Not long ago, Jeff Sinon tweeted that he was going to hike up Mt. Major to photograph the sunrise over Lake Winnipesaukee and would anyone want to join him. It had been too long since we shot together and my husband and I are always up for adventure, so I tweeted back that we’d be there. Crazy.
Well kinda. We are, after all, modern humans with access to gadgetry of all kinds and Mt. Major isn’t exactly tall, although it is wicked steep in parts. So with headlamps firmly strapped we set out for the summit. A lot of the trail is an old logging road, wide and deeply set with large rocks separated from each other by years of runoff. Toward the top it got much steeper and after slogging through boulders running with water, we ended up at some bare granite ledge to monkey over. But less fit souls than I have done it (and probably in flip-flops) so up I went. I think it helped knowing that there was an alternate way down. Breaking my neck is never on my agenda.
Sometimes Mother Nature just laughs at me. At us, really, I suppose, but sometimes I think she’s after me. After our headlighted trek, the clouds we kept hoping would pile up on the horizon stayed out of range, thumbing their noses. The wind that sometimes calms just at sunrise decided that day to party hearty. Even with a backpack dangling from the tripod, it was so windy that my shots are soft and I’m not altogether happy with them. The light is lovely though and the just-off peak foliage is still pretty nice, but dammit if that tripod would not stop moving. Next time I drag the big Bogen up just for the added weight, which sucks to carry, but is evidently necessary at any altitude. Whatta dope.
By the time we got the light we wanted down in the valley, I was so cold that I think I was shivering more than my strained camera support. Dammit that wind just wouldn’t quit. No wonder the rock-walled shelter of old had two roofs blown off before people just gave up.
I didn’t know it then, but things were about to change. Through luck and a quick consult with my husband’s iPad, we ended up on the Brook trail for the hike down. It is longer, so we didn’t take it to go up, but it sure made down easier, with limited opportunities for neck-breaking. Plus it went by a brook. Always a sucker for a good brook, as soon as I heard the water, I headed in for a look. First crack out of the box I found what ended up being the best cascade I could find. I guess Nature thought I’d had enough and she gave me a break.
As I explored (with my husband standing patiently by) I was enchanted, but there was so much debris in the flow and on the rocks that make up the brook’s borders that it was really hard to find a composition that wasn’t distracting in the extreme. Once again, things were about to change, but I had to wait for it. Jeff had vamoosed to join his family for breakfast and so it was just me, looking in vain for another picturesque cascade. By the time I found one, I was racing the sun. Well, the Earth, really, but you get it. Pretty soon the sun was going to be too high to work with…shining directly on the water and blowing my highlights something fierce. But I found a cascade and began a laborious process of clearing tons of branches out of the way. Believe it or not they were hanging from other branches (blown off by storms) and dangling directly in front of the lens. Not in the water, but in the space between. Standing in the water, tripod on rock, and holding some branches that wouldn’t budge out of the way, I finally shot Minge Brook in all its golden glory.
OMG I can’t believe what I got. The light so soft and perfect that it almost doesn’t look real. It is though and that little kiss of the light on the upper rocks is pure magic for me. For once my timing was good. I’d like to revisit this spot in the spring with the fresh, green leaves in place of the glowing golden ones. And if this is Minge in the dry season, I can only imagine it in full song, with the snow-melt and spring runoff. That would be a sight to behold.
to paraphrase Robert Burns. Sorry, Bob.
With all the tools at our disposal now like Photographer’s Ephemeris and just plain Google maps, we can really get a handle on a location, the light and how best to showcase both. In our minds we envision the photographs we want to take. We move the pin all over the map deciding on the best vantage point. We make ‘shot lists’.
This morning I set out for Lubberland Creek Preserve with visions of a lovely saltmarsh sunrise in my head. I knew just the spot. Saw that a certain little island would be backlit perfectly this time of year. Felt that the marsh itself would be frozen enough that I could walk out and not get my feet soaked. I hoped for a bit of mist or frost or both. Maybe even deer in the meadow. And clouds. Don’t forget clouds. The forecast called for partly cloudy, so things would be perfect.
Then shit happens.
Yah. It’s inevitable, right?
First I was low on gas and had to stop. After a false start at an exit that only had a single gas station – closed! – I lost a few minutes there and at the station that was open. By the time I got to the preserve, I was running late. I could see color in the sky and it was building. But wait…where are the clouds?? Well no worries, maybe there will be some mist, fog or dare I hope? – deer in the meadow. Ok deer, where are you? Didn’t you get my memo? And wouldn’t you know it, above freezing so no mist, no fog no nothing.
What’s a photographer to do?
Find something else!
With the rest of nature doing its best to thwart me (it feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?), I had to regroup really fast. For a few minutes I found myself falling into the trap I wrote about in my last post. My pre-determined shot list wasn’t materializing and I didn’t have a fall back position. So I just stood and looked for a while and realized where my eyes were going.
The light in the grasses was beautiful. And the contrasting colors really worked well…finally nature was giving me a little break!
I changed lenses to my old 90mm f2 so I could have a bit more reach and just kept crunching over the reeds and grasses, hunting for new compositions and arrangements while the light lasted.
I had a great time until the light ran out. When I got home and saw what I had, I was very happy that Lightroom helped me keep the processing uniform so as to bring the images together as a set. No, I didn’t get precisely what I wanted, but I did get something worthwhile and pushed myself to find it. I’m content. Besides, it’s not like it’s going anywhere and I can always have a do-over!
Here’s some early shots from the last week or so. I don’t know w hat got into me.
Adams pond and the whole world lit up pink the other day, it was so peaceful and fresh. I could smell the apples from the orchard nearby, too.
and less than an hour later it looked like this, the fog still hung around which was cool –
A slightly larger body of water the next morning –
on the way home to coffee and breakfast from that last shot, I stopped in a cemetery just down the street because it was so darn beautiful. The colors just popped big time! I rested the camera on a granite wall and aimed back toward the road.
Lots more in the hard drive and in my head, so stay tuned.
My eyes aren’t always turned downwards, finding tiny details to show to the rest of the world. No, sometimes I pretend I’m a landscape photographer. Here are a sunrise at the coast and a sunset at a lake. Unfortunately there were no clouds in the sky for the sunrise, but when I saw the clouds yesterday afternoon, I knew they’d light up well.
Up until recently, I’ve been a catch-as-catch-can type of photographer. If I was going somewhere, I took my camera and tried for photos as I went. Rarely did I return to a location to do better or capture a different aspect of the place. Now though, I understand what scouting a location can do. Remember that old slogan the Boy Scouts used, be prepared? Or maybe it was Outward Bound. Whatever it was, scouting helps me do that really well; be prepared. I have no idea why I didn’t do it before. Just lazy I suppose. Now though, even if I don’t come away with the best portfolio-making shot on earth, I find just being in a location valuable enough to make it worth my effort.
The more familiar you are with locations near you, the more confident you’ll be going into the field. I’ve got shot list in my head and a ton of trail maps in my glove compartment so I’m never short of ideas. In New England we’re lucky to have distinct seasons and the changes that come are big ones. Locations look completely different and it’s an adventure to capture all aspects of them. And don’t forget local meet-ups. I love both being introduced to a new location by someone, and sharing one that might be new to others. We always have fun and it’s great to see how differently we view the same place at the same time.
Sunday for example, I met up with a photographer friend to take advantage of sunrise side-light at another Nature Conservancy Preserve – Lubberland Creek in Durham, NH. It’s part of the Great Bay estuary and is mostly a tidal wetland full of grasses, reeds, flowers, birds and oh yeah, poison ivy. That evil vine aside, the place is lovely and has potential for future sunrises when the sun is in a better position and when there are clouds in the sky. I think it would even work well for sunsets. There’s a beautiful island in the mouth of the creek’s delta and boy won’t that be great at high tide. I’ve really got to get some waders or at least knee-height rubber boots so I can go in the really squishy parts. As it was today I got my shoes pretty soaked, but that was probably more because of the dew than anything.
Watching the light on the grasses was pretty wonderful even it it wasn’t dramatic –
I was fascinated by how the light transformed the scene and of course I got down for some bokeh action –
If you’ve got your Sherlock Holmes hat on, you’ll notice the difference in the bokeh between those two shots. It’s part of what fascinates me about using extreme bokeh and pinpoints of light, like these dewdrops. The shapes of the aperture blades in the lenses is different and gives you different looks. The blades in my Olympus Zuiko Digital 12-60mm are round and the blades in my 80s vintage Olympus Zuiko 65-200mm are octagonal. Oh and I used the close focus feature of that old lens, something I don’t do very often, and I think it came out really well. After playing with the depth of focus for a few frames, I decided this mid-point approach was best. It was tough finding a section of grasses that went all the same way. Reaching in and even delicately removing a blade going the wrong way would make all the dew fall off and ruin the shot. I think my shooting buddy Jeff found out the same thing and if anyone was watching us we must have been pretty comical.
It was all about texture, light and patterns and I think even monochrome works well –
So now that I’ve scouted it, I’ve got ideas brewing for other shots I’d like to get. Frost and snow in winter. A dreamy sunrise with fog. Now I just need to spend a little time with The Photographer’s Ephemeris…
To many people the word desert conjures up images of dunes, rippling sand, cactus and brutal temperatures. While some of that might be true, many deserts are far from that. Their lushness and color just might surprise you. Even though I’ve never lived near one, I’ve always loved the desert. High desert especially. That’s one of the reasons I keep returning to the west. The immensity of it just gets to me. The ever-changing face of it. Here are some of my favorite desert images from my recent trip to California.
First is a sunset taken just outside Bishop at the start of Silver Canyon. Unfortunately no clouds came to play so I was very glad the earth brought its own colors.
I just love this next one. It’s the same sunset, but with the hill in shadow and the sun lighting up that terrifically fluffy plant. I have no idea what it is, but I love it. I think it’s the ribbon of trail leading up and out of the frame that makes it so magical for me.
Ok, so this next one isn’t so much desert as mountains, but in the Sierras they go together. The colors in this are just amazing and again, made up for the lack of clouds. I think this is my first ever shot of alpenglow – that pink glow of wonderfullness on the snowy peaks.
Of course the desert is not all soft colors and gentle hills. It’s mostly a harsh environment that takes willpower to survive in. Except for the sunrise shot, the others were all taken with a pretty stiff wind blowing. So much so that my long exposures lack clarity because my lightweight, travel tripod wasn’t heavy enough. That wind was nothing. A few days later in Mono Basin we had steady wind in the 20 mph range with frequent gusts up to 50mph. Unreal. It made it very difficult to deal with and I worried that my camera would be clogged. The grit flew everywhere! Up my nose. In my eyes. I swear it took 10 minutes to rinse my hair in the shower that night. Mostly it was pumice from the volcanoes that created this whole valley. It’s so light that it flies in wind.
Anyway, these next two shots are taken right near the Mono Craters. It was one of the only times the harsh light actually worked in my favor. The fire was recent; in the last couple of years and not a thing is growing yet. Nothing. Zip. It was pretty creepy actually because other than the unrelenting wind, nothing moved or made a sound. No birds. That was the most noticeable. Compare it to the next shot where the desert has come back after a much earlier fire.
The proximity of a big lake, mountains and desert makes for some extreme weather. No doubt these clouds had something to do with the wind. Aren’t they great? Like the clouds that hid the alien ships in Independence Day.
Not the most intimate of portraits. Believe me I felt my visitor status the whole time I was out there. So overawed by it all I had very little time to really get to know it. Besides that I had to balance my photography with our vacation and not drive my ever-patient husband crazy. Only once during the whole trip did I feel my photo mania irritated him, so I dialed back and we were good.
How are a landscape photographer and a vampire alike?
Neither goes outside at noon.
Seriously, it makes you wonder doesn’t it? Blood-sucking fiend and Fun-sucking fiend, both taking the joy right out of life.
I recently stopped following a landscape photographer’s blog because he just kept going on and on about only shooting at the crack of dawn. You know what? It’s pompous. It makes me wonder if the guy is really any good. Why can’t he get a terrific photo during the day, huh? Why cantcha snooty landscape photographer guy? You know what else? It’s boring. Every single photo looks the same as every single other photo. Lots of pastel-colored snow scenes with blue shadows and a few fences, trees and churches. Nice, but dull. Technically well-executed, but a yawn fest. I mean, if that’s all you do it’s pretty repetitive. Plus you have to stay inside all day and where’s the fun in that?
Don’t misunderstand, I get the appeal of shooting when the sun is low, but I don’t get the strictness about it. It’s almost like religious dogma with some photographers. I mean, hell, I’m out all day sometimes, does that mean I shouldn’t take pictures? Baloney.
I. Don’t. Buy. It.
I took that shot at about midday last spring. No, it isn’t subtle and all soft and glowing with pastel shades, but it’s still a good photograph. Sometimes photography means working with the light you have. It’s knowing how that can help you make the most of what you find. Using this same shot as an example, what did I do that helped? I used a polarizing filter. Knowing that color would be one of the things to make the shot work, I made sure I had the best of it in that reflection.
Ever hear the expression “perfect is the enemy of good”? Well, that’s how I think of these other golden hour only photographers. They sacrifice good images on the altar of perfect (or their ideas of perfect) and who knows if they ever please themselves. Yes, there is such a thing as perfect light, but it varies by subject matter and what kind of photograph you want. I’d rather be flexible than rigid. I’d rather know how to deal with “imperfect” light than only venture out twice a day. With the vampires.
So what else. Oh yeah, how about vacation. For most of us it means going to a place we probably won’t go back to again. Once in a lifetime kind of thing. You have to work with what you find. What if the sky doesn’t have nice, puffy clouds in it like that first photo? What if the sky is boring and dull? Well put something in it –
Or find something in the foreground to take its place –
Another one shot when the sun is high and guess what? It doesn’t suck. Who wants to drag their asses out of bed at dawn on vacation every day? Not this little gray duck. Once, maybe twice, but not every day. Hell. It’s vacation.
All right, what if the light itself is flat and dull? Isolate. Get out your telephoto, baby. Sometimes tightening up on big vistas can give you little slices that are just as interesting.
Another thing you can do is scout your location beforehand. This can present you with ideas you can use when the light changes. Take this example –
I shot this on my 2nd or 3rd trip to this location. From past visits I knew how the light would track in the afternoon and because I’d seen it in the trees before, I knew that it would also light up the ice in the gorge. Ta da! It worked. And it’s what makes this photo. Not the subject – the LIGHT. And it’s not sundown either. By the time the sun sinks that low up there, the light is gone from this gorge. Mr. Snooty Landscape Photographer would have missed this completely.
See…you don’t need to only photograph during the golden hours (roughly ½ hour before and after the sun rises or sets, also called civil twilight), but if you know how to manage the light you have, you can usually come up with something you’ll be happy with. After a little practice you can make almost any scene work for you. Good light is what you make of it. Of course, getting there early is never a bad idea –
From time to time I go meet up with a few other local photographers. We are all part of the same flickr group and it’s pretty much the same core of people who go to them. We usually try for a sunrise. Winter shooting seems far more popular. Probably because sunrise is at 7am instead of 5. Sunday was such a day. Of course I got about 2 hours worth of sleep the night before. I hate that. Couldn’t get comfortable. I’m coming down with something and kept coughing. The cats kept bugging me. It was brutal. After getting up and reading for a while, I finally went back to bed and was able to sleep for a couple hours. After a bit of a Plan A snafu, we ended up at Adams Point on Great Bay (one of our usual locations) and I got this –
Jeff and I trekked across the meadow heading for the milkweeds hoping for some interesting side light close-ups. I wasn’t feeling it though. Didn’t like any of the compositions I was able to get and didn’t feel like changing lenses for the 10th time (I should have brought my 65-200mm zoom, but had the straight 135mm f2.8 instead – mistake!) so switched tactics instead. Looking up out of my tunnel vision, I saw this beautiful vista. The sun had crested the treeline, but it wasn’t very high and so there are still shadows on the snow. I love the blue of those shadows against the soft pink of the sunlit snow. And the vertical lines of those naked milkweed plants break up the horizontal in an interesting way. The rolling hills and the trees give interest all through the shot. And the sky is equally soft all adding to a hushed, tranquil feeling. Think of it as anti-HDR.
Instead of using my graduated neutral density filter in the field (because my hands were already cold enough) I decided to use the same tool in Lightroom. I added just a little bit of underexposure and saturation in the sky and treeline. Just like a physical filter would have given me. Normally I like doing things in camera, but I just didn’t have the where-with-all yesterday.
I still haven’t gotten a decent sunrise or sunset at this location. Every time I go the sky refuses to cooperate. No clouds or no color. It’s like a conspiracy. Luckily there’s plenty of stuff in the foreground to work with. Here are some from previous shoots –
Boring sky with no clouds, but plenty of color…just look at it reflected in the ice there. That shot is almost straight out of the camera. A little contrast adjustment and I think some sharpening. Now look at this next one – great clouds, but zero color. Sunset bid almost fail. Luckily there was enough interest in the sky for a monochrome. I walked around until I got some other elements to include and later had to climb up that oak tree because the bank was too muddy and slippery.
As a whole, I think they work well to showcase some of the reasons why Adams Point is a nature preserve and also hosts a marine lab. It’s not going anywhere and the pack ice is forming, so one day maybe I’ll get my wish – good color, good sky, pack ice and fog. A girl can dream.
Well 2010 is on its way out. I can hardly believe I had such a successful photography year and I can only wonder what the next one will bring. Thanks to everyone who stopped by, commented or even subscribed to this blog.
Here’s the latest batch of photos and probably the last of the year. I went to a marsh I’ve shot in the spring because I thought it would make a great location for a sunrise. After waiting for some snow, I finally got what I’d envisioned –
I waited until the sun crested the trees to shoot these coyote prints. Strangely enough I heard a bunch of them in the distance as I approached the marsh. They were yipping and singing and having a grand time. These prints look fresh to me considering the high winds we had in the days before this one. Where was she headed?
Why to the beaver lodge, of course. I bet those beavers laughed and laughed all snug down in their den. Gotta get dinner somewhere else my canine friend.
Amazingly, the mist returned just after sunup. I didn’t dare go out past the vegetation (maybe next month), but I really like what I was able to get. This is definitely a terrific place.
The frozen fingers and toes were worth it.