When some local photographers wanted to get together for a meetup at Garwin Falls, I was all over it. Garwin is one of my favorite spots and I’d never met any of the folks who were going. An old friend and new friends; how could I say no? The organizer had scouted the falls a day or two beforehand and warned us the flow was wicked low, but still had potential. After a little while there, I totally agreed. While not as dramatic as when the falls are in full roar, the limited flow let me and the others get to spots normally unreachable due to the torrents of water. Like this big section of ledge where I could look down at the lowest part of the cascade. It’s kind of a strange perspective, but I like it.
Basically from the same position, I was directly in front of the middle section of the falls. It’s a little messy, but I’ve never seen it like this before so I think it works from a documentary angle. Weird perspective was the trend of the day.
But maybe the grandest image of all was one I shot from a tiny outcrop of roots and rock just at the base of the falls. Normally the water runs over this little spit of land and you can’t get to it. It’s also one of those places where you leave your tripod on the bank, lower yourself down to the little spit, then reach back for the tripod. Not that there’s room for it and you, so most of it goes in the water. Worth it though. Who doesn’t like the sound of low flow?
The sun was just reaching into the upper section of the image, but when I saw that whirlpool from above, I knew I’d have to get down there before the sun did.
Farther up the stream, above the nearly empty reservoir, there are a series of cascades that are so photogenic that I have to shoot them every time I’m there. This time though, the low flow helped me out again by getting me into a position that was impossible before. I straddled the tripod across the water onto rocks normally inundated with water for this one and it really works.
Even though I wish I’d had the presence of mind to hit another section of the falls, a good time was had by all and I’m happy with the images I got. And it’s not like the falls are going anywhere.
Trails, paths, and walkways are all irresistible subjects for the outdoor photographer. Who hasn’t stopped and shot, trying to convey in an image what it was like to be walking in that spot? I know I succumb maybe more than I should, but I have gotten better at judging if a section of trail is a good candidate, putting the shot together and working the scene. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules, but here are some good ideas to get started with.
If you’ve got a raised boardwalk type situation, it’s a given that the strong leading line it presents will work well. The thing is to try to fill the frame with it and help your audience imagine how it continues out of frame. The long arc of this section of trail was perfect. It had a start and a stop and gave me a strong diagonal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tripod, but not to worry, I just leaned myself and the camera against a tree and used that to steady me. The green foliage contrasting with the fallen leaves and the dappled sunlight all add atmosphere and interest.
Other times it’s the straight down the line view that I want to showcase and this railtrail is perfect. It was the light at the far end that caught my attention and I knew if I lined up the foreground well, it wouldn’t disrupt your eye’s natural travel down to that bright endpoint. Too many times the trees on the side of the trails are distracting and don’t help to guide the viewer’s eye, but in this case I got lucky. The anchor tree on the left is big, but not huge and the rest of the trees are similar in size and step down into the shot in a progression that works to aim your gaze, not bump it all over the shot.
Another thing is to vary your perspective and either get up high or down low. It’s a great way to show off the other features of the area you’re walking in; for this shot it was the boulders that often litter New England forests. Instead of a tripod, I set the camera on one of these boulders and worked the composition from there. I think you get a strong sense of place from the angle, the first boulder and the others down the trail as your eyes move through the shot. Also, the trail is not directly in the middle of the picture. Often that just makes the whole thing too static.
So, back to working with wooden walkways, one thing I have learned is that just because one is there and makes for a strong line, if that’s the only thing of interest, you’re going to have a dull photo. Don’t forget the primary mission for any photographer is to hunt and capture good light. Even direct sunlight can be good if it’s filtered by leaves, especially autumn leaves. Being a dappled sunlight fool, I couldn’t resist the combination with the strong line of the boardwalk. Bonus scattered leaves!
As nice as that one is to me, this next one is stronger by far and was taken not long after. The earth had rotated just a bit and the sun was lower and damn if it didn’t light up those scattered leaves like they were stained glass. A low angle was perfect to bring the viewer right to the place and time and give back some of the magic of being on that trail. I deliberately put some shade in the foreground to keep your eyes on the path and moving into the shot, not sliding off at the front. I also think it needs the contrast for that warm sun’s glow. Can’t you just hear the crunch underfoot?
When I first started assembling this collection of images, I didn’t know how I’d tie them together specifically. Yeah, sure they’re all trails, but so what? After a few days the idea of a tutorial of sorts came to mind. After miles and miles of trails and dozens and dozens of bad photos, I finally started to work my scenes better and who knows, maybe all that trial and error will be helpful. To wrap up –
1. Use boardwalks/walkways effectively – maximize the leading line throughout the image
2. Use the trees along side to guide your viewers eye as well as a bright spot at the very end
3. Vary your point of view; use natural elements to showcase not just the trail, but the territory
4. Don’t forget the light is the most important element no matter how strong the path/walkway line
5. Limit perspective and use just slices of the landscape to convey why it was an amazing trail
When it threatens rain, I head to a brook to see what I can do with it. Sometimes I get lucky and it doesn’t rain, other times I don’t and I get wet. One of these days I’d like to have a weatherproof camera. My main lens is weatherproof, but not the E-30, and while I don’t mind a sprinkle, it won’t take a soaking and who knows how things are going to go once the rain gets started. So with Purgatory brook I had to cut it short unfortunately. Still managed to get a few shots that I like. It’s such a pretty brook and the flow was low so I could get out onto rocks that were previously out of reach.
Even the details were pretty cool. Lots of tripod in the water action going on.
Maybe you’ve noticed the color of a lot of the brook and stream shots I’ve shared. It’s sort of brown or yellowish. That’s because of tannins leaching out of the leaves and other decaying plant matter (it’s the reason your tea is tea-colored). My friend Melissa and I had a conversation about it, but didn’t know what specific circumstances make for a tannic waterway. Most of the brooks, rivers and streams in southern NH are tannic, but many of them up north are not. This is Smart’s Brook (another favorite) and it’s clear as a bell. In winter it even has a green tinge. The nearby Mad River is also a greeny-blue that’s just magical when it freezes. The light in this shot just blows me away. Melissa and I waited until the trees blocked the sunlight from the water directly, but it is still in the background playing in the trees. I think it adds such depth. Just look at those tree trunks on the left. Smashing.
Sometimes the light in the woods is so amazing that I have to give it a go and try to capture it in an image. This is still Smart’s Brook, but looking downstream through the mist of a humid day. The light in the canopy was wonderful, but I needed to keep the water itself out of the photo as much as possible (hello blown highlights). It’s kind of a strange shot, but I think it’s pretty effective in a subdued kind of way.
Even though both shots were taken on the same day, just an hour apart, the looks are completely different. Oh NH, you are always surprising me.
Alchemy is the ancient “science” of turning mundane elements into gold. For a long time many people (including Sir Isaac Newton) believed it was just a matter of time before they had success. As far as I know, it has never worked. Except maybe it has.
No matter what Egon says, I crossed. Cold Brook was running very low. I’ve posted about Senter Falls since I’ve shot there a few times – here and here and here and here. Boy, I guess I go there a lot, huh? They’re always beautiful even when the water is minimal which it was the other day and I took advantage of it by going to the other side of the brook. There is no trail and no bridge so you either have to get wet or wait until it’s drier. I’m definitely going back when the water is really roaring. It’s amazing from that side. The ledges afford completely different views that are obstructed or impossible from the normal side.
Here’s a shot of the middle section of falls where the gorge narrows. I can just imagine the roar come spring.
I walked all the way up to the main falls, which were unimpressive, but got some excellent views down into the gorge itself. Because the water was so low, it was constrained in a narrow slot that it normally overflows. Tripod contortions should be an Olympic event. I could compete, man, seriously.
Despite the slipperiness of wet leaves on wet stone, I did some scrambling to position the tripod for more detail shots. The light was pretty perfect for this kind of thing and it didn’t rain. I love the sense of upheaval in this next shot. I can imagine the earth folding upon itself.
I’ve gotten out onto the same boulder to shoot these middle falls before, but this time all the birch and beech leaves in the water was like bam! psychedelic mayhem!
It took several tries and numerous tripod positions for me to find this composition, but wow…what a show.