This image of Little Long Pond was not my intended destination to shoot. It’s always funny I guess how things work out. My intention was shoot from an outcrop over looking Lake Skannatati. The day seemed to be shaping up well.The skies were looking great all day and I was anxious to return to outcrop that I’ve shot at before. I arrived at the parking lot around 6:30. Plenty of time to hike up and set the composition up and wait for the light. From the northern end of the parking lot of Lake Skannatati there is a set of stairs that lead into the woods. I seem to remember a well marked path heading up the hill to the left but it wasn’t marked or I may have missed it. It was a little dark in the woods but I did notice some plastic fencing strewn bout where the path was. At this point I should have suspected something. Instead, I followed the red trail up and around and found a side path to take me further up the hill and closer to the outcrop. When I finally arrived, there was a fence surrounding the area with a sign. It was a Harriman State Park reclamation project. Really? I drove an hour and a half, hike up the hill and then this. The sun was setting quickly and I needed another course of action, another location to shoot. I didn’t drive all this way not to do some photography. Knowing your location is very valuable under any circumstance but really came in handy here. Hustling back down to my car I headed over to Little Long Pond. The drive from lake Skannatati to Little Long Pond isn’t far but Harriman doesn’t make it easy because they blocked all the small parking spots in and around the pond. It was so much easier years ago to park near the pond. The light was dimming as it headed behind the mountains and I’m hustling down the road from a parking lot near by. I quickly tried a few different compositions along the waterfront. Nothing was working. Looking around for a foreground object usually sets the tone for me. I settled on this spot with the colorful rock to establish a near far composition. I used a 2 stop neutral grad filter to help balance the light between the background and the foreground. The sunset wasn’t as spectacular as I hoped but it was very pretty on this hot night.
Looked at the weather report for Chatsworth the night before. A promising sunrise – check
Camera batteries charged, CF card in camera and bag is packed by the door – check
Truck is gassed up…at 2.39 a gallon. What’s there not to like there – a save cash check
Set alarm for 5:15am – check
Stagger out of bed, limp to bathroom (having foot issues) and get dressed – check
Easy drive down to Franklin Parker Preserve although I missed my turn – check
As it starts too get a little brighter I notice it’s cloudy.-clearly no check
Arrived at destination safely and I’m all excited. Maybe it will clear – an anticipating check
Walk about a mile to my spot and scope the possibilities – check
The forecast on Accuweather.com missed the boat completely – doesn’t deserve a check
Overcast with a hint of red at sunrise. Not what I was planning for- a concerned check
Flocks of birds making cool noises taking off out of the water – a check for ambiance
Started seeing really interesting shapes and patterns in the water-check
The environment keeps changing here as water has made inroads to other sections – Remember check
My shots begin to revealed patterns that looked like a modern art painting to me – check
Wait a minute…. shoot at a slower shutter speed – a now your thinking check
Bingo…a 4 second exposure with a light wind blowing the grasses- I think I nailed it check
Drove home listening to Christmas music. Not a bad morning – check
Recently I opened my backpack and I was amazed how much stuff is in it. I began to wonder if I really needed all this equipment and peripheral items that I carry on my shoots. The fact is as a landscape photographer I rarely use my 70-200 lens. Take that out of my pack and it gets noticeably lighter. Truth be told though I never do because I’m under the firm belief or fear that as soon as I do I will miss the epic shot of an eagle perched majestically on a branch 20 feet from me or perhaps a bear in a stream catching some sort of fish and posing beautifully with a bright backlit sun. It’s the same stupid rational that keeps me playing the lottery with everyone at work. The one week I don’t put in a dollar is the week everyone wins 100 million. Sadly neither has happened. My short lenses 11-22 and 17-40 are my staples so I start to question everything else I have. The answer as I have discovered is that my pack will remain full until further notice. With that in mind here are some small items that I realized I can’t live without.
Headlamps- I always bring a headlamp with me. I have found this piece to be indispensable if I stay out shooting later than planned. I’m not afraid of too many things but walking in the woods at night and not knowing where I’m going gives me the willies. I’ve taken to upgrading to one with brighter lumens that recently came in handy on my shoot in Shenandoah National Park. What’s cool is that in certain modes they will flash repeatedly and change colors so you can be spotted if there is a problem. That’s a little more piece of mind right there.
Hoodman loupe- I will admit that I think I look a little silly with this around my neck but I really use it for many of my shoots. I started my career shooting on an 8×10 camera so using a loupe was common place for me. Out in the field with a DSLR I think people do wonder what I’m doing. You hold the Loupe directly on top of the LCD to prevent extraneous light from hitting the screen. The Hoodman version has a diopter built in to adjust to your vision or lack there of. For my workflow I use the live mode on my camera to focus, create composition and make exposure adjustments and having a loupe become invaluable. If it’s invaluable to me why should I care if I look silly?
Graduated filters-of all the items I carry these always draw the biggest response when I do speaking engagements or hangout with other photographers. With more photographers using photoshop they’re leaving the exposure dilemma to post processing. People are really taking sides on this issue without any middle ground. Call me crazy, call me old fashioned but I still prefer to get the image as close as I can when I shoot. Graduated filters are clear glass or resin with a portion that is darkened. The density of the grayed area directly correlates to the amount of stops that it will affect the exposure. For example if you’re shooting a bright sun rise and your foreground is dark by about 2 stops than a 2 stop neutral density filter will balance the exposure by holding the dark portion over the sunrise. For me at least, I guess I’d rather manipulate light upfront rather than pixels on the back end. Those decisions are what make photography fun and challenging. Side note, just for the record, I have yet to become a fan of HDR as a solution to creating a pleasing exposure.
So there you have it. I will be the guy that you see when you turn the corner on the trail with a loupe around his neck, a headlamp on his forehead while holding neutral density filters in front of the lens. Maybe a little silly but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After shooting in and around New Jersey and up in the Adirondacks I headed south to my final destination, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Never having been there for the fall colors I was purely guessing on when it would be considered peak. Researching online proved to be somewhat helpful as I began to hone in on a week that had the best potential. Feeling confident I made reservations a month ahead to stay in Waynesboro Virginia and was hoping I timed it right. In hindsight, I’m learning there really is no science to predicting fall colors. I wanted to spend some time with my brother in law who lives outside of D.C. so I picked him up and we drove another two hours to the southern terminus of the park.
Shenandoah National Park is a thin park that sits on the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The park is probably best known for having the Skyline Drive that dissects the park from Front Royal to Waynesboro. A motorcyclist dream, Skyline Drive is a two lane road that winds around and up and down the mountains. The park itself has so much to offer with plenty of hiking trails, camp grounds and some lodges spread throughout. Needless to say it can become very busy but surprisingly it wasn’t as crowded as I expected. My plan was to shoot multiple locations but I had my sights clearly set on one particular spot and that was Blackrock Summit. If I only get one shot this was going to be it.
I’ve seen images from this location over the years online and was anxious to get to see it for myself. Having never been there before I wanted to get there with plenty of time to find the best composition to shoot. We got to the parking lot and found the trailhead and began the easy hike out to the summit. Not long after we started we arrived to a giant collection of rocks known as Blackrock Summit. A short climb to the top revealed incredible 360 degree views but especially amazing were the ones to the west. Mountains lined up in a row creating amazing depth and shapes. I never get tired of views like this. Having tried several compositions I settled on this one using the rocks themselves as a strong foreground element. Once set, we waited for 2 hours for the sun to get lower on the horizon. It’s amazing what you can chat about waiting for the perfect light. News flash – Shooting landscapes is all about patience…..a lot of patience. As the sun lowered to the horizon it shot straight through the valley and reacted with the mountains just as I hoped. It was absolutely incredible. This light lasted for less than a minute but it was exactly what I hoping for. If it was warmer we might have stayed and shot into the night but by the end of this shot I couldn’t feel my fingers. The temperatures dropped quickly and the wind was whipping across the tops of the peaks. So we packed up, attached our head lamps and hit the trail back to the car. I was determined to get this shot and was excited to know that I got it on my first night in the park.
Not sure what to get your photographer friends or family for Christmas? Maybe you got a gift card from a bookstore and your not sure what you should read. With Christmas fast approaching I thought I would recommend a couple of photography books that I read this year. Having a long commute on public transportation affords me plenty of time to read. At almost two hours door to door I can only listen to music so much, stare out the window at the vapid landscape along the New Jersey turnpike, doze off in hopes of catching up on sleep or think about retirement for only so long. With that kind of time I go through periods were I can plow so through many books.
As a photographer, I think it’s important to know about photographic history and also how other artists see themselves and the work they do. What drives them? What are their motivations? What is there historical significance? With that in mind the following books are two very good reads.
Capturing the Light by Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport: an interesting historical account about the development of photography as a science and then as a trade. It recounts the beginnings on all fronts and the competitive nature of the burgeoning technology. If you have an interest in early photographic history, the author paints a vivid portrait of the times and people involved in the creation of this amazing medium.
Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Eagan: if you don’t have the opinion like I do that Edward Curtis is one of the most important photographers that ever lived than this book will change your mind. Edward Curtis is famous for photographing and documenting the western American Indian tribes and their customs. The book tells the story of his amazing life, his interests, not to mention his trials and tribulations. If you read this book you will have a greater appreciation of Curtis as an human being and certainly as an artist. I’m sure he never completed his life’s mission to the extent he wanted to but never the less this is an incredible story of an artist and his life.
Has anyone else read these books? Let me know what you think.
While not in chronological order but rather geographical order the next stop for me was New Jersey. The fall colors this year were really pretty good. I may have missed it slightly North in the Adirondacks and in Virginia ( upcoming Part 3 ) but wherever I was able to shoot in the Garden State the colors were bright and crisp.
These two images were shot at Monksville Reservoir. I met up with Dean Cobin that morning and we drove to Monksville Reservoir looking for some combination of fog and dead trees. Maybe on the face of it doesn’t it sound interesting but I like to photograph dead trees in water. The starkness and how they interact with themselves and the background make for interesting compositions and images. A couple of my current favorite dead trees in water spots in New Jersey are Franklin Parker Preserve and Merrill Creek Reservoir and I can now add this spot to the list.
This particular morning didn’t produce any significant heavy fog but rather a light fog that quickly dissipated. For the first image we positioned ourselves directly across from a grouping of trees. Their bold white trunks and limbs became very graphic against the wall of foliage on the shore across from us. Virtually no breeze that morning kept the water calm for beautiful reflections, an added bonus. What was hard to see in the morning was how colorful the leaves were but as the fog dissipated and the sunlight began to pour across it became apparent that it was going to be a nice combination. The colors here were similar to all the areas I shot through out the state.
For the second image I moved down the shore and looked at another set of trees further up the lake. As I did this I noticed how the low level fog was becoming backlit and the trees had a rim light effect. At this point I knew I had the perfect vantage point. I decided that I really wanted a heavy compression of the objects for this composition. I wanted a “flatter look” to the final shot. To achieve this, I added a 2x converter to my 70-200mm lens. I shoot with a Cannon 7d and it has a reduced chip size vs a standard 35mm sized sensor. What that effectively means is that any lens size has to be multiplied by a factor of 1.6. That makes my 70-200 a 112-320mm. Couple that with a 2x and I’m approaching a 600mm sized lens. Wildlife photographers like to use a reduced chip camera like this one to increase their lens length while still obtaining a high resolution. Once I had the composition it was just of matter of getting an exposure that I liked. I had a really strong composition that by itself would have been successful but then an unexpected treat happened. A guy in a canoe was fishing and heading straight into my image. This easily elevated the shot for me. Adding that human element gave an instant sense of scale and connection to the environment There are times that as a photographer you know you have the image while your shooting. In this case, the exposure never really changed and it was just a matter of clicking the shutter when I felt the person was in the right spot. I shoot in live view mode so I was able to see the person maneuver his canoe on the back of my LCD and clicked away. The final capture is one of my favorite images from this year.
This is the second year in a row where I have made the attempt to follow the changing colors starting in the Lake Placid region of the Adirondacks also known as the High Peaks region. It always sounds like a great idea but your completely at the mercy of mother natures control of the elements that make up a spectacular fall season. In some locations on my trip I felt I just missed the peak colors and others I may have caught the tail end. For the second year in a row my journey began in the Adirondacks but this year it ended at the southern point of Shenandoah National Park in Waynesboro Virginia rather than New Jersey.
A somewhat of an easy drive of 5 1/2 hours from my house, assuming no traffic , the Adirondacks offer a wealth of photographic opportunities. I’m still learning the terrain up there though. It’s only the second time that I’ve been there and finding locations that appeal to me is part of the adventure. In speaking with the locals it seems that traditionally the last weekend in September and the first one in October are the peak weekends. Last year I went in September and this year in October. I felt that it was just past peak this October. Mother nature and I weren’t in sync on this trip. Don’t get me wrong the colors were beautiful but they were spectacular last September. The High Peaks region may have been slightly towards the end of the fall color cycle but an hour or so south in the park it was amazing. Good to know for next year.
The local weather report called for cloudy skies on my first morning. Heading out that morning I drove to some popular spots but again not knowing the locations well enough and the how the light would react the morning started out slowly. What I learned on this trip is that the weather can be great in one area but 5 miles or even less in another direction it can be completely different. As I started to drive back the skies began to change and open up. I was really hoping for some beautiful light to shoot and the actual content of the image I would figure out later. The clearing morning fog combined with the developing clouds was happening quickly and it set up for an entire morning shoot in and around Marcy Park. Earlier I said that my creative vision is changing. I’m trying to capture images that have a feeling that your standing there with me soaking in the changing light and the general atmosphere. I’m not looking at purely documenting the location but trying to have you experience it with me. It’s difficult, not always successful but creatively challenging.
While this shot may not be exactly overwhelming in terms of content I love this image for the light and the feeling it has. For as outrageous as the landscapes can be in the region it also has many smaller quieter sides of life. The light was just beautiful as it broke over the horizon and hit the mountains in the distance. That house in the image is owned by the town and quickly became part of the composition. The only person around that early in the morning was a town worker checking on facilities in the area. A quick conversation revealed that this large open area is a landing strip for small planes. It was perfectly fine for me to be there and shoot but he said “ just watch out for planes”.
The next image was taken taken along LOJ road. I was with my wife and I had a feeling that a good sunset may happen that evening so we headed out to find a good spot to shoot. I was aware that this is a very popular place to shoot sunsets and sure enough I was not alone. It’s a long road that affords plenty of space to shoot though. One of the things to get used to up there is the concept that much of the land is privately owned. Even areas that can be hiked may be on or adjacent to private property. If a sunset could be quiet than this is the one. There were no flaming colors, no crazy cloud formation just a blend of subtle hues that illuminated the surroundings. As with the house in the previous image I needed a focal point in the lower portion of the composition and the lone orange tree was perfect. The mountains in the shot are some of the High Peaks that lay just South of Lake Placid. The quality of light and depth of the image make it a successful one for me.
Comparing the two images illustrates were my mind was and is creatively. They are both very similar in my attempt to capture and portray what I saw and felt. I’m already anxious to return the Adirondack region to explore more areas but I have a feeling that I will not wait for the fall to make that happen.