The other day I decided to do a little car exploring. You know what I mean, right? When you jump in the car and go down roads you’ve never been on before. Moving to a new state means there’s a lot of opportunity for this, but even so, I found myself on roads I’ve gone by a bunch of times, but never went down. We have some great back roads. Oh and it helped that it was fall.
It also helps that there are so few people here that I can stop on the road and not worry too much about blocking traffic or getting hit. The road in the first shot snakes through some county forest, some private acreage and a bunch of little lakes and ponds. I noticed one had been blocked by the DNR because of invasive species contamination. Bummer.
This second shot is a loop road that winds through parts of the Underdown Recreation area, a place open to many non-motorized sports like horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The track is barely wider than one car width and so I was a lucky I could stop for this shot because I knew I was going to take a little time with it.
The latest version of Lightroom has an exposure blending function that I’ve never used much. I’ve never done much with HDR at all, but just because some made ugly photos with it didn’t mean I had to so I gave it a go. The shot is a blend of 3 exposures, all one stop separated from each other. It’s old school bracketing like I used to do when I shot slide film. I can, and probably will, use more exposures more closely spaced in terms of stops, but for now I think this works. It’s not too overly garish, but does mimic how our eyes actually see a scene like this with its wide range of light values. Our irises are so sensitive that they move constantly as our focus changes and the light changes. So many times I’ve looked at a shot through the viewfinder or on the live view screen and decided not to try it because it was so contrasty. I have to remember my new capability and do more bracketing. Especially since it’s a dial setting on my camera and wicked easy to do. What do you think? Do I need more practice? Is that the wrong scene? Is it garish?
Probably all of the above, right? Well I like it and will keep working with it. Am off to New Mexico for a long weekend shortly and so will try it out at White Sands!
Leaving the fabulous color of fall behind isn’t easy for any photographer. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got a bit overwhelmed with the season this year because of my new location. I had ideas of what I wanted to shoot, but not enough familiarity to know where to get them. So just like when you go into a big book/hardware/music/video store without a list, you can be at a loss as to what you want/need because there’s so much choice. At first I was disappointed with my inability to see the images I wanted, but then I just let go of my preconceptions and began to see my surroundings without inherently approving or rejecting scenes.
When I started to just look, I found plenty of worthies.
That image above is one of my favorites and I have only one shot of it because when I was there I thought it didn’t work. When I saw it in Lightroom though, I knew I’d take a softening approach and move the clarity slider to the left. It was the light in the trees that drew me off trail and over a few berms that made for good tripod stands. After walking back and forth a bit, I found the stump and knew it would be my anchor. Why did I reject it in the field? I don’t remember, but I think I need to be less critical and take more chances. Like this one –
Backlighting is so hard in the forest, but it’s just breathtaking so I had to try. I think the stump (another one!) and the trial help with leading you through the image, but a slice can work well too –
This was a little fold in the landscape; tiny hills and valleys that had lush undergrowth. When I noticed the sunlight streaking through the trees, I had to try to shoot it. Mostly I exposed for the highlights, but with an image so contrasty it has to be dramatic and so I spent more time hunting around for a good arrangement of the trees. After some careful management in Lightroom, I think it works.
Light conditions can sometimes be less than ideal, but I don’t let it limit me. Even full sun can be and advantage when it comes to colors and especially reflections. It was a bit past peak when I shot this, but now I know the location, I can always head back earlier next year. And earlier/later in the day for some lovely sunrise or sunset shots. It won’t be long before I’m more comfortable in my surroundings and confident in what images I can produce. I will still try to see beyond my ideas though for new ones.
And what fall outing would be complete without a canopy shot?!
I wish there was a bit more blue sky, but what can you do? Again, I exposed for the highlights and even though it was a bit windy, the shutter speeds stayed high enough to not be an issue. I really have to find a good way to do long exposure with foliage. Sometimes it just comes out too messy, but I have had some success in the past. Something to keep in my mind for next year.
Here’s another slice and one I kept returning to – the contrast between the first golden maple leaves and the remaining green ferns. It was a perfect year for it although it might happen every year in Wisconsin for all I know. I hope so.
Oh how quickly did the fresh yellows and greens give way to golden tones. Not that I complained.
So that’s the more traditional side of fall and how I experienced it for the first time in my new state. Along the way though I discovered a hidden side of autumn that I had a lot of fun trying to find and then trying to shoot. Next time.
Now that stick season is well under way, I find myself looking back on the most beautiful part of autumn, or falltime as they say around here. It’s weird, but the rest of the world uses wintertime, springtime and summertime so why not falltime?
The foliage is rich and colorful, but not as diverse as it was in New Hampshire; mostly it’s the reds – they seem to be missing here in northern Wisconsin. Or I’m looking in the wrong places. Maybe on the immediate shoreline of ponds and lakes is where I need to focus. Even though I didn’t find what I’m used to seeing, there’s an abundance of beauty to be found.
None of these are what I’d consider as “classic” fall images, but I think they convey a feeling of place and of season. This time of year can be very overwhelming to me. The drive to get the “perfect shot”. The sense that every minute I’m not shooting is wasted. Frustration over not finding the ideal location in the ideal conditions. It eats away at me and sometimes I even feel guilty if I’m not out there trying. Silly, but there it is.
Even though these shots don’t feature the intense colors of foliage, they still show how the season shapes plants and prepares them for the future. Flowers bloom and seed. Ferns lose their lush spring growth. Streams dry to a trickle, soon to freeze over and reminding frogs, fish and turtles that their time is short before the long sleep.
Still, the season pushes me to see in ways I sometimes don’t during other seasons (especially spring when the biting insects torment me to near blindness).
I overcome by slowing down. Stopping even. Partly to enjoy the perfection of the season, but also to notice the things that make it special. Like those feathers up there. I stopped to slow my heartbeat after a grouse and I scared each other to death and I noticed something light-colored off trail to my left. It turned out to be the remains of someone’s lunch. A poor, hapless songbird found itself on the wrong end of the food chain and the sunlight was lighting up what was surely its last moment of beauty on this earth. And I was there to see it. To mourn and to appreciate was it was, what it gave up and what it left behind.
While that did give me a twinge of sadness, the last gasp of abundance is everywhere, helping plants and animals prepare for the privations of winter (the songbird, too, is part of this timeless cycle). Honey mushrooms seem to blanket every stump and log in the forest and boy do they ever make for good photos (and meals, I startled a deer feasting on some during this outing).
Wisconsin is challenging me to adapt as a photographer and so long as I keep my eyes and mind open, there will always be fall color to be found. Even red.
Exploring a whole new landscape has its ups and downs. On the one hand it’s exciting and the novelty of the new makes every nature preserve a mystery waiting to be solved. Tingly. I love that part of it. The downside for me is resetting my expectations. Especially this time of year (the natives call it falltime which is really weird, but whatever). Foliage makes for great landscapes, but I didn’t really find what I was looking for which was New England. Doh! You’re not in New England anymore!
So I had to adjust my sense of wonder and what makes a quintessential fall photograph. Not knowing what was what or what was where made things a little harder. Oh sure properties have descriptions and whatnot, but rarely are they accurate or line up with what I pictured in my mind. The trails just didn’t go where I thought they would – say to a free-flowing river, but instead would wind into a huge marshy area that was still the river, but not exactly easy to get to or photographically pleasing. I really needed to take off my blinders. And mostly I was successful, but really what I had to do was let myself off the hook. That is to allow myself to not take the most astounding photographs of my life and just get to know and appreciate my new location.
I have ideas now I’ve been here a few months. Locations I want to explore at other times of year. Natural features that are special to Wisconsin and how and under what circumstances I want to shoot them. After all, I’ve probably got decades ahead of me with this as a home base.
One of the things I noticed right away about the Wisconsin forest is how dramatically different the undergrowth is from New England. Check out the grass –
There’s tons of it all over. Sure, there are tufts here and there in New England forests, but not like this and once I spotted it I knew I’d have to find a scene that really showcased the lush growth. When I saw this one with its early smattering of leaves I knew it was the one.
Ferns are still prevalent in the undergrowth though and you know how I love them. Strangely, I haven’t seen any Christmas fern although the presence of Maidenhair is kinda making up for it. This is Evergreen fern I believe and it was instrumental in making many of the early fall photographs I really like.
One of my favorite trees is the Tamarack pine or Larch. In New England it really only grows in kettle bogs and similarly wet, nutrient-poor habitats. It’s a delicate beauty whose needles are soft and grow in little bunches all along the branches. It’s also the only conifer (to my knowledge) that drops all its needles in fall. Right now basically all the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves and so the still orange Tamaracks really stand out and they seem to be everywhere. I see them alongside most roads and I have ideas for next year, but they’ve already made great subjects this season.
You may not be able to tell, but those last two images are of the same trees, just shot from different sides of Game Pond. The other side of Game Pond is actually a kettle bog, well actually the whole thing is, but only one end is marshy and what we think of as boggy. That section isn’t large, but is typical of what grows in a kettle bog –
You can see bog cotton, black spruce, bog rosemary, leatherleaf and there could be some rhodora or bog laurel in there, but really Wisconsin is pretty laurel-free on the whole which is kind of a bummer. Should be great flowers here in spring though.
A lot of the terrain is quite flat in the northern part of the state, but sometimes I get lucky with rivers and ponds that give me a little elevation. Here’s a hillside leading down to the water and it’s wondrous to imagine how large the pond was when it was formed by the Pleistocene glacier –
Of course I’ve been aiming at the ground as well and wow, are there ever mushrooms! I’ll have to do a whole series just on mushrooms, but here’s what I found on this particular outing to Veterans Memorial park –
I used the diffuser on all of those mushroom shots and wow, what a difference, especially on the red russala. And of course the legacy Olympus 90mm macro.
So that’s my trip to the Veterans Memorial Park in Langlade county and how I’m adapting my photographic vision to my new state. I got out a few more times before stick season set in, and even hit the Driftless Zone! More soon.
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.
I thought it would be my last kayak outing of the year, but it turned out not to be. It might not even stay the penultimate paddle, but I like the alliteration so it’s staying. These are my rules, I make ’em up.
Last year I don’t think I did much in the way of foliage shots from the kayak, but this year I decided to try. Trees in and near water are usually the first to change which is very handy for the paddling photographer. Having seen other photographers’ shots from Campton Bog in Campton, NH, I decided that’s where I would go. It was an absolutely perfect day. Blue skies with a few puffy clouds, great color in the trees and only 2 other paddlers on the water, whom I only saw one time and actually heard go by once when I was down a side channel. Summer temperatures, too, so I didn’t have to wear a lot of gear. Behold –
OMG, right? I think I had the camera in my hands more than the paddle. And actually, this isn’t really Campton Bog, that’s connected by a slim waterway (now reimagined by beavers) to this pond called Robartwood Pond. I’ve been here before in winter and had a good time walking on the frozen water and trespassing in the brook on the other side of the bridge. Eventually the landowner saw me (and 1/2 dozen friends) and threw us out. Not before I got some good shots though. Anyway, here’s more of my perfect penultimate paddle (see what I did there).
This year, in an effort to improve my kayak photography technique, I added a custom mode to the GH3 for when I’m on the water. Basically it’s shutter priority, auto ISO (which seems to have the pip and not be working the way I want…more investigation is needed), auto white balance and electronic level displayed on the screen. For the most part it works well and lets me concentrate on composition which, let me tell you, has its own challenges.
I also use a polarizer whenever I’m kayaking. It was especially important on this outing. I wanted good colors, but not that blackish blue of over polarization. Careful managing gave me what I wanted. It does shave about a stop and a half from the exposure, but for the most part that’s ok. This year I finally broke down and got a decent one, too, which helps with accurate color rendition. I’ve started to leave it on whatever lens I’m working with a lot, too. I used to do that when I shot my E-30/12-60mm combo, but somehow got out of the habit when I switched to the GH3. No idea why. Just weird that way. Taking the reflection off of plant leaves really brings up the color and this time of year, color is what it’s all about!
Ok, that last one isn’t from Campton Bog/Robartwood Pond, it’s from Danbury Bog and the day wasn’t quite so wonderful, but I saw a moose on the dirt road leading to the put in. No pictures, but I got to watch its graceful lope up the road and away from my scary Subaru with the big weird thing on top of it. This shot is the only usable one because of the flat light and the mostly cloudy skies. I ended up scaring the same little group of ducks all the way up the channel. Sorry dudes. Then I got the tables turned on me. There was a really big beaver dam inside the giant culvert that goes under the bridge on Ragged Mountain Road. Normally, I think people can paddle through, but not with that there. So it was a much shorter trip than I planned. When I got back to the put in and had the boat all secured on the car, a truck with a rowboat in it went by on the dirt road, then slowed down, reversed and came back. The driver asked me if I was coming or going. Going. He laughed and said that was probably good as he and a crew were going to take the beaver dam out and there would be a big surge of water. That would have been exciting. Darn it. A day late! Oh well, there’s always next year.
Every once in a while I do go somewhere besides the woods. Because I’m in New England that doesn’t leave a lot of somewhere else. No desert. No badlands. No canyons. No sweeping steppes. We do have coastline though and so I’ll make the trek. This time to Plum Island which is the home of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a much-needed sanctuary for an over-developed coastline. Strangely I have only visited in the fall. It’s a popular place and maybe I just shy away from what must be hordes of people in the summer season. As it is I feel quite surrounded when I’m there, seeing more people in one day than I do in a month of forest hikes.
Because it’s a wildlife refuge, human intrusion is limited. Many areas are only accessible by wooden walkways, both to protect the fragile ecosystem and because some is deep marsh. Walking these paths you can hear birds you cannot see.
It does limit compositional choices quite a bit, but there are some areas where you can go off path, although I don’t do it often and only where there are no signs prohibiting me. This part of the marsh is tidal and a few hours before there was only mud where the water is. I love that ever-changing aspect of tidal estuaries and marshes.
And sometimes, the walkways themselves can provide a subject.
The light wasn’t really favorable for most of the day, but since I decided to stay until sunset, I did a bit of scouting for good locations and playing with what the light did give me. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in photography is not to fight the light, that is to have certain optimal photos in my head all the while working in opposite conditions. Now either I wait for those optimal conditions or make the light I have work for me. At one point I simply walked on the beach. No camera. I left it in the car, knowing I’d get nothing useful if I brought it. On my way out though I met a guy coming in who had a big Nikon rig with him. I laughed to myself. Maybe he sees something I don’t, but to each her own.
Eventually though, if you wait long enough, the light you want arrives.
So, unfortunately, did 4 people. Yeah, it’s a public place and the viewing towers are a great spot to watch the sun go down, but I didn’t appreciate their presences up there with me. I guess all this solitary time has made me a bit of a hermit.