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
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.
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.
This past Sunday I ventured up to Harriman State Park. I left my house at 5:15am to ensure I would get there in time to shoot some sort of sunrise. The weather report wasn’t looking too good the previous evening in terms of cloud cover ( I always look at cloud cover on the weather sites) and sure enough it was clear and bright moonlit skies when I walked out my door. I actually debated in my head whether to go or not. Figuring that I made the effort to be up that early I started the truck and began the trip north. As I was driving into the park there were some clouds passing by so I was beginning to feel a little better about my decision. As the skies were brightening I could start to see some really good possibilities taking shape. At this point, I realized I need to find a spot quickly and I chose Lake Kanawauke. Truth be told, it was the closest lake at the time. Normally I have a plan but on this particular day I was photographically improvising. I usually have some sort of sketchy plan on where I’m going to shoot. Scrambling to find an interesting shot I came across a grouping of rocks and quickly worked out the composition. I chose this dominant foreground rather than an over all wide lake shot because I wanted some additional interest and depth. I wasn’t feeling a straight shot of the lake would be all that interesting.
After the beautiful sunrise I walked around and continued to shoot and scout for future visits. I wanted to go down to Silver Mine Lake and see if there were any opportunities to shoot there. It’s one of my favorite spots in Harriman. At this point there were enough clouds starting to build to have some interesting skies. After parking in the lot I took the trail that skirts the left side of the water. Not far down I found a nice quiet spot. I like the composition and while I don’t normally go out of my way to shoot with a sun burst effect it does add some additional interest to the shot. When the colors change I will be back in this spot for sure.
Overall, It never ceases to amaze me that this kind of photographic potential is so close to New York City.The variety of the landscapes makes this place a must do in the area. With Fall fast approaching you can bet you will find me there.
Here is another shot from my hike on the Van Campens Glen trail in the Delaware Water Gap. The hike is better described in a previous hike to photo ratio blog. This water fall is not far into the hike and is one of my favorite places to shoot. Assuming your careful it can be accessed from both sides and the top. Obviously this image was taken from the top of the falls. For this particular spot you’ll want to be sure that you have solid footing for your camera and tripod not to mention yourself. It’s definitely not desirable to have your equipment or you go over the top and in to the pool below.
This image is one of my favorite shots of the year so far. Using some of the compositional elements discussed previously with the addition of another creates an enormous amount of depth in the shot. First, the foreground rocks/ledge anchor the front of the composition. Second, the waterfall itself has beautiful lines as it leads into the creek below and curves off to the distance to a vanishing point. Lastly, on this morning if was slightly misty/foggy which is always accentuated in the distance. Atmospheric conditions affect objects further away rather than up close further adding to the depth. Couple all those elements together with a wide angle lens and the image has many visual points to look at.
I love to shoot waterfalls and there are not that many many in New Jersey to begin with that offer this kind of beauty and solitude. Everyone’s safety is always paramount when shooting around water but the rewards if everything comes together is incredibly satisfying.
Take a run of the mill scene and turn it into a dynamic composition. Conveying movement in a picture takes something static and makes it dramatic. In many instances this will draw much more interest for the viewer. The most powerful tool we can utilize in photography is our imagination. If you learn to visualize the potential of the scene you will start to have more creative control of the image.
Here is a little how to for shooting a long exposure using clouds as the dynamic interest of your picture:
Once you have identified a possible composition first and foremost you will need your camera mounted on a tripod. Next you will need to be able to decrease or slow down your shutter speed to several seconds. This can either be achieved via available light shooting very early or rather late in the day. This is when your camera is metering in seconds so you can simply stop your aperture down (raising to larger numbers) to lengthen the exposure. Another method as with the example image I am using something called a Neutral Density filter (ND). ND filters in simple terms are filters that knock down the light. ND filters are external filters used in front of your lens. They are measured in stops of light. They come in several configurations and are utilized not only in this type of situation but are also widely used in other applications for landscape shooting. They are used to help balance the light in your exposure which is a whole other story for another time.
Remember when you stop down by one full aperture setting you are doubling the length of your exposure. If you’re at f11 and your camera is metering for a 15 second exposure when you stop down to f16 (1 full stop) you will double your exposure time to 30 seconds.
Using ND filters will give you much more control of the light and can be executed at any time regardless of the current conditions. There is a lot you can learn about ND filters by simply googling them. In the case of the example image I used a 10 stop ND filter adding 10 full stops to the exposure. This image ended up being 228 seconds.
The image here was shot late in the afternoon but with lots of available light so I choose a 10 stop ND to lengthen the exposure time desired. Once I metered the shot without the ND filter I took out my I-phone which has an app that includes an exposure calculator and figured the correct amount of time for exposure when adding 10 stops. I currently use something called Photo Pills but there are many different apps available. You can do the math in your head for a few stops but with 10 stops a calculator comes in very handy. Most DSLR cameras will expose up to a 30 second exposure. I find that anywhere from 5+ seconds will usually add the drama and then it is a matter of your own creative taste.
Remember that after 30 seconds you will need to shoot in Bulb setting mode and have a shutter release device to keep your shutter open for the desired length of the exposure time. Once you make your exposure check your histogram and make sure you are getting a good exposure, if not make your adjustments and try again. Lot’s of trial and error on these shots. I also recommend that if you’re shooting real long exposures that you have your LE noise reduction shut off if it’s turned on. You can always control your digital noise in post. This allows you quicker feedback if you need to try again.
All this sounds complicated but it’s not. It will just take a little time, possibly some more research and lot’s of experimenting. I did not get this shot on my first outing but that is where all the fun lies, in the exploration. Don’t be afraid to take risks and get creative with your image making you will find it will add a whole new dimension to your photography.
About the image:
This is a 230 second exposure shot In Harriman State Park on the shores of Lake Stahahe. ©Dean Cobin
This trail has been closed for quite some time. Mother Natures storms over the years have wrecked havoc on the area and I’m sure the folly of the government shutdown didn’t help in the cleanup and renewal. On a personal note I’d like to thank all the politicians who were involved in that fiasco. I hadn’t visited this spot in about 5 years and I must say my recent hike/shoot was fantastic. The hike begins off of Old Mine Rd about 20 minutes from RT 80. The parking lot where the trail begins is closed so you’ll need to park by the gate and walk down to the trail head. The trail may be listed as the Van Campens Glen loop trail at the NYNJTC. At the trail head, marked in yellow, you’ll hear and see the reason your there, Van Campens Creek. The trail begins at the closed parking lot begins to meander parallel to the creek. The lower falls come into to view fairly quickly in the hike on your right. The first set of falls are for more photographic as it is set among large rocks, Rhododendrons and ferns. As you continue down the trail with some slight elevation the second falls will appear on your left after a bridge crossing. For me though the coolest part of the hike though is up and past the second waterfall slightly less than a mile from the parking lot. It’s an area that moss covered walls of stone have been carved by the rushing water and thin sliced slabs of rocks are protruding creek side at a 45 degree angle. (The image above was shot from this area). It can be a little buggy past the second falls so be prepared. The other hidden treasure on this hike and in the Gap in general are the amazing ferns on display especially in the spring. The amount and intense green carpet of color adds to the overall ambiance. It’s a short hike through the Glen but there is so much to look at and enjoy. Lace up your shoes and grab your camera and enjoy one of the best hidden treasures in all of the state of New Jersey. ©Larry Zink
The culmination of a very long, hard climb on a bone-chilling, dry January day, this image made in 2000, is a portrait of the highest point on Wittenberg Mountain, one of the most dramatic and inaccessible peaks in the Catskills. Although many hikers may disagree with my use of the term “inaccessible” (in truth, it’s not that hard of a climb), it was to us that day. I was accompanied by my friend Ed and dog Jenny. From the parking area, Ed and I crossed the swinging bridge spanning a small creek that leads to the trail head, while Jenny opted to wade the creek. We met at the trail head and marveled at Jenny’s completely stiff, frozen hair. The result of a 5 second immersion in water at 18 degrees fahrenheit. She, in typical fashion, shrugged it off as she flew up the trail ahead of us. Ed and I were moving slower however. At this point in 2000, I was still using my beloved 1972 Burke and James 8×10 inch view camera that sat on a Ries wooden tripod capable on supporting cameras as big as 7×17 inches (film size). Both are now relegated to backup duty because I cannot climb with them on my back. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston both used the same tripod. Its weight combined with the rest of the equipment (plus lunch, water and extra clothing) reached an intolerable 65 pounds. Thus, in 18 degree air, I ferried such a load that within ten minutes I had stripped down to a T-shirt and still soaked it with sweat! The rest of the trip to the summit was a slog occasionally interrupted by a fast downward slide on thin snow-covered ice that brought me painfully to my knees. We reached the summit forest of fragrant balsam and red spruce at lunch time. Within seconds of stopping for a drink of water, we froze in our wet shirts and scrambled for more clothing. Now suddenly we could not get warm! The physical effort had ceased and our bodies were depleted. A quick lunch and warm drink helped but not for long. To add insult to injury a gentle breeze began to wash the summit adding windchill to our problems. I now worked quickly to find my intended image; determined not to freeze on this mountain. The trail lead us to a small clearing with a view facing northeast. High wind clouds dark with moisture began to move in from the southwest. My dog, dry and fed, was shivering from inactivity. I spotted a cliff edge with dead spruce trees leading to a verdant carpet of mountains spread before me. A small spruce crown topped the display. I was ready to work. As quickly as possible, I set up and made the image shown here. Calling it quits was easy. We packed and left having spent all of this energy to make one negative! I did not print this image until an exhibition called for it in 2004. I only print this photograph in large sizes such as 28×35 inches or larger. It doesn’t translate what I felt that day in smaller size. The huge expanse of mountain and sky, shadow and sunlight. The Catskill Mountains in a cold, clear alpine moment. A moment and a day I will never forget.