Up here on the Wisconsin river are a bunch of things called flowages. A flowage is a section of river blocked by two dams; one up and one down river. With the flow restricted the water acts more like a lake. There is a slight current all the time on the one I live on, but it’s nothing like how fast the water rushes below the dam where there isn’t another close by to slow it down. But dams need maintenance sometimes and what’s the power company to do?
They let out enough water to get the job done. It’s called a draw down. The dam up river from us is called the Grandmother dam and the flowage it creates is called the Grandmother flowage. To repair the dam (which makes power for the electric company) they lowered the water by some 14 feet, which made for some interesting landscapes –
I had no idea this was going on since the water level below the dam (and behind the house) wasn’t affected. By chance my husband and I happened to stop just to check out the dam since we hadn’t been there in a while. Well, he hadn’t, I padded there twice in spring. Lo and behold there was barely a trickle running through. The tree stumps with their exposed roots knocked me out and I made a mental note to go up there on a foggy or cloudy day.
I hoped for more fog, but since there wasn’t much water, there wasn’t much fog. They were letting water back in though and so there is more than there was when I first saw it. In any event, normally both of these stumps are under 3-4 feet of water at any given time. The current keeps the roots clear of mud and debris and I just loved how they looked.
I didn’t love the washed out, blah look of the shots out of the camera though, so I played with some presets to give things a bit more drama. Usually I process for realism, but this time I did so with an eye to an apocalyptic scene. Some ravaged landscape, irretrievably lost and ruined. I don’t know if it succeeded, but I like it.
In NH part of the Appalachian Trail snakes through the state and Vermont has the Long Trail, but here in Wisconsin there is the Ice Age trail. It isn’t contiguous, but runs for 1200 miles and is a nationally recognized natural resource. It’s taken decades of persistent land conservation, but today there are dozens of trailheads in dozens of counties. I probably won’t hike all of it or even most of it, but I have gone out to explore some already.
Each trail is divided into named segments and they’re all mapped, signed and blazed fairly well. The section in this post is not far from my house, just a mile or so down river below the Grandfather Dam which makes power using penstocks. These things –
Crazy, what? Water from behind the dam is forced into these wooden tubes and regulated by the tanks you see in the background. Turbines get turned and the power plant, just out of shot to the left, sends power into the grid. It’s loud and wet and a bit nerve-wracking to be near them, but it’s the best and quickest way to get to the trail head, so that’s where I started. And no, that’s not one of the disasters. The penstocks are still holding! And the dam didn’t let water go either so I wasn’t caught in a flood (they do sound a siren warning though).
Being so close to the Wisconsin River, it basically follows the shoreline and what used to be the shoreline, but is now forest –
It’s a little hard to make out, but the darker area of the boulder there is concave; worn smooth by dozens and dozens of years of water surging and swirling. All of the rocks in the river are like this and are really interesting to see up close, which luckily you can do most times of the year.
Before I get to that here’s a little warning. Stay alert out there. Sometimes I’m guilty of being a bit too focused on my photography; the surroundings, composing, the light, the wonder of nature. All of it can be really absorbing. Not to mention I listen to audio books quite a bit when I’m out there. I can still hear sounds in my environment, but it’s one more thing my mind has to process other than what’s right around me.
So I’m standing there with the tripod, waiting for the sun to get blocked by a cloud a bit. I’m backing up, reframing, recomposing. Backing up again. I’ve got the remote shutter cable, a polarizer and other stuff. And what’s that? What’s with all these bees? No. Wait. Not bees. Hornets. Big ones. Whizzing around. They’re kind of all over the place. Uh oh.
Yeah. That’s a bald-faced hornets nest bigger than my head. And it was about 20 feet behind me about 15 feet off the ground. No wonder there was practically a cloud of them. Dopey me just backing right into their territory. Yup, yup, yo.
I got right the hell out of there. Wide berth. Easy gait. Nothing too fast or jarring. Didn’t want to freak them out and send them after me. At home I looked at a close up of that shot and you can see a bunch of hornets right in the mouth of the nest. The thing is full of them. A pinata of venomous fun.
Ok, so note to self. Be careful. Be aware. Sigh. Good intentions. I really need to listen to my own advice.
So before I get to that, a word on sunlight and managing it in photos. Who wants to go out on cloudy days all the time, or confine your photos to just the golden hours at opposite ends of the day? Oh sure, they’re great, but learning to cope with direct sun can be really helpful during, you know, the rest of the day. And sometimes it can even help.
For me, the forest shot above wouldn’t work nearly as well if there wasn’t sunlight in it. It brings out the texture of that boulder so that you can see the carved nature of it. It shows depth as well, emphasizing the layers of the trees. I did soften the image in post though, bringing the highlights down and easing off on the contrast. Other techniques I use with dappled sunlight is to lower the luminance of certain colors if they seem to ‘hot’. Yellow and red often go off the charts with digital photography, so managing the color sliders can help tone those down.
It can help with direct sun as well. A beautiful day like this one is tough to shoot in. The shadows are harsh and the glare intense. Start with a polarizer. It can do a couple of things; reduce the glare on shiny surfaces like leaves and rocks, and also bring up reflections. The thing is that to do one it has to do the other less well. That’s where you luminance slider can help. This is not saturation!! That’s a different value.
For this image I really wanted to concentrate the polarizer’s effect on the reflection. That’s something you just can’t reproduce in post-production, at least not without a lot of work. It’s much easier to do it in the field. Then with software reduce the lightness of the colors that aren’t as affected by the polarizer. For this image it was the trees and the rocks. Using this technique leaves your overall whites and highlights where they are which is important for clouds!
Little scenes can benefit from a polarizer as well. The moss here was reflecting a good deal of light and so I reduced it with a polarizer and the green is lush and deep. You may have to use exposure compensation to get the exposure back where you want it, but once you get used to working with it, it’s second nature.
Another tool I’ve been using lately is a physical thing and not a processing technique. Recently I bought a collapsible diffuser (finally!) to make my own shade. I’ve been meaning to for ages, but just never have. Now I have a 12-inch model that folds down to about 4 inches and is very useful for diffusing light on or around my subject as well as creating reflected light. This coupled with some of the Lightroom techniques above have improved the overall look of my images. I used a combination of all of the methods I’ve mentioned for the following shots –
All the field and processing techniques don’t mean a thing if you can’t get the shot in the first place. Whether it be you that’s all busted or your camera. Or in my case both.
While making my way across a small feeder stream, the big, flat rock I stepped on tilted. Sharply. Throwing me straight down onto my butt and tripod with camera attached. Into the drink it went and damn if my ankle didn’t hurt, too. My first thought, of course, was for the gear. A quick look and I saw that the front of the lens was fine. Wet, but undamaged. The lens cap did its job and I fished it out of the water and gave it a shake.
A whole bunch of things saved my bacon with this little tumble. First is my lifelong habit of replacing the lens cap between takes. It might seem silly or a pain, but it literally saved my lens and/or filter this time. And given that it’s a really nice B&W filter, I’d have been bummed to have to replace it. Better than the $1200 lens, but still. Spendy. So I tells ya – put that lenscap on, you never know.
The other thing is that I fell uphill. The stream was flowing down a slope and so in crossing I fell upstream instead of downstream which was lucky. And that my lens and camera are weather-sealed. A quick dunk in very shallow water is something it’s designed to take. And it did. Yay for magnesium camera bodies, too!! A quick wipe down to remove some debris and water droplets and it was good to go.
The last thing I was immediately grateful for was that I didn’t have the Olympus 90mm macro on the camera. That might not have worked out so well. Yeah, it’s a tank and I always put the cap back on it, too, but it isn’t weather proof and it’s old. Almost irreplaceable. Sure they come up on eBay now and again, but not often. So glad it was in my bag. No one wants to see a grown woman cry.
The tripod did well, too. It’s scratched up on one leg, but I think of it as a battle scar not a blemish.
So that’s my tale of near woe. Almost stung to death by hornets, but escaped at the last minute only to fall on my butt and put my oh-so-precious gear in harms way. But wait! Good habits pay off and there’s no damage, except to my pride.
Several weeks ago, I bought myself a kayak. I’ve wanted one for years, but never bought one. Sure, I’d paddled a couple of times with other people’s boats, but never owned one. Now I do it’s allowing me a new way to engage with nature and my photography. Here it is – a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 (12 foot, recreation boat) –
At first I didn’t really dare to bring my camera with me, but I have worked up some skill and some confidence, so I’ve begun to bring it with me when I’m out. Of course the first time I brought it, I forgot to put the memory card back in. Doh! In a way it was funny. Still had my iPhone with me though, so all wasn’t lost. Here’s the Powwow river –
So on my next outing, I remembered the memory card! Again, I chose a slow-moving river, this time the Contoocook which is a really pretty river and because it’s dammed quite a bit, a lot of it is great for quiet-water paddling. For most of the day, I kept the GH3 in a drybag, but then toward the end of my session, I kept it on my lap. It got splashed, but since it’s weatherproof, it doesn’t matter. I may not keep it there going forward, but for a quiet river it was fine. When I really had to paddle hard into the wind and chop, I put it back in the drybag. This first one is from a side channel I explored for a bit. It got narrow at one point, but I paddled through and look at what I found –
Isn’t it amazing? Without a kayak, I’d have never seen it. I sat for a while, just floating and soaking up the atmosphere. It was a bit like a fairy story – an enchanted pool or magic glade. Dragonflies and damselflies kept me company. On my way back out to the main channel, I turned back to catch these ferns in the sunlight. I wish there’d been a bit of cloud cover to soften the harsh sunlight, but I still like the way they’re lit up. And the reflection.
Paddling upstream didn’t yield any keepers, but drifting down current did. I would drift for a bit and try for compositions on the bank. The light and the ferns kept me shooting. And the reflections are just a bonus.
Bright sun isn’t the best light for photography, but I think it can be managed if you’ve got strong, colorful subject and balance to your composition. I drifted into some pickerelweed and kind of sat for bit, hunting a good shot. I’m pretty happy with this since it illustrates the perfection of the day –
This section of the Contoocook is dammed to make the Powder Mill pond and part of the joy of paddling here is going under this gorgeous covered bridge. I couldn’t resist shooting it (with a couple paddlers underneath) even though it’s a New England cliche, could you have kept the camera down?
So that’s my first full day on the water with the camera. I’m not 100% into a groove or routine, so I forgot my polarizer and binoculars, but overall I think I’m getting into the swing of it. I’ve started a new category here on the blog for future kayak posts. More water adventures to come!
A couple of years ago, when I first saw photos of Royalston Falls in Royalston, MA, I knew I had to go see them for myself. For the longest time I thought they were on the Tully river, but it turns out that the watercourse is actually Falls Brook. Original, huh? Hey, I didn’t name it. If I did it would probably be something like Amazing Time-traveling Waterway of Antiquity. Catchy, huh? I think I’ve posted shots of the falls before, but what the heck, they’re gorgeous so why not show them again?
A sign says that the drop is fifty feet. It goes straight down into a round gorge. Looking at it, you can imagine the other courses the water took to carve the whole thing. It literally inspires awe. You can’t help but go silent when you first see it. Even though the falls is the star of the show, the supporting cast is exciting, too. That would be Falls Brook itself. Well, maybe not exactly, but the way the water has shaped the rock it flows through is wondrous. It’s almost like you’ve gone to Middle Earth or something. Intriguing shapes and surprising formations are literally around every bend.
Primeval isn’t it? You can’t tell by looking at that one, but right there at the end of the shot…that big rock formation is actually an arch. An arch!! Over a brook in New Hampshire. Well, it might still be Massachusetts, the border is right around here. Just look. It’s fantastic. You should have heard me laughing the whole time I shot. I couldn’t help it. Joy just bubbles up in this place and it needs a place to go.
Isn’t that the coolest thing? I’ve walked a lot of brooks around here, but never saw one of these before. Other than getting into that pool (who knows how deep it really is), I couldn’t find a better way to shoot it, unfortunately. The water doesn’t flow under it strongly anymore, it’s carved a new route just on the other side of the rock. Now it just pools there, making a nice hangout for frogs, one of which was a few feet from me while I shot. Green frogs are so friendly.
The rock formations are incredible and the contortions the water goes through to flow are challenging to photograph. To the eye, many of them are imposing and mysterious, but they don’t necessarily translate to 2D. Some did though. Not only did I have to get the tripod into the water (and my feet), but I also had to move a really big branch out of this shot. Any bigger and I doubt I could have done it, but I did and it really helped focus the composition.
The whole place is tough to photograph, but absolutely engrossing to be in. Thinking about the thousands of years it took for the water to carve the gorges is pretty humbling. Geologic time just laughs at us biologicals. I did a lot of rock scrambling and wish I could have reached this one gargantuan boulder with a fantastic view of another amphitheater of rock. The falls are gone now, but you can imagine what they were like. Earthquakes even more powerful than the one the other day must have really changed things up over the millennia. I climbed on the other side of it on top of an outcrop like the ones below and just sat and listened to the water and thought about how ancient this waterway is. One of these days, when the light is more cooperative, I’ll have to find a way to shoot it. It’s pretty jaw-dropping.
It goes on and on like that. I only hiked a couple hours down there, but I think I’ll go back in winter. Maybe after the first snow if it’s just a light one.
Anyway, when I was done there, I decided to check out another set of falls which are truly gorgeous (and with bonus stone arch bridge), but like the Royalston Falls, they are barricaded and compositional choices are quite limited. I did a little exploring on the other side though and there’s good reason for the barricades and the re-routed trail. The gorge face is crumbling and collapsing. Even where it’s stable, its wicked steep. Impressive though.
Not the most autumnal images ever, but the magic of Falls Brook more than makes up for it.
I’d been meaning to get back here since the first time I explored this little swatch of conservation land. It contains the middle branch of the Piscataquog river and has some interesting aspects to it like a pond and some defunct bridges. Unfortunately the light wasn’t overly cooperative and when the sun came out I had to pack it in. While it lasted though, I got some decent images and I think they show why this river is so special.
For this first one I had to dodge poison ivy, a pretty regular thing in these parts. The bank is high and steep and I liked the vantage point. At the very back of the shot, the river takes an abrupt turn, just like the one in the very front of the shot. A zig-zag. It’s pretty great. The ferns in the foreground (and some of the rest of the greenery) are royal fern and I just had to use them to frame the shot.
If you stayed at this position, you could have watched me take this next shot. It’s looking back this way from just in front of that bend down there. I loved the juxtaposition of the dead tree and the live, bendy tree and so I got in the river to frame them together. The ferns on the banks are a combination of royal and what looked like cinnamon fern, although I didn’t really look closely for the cinnamon-y spore stalks. Might have been interrupted fern which is of a similar height and leaf structure.
A neat feature of this property is the old mill pond that is now semi-dammed by beavers instead of humans. The trail actually includes the beaver dam and you have to walk along it. The pond helps to create a slightly different habitat for local color.
Not all of the trail around the pond is so accommodating, but there are some helpful walkways and bridges. The light wasn’t good enough to shoot the pond itself, but it was terrific for adding much needed depth to the woodland trail. Just back beyond those dark trees, I scared a deer half to death. Sorry deer!
If this entices you to get out into the woods – go! And if you’re in southern NH, you can get a map of this bit of the world here – Middle Branch map. When you get there, be kind, be responsible, pick up other people’s trash (and don’t leave any yourself) and enjoy reconnecting with nature.
Crazy, huh? Spring is so…springy. The two Ws are just irresistible – wildflowers and waterfalls. I’ve shot these particular falls before, but after a big storm knocked branches and whole trees down so the cascades were a mess. When I saw fellow photographer Jeff Newcomer’s recent post about Garwin falls, I saw they were clear and that I’d have to copy his composition. I didn’t copy his processing though; sepia is something I don’t often do, but this time it seemed a great choice. There was color in the shot, but not like the side view and so I processed it differently. Ditto with the long view. I wanted to see if I could warm it up some and still make it believable. If I were presenting these as a set, I’d process them all the same, but since I’m not I didn’t. These are my rules, I make ’em up. : )
This is the part of the falls you can’t see in the shot up there. It’s behind the ledge on the left. The brook sort of curves around it, making it damn hard to photograph. I brought my knee-high muck boots and got in the water just once since it was deeper and faster than I remembered.
And now for the wildflowers part of our show. First up, painted trillium. I’ve shot them before, but just look at ’em. Could you resist? Just before I put this shot together I made a couple images in a standard sort of way and liked them well enough, but thought they were kinda repetitive. So I took the camera off the tripod and set it on a nearby stump and lo, this composition came together. I just love the intimacy of it and those drops off the leaves are such a bonus. Ah the forest after rain.
Look what else is blooming – wild geranium! There were scads of it nearer the coast in a couple of spots and even though it was hanging out with tons of poison ivy, I had to try for some images. The one I had in my catalog was sheer crap so I braved the ivy and got one that doesn’t suck.
These are challenging to shoot in a couple ways. First is that like a lot of other flowers, the least little breeze makes them wave around like they’re doing some mad dance. Waiting for the lull is the worst part of shooting them. I swear that poison ivy was inching toward me angling for a pounce. The second thing is getting the color right. Try as I might, I couldn’t quite get it right in camera with a white balance setting. They were too blue or too orange. So I set it close and then processed by memory. These next ones had a similar problem although they are a different shade of pink. I’d never seen them before and found out that they’re an introduced species from Europe. Pretty little things though. They were in a river flood plain and I took a zillion shots to get one that worked. Oh that wind! It conspires against me. LOL.
Anyway, that’s it for now. I have a few more flower shots, but I haven’t processed them yet so they’ll have to hang fire for a bit. Hope you all can get out and enjoy the bounty of spring, too.
The Piscataquog is my favorite river. I know, weird, huh? It’s an important waterway not only for people, but for many animals and plants that thrive in the ancient glacial habitats along its course. It has 3 branches (north, middle and south), runs for 57 miles with little interruption and its name translates from a local Indian dialect as The Great Deer Place or The Place for Many Deer.
Over the last couple hundred years, many local towns have sprung up on its banks using its regular and forceful flow to power mills, one of which is said to have been the very first shoe factory in the United States. Only remnants remain and much of the land around the 3 branches is officially protected. Each branch has unique geological features which I’m exploring as a project of sorts.
This is the only gorge so far as I can tell and unfortunately most of it is covered in no trespassing signs so I didn’t explore where it was prohibited. I hope someday easements can be granted to allow hikers and of course, photographers. : ) It is on the south branch and is on the border of two towns – Lyndeborough and New Boston.
The bridge in this shot used to connect the two ends of High Bridge road, but is now unsafe as the decking has rotted and there are many holes and the iron supports have rusted to lace in some spots. When a horse put its foot through in the mid 1990s, the bridge closed and has remained so. There is a project underway to raise funds for its restoration, but they have a long way to go. Further downstream is another set of gentle falls as well –
Over the coming months I hope to continue to explore different branches of the Piscataquog. I already have a few scouted and am waiting for some ferns to grow in, etc. There are some flood areas called eskers I want to try to locate as well, so hopefully you will like what’s to come as I explore.
This year we’ve had so much rain that the waterfalls are still flowing mightily. Strange for this time of year when most streams, rivers and brooks are quite low. Makes for some fantastic photography though and of course I was out there.
This is Mill Brook. Yeah, original huh? There is still a semi-active mill on this waterway, but most of them are gone (there are remnants of one just upstream and across the road from here). This section is just before an old reservoir where the dam has been breached. I wished I could have gotten into the water for this, but it was way too deep and fast for that. So I clung to the bank and did the best I could.
Farther downstream on Mill brook are the massive and difficult to photograph Garwin Falls. I’m by no means the first photographer down there and it has been photographed in a more classic way than I have here, but I was interested in trying to interpret the falls differently. They’re quite wide and actually curve, with tons of trees both upright and blown down by the Halloween Noreaster we got. Also, the far bank is private property. I could have trespassed, but I don’t ever want to be ‘that asshole’ if you know what I mean. This first shot is just before the water plunges down the ledge. I loved the little bridge I found. No way in hell was I going to step on it. Oh to be young again and indestructible.
Just after the first drop, it turns a bit and I stood the tripod on top of a huge boulder and aimed it down. The curvy log there I thought would make a great leading line and the angle is pretty trippy. I don’t think I’ve seen the falls shot from here.
A little further down the falls I found a big beech tree that had recently come down. I carefully walked partway down a big slab of granite and shot from the side. It’s another strange angle, but I like it. That bit of direct sunlight in the trees in the back is pretty sweet. I didn’t have much more time left though since the clouds were burning off and the sun was getting higher.
Now let’s leave New Hampshire and go to Massachusetts and Royalston falls; a very accessible and dramatic waterfall. The river itself winds through dense woods and has carved some very impressive gorges over the thousands of years its been flowing through here.
I wished I could have spent some more time exploring and looking for unique compositions, but with the daylight hours being so short this time of year, I went right onto the falls.
The gorge is amazing and almost as impressive as the water. I got to thinking about the thousands of years it took to carve the rocks and how the course of the water has changed. It is as close to eternal as I think it gets; it’s old and doesn’t care about us and what we do. We might dam it for a while, but when we’re gone it will flow on. Makes you feel so small and insignificant. In a good way though; minimalizing my own existence has never frightened me. What did frighten me a bit was the terrain and how treacherous would have been without a sturdy fence being there. It did somewhat limit compositional possibilities, but I didn’t mind. For this shot I put the tripod out beyond the fence though. It’s about a 50 foot drop down.
After seeing the Royalston Falls I wanted to check out two more, but only had enough light for one. It’s the massive, astonishing and incredibly difficult to photograph Spirit Falls. I’m pretty sure this is also on a branch of the Tully river and isn’t far from the Royalston Falls. It went for hundreds of feet through thick forest and dropped hundreds of feet as well. The roar was so constant and so loud it was all-enveloping. I poked around a bit, but I’d need hours and hours to find views and segments for photos. It went down much further into a very large floodplain that was gorgeous from the couple of vistas on the top of Jacob’s Hill.
Well, that’s it for now. I don’t have much planned in the way of shooting. Brown stick season is well and truly here and so nothing springs immediately to mind. Hopefully it won’t last long.
Some from a nearby apple orchard. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of these two. Plus the light was great!
Some watery views from my hike up Mt. Hale this past weekend. The light was direct sun and rather harsh and contrasty, so I did the best I could –
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.