Posted by: kerryl29 | June 24, 2019

The Next Step

Long-time readers know that during the nearly 10 years that this blog has been in existence I’ve split my time more or less evenly between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas.  In truth, I’ve been doing this for nearly 16 years, all told.  The reasons for this vagabond existence are complicated and, I’m sure, of no interest to readership.  This is a photography blog and the content has always reflected that fact.  People who come here do so for the discussion of the art and craft of landscape photography, and (I assume) to view the images.  They do not come here to keep up with missives detailing the sine wave of my personal life.

Autumn Oak, Brown County State Park, Indiana

The entries that have made up this blog have, with only one exception that I can think of, reflected this fact.  When you come to this blog, you’re going to read about my photography-related impressions and/or see images from a recent day trip or extended foray to some (relatively) far flung location.

Cypress Black & White, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

This post marks a second departure from tradition.  Without boring everyone with unnecessary details, my wife recently accepted an offer for a new job in the Houston, Texas area.  We are already waist-deep into a long, rather obnoxious process of relocating from Indianapolis, a process that won’t be formally complete until some time in August, in all likelihood.  This will surely affect my ability to produce blog entries in the coming weeks, so I wanted to give everyone a heads up.

Rocky Hollow, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

And in the long run, it will surely make for some different imagery on this blog as the move will provide access to some new (for me) locales.  Until about a week ago, I had never been to Texas (there are now only three states in the U.S. that I haven’t visited) and, when the transition process is over, I’m looking forward to exploring some new areas–particularly during the bluebonnet bloom next spring and at any convenient time when I can get to Big Bend National Park.

I will still be spending half of my time in the Chicago area, so I’m not saying goodbye to the American Midwest.

Tunnel Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

So, that’s it.  I hope you’ll bear with me if I miss a week here and there in terms of posting new content over the next month or two.  I’ll attempt to continue my once-a-week posting schedule, but if I can’t keep up, you’ll know why.  ‘Til next time…

Redbud Serenade, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

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Posted by: kerryl29 | June 17, 2019

Wisconsin: Parfrey’s Glen

The same morning that saw me spend time at Pewit’s Nest and McGilvra Woods ended with a stint at Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area.  (One of the most attractive things about the Baraboo Hills area of Wisconsin is that there are a large number of interesting locations all within a 15-20 minute drive of one another; that’s how I was able to visit all three of these spots in the same morning.)  It was still blissfully cloudy when I arrived at the deserted Parfrey’s Glen parking area and I quickly put on my rubber boots (as I expected to spend time in the water), grabbed my tripod and photo backpack and headed up the trail.

The trail in Parfrey’s Glen follows a creek through a pleasant wooded area for roughly half a mile before entering the glen itself.  I found myself checking out compositions along the creek within a few hundred yards of the trailhead.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Many of these images were made while standing in the middle of Parfrey’s Glen Creek.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

The creek is relatively shallow in many places, but it was necessary to watch my step, as there were numerous spots that were two or three feet deep, at least.  Despite what appeared to be slippery rocks, footing was actually pretty good, for the most part.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Though, as noted in the prior posts in this series, the spring leaf out was still in its early stages during my time in central Wisconsin, blooming marsh marigolds were frequently observed creekside and made a nice complement to the rushing stream.

Marsh Marigolds, Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Eventually I reached the entrance of the glen itself, and I paused at this spot to produce the image you see immediately below.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Within 200 feet or so of this spot, I found myself adjacent to the creek, with tall walls on both sides of me.  This was Parfey’s Glen proper, and it reminded me of some spots at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana.  It was at this point that some kind of waterproof footwear was not merely a convenience.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

The Glen itself narrows quickly at this point.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for this site, had maintained the trail at Parfrey’s Glen all the way to a waterfall at the head of the canyon, and the trail up to the point where the glen narrows is still in fine shape.  But a series of huge floods over a few years caused the DNR to abandon maintaining the trail through the canyon itself and it now requires a bit of scrambling to make it through to the waterfall.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I had to cross the creek numerous times over the last few hundred yards, and I also walked up the creek bed at times in an attempt to work my way around some of the boulders.  In one or two spots, I had to climb over the boulder fields.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Parfrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Ultimately, I made it to the waterfall, which was a bit of an anticlimax.   You can see it in the background in the image immediately below.

Parfrey’s Glen Waterfall, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I did produce one image that actually featured the waterfall, with a composition I kind of liked.

Parfrey’s Glen Waterfall, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Moments after the above image was made, the sun popped out…and it stayed out for a long time thereafter.  Lucky for me that I’d made it to the end of the trail by that time.

This wasn’t to be the end of the photographic day for me, however, as I ventured to Baxter’s Hollow Preserve that afternoon.  But that story will have to wait for a later entry.

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 10, 2019

Real Notes on Forest Photography

Over the years I’ve had a number of people ask me about the in-the-field experience of photographing in the woods.  They’re particularly interested in knowing how I go about the process of composing in such settings.  I’ve resisted writing about this subject because I’ve struggled trying to put something together that’s even vaguely actionable for others, but having received a few additional inquiries since posting the last entry, I’ve decided to give it a shot.

My last post was entitled “Wisconsin: McGilvra Woods (and Notes on Forest Photography)”…unfortunately it was almost completely lacking the notes.  I made a few generic comments, of little value to anyone, and spent the rest of the time talking about the specific experience of photographing at McGilvra Woods (and, truth be told, I didn’t say very much about that, either). Let’s see if we can rectify that shortcoming this time around.

Good Light in the Woods

I’ve discussed the subject of “good light” on a number of occasions on this blog.  As I have stated previously, “the practical definition of ‘good light’ depends…on the subject matter and on the emotion you’re trying to project. Good light is the product of a set of circumstances, not an inherently objective thing.”

So, what is “good light” as it pertains to forest photography?

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

I posted the above image because it’s such an outlier for me.  I almost never photograph in forests when the light isn’t even.  (I would note that the light was even when I started photographing on this particular morning; eventually, the sunlight began to burn through the fog, producing the conditions that you see here.)  But something like this is extremely rare for me.  Much more typical are the conditions you see in the image below.

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

When the light is even–be it open shade or overcast–the annoying, distracting hot spots that dominate forest scenes when the sun is shining are absent.  Hot spots pull the eye of the viewer, and almost always in haphazard, undesirable ways.  The “god beams” image at the top of this post is an exception precisely because the “hot spots” are desired, creating the image’s center of interest.  But, again, this is atypical.  Most of the time, hot spots are more or less randomly placed in the frame, creating the aforementioned distractions.

Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

Compositional Considerations:  Myriad Options

This is the subject I’ve received the most questions about regarding forest photography over the years.  It’s also the subject I’ve had the greatest difficulty describing in a way that’s meaningful to most people, because the method I use to find compositions is more intuitive than formulaic.  In other words, I don’t have a kind of a formal, structured manner that I use to compose.  Instead, I typically simply see something that interests me and follow my instincts.  That said, there is something of a pattern that can be detected upon examining the results, so I’m going to try to kind of reverse engineer what I do and see if that’s of any value.

Aspen Hillside, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Forests are, visually speaking, generally chaotic places and so what I’m ostensibly trying to do when composing in the woods is bring a sense of order to the chaos.  How does one go about doing that?  In broad terms, I’m almost always looking to establish some kind of a visual anchor to the frame–some element or set of elements that the eye can latch onto and make sense of.

There are a number of ways to do this with forest scenes.  In the image below, for instance, the visual anchor is the group of white birch trunks, arching through the frame.  The trunks are bright and eye catching, and form a comparatively structured place for the viewer’s eye to rest, amid a plethora of supporting color.

Maples and Birches, Crawford Notch, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

The tulip tree trunks in the below image serve the same purpose.  They’re not as bright as the birch trunks, but they’re larger and more uniform, thus creating a bit of a pattern in the frame below.  Either way, they create an identifiable structure to the viewer.

Tulip Trees & Red Maple, Elkmont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Another way to go about forming some sort of identifiable structure is to lower the camera position and introduce a form of depth into the image by using a foreground/background type of approach.  This, almost by definition, involves thinking somewhat counterintuitively–using a wide angle focal length in close quarters.

Toothwort Forest, McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Many photographers don’t give much consideration to using wide angles in settings such as this, but I think that’s an oversight.  I like to set up very close to forest foreground objects–ferns, wildflowers, etc.–and then let the trunks of the trees serve as mid-ground and background objects.  This approach has the benefit of establishing depth in the image as well as allowing the most chaotic parts of the frame kind of fade into the background.  The use of a wide angle naturally produces an effect where comparatively distant objects are reduced in relative size in the frame while nearer images are enlarged.

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

This approach almost always requires use of a focus stacking process; I almost literally never have enough depth of field when I use this technique to render the entire frame sharp with one exposure.  I posted an entry devoted to the focus stacking approach a year ago and you can check it out here.

Fern Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Another approach I use with wide angles and foreground objects is to find something with leading lines–fallen tree trunks and trails are a good example of this–to provide depth.

East Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Forest Path, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park, California

Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Getting very close to trees with normal, or even short telephoto focal lengths, and employing a focus stacking technique is another way to introduce an unusual technique to emphasize depth and/or produce a more abstract image.

Fern Forest, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Birches and Beeches, Long Pond Road, Orleans County, Vermont

Dogwood and Sequoia, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

I spend a significant amount of time looking for intimate scenes in forest settings, where such opportunities abound.  There’s effectively no limit to the kinds of intimate compositions you can effect in the woods.  Let your imagination run wild.

Arethusa Falls Trail, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Red Maple, Orleans County, Vermont

Forest Floor Intimate, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Bluebells Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Spring Forest Floor, Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

Fallen Maple Leaves Close-up, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Fern Forest, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Fallen Leaves, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

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

I hope this post has given you some practical notions about ways to photograph in the woods.  Forest scenes may seem hopelessly chaotic until you are able to envision techniques that will winnow out the chaos.  There are countless ways to do so; this entry highlights just a few.

On the first day of my brief trip to Wisconsin last month, after I wrapped at Pewit’s Nest I made the short drive west to McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, a small tract of hardwood forest in Sauk County.  With an entrance that’s located off a small side road, all that exists in the way of “services” at McGilvra Woods is a tiny parking area.  There are no trails, per se, so I got out and simply wandered into the forest.  What I found was surprisingly enchanting.

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

McGilvra Woods is the kind of place that most photographers I know wouldn’t bother looking at.  These rather densely wooded sorts of places can be quite chaotic; finding compositions in locations such as this requires quite a bit of work and, I would argue, some experience in the art of “seeing.”  I’ve been lucky (?) enough to have a great deal of such exposure.

Forest Phlox, Fort Harrison State Park, Indiana

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

I have noted, on this very blog, that having cut my teeth in places such as this, I find myself comfortable at locations where many other photographers do not.  In fact, I often find myself spending time in such spots even when I’m photographing in regions where other, more broadly attractive subjects abound.

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

At McGilvra Woods, I had the benefit of even light but I had to contend with a fair amount of wind.  This was a problem because I had to focus stack all of my shots, either because I was in such a low shooting position with nearby foreground objects or because I was using relatively narrow focal lengths or both.  But patience (or persistence) was ultimately rewarded.

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Time spent in other locations over the years made my session at McGilvra Woods feel like a trip down memory lane.  Having spent extended stretches in heavily wooded areas I’ve developed a real affinity for trees over the years, as I noted in a past entry.

East Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Easton Road Birches, Grafton County, New Hampshire

The spring bloom was late in the Upper Midwest this year and thus toothwort was in bloom when I was in Wisconsin.  The blossoms were everywhere when I was at McGlivra Woods and I hastened to take advantage of them.

Toothwort Forest, McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I have frequently been treated to wildflower blooms when photographing in wooded areas and I always try to incorporate the blossoms on such occasions.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

White Trillium, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I didn’t make all that many images while I was at McGilvra Woods, but I ended up being quite satisfied with the photographs that I emerged from the forest with when I called it quits.

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

While the place was new to me and the subject matter is always different, the experience had a very pleasant, familiar feel to it.

Wildflower Forest, Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 28, 2019

Wisconsin: Pewit’s Nest

The first site I visited on my brief two-day visit to central Wisconsin earlier this month was Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area.  This is a relatively small preserve, where Skillet Creek cuts a swath through a narrow, but deep, gorge.  I had visited this site once before–12 years ago, in the fall.  I was anxious to return, but upon arriving, leaving my car in the small, deserted parking area and making the short, steep hike up to the top of the bluff, I was extremely disappointed to find that the bluff was fenced in.  When I was last at Pewit’s Nest, there were no fences and essentially no restrictions on where visitors could tread, as long as they remained off adjacent private property.  Evidently, the state Department of Natural Resources felt that this was no longer tenable and I subsequently read that the restrictions were put in place two years ago following a series of events involving unsafe and/or inappropriate behavior on the part of visitors.

Immediately below are a couple of images that I made the last time that I was at Pewit’s Nest that can no longer be made–because it’s impossible to now reach the vantage points from which they were produced without breaching the barriers.

Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

The truth of the matter is that access to Pewit’s Nest is now so limited compared to what was previously available, I don’t think it’s worth visiting for photography at this point.  But, since I did pay a visit to the site on this trip, I took the time to make a few images, restricted access notwithstanding.

Skillet Creek Waterfall, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

The above image was about as good a view of the gorge as I could find.  The trees had just started to leaf out when I was there–they were still mostly in the budding stage.  If the trees are fully leafed, this perspective–including the waterfall and upstream area of the creek–is not visible.

Skillet Creek Waterfall Black & White, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

The above shot is essentially just a horizontal version of the previous scene, converted to monochrome.

Prior to the erection of the fence, it was possible to–safely, as long as one took a modicum of care–maneuver among the many terraces on this side of the canyon and discover all kinds of interesting perspectives, like the one at the head of this post.

Skillet Creek Intimate Black & White, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Even from behind the fence, I was able to compose this long lens (this was somewhere around 300 mm) image of a small cascade in the creek.  I couldn’t get enough depth of field with a single shot, even at f/16, so I stacked three images to render the entire frame sharp (at f/7.1).

Given the difficulty of even seeing large parts of the creek in the deep canyon, I spent the remainder of my time at Pewit’s Nest picking out parts of the terraced canyon walls with my telephoto lens.

Canyon Wall Terrace, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Last year’s leaves and startlingly green moss and ferns…and lichen…dominated the canyon’s rock face.

Canyon Wall Terrace, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Canyon Wall Terrace, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Canyon Wall Terrace, Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

After spending a bit less than an hour at Pewit’s Nest on this morning, I moved on to McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, just a few miles west of Pewit’s Nest.  I’ll turn my attention to that site in my next entry.

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 20, 2019

The Story Behind the Image: Symbiosis

I know that many people think that a successful artist needs to demonstrate a given style, and perhaps that’s true, but in the world of nature photography I feel that if you must reveal a style (and I’m not at all sure that you do, but that’s a topic for another day), it’s important to do so within the confines of the setting.  That is to say, a successful nature image should let the scene reveal itself through the style and technique of the photographer.  It is, then, a symbiotic relationship; it’s not about imposing oneself on the natural world, literally or figuratively.

Allow me to illustrate my meaning through an image that was made during the trip I took to the Canadian Rockies in the fall of 2014.

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I was in Mistaya Canyon, in Banff National Park, and was a bit frustrated. I like to shoot in settings like this one—a fairly deep canyon, with a rushing river running through it—in even light.  But, for a variety of reasons which are ultimately beside the point, I found myself there mid-afternoon on a mostly sunny day.  I kept seeing pleasing compositions that just happened to be poorly suited for the lighting conditions that were present because there were distracting hot spots all over the place.

The ideal solution to the problem would have been to return at a time when the light was better suited to my intentions, but that wasn’t possible—it was my last day in the area and I had several other locations I wanted to visit before the end of the day.  So rather than cursing the darkness (or in the case, the light), I decided to light a candle:  I turned my attention to intimate scenes that were lying entirely in shade.  While this eliminated a good number of compositions from consideration, it ratcheted down the frustration level because I turned my attention to something that I could accomplish—even if it wasn’t necessarily my first choice in an ideal world.

I identified such a shot that I found pleasing but it had its own problem—insufficient depth of field.  The shot you see above was taken at a focal length of 66 mm and it originally contained an exposed rock in the foreground and another in the mid-ground; even with an aperture of f/16 there was no way to obtain a sharp image from front to back.  Going wider—thereby increasing the depth of field by reducing the magnification—significantly changed the composition, introducing elements that I wanted to exclude and also returned me to the mixed light problem.  It was only with a very tight shot that I was able to work with even light.

What to do?  I kept the tight shot but altered the composition modestly by eliminating the rocks in the fore- and mid-ground, and placing the plane of focus on the exposed rocks in the background.  The foreground and mid-ground would appear soft, but in this instance that was fine, since those areas were made up entirely of textured, blurred water.

So, instead of “imposing” myself on the scene, I worked with it…and still had the opportunity to reveal my style, such as it is, in the process.  Symbiosis at its best.

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 13, 2019

A Return to the Mundane

On several occasions during the nearly ten years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve ruminated on the significance of going through the process of learning how to photograph the landscape in a locale that (mostly) eschews grand landscapes and forces the novice photographer to focus his/her attention on the intimate.  The past few weeks have provided a refresher course that has served to validate the maxim that the Upper Midwest of the United States serves as a true taskmaster in the art of “landscape seeing.”

Otter Creek, Baxter’s Hollow Preserve, Sauk County, Wisconsin

In the last entry, I displayed the results of my recent experiences–frustrating and satisfying–in Indiana and Illinois.  Partly as a function of those brief experiences in the field this spring, I headed up to Wisconsin for a couple of days last week, on a bit of a whim.  I spent my time in the Baraboo Hills region of the state, about an hour north of Madison, and not quite three hours northwest of my base in northeast Illinois.  (I had been in the area to photograph briefly once before, but that was 12 years ago in October.)

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I found myself in a fairly familiar environment:  natural areas that were heavily wooded and filled with visual “clutter,” small streams with some canyon-ish areas reminiscent of Starved Rock (Illinois), Turkey Run (Indiana) and Hocking Hills (Ohio).

Skillet Creek, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Backlit Tree, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

I’ll relate the specific experience of my brief Wisconsin trip during future entries, but I want to focus my attention in this post on the broader lesson of acting on the familiar.  With a few exceptions, the vast majority of my time in the field over the two days I was in the Baraboo Hills was spent wandering around places completely devoid of mind-blowing visual stimuli, in light I frequently hear derided as flat.  Due to the second straight year of delayed bloom due to a cold early spring punctuated by copious amounts of rain, it was early in the leaf-out/blooming season in central Wisconsin during my time there.

East Bluff Trail View, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

And yet…

Thought I’ve kind of poisoned the well by using the word “mundane” in the title of this post, I repeatedly saw the subtle, captivating beauty of this landscape emerge from the visual chaos.  This should be no surprise, as I’ve been through this exercise too many times to count, at this point.  And yet, somehow, it never ceases to amaze me.  When photographing in locations like these I simultaneously feel as though I’ve “done this a thousand times before” and a remarkable freshness, as though I’ve discovered something entirely new.

Parphrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

It was only two days, but it served as a great antidote to the malaise that had so concerned me after my less-than-entirely satisfactory experience at McCormick’s Creek just a couple of weeks prior.  It never hurts to receive a direct, no-nonsense reminder of why I photograph the landscape in the first place.

Rural Sunset, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 6, 2019

Enjoy the Ride

For a variety of banal reasons that I won’t bother detailing, I didn’t go out with the camera following late November’s foray to Starved Rock State Park until last week.  Due to a favorable (read: cloudy) forecast on both Monday and Tuesday of the final week of April, I made the approximately 160-mile round trip from my base in Indianapolis to McCormick’s Creek State Park, just outside the tiny town of Spencer, Indiana, in the south-central part of the state.  I’ve been to the park a couple of times before, but not in quite some time (5 1/2 years, to be exact).

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

So I drove to McCormick’s Creek on the morning of April 27, expecting to have a full day in which to photograph the creek, its waterfall, and the surrounding woods filled with spring wildflowers…and, instead, I got a day almost entirely filled with sun.  Hazy sun, admittedly, during much of the day, but sun nonetheless.  I got, maybe, 25 minutes of even light.  If anything, I’m being overly generous.

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

After spending that 25 minutes down at creek level, snagging a few different compositions including the waterfall, the sun popped out.  And it was never overcast again during the remainder of the day.  Having traipsed across the creek, hard against the side wall of the canyon, I set up and produced the image you see below, just seconds before the scene was blasted by open sunlight.

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

While I hung around for several more hours and scouted other areas of the park, the image you see above was the final one of the day.  At mid-afternoon, highly frustrated as the skies grew clearer and clearer, I called it quits and drove home.

The forecast for the next day–which I verified early the following morning–was even more emphatically calling for cloudy skies so I made the drive back to the park the next day, eager to make good on all the scenes I’d scouted the day before.  And while there was sun on the drive to McCormick’s Creek that next day, I could see a heavy cloud bank slowly drifting in from the west.  By the time I reached the park entrance, the cloud bank was covering the sky and I began to take part in what I expected would be a fine day of photography.

I started with some shots of some particularly nice redbud trees that I’d spotted.

Redbud Serenade, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

From there, just steps away, I hastened to photograph a scene dominated by a heavily blossomed dogwood.

Dogwood Forest, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

I made my way back to the waterfall area.  Several families, with a bunch of children were down there, enjoying the creek.  I satisfied myself with a shot of the falls from just below the canyon rim.

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

I figured I’d come back and check the falls out again later in the day, when there might be fewer people around.  I was in no hurry.  I moved along to check out a spot on the creek, maybe 1/4 mile above the falls, that I’d taken note of the previous afternoon.  After poking around a bit, I finally found a composition I liked and set up…and suddenly found myself casting a shadow.  The sun was out!  I took a good look at the sky and the clouds had mostly drifted away.  There were still some in the sky but there was as much blue visible as gray and white.  I waited, and after about 20 minutes, a cloud drifted in front of the sun, giving me the even light I wanted.

McCormick’s Creek, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

Mere seconds after I completed a four-image sequence to obtain a focus stack for the above image, the sun popped back out and…you know what’s coming…I never saw even light again that day.  I hung around for another two or three hours and by the time I left there was scarcely a cloud in the sky.

As frustrated as I’d been the previous day, that didn’t hold a candle to how I felt as I drove back home on that second afternoon.  In fact, I honestly don’t ever remember feeling as discouraged after a photo outing as I did on that Tuesday.  I’ve been the victim of less-than-ideal weather conditions countless times over the years without ever becoming anywhere near this despondent.  Maybe it was because the forecast had been so abjectly wrong, and two days in a row at that.  Maybe it was because of how long the trip had been and I had made it on consecutive days.  Maybe it was something else, but whatever was going on, it was gnawing at me.

What kept creeping into my mind was that time in the field with my camera has always been one of contentedness, particularly in settings like the one at McCormick’s Creek.  And here I was, not only not feeling contented…I was 180 degrees away from that sensation.  I have enough things to deal with on a regular basis that are naturally aggravating; the last thing I need was to be annoyed by the one thing that’s usually the antidote to aggravation.

To make matters worse, the next day brought almost perfect conditions for the kind of shooting I wanted to do at McCormick’s Creek.  Overcast, all day long, and no wind to boot.  And…I had absolutely no desire to go back there….or go anywhere else for that matter.

*                                          *                                                   *

Despite my concerns, the funk didn’t last all that long.  I was back in northeast Illinois the following week and found myself really looking forward to getting out with the camera.  The opportunities were extremely limited due to other commitments (and a lot of rainy weather), but finally, on May 1, I found myself with a couple of hours to check out the Morton Arboretum for the first time this spring.  Massive rains had caused a lot of flooding in the area and one side of the Arb was completely closed off as a result.  There was standing water in a lot of unusual places on the side of the property that was accessible, but I found the unique look visually stimulating and squeezed about as much light as I could out of the place that evening.

Crowley Marsh Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

East Side Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Crowley Marsh Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

East Side Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Shortly before it got dark, I wandered into a part of the East Woods that has one of the nicer displays of Virginia Bluebells that I’ve seen, and while I was probably a few days early for the peak bloom, I was still motivated to work the area.

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

It had been a brief session, but I took careful note of my feelings as I wrapped up that day–it had been too brief.  The funk was undeniably over.

By far the most satisfying part of the photo process is the journey–specifically, the time I’m in the field, trying to tease out shots.  The destination (i.e. seeing the end result, after processing the digital flies) is always nice, but it’s the trip itself that makes the endeavor worthwhile for me and, somehow, I usually experience this sensation most emphatically when I’m in a relatively mundane place.  The last two weeks, with their downs and ups, have been a good reminder of why I engage in this craft in the first place.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 29, 2019

You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play

Back in the film era, there was an adage—really, something between a saying and a mantra—that went like this:  f/8 and be there.  It was, in essence, a statement that suggested that, when it came to getting “the shot,” the technicals were a whole lot less important than being in position when the opportunity arose.  (The “f/8” part referred to the presumed optimal aperture setting for most situations and most lenses.)

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

We’re now more than a decade into a mature digital age of photography, but the meaning behind the phrase still applies today, even if we’ve effectively left the analog age of film in the rearview mirror.  In fact, if anything, the technical nuances of photography have become less and less of an impediment to the successful image making process with each passing year.  The key has always been recognizing a good photo opportunity and being in position to take advantage of it.

(It seems obvious—and perhaps it is—but I can’t tell you how many photographers I know who routinely miss potentially great chances simply because they didn’t feel like getting up early.)

Sunrise, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I relived this experience on numerous occasions during my 2014 autumn trip to the Canadian Rockies.  Time and again, after identifying a possible combination of subject and light, I put myself in the presence of the subject and hoped for the light.  Sometimes it came and sometimes it didn’t, but when it did…I was there to take advantage of it.  I wasn’t necessarily shooting with an aperture of f/8, but the principle remained.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Case in point: on September 27, 2014 I got up more than an hour before sunrise.  My goal was to shoot at daybreak at Patricia Lake, in Jasper National Park.  The problem? Well, there were several.  The first was that I hadn’t had the opportunity to scout the location.  I had arrived at Jasper after dark the night before.  I’d never set eyes on Patricia Lake—I wasn’t even truly familiar with the route to get there, and I was going to have to find my way in the dark of the pre-dawn morning.  I was also going to have to try to find a pleasing composition in less than ideal light.  The other issue was the weather forecast—it was expected to be a mostly cloudy morning.  Cloud cover was projected at 80-90% at sunrise.  I knew all of this the night before.

The “easy” thing to do would have been to sleep in.  I could scout the location in the light of day and come back, well-armed (so to speak) the next morning when the conditions were expected to be better.  After all, I’d be on site for the next four days.

Of course, you know I didn’t sleep in.  But if it sounds as though I’m patting myself on the back, or puffing my chest out, I’m not.  (If anything, this is a lot closer to an admission of insanity than bragging.)  The forecast wasn’t for pouring down rain (there was, in fact, essentially no chance of precipitation).

I found my way to the lake, wandered down to the shore and, in the gray of dawn, found what looked like a good spot, and waited.  It didn’t look promising.  As the light came up, I saw a bank of low clouds covering up Pyramid Mountain.  But I hung around, just to see if something good might happen.

Shortly after sunrise, I was rewarded.  For about 15 minutes, a gap in the cloud bank revealed the peak, bathed in beautiful light.  For about two of those minutes, the clouds lit up.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I’ve been through enough experiences to know that special things can happen even when the odds are long.  I didn’t fly 2000 miles to “sleep in.”  This is what you do when the photograph really matters to you—as it did to me on this day:  you give yourself a chance.

F/8 and be there.

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 22, 2019

Photography at the Seaside

Though I’ve lived in the American Midwest for 47 years, I spent my earliest formative time on the East Coast and, for a month for three consecutive summers, I spent time with my grandparents, who rented a place just steps from the beach in Rockaway, New York.  As a function, I’ve always had great affinity for the ocean.  As an adult, I’ve transferred that fondness to my photography.  Over the past 15 years I’ve photographed on the Atlantic coast in Maine, Maryland and Florida and on the Pacific coast in Washington, Oregon and California.  I’ve found these locations to have a number of similarities and at least as many differences and, over the years, have discovered a number of things about seaside photography that I’d like to share.

Photographing at the seaside can be among the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have, but it will help if you keep a few things in mind.

Monument Cove Evening, Acadia National Park, Maine

Physical Considerations

While different seaside locations contain many different elements, there are some universal aspects to any beach location–saltwater and sand are among them.  And, as luck would have it, photographic equipment–cameras, lenses and tripods, etc.–isn’t fond of either.  As a result, precautions should be taken.  When combined with wind–and seaside locales are frequently, breezy–sand (and salt) can get into everything.  Therefore, lens changing should be minimized and lens caps should be maximized.  And cameras, lenses–and tripods–should be wiped down at the end of every seaside photo session.  In fact, I bring a towel with me whenever I’m photographing near the ocean, and I also bring an ample amount of fresh water with me.  I carefully wipe down all of my gear with a soft cloth and I use the towel and fresh water to wipe down the tripod legs to get rid of all beach residue.

Pacific Coast, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I also have a set of UV filters that I don’t ordinarily use…unless I’m at the seaside.  In fact, even astride the ocean, I don’t typically use the filters…unless there’s a lot of wind, as there was when I was on the southern Oregon coast a few years ago.  The stiff north wind was incessant and sprayed salt and sand all over the place and rather than go through the problem of trying to protect the front element of whatever lens I had mounted at any given time, the filters saved me a lot of trouble.

Wind & Surf black & white, Whaleshead Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I’ve found it extremely helpful to have the appropriate footwear when photographing near the ocean.  It makes it much easier to saunter through the shallows and wet sand when your feet are appropriately covered.  I’ve hauled my rubber boots from coast to coast and have been relieved that I did.

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

Second Beach Black & White, Olympic National Park, Washington

I’ve seen some crashing surf at the seaside on a number of occasions and have been privy firsthand to the potential danger of being unfamiliar with the daily tide tables and underestimating the impact of sneaker waves.  The photographer underestimates the ocean at his/her peril.

Aesthetic Considerations

One of the things that denotes the experience of photographing the ocean is that the scene is inherently dynamic.  Not only are the light and the sky and the tide always changing, the ocean itself is literally always moving.  It’s one of the most captivating things about being at the seaside.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

The dynamism of the ocean makes it interesting to experiment with different shutter speeds.  As a result, it’s always a good idea to have a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter at your disposal when photographing seaside, as they’ll  maximize your ability to experiment with creative effects.

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop black & white, Oregon

Rocks & Surf Black & White, Otter Point State Recreation Area, Oregon

In some respects, the same basic set of considerations for any landscape photography location applies to a beach setting.  Subject, light, composition…these are the things that make up photographic decisions for every scene.  But there are some specifics surrounding these elements that are worth noting for seaside photography.

Atlantic Afternoon, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Because most beach settings imply relative openness, the matter of “good light” is reminiscent of most open locales.  That is to say, usually–there are always exceptions–harsh light conditions at the seaside are typically very harsh and cloudy skies typically beg for a monochromatic treatment.  The color oceanscape loves the golden hour.

Ruby Beach Surf Black & White, Olympic National Park, Washington

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

China Creek Beach from North Island Viewpoint Black & White, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

At some seaside locations–this is true of most locations on the Pacific Coast of North America and some, mostly to the north, of the Atlantic Coast–the possibility of photographing from overlooks or from the beach itself–is present.  To the extent possible, I advocate doing both, but I’ve usually found that the lower perspective (i.e. beach level) offers more compositional choices.

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

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

China Creek at Sunset, China Creek Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

The number and variety of elements at each seaside location will vary, of course, but can go a long way to give a specific sense of place.  Most of the Pacific beaches I’ve visited, for instance, are marked by offshore rocks, islands and/or seastacks.  The beaches on the Maine coast are noted for their own, distinct rocky edifices.  The Pacific beaches were more likely to be dotted with driftwood and tidepools.  Regardless of the specifics, I’ve found that intimate images can, in their own way, be every bit as representative as grand landscapes.

Driftwood & Beach Stones, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Beach Stones, Little Hunters Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine

Seashells, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Schoodic Peninsula Black & White, Acadia National Park, Maine

Sinewy Beach Stones, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

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

In Sum

The ever-changing seaside awaits, irrespective of the specific location.  Go forth and find some memorable images.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

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