Here in northern Wisconsin we have a lot of wildlife. What is a non-wildlife photographer to do? Get a wicked long lens and give it a go.
Alas, it’s winter and it’s been pretty cold and so sitting around freezing my ass off waiting for a badger to happen by isn’t something I’m keen on. So what else can you do with a long lens? Play!
I bought this particular lens when it went on sale just before Christmas. In 2015 I watched a similar price drop, but didn’t buy. This time I decided to because well heck, there was a loon pretty much in front of my dock all summer! I got the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm F/4.0-5.6 OIS –
It’s a bit of a monster and so I took it out with the battery grip on the GH3 and it worked beautifully. I’ve always found heavier or bulkier lenses balance better with a grip of some kind. Plus it makes the camera easier to hold onto with gloves.
There are a lot of reviews out there of this lens and so I knew that it was a good performer for the money, but not a high-end lens. Of course, about a week after I bought it, Panasonic released a longer lens with better glass. It was more than triple the price though so I think I’m ok with this one considering that wildlife photography isn’t a big part of what I do. If it does, I’ll think about trading up.
Judging by my one time out with it, playing along the Wisconsin river, I’d agree with some reviews that this is a bright sun lens. I think in full or nearly full sun it will be a decent performer. I also think I need practice with it. I’ve never worked with a lens so long before (200-600mm in 35mm terms) and like any specialized lens there’s a knack to it. I think a tripod will help, too. I don’t mind practicing though. It’s fun.
Sharpness depends on having excellent light and a steady grip. A couple of these shots were done with me braced against a tree, but even that isn’t a guarantee. I have a custom setting that is shutter-priority with the camera choosing the aperture and the ISO and that seems to work pretty well with this lens. Rule of thumb for handheld work is you want a shutter speed at least equivalent to the lens length in millimeters, but I try to double it or come close. So at 200mm you should have 1/200th of a second or faster. I also need to refine my technique to steady the camera; grip, breathing and stance are all part of it and funnily enough, the other kind of shooting is a help here. Hitting what you aim for with a pistol requires a lot of the same principles.
Come spring I should be ready. I’ve got a beautiful little side channel up river from here that has a healthy water bird population (about 35 minutes paddling without sightseeing or chatting with neighbors). There’s also a big National Wildlife Refuge downstate that is important for migrating birds including the sandhill cranes and their great dances. Oh and eagles, too. I just saw two of them from my windows today so hopefully I can sneak up on one or two of them. Oh yeah, good luck with that!
Landscape photography is something you fall into if you’re a nature photographer, and I’m no exception. Huge vistas and eye-popping panoramas are very easy to get caught up in. But when I’ve got my eyes screwed in right and start to really see, lots of other things pop out at me. Microscapes, macros and small scenes can be just as fascinating and often give a fresh, intimate view of nature’s beauty. Winter makes me put in more of an effort, but it’s part of what I really love about this season’s photographic possibilities. It challenges me to do more than just observe. It’s easy to be enchanted by spring or autumn, but winter is perceived as more stark and less bountiful. Working those eye-candy summertime images is terrific fun, but so is finding winter’s bounty.
When I shot this first image there was so much snow on the ground that walking the trail put me anywhere from one to two feet above the normal grade. That got my line of sight into a different place. I KNOW I’ve passed this tree before, but then my eyes were on the brook that cascades to the left here, not up the ledge and certainly not on this tree with the lovely tinder fungus growing on it. This time, elevated by the snow pack, I noticed it. And luckily for me, the light in the trees made it even more beautiful and otherworldly. Like low-level clouds.
Then there’s ice – something only in winter’s provision. Oh how I love icy brooks. For all of these shots I was up to my knees in snow (nope still no snowshoes, doh!). Both are on Tucker Brook in Milford, one of my favorite places to go with a camera and a tripod. Working these images is both physically tricky sometimes and it’s sometimes harder to get what you want because you can’t get the camera where you want it. The whole falling through the ice thing just isn’t something I’m into. This little section of stream had a great leading line in the water though and so I maneuvered as best I could to line it up. A little processing magic brought its more sinister quality to the fore.
As water levels change, ice takes on even more intricate patterns like this next one. The motion, light and reflections in the water below made me think of some of the fantastic images the Hubble Telescope brings to us from deep space.
This last one, when I got it into Lightroom, made me think of some landscape out of Jules Verne’s nightmares. Isn’t it cool? I would have liked to get closer and lower down for this one, but it wasn’t in the cards. Too much snow and the stream is fairly wide here. Luckily a longer lens helped.
It’s not a fern, which I’m so partial to, but that green just pops doesn’t it? Tucker Brook preserve is also loaded to the gills with mountain laurel. Even in winter it is evergreen and I had to wade through the drifts to get to this gorgeous spray of leaves. By this time of the year, my eyes are thirsty for color and this quenches it. The red just pops out at you, doesn’t it? Funny how I never much noticed that in summer when there is so much competition for my eye’s attention.
Sometimes it’s texture that grabs my attention. Winter and its long shadows are great for this kind of seeing. Long stripped of its bark, this log caught my eye the second time I walked by it (the light changed I think and that’s why I noticed it on the walk back). The ice and the shadows are so varied and interesting and so I turned my lens to it. I just love the random nature of the debris.
Winter is still hanging on here in the North East. Get out there and enjoy what is found only now, when it’s cold. Some say winter is the meanest of seasons, but I disagree. It’s a time for rest and rejuvenation and there is beauty to be found, high and low.
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!
The tail end of winter still holds some beauty, I just had to look for it. These first two are details of a beaver pond in the woods that appeared to be new. These bushes were still alive, albeit dormant for the season. I loved the patterns the ice made while it was thawing. All those bubbles. The color is striking, too, like beer or champagne. Getting them was a bit of an adventure. I stood on what I thought was the bank since it was covered with snow, but it wasn’t. Turns out there was ice under there, too. Wet socks are not fun, but I laughed my head off, startling a nearby hairy woodpecker. Luckily it wasn’t that cold so I kept on. I bet the beavers were laughing, too.
It was a day for staring into icy puddles, too. This leaf looks as if it’s trying to free itself and I love how different the colors are from the pond pictures. At first I thought that purple hue was just a goof with the white balance, but it isn’t. I even reduced the magenta in the image and the blues, it persists. Just one of the wonders of the forest.
There aren’t too many signs of spring yet, but the birches had a good year. So many of them are splitting their britches.
Also saw some porcupine tracks in the snow, so I hope spring isn’t far behind.
I am planning to head out on Saturday with some friends (the same guys I shot the Flume Gorge with last month, plus one more) and hopefully we get cooperative weather. We’re going to try to find abandoned buildings and do a sunset in the White Mountains. It’s gonna be a long day, but I hope we find some magic.
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.
Lately I’ve been twisting in the wind over my photography. All aspects of it. Why do I do it? What good does it do? Is it good? Is it mediocre? Is it bad? Do I have a style? Am I a cliche? Should I try to market my images? Who would buy them anyway? Everyone and their brother is a ‘professional photographer’. Why do I maintain this blog when almost no one reads it? Should I change it? What should I change it to? All whirling around my head…
In spite of it all I went out. I LOVE being out. I can hardly describe it. The things around me astound me.
I’m so conflicted about what I want to do and whether I have the will to do it, never mind the talent. When I get outside though, that falls away. I feel peace. Connection. My mind lets go of worry.
I’m at a crossroads and in a rock and a hard place. Things are complicated. My life does not please me. I feel trapped by it. The longer it lasts, the worse it gets. The futility sneaks up on me and traps me in indecision. Oh how I wish all could be outside.
Part of the joy of shooting in the winter in New England is dealing with the cold. Mostly it’s just a matter of the right clothing, but a photographer lives and dies by her eyes and her hands and it’s the hands that suffer most. I think I need to get some of those pocket chemical hand warmers because damn, it’s freezing out there.
The other day I went to shoot this sunset on the nearby lake Massabesic.
It freezes pretty solid in the winter, but wasn’t quite there yet. It was making lots of noise though – cracking and groaning as if trying to have a conversation. I love the noises it makes. Still the ice that was there was interesting which was good because the only clouds in the sky were at the horizon. Those slightly higher ones above were there at first, but the wind pushed them out of the scene. It was the wind that killed me. By the time I shot these –
my fingertips were so numb I couldn’t turn on my headlamp for the hike back to the car. I had to put my thumb in my mouth to get the feeling back. I did warm up on the way back though, and so it wasn’t permanent, but wow, I haven’t been that cold in a while. Looking back on it, I should have worn some long underwear under my pants, but I didn’t. Torso-wise I was pretty well covered. Brain fade. I’ve been meaning to slap some pipe insulation in my tripod legs, but keep forgetting that, too. Constant contact with that frigid aluminum is hard on the fingers. Getting back into the swing of winter takes me a while I guess. Winter photography is its own reward, but I really shouldn’t put myself at risk the way I do.
Anyway, these were shot with my E-30 and ZD 12-60mm as usual and I overexposed by about a stop for each one. I dragged my old Bogen tripod because it’s better in the field than my travel one and I wasn’t walking far. I also used a polarizer and an 8-stop graduated ND filter. I recently read on another photography blog how passe these are, but I disagree. The author went on to say that he’d manipulated his final images with Photomatix. How is that different from manipulating them in the field (apart from my frozen fingers that is)? I can’t say I see any difference in the result. Use the tools that work for you I say.
And stay warm!
This time an old quarry up in the White Mountains in North Conway. It was collectively known as the Redstone Quarry and had several faces and cutting operations. The area is huge and I needed many more hours to shoot there to get all of it. Up until the late 1940s it was an active business with hundreds of skilled workers and its own boarding house not far away. Now both the quarry and the boarding house are abandoned and falling to pieces.
Here are some of the rough columns it produced along with one of my photographer buddies –
The stones were turned on enormous steam-powered lathes like this one –
Here’s a detail of one that was outside of the falling-down house (I LOVE the snow) –
And the rock face itself all frozen over –
In the upper left you can see some of the guide wires that made up the derrick used to hoist the blocks off the face. It was powered by a huge steam-engine in a building next to the quarry. Here’s the top of the building – now collapsed –
The sunset was pretty good from the top of an enormous slag pile –