It was dawn when I woke up.

The early April air was crisp and cold as I climbed out of the Outback at our primitive campsite in central Arkansas. The air was filled with bird calls and sounds of the swamp. There wasn’t a single ripple on the inky black water that bordered our encampment. I looked up at the lightening sky. It was perfectly clear without a cloud in sight.

“There won’t be a colorful sunrise today, but it should be a fantastic golden hour!”

I headed down the gravel road that snaked between pools of stagnant water. I knew there was an opening in the trees maybe a quarter mile away with a view out over a small lake (or big pond, whichever you prefer). The view would be due East, the perfect vantage point for a starburst on the horizon as soon as the sun came up. Despite being so close to the Interstate, as I mentioned earlier, you would never guess in a photograph that I could hear the buzz of tires on rumble strips and the roar of trucks barreling along at 70mph.

“Now I just need to find something to include in the foreground,” I thought, when I arrived.

I approached a big, dead log laying in the water whose branches protruded in all directions. A giant bush stuck up in the middle of it, an unshapely tangle. The duo was the only thing of vertical dimension near the shore. Half in the water, half in the mud. Algae and weeds and muck and sticks and slimy trash lay all around. An ugly spot indeed. I still tried to frame up something there. But dissatisfied, I left in search of something better.

I ventured into the woods along the bank. It was too cold to be too concerned about water moccasins. The sky was much brighter now. The sun just cresting the horizon! Golden light began to stream into the forest. And that’s when I found it! A small root, but a shapely one. I scrambled to set up my tripod and camera as close to the ground as possible and proceeded to photograph a 7-photo bracket. The dynamic range between the bright sky and shadowy trees was incredible!

240405_James Staddon_ Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 16, ISO 50

Satisfied, I stepped back to take a cell phone snapshot of my camera setup.


Looking at the photo on my phone, I was impressed with the wider angle perspective. So I moved my camera back and composed a new scene. The double starbust created by the sun reflecting in the water provided some needed symmetry and a focal point.

240405_James Staddon_0443 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 11, ISO 50

The above photo is a combination of two different photos. One to capture the sunbursts. One to cover the direct light so that the lens flare would disappear. Merged in Photoshop, you have a cleaner looking photo. These are the two photos before they were merged:

240405_James Staddon_0443 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 11, ISO 50-2

240405_James Staddon_0444 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 11, ISO 50

The sun was getting higher in the sky by now and I knew golden hour wouldn’t last forever. I wanted to get some morning shots around our beautiful campsite so I headed back quickly.

Along the way, I snapped this photo through the trees. In post, I used Dehaze to make it more dreamy looking.

240405_James Staddon_0454 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 25 mm, 1-8 sec at f - 11, ISO 50

When I got back to the campsite, I was a little disappointed that there weren’t as many photo ops as I was expecting. The light had become harsh so quickly.

I still tried to frame up a few shots though.

240405_James Staddon_0459 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 97 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 11, ISO 50

240405_James Staddon_0462 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 1-6 sec at f - 11, ISO 50

240405_James Staddon_0467 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 18 mm, 1-13 sec at f - 11, ISO 50

Looking back over my photos from that day, I was really quite unimpressed with the ones I took at the campsite. The ones I took earlier were so much better! And what about the one that I took at “the ugly spot”? Well, that one turned out to be pretty much the best of the bunch!

240405_James Staddon_0415 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 16, ISO 50

The Ugly Spot
Dagmar State Wildlife Management Area, Arkansas
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Ruined by sin, all mankind is in a poor, ugly state. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But through Christ, our ugly lives can be made new. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This doesn’t mean that Christians are any better than others, though. We all still have the same bent toward sin, the sticks, slime, and trash to deal with, the old nature living within us while we are here on earth. “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” Therefore, we can not take credit for any beauty others may see in our lives! The beauty that God creates in the regenerated soul is nothing more than another way God brings glory to Himself. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” God is in the business of making the ugly places beautiful for His glory, and His glory alone.

Speaking of the glory of God, I can’t wait to share photos from the April 8 Solar Eclipse Photography Workshop in the next blog post!

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  1. Richard Ritchie

    Super teaching story here. Beautiful pictures



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