Posted by: kerryl29 | September 2, 2014

Hocking Hills Day 5 – The Final Morning

I had one last morning to shoot at Hocking Hills and I decided to spend that time tying up some loose ends–obtaining shots that I’d seen earlier in my stay but hadn’t been able to pull off for one reason or another.  So, I headed back to the Old Man’s Cave area one final time.  Each morning during my time in southeast Ohio it had been quite humid, but on this final morning it was really humid.  I knew that low-lying fog was a possibility and, sure enough, as I drove to the park I ran into some, in the vicinity of a farmstead that I’d admired several times while making the journey to or from Old Man’s Cave.  I stopped and took a quick shot, as a tiny bit of warmth from the rising sun penetrated the fog.

Farm in Morning Fog, Hocking County, Ohio

Farm in Morning Fog, Hocking County, Ohio

When I arrived at the Old Man’s Cave parking lot it was empty, as usual.  I quickly made my way to Middle Falls.  There was a shot that I’d found on my first day at Hocking Hills but couldn’t execute successfully that day.  I’d set up on that evening and, after waiting for nearly 30 minutes, gave up.  The shot required an ultra-wide angle lens–in my case, the 14-24/2.8–which meant an extremely broad field of view and that day, with copious activity in the area, people kept walking into the shot–through no fault of their own.  I realized, after a bit of frustration, that it simply wasn’t realistic to try to obtain the shot when the park was crowded.  The people who were getting into the shot couldn’t possibly have seen what I was doing, so they were straying into my frame without knowing it.  I decided that I’d have to return when the area was empty–as it was this morning.  So, again I placed myself in between two very large fallen logs that were pointing towards the Middle Falls, carefully adjusted my position, and produced the shot you see below.

Middle Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Middle Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After obtaining the above shot, I made my way down to the Lower Falls area.  I’d done a bit of work there earlier, but this time I had my rubber boots on and waded well into the pool below the falls to investigate some different perspectives.

Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I wandered all the way to the right-hand side of the pool and played with several different foreground elements.

Lower Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Lower Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I then moved around toward the left-hand side to procure another shot or two.

Lower Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Lower Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Lower Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Lower Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

When I was finished in the Lower Falls area, it was still early enough to do a bit more exploring, so–for the first time–I made my downstream from the Lower Falls.  As I was wandering down the trail I heard the unmistakable sound of falling water.  I waded across the shallows of Old Man’s Creek and found a mostly overgrown trail heading up a steep hillside, and I saw clear signs of runoff as I climbed up the trail.  About halfway up, I noticed some interesting ferns and made a note to stop at the spot on the way back down.

The sound of the running water grew stronger as I moved up the heavily forested trail and, after a few minutes, I caught a glimpse of a waterfall.  I had to do some rock hopping to get a better look.  I was intrigued by what I saw, and poked around to gain an even better look.  What I saw, when I climbed on top of a very large boulder, was a tall, narrow rock slot, with water pouring down it.  It took some manipulating, but I was able to prop up my tripod and obtain the look I was after.

Broken Rock Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Broken Rock Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I later discovered that this waterfall had a name–Broken Rock Falls.  I hadn’t heard of this waterfall when I was doing research on Hocking Hills, but I was extremely glad that I had stumbled across it on this morning.  I converted the above shot to black and white to better emphasize the shapes and textures.

Broken Rock Falls black & white, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Broken Rock Falls black & white, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

While still atop the boulder, I turned around and looked behind me.  I saw a glen, thick with forest growth.  I also saw the fog–which hadn’t been present around Middle or Lower Falls, but seemed to stick to the trees, plants and moss-covered rocks.  It was an enchanting scene, reminiscent, at least to me, of the “magical hollow” shot I’d made on Day 3.

Misty Glen, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Misty Glen, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

As I backtracked on the trail, I first stopped to take a shot of Broken Rock Falls at the spot from which I’d first glimpsed the cataract.

Broken Rock Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Broken Rock Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Finally, I returned to the intimate scene with the ferns that I’d spotted on the way up.

Ferns and Rocks, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Ferns and Rocks, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

And with that, my photo journey at Hocking Hills came to an end.  It had been a very productive last day, with the fortunate discovery of Broken Rock Falls–and its environs–added to the shots of the features with which I was already familiar.  All in all, it had been a revealing trip to southeast Ohio and I hope to return to this area at some point in the future.

I hope you enjoyed my presentation as much as I enjoyed sharing it.  In case you missed the earlier entries in this series, the links below will take you straight there.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 19, 2014

Hocking Hills: Day 4

I’d spent quite a bit of time in the Old Man’s Cave section of Hocking Hills during the first two days of my time in the area.  During the limited opportunities I had on the evening of Day 1, I had noted several potentially interesting shots, but was limited in my ability to get what I wanted because there were too many people milling about.  On Day 2, I had more time to scout, but by the time I wandered back down to the Middle Falls area, hotspots–created by sunlight–were beginning to creep into the environ so I limited myself to identifying additional opportunities with the intention of coming back on a later day.  This was the “later day.”

Once again I arrived at the main parking lot at daybreak and, once again, it was blissfully empty.  I quickly made my way to the Upper Falls area to nab just a few additional images that I hadn’t managed to obtain on my two previous attempts.

Upper Falls & Bridge, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Upper Falls & Bridge, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I focused most of my attention on tighter, more abstract shots, with the intention of converting to black and white when it came time to process the trip’s imagery.

Upper Falls Intimate Black & White, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Upper Falls Intimate Black & White, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After wrapping up at the Upper Falls area, I slowly made my way downstream in the gorge, and stopped at Devil’s Bathtub again (I’d shot there previously on Day 2).  Before wading into the stream again, I decided to investigate perspectives from above the tub itself.  I was intrigued by the pattern of the water as it spiraled downward.  There was very little color of consequence in the frame, so I converted the shot to monochrome.

Devil's Bathtub, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Devil’s Bathtub, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Then I moved back into the stream itself to work on the bathtub again from below.  The resulting image, taken at greater than 200 mm, was pieced together by focus bracketing three frames for extended depth of field.  Again, there was very little color, so a conversion was natural.

Devil's Bathtub Black & White, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Devil’s Bathtub Black & White, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

On the way down canyon, in the direction of the Middle Falls section of the Old Man’s Cave area, I noticed a host of ferns, penetrating cracks in the canyon wall, at least 40 feet above where I was standing.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to capture an image of one of these “hanging gardens.”

"Hanging Gardens," Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

“Hanging Gardens,” Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Further along, I photographed a small ephemeral waterfall that I’d noticed upon each of my entries into the Old Man’s Cave area of the park.  I spent quite a bit of time checking out different perspectives; it was difficult to eliminate a number of features that I felt detracted from the ambiance of the scene and ultimately settled on the shot you see below.

Unnamed Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Unnamed Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

From this spot it was back to the area near the Middle Falls itself.  I had greatly admired an area of cascades immediately above the falls during my previous sessions in the area and I took this opportunity to capture the scene, from several spots.

Cascade, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Cascade, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

It was a bit of a dicey proposition climbing down into the stream bed itself at this point.  The rocks were exceptionally slippery and I had to be careful, not only with my own footing, but also with regard to the tripod itself.  It was quite dark down in this small hollow, so long shutter speeds–several seconds in duration–were the order of the day.

Cascade, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Cascade, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

On my scouting visit to this spot, back on Day 2, I had been intrigued by the presence of a few isolated ferns, perched on the rocky ledge above the cascades below.  I’d spent a lot of time sizing the shots up–with an attempt to incorporate the ferns in the foreground and the cascades in the background.

Ferns & Cascades, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Ferns & Cascades, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

There was absolutely no way to obtain these images with a single frame; the depth of field was simply inadequate.  I ended up taking two shots of each, one focusing on the foreground and the other on the background, and then masked the shots into one manually using Photoshop.

Ferns & Cascades, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Ferns & Cascades, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

This wrapped up the morning’s shoot.  Early that afternoon, some threatening weather blew in–a tornado watch was issued for the county–so I hunkered down at the hotel for awhile.  Early in the evening, I raced back to Old Man’s Cave, and came away with the shot below, showing the trail down to the stone bridge that crosses the creek immediately below the Middle Falls.

Old Man's Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Old Man’s Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I was literally standing below the Old Man’s Cave overhang when I captured the above image and while I was doing so, I heard several loud claps of thunder.  I hotfooted it out of there and back to my vehicle, and headed back to the hotel.

It was still about an hour before sunset when I got back to town, but the sky was awfully angry looking.  It wasn’t raining, but it appeared as though it could pour at any moment.  I kept seeing lines of storm clouds blowing in from the southwest.  As sunset approached, some incredible light began to appear in the sky.  I decided to see if I could find somewhere nearby to capture it.  There was no point in heading back to Hocking Hills–it was too far away, for one thing, and down in the gorge the sky (and great light) wouldn’t be apparent anyway.

When I headed back to town on Day 3 from the Cantwell Cliffs area of the park I had taken a detour past Lake Logan, to see if there were any intriguing sunset (or sunrise) locations to take advantage of.  I’d seen a couple of interesting spots, but I’d been frustrated in my attempts to realize any of them, by fog in the mornings and an absence of sunsets in the evening.  But here was an opportunity.

It was less than 10 minutes to one of the spots I’d found alongside Lake Logan–a small area of boat slips–and I raced over there.  It was getting quite dark, but when I arrived at the deserted parking area there was enough light, I thought, to attempt to do something with the and the interesting sky.  I had to “make do” with the composition, but in all I was relatively satisfied with what I ended up with.  I took a series of exposures and what you see below is a blend of five bracketed frames.  The “glow” you see on the boats and the docks in the foreground is a function of a street lamp immediately out of frame to the right.

Lake Logan Sunset, Lake Logan State Park, Ohio

Lake Logan Sunset, Lake Logan State Park, Ohio

With that, Day 4 was put to bed.  I had one more morning’s worth of shooting to go and it turned out to be a good one.

Next:  Hocking Hills, Day 5 – The Lower Falls Area and Rock Crack Falls

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 5, 2014

Hocking Hills Day 3: Cedar Falls and Rock House

As mentioned in the last installment covering May’s trip to southeast Ohio, I spent some time scouting the Cedar Falls area of Hocking Hills State Park on Day 2.  While the main feature is Cedar Falls itself, I noted some other potentially photogenic scenes during the scouting session.  The light was not suitable for photography when I was scouting, so I planned to return first thing in the morning on Day 3.

I arrived at the Cedar Falls parking lot at daybreak; as anticipated, it was deserted.  It was an almost entirely cloudy morning which, given the subject matter, provided ideal soft light with no need to feel rushed.  If there was to be any issue dealing with crowds this morning, it would be at the main attraction–Cedar Falls itself–so I decided to photograph there first.  Then I would turn my attention to secondary features which would be of less interest to any tourists that might wander into the area.

Cedar Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Cedar Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Cedar Falls is a uniquely shaped waterfall; it splits in two around a large, protruding rock and then rejoins, forming a kind of oval of moving water.  It makes for a compelling center of interest, but the area immediately around the waterfall’s spillway makes it difficult to obtain anything but a straight forward composition.   There’s quite a bit of clutter in the splash pool below the falls and the layout of the area makes it effectively impossible to use the downstream creek as a foreground.  And the pool around the falls becomes quite deep very quickly, making getting close another impossibility.

Cedar Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Cedar Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I climbed into the pool, at one point, and shot the waterfall from a slightly more dynamic perspective than that of a traditional “head on” shot, but I’m not sure that it made all that much difference in the end.  I also played around with different focal lengths, with the intention of converting some of the images to monochrome.

Cedar Falls black & white, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Cedar Falls black & white, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After shooting Cedar Falls from several spots with a couple of different lenses, I turned my attention to other photo opportunities.  I was immediately captivated by some maple leaves that I was able to isolate (sort of) with a long lens and a wide aperture.

Maple Leaves Intimate, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Maple Leaves Intimate, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I then moved to an unnamed waterfall that was flowing from a tributary of the creek that is created by Cedar Falls itself.  While this waterfall was less impressive in isolation than Cedar Falls, in a way I liked it better, because superior accessibility made it possible to experiment with more meaningful perspectives.

Unnamed Waterfall, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Unnamed Waterfall, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

This waterfall was in a fairly tight hollow which provided interesting sandstone walls–some of which were heavily covered by moss and lichen–to use as a foreground interest and/or leading lines.  It also made tight vertical shots workable.

Unnamed Waterfall, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Unnamed Waterfall, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Wandering along the gorge creek, downstream from both of the waterfalls, more subtle compositions were available.  The walls of the gorge were at least 50 feet high in this area.  Every so often a bit of heavily diffused sunshine would partially filter into the scene, which made for an enchanting glow in the hollow that buttressed the creek when coupled with the spring greenery.  I wandered into the shallows of the creek bed to compose the image you see below, which to me felt like something out of Middle Earth.

Magical Hollow, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Magical Hollow, Cedar Falls Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

It was still overcast and threatening to rain when I finished up in the Cedar Falls area and made my way roughly 20 miles to the northeast to the Rock House section of Hocking Hills.  Rock House is a fascinating cavern that nature has carved out of a towering (approximately 150 feet) sandstone wall.  It was starting to rain lightly when I arrived at the empty Rock House parking area, but I simply put on a light jacket and hit the trail.

I wandered down that trail through thick forest, and after 1/2 mile or so, arrived at a bridge that crossed a small gorge, leading to a rocky staircase that lay astride the towering cliff.

Rock House Trail Bridge, Hocking Hills State Park

Rock House Trail Bridge, Hocking Hills State Park

After following the staircase several hundred feet, I came to what appeared to be the entrance to Rock House.

Rock House Entrance black & white, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Rock House Entrance black & white, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

The rain had stopped some time ago and other park visitors were starting to show up in significant numbers, so I had to work around these folks after entering Rock House itself, but the effort was undoubtedly worth it.  Initially, it was almost impossible to see inside the cavern, except for those areas immediately surrounding portals and “windows,” but after a few minutes my night vision started to kick in and features became discernible.  Given the presence of several openings and increasingly bright light streaming in, the contrast inside the cavern was tremendous.  Exposure stacking was imperative and exposures necessary to reveal shadowed areas inside the cave were quite long.  Below is a shot looking out one of the “windows,” opening on the forest area.

Rock House Window, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Rock House Window, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Given that I was bracketing exposures, with some of them lasting more than a minute, I had to wait for the cave to clear to shoot an image that looked from one end to the other (Rock House is approximately 200 feet long).

Rock House, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Rock House, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I converted the image to black and white as well; I think it may bring out some of the details of the sandstone better than the color version.

Rock House black & white, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Rock House black & white, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After I wrapped up at Rock House, I spent the rest of the day wandering around the Cantwell Cliffs area of the park.  This section is set deep in a narrow gorge and is very heavily forested.  After an extremely heavy rainy period, this area might be of great appeal, but I found it to be the least interesting section of the park.  I only took a couple of shots during the several hours that I wandered around, including the intimate that you see below.

Forest Floor Intimate, Cantwell Cliffs Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Forest Floor Intimate, Cantwell Cliffs Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

The weather turned again early in the evening as some thunderstorms rolled in and at that point I called it a day.  Day 4 would bring another set of adventures.

Next:  Day 4:  Storm Light

Posted by: kerryl29 | July 14, 2014

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

For the past six or seven weeks I’ve spent just about every free moment working on a long overdue project to overhaul the content on my website.  This is something I’ve been planning to do for several years; the primary goals are to:

Bond Falls in Morning Mist black & white, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Bond Falls in Morning Mist black & white, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

  1. Cull images that are mediocre, redundant or both.
  2. Impose a uniform size standard on all images.  A few years ago I decided that the images on the site were too small, so from that point on all photos that were uploaded were roughly 50% larger than their predecessors.  I did not, however, go back and increase the size of all previously uploaded images.  I’m doing that now.
  3. Fix bad links.
  4. Apply new processing skills, techniques and tools to all of the old images that meet the criteria necessary to remain on the site when doing so will enhance their appearance.
Lake Bridge in Autumn, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Lake Bridge in Autumn, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

As you might imagine, it’s the fourth of the listed goals that’s the most time consuming.  Some of the images on the site are considerably more than a decade old.  I’ve learned an awful lot about image processing in that time and the majority of photographs would benefit substantially by applying my current skill set/tool set to the task of image optimization.

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The culling part of the process is a big deal as well.  In the past, due to an evident reluctance on my part to choose between images, I had the tendency to post anything I thought was halfway decent on the site, even if there were several other shots that were just about identical in appearance.  I’m rectifying the redundancy issue now.  Additionally, my standards have changed over the years and I’ve removed everything that I regard as run-of-the-mill (or worse).  I haven’t officially kept track, but my best guess is that roughly half of the images have been removed from the galleries I’ve updated; several galleries have been reduced in size by approximately 75%.

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

There were more bad links on the site than I care to admit.  I always knew that there were some present, but I had no idea just how many.  The process by which the update is taking place is allowing me to uncover most, if not all of them, and I’m fixing them as I go.

Blackwater Canyon at Sunset from Lindy Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Blackwater Canyon at Sunset from Lindy Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Still, the most intriguing part of the process has been the reprocessing task.  I’ve really seen some old images come to life as a function of using tools and skills that weren’t part of my kit once upon a time.  Images made since the beginning of 2012 are mostly unaffected by all of this, but anything older than that is a potential update candidate.  Every image accompanying this post is among those redone.

Sea Star Pair, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Sea Star Pair, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

So that’s a quick and dirty explanation why I’ve done so little blogging of late.  I’m about 75% of the way through the process and hope to have it completed within three weeks time.  I’ll get back to the images from my trip to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio with my next post.

Chagrin River Falls, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

Chagrin River Falls, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 23, 2014

Hocking Hills, Day Two

Day 2 at Hocking Hills was a Monday; I presumed that there would be fewer people at the park’s hot spots, but just to insure that I’d have some uninterrupted quality time at the Upper Falls–where a music video was being shot on the evening of Day 1–I was out the door roughly 30 minutes before sunrise to make the 12 (ish) mile drive to the Old Man’s Cave section of the park.  I arrived right around daybreak and the huge parking lot was entirely empty, much to my pleasure.

I’d seen enough during the previous day’s (mostly) scouting session to know that my trusty waterproof rubber boots would be highly useful, so I donned them and quickly made my way into the gorge and swiftly hiked the roughly 1/2 mile to the Upper Falls area.  I noticed a few potentially interesting shots on the way, but figured I’d attend to them later that day–or possibly at some point over the next couple of days.

The Upper Falls area was deserted, as expected, when I arrived.  Since I’d just been there the previous evening and–despite the video shoot–had used the opportunity to check out some different compositions, I didn’t waste much time before setting up.

Upper Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Upper Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After messing around–unsuccessfully–with the roots of a tree as a possible foreground, I waded into the pool surrounding the waterfall and moved very close to the rock face, incorporating the rather stately bridge that arches above the Upper Falls.

Upper Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Upper Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I then used an old tree stump–which the model for the music video had been sitting on the previous day–for foreground interest.  I exposed this twice, both at f/7.1, first focusing on the stump and then on the falls.  It was a simple Photoshop masking job to find the overlapping zone of sharp focus and blend the two images into one.

On my way out, I stopped at an area called Devil’s Bathtub–where the creek that flows downstream from the Upper Falls spirals into a vary narrow crevice and drops into a surprisingly deep pool.  I waded into the middle of the creek below Devil’s Bathtub for the shot you see above.  It was a spot I would return to several days later.

Devil's Bathtub, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Devil’s Bathtub, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I poked around a bit more in the Old Man’s Cave area but after a short time I returned to my car and drove the seven-odd miles to the Ash Cave section of Hocking Hills.  Ash Cave is a huge open-faced cavern with–under wet conditions–a tall waterfall (approximately 90 feet) dropping over its edge.  It was mid-morning when I visited the area for the first time and the light was already a problem, but I thought this was a good opportunity to scope out some different perspectives in prelude to a return under better conditions.

The walk from the parking area to Ash Cave itself is a short one–perhaps 1/2 mile.  Before long you can hear the waterfall and very shortly thereafter it comes into view.  The trail runs the length of the cavern itself, behind the waterfall and up a bluff, before looping back to the parking area.  I found several shots that I thought would be appealing in even light and resolved to return early evening when the sun had dropped below the bluff.

On my way out, I saw some reflections in the creek that winds down from the waterfall that I thought were appealing and stopped to take a shot.

Creek Reflections, Ash Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Creek Reflections, Ash Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

It was now late morning and I made a stop at the Cedar Falls area of the park, just a couple of miles back up the road, to scout the location.  The light was now truly awful, and the location was fairly crowded, but it was another opportunity to do some scouting.  I saw an awful lot worth coming back for, and planned to do so first thing in the morning the next day.

By the time I was done at Cedar Falls, it was early afternoon.  I took a short break and mid-afternoon I made my way to Conkle’s Hollow.  Conkle’s Hollow isn’t, strictly speaking, part of Hocking Hills State Park; it’s adjacent to Hocking Hills and is administered as a separate state nature preserve, but is often treated unofficially as part of the park.

Conkle’s Hollow lies in a gorge that is lined with a creek and is heavily forested, with impressive stands of ferns as part of the undergrowth.  The gorge narrows progressively as you walk farther into it and culminates in what is something approaching a slot canyon at the end.  I walked all the way to the end, though I took in some of the scenery along the way with the intention of stopping and shooting on the way out.

When I reached the end of trail, I was standing in a canyon with no direct sunlight, despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon.  There was some reflected light–much as the aforementioned slot canyon might reveal–but the shadows were so deep that the dynamic range was extreme and the exposure times needed to pull detail out of the deepest shadow areas were very long.  I combined a series of exposures to produce the shot you see below–the longest of which was two minutes.  (I had the camera on “Bulb” setting and counted off to myself in true “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” style.)  Note the reflected light–that’s not direct sunlight–in the crevice above the waterfall.

Gorge Waterfall, Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve, Ohio

Gorge Waterfall, Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve, Ohio

I converted the above shot to black and white for an alternative presentation.

Gorge Waterfall Black & White, Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve, Ohio

Gorge Waterfall Black & White, Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve, Ohio

On my way out, I photographed some of the spots alluded to earlier, including the one below.

Bluff & Trees, Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve, Ohio

Bluff & Trees, Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve, Ohio

When I was done at Conkle’s Hollow it was early evening and it was time to retrace my steps and head back to Ash Cave.  It was about 90 minutes before sunset when I arrived and the light was just about shootable at the spots that I’d identified earlier, but to my dismay there were a fair number of people milling about.  Since most of the shots I wanted to take were quite wide, a person just about anywhere near the waterfall would be in the frame.  With the better part of two hours before sunset, I simply decided to wait it out and, though it was a bit frustrating at times, I reminded myself that other people had every bit as much right to be there as I did.  (I will confess that the people who pulled out a Frisbee did push my buttons a bit.)  In any event, I did get my shots, though it was just about dark as I made my way back to the parking area, the last one out as usual.

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

A few of the shots–including the one immediately above–took in a bit less area than others, so I turned my attention to those compositions, like the one framed by the trees and boulder, first.

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Most of the waterfall shots were taken with wider angle lenses, but I did pull out a telephoto and focus stacked a pair of shots to obtain the image you see below.  There was no way to get the necessary depth of field in one shot.

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

It had been a very long day–I had been up and about for roughly 16 hours by the time I got back to the hotel, but getting out very early had proven useful as a way to spend significant time all by myself at an ordinarily busy spot.  I would leverage the same approach when I returned to the Cedar Falls section of Hocking Hills first thing in the morning on Day 3.

Next:  Day 3:  Ash Cave, etc.

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 10, 2014

Hocking Hills, Introduction and Day 1

For a variety of reasons, my hopes/plans for a photo trip of significance this spring evaporated somewhere in the vicinity of late November of last year.  Things stabilized, relatively speaking, by the beginning of May, so I took the opportunity to squeeze out a brief trip (three full days plus an evening and a morning) to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio.  The park is located in rural Hocking County, about an hour southeast of Columbus.  I had never been there, but it has been on my to-do list for quite some time now.  The park is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Indianapolis, and I’d been hearing about the place for years, primarily from contacts in the Cleveland area.

My decision to sneak off to Hocking Hills was made on fairly short notice–about a week’s time, which for me is in incredibly brief.  I had little time to plan; I downloaded some maps from a website and viewed a few images on-line, but that was about it.  I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants.

What I already knew about Hocking Hills is that the park is divided into six distinct sections:  the Old Man’s Cave area, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow, Rock House and Cantwell Cliffs.  (Conkle’s Hollow is technically not a part of Hocking Hills State Park–it’s a state nature preserve–but it abuts park property and is typically regarded as an informal part of the park.)  The principal attraction here is a series of waterfalls, set amongst fairly deep gorges and copious, dense forest settings.

Beyond that, I didn’t know much when I set off for Hocking Hills late on the morning of Sunday, May 18.  I arrived at my place of lodging in Logan, Ohio, mid-afternoon, and after a settling in a bit, set off for the Old Man’s Cave area of the park–the best known and most popular section of Hocking Hills–at about 5:30.  It’s about a 12-mile drive from where I was staying to Old Man’s Cave on a winding, hilly two-lane road.  It was around 6 PM when I arrived at my destination, roughly 2 1/2 hours before sunset.

Since I’d never been to the park before, I figured I’d spend most of my time scouting the area, though I did bring my gear with me (naturally).  From the large parking lot, which was perhaps half full, I followed the signs to Old Man’s Cave itself.  The Old Man’s Cave area of Hocking Hills–so named because of the large cave in the center of this particular gorge that was (legend has it) inhabited by a hermit back in the 19th Century–is a mile-long gorge that can be easily traversed either along the rim or through the gorge itself.  The eponymous feature–Old Man’s Cave–is roughly halfway from the head of the gorge to the foot.

All of the waterfalls at Hocking Hills–not just the ones in the Old Man’s Cave area–are fed by runoff, not by permanent creeks or rivers–so the park itself can be mostly or entirely dry in the summer and fall.  But in the spring, the falls are almost always running.  It’s no accident that I decided to visit the park during the spring.  I was lucky that there had been a fair amount of rain in the area during the week leading up to my time there.

I made my way to Old Man’s Cave from the rim of the gorge, and wandered down the steps to the cave’s base, along Old Man’s Creek, an ephemeral waterway, which was flowing pretty nicely when I was there.  There were still a fair number of visitors when I was there, which made photography fairly frustrating.  I did a bit of shooting but I mostly just looked around, sizing up some shots that I could take upon returning to the area when it would (presumably) be less crowded.

I did scramble over some boulders and make my way all the way down to the base of the cascade-fed waterfall (Middle Falls) that lies immediately below the huge, arching cut out that is Old Man’s Cave.  With some patience, I managed to get a shot devoid of people.

Middle Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Middle Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After noting some potential perspectives–in the cave, near the falls and around the cascades immediately above the falls–for a return visit over the next few days, I followed the gorge trail downstream to the area around the Lower Falls.  After descending a long staircase to the lower falls area, I took the time to photograph the impressive stone bridge that crosses the creek at the point where the Lower Falls can be accessed directly.

Bridge to Lower Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Bridge to Lower Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Despite the late hour–it was now well after 7 PM–there were still a fair number of people milling about the Lower Falls, so, again, I did more looking than shooting.  I still managed to make a couple of images.

Lower Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Lower Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I had not taken my rubber boots on this hike–it was, after all, mostly a scouting expedition–but I resolved to wear them on the return trip to both the Old Man’s Cave and the Lower Falls.  They would allow me to explore additional, more photogenic (in my opinion) perspectives that wouldn’t be possible without some waterproof footwear.

Lower Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Lower Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

After producing a few shots, I climbed back out of the gorge and hiked all the way to the head of the canyon, where the Upper Falls area is located.  I noticed some potentially interesting shots in the gorge, between Old Man’s Cave and the Upper Falls, but with the hour growing late I resolved to examine them more closely when I returned.  I didn’t encounter anyone on the trail on the way to the Upper Falls, but when I got to the Upper Falls area itself, I found several people who were clearly shooting a music video.  There was no way I could do a thorough exploration of this section without getting in the way of this group, so I poked around the periphery, to avoid interfering with the production.  I took no pictures, however.

By the time I climbed out of the gorge for the final time and returned to the parking lot, it was dusk.  There were only two or three other vehicles in the parking lot (which contains at least 200 spots).  I resolved to return to the Old Man’s Cave area the following morning, first thing, to do some shooting in the Upper Falls area.  I anticipated fewer people.  I turned out to be correct.

Next:  Hocking Hills, Day 2:  Upper Falls, scouting Ash Cave and Cedar Falls

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 27, 2014

Fall Back

I’m preparing this post during a break in my (brief) spring photo trip to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio (which will undoubtedly be the subject of a future blog entry (or several). But spring seems like the perfect time to cover a topic I’ve neglected for months—my fall photography outside of the already-chronicled journey to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in early October of last year. After returning from the UP, I was able to get some local (read: northern Illinois/central Indiana) shooting in before the color disappeared. Fall color actually lasted into early November in northern Illinois—a bit of a feint, given the brutal winter we were handed—so I got out in the field when I could (which wasn’t nearly as often as I would have liked). (My apologies in advance for the image-heavy post.)

Fall Creek Gorge

Fall Creek Gorge is a Nature Conservancy preserve near the small town of Attica, Indiana, roughly halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis. I’ve been there once before—a few years ago, in the summer. The principal feature at the preserve is the abundance of potholes in the gorge itself; when there’s too much water flowing through Fall Creek, the potholes are completely obscured, but—most of the time—by autumn, the flow of water has diminished enough to reveal these “divots.” That’s why I decided to make a side trip, on a drive between Chicago and Indianapolis, to Fall Creek Gorge in late October of last year.

It was a mostly cloudy weekday morning when I hit the road, and I arrived at the small, deserted Fall Creek Gorge parking area on a rural back road late morning. I was on the ground at the preserve for roughly five hours and I never saw another soul. The trail from the parking area leads to a confluence of Fall Creek and a minor tributary, at which the base of the gorge itself is located. I wandered around this spot for awhile, looking for compositions, but never found anything I liked, so I returned to the trail, which leads to an area above the gorge. It’s impossible to hike up the gorge itself, but it is possible to hike down into it; exactly how far down depends on how low the water level is and how lucky you feel.

Upriver from the gorge is a small waterfall—smaller than it was during my last visit, when water flow was much stronger—with a good-sized pool at its base. A significant part of the pool was filled with brightly colored fallen leaves.

Fall Creek Waterfall, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Fall Creek Waterfall, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

I noticed that there was a very slowly moving motion of these leaves in a counterclockwise direction, so I piled on the neutral density filtration in order to render a slow enough shutter speed to highlight the swirl.

Leaf Swirls, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Leaf Swirls, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

After some experimentation, I settled on a shutter speed of 2 ½ minutes.

Leafy Vortex, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Leafy Vortex, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

I converted this image to black & white, to allow the leaf swirls themselves to better reveal themselves.

Leafy Vortex Black & White, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Leafy Vortex Black & White, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

I gradually made my way downriver to the top of the gorge. Water levels were, at most, half of what they’d been during my previous experience. The potholes were revealed, in all of their glory.

Potholes, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Potholes, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

I also looked for available intimate compositions.

Fall Creek Intimate, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Fall Creek Intimate, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

I finally made my way back to the confluence and hiked the tributary upstream. Water levels were quite shallow, making the hike fairly easy. My eye was still searching for intimates, and I found one in relatively short order.

Tributary Intimate, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Tributary Intimate, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

By this time, the clouds were beginning to lift, spelling an end to the shooting day for me, but I had one last shot in mind. I had to wait out both the wind and the fickle diffusion of the now partly cloudy sky to obtain this final image.

Fall Creek Tributary, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

Fall Creek Tributary, Fall Creek Gorge Preserve, Indiana

McCormick’s Creek

McCormick’s Creek State Park is a small plot, about a mile square, located near the town of Spencer, in Owen County, Indiana, roughly 20 miles northeast of Bloomington. I’d been to McCormick’s Creek once, in the early spring of 2012, and was impressed. I decided to see what it was like in autumn—less than a week after I was at Fall Creek Gorge—and I wasn’t disappointed.

The feature around which everything at McCormick’s Creek is based is the creek itself, which winds its way through the park. Near the center is a decent-sized waterfall, and that’s where I headed first. I was treated to some fog in the creek gorge on this uncharacteristically humid fall day, which added just a touch of mystery to an already enchanting scene.

Misty Falls, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Misty Falls, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

With the same pair of rubber boots that I used to navigate around the watery areas of Fall Creek Gorge (and countless other places over the past six-odd years), I picked my way close to the waterfall itself and found myself staring at an almost endless number of compositions.

Waterfall #1, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #1, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

The above shot is a blend of two images, which were focus-stacked for the purposes of extending apparent depth of field.

Waterfall #2, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #2, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #3, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #3, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #4, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #4, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

I probably could have spent all day below the falls, but I wanted to explore a few other spots so I reluctantly climbed out of the creek gorge after a couple of hours. I did nab a parting shot of the scene—an aerial perspective, of sorts—from the staircase that leads to the rim.

Waterfall #5, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Waterfall #5, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

I decided to explore one of the trails that leads downriver from the falls, back into the gorge itself, and came upon this WPA era shelter.

Trail Shelter, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Trail Shelter, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

From there it was back out of the gorge and an exploration of an area high above the rim, north of the creek, where the color was still quite nice in pockets.

Fall Trees, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Fall Trees, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

Maple Intimate, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Maple Intimate, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

I wandered back down near the north rim of the gorge and came across this golden forest of maples.

Golden Forest, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Golden Forest, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

By skirting along the rim to the east, I was able to find a few spots where I could walk out on outcroppings, 70-odd feet above the creek, to shoot images of trees on the south side of the gorge, including the following:

A Celebration of Color, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

A Celebration of Color, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

By this time it was getting dark. I’d been at it all day, without having realized it. I had slowly come to appreciate what a little gem of a park McCormick’s Creek really is.

Morton Arboretum

It was early November before I returned to the Chicago area and I was surprised to find that the color was holding out so well. I didn’t have time for a long excursion, but I did make a quick jaunt into the Morton Arboretum, only about 15 minutes away, while the color was still holding. Within a couple of days of the time the below images were made heavy rains and wind knocked virtually all of the leaves off the trees throughout the area.

The Arboretum is divided into an East Side and West Side. In the past I’ve spent the bulk of my fall Arboretum shooting time on the East Side, so this time around I decided to do something different and check out parts of the West Side. It worked out pretty well.

Autumn Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Autumn Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Autumnal Splendor, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Autumnal Splendor, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Fall Layers, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Fall Layers, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

After capturing these images, I headed to another area on the West Side of the Arboretum, one filled with ancient oaks, which were in beautiful autumn dress.

The Chosen Path, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

The Chosen Path, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Oaks in Autumn Dress, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Oaks in Autumn Dress, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

It was a cloudy, chilly day and it had been getting darker and darker as the day wore on. Finally, it started to rain, just I was putting the parting touches on this image of leaves on the ground.

Fallen Leaves, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Fallen Leaves, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I hope you enjoyed this autumnal retrospective. I’ll return to more topical matters, including the fruits of the Hocking Hills shoot, in forthcoming entries.

Last month I posted an entry entitled “The Sweet Spot,” which described my early experiences with Nikon’s new(ish) AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens and some of the rationale that lay behind my decision to purchase it.  In the comments section, Jerry of QuietSoloPursuits wrote the following:  “I understand the need for a longer lens, even for landscapes, but my understanding is that the longer the range of focal length a zoom lens has, the more that image quality drops off, and you seem to be a stickler for quality. I would think that you would opt for something like a 200-400 mm lens to go with a 70-200 mm.”  This was–and remains–an excellent question, and the answer to it serves as an apt segue into a larger point that I hinted at in the linked piece:  the seemingly never-ending set of tradeoffs that are a part of virtually every photography-related decision that we, as photographers, make.

Jordan Pond in Fog, Acadia National Park, Maine

Jordan Pond in Fog, Acadia National Park, Maine

80-400 or 70-200/200-400?

Let’s start with a direct answer to Jerry’s question, with his premise in mind:  the greater the zoom range, the worse the optical quality of that lens, all other things being equal.  This is a quick and dirty generalization that just happens to be true.  The 80-400 is a 5X zoom lens; something like the 70-200 is less than a 3X.  Coupled with a 200-400 (2X) you’re almost certainly getting better image quality from shots taken with either of the latter pair of lenses than you are from the 80-400.  But what are you giving up by going with the two lens option?

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

1) Avoidance of lens swapping:  virtually the same focal length is covered with a single lens rather than two, so for just about any telephoto shot I want to take, I can use the 80-400.  With the pair of lenses, I’d have to swap in and out any time I wanted to go over (or under) 200 mm.

2) Weight:  the 80-400 weighs about 3.5 pounds.  There are two 70-200 Nikon options–a fixed f/2.8 and a fixed f/4.  (There are third party options as well, but in the interest of making this relatively easy to follow, I’ll stick with comparing Nikon branded lenses.)  The 2.8 version weighs roughly 3.4 pounds.  The 4 version weights just under 1.9 lbs.  But then there’s the matter of the 200-400/4 and its 7.4 pound payload.   To summarize:

 

Lens Combo.

Weight (lbs)

80-400

3.5

70-200/2.8 & 200-400

10.9

70-200/4 & 200-400

9.3

 

If you don’t think a six- or seven-pound weight difference is a big deal, you haven’t spent much (any?) time lugging a 35-pound pack on lengthy hikes.  So there’s a significant weight savings by going with the 80-400 option.

LaSalle Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

3) Space.  It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:  the 80-400 takes up a lot less space than either of the combination options.  The 200-400 is almost five inches wide and more than 14 inches long.  The 70-200/4 is 3.1 x 7 inches; the 70-200/2.8 is 3.4 x 8 inches.  Either combination of the two lenses, and a single camera body, will take up the entirety of a go0d-sized camera bag or backpack.   The 80-400 is 3.8 x 8 inches.  In other words, the 80-400 is a bit larger than either of the 70-200 options–alone.  Factor in the 200-400 and it’s obvious which of the choices takes up less room.

4) Cost.  This is my personal favorite.  The 80-400 costs just under $2700.  (As I mentioned in the earlier entry, I paid $400 less than that due to an instant rebate that was available at the time of purchase.)  The 70-200/4 is roughly $1400; the 70-200/2.8 is approximately $2400; the 200-400 runs $6750.  In sum:

 

Lens Combo. Price
80-400 $2700 ($2300)
70-200/4 & 200-400 $8,150
70-200/2.8 & 200-400 $9,450

 

The cost differences here are staggering.  The price I paid for the 80-400 is than 1/4 that of the 70-200/2.8-200-400 combination–a difference of more than $7000.  The difference compared to the 70-200/2.8-200-400 combination is nearly $6000.  To put this in some perspective, the single most expensive piece of photographic equipment I’ve ever purchased is the D800E camera body, at just under $3300.

McConnell's Mill, McConnell's Mill State Park, Pennsylvania

McConnell’s Mill, McConnell’s Mill State Park, Pennsylvania

All of these 80-400 benefits come at the price of some image quality–exactly how much is difficult to quantify, so I’m not going to try.   I have used all of these lenses, including the 200-400/4 (which I borrowed from a wildlife photographer friend of mine), and while the 80-400 does give something up (as expected), it’s no slouch by any means.  I consider the IQ compromise to be a fairly modest one.  While it’s not the lens I’d recommend for someone who wants to extract every last bit of IQ out of the D800E’s sensor come hell or high water, neither are any of the other zooms in this discussion.  If I wanted the highest quality that I could achieve with my camera, I wouldn’t be shooting zoom lenses at all.  I’d have a bundle of prime lenses–including some very heavy, very pricey ones–that I’d be hauling around in a pack that would make Atlas himself book a chiropractic appointment.

This is, in fact, exactly the sort of tradeoff that I’m talking about.  It’s not a matter of whether to compromise, it’s how you choose to do so.  In essence, I’ve decided that–for me–the 80-400 is the best option given a whole host of considerations (such as how much money I’m willing to spend, how much weight I’m going to lug around, my personal photographic proclivities, and so on).  Someone else might weigh these considerations–and others–differently and come to a very different conclusion.  But regardless of the specific choice one thing is certain:  compromises will be made.

Fog & Sun, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Fog & Sun, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Devil’s Advocate

Just to further illustrate the point, and demonstrate how it impacts everything, consider the matter of “the ultimate image quality.”  I mentioned above that, if I wanted to squeeze every bit of quality that I could, I’d be using (mostly very expensive) prime lenses on my camera, but that’s not entirely correct, because the fact is that if image quality was so important to me that it trumped everything else, I wouldn’t be using this camera format at all.  I’d be shooting with a large format camera, probably with a digital back.  The camera I use, the Nikon D800E, is arguably capable of the highest image quality for  a digital SLR, but there are other formats that are inherently capable of higher image quality than anything that can be achieved with any small format camera.  This was even more emphatically the case back in the film era, but even today, despite remarkable leaps forward in terms of IQ in small format cameras over the past 10 years, medium and large format cameras are still capable of doing better–significantly better, in fact.

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

But these other formats represent substantial tradeoffs of their own.  Nearly 15 years ago, before the digital era had shown clear signs of maturing, I was seriously contemplating moving to either medium or large format from a 35mm film camera system and spent a lot of time investigating the options and weighing the pros and cons, and the vast majority of these considerations remain relevant (many have in fact been amplified) in the digital age.  Image quality is gained–at least when one is able to conquer the additional hurdles of properly using the equipment–with the larger formats.  Those hurdles are numerous and substantial, particularly for large format systems.  There’s also a huge cost penalty (to the tune of thousands–tens of thousands in many cases–of dollars) if one wants to retain the benefits of digital capture.  (If you’re willing to stick with capture on film, the (hardware) equipment costs actually may represent a decrease as medium and large format film gear is comparatively inexpensive these days, but much of that advantage is canceled out by the ever-increasing cost of diminishing stocks of film and developing capabilities.  Besides, all of the numerous benefits of native digital capture disappear when film is the capture medium, to say nothing of the expense and difficulty of scanning medium and large format film.)  And, of course, there are massive portability and flexibility downsides, particularly for large format camera systems.  Even highly experienced large format photographers need several minutes to set up their cameras in the field.  Composing, metering and focusing are lengthy, painstaking, time-consuming processes.  As one large format photographer once told me, “you miss a lot of shots with large format,” meaning that it was nearly impossible to successfully adjust to rapidly changing conditions or events.  Generally speaking, you had one shot–at best.

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

Medium format represented a kind of middle ground compared to 35mm (small format) and large format:  better IQ than small format, but not as good as large format.  Far more portable and easier to set up than large format, but decidedly less so compared to small format.  More flexible and with more options than large format, but nowhere near what small format offered.

So in the greater scheme of things, every step-wise improvement that could be gained in image quality required a concomitant tradeoff–sometimes multiple tradeoffs–elsewhere, whether it be in terms of cost, flexibility, number of associated options, portability, time, ease of workflow or something else.  And, generally speaking, the size of the tradeoff corresponded with the quantity of the improvement in IQ.  It’s when that proportion is out of whack–say a comparatively large improvement in IQ without giving up much or a small IQ loss while gaining a lot–that the decision making process is eased.  That’s essentially what I saw with the 80-400 situation that I laid out above:  I gave up a little bit of IQ relative to the other options I laid out, but (relatively speaking) I gained an awful lot by doing so.  That was a fairly easy choice to make.  Often times the decision making locus is far more complicated.

Heart of the Dunes black & white, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Heart of the Dunes black & white, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I’m just summarizing the situation–a full-blown exposé would require a more thorough vetting of the other advantages and disadvantages of the various formats–but I’m sure you can spot the trend:  you’re always compromising.  I’ve largely centered this discussion around the specific subject of IQ–and what you have to do to move up each notch to improve, but the general gist of this gestalt can be applied to just about any aspect of photography you like:  you’re essentially always weighing whether it’s worth giving something up to achieve something else. Consider the decision about gaining depth of field (by stopping down the lens) at the cost of shutter speed.  Or gaining a light advantage (raising the ISO) at the expense of more noise and less dynamic range.  Or gaining depth of field (stopping down the lens) at the cost of a potential loss of acuity due to increased diffraction.  It’s endless:  give some of this to get some of that (or vice versa).

In the end, the sooner that we reconcile ourselves to the need to compromise, the more energy we can put into evaluating the circumstances and making the choice that best meets our  personal needs, goals and limitations.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 7, 2014

Seeing in the Field Part IV

This is the fourth part of the “seeing in the field” series, an ongoing dialogue between myself and Tom Robbins.

The introduction to the series is here and Part I , Part II and Part III can be read via the corresponding links.

With this installment, we’ll continue our look at images that were made on excursions to places where scenes other than that represented by the selected image were the main impetus for the visit.  The principal question we’re batting around is:  what is it that compels us to take notice when we’re in the field?

For this installment, Tom will set the scene for the included image and then Tom and I will engage in a dialogue to try to tease out something of the creative process that led to the shot’s capture.

Setting the Scene

Unexpected photography subjects are usually found while en route to a destination or after having arrived on site. Occasionally, they will present themselves in the most humble and unpromising circumstances. This simple winter landscape, photographed within a half mile of home, is an example:

 

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here.]

I was out that windy and near zero degree February day primarily to shake off a case of cabin fever blues, something almost everyone in the upper Midwest has experienced this winter to one degree or another. All roads leading out of town were hazardous that morning due to yet another snowfall, so a quick hike in a local park would have to do. I expected only fresh air, but took the camera gear along out of habit. About half way into the hike, the scene in the photo grabbed my attention. It’s a place I’ve been to countless times, yet fresh snow, diffuse light, arrangement of elements, and subtle colors created an entirely new combination that I simply could not pass up.

The local park served as a stage for the distant coal chute, a relic from the steam locomotive days. Nothing else seen during the walk caught my eye. It is odd how a particular point of view and the circumstances of a moment can lift the spirits as if by magic.

The Dialogue

Kerry:  Odd indeed, but I think we’re discussing the essence of what constitutes the substance of the matter underlying these dialogues:  seeing in the field.  It really is fascinating how a scene that, under one set of conditions is a compelling photographic subject but under another wouldn’t merit so much as a glance, let alone consideration for setting up one’s gear.  I’ve poked at the carcass of this issue a few times in the past, most notably in an entry on shooting in foggy/misty conditions but perhaps we can dip into this a bit more completely–and universally.

What was it about this particular visit that made this scene–one that you specifically noted you’d encountered many times before–so compelling on this occasion?  You’ve hinted at this in your description–fresh snow, diffuse light, etc.–but can you be any more specific?  Can you draw a direct comparison to how this morning’s visit differed, aesthetically and in motivational terms–from your previous experiences in the same spot?

Tom:  On that day, the surface of a pond at the lower left side of the frame had completely frozen over after several days of extreme cold. This, combined with fresh overnight snow, effectively masked some of the visual elements that are usually present at this location. The result was a landscape with its normal distractions naturally filtered away. The simplifying effect of snow and ice in this instance is similar to that of fog and mist; it provides a clean stage for the central elements. 

KerryI think we’re approaching a near-universal conclusion here (and I say “near” because, when it comes to art, I’m not sure that there’s anything that is truly literally universal):  simplicity is a very powerful–and inspirational–aesthetic.  It certainly holds up to intuitive scrutiny as well.  Think about how often, when composing in the field, the instinct is to attempt to remove or at least de-emphasize compositional “distractions.”  So when atmospheric forces–fog, snow, soft light conditions in general, etc.–perform that task for us, we can take advantage.  Obviously this is part of a larger, more general theme–knowing what conditions flatter what places–but I think there’s something directly actionable here:  otherwise cluttered places (e.g. woodlands, etc.) are often best photographed when something obscuring is present.

Tom:  I agree with your assessment of simplicity; Asian ink wash painting is an example of the aesthetic. There is probably a limit to how far the idea can be taken. The old chestnut, if less is more, then nothing is everything, comes to mind.

Kerry:  Oh, absolutely.  Taken to its logical extreme, the most highly simplified picture of the foggy scene would be of nothing but fog…which, presumably, wouldn’t be particularly compelling.

Tom:   Your observation about knowing what conditions flatter what places is on the money. Wonderfully complicated and tangled landscapes do exist, but when they are effective, it is usually because all elements are working in harmony or are supporting a theme.

Kerry:  Are there other times when you’ve revisited a spot that hadn’t spoken to you previously but something about that time, that moment resonated with you?  If so, can you compare/contrast those times with this one?  What are the relevant comparative similarities and differences?

Tom:  There was almost too much fog at the creek one foggy July morning last year:

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here]

The same place with snow and ice, about half a year later:

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here]

Fog simplifies in the first image and ice and snow simplifies in the second. This third image is straightforward September:

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here]

The creek reliably conveys its water from source to destination without regard to any viewer’s point of view. Just the same, I prefer the winter version because it’s similar to the stark aspect of the winter coal chute photo. There’s something irresistible about the cold and clean contrasts of winter.

KerryThese sample images are an excellent guidepost, demonstrating what the scene looks like at different times of year and in different conditions.  It’s interesting…it almost seems to me that the best of all possible worlds might be a kind of combination of the foggy image and the winter one (a set of conditions that, admittedly, is extremely unlikely to reveal itself in the real world, since we don’t see much fog in winter).  Somewhat ironically, I think the foggy image may very well have the best sense of visual depth of the three (ironic because the fog all but eliminates the background and totally obscures the horizon, making actual depth almost non-existent), due to the comparatively strong leading line of the creek itself.  That leading line is greatly mitigated, of course, by the snow in the winter scene, and the foliage in the late-summer version. 

But on the subject of simplicity, I’m wondering…is perhaps one reason why you don’t feel that the foggy scene works as well as it otherwise might the fact that, despite it’s simplicity inducing properties, something about this location makes it impossible to really simplify it enough
to really make it work?  Consider this image:


Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved


I think this shot works precisely–and in fact solely–because of its stark simplicity.  There’s an entire background–a tree-filled hillside–that’s normally completely visible behind the lone tree you see above, one that–without the heavy fog–makes it impossible to make the tree (and its reflection) stand out.  Given the proximity and size of the elements in the foggy creek shot of yours above, it’s probably impossible to garner that kind of effect, no matter how thick (or thin) the fog is.  Perhaps this–the creek–is the kind of scene that works best with a half-step of simplifying obscurity–the snow cover, as depicted in the winter shot–rather than the full step?

Tom:  Yes, absolutely so—wonderful image, by the way. Varying degrees of simplification are needed for different subjects and circumstances. It is rare for the simplifying element (snow/ice, fog, or whatever) to be ideal for a given scene, and I suspect some photographers haunted their prospective gems for many years before the tumblers of the lock finally clicked into place. The reason that a photographer’s best work is often made locally probably has more to do with the ability to make numerous attempts than to knowledge of place.

Kerry:  Agreed.  And I think this reinforces the notion that we’re speaking in abstract generalities here; there is no cookbook recipe to follow.  We’re simply identifying and discussing general principles, the specific applications of which will vary depending on location, subject matter, specific conditions, individual artist and so forth.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 27, 2014

The Sweet Spot

I’ve said it many times:  photography, at just about every level, is about making and accepting compromises.  The reality of this is made evident, for instance, when you gain depth of field at the cost of losing stops of light by closing down the aperture of a lens.  It’s revealed when increasing the ISO–to get that shutter speed you need in a low-light situation, for example–comes at the price of increased noise.  It shows up when the photographer makes the fundamental decision to use a telephoto lens for an intimate scene, at the expense of depth of field.  There are countless examples of these kinds of tradeoffs.  You can prove this to yourself.  Head out for a day of shooting and take note of how many times you give up one thing in order to obtain another while in the field.

While the tradeoff examples are most obvious when it comes to the technical aspects of photography, the analogy plays out in more distantly-related realms as well, including equipment–what to buy, what to use.

*                     *                     *

I did something a bit unusual a few weeks ago, something I hadn’t done in nearly six years:  I bought a new lens.  The lens in question is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens .  This model, which hit the market a bit more than a year ago, is the long-awaited (and requested) replacement for the Nikon AF VR Zoom-NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED lens, which I have owned and used for approximately 11 years. 

Nikon 80-400, D (left) and G (right)

Nikon 80-400, D (left) and G (right)

If I already owned an 80-400 mm lens, why did I need another one?  The short answer is, the new one’s better. :)  No, really, it is.  Much of the attention regarding the “G” version has centered around the (much) faster autofocus capability relative to the “D” version (the “G” is an AF-S lens) and the improved vibration reduction system, and the improvements in both of these areas are quite real and significant.  But they’re also not particularly important to me, given the kind of photography I engage in.

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

The issue is this–and it’s a classic case of the tradeoff matter outlined above:  the older, “D” version of the 80-400, was never the greatest lens, in terms of optics.  It was never better than “decent,” in terms of its ability to render image quality, with it’s most significant shortcomings visible in the corners of the frame (where IQ degrades for many lenses).  This was never a big deal when I was shooting with AFS-C crop-sensor (DX, in Nikon-speak) cameras, as was the case when I first obtained the 80-400 D in 2003.  But when I made the move to a full frame (FX) camera at the tail end of 2008, when I purchased the D700, the optical shortcomings began to be revealed just a bit.  I loved–and still do–the flexibility of the focal length of the lens, and with the 12-megapixel sensor of the D700, the image quality provided by the 80-400, even in the corners, I deemed “acceptable.”  The tradeoff was obvious–some IQ sacrificed (over, say, a 70-200 mm/2.8) in order to gain the flexibility of the focal range.  (As I’ve noted on this blog, I not infrequently find myself shooting at focal lengths well above 200 mm, so limiting myself to 200 mm on the long end has never been a desirable situation.)

Solitude, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Solitude, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

But the IQ problems of the “D” version of the lens started to really become objectionable, at least to me, when I began to shoot with the D800E and it’s 36-MP sensor in the summer of 2012.  Those corner problems didn’t seem minor anymore.

When the “G” version of the 80-400 was announced early in 2013, I paid close attention.  I wanted to see if early reviews of the lens were positive, particularly in the IQ department.  They were, pretty much uniformly.  Objective tests of the two lenses showed a significant improvement throughout the entire frame, particularly in the corners.  I was excited.  Until I saw the announced price–roughly $2700.  Ouch.  Based on what I was reading, the lens was very good, but this is a variable aperture lens (i.e. the maximum aperture changes–becomes narrower–as you move from the shortest part of the zoom range to the longest).  And that range is f/4.5 to 5.6.  $2700 is an awful lot of money for a variable aperture lens.  It’s also more than $1000 more than the “D” version had been selling for prior to the introduction of the “G” version of the lens.  Everything I was reading suggested that the “G” version was very good.  But was it $2700 good?  I had my doubts.

Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Nikon (and Canon, for that matter) have had a habit in recent years of introducing new equipment at premium prices and then, after six months or so, cutting the price significantly.  As much as I wanted to replace the 80-400 with the new version, I decided to wait and see if a discount was in the offing.

By January of this year, no price cut had come and I had decided that if, by March, there was no drop I would probably swallow hard and simply make the purchase.   But around the beginning of February Nikon announced instant rebates on more than a dozen lenses and–guess what?–one of them was the 80-400 G.  That rebate was $400.  The wait had been worth it.  The lens was still, arguably, somewhat overpriced, but I felt that I’d waited long enough.  I pulled the trigger.

Setting Sun, Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Setting Sun, Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

When it arrived in late February I immediately spent some time setting up some test shots of my own just to confirm what I’d already learned–there was a clear and undeniable IQ improvement from “D” to “G.”  I finally had the opportunity to try the new lens out in the field following a very wet, sticky snow in the Chicago area in early March.

Winterwood, Churchill Woods Forest Preserve, DuPage County, Illinois

Winterwood, Churchill Woods Forest Preserve, DuPage County, Illinois

Note how this story is shot through with compromises–cash retained, IQ unrealized; cash spent, IQ obtained; flexibility obtained, IQ sacrificed; IQ potential attained (D800E), lens limitations exposed.  It’s the never-ending push-pull of photography, rearing its head yet again, as we search for the elusive sweet spot.  I’ll have more to say on this topic in another post in the relatively near-future.

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