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!
Fall is a big deal in New England and as a photographer I always felt some amorphous pressure to go out and capture fall scenes. I still feel it here and have tried through the spring and summer to find locations that would be especially picturesque. One such spot is Timm’s Hill which is just to the west of my house in the next county. It’s the highest point in Wisconsin, but don’t be impressed. It’s 1951.5 feet. Then there’s a viewing tower which is pretty cool, but the scenery is uniform and blah, so I didn’t take any pictures. Below and surrounding the hill are lakes and ponds (the hill, btw, is only a couple hundred feet higher than the parking lot, so you won’t break a sweat climbing it or anything) and I thought I might have some luck with landscapes and water. Not really although I did manage this one by getting an old, submerged boat seat out of the way of the tripod. At first I thought it was an empty turtle shell, but then realized what it really was.
After not finding what I wanted on that outing, I returned to a location I walked through last year called Harrison Hills. It is hilly and has lots of small ponds and lakes that aren’t built on which is something that foiled me going to other areas. Even with 15,000 lakes it’s hard to find some with no houses. This little pond was gorgeous though and so I walked through the undergrowth to the edge and had to bend and hold branches out of the way, which all part of the experience. While shooting I heard a big commotion in the leaf litter and heard the sounds of chasing. The next minute, something ran over my feet. Squirrels or chipmunks I suspect. Was funny though that they just ran right over me as if I was just part of the terrain.
Little lakes abound in the Lincoln county forest as well and happily many of them have one lane tracks leading out to them and there are even boat launches should you want to try some solitary fishing. Overall they are too small to paddle, but you could do it if you just wanted to sit and read or something. You can pretty much get away from the sound of human activity in some parts of the northern forest.
Back to Harrison hills for this last shot. I hadn’t walked as far as this my first time out, but looking at the map for little ponds, I figured I had to go at least this far and lo and behold there was a little bench so you could relax and take in the view.
So these will work for 2016 foliage shots. I still would like to do some river work and stuff with farms and/or barns, but the exploration is part of the joy. I’m still getting to know my adopted state and it is always interesting.
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.
It’s been snowing a little bit here in Wisconsin and yesterday I went out into the yard to see what I could see, but when I got back to the computer I realized I hadn’t posted all of what I shot in the fall. Doh!
Some of the most beautiful (and easiest) images came from my own yard. I don’t always get myself out of bed in time for the sunrise, but sometimes I do when it’s putting on a show –
The water isn’t always glassy smooth, but it is more often when the sun is just over the horizon. The wind hasn’t yet had a chance to get going. For both shots I used the dock as a tripod platform which I can’t do at all when the water is really moving (it floats). So far the fog hasn’t been around too much, but I like it in the second shot – just barely there.
Sunsets are easier and even though we face east, the light is still gorgeous. I lucked out with these images big time. The sun just lit up the far trees which were in the height of their autumn glory, the water was perfectly still and the sky was just the most amazing October blue. I love my backyard!
Normally I don’t go for such symmetrical landscapes, but who could resist? I wonder if Billy’s house has ever been photographed so much!
Of course it isn’t just the beautiful view that rewards my photographic eye. It’s the small things and the serendipity of nature.
I did not put that leaf there, honest. We took the dock out of the water just after I shot this, so it was like a sweet goodbye from the season. But not for this blog, there will be more fall images to come. Some pretty traditional, but some surprising and not what you think of when you think of fall color!
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.
This fall was a great one for foliage photography, especially from the kayak. I got out one more time (ruining my Penultimate Paddle title as I thought I might) and even though the light wasn’t perfect and neither was my technique, it was nice to find some glorious reds, oranges and yellows still clinging to the trees.
It was my first time paddling at Lake Pawtuckaway and while it might not be my last, it was a bit intimidating. It’s a lot like lake Massabesic in the sense that it’s fairly large and allows all manner of power boats. All fine and dandy if you stay in the parts of the lake that don’t suit those boats well (or just can’t get there as in the west side of Massabesic), but if you get turned around like I did, and thrown into the main lake body, it can be a challenge. Choppy, windy with big wakes. I nearly got stuck on some submerged and nearly invisible rocks, too. With some determined paddling, I made it back to Fundy Cove and I took some time finding small slices of landscape. That part was fun.
The textures and colors were pretty amazing and I realize that I need to slow down when I shoot. Often I don’t let the boat come to a halt and instead shoot while still gliding a bit. Not the best technique for sharp images, but hey, at least I have something to work on. After a while, the clouds gave it a rest and we got a little blue sky. I have to say, if you don’t use a polarizer regularly in your photography – start. I keep it on the lens most of the time and especially when I’m kayaking or doing foliage photography. Eliminating the glare just makes the colors pop. On the leaves, the water and especially to calibrate reflections without over polarizing the sky. A key piece of kit for sure.
It’s all gone now. Our ever fleet fall has moved on to the deep gold stage of the beeches and oaks. Somehow it’s knowing how short-lived it is that makes it all the more wonderful to behold. Yeah, I know it will do it again next year, but it’s still special and I’m so glad I got to see another one.
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.
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.
So short, but so glorious. Autumn in New England is an amazing time. Even though I’ve been a bit creatively stymied I’m out more than ever just to be there. Not only is there terrific color almost everywhere you look, but there’s also the crunch of leaves underfoot and the scent of them in the air. And the lack of biting and/or stinging bugs is a huge bonus.
My first trip out resulted in just about the only red and orange foliage shot of the season. I went to the Beaver Brook Conservation area in Hollis and wandered around two of the major ponds. It was early, but it was gorgeous. The sun never gets all that high and even in early afternoon shadows were coming up on the near side of the pond.
Less than a mile away is another pond and the color was not quite as advanced, but because the pond was so low I could walk right out into the grass and put something in the foreground. Normally this spot is a foot under water. Nice for me, but probably the beavers are annoyed.
It was later in the day and the light is a bit warmer and less harsh so I think the warmth comes through better. Still, it was a great find on a terrific day.
More to come.