Another subject I love in winter are brooks, streams and rivers. Or more properly for Wisconsin, a creek. Ripley Creek in particular. It’s a lovely, but overgrown waterway that feeds into the Wisconsin river just south of my house. The trailhead is 8 minutes away so it’s becoming a go-to spot in much the same way as Tucker and Purgatory brooks used to be for me in NH.
My usual approach to this kind of shot is to use a slow shutter speed and smooth the water, but this time I decided that the smooth element was already there – the snow – and so I left off the filter(s) and used a faster shutter speed. This gave me a rougher, more jagged texture in the water and that contrasts nicely with the snowy blanket on the shore.
The camera was on the tripod for both those shots, but sometimes I just couldn’t get it into the right position and I had to hand hold. Luckily I could brace myself pretty well and there was enough light that I didn’t have to go to a very high ISO.
I had to go for it though because of the shapes the ice forms behind the boulders. Isn’t it great? You can see that the water slows down behind the rocks and so that’s where the ice forms first. I was jammed into the branches of a hemlock sapling for this one, trying to back up enough to get the near ice formation and the right bank into the shot without getting the branches in the way. Not a bad effort and one of my favorites for the series.
Another big choice for winter water scenes is monochrome or color. Going black and white works especially well because there is true white and true black in just about every shot (even if you do have to tweak in post). It’s dramatic and shows off the textures and contours of the landscape, which you can see here supports a lot of plant growth and is sometimes steep and rocky. The color of the water though, is part of what fascinates me about doing stream work. The tannins.
Just look at that richness down there. It is most definitely not pollution. Tannins are chemical substances that come from phenolic acids (also called tannic acid) that are produced by plants. These acids are found in all parts of plants including leaves, bark and stems. As water moves through the soil the acids leach out and collect in surface waterways. They bind with starches, minerals, cellulose and proteins and are NOT water soluble and don’t decompose easily. This means those molecules are carried along in water, staining it like tea (tannins are exactly what makes tea that color). So when I like the composition and the contrast, I keep my shots in color.
But when I want to focus attention on structure and line, I leach out those tannins.
This last one was a little challenging in terms of getting those big logs in the foreground. My tripod was on its tiptoes (should have had the center column with me, but I didn’t) and I was on a bridge (luckily a high one), but it was close.
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.
Recently a joint venture between the Piscataquog Land Conservancy and the Francestown Land Trust resulted in the acquisition of 149 acres of land under easement and protection from development. The official name is Diane and John R. Schott Brennan Falls Reserve, but I think folks will refer to it as The Brennan Falls Reserve or Brennan Brook Forest. Either way it’s a lovely addition to the conservation efforts of both groups. I love it when this kind of thing happens and opens new, natural spaces for people to enjoy. I especially love it when there’s a brook or a waterfall involved and Brennan brook has a lovely 20-foot cascade.
This is an out-and-back hike ending at the falls. If you were to continue up Bullard Hill Road, you’d eventually get to a long-abandoned village dating to about 1700, now reduced to cellar holes. Farming isn’t easy in New England! Between the time I headed into the preserve and when I headed out, 3 hours later, a kiosk had been erected for maps and other information about the property. Very exciting. Thanks, Ben!
Note: during dry periods, it should be easy to drive in to the kiosk area on Bullard Hill Road where there is parking and turn around space. Otherwise it’s safer to park on Campbell Hill road and walk in (maybe 1/2 a mile). Bullard Hill road is on the left, right where the pavement ends and turns to dirt. There is a sign for Bay State Forestry Service there currently.
The first thing you’ll come upon is a pond that’s created by an old dam, presumably for mill operations. The beavers appreciate it I’m sure.
The light is kind of harsh and was difficult to deal with, but because Pat Nelson helped me out so much with finding my way to the new preserve, I wanted to get some photos the PLC can use to highlight this little jewel. I have a feeling this view will be shot over and over as people explore the area.
Just on the other side of the dam, I found this little cascade reflecting the intensely green canopy and so I had to see what I could do with it. I think a faster shutter speed would have better captured the sparkly green-ness of the reflection better. Maybe next time.
Once again I was dealing with direct sun filtered through canopy. Not the ideal conditions for moving water photography, but I took it as a challenge and tried my best to make the light work for the subject. One way I find effective is to isolate details of larger views or change composition/perspective to eliminate as many distracting highlights as possible – basically to do landscape slices. And if you can’t eliminate a highlight area (where the human eye naturally goes to first), I think the best course of action is to try to make that highlight work for the overall flow of the image. With the two falls shots, I think there’s balance and cohesion to the images. Definitely the improved dynamic range of my GH3 helped manage the difficult light. For the wide shot, I waited until the earth rotated a bit so the hot spots got smaller, but in the first I didn’t. More experimentation is definitely needed.
Not far from that little cascade are the falls themselves. I love how the sound of the crashing water starts as part of the background noise, but then I become consciously aware of it. That’s when a little flicker of excitement flares in my stomach. I get closer and the roar gets louder. Anticipation builds. What will I see? What new and fantastic construction of granite ledge will I find? How will I shoot it? It’s all part of the magic of the woods for me. And who doesn’t love a waterfall?
I spent about an hour with the falls, watching the light change and finding a friend to hang out with.
With the naked eye, I couldn’t figure out why this orb weaver looked so strange. When I got the macro lens on, I saw that she was just finishing a meal. Her jaws were still actively working and she completely ignored me. Only in post did I see that it looks like there’s still an eye staring back at you out of its misery of being eaten alive. Shiver. This wasn’t the only spider making a good living beside the falls, but it was the biggest.
Later I found this little beauty –
Although I’ve encountered plenty of wood frogs before, I have no good photos of them because they’re so fast and wily. Luckily I had the 35-100mm lens mounted and when this little one froze I thought how wonderful was the camouflage and managed to get this image before it darted off into the hollow of a tree.
So that’s my 3-hour tour of the new Brennan Falls Reserve aka Brennan Brook Forest. It’s no doubt a vital part of the Piscataquog watershed and very thoughtfully managed.
Spring, spring, glorious spring.
Yeah, I’m a bad blogger, I know. Honestly though, I hardly shot a thing all winter. Zero photos from March.
So I’m making up for it.
This is Chesterfield Gorge which is way the frig out in western NH…nearly Vermont. I’d been there in the mid-90s, but not since, but I think I got my timing right as Jeff Newcomer told me the gorge had a big clean up recently. Lots of debris was removed from the waterway and I thank those folks profusely!
There are many interesting sections to this gorge and I did my best to find them. For this shot, I had the tripod in the water, weighted by my backpack. I haven’t had the ability to do this with my previous tripods and I think it’s going to prove helpful with the stronger currents to reduce vibration and make for sharper images. Here’s a shot of how it looks – Click here.
Because you can get to the edge of the precipice in a lot of places, I went for the opposite approach with this shot and the next one. I wish there was a bit more sense of scale, but what can you do? The sun came out now and then and I tried to work with it and I think it adds some depth by lighting up branches. I’m a big fan of that anyway. I know not all photographers are, but I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t fight the light. You have to work with it and figure out how to make it enhance your photos. Make it work for you.
I didn’t mind that it rained a bit at times either. It was part of being there. The experience. One thing I try to do is to soak up a location as much as I can. Sometimes I think I rush too much to shoot and I don’t really absorb the location. The way the breeze moves through the rocks or trees. The sound of the water. The shape of the rocks. It’s all part of why I’m there and I need to be mindful of it.
I’m sure the people who walked by me thought I was a little crazy to be just standing in the brook with the tripod, but I needed to see.
You never know what you will notice when you take the time to be still.
On the same day I visited Pulpit falls (from my last post) I went to Fay Falls in Walpole. It’s a haul for me to trek all the way over there, so a two-for-one was definitely the plan. It meant I couldn’t really explore much beyond the falls, but at least I know where they are and won’t spend too much time looking for them and bushwhacking. There is a trail leading near to Fay falls, but it doesn’t go all the way. Basically you find the brook and listen, then follow the sound of the water.
The gorge for Fay falls is really steep and long and so I had to switchback my way down into it. When I got to the bottom I was a ways downstream from the falls themselves, but the rock formations and the water’s tortured path were pretty interesting. I wish I could have spent more time down there, but it was slow going, I hadn’t actually seen the falls yet and I was pretty sure it would rain any second.
So here they are –
Aren’t they grand? I was shooting from on top of a couple of huge boulders right at the pool there. Unfortunately there is also the wreckage of a dead tree down there, making for a really disordered foreground and a big obstacle to shoot around. I made the best of it though.
Strangely, the water here is not tannic like most other brooks in southern NH. I know what causes water to be tannic (organic compounds in leaves and other detritus leech out of the water and stain it, just like the tannins in tea do), but I don’t know why one brook is tannic and another, maybe within a mile, isn’t. Since it’s a relative rarity in this area, I think I’ll be back to it and explore down the gorge a bit.
Anyway, just after I shot this, the rain started in earnest so I hiked up and out of the gorge back to the car. Good timing overall and I have a couple new places to explore further. Not too shabby.
After Hurricane Sandy blew into the area and filled up our smaller streams and rivers again, it was a perfect time to get out and see them. Some of them I’d just been to (Purgatory) and WOW, what a difference a storm makes. At the time it didn’t seem like we got that much rain, but I guess we did. Because showers could catch me at any time, I went to a couple places that were easy and quick to get in and out of. As a result, it didn’t rain. My first stop was Tucker brook/falls, a popular spot but oh so rich in photographic possibilities. This time I got some views I’ve never tried before including going down into a sort of wide gorge. It was magical.
A few other photographers I know had been to Tucker falls the week before and the flow looked like a garden hose was on tap compared to after the storm. Wow.
Phew. Feel like a couple monochromes now? I swear I couldn’t stop shooting. I was telling myself that it was repetitive, derivative and had been done a million times, but it’s so hard to stop.
Phew. Enough already, right? The trouble is, I went to Purgatory Falls just after this. You can practically throw a rock from one location to the other so it’s kind of compulsory that if you have a good day for it, you hit both back to back.
Check out those rocks in the foreground. Just weeks ago I’d stood on them with the tripod to take a shot of the same little cascade. Amazing what some rain will do. While I didn’t spend as much time at Purgatory brook as I did at Tucker, I did finally manage to shoot a small, but intense cascade I’d never done successfully before. It’s rocky and kind of a PITA to set up for, but those bubbly-swirls…well, you know what a sucker for those I am.
And of course the falls themselves. Probably the most over-exposed waterfall in southern NH. Could be that’s Tucker falls, but it would be close. I’ve shot them before, but have never gotten up onto the little cliff next to them. I actually didn’t climb up, but down. There’s a little ledge hemmed in by trees about 18″ wide and so that’s where I perched. It’s only about 12 feet higher than the normal position for this shot, but it made me feel adventurous, so it was all good.
Crazy huh? I just can’t resist an overcast day, especially one threatening rain. It’s the perfect time to do this kind of photography. Bright, but even light and no direct sun. I hope you’re not sick of it, cause there might be more.
When some local photographers wanted to get together for a meetup at Garwin Falls, I was all over it. Garwin is one of my favorite spots and I’d never met any of the folks who were going. An old friend and new friends; how could I say no? The organizer had scouted the falls a day or two beforehand and warned us the flow was wicked low, but still had potential. After a little while there, I totally agreed. While not as dramatic as when the falls are in full roar, the limited flow let me and the others get to spots normally unreachable due to the torrents of water. Like this big section of ledge where I could look down at the lowest part of the cascade. It’s kind of a strange perspective, but I like it.
Basically from the same position, I was directly in front of the middle section of the falls. It’s a little messy, but I’ve never seen it like this before so I think it works from a documentary angle. Weird perspective was the trend of the day.
But maybe the grandest image of all was one I shot from a tiny outcrop of roots and rock just at the base of the falls. Normally the water runs over this little spit of land and you can’t get to it. It’s also one of those places where you leave your tripod on the bank, lower yourself down to the little spit, then reach back for the tripod. Not that there’s room for it and you, so most of it goes in the water. Worth it though. Who doesn’t like the sound of low flow?
The sun was just reaching into the upper section of the image, but when I saw that whirlpool from above, I knew I’d have to get down there before the sun did.
Farther up the stream, above the nearly empty reservoir, there are a series of cascades that are so photogenic that I have to shoot them every time I’m there. This time though, the low flow helped me out again by getting me into a position that was impossible before. I straddled the tripod across the water onto rocks normally inundated with water for this one and it really works.
Even though I wish I’d had the presence of mind to hit another section of the falls, a good time was had by all and I’m happy with the images I got. And it’s not like the falls are going anywhere.
When it threatens rain, I head to a brook to see what I can do with it. Sometimes I get lucky and it doesn’t rain, other times I don’t and I get wet. One of these days I’d like to have a weatherproof camera. My main lens is weatherproof, but not the E-30, and while I don’t mind a sprinkle, it won’t take a soaking and who knows how things are going to go once the rain gets started. So with Purgatory brook I had to cut it short unfortunately. Still managed to get a few shots that I like. It’s such a pretty brook and the flow was low so I could get out onto rocks that were previously out of reach.
Even the details were pretty cool. Lots of tripod in the water action going on.
Maybe you’ve noticed the color of a lot of the brook and stream shots I’ve shared. It’s sort of brown or yellowish. That’s because of tannins leaching out of the leaves and other decaying plant matter (it’s the reason your tea is tea-colored). My friend Melissa and I had a conversation about it, but didn’t know what specific circumstances make for a tannic waterway. Most of the brooks, rivers and streams in southern NH are tannic, but many of them up north are not. This is Smart’s Brook (another favorite) and it’s clear as a bell. In winter it even has a green tinge. The nearby Mad River is also a greeny-blue that’s just magical when it freezes. The light in this shot just blows me away. Melissa and I waited until the trees blocked the sunlight from the water directly, but it is still in the background playing in the trees. I think it adds such depth. Just look at those tree trunks on the left. Smashing.
Sometimes the light in the woods is so amazing that I have to give it a go and try to capture it in an image. This is still Smart’s Brook, but looking downstream through the mist of a humid day. The light in the canopy was wonderful, but I needed to keep the water itself out of the photo as much as possible (hello blown highlights). It’s kind of a strange shot, but I think it’s pretty effective in a subdued kind of way.
Even though both shots were taken on the same day, just an hour apart, the looks are completely different. Oh NH, you are always surprising me.
No matter what Egon says, I crossed. Cold Brook was running very low. I’ve posted about Senter Falls since I’ve shot there a few times – here and here and here and here. Boy, I guess I go there a lot, huh? They’re always beautiful even when the water is minimal which it was the other day and I took advantage of it by going to the other side of the brook. There is no trail and no bridge so you either have to get wet or wait until it’s drier. I’m definitely going back when the water is really roaring. It’s amazing from that side. The ledges afford completely different views that are obstructed or impossible from the normal side.
Here’s a shot of the middle section of falls where the gorge narrows. I can just imagine the roar come spring.
I walked all the way up to the main falls, which were unimpressive, but got some excellent views down into the gorge itself. Because the water was so low, it was constrained in a narrow slot that it normally overflows. Tripod contortions should be an Olympic event. I could compete, man, seriously.
Despite the slipperiness of wet leaves on wet stone, I did some scrambling to position the tripod for more detail shots. The light was pretty perfect for this kind of thing and it didn’t rain. I love the sense of upheaval in this next shot. I can imagine the earth folding upon itself.
I’ve gotten out onto the same boulder to shoot these middle falls before, but this time all the birch and beech leaves in the water was like bam! psychedelic mayhem!
It took several tries and numerous tripod positions for me to find this composition, but wow…what a show.