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.
This year has been one of seriously heavy rain here in New England. Luckily where I live we escaped serious flooding, but still our rivers, brooks and streams are very high. Good for one thing – waterfalls!! Recently I took a good friend of mine to see some near me and got some decent shots. I also went with another friend to see how the mighty Merrimack River is doing and we had a most amazing great blue heron encounter. So without further ado, here’s what I’ve been up to –
I also went to Ponemah Bog in Amherst for a sunrise. I forgot exactly which road to take to get there, so I was a bit late, but I did manage one or two with good light. The color is amazing in there – all the blueberry bushes and other plants turn first in the area. Plus there were like 300 geese in the pond making all kinds of noise. I didn’t get any shots of them for 2 reasons – 1) I had no long lens and 2) the boardwalks were in process of being replaced and weren’t too solid.
It’s a tough time of year for bees. I found a bunch of bumblebees on some asters the other day. They were chilled, sluggish and probably crabby. Totally picture worthy even though I had to test my patience waiting for the breeze to die down!
I did a little exploring down by the Merrimack River and found a spot where a small brook feeds into it. I spend some time photographing this little bridge which is about to be swept away in the torrent. Usually this brook is a trickle this time of year; the amount of rain we’ve had is unusual.
So while I was photographing this and yelling over the roar of the rushing water to my friend, we had another friend come to join us –
Up this way, GBHes are wicked skittish. They fly away whenever they hear me and the closest I’ve ever been to one was several dozen feet while hiding behind some trees. This one though was unconcerned about me or my friend. It stood and fished about 20 feet from us. Right before they strike, they stand still as statues which was good since I didn’t have the best light or lens for this kind of thing. When they do strike it’s so fast you can’t see it. The next thing you know the bird has a fish. This little one caught three while we watched. It was amazing and totally made up for the dead one we saw about 1/2 hour earlier. Given the currents and the storms we’ve had lately, I think these guys have had a tough time.
Anyway, I hope the weather clears up this week so I can get out and see about foliage and how it’s doing.
So after the relatively bug-free California environment I get back up here and am basically in a cloud of mosquitoes every time I set foot out of the house. This time of year being a woodland photographer really sucks. Literally. Between the mosquitoes and the ticks I’m down a pint.
No. Not really. But they are so distracting and annoying that more than once I’ve given up and fled. Running in a backpack with an 8-pound tripod is really not something I recommend.
Still I’ve had an idea brewing around in my head a while and braving the blood-sucking hordes is just something I had to do.
I’ve always loved mountain laurel. Growing up there were a few huge bushes in our yard and when you’re little there’s nothing better than crawling in among the fantastically twisted trunks and hiding. Like a little private world which as a kid is a pretty rare thing.
These days I value them for other things. In winter they add a nice touch of color with their seemingly everlasting green leaves. In spring they can help frame and give dimension to a forest landscape. Early summer though, is when they really shine. Those delicate white blossoms with their secret pink tracery. The stuff of fantasy and just a wee bit Asian…like those beautiful paintings of cherry blossoms. So after walking through Purgatory Brook earlier this year I knew I’d have to go back when they bloomed. I visited about 10 days before this shoot and all the blossoms were out, but still clenched like tight little bonnets. Now though, they’re out and lining the banks and trails.
My goal and initial vision was to try for landscapes featuring the brook and the plants. As I explored the area though I became aware just how difficult it was going to be since you can’t really move the bushes or the brook. Few compositions worked without a great deal of effort and contortions on the part of me and the tripod. But it was worth it. I may even go back.
I spent a lot of time on the banks looking for compositions. Even climbing out onto big boulders in the middle. Not much was really working you know? Something was off. It seemed like to capture the jungleyness of the area was to introduce a lot of chaos into the shot. But as I worked the scenes things started to come together.
Overall I wanted to show the relationship between the water and the laurel. How the laurel seemed to hug the banks even though it grows all over the woods here.
After a while I started to isolate blossoms as they cantalevered out over the rushing stream. Lucky for me the day was relatively still wind-wise and I could get medium long exposures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen photos of mountain laurel shot like this and even though they’re a bit strange, I like them. It’s how I see them at Purgatory Brook.
As the light changed and the clouds thinned I got a bit of translucence in the leaves which was a bonus, really. Contortions, mosquitoes and almost falling in the brook aside, I’m pretty pleased with how these came out. I had a rough idea of what I wanted and as I worked the location it came together. I think this is how I work best; a loose framework for the images, something definite in terms of subject, but execution can remain to be seen.
Processing-wise I fiddled with the light balance to warm them up, gave the greens and yellows a touch of luminance. Some got more clarity, some less to emphasize the gauzy quality of the flowers. Others got minimal sharpening and noise reduction, some cropping. I think all of them had the vibrance turned down a bit; after the rains the color was so saturated it just looked unreal although it was intense.
Anyway, that’s it for the moment. I’ve got a few more shots of giant rhododendron to do once they blossom. That shoot is going to be challenging, but I’ve been thinking about it for months. I hope they bloom soon. Everything is so weird this year. Some things are late, some are early. Crazy.
The nice thing about shooting my local area is that I can have do-overs. My friend and fellow photographer Jeff and I have had conversations about this and although I stress over choking on vacation shoots, I don’t worry so much about local stuff. I’m not going to steal Jeff’s thunder with this post since I know he’s planning to write about the same thing, but suffice to say that on my 3rd trip to Cold Brook and Senter falls, I finally got a shot that’s eluded me.
Try as I might I’ve just never come away of a good image of this section of the falls. Today though I found a composition that works. I had to shoot fast because that beautiful sunlight was getting away from me. Too little and the scene is flat. Too much and there’s blown highlights all over the place. I’m pretty satisfied with the results.
I chased the light further up the falls and after some trial and error I got this –
I hadn’t caught light in the falls before and was so excited to try and capture its glow. I think I did. Was a little nerve-wracking though. I wasn’t sure if I was stepping onto a snow-covered boulder or just some snow between boulders and I’d slam down and break my ankle. Luck held though and even my ancient tripod made it through the ordeal.
That’s about it. Oh and one other tip for the field – if you’re setting your tripod down in mud, water, snow or something kinda mucky, slide the lowest section down first even if you don’t extend any other sections. Yeah, I know this is contrary to popular tripod technique of extending from the top sections down, but this way keeps the wet stuff out of the leg locks.
Anyway, that’s it for now. The first part of the week looks to be crappy weather-wise, so I’m not sure I’ll get out again soon. Cheers!