Trails, paths, and walkways are all irresistible subjects for the outdoor photographer. Who hasn’t stopped and shot, trying to convey in an image what it was like to be walking in that spot? I know I succumb maybe more than I should, but I have gotten better at judging if a section of trail is a good candidate, putting the shot together and working the scene. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules, but here are some good ideas to get started with.
If you’ve got a raised boardwalk type situation, it’s a given that the strong leading line it presents will work well. The thing is to try to fill the frame with it and help your audience imagine how it continues out of frame. The long arc of this section of trail was perfect. It had a start and a stop and gave me a strong diagonal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tripod, but not to worry, I just leaned myself and the camera against a tree and used that to steady me. The green foliage contrasting with the fallen leaves and the dappled sunlight all add atmosphere and interest.
Other times it’s the straight down the line view that I want to showcase and this railtrail is perfect. It was the light at the far end that caught my attention and I knew if I lined up the foreground well, it wouldn’t disrupt your eye’s natural travel down to that bright endpoint. Too many times the trees on the side of the trails are distracting and don’t help to guide the viewer’s eye, but in this case I got lucky. The anchor tree on the left is big, but not huge and the rest of the trees are similar in size and step down into the shot in a progression that works to aim your gaze, not bump it all over the shot.
Another thing is to vary your perspective and either get up high or down low. It’s a great way to show off the other features of the area you’re walking in; for this shot it was the boulders that often litter New England forests. Instead of a tripod, I set the camera on one of these boulders and worked the composition from there. I think you get a strong sense of place from the angle, the first boulder and the others down the trail as your eyes move through the shot. Also, the trail is not directly in the middle of the picture. Often that just makes the whole thing too static.
So, back to working with wooden walkways, one thing I have learned is that just because one is there and makes for a strong line, if that’s the only thing of interest, you’re going to have a dull photo. Don’t forget the primary mission for any photographer is to hunt and capture good light. Even direct sunlight can be good if it’s filtered by leaves, especially autumn leaves. Being a dappled sunlight fool, I couldn’t resist the combination with the strong line of the boardwalk. Bonus scattered leaves!
As nice as that one is to me, this next one is stronger by far and was taken not long after. The earth had rotated just a bit and the sun was lower and damn if it didn’t light up those scattered leaves like they were stained glass. A low angle was perfect to bring the viewer right to the place and time and give back some of the magic of being on that trail. I deliberately put some shade in the foreground to keep your eyes on the path and moving into the shot, not sliding off at the front. I also think it needs the contrast for that warm sun’s glow. Can’t you just hear the crunch underfoot?
When I first started assembling this collection of images, I didn’t know how I’d tie them together specifically. Yeah, sure they’re all trails, but so what? After a few days the idea of a tutorial of sorts came to mind. After miles and miles of trails and dozens and dozens of bad photos, I finally started to work my scenes better and who knows, maybe all that trial and error will be helpful. To wrap up –
1. Use boardwalks/walkways effectively – maximize the leading line throughout the image
2. Use the trees along side to guide your viewers eye as well as a bright spot at the very end
3. Vary your point of view; use natural elements to showcase not just the trail, but the territory
4. Don’t forget the light is the most important element no matter how strong the path/walkway line
5. Limit perspective and use just slices of the landscape to convey why it was an amazing trail
Fall is one of the most productive…well, if I can call it that, times for me as a photographer. There are so many things that catch my eye and the season is so volatile that there is a surprise almost every day. Here’s a few of my favorite catches.
Early in October things are still relatively mild and all kinds of delicate things still thrive –
But as unexpected things go, one of the prettiest is this –
It’s pretty, but so, so destructive, too –
But at this time of year, it doesn’t last –
and paradise returns –
but the mystery doesn’t end –
Ah that famous scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent enumerates the little differences between the US and Amsterdam. I had a similar experience recently and no, it didn’t involve Burger King either.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I practically live in the woods. It started when I was a kid. No amount of fairy tales would keep me out. (what was it with making the woods scary or having scary things happen in the woods all the time? Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, even the Three Pigs had a rough time of it there.) Anyway…I love the woods and so when I tagged along on one of my husband’s most recent business trips I knew that’s where I’d go on my day alone while he went to his meeting.
I decided to go to the Long Hunter State park just outside of Nashville. The trail I picked was called the Day Loop Trail and I thought it would be long enough to take up a few hours. Also I thought it would be interesting enough with parts overlooking the reservoir itself and the rest in the forest. After getting turned around a bit and taking a while to find the trailhead which isn’t in the main part of the park, I set off on my hike.
Timing couldn’t have been more perfect. First – the foliage was at its peak, second – the temperature and humidity were ideal, and third – I was basically alone. While hiking this 5-mile loop I only saw 3 other people. Perfect!
The first thing that struck me as different was the rocks. Well, duh. I’m used to granite. They don’t call NH the Granite State for nothing. The stuff is everywhere. Most mountain trails wind through long strings of boulders. Huge granite ledges and outcrops give the land its uneven character. In TN that granite is replaced by limestone. It is just as ubiquitous, but looks much different. A lot of it is carved by ancient winds and water and there are strange holes in some of it. The way it is worn away at the surface and can sometimes run in shelves and seams was different, too. After a while though, it was eerie not having miles and miles of stonewall accompanying me through the forest. In New England you can’t go ten feet without tripping over one. While our soils are fertile, the land is so strewn with boulders it has to be cleared before it can be tilled. Rock walls not only got the stupid things out of the way, but they also helped establish boundaries for land owners. A lot of land now set aside for conservation was once farmland so the walls are everywhere. Not so in this part of Tennessee.
The second thing that struck me was the undergrowth, or rather the lack of it (at least in this section of the park). I don’t say that there was NO undergrowth, but sometimes it seemed that way. I’m used to ferns by the thousands. Hobble bush. Blueberries and raspberries. Laurels of several varieties. Maple leaf viburnum. Witch hazel. All kinds of undergrowth make up the NH forest. So when I’d come across patches like these, it startled me –
Like I said, not all of it was bare, I found this glorious swath of vinca minor which must be amazing in the spring when it blooms –
So no ferns to photograph and weirdly, no mushrooms either. Plenty of trees though and while most of them were yellow, some weren’t –
Speaking of trees. Here’s the last thing that kind of freaked me out a bit. All through this part of the woods there wasn’t a single pine tree. Not one. No firs. No hemlocks. No pines. No spruces. No cedars. Well, ok, red cedar, but it’s really a mis-identified juniper so doesn’t really count. I didn’t see a single pinecone. Very, very strange for this northerner. Lots of deciduous like maple, oak, shagbark hickory and sycamore, but strangely no birches, aspens, poplars or beeches. Again, odd for this little gray duck.
Unfortunately, the light wasn’t great for views of the lake, but I did like the way some folks had tipped up these slabs of limestone –
In New England we stack up rocks along the trail (and especially on mountaintops) to make little cairns. People just love rocks and piling them up on each other. Funny.
Oh and here’s someone I ran into…well almost ran into on the trail.
She was so different from the orb weavers we have up here that I wished I could have photographed her closely and better, but the wind was relentless and so I had to go for a wide open, high-speed silhouette instead. I do wicked love that her jaws are silhouetted as well. Pure luck.
And so ends my wonderful, magical and eye-opening hike through some of Tennessee’s beautiful forests. Oh wait, let’s take one look back –
I’m not going to get all wordy with these posts. I’m shooting like mad, but can’t process efficiently because this old laptop of mine is just not enough for the new technology. Luckily a new one should arrive today. In the mean time, here’s a couple more from recent outings –
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.
Let me count the ways –
It’s been truly wonderful this season. More to come.
It’s true that mountains in New England aren’t particularly tall (the tallest being barely over 6000 feet). It’s true that they aren’t particularly awe-inspiring as say the Rockies, Alps, Himalayas or Andes. No one would call them the roof of the world. They don’t have hidden enclaves of ancient civilization or host Olympic games. They do however make you work your ass off.
Hiking in New England is destination hiking, meaning you will have to toil long and hard for a view. In Utah and Arizona there’s always a view and it makes whatever work is involved that much easier. Ditto for parts of Washington, California, Colorado and Oregon. Lots of terrain in those locations provide for views and places to hang out and catch your breath. Not so in the White Mountains. Here you hike in dense forest on a trails that can be mostly boulders and sometimes are outright stream beds. It’s not uncommon that the trails can run with water all spring and summer. I’ve heard it said that a hiker doesn’t need Gortex boots unless she hikes in New England.
So in keeping with the challenge of White Mountains hiking, we decided to tackle Mts. Jackson and Webster. There’s a 6.x mile loop trail that goes up one mountain and across a ridge to the other. Little did we know that it was all up or down, extremely rocky and steep as hell. Some niggling voice in my head made me take my hiking poles just in case and I’m seriously glad I did; they helped immensely with balance, like having a tail. Because I had to manage the poles, I couldn’t hang the camera in it’s usual spot on my pack shoulder strap and instead stowed it inside. I did break it out for little gems like this though –
On the way up Mt. Jackson we came to our first of many stream crossings (I suspect we crossed the same stream over and over) and I couldn’t resist getting in a few photos. I also shot some film here, too and have to send it off to be processed. Ah the old days. This shot of the brook falling away out of sight will give you some idea of the constant uphill pitch of the trail. It hardly ever switchbacks and just basically plows straight up.
From here until I was almost at the summit the camera stayed in the pack. We really had to get a move on if we wanted to get back home at a reasonable hour. I stopped just before the final rock scramble to take this next image. I just loved the nearest trees contrasted with the farthest and the colors of the mountains and sky.
So let me turn around for a second and let you see the final ascent –
Anyway I finally made it up and damn, it was pretty spectacular. The clouds hung in there and the light cooperated.
After a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches and homemade graham crackers, I found some mountain sandwort among the rocks on the summit –
Such fragile beauty in a relatively harsh environment. I wondered what in the world pollinated them and then found some bees, so I guess there are lots of hardy creatures in New Hampshire.
After much sliding and semi-falling, we got off the peak and started over the ridge to Mt. Webster. There’s only about 100 feet of difference in altitude between the two and so after a bit of down (ow! visions of what’s to come) we found a few rare flat spots on the trail. None lasted more than a minute, but they had their own secret beauty –
Soon we made it to Mt. Webster, had another snack, shot some more and headed out.
The camera only came out one more time on the way down, to shoot a waterfall in such bad light that I am not sharing them with anyone. On a nice overcast day, it would be spectacular though.
The climb down Mt. Webster was a personal misery. The relentless pitch and lack of any flat spots that stretch the legs and release the pressure on tendons and ligaments did me in. I hadn’t been in as much knee pain in years and it took an extraordinarily long time for me to descend. But I did and was soon ensconced in the Audi for the 90 minute ride home. A shower and a beer were never so welcome!
A couple of years ago on our last vacation to California we got near enough to Pinnacles National Monument to know we wanted to go back there. We drove up the sort of scary road to the unpopular west entrance because we were killing time waiting for the Chalone tasting room to open. It looked really cool. Lumpish spires of rock soaring upwards with lots of trees and flowers. The site is all that remains of an ancient and extinct volcano. The Chalone Indians once used this as a seasonal gathering location, taking advantage of the amazing variety of plants and animals that thrive here. When it got too hot, they would go back down into Salinas valley where the now famous Monterey Fog comes in and cools things down.
We got to the park entrance probably just minutes after the ranger opened the gate and were on the trail by 8:15. Two elements of good fortune were with us. First – we were the only ones there. Miracle. Even on a Monday morning we expected a state with a population like California’s to produce a couple more people, but no, it was just us. Sweet. The second piece of good fortune was the low cloud cover. The day before we’d been to a couple of our favorite wineries and the folks there agreed the weather was unusual; it was supposed to rain. Typically it stops raining before May in Soledad and doesn’t rain again until the fall. Well we didn’t mind. The cloud cover kept it from being 90 degrees and miserable and the little sprinkles that hit us were refreshing and made the air smell fantastic.
At first I was a bit disappointed with the fact that I would have such gloomy skies, but soon I realized that the colors – the shy and the bold – would show much better in this bright, but nearly shadowless light. Plus the fog and mist over the far peaks added drama that would have otherwise been absent. So I got happy. Especially when a new flower presented itself about every 10 feet.
Seriously I think our hike took an hour longer than it would have if I didn’t stop every minute to ooh and ahh and photograph something. It was amazing. All along the trail-sides the flowers greeted us and seemed to wish us well. The profusion is startling, we just don’t have flowers like this in New England. Our wildflowers are woodland creatures by and large and much less showy.
According to the guide, this next flower is called the Sticky Monkeyflower. It’s our favorite because we’re dorks and kept calling it Stinky Monekybutt for the rest of the trip. Take that middle age!
These flowers really liked the rocky crevices and grew everywhere, high up and even in the most unlikely places. They were a friendly presence when the trail got steeper.
Just above this set of cut steps it started to sprinkle and the next set was more like a ladder than a staircase it was so steep. Luckily someone had also thought to put up handrails and the smell of our hands after hanging on to those steel pipes brought me right back to 3rd grade. Remember the smell of your hands after playing on the swings or the monkey bars? That’s what it was like and I didn’t even mind how slippery they got in the rain. Then we came to this –
My head knew it was safe. I mean it looked safe and probably 1000s of people had already crossed it so it would hold. Yeah, sure it would. Just look at it. It’s all tight and straight, not a bit of warp or splintery bits. In a way it was good no adult can get across this other than in a crouching duck-walk…looking down was —- woah! —— dizzy!
Well we obviously made it. Not that the buzzards were happy about it. I swear they kept circling around and laughing at us. Stupid birds.
So on the way back to the hotel we stopped to see how the abandoned farmstead was doing. I’d shot it in 2008, but somehow missed this awesome barn –
As you can see the clouds persisted, but I like them in this. More interesting and dramatic than just blue sky. I keep telling myself that anyway.
There are more photos (including one of Gary the headstanding beetle) in the Smugmug Gallery if you so desire. This was only part of our trip to California. We did more hiking and a lot of wine tasting, so more posts and photos are coming.