Another subject I love in winter are brooks, streams and rivers. Or more properly for Wisconsin, a creek. Ripley Creek in particular. It’s a lovely, but overgrown waterway that feeds into the Wisconsin river just south of my house. The trailhead is 8 minutes away so it’s becoming a go-to spot in much the same way as Tucker and Purgatory brooks used to be for me in NH.
My usual approach to this kind of shot is to use a slow shutter speed and smooth the water, but this time I decided that the smooth element was already there – the snow – and so I left off the filter(s) and used a faster shutter speed. This gave me a rougher, more jagged texture in the water and that contrasts nicely with the snowy blanket on the shore.
The camera was on the tripod for both those shots, but sometimes I just couldn’t get it into the right position and I had to hand hold. Luckily I could brace myself pretty well and there was enough light that I didn’t have to go to a very high ISO.
I had to go for it though because of the shapes the ice forms behind the boulders. Isn’t it great? You can see that the water slows down behind the rocks and so that’s where the ice forms first. I was jammed into the branches of a hemlock sapling for this one, trying to back up enough to get the near ice formation and the right bank into the shot without getting the branches in the way. Not a bad effort and one of my favorites for the series.
Another big choice for winter water scenes is monochrome or color. Going black and white works especially well because there is true white and true black in just about every shot (even if you do have to tweak in post). It’s dramatic and shows off the textures and contours of the landscape, which you can see here supports a lot of plant growth and is sometimes steep and rocky. The color of the water though, is part of what fascinates me about doing stream work. The tannins.
Just look at that richness down there. It is most definitely not pollution. Tannins are chemical substances that come from phenolic acids (also called tannic acid) that are produced by plants. These acids are found in all parts of plants including leaves, bark and stems. As water moves through the soil the acids leach out and collect in surface waterways. They bind with starches, minerals, cellulose and proteins and are NOT water soluble and don’t decompose easily. This means those molecules are carried along in water, staining it like tea (tannins are exactly what makes tea that color). So when I like the composition and the contrast, I keep my shots in color.
But when I want to focus attention on structure and line, I leach out those tannins.
This last one was a little challenging in terms of getting those big logs in the foreground. My tripod was on its tiptoes (should have had the center column with me, but I didn’t) and I was on a bridge (luckily a high one), but it was close.
Since my time here in New Hampshire got short, I have revisited a few favorite places to say goodbye and experience them one last time. I certainly don’t have time for all of them and my photographs and memories will have to serve. One I did return to is Tucker Brook. I went to shoot the big mill far upstream of the falls, but that didn’t really pan out. Luckily there is plenty else to capture.
The trees were almost fully leafed,
the fringed polygala were blooming,
the brook was running,
which of course meant the falls were falling
and it had some friends.
I know there will be plenty of beauty in Wisconsin and I’m sure my camera (and my kayak) will keep me busy, but I am sad to be leaving home and all my old familiars.
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?
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!
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?
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.
Recently a joint venture between the Piscataquog Land Conservancy and the Francestown Land Trust resulted in the acquisition of 149 acres of land under easement and protection from development. The official name is Diane and John R. Schott Brennan Falls Reserve, but I think folks will refer to it as The Brennan Falls Reserve or Brennan Brook Forest. Either way it’s a lovely addition to the conservation efforts of both groups. I love it when this kind of thing happens and opens new, natural spaces for people to enjoy. I especially love it when there’s a brook or a waterfall involved and Brennan brook has a lovely 20-foot cascade.
This is an out-and-back hike ending at the falls. If you were to continue up Bullard Hill Road, you’d eventually get to a long-abandoned village dating to about 1700, now reduced to cellar holes. Farming isn’t easy in New England! Between the time I headed into the preserve and when I headed out, 3 hours later, a kiosk had been erected for maps and other information about the property. Very exciting. Thanks, Ben!
Note: during dry periods, it should be easy to drive in to the kiosk area on Bullard Hill Road where there is parking and turn around space. Otherwise it’s safer to park on Campbell Hill road and walk in (maybe 1/2 a mile). Bullard Hill road is on the left, right where the pavement ends and turns to dirt. There is a sign for Bay State Forestry Service there currently.
The first thing you’ll come upon is a pond that’s created by an old dam, presumably for mill operations. The beavers appreciate it I’m sure.
The light is kind of harsh and was difficult to deal with, but because Pat Nelson helped me out so much with finding my way to the new preserve, I wanted to get some photos the PLC can use to highlight this little jewel. I have a feeling this view will be shot over and over as people explore the area.
Just on the other side of the dam, I found this little cascade reflecting the intensely green canopy and so I had to see what I could do with it. I think a faster shutter speed would have better captured the sparkly green-ness of the reflection better. Maybe next time.
Once again I was dealing with direct sun filtered through canopy. Not the ideal conditions for moving water photography, but I took it as a challenge and tried my best to make the light work for the subject. One way I find effective is to isolate details of larger views or change composition/perspective to eliminate as many distracting highlights as possible – basically to do landscape slices. And if you can’t eliminate a highlight area (where the human eye naturally goes to first), I think the best course of action is to try to make that highlight work for the overall flow of the image. With the two falls shots, I think there’s balance and cohesion to the images. Definitely the improved dynamic range of my GH3 helped manage the difficult light. For the wide shot, I waited until the earth rotated a bit so the hot spots got smaller, but in the first I didn’t. More experimentation is definitely needed.
Not far from that little cascade are the falls themselves. I love how the sound of the crashing water starts as part of the background noise, but then I become consciously aware of it. That’s when a little flicker of excitement flares in my stomach. I get closer and the roar gets louder. Anticipation builds. What will I see? What new and fantastic construction of granite ledge will I find? How will I shoot it? It’s all part of the magic of the woods for me. And who doesn’t love a waterfall?
I spent about an hour with the falls, watching the light change and finding a friend to hang out with.
With the naked eye, I couldn’t figure out why this orb weaver looked so strange. When I got the macro lens on, I saw that she was just finishing a meal. Her jaws were still actively working and she completely ignored me. Only in post did I see that it looks like there’s still an eye staring back at you out of its misery of being eaten alive. Shiver. This wasn’t the only spider making a good living beside the falls, but it was the biggest.
Later I found this little beauty –
Although I’ve encountered plenty of wood frogs before, I have no good photos of them because they’re so fast and wily. Luckily I had the 35-100mm lens mounted and when this little one froze I thought how wonderful was the camouflage and managed to get this image before it darted off into the hollow of a tree.
So that’s my 3-hour tour of the new Brennan Falls Reserve aka Brennan Brook Forest. It’s no doubt a vital part of the Piscataquog watershed and very thoughtfully managed.
In the last couple of posts I talked about learning a hard lesson about light. That is not to fight it, but to work with it to make the best of my time and my photographs. Letting go of that perfect image you have in your head is hard. We go out trying to get “the shot” and when we can’t, how do we react? As photographers, we’re always looking for the best light, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. It’s always a gamble whether or not the conditions you want will prevail. So what’s a person to do if the light you want turns into the light you don’t? Well, you can pack up and go home. Yeah, that’s an option if you’re a quitter. If you traveled far to get to your location, making the most of your time is probably the best bet. You can put the camera away and just soak up the atmosphere; enjoying the place for itself, not for how you can shoot it. Another choice is to stay and find something interesting to put your camera in front of. Maybe it’s not “the shot”, but who knows what you’ll find. Something that works with the light Mother Nature has decided to give you. That’s usually the one I go for, hoping to find something interesting and worth shooting.
This was what happened to me the other day when the forecast called for chance of rain and overcast skies. I decided to head to Pulpit Falls again and see if I could get to the other side to get a different set of photographs. It’s about 90 minutes for me to drive there, so it was a gamble and as I drove the skies got bluer and brighter by the mile. Cursing, I kept going, finally arriving with some clouds still lurking and some on the horizon, but it was turning into a nice day. Not the greatest conditions for waterfall photography. I decided to try anyway and see if more clouds moved in later like they had the day before. Instead I got this –
Dappled sunlight in the woods is something I really love and try to work with, but damn this is awful. Where the heck to you put your eyes? There’s no flow, no cohesion. Too much contrast. The light is harsh and it’s just a mess. Plus look what a hard time the white balance is having. The water is blue! It wasn’t mouthwash! I’d have to remove it in post if I were going to use this image. Blue water in these kind of shots is a giant pet peeve for me. I hate it.
So I gave that up. I wandered away from the falls to explore the undergrowth and see what small things I could find. Mushrooms were coming up here and there. Violets, starflower and fringed polygala were blooming. I found a huge dead bug. While I was sitting and looking for microscapes, a newt wandered by. S’up? Then I saw some indian cucumber and spent some time shooting them, ending up with this little beauty –
It took me a while to find the right angle (luckily it was on a little slope and I could get below it) then wait for the breeze to calm. Finally it did. I hadn’t planned on a monochrome conversion when I shot it, but when I got it into Lightroom it was the obvious choice. That image alone would have been worth the trip (even though there’s indian cucumber 10 minutes from my house, oh the irony). Then I noticed a drop of water on my flip-out LCD screen. Then another. And another. I just about snapped my head off looking up.
Good thing I didn’t go far. I practically RAN back to the falls. Having scoped it out before, I set up and damn did I shoot in a hurry. It was mental. The cloud was small. And moving. Crap, crap, crap!!!
Good thing I get a lot of practice doing this. The light lasted about 8 minutes. Seriously.
The scramble paid off. At least I think it did. It’s the shot I had in my head and for those 8 minutes, I had my chance.
But darn, one you start working some falls, it’s hard to stop. I got the notion that maybe I could make the dappled sunlight work. But how? I moved closer and like the last time I shot these falls, I found some ferns to put in the foreground.
What do you think? Too much? Does it suffer from the same issues as the first shot, the wider one? I don’t think so. I think it works, but I’m biased. I like the way the light picks out the texture in the walls. My eyes don’t seem to ping all over the shot like they do in the other one. My eyes move through the photo slowly and while there is a lot of tonal range in the blacks and whites, it doesn’t jar my sensibilities. Again, I might be biased, but at least the water isn’t blue.
Oh and before I go further, here’s a fun story about the falls and my trips to photograph them. Jeff Newcomer is a fellow NH-based nature photographer. I follow his blog and his flickr feed and we’ve traded some comments back and forth over the years. One of his posts inspired me to try to find these falls in the first place. Between his goof the first time around, some additional search information, Google maps and just plain luck, I found it last year. I got a gorgeous shot of the water upstream, but didn’t have a really great shot of the falls as a whole. So I went back a few weeks ago.
As I got down to the brook I noticed a person off to my left with a big tripod and a dog. Not such an unusual thing. I’ve run into other photographers in the woods before. Strange to find one here, though, at such an obscure location. No worries. I head over the the top of the falls to scope out the situation. A minute later and there’s a snuffling at my feet. The dog. I don’t mind dogs and she was very well-behaved. Oh and here comes the photographer. We start talking and lo and behold it’s Jeff Newcomer. He’s equally astonished that he met me as well since he used my last Pulpit Falls blog post to orient himself to find it. What a riot!
I never did shoot the falls that day, but explored upstream a bit with Jeff and Nellie. From atop a big granite ledge I spied even more falls, but we couldn’t get to them. We even drove around looking for another road in since we could see the makings of a campfire and a bridge across the stream further up. Maddening! But it will make for a future adventure for us to do together. Some day when it’s really good and overcast and Mother Nature doesn’t line up one thing only to go ‘surprise!’ and give us sun instead.
So back to the falls. I got closer still, looking to isolate that first drop. Again, I hadn’t planned on converting to black and white, but when I started processing, it seemed the right choice.
The dappled sunlight isn’t as obvious with this one, but it’s there and I think it heightens the drama of the shot. Also, a wide tonal range is really critical in black and white. You have to have black and white, not just gray. Would it have worked on an overcast day? Sure, but this has more punch I think. Am I suffering from wishful thinking? I hope not.
I salvaged what I feared might be a wasted trip. By being flexible and open-minded, I made the most of my time and when the right light came along for a few minutes, I was able to take advantage of it. Too many times I’ve been disappointed and frustrated with what I can’t control during a shoot. The light. Sure, I can choose days and times of day when it’s likely to be perfect, but if it’s not, I like to think I have the artistic resilience to make the most of what I have to work with. To see beyond the image in my head to the image in front of me. For me it’s a skill hard won through tough lessons and ruined photos (not to mention vacations!).
So what are your heartbreaking light disasters? Did you pick up and go home, or did you persevere and make something great anyway?
Spring, spring, glorious spring.
Yeah, I’m a bad blogger, I know. Honestly though, I hardly shot a thing all winter. Zero photos from March.
So I’m making up for it.
This is Chesterfield Gorge which is way the frig out in western NH…nearly Vermont. I’d been there in the mid-90s, but not since, but I think I got my timing right as Jeff Newcomer told me the gorge had a big clean up recently. Lots of debris was removed from the waterway and I thank those folks profusely!
There are many interesting sections to this gorge and I did my best to find them. For this shot, I had the tripod in the water, weighted by my backpack. I haven’t had the ability to do this with my previous tripods and I think it’s going to prove helpful with the stronger currents to reduce vibration and make for sharper images. Here’s a shot of how it looks – Click here.
Because you can get to the edge of the precipice in a lot of places, I went for the opposite approach with this shot and the next one. I wish there was a bit more sense of scale, but what can you do? The sun came out now and then and I tried to work with it and I think it adds some depth by lighting up branches. I’m a big fan of that anyway. I know not all photographers are, but I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t fight the light. You have to work with it and figure out how to make it enhance your photos. Make it work for you.
I didn’t mind that it rained a bit at times either. It was part of being there. The experience. One thing I try to do is to soak up a location as much as I can. Sometimes I think I rush too much to shoot and I don’t really absorb the location. The way the breeze moves through the rocks or trees. The sound of the water. The shape of the rocks. It’s all part of why I’m there and I need to be mindful of it.
I’m sure the people who walked by me thought I was a little crazy to be just standing in the brook with the tripod, but I needed to see.
You never know what you will notice when you take the time to be still.
On the same day I visited Pulpit falls (from my last post) I went to Fay Falls in Walpole. It’s a haul for me to trek all the way over there, so a two-for-one was definitely the plan. It meant I couldn’t really explore much beyond the falls, but at least I know where they are and won’t spend too much time looking for them and bushwhacking. There is a trail leading near to Fay falls, but it doesn’t go all the way. Basically you find the brook and listen, then follow the sound of the water.
The gorge for Fay falls is really steep and long and so I had to switchback my way down into it. When I got to the bottom I was a ways downstream from the falls themselves, but the rock formations and the water’s tortured path were pretty interesting. I wish I could have spent more time down there, but it was slow going, I hadn’t actually seen the falls yet and I was pretty sure it would rain any second.
So here they are –
Aren’t they grand? I was shooting from on top of a couple of huge boulders right at the pool there. Unfortunately there is also the wreckage of a dead tree down there, making for a really disordered foreground and a big obstacle to shoot around. I made the best of it though.
Strangely, the water here is not tannic like most other brooks in southern NH. I know what causes water to be tannic (organic compounds in leaves and other detritus leech out of the water and stain it, just like the tannins in tea do), but I don’t know why one brook is tannic and another, maybe within a mile, isn’t. Since it’s a relative rarity in this area, I think I’ll be back to it and explore down the gorge a bit.
Anyway, just after I shot this, the rain started in earnest so I hiked up and out of the gorge back to the car. Good timing overall and I have a couple new places to explore further. Not too shabby.
A while back, I can’t say exactly when, I read about Pulpit Falls in Winchester NH. Being a lover of waterfalls I thought it would be cool to add them to my growing portfolio of images. Problem was that not many people had ever seen them or knew where they were. A few pictures came up on Google, but not that many. One that was at first incorrectly labeled as Pulpit, came up also, with an explanation from the photographer that he’d hiked either the wrong way on the right brook, or hiked along the wrong brook. Those cascades are nice though and it wasn’t a bust. I wanted to see if I could find the right ones though and with a bit of research I found a bunch of information to support a hypothetical location. Given where the brook runs and the proximity of power lines, I couldn’t get too lost even if there was no trail, which was true and not true. The trail part, not the lost part.
Anyway, so I picked a day where the chance of rain was 30% and headed out. I find the pullout spot on the side of the road and switch from driving shoes to hiking boots. While getting my camera pack out of the back of the car, another car pulls up behind me. A small family gets out. Really? Of all days? The one time I come here hoping to find a semi-lost waterfall I have to have an audience? With a kid? OMG. Laughing, I set out on the trail which might or might not lead me to Pulpit Falls.
I decided to leave the trail at the first water crossing I encountered. Partially to get away from the people and partially to look for brook/forest landscapes. Those are the best. Soon I reached the powerlines. Usually powerline clear-cuts are full of blueberry bushes, but these are full of mountain laurel. And poison ivy. I had to pick my way through to the brook again, which went down into a steepish gully that I had to go around. When I got to it again, I saw that another brook joined it. Given the GPS coordinates and the map in my head, I knew I should follow the new brook upstream. With a bit of ledge scrambling, I came to this lovely spot –
Promising huh? I was psyched. To get this shot I put the camera on a downed tree, as far over as I could and still reach it to compose and find my focus points. And people think I’m weird to demand a flip and swivel LCD on the back. LOL.
Onward and upstream I bushwacked. Mostly it was easy. Then the land on either side of the water’s edge started to rise dramatically. Another New England gorge was ahead. I could either walk in the water or scramble. I scrambled. And surprised myself at how I judged (correctly the first time – miracle!) the best way to get into the gorge itself. First up, along some ledge, then down, clinging to some saplings for support along the way. Then under some downed trees, a couple of times taking off my backpack and pushing it under ahead of me so it wouldn’t get snagged. All the while the sound of the water getting louder and louder until eventually I had to turn off my iPod (listening to audio books is something I do all the time and I was re-listening to The Count of Monte Cristo for this trip…maybe I should start including my listening material in my blog posts. Could be fun. Anyway…). When I came out from under my final log, I was presented with this –
Some waterfall guide sources said it was a seasonal fall and not too impressive, but I was impressed. It doesn’t show here because it was really messy with deadfall, but the gorge is very wide and deep. Probably 3-4 stories from the bottom of the streambed to the top and almost straight up. Not quite and there are plenty of trees and bushes growing everywhere they could find purchase. I put the camera is where the gorge narrows considerably and there’s a handy boulder. Too bad there’s a newly fallen hemlock right next to it or there could have been more dramatic views. The tree is blocking them now. Maybe if I’d gone in last year I could have gotten those images. Self recriminations didn’t last long though. I was too excited to explore a new place.
The condition of the moss and the presence of beer cans told me I wasn’t the first to be here, but I knew it wasn’t a popular spot either and I hoped the family wouldn’t appear at the top of the falls to ruin my shots. Under and over another couple of dead trees and I got myself about 1/2 way up the cascade onto a wedge of granite –
The roar was intense as was the breeze coming off the force of the water. And I stayed blessedly alone. Well except for a green frog which I nearly squished. I think this is the strongest image of the falls, but I also like this one with the ferns waving in the water-powered breeze –
After marveling and trying a bunch more shots that didn’t really work, I headed up higher and got right up on the edge of the rock for this one. I love the layered slabs of granite and the curved shape the water made –
I wished I could have gotten out further but levitation isn’t one of my skills so I had to be content with this. All the while I shot and marveled, little birds flew into the bowl of the falls and took sips on the wing. It was very peaceful despite the roar of the water. With the ground now reasonably level, I headed upstream a bit. I wished I could go further, but I had a date with another elusive waterfall and if I wanted to get both in before the rain, I had to move. I plan to go back though. It’s a beautiful brook and one worth more exploration, that’s for sure.
After Hurricane Sandy blew into the area and filled up our smaller streams and rivers again, it was a perfect time to get out and see them. Some of them I’d just been to (Purgatory) and WOW, what a difference a storm makes. At the time it didn’t seem like we got that much rain, but I guess we did. Because showers could catch me at any time, I went to a couple places that were easy and quick to get in and out of. As a result, it didn’t rain. My first stop was Tucker brook/falls, a popular spot but oh so rich in photographic possibilities. This time I got some views I’ve never tried before including going down into a sort of wide gorge. It was magical.
A few other photographers I know had been to Tucker falls the week before and the flow looked like a garden hose was on tap compared to after the storm. Wow.
Phew. Feel like a couple monochromes now? I swear I couldn’t stop shooting. I was telling myself that it was repetitive, derivative and had been done a million times, but it’s so hard to stop.
Phew. Enough already, right? The trouble is, I went to Purgatory Falls just after this. You can practically throw a rock from one location to the other so it’s kind of compulsory that if you have a good day for it, you hit both back to back.
Check out those rocks in the foreground. Just weeks ago I’d stood on them with the tripod to take a shot of the same little cascade. Amazing what some rain will do. While I didn’t spend as much time at Purgatory brook as I did at Tucker, I did finally manage to shoot a small, but intense cascade I’d never done successfully before. It’s rocky and kind of a PITA to set up for, but those bubbly-swirls…well, you know what a sucker for those I am.
And of course the falls themselves. Probably the most over-exposed waterfall in southern NH. Could be that’s Tucker falls, but it would be close. I’ve shot them before, but have never gotten up onto the little cliff next to them. I actually didn’t climb up, but down. There’s a little ledge hemmed in by trees about 18″ wide and so that’s where I perched. It’s only about 12 feet higher than the normal position for this shot, but it made me feel adventurous, so it was all good.
Crazy huh? I just can’t resist an overcast day, especially one threatening rain. It’s the perfect time to do this kind of photography. Bright, but even light and no direct sun. I hope you’re not sick of it, cause there might be more.