Posted by: kerryl29 | April 19, 2017

Florida Birds: The Photographic Experience

I thought I’d share a few of my observations about various aspects of the photographic experience involving birds during my time in Florida.

Autofocus

On the morning of my second day in the Everglades I made my way to the Anhinga Trail.  The trail, in the Royal Palm section of the park, consists of a series of paved walkways and wooden boardwalks that provide excellent access to a wetland area.  With that access comes close proximity to many nesting and wading birds who are entirely acclimated to the presence of people.

Cormorant, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

On this excursion, while I got plenty of decent images of numerous bird species (and alligators), I found myself frustrated by a function on my camera.  Due to the subject matter I typically shoot, I almost never use autofocus, but with my photographic pursuit on this morning centering on wildlife, I clicked my lens and camera over to autofocus.  The default AF setup for most cameras–including mine–is for autofocus to recalibrate on a given sensor spot when the shutter button is depressed halfway.  I found this to be extremely annoying.  I would move the active sensor to a spot that would allow me to focus on a specific point (a bird’s eye, for instance), then recompose the image…but when I would depress the shutter, the camera would refocus on whatever subject the sensor now included.  Unless that was on the same focal plane as the eye, that was a problem.  I worked around this issue that morning, but it was very, very annoying.  What I wanted was for my plane of focus to remain in place after I had determined it, whether I recomposed or not.  I knew this was possible, by several means.  Now I had to figure out how to implement it.

Piping Plovers, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

When the light became harsh, I sat down and messed around with my camera’s menus.  I had heard people talk about back button autofocus before, but as someone who all but never used autofocus at all, I paid little attention.  But I took a look at the back of the camera, saw the placement of the AF-ON button (the “back button” that can be used to control autofocus activation) and placed my hand on the right side of the camera.  With my right index finger placed on the shutter button the thumb on my right hand sat right on the AF-ON button.  This could work!

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Owl, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

I then dug into the shooting menu on the camera, found the option for setting the AF-ON button and changed the AF configuration so that autofocus would be acquired only when the AF-ON button was depressed.  The shutter button would no longer be used to acquire AF.  I did some quick experimenting–on static subjects–because I thought there would be a learning curve.  That curve lasted about 30 seconds; I took to it like a duck to water and retained those settings for the rest of the trip…and beyond.  (The settings, after all, will have no impact when I use manual focus.)  This made it infinitely easier to use autofocus the way I wanted to.  I found it easier to work than using the AF-L (autofocus lock) button approach.

Great Egret, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

With this method it was a simple matter to acquire autofocus where I wanted it and quickly recompose…or re-acquire as needed.  The key here, obviously, is the separation of the autofocus and shutter tripping functions.  There may be times when having them attached to the same single trigger makes sense, but this wasn’t one of those times.  I was truly impressed at how easy it was to adapt to the new configuration.  It was as though I had always been operating the camera this way and it made the experience of photographing birds far more pleasurable.

Wood Stork, Everglades National Park, Florida

Birds in Flight

Before this trip I had never attempted to photograph birds in flight, let alone succeeded.  I thought it would be difficult…and it was.  But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  Perhaps that assessment is a function of just how problematic I thought photographing birds in flight was.

Osprey, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

With birds flying around all over the place I had some sporadic opportunities to get my feet wet, so to speak.  And I managed to get a few decent images.  It’s worth noting that the birds I was photographing were–mostly–on the large size (as birds go) and that I was usually able to get closer to them, given the venue, than might otherwise be the case.  (There were some exceptions.)  Both of these facts certainly made the exercise easier than it otherwise would be.  But, after a brief attempt to photograph birds in flight–wood storks mostly–at Paurotis Pond in the Everglades when most of the would-be subjects were too far away to photograph effectively with a 400 mm lens, I had my first extended foray with birds in flight when I drove down into the Florida Keys on my third full day on location.  The subjects, in this case, were brown pelicans, first on Lower Metecumbe Key and later at Bahia Honda State Park.

Brown Pelican in Flight, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

I was fascinated by the pelicans, particularly their hovering and diving, but from a purely photographic perspective, these large seabirds frequently flew close enough to my position to make it viable to take pictures.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, the longer I spent with the pelicans the better I understood their in-flight patterns, making it easier for me to predict their movements and, thus, produce usable images.

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Lower Metecumbe Key, Monroe County, Florida

There were some more opportunities to photograph birds in flight, back in the Everglades and at Riverbend Park in Palm Beach County later in the trip and I got some decent images in both places.  I found my camera/lens combination–far from ideal, on both counts, for action photography–to be quite robust given the light and subject matter I was working with.  This is a function, I think, of just how good modern photographic equipment has become.  While optimal gear is certainly available, by no means does even a birds-in-flight neophyte like myself need the very best to obtain highly usable images (from a technical standpoint at least).

Egrets in Flight, Pah-hay-okee, Everglades National Park, Florida

Wood Stork, Paurotis Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Handholding the Camera

I made reference to this aspect of things at the end of my last post.  Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m a relentless advocate of the use of a tripod for landscape (and closeup) photography.  But birds–particularly birds in flight–are another story.  While more than half of the images of birds not in flight that I made on this trip were tripod-aided, literally none of the birds in flight images were.  That’s right, I handheld every single one of those birds in flight shots.  Using a traditional ballhead for this sort of photography is simply an exercise in frustration.  (Believe me, I know.  I tried it.)  Many experienced, dedicated avian photographers use long, heavy prime lenses on a tripod with the aid of a gimbal head, but I don’t use exotic prime lenses or have a gimbal head (not being a dedicated avian photographer)….so, I handheld.

Wood Stork, Paurotis Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Again, this is something of a tribute to the viability of modern photographic equipment.  I turned the vibration reduction feature on my 80-400 lens on, moved the ISO up to the point where I could consistently get a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second (or better) and went to work.  And, while I came up with plenty of trash, I got my share of usable images as well.  In fact, considering my lack of experience, I arguably got more than my share of usable images.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

There certainly is an element of freedom that comes with not being attached to a tripod and without being able to handhold I wouldn’t have even attempted to photograph birds in flight.  And still…when I was photographing birds that were perched in trees, on the ground or in the water I felt much more comfortable with the camera mounted.  I think it’s fair to say that you can expect that I won’t be foregoing my tripod any more in the future than I have in the past.

Snowy Egret, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Great Blue Heron, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

In Sum…

The experience of photographing birds was an enjoyable one.  I could see myself doing it again at some point.  But my main passion–including this trip–remains the landscape.  Birds (and alligators) were a nice temporary diversion and it was interesting to see some other forms of wildlife that I didn’t photograph for one reason or another:  manatees, crocodiles and sea turtles, among other creatures.  And don’t think I’ve gotten a swelled head; while I think that most of these images are quite adequate, I’m no more of a wildlife photographer than I was before I took this trip.  I’m a slightly more experienced person who occasionally is fortunate enough to have wildlife pose for me, nothing more.

Tri-Colored Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

I’m a landscape photographer; it’s what gets me out in the field, when I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity.  Even in Florida, it was my primary focus.  And I’ll turn directly to the landscape experience on this trip in my next entry.

Note:  if you’d like to see more of my images of birds from Floirida, please visit this gallery portal on my website and click on the appropriate sub-gallery link.

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 13, 2017

The Florida Experience: Birds

So, birds…

Great Blue Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time know that I am not a wildlife photographer.  While animals occasionally inadvertently pose for me and I take their pictures, this doesn’t make me a wildlife photographer; it makes me someone who occasionally takes pictures of wildlife…and there’s a big difference between the two.  One important distinction is that, unlike actual wildlife photographers, I don’t go out looking for wildlife.  And I have never made a photo trip with the express intention of photographing wildlife.

White Ibis (Brown version), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Purple Gallinule, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

But when I was in the stages of planning this Florida trip–a stage which didn’t last all that long, as I noted in an earlier post–I fully anticipated that I would spend some percentage of my time photographing birds in the Everglades, given how plentiful and (relatively) approachable they are in many areas.  Landscape photography was, as always, my top priority but given that I planned to visit some areas where wildlife would be the principal focus, this represented something different for me.

Tri-Colored Heron, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

If anything, I underestimated the amount of time I would spend photographing birds.  They were a constant presence in the Everglades–on the ground and/or in the trees or in the air just about anywhere where there was standing water and frequently flying overhead in many of the areas where no water was evident.  So even when I wasn’t in an area of the Everglades–the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley, Paurotis Pond, etc.–where birds were the intended main subject, I often found myself pulling out the long lens after stumbling across birds wading or flying around.  And, what’s more, I ended up finding a significant number of birds during my time in Big Cypress National Preserve, my day in the Keys and during the parts of several days I was in Palm Beach County, some 90 minutes north of Miami.  If there was one constant on this trip, in fact, it was the presence of birds.

Sandhill Crane, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Birds in Florida are, compared to most other places I’ve been, both extremely numerous (particularly in the winter) and relatively approachable.  In a few places that I visited–the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley in Everglades National Park–the birds were extremely approachable, given their acclimation to the presence of people.  All of this makes photographing birds much, much easier than it is most other places.  It means that you don’t necessarily need or want the kind of reach (think 500-600 mm prime lenses with teleconverters) that are all but absolutely necessary elsewhere.  It’s not that you can’t benefit from that length in some spots, but it’s definitely not required in others.  (In some spots it would be an outright impediment.)  I used my 80-400 mm lens exclusively when photographing birds and found it to be perfectly adequate the vast majority of the time.  In fact, the broad zoom range was very handy when photographing in the avian-rich areas of the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley and Big Cypress in particular.

Anhinga with Fish, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

White Ibis Pair, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Also, because many of the birds are quite large and will frequently perch or wade nearby, having a camera optimized for action photography is rarely necessary.  That’s not to say you couldn’t benefit from a 10 frames per second camera, particularly if you’re inclined to “machine gun” images, but I never, ever clogged the buffer on my D800E (usable as an action camera, but not one designed specifically for it).

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Osprey Nest, Flamingo, Everglades National Park, Florida

I think if you look closely you’ll see that many of my bird shots kind of reflect the landscape photographer in me as I often felt the impulse to reveal the scene in which the birds were situated.  Partly for that reason, many of my favorite shots were made in Big Cypress, a beautiful, mature bald cypress forest/swamp that represents one of the most enchanting settings I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve long wanted to photograph in a cypress swamp and I wasn’t at all disappointed by the experience.  In fact, I was so enticed by it that I spent most of two full days in the preserve, photographing both landscapes and wildlife–birds and alligators.

Owl, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Juvenile Little Blue Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

In the next installment, I’ll talk about some of the technical aspects–an inevitable sideshow–that I worked with in my foray into bird photography, including, but not limited to, my harsh baptism into the world of attempting to photograph birds in flight.  From my seat-of-my-pants experience working with back button autofocus to (gasp!) handholding the camera, it’s sure to be an interesting story.

Snowy Egret and Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Black Crowned Night Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 3, 2017

Scouting: The Nuts and Bolts

So, having gotten your attention about scouting–and the importance of doing it–I’m now going to talk about the actual process of scouting:  how I go about it and what I actually do.

Mangroves, West Lake,, Everglades National Park, Florida

Pre-Scouting (a.k.a. Research)

It’s not actually scouting per se, but it’s related, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly; I’m talking about research.  Prior to making a photo trip I gather information–from a variety of sources including but not necessarily limited to guide books, ebooks, websites and direct contact with people with direct experience–which I use to inform my decision about which places to scout when I’m on the ground at the given locale.

Long Pine Lake Black & White, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

For example, I mentioned that the park road in the southern section of Everglades National Park runs 40-odd miles.  My research highlighted a number of specific spots along that road to investigate.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t expand that list of spots; it also doesn’t mean that I will necessarily visit every highlighted spot.  But it provides a welcome starting point for further investigation.

Long Pine Key Trail, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Scouting:  A Definition

So what is scouting, broadly speaking?  In a nutshell, it’s visiting a location to see if it’s worthy of photographing and if it is, precisely when and how.  Note that this implies that it’s possible that a location may be judged not worthy of photo treatment.  In fact, this happens more frequently than I’d like.

Thatch Palm Intimate, Mahogany Hammock, Everglades National Park, Florida

On the Ground

So what exactly constitutes the act of scouting, at least as I carry it out?  It varies, depending on the specific location.  The variance is ordinarily a function of how much I already know about the spot in question before I arrive on the scene.

Long Pine Key Trail in Morning Fog, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Specific Spots

For instance, if I’m scouting a specific location that I learned about during the research phase of the process, I will (usually) drive myself to that location and then conduct the scouting session entirely on foot.  What exactly do I do?  It depends to some degree on the location itself, but there’s a general rule of thumb.  Allow me to use the example of Pine Glades Lake in the Everglades to illustrate.

Pine Glades Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida

Pine Glades Lake, a spot I learned about from Paul Marcellin’s ebook on photographing the Everglades, is located about 3/4 of a mile down an unpaved, unsigned road off the main park road.  Since this was a spot I’d discovered during the research phase I arrived with some sense of what the location had to offer.  But–and this is a key point–there’s “knowing something” about a place based on a written description and there’s actually scouting a location, in three dimensions and real time, with the opportunity to look at specifics.  The first part–the background information–is valuable.  The second part–the in-person scout–is critical.

Mangrove Intimate Black & White, West Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida

I arrived at the lake, got out of the car and started looking around.  What was I looking for?  First, a holistic sense of the location.  What kind of access is there to the lake shore?  What directions could I face?  The parking area is on the east side of the lake but there’s a trail (of sorts) that provides access to both the north and south sides as well.  What’s the background like in these various locations?  What kind of foreground and mid-ground options are there in different spots?  Are there rocks or grasses or other elements that make for good choices?  What about reflections?  Is the location sheltered enough for reflections to be present in a light breeze or is dead calm required?  How will directional light at different times of day impact the scene?  These are the kinds of questions I asked myself when I scouted Pine Glades Lake on my first full day in the Everglades.

Pine Glades Lake Reflection Abstract, Everglades National Park, Florida

Of course, if there are different elements present at least some of the specific questions will be different.  For instance, when I was on the Oregon Coast a couple of years ago I was dealing with far different topography and issues involving things like tides and their impact on the scene, prevalence of wind, the relative positioning of seastacks, and so forth.  But the fundamental questions are largely, if not entirely, the same:  backgrounds, foregrounds, light, access, etc.

Long Pine Lake Sunrise Reflections, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

The “notes” I make when scouting are of the mental variety with the exception of marking the spot on a GPS unit I take with me wherever I go so that I can easily find the location, particularly if I think I might want to arrive there again in the dark (thing a would-be sunrise location).  My visual memory is such that I’ll remember the details for future reference…as long as it’s the near future.

Slash Pine Bark Abstract, Pinewood Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

So what did I actually learn from my scouting session at Pine Glades Lake?

  1. The best time to shoot at the location would be at sunset
  2. There were several specific spots that were worth photographing from, but the best spot (to my eyes) was a location with a series of foreground rocks
  3. The reflections were potentially nice but even a slight breeze would cause all kinds of rippling in the water as the location isn’t sheltered at all

Near Long Pine Lake, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

You can see how helpful this would be going forward.  I knew that this location would only be under consideration for a late afternoon/sunset shoot when there was little or no wind.  For other times of day, I could focus on other locations.  Ditto for late afternoon/evening when there was a breeze.  Knowing where not to go can be as important and as actionable as knowing where to go.

Long Pine Key Trail in Morning Fog Black & White, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

General Locations

My modus operandi is, superficially, a bit different when I’m more generally exploring an area–hiking a trail, say, with the intention of photographing along the way.  In such an instance–my hiking of the Long Pine Key Trail in the Everglades,  I’m not exploring a specific spot; I’m moving, on foot, which makes the experience a dynamic one.  In this case, I’m looking for something that catches my eye as I move along.  If I find something interesting, then I essentially replicate the process above:  I’ve found a subject that I think is photo worthy; how do I go about best capturing it?  That’s the broad question which is operationalized by going through the process outlined earlier.  Included in that expansive question is the implicit possibility that it might be best captured at a different time of day and/or under different weather conditions.

Rock Reef Pass, Everglades National Park, Florida

Serendipitous Locations

And then there are the spots I’m not actively seeking out.  This is a kind of variation of the “general locations” approach.  The primary difference is that it’s typically something I see from the car that gains my attention.  When this happens–as it did repeatedly during my time in the Everglades, be it from the main park road, the Pa-hay-okee Road, the Mahogany Hammock Road or any of the other spots along the way–the one thing I always do is stop the car, get out and scout the location on foot.  It’s impossible to properly scout a location from a vehicle; you have to get out and move around.  When I do that, I follow the process outlined in the first section above.

Long Pine Lake Black & White, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 28, 2017

Scouting: A Florida Case Study

As reader Shoreacres astutely pointed out as part of a comment in response to a recent post on this blog, (and I quote):  “It occurred to me this weekend that one thing you talk about a lot, but haven’t really highlighted, is the importance of scouting.”  It’s true.  I discuss scouting on this blog all the time when relating photo trip experiences, but have never given the subject the thematic attention it deserves.  So, using last month’s trip to South Florida as an example, I’m going to rectify this longstanding omission.

Sea of Grass Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

Foggy Morning, Long Pine Key Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

This is going to sound prosaic to the point of absurdity, but I never cease to be amazed how many people don’t seem to realize it:  it’s much, much easier to make good images at places that are at least somewhat familiar then at locales that are not.  It’s a rare thing, at least in my experience, to simply show up somewhere and have everything come together in some kind of magic moment.  And, if you are so lucky to experience something special happen in terms of conditions, there’s an excellent chance you’ll make something less than optimal out of it with a so-so composition–a product of unfamiliarity with the lay of the land.

Pa-hay-okee Morning, Everglades National Park, Florida

The time I spent in the southern section of the Everglades will serve to illustrate the point.  When I arrived in Florida on February 13, I had hoped to have an hour or two at the end of the day to scout the Everglades–enough time at least to locate a sunrise spot.  But, for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t to be.  By the time I reached Florida City, where I would be staying, it was dark.  That meant that I’d have to find my way to an early morning location the next day without the benefit of daylight, let alone experience.  Clearly this is less than ideal, and points out one of the obvious advantages of being able to scout.  And that first day was the only morning during my time in the Everglades that I didn’t have a firm plan of where to go and what to do at sunrise.  That’s because I’d taken the time to scout.

Long Pine Lake at Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

The park road runs roughly 40 miles from the Everglades entrance gate–which itself is several miles beyond the park boundary–to its southwest terminus at Flamingo.  Between the gate and Flamingo, which is located on the Bay of Florida, there are several side roads up to several miles in length apiece.  On the first day I was in the area, I spent most of my time exploring.  I probably spent at least nine of the 11-plus hours of daylight on this day scouting.  And this paid off in a major way in my ensuing time in the area.

Pine Glades Lake Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

During the remainder of the week that I spent time in the Everglades, the scouting–which continued, in a smaller way, in the succeeding days.  When a certain set of conditions arose, I knew just where to go.  And when I arrived, I already had compositions in mind.  The alternative is a mad scramble, which often leads to poor results.

Evening’s Onset, Everglades National Park, Florida

Admittedly, scouting is a lot less fun than photographing–which is the reason I think so many people skimp on it, if they don’t omit it entirely–but the payoff is so substantial, it can’t be overstated.

Photographic scouting:  don’t leave home without (doing) it.

Pah-hay-okee Evening, Everglades National Park, Florida

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 21, 2017

South Florida: An Introduction

In mid-February I spent about a week photographing in South Florida.  It was an interesting experience, for a number of reasons, which I’ll outline below.  Unlike most of the photography trips I’ve taken over the past few years, however, I’m not going to produce a daily chronology on this blog, for two principal reasons.  The first is that I think the format has become a bit stale and I’m hoping a different approach will liven things up.  The second reason?  There are some broader points that I want to make about the photographic experience and I don’t want the themes to be lost in the wash.

Long Pine Lake in Morning Fog Black & White, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Egrets in Flight, Pah-hay-okee, Everglades National Park, Florida

Why was this particular trip so interesting?  Because it deviated in so many ways from just about every other photo trip I’ve ever taken.  Specifically…

Snowy Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Planning (or Lack Thereof)

Almost without exception–perhaps entirely without exception–every other photographic trip I’ve made over the years has involved lengthy, copious planning.  This one?  Not so much.  I was not anticipating making a trip in February…or this winter more broadly (more on this specific point below).  The idea wasn’t even broached until some time in mid-December; my wife (bless her) suggested I go and, when I more or less brushed the notion off, strongly encouraged me until I caved some time in the first half of January and started taking the idea seriously.  It wasn’t until about six weeks in advance of when I would actually leave that I began to approach this trip as something that was actually going to happen.  (By comparison, with other trips, I usually have all of my plans set in stone long in advance of six weeks prior to departure.)

Anhinga Drying Its Wings, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

Cypress Swamp at Sunset, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

This all required a bit of scrambling, as I attempted to put a travel itinerary together and decide exactly where I wanted to photograph…and then try to find some resources to help me make the trip not just a reality but a successful endeavor.  I decided relatively early on in the process that I wanted to focus primarily on the Everglades.  It’s a place that has always intrigued me, though I’d never visited.  In fact, prior to this trip, I hadn’t been down to South Florida in roughly 20 years and I’d only been to the region once since I was a little kid in the early 1970s.  I had been a regular participant in annual baseball tournaments in Florida for nearly 15 years, but those had all been held in Sarasota or Bradenton, on Florida’s central Gulf Coast–a long way from southeast Florida.

Long Pine Lake Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

White Ibis, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

So I was almost completely in the dark about photographing in the Everglades–or anywhere else in the area.  My wife found several used books on Florida natural areas, which were helpful, and I found an ebook guide to photographing in Everglades National Park, which was a huge asset.  In fact, it was the discovery of the ebook that really made me start taking the notion of the trip as a realistic option because I finally felt as though I had some direction.

Trade Winds, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Great Blue Heron, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

In addition to the Everglades, where I expected to spend the majority of my time, I also decided I wanted to do some ocean/beach photography and that’s what led me to spend most of a day in the Florida Keys and the last couple of days near Jupiter Island, about 90 minutes north of Miami.

Stormy Morning Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Submerged Alligator, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

While I won’t be producing a chronology of entries, here is how I ultimately allocated my time (which was eight full days plus one morning):

Day 1:  Everglades, south section (heavily weighted towards exploration)

Day 2:  Everglades, south section

Day 3:  sunrise, Everglades south section; rest of the day spent in the Keys

Day 4:  Everglades, Shark Valley section and Big Cypress National Preserve

Day 5:  sunrise, Everglades south section;  late morning/early afternoon at Big Cypress National Preserve; sunset, Everglades south section

Day 6:  Everglades, south section

Day 7:  sunrise, Everglades south section; relocation to Jupiter, Florida; exploring Blowing Rocks Preserve and Coral Cove Park

Day 8:  sunrise, Coral Cove Park; mid-day,  Riverbend Park; sunset, Coral Cove Park

Day 9:  early morning, Coral Cove Park; travel to Miami International Airport for flight home

As you can see, the largest segment of time was spent in the southern section of the Everglades, by far the largest area of the park open to exploration.

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Approaching Sunset, Mahogany Hammock Road, Everglades National Park, Florida

Subject Matter

As everyone who’s been reading this blog for any period of time knows, I’m a landscape photographer.  Full stop.  I don’t photograph much of anything else and on the rare occasions when I do it’s essentially unorchestrated.  I don’t plan trips centered around photographing anything but the landscape.  That’s mostly true with regard to this trip as well, but not entirely.  I expected to have the opportunity to do a fair amount of bird photography (based on conversations with people I know who have spent time photographing in South Florida, and based on the aforementioned ebook).  And this turned out to be the case.  I spent a lot of time photographing birds.  In fact, on several occasions during the trip, I went to specific locations with the express intent of doing just that.  I spent more time photographing wildlife (mostly birds, but alligators as well) on this trip than I have on all of the other trips I’ve ever taken combined.  What’s more, I spent a surprising amount of time doing something I’ve never, ever tried to do before:  photographing birds in flight.

Brown Pelican in Flight, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

It all made for an interesting change of pace and while I’m still no wildlife photographer (not by a long shot) I learned a lot and have some things to say on the subject.

Alligator on Stump, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

The Landscape that is the Everglades

I’d never been to the Everglades prior to this trip but I’d seen photos of the place over the years and have spoken to others who have been there.  Based on this “indirect” experience, I was expecting landscape photography to be a particular challenge and to a greater or lesser extent, it was.  There’s really no place on earth quite like the Everglades and I’ve certainly never photographed anywhere remotely like it.  Large portions of the park are probably most similar, in broad appearance, to the open prairie of the Great Plains…only flatter.

Long Pine Lake at Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

I live in what is widely regarded as the flat lands–northern Illinois, central Indiana–but Florida is another kind of flat.  How flat?  There are two spots along the park road that runs from the entrance to the southern section of the Everglades, just west of the town of Florida City, for more than 50 miles to the visitors center at Flamingo, on the Bay of Florida, that display the elevation (i.e. above sea level).  One sign reads “4 feet.”  The other reads “3 feet.”  It’s a kind of inside joke, but it’s entirely apropos; there’s simply no elevation change to speak of, anywhere.

Long Pine Key Sunset, Long Pine Key Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

So, yes, this makes for challenging photography.  But I knew (more or less) what I was getting into and was anxious to take it on.  And I can say that the beauty of the place–a kind of haunting beauty–became more and more apparent with each passing day.  I always try to let a place reveal how it wants to be photographed rather than impose myself on the landscape, and I think I had at least some success in so doing.  I’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post.

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Time of Year

Prior to this experience, I had never taken a photo trip during wintertime.  Not once.  And, admittedly, South Florida isn’t exactly what typically comes to mind when one mentions winter photography (think:  snow and ice).  But it still provided certain inherent challenges, involving potential travel issues for instance (which I was lucky enough to avoid) and clothing.  It’s not a point worthy of a blog entry, but it’s part of what made this trip different.

Piping Plovers, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

*                                                   *                                                    *

Some of the above topics will serve as focal points for individual entries detailing the trip; I’ll also use the Florida experience as the locus for posts covering subjects I’ve previously stated an intention to cover, such as the importance of scouting.

Long Pine Lake at Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Wood Stork in Flight, Paurotis Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Regardless, I hope you find the descriptions of the experience remotely as interesting I found the experience itself.

Moonset, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

I left off last time by describing the majority of my final day in New England, spent in various parts of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  It was late afternoon by the time I reached the area around Lower Falls and the Rocky Gorge Scenic Areas on the Kancamagus Highway, locations I’d visited on Day 6.  As I was eastbound, I came to Rocky Gorge first and noted, without surprise, how much farther along the color was than it had been nine days earlier.

Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

After I poked along the Swift River bank a bit I crossed the footbridge and revisited Falls Pond.  There was a bit of breeze but at times the wind died down, allowing for the capture of reflections.

Falls Pond, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

But I spent most of my time picking out tight “across the water” compositions with a telephoto lens, with an emphasis on color contrasts amid the predominant dark greens of the prevalent conifers surrounding the pond.

Falls Pond, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Falls Pond, Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Lower Falls is only a couple of miles east of Rocky Gorge and I stopped there next.  The area was extremely crowded–it was the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend–and it was getting colder as we neared the end of the day under still slate-gray skies.  I noticed how tired I was when I got out of the car; I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised given that this was the 15th straight day of burning the candle at both ends.  But I milled around the Lower Falls area and waited for people to move as I scoped out a few compositions–like the intimate below of submerged leaves–that I hoped were different than those I’d captured at the same location on Day 6.

Lower Falls Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I worked my way upstream, and produced an image or two featuring the colorful backdrop of maple and beech trees.  I waited, with some annoyance, for someone to move off a rock in the mid-ground.

Lower Falls Area, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

The fact that I was annoyed by someone standing on a rock admiring the view should have been a warning to me.  When people–who have every bit as much right to be in a place as I do–are annoying me by being in my shot (without even knowing it; it’s not as though the person on the rock could have possibly known that he was in my field of view) it’s always a clear sign that I’m running out of gas and my judgment is becoming a bit fuzzy.  So, a few moments later, when I decided to hop onto a small, slanted, wet rock about 50 yards farther upstream, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it didn’t go well.  In fact, in the cold light of failure afterward, I couldn’t believe that I even tried to leap on that rock because there was no way I could have done so without mishap; it was an impossibility.  What a stupid thing to do.  And, again, it demonstrated just how tired I was.  I guess I was experiencing a bit of overconfidence borne from having successfully rock hopped at various creeks, streams, brooks and rivers over the past two weeks.  And did I mention that I wasn’t thinking all that clearly?

In the greater scheme of things, it certainly could have been a whole lot worse.  I was carrying only my tripod and my camera was slung around my neck.  (My backpack was safely stored on shore, about 20 feet away.)  And I didn’t even fall; nor was my equipment impacted in any way.  I just slipped off the rock–it was inevitable–after trying to make the leap, and landed with one foot in the river, with water up to mid-calf, roughly speaking.  So there was no injury.  But my hiking boot filled up with water instantly…and it was cold.  Very cold.  And my sock was soaked.

And with that, I decided that the photo day was over.  I sloshed back to the car and wrung out the wet sock.  I had a change of footwear (which I put on), but I didn’t have a replacement pair of socks with me in the car.  Time to go back to the hotel, I decided, get a change of clothes and call it a trip.  There was only an hour or so of daylight left anyway and it was still cloudy.  No loss.  Besides, I’d already demonstrated that I was finished, psychologically.  So, with the heater on to help obviate a wet, cold foot, I began the 20-plus minute drive back to North Conway.

But…and you knew there would be a “but”…on the way, I noticed in the rearview mirror a line of clearing on the western horizon.  There just might be a sunset after all, I thought.  And then again, there might not.  But by the time I reached the junction with NH-16–where  a left turn would take me back to North Conway, I could see that there might really be a decent shot at a sunset.

As I drove north on NH-16 I saw, on the other side of the road, a kind of unofficial pullout that looked like an interesting overlook facing west.  There were already a bunch of people there watching the sun as it sunk toward the mountains.  There was no way that I could cross the road to see for myself–too much traffic on this relatively high speed road–but I decided at this point, wet foot be damned, that I was going to try to head to an overlook I’d found north of North Conway that I’d identified a few days earlier as a possible sunset location.  It was an “official” overlook; a paved pullout with a small roadside park (I later discovered that it’s called the Intervale Scenic Vista…and I subsequently discovered that the view isn’t all that phenomenal…but I didn’t know that at the time).  So I drove into North Conway and hit the downtown area–probably two or three miles from my destination…and hit one of the worst traffic jams I’ve seen in a long time.  I mean, the traffic was at a dead stop and went on for I don’t know how long; I could see at least a half-mile in front of me and there was a line of cars heading into oblivion.  The jam was northbound only, but that was the direction I wanted to go.  Meanwhile, the sky to the west was getting nicer and nicer…and after about five minutes of sitting I realized that I had no shot at getting to that overlook north of town before dark.  So, I made a U-turn in the hopes of getting to the “unofficial” overlook I’d caught a glimpse of on the way into town.  I had no idea if I’d get there in time and I had no idea if it was photo-worthy…but I knew that Plan A was cooked and I’d better implement a Plan B immediately, even if I was unsure of its potential.

So, I got back to the unofficial overlook–which was on my side of the road this time as I was now headed south–as quickly as possible.  It probably took about five minutes though it seemed like 10-15.  And when I arrived there were at least three times as many people there as I’d seen the first time–an indication that I might be on to something.  Cars were clogging up the traffic lane.  Seeing this, I parked in an empty spot along the side of the road at least 500 feet shy of where the “action” was and grabbed my equipment, doing my best to ignore my extremely wet, extremely cold foot.

When the scene came into view, I knew I’d made the right–make that the lucky–call.  It was beautiful and the sky was just about set to explode into one of the ten or so nicest sunsets I’ve ever seen.  The place was crawling with people, some of whom had their phones out trying to capture what was unfolding in front of them.  There was one other photographer there with a tripod already set up.  He saw me coming, looking for a place to set up, and in a moment of true magnanimity, waved me toward himself and created enough room for me to squeeze in with my gear.  I thanked him profusely, got out my camera with the 24-70 mm lens attached and quickly went about metering the scene and fine tuning the composition.

I quickly decided that there were two ways to capture the scene.  Colorful trees lay in the immediate foreground on a slope below us.  The Sacco River made a wide bend in the mid-ground.  And the White Mountains–fronted by a layer of mist–and an incredible sky lay in the background.  The only question was whether to point the camera so the river was to the left-hand side of the composition or the right-hand side.  I quickly decided to play with both options.  Multiple exposures would be necessary–the dynamic range was off the charts–so I hastily established a five-frame/one-stop apart bracketing set and waited for the light.  I captured a mess of sequences of both compositions, and I’ve included one of each below.  Both essentially represent the sky at the height of its display.  We were looking just about due west so the shot that had the river bend on the right-hand side–which caused me to face southwest–included a more dynamic sky than the other option which was facing either directly west or even west-by-northwest.  I’m still not at all certain that I don’t like the second shot best, but it remains an open question.  Regardless, it was by far the most impressive sunrise/sunset I’d seen on the entire trip.  In fact, as I noted above, it was one of the better sunsets I’ve ever seen, anywhere.

White Mountains National Forest Sunset, Carroll County, New Hampshire

White Mountains National Forest Sunset, Carroll County, New Hampshire

Eventually–it took a long, long time–the sky show faded and it grew dark.  Most of the crowd had left by that time and my benefactor (turned out he was from Madison, Wisconsin, just a couple of hours from the Chicago area) and I said goodbye (he was off to Maine the next morning) after chatting for a few minutes.  My foot was freezing at this point, but I hardly cared.  Had I ever gotten lucky.  Without the stupid calamity with the rock at Lower Falls I probably wouldn’t have headed back early to North Conway and without the traffic jam I would never have returned to this spot.  In fact, without having headed back early, I never would have even known that such a spot existed.  I’d been on that stretch of road several times earlier but it was always in the pitch dark–either long before sunrise or long after sunset.

But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.  And this was one of those times because it provided a fitting, glorious end to an excellent trip.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 6, 2017

Day 15: An Appropriate Send-Off – The Prelude

After spending most of Day 14 in Pinkham Notch I had returned to North Conway via Crawford Notch where a brief inspection had revealed the color to be excellent.  With the day’s forecast calling for overcast conditions throughout I planned to start out in Crawford Notch with my first stop Arethusa Falls.

A guidebook I was using gushed–pardon the pun–over Arethusa Falls, calling it a “must see” destination.  When I had driven past the trailhead the previous day it was so crowded the cars were spilling out on the highway from the parking area.  This was Columbus Day weekend in the White Mountains and things were busy everywhere.  I decided that if I wanted to photograph at Arethusa Falls without being constantly frustrated by the unwanted presence of countless other visitors, I better get there early.   Since the forecast indicated that there wouldn’t be a visible sunrise, I planned to arrive at daybreak.

The forecast was correct; there wasn’t a hint of a sunrise that morning and when I arrived at the Arethusa Falls parking area at dawn it was blissfully deserted.  The hike to/from the falls involves an approximate 4 1/2 miles round trip with considerable elevation change, so I grabbed my backpack and tripod and quickly hit the trail.  There were a fair number of fresh leaves on the ground along the way, and I took note of some possible intimate shots for potential further investigation on the return.

When I reached the falls after a hike of roughly 45 minutes I was immediately disappointed; the water flow was quite weak.  To make matters worse, the descent to the base of the falls was a problematic climb between and over a series of boulders.  I dutifully undertook it and then determined it to have been a waste of time; I couldn’t find a compelling composition, so I retreated back to the high point where the falls had first come into view and resumed the search for a perspective that interested me.  After much consideration, I finally found something I liked, though it required a two-image stack to pull it off.

Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Somewhat disappointed–had the effort to reach the falls really been worth it?–I began the process of returning to the car.  I began to see the occasional party of hikers heading towards the falls on my return, but I stopped at one of the spots I’d identified on the way in to make an intimate image that I found interesting.  What you see below represents a six-image focus stack.  This scene was fairly characteristic of much of the trail; there were many fresh leaves down.

Arethusa Falls Trail, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Arethusa Falls Trail, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

When I got back to the parking area it was, obviously, much brighter than it had been when I arrived and I now saw some marvelous color in the trees in the notch.  I pulled out the telephoto lens and made a few images.

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

I then made the drive to Silver Cascades, a location I’d scouted in bright, sunny conditions on Day 12.  Silver Cascades is an interesting place.  Essentially, the cascade is a ribbon of water that drops several hundred feet, in steps, down a cliff face.  It’s visible from the road and that’s where the vast majority of people photograph it–from a bridge along the highway.  Water flow, however, wasn’t good so the view from the bottom wasn’t very impressive when it came to the waterfall itself; the color, however, was excellent, as it was throughout Crawford Notch as a whole.

On Day 12, I had climbed up the rock face (it’s not difficult at all) in the crevice where the Silver Cascades is located to see if I could find any views that I found more compelling than the one from the base.  I had discovered a thick clutch of ferns, many of which had begun to yellow, that could be used as a foreground.  So when I returned to the location I made a beeline to this spot.  If you look hard you can see a bit of the cascade near the upper-middle of the frame below.

Silver Cascades, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Silver Cascades, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

The other thing I’d noticed when I scouted the Silver Cascades rock face on Day 12 was that there were some terrific views of the trees on the other side of the notch from this height.  Now, three days later, they were at peak color.

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

I returned to the area around Willey Pond in Crawford Notch.  The slopes there were a tremendous  wealth of color.  From where I stood, the slopes were brilliant, rich yellows, reds and oranges mixed with the dark green of the coniferous trees.  I pulled out the telephoto lens and went to town.

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

There’s a covered bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire that I’d caught a glimpse of when I’d made my way in and out of the southern end of Pinkham Notch on Day 14.  So on this day, when I was done in Crawford Notch, I made a brief detour up NH-16 and found the bridge.  It was raining lightly when I was there and after viewing the bridge from street level I decided to explore the perspective from river level.  Down on the bank I saw an impressive set of boulders and a nice bed of bright, fresh leaves.  I set the tripod up low, placing the rocks and leaves in the foreground.  Again, a focus stack set produced the image you see below.

Honeymoon Covered Bridge, Carroll Covered Bridge, New Hampshire

Honeymoon Covered Bridge, Carroll Covered Bridge, New Hampshire

I retreated south on NH-16, in the direction of US-302.  Near the junction of the US-302 and NH-16 I came upon a tall stand of pines intermixed with smaller deciduous trees that were a riot of color.

Color Amidst the Pines, Carroll County, New Hampshire

Color Amidst the Pines, Carroll County, New Hampshire

I made my way back to the Kancamagus Highway by way of Bear Notch Road and gradually made my west to Hancock Overlook, a spot I had scouted when I made my way from Maine to Vermont via the Kanc on Day 6.

Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

As nice as the view from the overlook was, the trees on the other side of the Kanc from the Hancock parking area captured my attention.

Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I started my way east, in the direction of North Conway.  It was now late afternoon and the sky was every bit as cloudy as it had been at first light.  With no expectation of a sunset in my future I stopped at any point along the road that caught my attention, including a towering, willowy birch backed by riotous color.

Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

My next stops were at the adjoining Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge Scenic Areas and it was the events here that led to a remarkable, serendipitous set of occurrences that concluded the day–and my New England photographic excursion.  I’ll tell that story in the next post.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 27, 2017

New England, Day 14: Primarily Pinkham Notch

On Day 14 of my trip to New England, I decided to leverage much of the scouting that I’d done during Day 13 in Pinkham Notch, starting with sunrise from an overlook I’d found along the highway (NH-16).

Pinkham Notch Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

From the overlook, it was a short drive to the open fields below Mt. Washington, where, I’d discovered, 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks were available.  I was particularly attracted to a bright red maple that stood near a stream, not far from the (empty) overflow parking lot for the ride up to Mt. Washington.

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Compositions including this tree could be created from multiple positions and I slowly moved around to all of them.

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Finally, I pulled out the long lens and produced a shot or two that excluded the red maple.

Mt. Washington View at Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Mt. Washington View at Sunrise, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

My next stop was a quick run up to Square Ledges, a rock outcropping up a steep trail that leads to a great view.  The final ascent up to the ledge required a bit of scrambling, but nothing too onerous and soon I found myself looking out at the White Mountains, facing directly into a stiff breeze.

Square Ledges Overlook, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Square Ledges Overlook, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I made my way to a spot on the ledge where I was standing in a gap with a huge boulder to my right and a tree to my left.  It was too windy to incorporate the tree directly in the composition (the tree was probably too tall to effectively include in any event), but the angle of the sun was casting a shadow of the tree–a conifer–on the boulder and I very deliberately included it for foreground interest.

Square Ledges Overlook, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Square Ledges Overlook, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Square Ledges Overlook, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Square Ledges Overlook, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Before I descended the trail I produced some telephoto images of the colorful trees below.

Square Ledges Overlook Color, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Square Ledges Overlook Color, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I then made a quick run–or hike, more accurately–to Lost Pond, which I’d scouted the previous day.   Compositions here were limited.

Lost Pond, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Lost Pond, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

While the skies at day break–and shortly thereafter–were mostly clear, the forecast for the day was for overcast conditions and it wasn’t long before the clouds rolled in (as you can see from the Lost Pond image).  I had anticipated this and planned the day accordingly.  My next stop was a pullout along NH-16 that I’d discovered during the previous day’s scout.  I’d identified several tight shots at this location that required even light, something that hadn’t been present during the scouting session.  Now it was and, fortunately, this spot was relatively sheltered, so the trees weren’t significantly disturbed by the wind.

Pinkham Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I now returned to one of the trails that I’d hiked without equipment the day before.  This one led to Crystal Cascades, a series of cataracts topped off by a 90-foot waterfall.  I had to wait out the breeze when trying to photograph this location, but I thought it was well worth it.

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

One tier of cascades allowed fairly close access, so I descended from the trail into the creek bed and produced a series of shots.  Again, patience was required because the scene demanded a slow shutter speed (to render the water) but the breeze was playing frequent havoc with the foliage.  I had to wait for lulls, particularly for those compositions that included overhanging branches in the foreground.

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I finally made it up to the main waterfall, which really only had one good vantage point from which to photograph it.  It was impossible to get the depth of field I needed with one shot, so I produced two, which I stacked to produce the image you see below.

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Cyrstal Cascade, Ravine Trail, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

My next destination was Glen Ellis Falls, a spot I hadn’t been able to scout the previous day.  A guide book I had access to highly recommended a visit to this spot and, though it was rather crowded, I didn’t regret doing so.  The falls are accessed by following a relatively short paved walkway that runs along the Ellis River, downstream.  I though the rapids above the falls were fairly interesting and decided to explore them on the way back.  There are several observations points built into the trail, one of which is worse for photographing the falls than the next.  I determined quickly that good perspectives of Glen Ellis Falls could only be obtained by descending down to creek level.  Doing so required climbing down a series of boulders–nothing too onerous.

The falls are divided into two tiers, a principle one lies above a series of smaller cataracts.  I decided to do the smaller set first.

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls Black & White, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls Black & White, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Any chance of including both tiers of falls in the same shot would have required crossing to the other side of the river below the lower cataract and I couldn’t find any safe we to do that and thus abandoned the idea.  The best shots of the upper tier, I determined, also required crossing the river, something I could see that would be fairly easily accomplished with a bit of rock hopping above the lower tier of falls.  I managed to do so without incident.

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I then climbed back up the path to check out the Ellis River rapids above the upper falls.  There were a couple of perspectives I found highly compelling but it was a tricky matter to get into position to photograph them, because the rock surfaces were so slick.  There wasn’t any real danger of falling down into the creek; the concern was tumbling down a rock face to a lower ledge.  But I persevered and got the shots I was looking for, both of which required focus stacking.

Ellis River, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Ellis River, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Ellis River, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Ellis River, Pinkham Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

By this time it was mid-afternoon and given the persistent overcast conditions, I decided to return to Crawford Notch and photograph the waterfall there that I’d scouted the previous day:  Ripley Falls.  This required a 2.5-mile roundtrip hike, but I’d made it during the scouting session the day before and found it quite easy.  Given the low water flow and the maze of boulders at the foot of the falls finding compelling compositions was a bit tricky.

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls Black & White, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls Black & White, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hasmpshire

After returning to the trailhead, I made an image or two of the notch itself.

Crawford Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Crawford Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

With only an hour or so before “sunset” (there would be no visible sunset on this day), I decided to end the day with a quick stop in Bear Notch, to focus on some intimate images that I’d identified during my visit to this location on Day 12.

Bear Notch Maple Intimate, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Bear Notch Maple Intimate, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Red Maple, Bear Notch Road, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Red Maple, Bear Notch Road, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Bear Notch Maple Intimate, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Bear Notch Maple Intimate, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

When darkness fell, the penultimate full day of photography on this trip to New England came to an end.  I was determined to make the next day–the last full day–in New Hampshire a productive one and I would succeed, almost in spite of myself.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 13, 2017

New England, Day 13: Return to Evans Notch

If you’ve been following this series of posts since the beginning, you may recall that I poked my nose, figuratively speaking, into Evans Notch on Day 5 and Day 6.  As a refresher, Evans Notch is a mostly north-south gap in the White Mountains, most of which lies just across the New Hampshire border in Maine.  Only the extreme southern edge of the notch–Basin Pond–is on the New Hampshire side of the state line.  When I explored the area on Days 5 and 6, the area was still quite green.  This was particularly true of the Basin Pond region, which had just begun to show signs of color, but was largely true of the rest of the notch as well.  My hope was that a week’s time had caused the area to change and I would see for myself that morning.

Despite the lack of color I had photographed at Basin Pond at sunrise on Day 6, and then had driven to Conway, New Hampshire as a prelude to my first journey across the Kancamagus Highway on my to Vermont, so I knew the route.  I would be reversing the trip on this morning and I had the added difficulty of making my way in the dark.  Fortunately I had the spot marked on my GPS.

When I arrived at Basin Pond, the light was just beginning to come up.  It was clear, chilly and essentially windless.  As it got brighter I could see that a week’s time had indeed produced a great deal of progression in the color of the foliage.  It probably wasn’t quite at peak yet, but it was pretty close.  The temperature/humidity combination produced some mist at the pond’s surface; just enough to add some atmosphere.

Basin Pond at Dawn, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Dawn, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

The pond’s access area was deserted when I arrived, but after I’d been there for 10 minutes or so, someone else drove up to photograph.  This gentleman, however, set up a couple of hundred yards behind me and to my right and didn’t interfere with what I was doing in any way.

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

As the sun came up, direct warm light began to hit the slopes surrounding the pond.

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I followed the shadow line as it slid across the mountainside in front of me, and ultimately switched to my ultra wide angle lens.

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

I changed my shooting position, modestly, on several occasions.  Doing so had a significant effect on the compositional outcome.

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond at Sunrise, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

A quick switch to a telephoto lens, concentrating on a part of the pond that remained in open shade, highlighted the effect of the mist.  I could hear a flock of geese, at the far end of the pond, honking away and splashing around.

Basin Pond Mist, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Basin Pond Mist, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

When I finished at the pond, I made the five-minute drive north, to the Brickett Place setting.  This structure, now used by the U.S. Forest Service, was built more than 200 years ago.  I had scouted this location on Day 5, and now I took advantage of that experience.  The sun was kissing the tops of some of the trees but the light remained soft enough, roughly 30 minutes after sunrise, to remain shootable.

Brickett Place, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Brickett Place, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

From here, I drove straight to the trailhead for the Roost and made the now familiar relatively-short-but extremely-steep hike up to the overlook.  My experience there on Day 5 had been useful; this was definitely a better morning than afternoon location.

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

The view from this location is impressive, looking essentially to the southwest.

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Since there were no clouds present, I minimized the sky in my compositions, including the eight image panorama stitch that you see below.

View from The Roost Panorama, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

View from The Roost Panorama, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

On some shots, I eliminated the sky altogether.

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

View from The Roost, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

There were quite a few leaves on the ground along the trail–really the first time I’d seen this volume of leaves of down during the trip–and on the way back down I found a shady spot to produce the intimate image you see below.

Forest Floor, The Roost Trail, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Forest Floor, The Roost Trail, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

This, believe it or not, was the final image I made until well into the afternoon this day.  The entire day was clear, or nearly so, and it became quite breezy.  The conditions simply weren’t suitable for shooting given my subject matter and location so I spent the next six or seven hours scouting.  The first couple of hours of that time was spent in the notch itself, heading north.  I stopped a number of times to explore areas of Evans Brook and the Wild River and some of their tributaries, literally climbing into the creek bed on a number of occasions.  My hope was to find locations that would be compelling in the even light that would be present late in the afternoon.  I found numerous interesting spots and it didn’t take long before I discovered that most of these areas in Evans Notch were at peak color.  This discovery, plus the fruits of the scouting session, convinced me that a return to the notch to photograph later in the day was a must.

It was late morning by the time I reached the northern edge of Evans Notch, at US-2.  I decided to head west–and then south on NH-16–to Pinkham Notch, an area of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire that I hadn’t yet explored.  I spent 3-4 hours doing so, without ever taking my camera out of the bag.  I stopped first at a wide-open meadow, near the Mt. Washington Auto Road, to scout some interesting views of Mt. Washington and some of the surrounding peaks.  It was a completely blue sky day at this point, with copious wind, so photography was out of the question, but I busily marked spots near the overflow parking area for the road to Mt. Washington and further south on NH-16.  When I reached the Pinkham Notch Lodge–a jumping off point for numerous trails–I stopped again and did some hiking.  I checked out the Square Ledges Trail, the Lost Pond Trail.  It was seven or eight miles in all, but it was remarkable how easy it all seemed, given that I didn’t have my gear with me.  I took plenty of mental notes, with the expectation of returning at a different time on another day.

By mid-afternoon I’d finished my hiking and returned to the area near Evans Notch.  The light was still too harsh, so I spent about 30 minutes retracing River Road, just north of US-2 in Maine.  I’d photographed along this road on Day 1 of the trip; it was nearly two weeks later, so I was interested to see what the area looked like.   I ended up being disappointed.  The light wasn’t going to flatter the conditions regardless, but there was in fact little to be flattered.  The color–what there was of it–was dull and uninteresting.

The River Road scouting session didn’t pay any direct dividends but it killed some time and I made the short drive to the northern edge of Evans Notch and returned to some of the spots I’d marked that morning.

Evans Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Notch Color, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

I made my way to one of the Wild River locations I’d identified and worked with some interesting reflections in some of the small pools.

Wild River Reflections, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Wild River Reflections, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

I then returned to the first of several spots on Evans Brook that I’d visited earlier in the day.  This was another location with strong reflection possibilities.

Evans Brook Reflections, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook Reflections, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

About 30 minutes before sunset I found my way to boulder-strewn location on Evans Brook that I’d noted was especially promising during my morning scout.  This is where I would end the day.

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

I really like this spot.  In even light, it has everything–great foreground options with all of the boulders, some nice rapids, excellent background color.

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Ultimately, I carefully rock-hopped out into the middle of the brook for a “head on” perspective.

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

I made my way back to the bank and picked my way over the boulders to the point where I had left my pack and began putting away my belongings.  The sun was down by now and it was getting dark.  I took one look behind me…and set up my tripod one last time.

Evans Brook at Dusk, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Evans Brook at Dusk, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 8, 2017

Thematic Interruption: The “M” Setting

A bit more than two weeks ago Thom Hogan posted an article on his website that essentially provided a series of “assignments” for photographers to fulfill.  The first assignment was to go out with a camera, with exposure and focus set to manual with a single normal (i.e. 50 mm equivalent) prime lens attached and shoot for an hour or two.  The assignment is a great idea and I highly recommend that everyone read the article and follow through.

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

What’s that you ask?  Did I actually go out and do the assignment?  Well, as a matter of fact…no.  I didn’t.  Why not?

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunrise, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunrise, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Here’s the thing:  the assignment was designed for folks who don’t ordinarily photograph in the manner described in the article.  That is to say, the assignment is for people who don’t typically expose manually.  People who don’t usually focus manually.  People who tend to use zoom lenses as a figurative crutch, and don’t change their photographic position readily.

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The reason I didn’t complete the assignment is that I do these things every time I go out to photograph:  I expose manually (and with a spot meter); I focus manually; and while I don’t use prime lenses, I spend a lot of time moving around from place to place to examine a variety of perspectives.  (Ask anyone who’s photographed with me.)  I use the zoom feature on my lenses to fine tune a composition, not to establish one.  In short, I didn’t complete the assignment because its terms mimic my standard modus operandi whenever I’m out in the field.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

If, however, it doesn’t mimic your standard m.o., I encourage you to follow through on the assignment.  And here’s why.

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

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

I’m not telling you that I photograph with fully manual settings, that I expose using a spot meter and that I’m extremely mobile when investigating compositional options in the field because I’m trying to impress anyone.  I’m not trying to impress on anyone that I’m some sort of photographic purist or because I want to be patted on the back for doing things in some sort of “old-fashioned,” uncompromising way that’s somehow “the right way to do things.”  I photograph the way I do for several reasons, the least compelling of which, I think, is that this is how I learned to do it.  But the most compelling reason (again, in my view) is that…this method of shooting constantly makes me think about what I’m doing.

Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

This process doesn’t get in the way of my vision–the je ne sais quoi of a subject that naturally captures my attention.  It’s after that moment–the exercise of seeing–that the approach I’m describing kicks in and forces me to think about how to go about capturing what I found compelling about the subject matter.  I find that it helps to go through the process–of exposure, of focus, of mobile perspective–to produce an edge of tangibleness to the otherwise intangible.  It provides for a mingling of the conscious and the subconscious.  It introduces the realm of thought directly into the aesthetic process.  It makes me, I firmly believe, a better photographer.  It makes me–if I dare use the a-word–a better artist.  And there’s the chance that it will do the same for you.

Birch Tree Twins, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Birch Tree Twins, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

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