’s Overlook lead to viewpoints of Buzzard’s Roost. One trail begins just below the wooden platform and descends steeply to a bluff view of the point. The other trail, slightly more difficult, leads to the right from the parking lot and winds down to the exposed overlook. Both viewpoints offer panoramic views of the river gorge below.
This place speaks to me. Each time I head down one of the trails, there is an anticipation. Will I hear pileated woodpeckers or barred owls in the distance? Will the buzzards and red-tailed hawks be circling in the thermals above? Will I be able to hear the rivers below? How many bats will I see at dusk? What will sunset look like?
To get the answers, I usually arrive about an hour before sunset. For this image, I knew to take the widest angle lens I have, a circular polarizer, a tripod and a wireless camera remote. Knowing I would stay until after the sun set, I also took a headlamp to help me hike back out safely.
Setting up the frame, I included some of the sandstone in the foreground for a sense of place. Then I positioned my tripod at the correct height so the tree branches would frame the sunset but not form any tangents with the mountain ridge.
I started shooting just as the sun began to dip below the western side of the Piney River gorge. In just a minute or two, both the tree and sandstone were in the dark. The sunburst is a result of light refraction through a small aperture, not from a starburst filter.
Keep looking for the places that speak to you. I know I will.