On this trip to the pools I played with my polarizer a bit to get different looks at the same scene.
I’ve always found the polarizer an important bit of gear for most of my photography. It has an effect that can’t be duplicated with post processing software and with a little practice and experience, you can produce big changes.
Overhead and under water
And with a little twist we get this –
Isn’t that great? Not only can we see down into the giant cup of tea that is a vernal pool, but those rocks just pop out. I really like both images and I hope this pool stays wet. It hasn’t rained in a while (unusual here in northern Wisconsin) so who knows, but I think the area in the back of the image does stay full to some extent. There is a lot of peat moss back there in addition to the grass, so I think it does.
Here’s a view I quite like of the other pool I’m keeping an eye on.
The downed trees are so great. I imagine turtles basking in the sun, but I doubt it. Vernal pools don’t host those guys year round. Painted turtles need permanent bodies of water, like the Wisconsin and other lakes, ponds and flowages.
When I was there the ferns had just come up and by now must be unfurling. I’ll have to get back over!
After discovering that the woods across the street hosts many vernal pools, I decided to explore further to see if I could find a couple that I could work with over the course of the weeks or months they stay full. So far I found two, possibly three that will work. And boy are they popular. Lots of deer scat and frog song.
I need to wear some tall boots to get into these properly and explore what looks like a tiny sedge meadow in the back of that first picture.
Things are moving slowly this spring, but at least the snow has melted. I have a feeling the view in the shot above will be something I return to as the pond develops. Even though I have no exact plan for how I want to shoot these, I want to try to show them in all their messy glory. This includes some unusual views –
And smaller slices. I love the way the sun lights up these tufts of grass. I forgot my medium telephoto zoom so shot this with the legacy Olympus macro lens. It works just as well out of macro mode.
No ferns were up yet when I shot these (April 19), but I’ve been back over since and they are up now. Cinnamon fern for sure and possibly Royal fern, but it’s too early to tell. Also I didn’t notice any egg masses, but I’m sure there will be some soon when the critters start getting serious.
Now that stick season is well under way, I find myself looking back on the most beautiful part of autumn, or falltime as they say around here. It’s weird, but the rest of the world uses wintertime, springtime and summertime so why not falltime?
The foliage is rich and colorful, but not as diverse as it was in New Hampshire; mostly it’s the reds – they seem to be missing here in northern Wisconsin. Or I’m looking in the wrong places. Maybe on the immediate shoreline of ponds and lakes is where I need to focus. Even though I didn’t find what I’m used to seeing, there’s an abundance of beauty to be found.
None of these are what I’d consider as “classic” fall images, but I think they convey a feeling of place and of season. This time of year can be very overwhelming to me. The drive to get the “perfect shot”. The sense that every minute I’m not shooting is wasted. Frustration over not finding the ideal location in the ideal conditions. It eats away at me and sometimes I even feel guilty if I’m not out there trying. Silly, but there it is.
Even though these shots don’t feature the intense colors of foliage, they still show how the season shapes plants and prepares them for the future. Flowers bloom and seed. Ferns lose their lush spring growth. Streams dry to a trickle, soon to freeze over and reminding frogs, fish and turtles that their time is short before the long sleep.
Still, the season pushes me to see in ways I sometimes don’t during other seasons (especially spring when the biting insects torment me to near blindness).
I overcome by slowing down. Stopping even. Partly to enjoy the perfection of the season, but also to notice the things that make it special. Like those feathers up there. I stopped to slow my heartbeat after a grouse and I scared each other to death and I noticed something light-colored off trail to my left. It turned out to be the remains of someone’s lunch. A poor, hapless songbird found itself on the wrong end of the food chain and the sunlight was lighting up what was surely its last moment of beauty on this earth. And I was there to see it. To mourn and to appreciate was it was, what it gave up and what it left behind.
While that did give me a twinge of sadness, the last gasp of abundance is everywhere, helping plants and animals prepare for the privations of winter (the songbird, too, is part of this timeless cycle). Honey mushrooms seem to blanket every stump and log in the forest and boy do they ever make for good photos (and meals, I startled a deer feasting on some during this outing).
Wisconsin is challenging me to adapt as a photographer and so long as I keep my eyes and mind open, there will always be fall color to be found. Even red.
This doesn’t happen to me often, that I run into kind of eerie scenes in the woods. I mean the life of a nature photographer is about living things, right? But I found these eerie little vignettes within a few minutes of each other, so Happy Halloween everyone!
One of my favorite ways to find new conservation land/nature trails is to open up the Gazetteer and see what’s nearby. By coincidence I ended up going to the Prairie Dells scenic area in Merrill which is a place my husband visited, and sent me an iPhone picture from, when he was here scouting the territory after his first job interview. It’s not far from our new house and so off I went.
The area is named for the Prairie River which is a tributary of the Wisconsin River and feeds directly into it further downstream in Merrill. It runs about 40 miles from its source and is one of the few rivers in Wisconsin that is no longer dammed. This nature preserve is the result of the removal of a large dam that was on this site. When it came down in the early 1990s the enormous granite ledges were exposed and that’s where the dell part of its name derives.
While it might be a relatively uncommon landscape here in Wisconsin, walking around the exposed outcrops and granite ledges was a lot like New Hampshire. Pretty much all the hiking you do there involves granite boulders and most of the streams and rivers have been carving gorges for themselves for centuries. Still it was beautiful and I found plenty to photograph.
The trails wind through mixed forest that was starting to fade from its springtime lushness. Where we are in northern WI is just above the 45th parallel which marks the halfway point between the north pole and the equator (although not technically due to the Earth’s little bulge). It means the summer heat is cut a little bit on both ends of the calendar by a week or two as compared to southern NH. It was breezy and the dappled sunlight made things pop on the ground and in the canopy.
Whether because of this slightly shorter growing season or just out of sheer joy of wilderness, northern WI seems to be the mushroom and wildflower capital of the universe. I found so many of both this year that I could hardly make any miles for getting down and photographing another small wonder.
Some were new species for me and some were old favorites.
This particular preserve is right off highway 17 and so traffic noise is still audible even deep into the trail system, but overall it is quieter than most anywhere in NH. The biggest difference is that there is no noise from planes, something relatively common in southern NH where the largest airport is. Since I was at Prairie Dells I’ve visited other, more remote trails and there the silence really reigns.
Eventually the trail sort of petered out and so I headed back, visiting the three viewing platforms closer to the trailhead and parking area. I even climbed down into the gorge a bit to see how close I could get to the river itself. Not very as it turned out, but there were still treasures to be found.
February, being cold, blizzardy, snowy and miserable I didn’t get out much. March is different. I’ve been out a couple of times and look what I saw –
Sunlight in the snowy forest can take on so many aspects. Shadows on smooth snow is one of the best though. This one is from the Pulpit Rock conservation area in Bedford. It’s an easy place to fall in love with and I go there several times a year. This time I noticed a new trail that I’ll have to explore come spring.
The brook at Pulpit Rock was mostly covered in snow and ice. You’d never know there are a few nice waterfalls along its course so muffled was the water channel. At Tucker Brook nature preserve in Milford, there was a bit of open water now and again. Few and far between though.
This scene is just downstream from some mill ruins I’ve never seen before. They’re far above the famous falls, but I’ve hiked up there and don’t remember seeing them. Knowing my near obsession with colonial hydro-mills, I know I’d have shot them if I’d seen them. Oh come on spring!
Another reason to long for spring. Well, summer really is the mountain laurel. The Tucker Brook preserve is jam packed with them and I think I’ll try to get to them while they’re flowering. They’re such a New England staple. Here they are sleeping the winter away. I’m really trying to capture sunlight in snowy forests and I think I’m making progress. I love this look up the slope with the shadows and snakey shapes of the laurel trunks.
I did more than shoot landscapes, but I’ll save those for another post. There’s lots of detail out there in the woods if you just look for 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.
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?
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.
One of the big reasons I wanted to go to Northern California is to experience the redwoods. Sure, I’d been in forests in Big Sur. Alfred Molera and Garapatta State Parks, but those groves, while precious, are small and made up of all new growth. I wanted the big forests and if I got lucky, a few older growth groves. Trunks so big you could live inside one. Canopies that soar and soar out of sight and out of human scope. And fog. I envisioned fog. Boy, did I get my wish. If only I had gotten a few more days.
All the foggy shots were taken in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove which was dedicated by the First Lady in 1968 making it one of the first preserved redwood forests in all of California. People were slow to protect these amazing trees, but now there are large, interconnected tracts that you can get lost in.
Even though this was the most crowded forest we visited, the fog just made it so special that I could ignore the traffic. Coastal fog is essential to redwoods’ survival. Not only does it help create a more temperate environment with stable temperatures, but in summer when there is reduced rainfall, the fog helps bring water to the canopy and protects against moisture loss in the massive surface area these trees have. As the fog condenses on the vegetation, it drips and flows into the bark, moss, lichens and eventually the forest floor itself.
Even when the fog lifted, there was beauty so rich and otherworldly that I stopped about every 20 feet for another shot. This one has the camera off the tripod and me leaning on one of these massive beauties for support.
Of course, when you’re in a redwood forest, you spend a lot of time doing this –
That was the Stout Grove which is in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Forest. There is the most amazing road snaking its way to this grove. We came in on the long side so got to wind through and around the tremendous trees. The light was very different and I did my best to emphasize how gorgeous it is in the canopy.
One thing you may notice is the difference in the undergrowth from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove and here in Stout Grove. It’s much shorter and less dense. The sword ferns in most of the forests really dominate the lower landscape as well as rhododendrons. In Stout grove it’s less of a factor and instead it seemed there were more downed trees than anywhere else. I was fascinated with how they decay and lose their bark and their round shapes, becoming square and lying there like enormous Lincoln Logs.
In addition to being fun to explore and great subjects to shoot, they made handy camera supports as well.
Oh for a time machine so I could go back and be present during the storm that brought these elders crashing down. The noise. The power. The earth-shattering impact. Oh that would be something to behold.
So if I haven’t convinced you that you should go witness these incredible trees firsthand, I don’t know what will. They are majestic beyond all human expression. So massive that you feel a similar humility as you do when next to whales. There isn’t that same sense of communication that I felt with whales, but there is an antiquity and a timelessness that only an ancient ecosystem can make you feel. These trees were alive long before my birth and they will remain alive long after my death. Their timescale as well as they physicality is outside of humanity in almost every way, except in the connection we have to the earth and the cycles of the sun.