Here are some more “neighbors”! First a common loon –
I wish there was a way to know if this is the same loon that hung around the flowage last year. According to a book I read about loons, they often return to the same body of water they were born on, or one nearby. Pairs often nest in the same location for years. Because this particular section of the river doesn’t seem to be protected enough for loons to nest, I think the ones that stay here are non-breeding adults. This is a period of 1-3 years that occurs just after fledgling. These birds will often have to take bodies of water that don’t have an already established pair. The next flowage up river has a pair of loons nesting (it has a really large swath of small trees and bushes that they seem to like). I wonder if this adult, or the one from last year if they’re not the same, are offspring from prior seasons. No way to know, but just one of the eternal mysteries of the common loon.
Next up is a mother mallard and her eight babies –
I think she must have laid her eggs nearby because I saw her quite a bit on the banks to either side of the dock. My husband and I had been sitting out on the far end of the dock for a while when she came from up river, keeping close to the edge where the trees and bushes provided cover for her brood. For a while she herded them around and over the low-hanging branches and they gobbled up anything they could reach; sometimes coming up off the surface in a big stretch, little wings flapping, catching a bug as it raced to escape up a twig. So cute you could hardly believe it. In this shot they’re a little older and a lot bigger, but still pretty cute. Mom was leading them around the dock to the down river side. When they’re smaller they don’t string out behind like this, but stay bunched up all around her, touching her if they could.
Both pictures were taken from the dock using my 100-300mm zoom in shutter priority mode with auto ISO. They’re handheld and I find that keeping the shutter speeds above 1/2000s of a second works fairly well if I’ve got the battery grip attached. I’m getting a bit more adept with it, but damn I still need practice. It’s very hard for me to keep the bird in focus as it moves. I have many shots of the loon with the water in front of it perfectly crisp, but the bird itself hopelessly out of focus. There’s got to be a better way to do this. I just need to figure it out.
One of the biggest challenges for me with the move to northern Wisconsin is adjusting my expectations when it comes to photography. Yes, the terrain is similar to southern New Hampshire, but it’s different enough that I can’t expect to get the same kind of shots I got there. I can’t go into a day of photography with the same ideas and the same images in my head. A few times I’ve come away with nearly nothing since the trail didn’t go where I thought it would and therefore I didn’t get the shots I envisioned.
The potential for great images still exists though, I just needed to look elsewhere to find them. As with most photographers, fall is my favorite time of year. The color in Wisconsin is just as intense as in New England, but the peak seems to be an even shorter window of time. So it’s important to make the most of any day in the field. A few times I went out looking for foliage and riverscapes. I was foiled. Oh sure I found rivers and I found foliage, but I didn’t find them in the right light or the compositions I wanted. Maybe when I’ve spent more time here I’ll be able to go right to what I want and get it, but now I can’t.
So instead of fighting the light and trying to force the landscape to conform to what I’d set out to capture (largely, what I’d done in the past), I tried to see what was in front of me and make the most of it instead. That still included fall color, it just came from an unexpected place.
That’s an image almost straight out of the camera. It’s water. The Eau Claire river to be exact. The sun was bright and the sky almost totally clear. Not the best for landscape photography, but perfect for reflections. That’s where the color comes from; the trees on the opposite bank reflected in the surface of the river. There’s a little riffle slicing up the middle and the blue contrast is the sky’s reflection. Once I spotted these I couldn’t stop with them. This next one is shot from a footbridge that spans the same river.
I’m sure the people I met walking here wondered what the hell I could be taking a picture of with my lens pointed straight down at the water. I experimented with shutter speed and despite my love of the slow-water technique and the images you can get with it, I liked these faster shots better. Keeping shutter speeds high lets me handhold some shots which can be a bit freeing as well.
Some things to keep in mind if you try your hand at these. You’ll need to find water that creates a lot of visual interest. That includes reflections of course, but the white water and splashes need to be composed in exciting and dynamic ways. The blue and yellow shot above is with the camera at an extreme angle so that the white and the colors go in a diagonal instead of just straight across the frame. Also the photo itself needs to be balanced even if it is a simple abstract and not a landscape. Maybe even especially because the viewer might need a few seconds to figure out what she’s looking at. Don’t forget how the eye is captured in the first place (by bright whites and colors) so be sure to lead your viewer’s eye through the picture in a way that makes sense. Lines and proportion are very important; experiment and process with care. I find that with fast shutter shots cranking the clarity slider in Lightroom accentuates the arrested motion, while easing back on it works better for the slow shutter images.
Oh and I didn’t need to use a polarizer for the any of the shots; by leaving it off I maximized the reflections and my ability to hand-hold the camera (polarizers can reduce exposure by 1 to 3 stops depending on your brand of filter). For the slow images I used a variable neutral density filter which only reduces light and doesn’t have a polarizing effect, but is absolutely necessary to get long exposures during bright daylight.
That doesn’t mean fast works everywhere. For example with this next little cascade I went slow. The reflections are still present, but the whole look is softer and less jangly.
Fun little story that goes along with these silky-water images. They were taken just below the main bridge over the Dells of the Eau Claire. Dells are just gorges, but the ones here in Wisconsin are limestone not granite and have a totally different character. Unfortunately the light was just too harsh to work with and I didn’t even try for shots of the dells themselves. Also, the bridge was under construction and there were fences, workers with equipment and a huge crane in the shot. Instead I hung out on a rock under a tree and shot the little cascade. While the camera was doing its thing I caught a glimpse of something brown and fuzzy swimming upstream. An otter maybe? Can’t be a beaver, the water’s not right for them. Too fast. A few minutes later and I saw it again, more clearly, swimming just upstream from the rocks, completely submerged and heading upstream fast. A mink. It was not too nervous, the park being very popular with humans, but by the time I changed lenses it had gone and I didn’t see it again. I’ll be better prepared next time.
I thought it would be my last kayak outing of the year, but it turned out not to be. It might not even stay the penultimate paddle, but I like the alliteration so it’s staying. These are my rules, I make ’em up.
Last year I don’t think I did much in the way of foliage shots from the kayak, but this year I decided to try. Trees in and near water are usually the first to change which is very handy for the paddling photographer. Having seen other photographers’ shots from Campton Bog in Campton, NH, I decided that’s where I would go. It was an absolutely perfect day. Blue skies with a few puffy clouds, great color in the trees and only 2 other paddlers on the water, whom I only saw one time and actually heard go by once when I was down a side channel. Summer temperatures, too, so I didn’t have to wear a lot of gear. Behold –
OMG, right? I think I had the camera in my hands more than the paddle. And actually, this isn’t really Campton Bog, that’s connected by a slim waterway (now reimagined by beavers) to this pond called Robartwood Pond. I’ve been here before in winter and had a good time walking on the frozen water and trespassing in the brook on the other side of the bridge. Eventually the landowner saw me (and 1/2 dozen friends) and threw us out. Not before I got some good shots though. Anyway, here’s more of my perfect penultimate paddle (see what I did there).
This year, in an effort to improve my kayak photography technique, I added a custom mode to the GH3 for when I’m on the water. Basically it’s shutter priority, auto ISO (which seems to have the pip and not be working the way I want…more investigation is needed), auto white balance and electronic level displayed on the screen. For the most part it works well and lets me concentrate on composition which, let me tell you, has its own challenges.
I also use a polarizer whenever I’m kayaking. It was especially important on this outing. I wanted good colors, but not that blackish blue of over polarization. Careful managing gave me what I wanted. It does shave about a stop and a half from the exposure, but for the most part that’s ok. This year I finally broke down and got a decent one, too, which helps with accurate color rendition. I’ve started to leave it on whatever lens I’m working with a lot, too. I used to do that when I shot my E-30/12-60mm combo, but somehow got out of the habit when I switched to the GH3. No idea why. Just weird that way. Taking the reflection off of plant leaves really brings up the color and this time of year, color is what it’s all about!
Ok, that last one isn’t from Campton Bog/Robartwood Pond, it’s from Danbury Bog and the day wasn’t quite so wonderful, but I saw a moose on the dirt road leading to the put in. No pictures, but I got to watch its graceful lope up the road and away from my scary Subaru with the big weird thing on top of it. This shot is the only usable one because of the flat light and the mostly cloudy skies. I ended up scaring the same little group of ducks all the way up the channel. Sorry dudes. Then I got the tables turned on me. There was a really big beaver dam inside the giant culvert that goes under the bridge on Ragged Mountain Road. Normally, I think people can paddle through, but not with that there. So it was a much shorter trip than I planned. When I got back to the put in and had the boat all secured on the car, a truck with a rowboat in it went by on the dirt road, then slowed down, reversed and came back. The driver asked me if I was coming or going. Going. He laughed and said that was probably good as he and a crew were going to take the beaver dam out and there would be a big surge of water. That would have been exciting. Darn it. A day late! Oh well, there’s always next year.
Or how to get over beaver dams in your kayak without going swimming!
Sometimes my inner slacker tries to get the upper hand.
A while back in August I decided to rack up the kayak and put it in the water. Even that much I had to talk myself into since the rack wasn’t even on the car, much less the boat. But strap it up I did and headed off to a man-made lake I’d paddled before but with limited success. Limited because it was my first season as a paddler and I didn’t know how to deal with beaver dams. Last year it totally bummed me out because my favorite paddling is river paddling. I like the hemmed in quality of the banks and vegetation; never knowing what you’ll find around the next bend. This section of the lake is really a narrow stream and marsh, so it was wonderfully windy. The tranquility is like no other I’ve experienced. Birds, frogs, turtles and yeah, the occasional beaver or muskrat. I love it all. Sure, the open part of the lake has its appeal, but not like the back channel. So what to do about beaver dams?
On this 2nd trip to the lake, I knew one was there, but didn’t do any planning or research as to how to tackle them. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. And then when I got there the wind kicked up considerably and so I almost didn’t even get the boat down. I almost decided that it was too windy and I hate paddling in the wind. But I’d driven almost an hour and it was just plain stupid to give up. Plus I remembered how sheltered it can be on a narrow channel below the shrubline. In the water I went. Still no plan as to how to get past the first dam, knowing full well it was a really short paddle unless I could figure out a way to do it and not either dump myself or my camera bag into the drink. It’s a drybag, but still.
So there it is. The one that got me. I could hear it laughing. So I sat there a while studying it and thinking. I probed the water depth with the paddle and found it to be about mid thigh. That’s if the bottom was solid. No way to tell. I tried paddling very fast and hard to see if I could build up enough momentum to clear and ended up wedging the boat in the breach. It was when I did that that I figured out how to get over. The water on the immediate other side is very shallow and sandy. All I needed to do was to get the kayak through the low part enough so that I could get my feet planted on the other side, well on the top of the dam itself actually. Then I could stand up (oh how it pays to do squats!) and use my hands to guide the boat between my feet. Step forward, slide boat, step, slide then sit back down and paddle. It worked. On my first try I didn’t walk the boat far enough from the breach and I was practically floated back down over the dam, but managed to stop myself in time. Woo hoo! I was on the other side of the dam. I did a little victory lap. Take that, rodents!
I felt so great after that I didn’t even mind when it started to gently rain.
After several bends I had to thread my way carefully though shallow water and pickerel weed to find yet another dam. Luckily this one had another water-level breach. That’s the key. The boat has to be able to get across the structure somewhere and it has to be low enough for me to get my feet onto it and be able to stand. Anything above the waterline wouldn’t be possible. Not with this technique. I had just barely enough room to make a running start at the breach, so to speak. Wedged the kayak, secured the paddle under the deck bungee, got my feet onto the top of the dam itself, raised myself to standing while gripping the sides of the boat and gave it a pull. Step, slide, step, slide, step, slide – this time a little further so I wouldn’t drift downstream too far. Back in the boat and paddling upstream. Not too shabby.
Upstream from this one there was a lot more evidence of the beaver population; lots of prints on the banks and little tunnels and openings in the bushes where they’d come and go. It was cool, but I didn’t see one. Bummer. I wanted to rub it in a little. Luckily I didn’t because they had the last word.
Curses, foiled again!
Then I found that going downstream over the dams was really fun, so I got a bit of my own back.
See you next year beavers!
I can’t believe I waited so long to buy a kayak. Seriously, I love it. On quiet water is such a wonderful place to be. I seek out less frequented ponds, lakes and rivers. Avoiding powerboats as much as possible. I like to slip into side channels or very shallow spots and await what might come. The other day while paddling the Nashua river, I found such a spot. So shallow that it was less than a paddle blade deep. I got hung up on a few branches, but other than that it was fine and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A green heron! My photos are pretty terrible because it was hiding among some tree roots and my lens isn’t long enough to isolate it even though I was only 20 feet away. Still, I’d never seen one before and it was amazing. I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.
Eventually though, it moved on and so did I. Other birds were less shy.
An hour before I took this picture, I paddled by the inlet and out it came. Charging like mad. Flying just barely above the water, making sure I wouldn’t come closer. I took the hint and paddled away from him and his mate whom he was presumably defending. I didn’t see her. Eventually I had to go by him again to get back to the main channel and there he sat, giving me the stink eye. Drifting with the slight current, I got as close as I dared for a portrait and then meekly paddled away, hoping he wouldn’t charge me again. He didn’t.
Not much else was stirring although there are tons of birds on this stretch of the Nashua. Swans, herons of blue and green, osprey, ducks and red-winged blackbirds. I even noticed a cormorant. I really need a longer lens. But I can always shoot landscapes.
Next up is another slow-moving river, the Powwow in Kingston, NH. I’ve paddled it before, but wanted to see if I could get further along than last year when I was stymied by lots of plant growth. There was a lot this year, too, but I still made it all the way to the other lake. Didn’t paddle there though because of wind and powerboats. Drifted back on the current, barely even steering.
Same side pocket, facing the other way –
And back in the main channel where the very end of a big tree still pokes above the waterline –
Oh and wait. I forgot my very first outing this year, when I tried to find one pond and ended up in another because I just couldn’t figure out where the first one is. I should have parked and walked down a forest road to be sure, but I was impatient and headed to Mountain Brook Reservoir in Jaffrey, NH. It was quite windy so made for some great texture on the water surface.
What is it with the wind? I paddled into it on the way out and into it again on the way back?!! Grrr. I was tired and sore since it was my first outing, but when I got back to the put in, I met up with some buds and hung out for a while.
Isn’t it cool? Well sure, my technique needs improvement, but newts are too irresistible not to try. They were in the very edges of the pond where it’s warmest and there’s a lot of light. It was fascinating to watch them hunt among the leaves and other detritus. Fierce little guys they are, too. I used my new(ish) 35-100mm f2.8 lens with the polarizer (a nice B&W model, so much better than my old one). Focusing is sometimes iffy, but mostly I need to practice more. It’s close focus distance isn’t what I’d like it to be, but it was the right tool for the job.
So that’s a wrap. My first 3 outings in the boat. There will be more to come, that’s for sure. Click the tag word kayaking below to find last year’s posts.
In the last couple of posts I talked about learning a hard lesson about light. That is not to fight it, but to work with it to make the best of my time and my photographs. Letting go of that perfect image you have in your head is hard. We go out trying to get “the shot” and when we can’t, how do we react? As photographers, we’re always looking for the best light, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. It’s always a gamble whether or not the conditions you want will prevail. So what’s a person to do if the light you want turns into the light you don’t? Well, you can pack up and go home. Yeah, that’s an option if you’re a quitter. If you traveled far to get to your location, making the most of your time is probably the best bet. You can put the camera away and just soak up the atmosphere; enjoying the place for itself, not for how you can shoot it. Another choice is to stay and find something interesting to put your camera in front of. Maybe it’s not “the shot”, but who knows what you’ll find. Something that works with the light Mother Nature has decided to give you. That’s usually the one I go for, hoping to find something interesting and worth shooting.
This was what happened to me the other day when the forecast called for chance of rain and overcast skies. I decided to head to Pulpit Falls again and see if I could get to the other side to get a different set of photographs. It’s about 90 minutes for me to drive there, so it was a gamble and as I drove the skies got bluer and brighter by the mile. Cursing, I kept going, finally arriving with some clouds still lurking and some on the horizon, but it was turning into a nice day. Not the greatest conditions for waterfall photography. I decided to try anyway and see if more clouds moved in later like they had the day before. Instead I got this –
Dappled sunlight in the woods is something I really love and try to work with, but damn this is awful. Where the heck to you put your eyes? There’s no flow, no cohesion. Too much contrast. The light is harsh and it’s just a mess. Plus look what a hard time the white balance is having. The water is blue! It wasn’t mouthwash! I’d have to remove it in post if I were going to use this image. Blue water in these kind of shots is a giant pet peeve for me. I hate it.
So I gave that up. I wandered away from the falls to explore the undergrowth and see what small things I could find. Mushrooms were coming up here and there. Violets, starflower and fringed polygala were blooming. I found a huge dead bug. While I was sitting and looking for microscapes, a newt wandered by. S’up? Then I saw some indian cucumber and spent some time shooting them, ending up with this little beauty –
It took me a while to find the right angle (luckily it was on a little slope and I could get below it) then wait for the breeze to calm. Finally it did. I hadn’t planned on a monochrome conversion when I shot it, but when I got it into Lightroom it was the obvious choice. That image alone would have been worth the trip (even though there’s indian cucumber 10 minutes from my house, oh the irony). Then I noticed a drop of water on my flip-out LCD screen. Then another. And another. I just about snapped my head off looking up.
Good thing I didn’t go far. I practically RAN back to the falls. Having scoped it out before, I set up and damn did I shoot in a hurry. It was mental. The cloud was small. And moving. Crap, crap, crap!!!
Good thing I get a lot of practice doing this. The light lasted about 8 minutes. Seriously.
The scramble paid off. At least I think it did. It’s the shot I had in my head and for those 8 minutes, I had my chance.
But darn, one you start working some falls, it’s hard to stop. I got the notion that maybe I could make the dappled sunlight work. But how? I moved closer and like the last time I shot these falls, I found some ferns to put in the foreground.
What do you think? Too much? Does it suffer from the same issues as the first shot, the wider one? I don’t think so. I think it works, but I’m biased. I like the way the light picks out the texture in the walls. My eyes don’t seem to ping all over the shot like they do in the other one. My eyes move through the photo slowly and while there is a lot of tonal range in the blacks and whites, it doesn’t jar my sensibilities. Again, I might be biased, but at least the water isn’t blue.
Oh and before I go further, here’s a fun story about the falls and my trips to photograph them. Jeff Newcomer is a fellow NH-based nature photographer. I follow his blog and his flickr feed and we’ve traded some comments back and forth over the years. One of his posts inspired me to try to find these falls in the first place. Between his goof the first time around, some additional search information, Google maps and just plain luck, I found it last year. I got a gorgeous shot of the water upstream, but didn’t have a really great shot of the falls as a whole. So I went back a few weeks ago.
As I got down to the brook I noticed a person off to my left with a big tripod and a dog. Not such an unusual thing. I’ve run into other photographers in the woods before. Strange to find one here, though, at such an obscure location. No worries. I head over the the top of the falls to scope out the situation. A minute later and there’s a snuffling at my feet. The dog. I don’t mind dogs and she was very well-behaved. Oh and here comes the photographer. We start talking and lo and behold it’s Jeff Newcomer. He’s equally astonished that he met me as well since he used my last Pulpit Falls blog post to orient himself to find it. What a riot!
I never did shoot the falls that day, but explored upstream a bit with Jeff and Nellie. From atop a big granite ledge I spied even more falls, but we couldn’t get to them. We even drove around looking for another road in since we could see the makings of a campfire and a bridge across the stream further up. Maddening! But it will make for a future adventure for us to do together. Some day when it’s really good and overcast and Mother Nature doesn’t line up one thing only to go ‘surprise!’ and give us sun instead.
So back to the falls. I got closer still, looking to isolate that first drop. Again, I hadn’t planned on converting to black and white, but when I started processing, it seemed the right choice.
The dappled sunlight isn’t as obvious with this one, but it’s there and I think it heightens the drama of the shot. Also, a wide tonal range is really critical in black and white. You have to have black and white, not just gray. Would it have worked on an overcast day? Sure, but this has more punch I think. Am I suffering from wishful thinking? I hope not.
I salvaged what I feared might be a wasted trip. By being flexible and open-minded, I made the most of my time and when the right light came along for a few minutes, I was able to take advantage of it. Too many times I’ve been disappointed and frustrated with what I can’t control during a shoot. The light. Sure, I can choose days and times of day when it’s likely to be perfect, but if it’s not, I like to think I have the artistic resilience to make the most of what I have to work with. To see beyond the image in my head to the image in front of me. For me it’s a skill hard won through tough lessons and ruined photos (not to mention vacations!).
So what are your heartbreaking light disasters? Did you pick up and go home, or did you persevere and make something great anyway?
While out the other day I spent a little time on the shore of a beaver pond. It seems lately that there are more and more of them around, creating lakes and overflowing vernal pools. Sometimes they can be nuisances, but beavers evolved to be successful in their niche, and they are part of how meadows develop and forests change so I don’t mind what they do.
Plus their houses are pretty cool.
These are some of the last shots I took with the E-30. Poor old thing. Maybe if I can get the lens repaired it can still be useful for someone. It’s a good rig. Great lens. Easy to work with. Both shots are with the Olympus 90mm at about f5.6. That one you’ll still get to see shots from. As if there was any doubt!