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Spring Cleaning

I don’t know about other photographers, but usually once I evaluate and process a batch of photographs I close the door and rarely look at them again. What I picked and processed was pretty much the worthy shots, but recently someone on Google+ (oh I wish I could remember who) mentioned that she has hundreds of images in her hard drive that have never seen the light of day and should be shared. It got me to thinking, but it’s my new project that has me digging into my archives. I’ve surprised myself by finding some decent images that got overlooked, rejected or ignored. They may not be the most amazing photos I’ve taken, but looking at them with fresh perspective has been interesting. This forest scene for example. I labored over it when I took the picture and loved the leading lines of the logs, but didn’t have the skill to process it well. Going over it again took just a few minutes and I knew exactly what tools and techniques would get this off the reject pile.

Dodge Your Sorrows (Fox State Forest 2012)

With digital it’s really easy to take a lot of shots of almost the exact same image. Ditto for taking a lot of shots at a particular location just for the sake of documentation, not really for any artistic reason. I find myself doing some of that, but mostly I take a lot of nearly identical images when I’m doing macro or microscapes. Adjusting the focus point, removing debris, recomposing the background, managing the depth of field – there are many reasons, but it ends up just being a lot of images to sort through and frankly sometimes I get weary of it. Evaluating and comparing each frame is time consuming and sometimes my patience just runs out before I give enough attention to the collection as a whole.

You go your way (Martha’s Brook/Sam’s Trail Preserve 2013)

Another reason some images fall through the cracks is because when I shoot a lot I get distracted and caught up in a new batch of work before devoting enough concentration to yesterday’s. It’s the oooh, shiny! syndrome I think. Slowing down and really appreciating and thinking about each batch of images is something I don’t do enough. Finding the story within the pictures and putting it together.

Sometimes I reject a photo because I can’t process it the way I want. It’s amazing how many new features and capabilities arrive with each version of Lightroom. Things like lens correction, better spot removal and the new radial filter (two of which I used to make that wall and trail shot work the way I want). It’s not salvaging a picture that I’m talking about, but creating a final image in line with my vision. A bad shot is a bad shot no matter what I do with it, but sometimes there’s a quality that needs enhancing or minimizing that I just can’t do. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is not understanding how to effectively use the tools that I do have to get what I want. I’ve learned so much in the last few years that going back through my work has been kind of fun. Looking at an old image with new tricks in mind has really helped me identify what I originally liked about the scene I shot and how to emphasize that with processing. These days creation doesn’t stop in the field.

Another thing I find myself doing is confining myself to certain tools in post processing and not branching out and trying different things to see how it affects the final image. Take the clarity slider. I don’t abuse it much in either direction, but lately with my ice photos I noticed that if I really crank it, the picture is better. Ditto with going in the other direction, some photos just need that softness to bring out the best in them. Being stuck in a rut can lead to repetition that contributes to that sameness factor that can make looking at, developing and playing with pictures very boring.

Occasionally though it’s just being down on myself. Whether a location failed to capture my fancy or I failed to capture what I fancied, I can often be disappointed with photos once I take a look at them on the computer.  It’s even worse if I’ve taken a lot of time in the field on the shot. This negativity sometimes causes me to overlook what I did capture, no matter how technically good it is.

It’s the whole didn’t meet my expectations thing, too. You can psyche yourself out of a location while you’re there, but also after the fact if you didn’t get the shot or shots you envisioned. Take this little waterfall as an example. It’s not the most perfectly lovely, symmetrical and pristine waterfall ever, but it is what it is. Because there were prettier flows on this brook, I put this on the reject pile even though it’s a lovely and intimate view of a classic New Hampshire cascade. Plus ferns!!

Songs for the Deaf (Martha’s Brook/Sam’s Trail Preserve 2013)

And as if I need more reasons to reject photographs. What about ‘Oh I’ve taken better shots like this’? Is it a valid way to purge photos? Does it help me grow as a photographer? Improve? I don’t know. Sometimes I’m out to just document my surroundings, not create Great Art. So because I’ve taken more compelling or interesting trail photos, I toss this one onto the reject heap and forget about it. Does it deserve to be there any more than it deserves to be labeled Great Art? And if it doesn’t deserve the latter, does it need to be on the reject heap? Obviously it depends on the photographer and her goals, but for me, I need to freakin’ loosen up.

Merry go bye (Russel Abbott State Forest 2012)

Yes I need to be discerning and separate the good from the bad and hopefully even skim off a few great shots now and again, but I reject far more than I pick for publication or sharing. If it’s for a good reason, I can stand by that decision, but I think revisiting older work has validity. Especially if your processing tools have improved a lot, or your skill with them has. So I guess Spring Cleaning is a good habit to get into.

Love at first light (Mt. Uncanoonuc 2013)

The Shadow Knows

Besides finding interesting ice formations, winter is a great time to play with shadows. With enough snow, the low angle of the sun makes this something you can do almost all day. Just recently I posted a forest landscape with shadows that brought out the contours and the silky texture of the snowpack. You can also use a landscape view to emphasize the contours of the objects casting the shadows. Apple trees are perfect for this kind of thing because they’re so gnarled and twisted.

Winter orchard

If you start to limit the angle of view with shadow photos, you can bring an abstract art quality to the image that is especially fun to play with.

Elegance of the Forest

Symptom of the Universe

Playing with processing is part of creating an even more dramatic image. Here is a light selenium tone treatment. I chose this technique to preserve the feeling of lightness I get from the photo. The delicacy of the shadows and the birch. Traditional monochrome or sepia didn’t preserve the mood so I tried different things until I found something that worked. Never be afraid to experiment!

Immersive moments

Man made objects can work for this as well like this bench I found in a small park in Manchester, NH.

Benchmade

And of course you don’t have to convert everything to monochrome. Even in the dead of winter there are subtleties of color to capture. The sun had barely risen when I found these tracks winding through the trees; the warm yellow sky reflects beautifully in the snow.

Step softly

Even a tiny fern sprig can be interesting with the right background. I just love the differences in intensity between the shadowed snow and the lit snow.

Beguiling

I was struck by the geometry in this next scene and so perched on a large rock to frame a more abstract view of how the shadows and reflections intersect with the trees themselves.

Morning intersections

So if winter hasn’t drawn to a close where you are, maybe try some shadow play yourself.

 

 

Best of 2014

Wow is this post late, hey at least it’s still Q1. As usual, I had some trouble coming up with what I felt are the best photos I took last year. Strangely it was because a lot of it was pretty darn good if I do say so myself. So that meant I had to really examine each one and separate myself from the emotion of taking it or experiencing that particular time and place. Focusing on the final image as well as cutting down on the number of similar images also helped. Fall is fabulous, but including more than a couple shots just made the collection seem stagnant.

Let’s get to it, shall we? These are in chronological order, btw.

1. It’s hard to take a bad picture in Big Sur. This one made the cut because it’s got terrific color, tones and atmosphere. The touch of fog made the foreground more interesting than it would be without it and the striations in the sky make up for the lack of clouds (at least a little). It’s not stunningly original work, but so what?

Sleep Paralysis

2. I’m not a wildlife photographer so the annual elephant seal invasion at Big Sur was a challenge for me to shoot in a couple of ways. Mostly because even though it doesn’t look like it, the darn things move. Lol. I had to change up my focus style and be patient for little scenes to come about, like these two males having a practice fight. The light isn’t the best, but I love the fact that no other seals are concerned and there’s just the one looking at the camera as if to say, can you believe these guys? Also love the sprays of sand frozen in the air. Just another day at the beach.

Checked Aggression

3. I try to get to The Garden in the Woods every spring for the profusion of wildflowers on display. Especially since many are rare and I’ve never seen them in the wild. These bluebells for example. I absolutely love the arrangement, the light and the bokeh in this shot. It was pure serendipity that I happily took advantage of. There was a slight breeze and the light changed second to second so I had to work fast. Not to mention the hordes of kids going by with their teachers. If I hadn’t known what I wanted and how to get it quickly, I wouldn’t have gotten it.

A Girl This Beautiful

4. Sometimes one of your best shots happens while you’re waiting for another. This is Indian Cucumber which I’d shot once before, but this image stands out for me because I was able to get down well below the plant which gave me quite a bit of distance between the camera and the flower. It’s that distance that renders the background so smooth and uniform. The smooth uniformity creates negative space, something I don’t use as often as I probably should. It’s dramatic and focuses your attention more than a busy picture. When I shot it I thought I’d leave it in color since it is quite vivid, but when I started to process it, the graceful shape and wide color tones was a natural for monochrome.

Unbroken Solitude

5. This image has been in my head for a while and it was the shot I was waiting for when I took the one just above. When I headed out I thought the cloud cover would persist. It didn’t. I took a few test shots from different vantage points, just to get an idea of the best compositions. Then I decided to find other things of interest, no need to abandon the location just yet. I did not wander far. While photographing the flower above I noticed a couple of raindrops on my screen and pretty much ran back to the waterfall to set up for this shot. The light lasted about 8 minutes. One. Tiny. Cloud. I set up, shot and got what I wanted in that short period of time. I love the balance in this image and the greenery. It seems to glow with life and vitality. Persistence, patience and experience made the most of a sliver of good luck. Thank you tiny cloud.

Pulpit Falls

6. Another shot that took quick thinking and a bit of luck. I scared this little garter snake off the path and there it froze in the undergrowth. I watched it for a bit, thinking it would slither off. When it didn’t, I decided to try to get a shot of it standing up as tall as it could. That meant changing lenses and a few settings on the camera. Amazing that it stood there while I did that and let me get one shot. One. Like the cloud. I got the focus, the DOF and the exposure in one go. Then it was off, dissolving into invisibility.

Freeze!

7. Autumn is a no-brainer for photography, but I love this shot because I took it from my kayak. It was a perfect day and I’d had a couple seasons’ worth of practice for this kind of landscape work. Anchoring to compose is a bit tough when there’s enough current in the water so aligning this image took a bit of work, but I got it. I really like the balance and the colors are so vivid. It’s so inviting. And clouds! Bonus!

Campton Bog

8. Not many of my macro photos are this visually striking so even though it’s a common ladybug (with lunch victim) I think it stands out. The focus is darn good and that bokeh (thanks to the Olympus 90mm legacy macro) is just dreamy. I only noticed the little guy sheltering under a leaf after I’d been shooting something else, but when I did I knew I had to give it a go. It’s the singularity of the line that draws the eye, then recognition of the subject, which is cute so appealing. The negative space provided by the smooth background makes that work and the raindrops are a final touch that adds a sense intimacy and a bit of sympathy. The little hunter is just trying to get out of the rain and have a nice meal. Not many of my images are as emotional as this one and so I think it stands out.

Lunch Date

9. This one is in here for a couple of reasons, first because I’ve been searching for this flower for YEARS and second because I think the photo works on multiple levels. Artistically and stylistically it works well; the colors are complimentary and the angle of view unusual. The focus is encompassing enough, but the bokeh helps the texture stand out even more. From a purely documentary approach I think it showcases the flower specimen quite well. I could see this in a guide book. Plus check out that little guy upside down in the center blossom. Don’t know what it is, but it wasn’t shy. Ah pinesap, how you made my day!

I can almost hear you sigh

10. Recently there’s been a stir in some photography circles about over-photographing certain places (like Delicate Arch or Half Dome). To some extent I agree and sometimes I wonder if the world needs another shot of something done hundreds of times. There aren’t many places in New Hampshire that qualify, but Beard Brook in Hillsborough is one. It has a beautiful stone arch bridge that is lovely, but very popular with photographers. I went there anyway and took this image downstream from the bridge. I kept one eye on the light and the other on my footing and pretty much raced to get set up on a huge boulder. Managing the polarizer to minimize glare off the leaves, but maximize reflection in the water took a bit of finagling, but I got it. The sun lights the trees from top to bottom, but stays out of the water. I hadn’t planned to get this shot, but when presented with the perfect set up, I took it.

Beard Brook

11. This was an “OMG honey, pull over!” shot. We were heading back to the hotel from the Bridger-Teton National Forest when I noticed the light. Specifically I noticed the aspens against the dark backdrop of the hill. Grand Teton was just a bonus. As the light was changing fast, I shot out of the car window, handheld. A minute later, the trees were in shadow. A little cropping and monochrome treatment in post and I think it’s a dramatic image that isn’t like every other shot of Grand Teton.

Dominance

12. Ok, Grand Teton is irresistible. We didn’t have too many days of sun during our November trip and on our last day we decided to check out the Snake River using the only access we had since the main park road was closed. Who knew it would be a perfect day for reflections of those great peaks and that blue sky? I love this image for its balance and symmetry. Also for the semi-hidden grasses that are only partially lit by the low-angled sun. You can see a few ducks in there, too, if you look closely. We spent a few hours chasing them up river.

Teton Reflections

I hope you liked revisiting the highlights of my year. I’ve got a trip to Belgium later on, so maybe there will be some 2015 winners from across the pond!

Winter’s Bounty

Landscape photography is something you fall into if you’re a nature photographer, and I’m no exception. Huge vistas and eye-popping panoramas are very easy to get caught up in. But when I’ve got my eyes screwed in right and start to really see, lots of other things pop out at me. Microscapes, macros and small scenes can be just as fascinating and often give a fresh, intimate view of nature’s beauty. Winter makes me put in more of an effort, but it’s part of what I really love about this season’s photographic possibilities. It challenges me to do more than just observe. It’s easy to be enchanted by spring or autumn, but winter is perceived as more stark and less bountiful. Working those eye-candy summertime images is terrific fun, but so is finding winter’s bounty.

When I shot this first image there was so much snow on the ground that walking the trail put me anywhere from one to two feet above the normal grade. That got my line of sight into a different place. I KNOW I’ve passed this tree before, but then my eyes were on the brook that cascades to the left here, not up the ledge and certainly not on this tree with the lovely tinder fungus growing on it. This time, elevated by the snow pack, I noticed it. And luckily for me, the light in the trees made it even more beautiful and otherworldly. Like low-level clouds.

More than a whisper

Then there’s ice – something only in winter’s provision. Oh how I love icy brooks. For all of these shots I was up to my knees in snow (nope still no snowshoes, doh!). Both are on Tucker Brook in Milford, one of my favorite places to go with a camera and a tripod. Working these images is both physically tricky sometimes and it’s sometimes harder to get what you want because you can’t get the camera where you want it. The whole falling through the ice thing just isn’t something I’m into. This little section of stream had a great leading line in the water though and so I maneuvered as best I could to line it up. A little processing magic brought its more sinister quality to the fore.

The Gates of Urizen

As water levels change, ice takes on even more intricate patterns like this next one. The motion, light and reflections in the water below made me think of some of the fantastic images the Hubble Telescope brings to us from deep space.

Gelid nebula

This last one, when I got it into Lightroom, made me think of some landscape out of Jules Verne’s nightmares. Isn’t it cool? I would have liked to get closer and lower down for this one, but it wasn’t in the cards. Too much snow and the stream is fairly wide here. Luckily a longer lens helped.

Jules Verne awakes

It’s not a fern, which I’m so partial to, but that green just pops doesn’t it? Tucker Brook preserve is also loaded to the gills with mountain laurel. Even in winter it is evergreen and I had to wade through the drifts to get to this gorgeous spray of leaves. By this time of the year, my eyes are thirsty for color and this quenches it. The red just pops out at you, doesn’t it? Funny how I never much noticed that in summer when there is so much competition for my eye’s attention.

Matador

Sometimes it’s texture that grabs my attention. Winter and its long shadows are great for this kind of seeing. Long stripped of its bark, this log caught my eye the second time I walked by it (the light changed I think and that’s why I noticed it on the walk back). The ice and the shadows are so varied and interesting and so I turned my lens to it. I just love the random nature of the debris.

Found art

Winter is still hanging on here in the North East. Get out there and enjoy what is found only now, when it’s cold. Some say winter is the meanest of seasons, but I disagree. It’s a time for rest and rejuvenation and there is beauty to be found, high and low.

Forest in repose

February, being cold, blizzardy, snowy and miserable I didn’t get out much. March is different. I’ve been out a couple of times and look what I saw –

Undercover

Sunlight in the snowy forest can take on so many aspects. Shadows on smooth snow is one of the best though. This one is from the Pulpit Rock conservation area in Bedford. It’s an easy place to fall in love with and I go there several times a year. This time I noticed a new trail that I’ll have to explore come spring.

The brook at Pulpit Rock was mostly covered in snow and ice. You’d never know there are a few nice waterfalls along its course so muffled was the water channel. At Tucker Brook nature preserve in Milford, there was a bit of open water now and again. Few and far between though.

Reflections in Tucker Brook

This scene is just downstream from some mill ruins I’ve never seen before. They’re far above the famous falls, but I’ve hiked up there and don’t remember seeing them. Knowing my near obsession with colonial hydro-mills, I know I’d have shot them if I’d seen them. Oh come on spring!

Another reason to long for spring. Well, summer really is the mountain laurel. The Tucker Brook preserve is jam packed with them and I think I’ll try to get to them while they’re flowering. They’re such a New England staple. Here they are sleeping the winter away. I’m really trying to capture sunlight in snowy forests and I think I’m making progress. I love this look up the slope with the shadows and snakey shapes of the laurel trunks.

The sleep of the laurel

I did more than shoot landscapes, but I’ll save those for another post. There’s lots of detail out there in the woods if you just look for it.

 

 

The Art of Winter Photography

A lot of nature photographers hibernate in winter. I used to be one of them, but no longer. There’s a lot of beauty to be found if you pay attention and look for it. And having the right gear helps, too. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices. And always remember to overexpose your winter scenes – about a stop depending on the light, but at least that.

Two of my outings had me looking for the small scenes, which are easier to find in the snow. If you find that it’s too much to do this in the full sprawl of summer, maybe try during the fallow season or in the snow to get a feel for what to look for. Simplicity was the key for me and I think it is for a lot of winter photography. It’s easy to lose depth in blankets of white, so you have to make it work for you. Here are some examples of what I mean –

When the call came

My preoccupation with ferns is well known, so how could I resist these beauties? Rock cap fern is one of the few species that stays green all winter and so the color is just perfect against newly fallen snow. These were on a boulder trailside. Most of these shots were handheld, which I don’t do often, but like the spontaneity it gives me. It’s like, woo hoo! shoot any way you want.

Of course, color is at a premium during the winter months, but it is there, subtle, but there. When there wasn’t much snow on the ground, many wildflowers were still visible and even though I don’t know what this one is, its beauty lingers.

Weighing your cares

Isn’t it great? I especially love the different shades of white in snow. Basically whatever the color of the sky, will be reflected there. Another wildflower still putting a brave face on it are pink lady slippers. Not all of them produce seed pods, so I love finding them, especially in snow.

Lady in waiting

Then you hard core minimalists, there is monochrome. Because so much of winter photography is about contrasts and form, black and white is a natural choice to emphasize both. Just be sure you have actual black and white, otherwise you’ll lose a lot of vitality in your images.

The best kept secret

Freezing temps and running water can be endlessly fascinating and totally worth getting some cold toes.

Kiss me three times

So that’s some of what I’ve been up to lately. Sorry for being a really bad blogger.

 

The Art of the Trail Shot – techniques to create your best hiking photos

Any hiker with a camera knows trail shots are impossible to pass up sometimes. You’re out there, feeling great, in beautiful surroundings and you can’t help yourself. You want to try to convey some of the magic of where you are. The trees, the leaves under your feet, the particularity of why you love that trail; even the air itself. So how come so many trail shots just end up looking like every other trail shot? Here is my top 6 ways to make them more interesting.

1. Point of interest/anchor

While a trail is a natural leading line, most photos can benefit from a focal point to help start the process of leading the viewer through the image.

This one was taken on my way up to some falls off the Kangamangus Highway in the White Mountain National Forest. It was raining so all the colors were saturated and boy did that little group of evergreen fern grab my attention. I stopped and shot this scene immediately, knowing that the roots and ferns would  make a great hook to catch the eye in a photo. With that in mind I targeted the camera’s focus on the ferns and selected f8 because it’s right in the lens’s sweet spot and with the rain and bit of fog, I wouldn’t get a totally sharp image no matter how I choked the lens down. The tripod is low, but not extremely so and I did that to get a nice view of the trail ahead, but also to allow for a close view of the ferns. Try scrolling a bit to crop out the roots and ferns. Pretty blah, huh?

Over Root and Thorn

You can use any eye-catching element in a trail to serve as your anchor. Rocks, leaves, small trees or bushes, mushrooms, flowers, odd branches – just about anything that you notice on your hike. Just be sure they don’t fix the eye to that one spot, but serve to start the viewers path through your shot. I’ve even put the camera directly on a boulder with leaves on top and it worked quite well.

2. Perspective (extreme high/low)

While I don’t suggest hiking on your hands and knees, getting down there can give you some interesting compositions. This shot in the Manchester Cedar swamp is from years ago, but I remember noticing how chewed up and rough the walkway looked so it was a natural to get the camera down into the leaves with a wide aperture.

The Crossing

A high perspective can be nice, too, but unless you’re 8-feet tall, it’s tough to get much above normal eye-height. That’s why I’ve been known to get up onto big rocks, tree branches or embankments to get just a few more inches. Sometimes it works really well to get that little bit more trail leading out of the photo.

Somewhere down there

3. Above and below 

This takes finesse sometimes. Especially when it’s an open area or one that is fairly uniform and there aren’t many landmarks to choose from. This is a section of trail in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s at close to 9000 feet above sea level and the dirt is such a gorgeous brown that you want to scoop it up and feel it between your fingers. Plus that sagebrush just staggers me every time I walk through a sea of it. The sun wasn’t doing me any favors and my shadow really got in the way. After a few disappointing images, I finally got to this one where the trail points to break in trees. The muted colors against that knock-out blue sky really show I’m not in New England anymore, plus there’s that space…wide open and so American West it ought to have a label.

Uneventful Event

Back in New England, above is often forest canopy. A good way to get both the trail and the lofty leaves overhead is when you come to a hill. Managing dappled sunlight is an art all of its own, but with practice you can get good results.

Ferry Way Trail, Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge

4. Scale and proportion

Sometimes the trail itself can lend a sense of scale to a scene that is otherwise lost. Even better if there’s a bridge or bit of walkway to use for comparison. Mature redwoods are so far outside the normal human scale that it’s hard to convey just how enormous they become. While walking in parts of the Jedediah Smith Redwood Preserve in California, I looked for ways to show how massive these trees really are and this little bridge was perfect for that.

Heirophant

Go ahead and give your browser a scroll so that you can’t see the bridge. Flat right? A tree and some ferns, so what. Now scroll that bridge back in. Wham! Giant tree.

People can also add a sense of proportion especially when you get the path you have to climb in the shot –

The final scramble

5. People

Not only can your fellow hikers give your photos a sense of scale, they can also convey emotions that you can’t by staying behind the lens. For me this isn’t something I get to do a lot since I’m a pretty solitary person in my outdoor pursuits. That’s why when my husband hikes with me, he comes in handy.

This image was shot on Big Sur in California on a gorgeous day in May when every wildflower in the state blooms. Big Sur is awesome in almost any season, but spring is kind of mind-blowing. It’s warm, breezy and full of so much color it’s like you landed in Oz. I defy anyone to ignore the joy that bubbles up inside and makes you laugh at nothing. Laugh just to be alive and in the presence of so much beauty and perfection.

Mystery Hiker returns

Without my husband, standing back at the giddy prospect of hiking in all this wonder, it would just be a trail and some rapeseed plants, which is nice, but unremarkable. He didn’t even need to be facing me to convey the emotions we both felt and looking at it brings it all back.

6. Atmosphere

So continuing with the idea of conveying emotion in trail images, how about trying to capture the way the location makes you feel using just the surroundings themselves? By stylistically concentrating the grit and reality whether it’s harsh or mellow you can emphasize the vibe of your trail experience. Now a lot of people are going to think of foggy days or really cold ones with lots of snow and ice. That’s the easy way out and I’ve done it too, but what if you’ve got just an average day in a pretty amazing place? Take some time to really identify what you’re seeing and how it changed your attitude from the time you got out of the car.

When I got to the Bradford Atlantic Cedar preserve, I anticipated seeing a typical cedar swamp with walkways, moss and various kinds of laurel and ferns. I love cedar swamps and have been in a few so I didn’t expect the closed-in feeling I got within minutes of being on the boardwalk. It felt hushed and secretive and soon I found myself walking with a softer tread; trying not to make noise. I noticed the trees were young and thickly laid out on a bed of sphagnum moss. It was overcast, damp and a little cold, but I was enchanted just the same.

Stygian exploration

On my way back to the car, this composition materialized and I was very careful both in the field and with processing to impart the right mood. The trees press close with their shredded skins, but the boardwalk is smooth and clear; holding the promise of a way out. It isn’t your typical New England fall shot, but it has presence.

So there you have it; a few ways to improve your trail photos. Here’s a quick recap –

  1. Find an anchor to lead the viewer through the shot; don’t make the trail do all the work
  2. Change your perspective; mix it up by getting up high and down low
  3. Showcase what’s above as well as below
  4. Got a daunting sight in view; show a sense of scale to really wow the viewer
  5. Include a hiking buddy or two; people can bring a sense of emotion
  6. Soak up the atmosphere and find stylistic ways to emphasize it in your final image

Did I miss any? What techniques do you use to make your trail photos more compelling and dynamic?

Uniquely Popular

Like Vincent Vega observes, it’s the little differences. Like any other nature photographer, sometimes I can get overwhelmed by the big picture, but I do try to spot the small scenes and the details as well as the things that make my time in a location different from other photographer’s time in the same place. It’s especially challenging when you’re at a location that has been photographed a lot.

The other day I headed over to Hillsborough and stopped at Beard Brook. It’s a popular spot and has been photographed to death. Still, the big view is tempting isn’t it?

Beard Brook

I can only imagine how wonderful it is in spring with much more water. I had a goal for this shot once I got a feeling for the area. I wanted some reflection in the brook so had to manage the polarizer carefully to get some color there. However, polarizers are very useful for fall foliage and need to be used in exactly the opposite way to achieve saturated color in the canopy. Minimize reflections on the leaves to bring up color there, maximize reflection on the water to bring up color there. We have both in this image, so what’s a photographer to do? Luckily the time of day decided me. The sun was low enough to not shine directly on the brook, but check out the trees. They’re lit up beautifully (and all the way to the ground, too) and that’s the look that, for me, makes this photo stand out. So given the direct sun on the leaves, managing reflections there just wasn’t an issue and so I could concentrate on making the polarizer work for the flowing water. Even though it’s been done to death, I was really pleased with this image and it may go on my best of 2014 list.

But the big picture wasn’t the only thing worthy of some pixels that day and because of the low flow lots of boulders were available for boots and tripod alike. I found this gorgeous little detail from my high perch and got down there before the light in the foliage was gone. Oh how quickly the earth turns!

Holding you to the spot

I know a lot of photographers are not above putting leaves in deliberate locations in their images. I’ve done it, too, but lately the artifice of it is really glaring to me and I can spot it right away when someone’s been cutesy with the props. So for this one I let things be as they were. Maybe I should have decorated a bit, but I think the water formations and the reflections of the foliage speak for themselves and don’t need augmentation. Neither exposure is terribly long, 5 and 4 seconds respectively, but tripod and polarizer were both key to make them work.

Post-production-wise, I did use a little Lightroom magic on both. Vibrance and saturation sliders got a tiny nudge and I played with highlights and luminosity in order to manage the light effect in the foliage. Probably I should have used a graduated neutral density filter in the field, but I didn’t, instead using software to achieve a similar look. Overall I think the image is balanced, but not fake-looking because the trees are still fairly bright as compared to the water and the rocks. What do you think?

Oh and you didn’t think you’d get away without a shot of the bridge now did you?

Gleason Falls bridge

Like the world needs another shot of this, right? The thing is, waterfalls are like catnip to photographers and we go a little crazy when we get near one. Again for this I wanted to highlight the foliage and the back lighting does nice things there, although it doesn’t do much for the water itself. It won’t go in my top shots for the year, but what the heck. I was there. It was there. I had a tripod. Time on my hands. Yeah…that’s it.

Wringing the last drop of color

This fall was a great one for foliage photography, especially from the kayak. I got out one more time (ruining my Penultimate Paddle title as I thought I might) and even though the light wasn’t perfect and neither was my technique, it was nice to find some glorious reds, oranges and yellows still clinging to the trees.

Fundy Cove Reflections

It was my first time paddling at Lake Pawtuckaway and while it might not be my last, it was a bit intimidating. It’s a lot like lake Massabesic in the sense that it’s fairly large and allows all manner of power boats. All fine and dandy if you stay in the parts of the lake that don’t suit those boats well (or just can’t get there as in the west side of Massabesic), but if you get turned around like I did, and thrown into the main lake body, it can be a challenge. Choppy, windy with big wakes. I nearly got stuck on some submerged and nearly invisible rocks, too. With some determined paddling, I made it back to Fundy Cove and I took some time finding small slices of landscape. That part was fun.

Pardon the metaphor

Tango

The textures and colors were pretty amazing and I realize that I need to slow down when I shoot. Often I don’t let the boat come to a halt and instead shoot while still gliding a bit. Not the best technique for sharp images, but hey, at least I have something to work on. After a while, the clouds gave it a rest and we got a little blue sky. I have to say, if you don’t use a polarizer regularly in your photography – start. I keep it on the lens most of the time and especially when I’m kayaking or doing foliage photography. Eliminating the glare just makes the colors pop. On the leaves, the water and especially to calibrate reflections without over polarizing the sky. A key piece of kit for sure.

Over the rainbow

It’s all gone now. Our ever fleet fall has moved on to the deep gold stage of the beeches and oaks. Somehow it’s knowing how short-lived it is that makes it all the more wonderful to behold. Yeah, I know it will do it again next year, but it’s still special and I’m so glad I got to see another one.

Elusive Wildflowers – Part 14 – Pale Corydalis

Just a quickie. This one was really hard to photograph because the plant is a big, sprawling mess really. At first I thought it might have been some long-finished columbine. A little closer and I thought it might be a kind of bleeding heart, then I noticed the flowers were missing their other half and had yellow at the opening. Nope, not bleeding heart. Not having ever seen it before I had no idea and it took a couple flips through the wildflower book to figure it out.

Pale Corydalis

It was a little bit breezy and so even when I found an interesting couple of blossoms, it was a test of my patience to wait for the calm moments. That’s why I didn’t even see that mosquito until I got the shot into Lightroom. I was staring at the flower on my screen waiting for stillness. Plus I was on this rockpile, which is where these flowers like to grow according to my guide, and it was difficult to get into a position that was anywhere near comfortable. LOL. I had an idea to turn this shot 90 degrees to get the flower oriented correctly, they actually hang vertically with that little crest on top and the yellow opening on the bottom, but I kind of like it this way, especially with that little blood sucker in there. Actually, that may be a male mosquito given the color (dig the blue stripes) and the feathery antenna, and males eat nectar not blood, but I have no idea. After doing a bit of scouting on the web for a confirmation of my ID, I realized what a distinctive image it is so I went with it.

Wait, did I say a quick post? Oy. So much for that. As a bonus, here’s another shot –

Celebrants to the end

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