Posted by: kerryl29 | September 21, 2016

Targeted Fatigue

Note:  On Saturday, September 24, I begin my drive to northern New England for roughly two weeks of what I hope will be colorful-foliage-filled photography in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.  I will attempt to prepare a few blog entries that will post while I’m gone, but I may not have time to do so.  In any event, I should have some new material on the blog beginning in mid-October. 

Maybe I’m just getting old and irascible, but  with each passing year I increasingly weary of the talk of new photographic gear.  Photokina is upon us again.  The biannual show–held in Cologne, Germany–is the world’s largest photographic/imaging exhibition and invariably all of the camera (and photo accessory) companies make important new product announcements before and during Photokina.  This year is no different and recent days have seen plenty of new gear previewed and publicized.  And it’s all made me realize how little I care.

Heart of the Dunes, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Heart of the Dunes, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Oh, it’s not that I don’t care at all.  I check out the occasional announcement, just to make sure I have some idea of what’s out there.  But I don’t hang on every word and I’m not really in the market to buy anything.  I don’t want to sound smug or anything, but I haven’t made a major photo purchase in more than 2 1/2 years when I replaced my old 80-400 mm lens with the new model.  The other three lenses I carry with me have been in my possession for eight to 15 years.  My current camera body–the Nikon D800E (I have two of them)–has been in my bag for more than four years now.  The D800E has already been upgraded and that model is due to have an announced upgrade itself very soon.  I skipped the first upgrade (the D810), obviously, and I can’t imagine that I won’t do so again when the D810 update is announced.

Jordan Pond in Fog, Acadia National Park, Maine

Jordan Pond in Fog, Acadia National Park, Maine

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that there’s anything inherently wrong with people who are looking to upgrade their equipment for some particular reason.  And I’m not saying that I won’t ever buy another piece of photo equipment; I’m sure I will at some point.

But…perhaps, I suppose, because I’m generally satisfied with what I currently own…and possibly because the vast majority of new offerings are largely iterative…and perhaps because what minimal new equipment I might find modestly intriguing is effectively out of my price range…I simply can’t get excited about the new offerings

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

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

This wasn’t always the case.  Back in the heady days of the 2000s, when order of magnitude-like improvements could be expected in the dynamic range and resolution of digital sensors every other generation (and sometimes more frequently than that), the prospect of upgrading was enticing.  In the span of less than nine years (fall of 2003 to the summer of 2012) I went through four different digital SLRs, counting the one I currently shoot with, including a format change (which necessitated some new lens purchases)  along the way.  And while I maintain that none of those upgrades made me a better photographer, they did allow me to make substantially better prints, with each and every update.

Squaw Rock Trail, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

Squaw Rock Trail, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

That is simply no longer true.  Current upgrades are so incremental–in the areas of concern to me–that print improvements are largely theoretical.  Some of the enhancements and other changes made to cameras today are relevant to some photographers, but I’m not among them.

Teardrop Arch, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah

Teardrop Arch, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah

There is still something that excites me, however:  the opportunity, a couple of times per year on average, to spend extended time in the field and make images.  I would happily forego a new camera body if I could spend the money I saved not upgrading traveling somewhere to indulge my passion for a few days.  And that’s what I’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks (beginning next week).  “See” you upon my return.

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

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

Posted by: kerryl29 | September 15, 2016

On Foregrounds

I learned a valuable lesson 20-odd years ago.  This was back in my incipient days of approaching landscape photography seriously.  I spent a few days poking around Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, during which time I photographed many impressive views from some of the numerous overlooks that abut the park’s Skyline Drive.  I had high expectations of receiving many wonderful images when I picked up the film from the developer (yes, this was back in the film era), but upon doing so I was extremely discouraged.  The images were, virtually without exception, highly disappointing and reflected almost literally none of the excitement I felt when I was in the field.

It took me a little while to figure out what went wrong–or at least part of what went wrong–but I finally managed to sort it out.  I’d fallen into a trap that catches a lot of photographers:  a tendency to shoot with a wide angle lens in an open place, with little or no consideration of the importance of the foreground.

Icefields Parkway Afternoon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Icefields Parkway Afternoon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I’ve discussed the (counterintuitive) matter of photographing with telephoto lenses in wide open places before, but have never taken the time to delve in depth into a more common scenario:  wide angles in broad locales.  This has been an oversight on my part because it’s under such circumstances that a clear majority of photographers are most inclined to reach for the wide angle lens.

Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

The problem with my Shenandoah experience can be essentially summarized in the following few sentences:

“Oh, wow…look at all that great stuff out there.  I want to include all of it!  How can I do that?  A wide angle lens!”

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

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

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the I-want-to include-all-of-it-as-an-inherently-desirable-thing part of the above quote.  (That may be the subject of a future post.)  Including “everything” in a situation like the one I’m describing means the presence of a lot of background.  And one of the aspects of using a wide angle lens that’s inescapable is:  distant objects will appear smaller to the camera than they do the naked eye.  The farther away they are and the wider the focal length, the smaller background objects will appear; that’s  a simple property of optics.  And so, if the attraction to the wide angle lens is “all that great stuff” way out there…well, it’s going to be a whole lot less prominent in your photograph than it is to your eye.

Pacific Coast, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Pacific Coast, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

And that’s what happened with those Shenandoah images–all the “great stuff” was minimized.  There were all these interesting, but tiny, objects in the distance which were dwarfed, in terms of importance by…well, by very little of any interest, because I’d given little or no attention to the things in the frame that were going to appear comparatively large:  collectively speaking, the foreground.

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

There are a number of ways to get out of this conundrum.  One is to emphasize those interesting background elements by using a longer focal length; doing so will make them more prominent in the frame.  And another option is to…well, pay careful attention to the foreground, with the understanding that doing so is going to fundamentally change the nature of the image.  (If you’re of the mind that determining the best choice might be a function of deciding the nature of the real center of interest of the image, give yourself a hearty pat on the back.  Maybe we’ll discuss this at greater depth in another post.)  And if you still want to choose that wide angle to capture that wide open place–and that’s not necessarily the wrong option–you’re going to want to start being highly conscious of your foreground options.

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Posted by: kerryl29 | September 7, 2016

In Memoriam

In recognition of the fact that the subject matter of this post is substantially different than the material that ordinarily appears on this blog, I beg your indulgence.  While there is some detail of a photographic nature tangentially connected with what appears below, I’ll save that for a brief future post.

*                                   *                                   *

In the early afternoon of August 22, I received word that my friend Craig Steffen had passed away that morning, the victim of an apparent pulmonary embolism.  August 22 was a travel day for me and shortly after I arrived in the Chicago area upon driving there from Indianapolis, my wife, Meg, called me.  The news came as a complete shock; Meg and I had spent an evening with Craig and his wife just a few weeks before this tragic event.  On that evening, they had told us of their plans to embark on a yearlong sabbatical during which they’d wander the country, with no real firm plan of where to go or how long to stay.  It sounded idyllic to my ears and remembering this plan–which was to have commenced on October 1–made the news of Craig’s passing even more painful, if that was possible.  Craig and his wife of more than 30 years were true soulmates and I quite literally grimace every time I try–unsuccessfully, no doubt–to imagine how difficult this must be for her.

Craig and I met, roughly 25 years ago, because of our mutual participation on a Baltimore Orioles baseball fan forum on a proprietary on-line service.  In 1993, two years after our on-line introduction, we met face-to-face for the first time when we drove to Baltimore–Craig lived in west-central Ohio–for a week’s worth of games.  This was a tradition that we’d continue, almost annually, for 20-odd years, with several other people, including Meg, as regular attendees.  Craig and I also participated in seven or eight baseball tournaments in Florida over the years.

But while the genesis of our relationship was baseball, it gradually became centered on far more important things.  While we came from wildly different backgrounds and experiences, I was struck by how often we ended up in the same place, intellectually and philosophically.  I think we both came to feel that our differences were far more superficial than consequential and our ability to recognize this fact made our friendship all the more meaningful.  That and the fact that Craig was the most genuine person I’ve ever met are probably the most important reasons why his passing has impacted me so deeply.  Probably.

Frankly, I’m still sorting out exactly how and why.  My response is not as simple as a stereotypical “wake up” call that life is short or anything remotely like that.

*                                   *                                   *

Shortly after hearing the news, and recovering from the immediate shock, I found myself feeling the need–not necessarily the desire, in the classic sense of the word–to go to Baltimore, and to an Orioles game or two.  I wasn’t really interested in attending the games for the sake of being a fan; but I did feel the need to spend some time in a place that I inherently associate with Craig.  I spoke to Meg and a mutual friend, Bob, who lives about an hour from Baltimore, about it.  The four of us had been at the center of the group of people who had participated in those weeks of games over all those years and we were all deeply affected by Craig’s passing.  After some discussion, we agreed that Meg and I would drive to the Baltimore area over part of the Labor Day weekend during the club’s next homestand and take in a couple of games, as well as visit some of the other spots around the park and in the general area that were such a regular part of our annual visit.

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We did several symbolic things to aid our sense that Craig was with us in spirit.  I had Craig’s Orioles warm-up jacket and I brought it to each game.  Bob handled the tickets and he made sure to purchase one for Craig.  We placed the jacket in one of our seats and it remained there throughout each game.

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Bob had another truly inspired idea.  He purchased orange and black–the Orioles’ colors–baseball shirts with Craig’s last name and uniform number (he always wore #44) for each of us, which we wore to both games.

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My wife had another good idea.  On the pedestrian walkway beyond right field–Eutaw Street–a group of caricaturists work before and during each home game.  For a relatively small fee they produce Orioles-themed caricatures for fans who sit to have the caricature drawn (they advertise that it takes only five minutes).  They’ve been doing this for some years, but none of us remembered until we walked in during the first game and saw their work space.  Meg suggested that we have one of Craig made, so she asked one of the artists if they could produce a caricature from a photo.  We were told that they would.  So before we went to the second game, we found a digital picture of Craig and Bob produced a print.  When we entered the ballpark for the second game, we took the photo to one of the artists and he promised he would create the caricature during the game, when traffic on the walkway could be expected to be relatively light.

craig_drawing

Early on during our excursions to Baltimore, it became a regular thing for us to stop after night games at the Double T Diner in Catonsville, Maryland.  On one of our first stops there, many, many years ago, Craig noted that among the hundreds (or thousands) of listed items on the menu was peach pie.  So he ordered it, but was told they didn’t have any that night.  He asked several more times that year, and the next, and it was never available.  This became a running gag and he would ask if they had peach pie every time we went–even if he didn’t want it.  They never had peach pie available.

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So when we stopped at the Double T after the first game we dutifully asked if they had peach pie.  Of course they didn’t.  But before the second game, we stopped at a local grocery store and found a peach pie, and we ate a piece after the game, in Craig’s honor.

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We made a quick stop at Faidley’s Seafood, a favorite spot of Craig’s.  Faidley’s is located in the Lexington Market, about six blocks from Camden Yards in Baltimore.

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Another frequent attendee of the games in recent years, David L., joined us for the second game.  Even though David is a fan of the New York Yankees–a major Orioles rival–he dutifully donned his “Craig shirt,” with Orioles colors.

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(That’s David with the beard and the Yankees hat; Bob is to David’s right, holding the jacket.  I’m the one with the Orioles hat and the glasses.  Meg is to my right.)

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Outside one of the main gates there are a series of “number sculptures,” representing the uniform numbers retired by the Orioles over the years.  Historically, the #5–Brooks Robinson’s number–was a pre-game meeting spot for our group.  I made a point of photographing Craig’s jacket with the sculpture.

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As if on cue, there were spectacular sunsets both nights–probably the two most impressive sunsets I’ve ever seen at all of the many, many night games we’ve attended in Baltimore over the years.

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*                                   *                                   *

The Orioles won both games we attended.  In fact, they shut the Yankees out both nights.  Ordinarily that would be a big deal, but on this occasion, I scarcely cared.

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I knew going in that this visit wasn’t about baseball.  Oh I paid attention, more or less, to the action on the field while the games were going on, but I really didn’t much care about the outcome.

If it wasn’t about baseball, what was it about?  I’m still sorting that out.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I’ll ever completely understand.

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It wasn’t about “closure.”  At least not for me.  While I understand the concept, intellectually, I’m really not sure that I comprehend, emotionally, what the term even means.

No, to the extent that I’ve been able to decipher what was going on inside of me, this experience was about remembering.  That’s what a memorial is supposed to be about, after all:  memory.

I don’t think that there’s any danger that any of us–or any of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose lives were touched by Craig–will ever forget him.

But there’s remembering and there’s remembering.  I want to remember and, somehow, this revisiting of places that were so much a part of the time we spent together has helped with that, ever so modestly.

Over the two-plus weeks since that tragic event on August 22 I, repeatedly, have had the words to the Simon & Garfunkel song Bookends rattling around in my head.  And with good reason:

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

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Posted by: kerryl29 | August 29, 2016

The Last Dance: Saying Goodbye to Letchworth State Park

The excitement of discovering morning fog the previous day had me return to the same spot on the canyon rim looking downriver at dawn but there was to be no mist this morning.  It was too warm; the overnight temperature never dipped below 60 degrees (F).  Still, the view was spectacular and I prepared to photograph sunrise, even if it meant a fog-free experience.

Genesee River Gorge at Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Gorge at Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

When I wrapped up at my gorge overlook–which didn’t take long because there wasn’t all that much in the sky to interrupt the presence of direct sun–I hastened to return to the area around Middle Falls, the only one of the three main falls on the Genesee River that I hadn’t thoroughly photographed.  The forecast was for another clear day–all day–and I wanted to finish with Middle Falls before the sun hit the water directly.  I had been unable to complete that task the previous morning.

I made it to the parking area near the Glen Iris Inn and double-timed it to the gorge trail.  Again, copious mist off the falls was an issue–somewhat less so than the previous day–so I spent a lot of time getting ready  to photograph with the lens cap in place, quickly removing it to take shots, and then replacing it, in a somewhat futile attempt to keep the front lens element dry.  And I was constantly mopping the camera and tripod, which were repeatedly drenched.

I started by utilizing a foreground of wildflowers, at a spot I discovered during my first day in the park.

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Then I moved upriver a bit and photographed whenever a composition caught my eye and when the mist was forgiving

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

I found the sectional views more compelling and alternated between normal and relatively short telephoto perspectives.

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Just as I was wrapping up, the sun crested the far side of the forested gorge slope and, when the rays cutting through the trees caught the mist from the waterfall they produced an interesting sort of glow.

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

And with that, I was back to the same position I found myself facing the previous day:  what to do on a blue sky day?  (This time, I didn’t have Stony Brook State Park as an unexplored resource.)  The prior morning, after photographing at Middle Falls, I’d returned to the northern part of the park to scout a location inhabited by several tributary waterfalls.  On those scouting sessions, I’d noticed some spots along the trails with some wildflowers, so I decided to return to these areas and do some macro work.  I had my macro lens with me and I had a couple of diffusers (which I knew I’d need, given the sunny conditions).

For some reason, I simply don’t have the patience for outdoor macro work that I have for landscapes.  With macro, just about any breeze at all makes photography frustrating and there was a distinct breeze this day.  Still, since I didn’t have anything else to do, I stuck with it for awhile and produced a number of images, including the one you see below, of a pair of tiny wildflowers.  This image comes from six focus stacked frames.

Wildflowers, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wildflowers, Letchworth State Park, New York

Eventually, I grew hot–the temperature in the shade climbed into the mid-80s (F) on this very warm day–and frustrated with the wind and called it quits.  The four tributary waterfalls I’d decided I wanted to photograph were all still in objectionable mixed light and would be for several hours, so I went back to the hotel to catch up on e-mail.  During that time, I checked the weather forecast which was calling for the same conditions over the next several days–warm and clear.  I had one more day scheduled at Letchworth but I couldn’t imagine going though with it under the predicted conditions, so I decided to cut the trip short by a day.  I’d head back to the Midwest the following morning; this would be my final day.

Around 5:30 PM or so I headed back out and by the time I returned to the area with the tributary waterfalls it was roughly 6:15 and two of the cataracts were already in open shade, so I tackled them–Waterline Cascade and Waterline Falls–first.

Waterline Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Waterline Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

The water level of these waterfalls was relatively low and I only found one composition of Waterline Cascade that I liked.

Waterline Falls was a bit different because of the huge swirl at its base.  I had to stack a neutral density filter and a polarizer to get the effect I wanted, but the long exposure (about 15 seconds) did the trick.

Waterline Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Waterline Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

I then played with a different angle and a short shutter.  All of this was aided by my donning of waterproof boots, which allowed me to move around, relatively freely, near both waterfalls.

Waterline Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Waterline Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

When I was done with the first two waterfalls, I headed back up the short trail, crossed the park road, and descended a steep slope into the creek that feeds Sawmill Chute.  I had to wait a few minutes to eliminate all direct sunlight on this series of cascades, and during that wait I took the time to scout out several interesting compositions.   There was a lot more water coming through Sawmill than had been the case with Waterline Cascades and Waterline Falls, and–while I had relatively free reign in the creek bed, I had to watch my step, both because there were some very slick rocks and because there were several hidden potholes that were several feet deep.

Sawmill Chute, Letchworth State Park, New York

Sawmill Chute, Letchworth State Park, New York

 

Sawmill Chute Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Sawmill Chute Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

My last stop was Paper Mill Falls.  Accessing this waterfall involved about a mile (round trip) hike, which I had already made a couple of times to scout the location.  While it was possible, with care, to descend to creek level at the base of this waterfall, I had done so on one of my scouting sessions and determined it pointless for photography.  The only viable way to shoot the waterfall, at this time, was from up on the bluff, so–knowing that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting my feet wet–I ditched the waterproof footwear and donned my hiking boots.

It was only about 15 minutes until sunset by the time I arrived at Paper Mill Falls.

Paper Mill Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Paper Mill Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Paper Mill Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Paper Mill Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

This is a lonely part of Letchworth State Park; there was no one around when I was photographing any of these waterfalls.

By the time I returned to the car, the sun was down.  I declared the photography for the day–and the trip as a whole–over.  I started driving back toward the north park entrance, but as I did I could see that the sky to the west was something special this evening.  There really are no great spots to photograph sunset at Letchworth, but I couldn’t pass this up.  I pulled off to the side of the road and found a tiny roadside meadow, of sorts, with some wildflowers down in a ravine, fronting a thick forested area.  I declared this less than ideal, but good enough, particularly given my options.  I grabbed my things and made another series of photographs as the clouds lit up and ultimately faded.  One of those shots is below.

Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

And with that, the trip’s photography really was complete.  It had been an interesting experience.  I had photographed exclusively at locations I’d never seen prior to this trip, which was both exciting and challenging, and it was a singular shoot because of how focused the itinerary had been on a single type of subject matter (waterfalls).  One thought had coursed through my head repeatedly during my time in the field, particularly while at Letchworth and in the Finger Lakes region:  what must this area look like during peak fall color?  I hope, one day, to answer that question for myself.

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 22, 2016

The Midday Pivot: Stony Brook State Park

Having had a full day in the park to scout had been a big help in planning for the succeeding day:  I knew where I wanted to go for sunrise–or thought I did, in any event.  Great Bend Overlook provides the opportunity to view a point in the Genesee River canyon where the river takes a, well, great bend.  I scouted the location the previous day, and decided it might make a good location to catch the moonset that would accompany the sunrise.

When I arrived, it was still dark, but as the light came up on this somewhat cool morning revealed patches of fog in the canyon.

Great Bend Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Great Bend Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

It had been cool enough overnight for river fog to develop, and from where I was, I could see the clouds drift upstream.

Great Bend Overlook Moonset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Great Bend Overlook Moonset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Indeed, as the sun was beginning to come up in the east, the moon was setting in the west.

Great Bend Overlook Moonset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Great Bend Overlook Moonset, Letchworth State Park, New York

The spotty fog continued as the sun rose.

Great Bend Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Great Bend Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Eventually the sun’s rays began to touch the trees on the far side of the canyon.

Gorge Trees, Great Bend Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Gorge Trees, Great Bend Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

At this point, I moved along, with the intention of heading to Middle Falls.  I hoped to photograph the falls, with no one around, before the sun began to glisten off the water.

But as I made my way the several miles along the park road to the area near Middle Falls, I was stopped in my tracks by something I saw along the way.  I reached a point where the road bent–on the far side of Great Bend–looking to the southeast.  It was a view that looked straight upriver and the sight was spectacular.  I jumped out of the car and grabbed my gear, and quickly set up, hoping that the conditions would remain in place long enough for me to get a shot or two.

Gorge Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

Gorge Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

Gorge Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

Gorge Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

From this spot–looking more or less directly into the rising sun–there was a lot more fog visible than when looking upriver from Great Bend.  I resolved to return to this spot first thing the following morning.

In the meantime, I continued along my way to Middle Falls.  The sun was up now, but deep within the canyon, the falls figured to remain in open shade for some time.  As expected, there was no one around at this hour, so I had the place–which had been teeming with people when I was there the previous day–to myself.

One thing hadn’t changed–there was still a tremendous amount of mist coming up from Middle Falls and it was falling like mad along the walkway that paralleled the river.  As you can see, the observation point in the image below is absolutely drenched.

Middle Falls Viewing Platform, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Viewing Platform, Letchworth State Park, New York

I walked up the path and was fairly regularly being doused with mist.  When I got close enough to the falls, most of the mist drifted downriver, and I was able to stay dry.  So at this point, I began to make images.

Middle Falls Abstract, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Abstract, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Abstract Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Abstract Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Abstract Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls Abstract Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

By now, the sun was directly hitting the water on the near side of the river.  The situation was only going to get worse.  Given the weather forecast–sunny, all day long–Middle Falls wouldn’t be in open shade again until an hour or so before sunset–about 13 hours away.  Most of the interesting subjects in the park would be essentially unshootable, it appeared, until then.

I had a firsthand view of this fact, as I spent the next couple of hours scouting a number of locations that I hadn’t gotten around to the previous day.  It was time well spent, but there was no photography involved.  By roughly 10:30 AM I was out of places to scout.  It would be many, many hours before there would be any more photography at Letchworth.  What to do?

Then, I remembered, I had passed the entrance to Stony Brook State Park, no more than about 15 minutes down the Interstate, on my way in.  So, I made my way there, in the hope I’d find something of interest.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Stony Brook State Park is a small unit, just south of the small town of Danville, New York.  There was some construction going on on the road leading into the park and one of the parking lots, but I eventually found my way in.  It was still a sunny day, so I didn’t figure I’d have much of an opportunity to photograph, but I brought my gear with me on the trail anyway.  What I found was reminiscent of Buttermilk Falls State Park, which I visited a few days earlier when I was in the Finger Lakes.  A water source–in this case, the appropriately named Stony Brook–flows through a canyon in a series of waterfalls and cascades.  As was the case with Buttermilk Falls, the trail through the gorge is about a mile in length and runs right alongside the creek.

Within a few minutes I could tell that I wanted to photograph the park.  The only issue was when would the opportunity come up?  I walked all the way to the tall waterfall–Upper Falls–at the end of  the trail.  I saw plenty of great potential images, but the light was awful, so I never took the camera out of the bag.  I was hiking back to the parking area, still checking out possible shots, when I noticed a bank of clouds moving in.  It was the first time all day I’d seen any sign of clouds.  Before I knew it, the clouds had covered the sun.  I scrambled to get a shot in.

Stony Brook Cascades, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Cascades, Stony Brook State Park, New York

For the next hour or so, the sun and clouds played peek-a-boo and I got some unexpected photography in.

Stony Brook Bridge, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Bridge, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Cascade Intimate Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Cascade Intimate Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Cascades, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Cascades, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Chute Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Chute Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Chute, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Chute, Stony Brook State Park, New York

It was kind of frustrating, because I occasionally had to wait five or ten minutes after setting up a shot for the sun to disappear, but I reminded myself that I didn’t have anything else to do.

Eventually, the clouds moved off and the sky was almost completely clear again.   By now it was mid-afternoon. Now that I’d had a taste of Stony Brook, I wanted to photograph it thoroughly.  I decided to return around 6 PM; that would give me several hours to photograph and the light would get nothing but better.  So that’s what I did.

When I returned, most of the canyon was already in shade, so I began photographing immediately.

Lower Falls Intimate, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls Intimate, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

I had the benefit of having scouted the entire gorge earlier in the day, of course.  And this time I had my boots on and had full access to just about any spot, in the creek bed or out.

Lower Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Of course I skipped over the locations I’d photographed earlier that afternoon, but there was plenty left to keep me busy.

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Middle Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Lower Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

I slowly worked my way up the gorge.  At no point did I have to defer a shot because of the light; the entire canyon was now in shade.

Stony Brook Cascades, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Stony Brook Cascades, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Eventually I reached the final part of the canyon.  To view the Upper Falls, it’s necessary to descend into the creek bed from the gorge trail at a specific spot–which is difficult, but doable.  Then you have to walk through the water and around a bend in the gorge.  At that point, you’re face-to-face with the Upper Falls.

Upper Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Stony Brook State Park, New York

By the time I finished at Upper Falls it was getting dark and when I reached the parking lot the sun was down.  I ended up photographing everything I wanted to shoot at Stony Brook.  Considering that I hadn’t even planned to go to Stony Brook State Park when I planned the trip, this had worked out very well.

I still had two more days scheduled at Letchworth and I planned to be back out at the gorge overlook before sunrise the following morning.

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 16, 2016

Letchworth State Park: A First Look

Visiting Letchworth State Park had been a priority of mine in planning this May photo trip, and on the seventh full day of the excursion, I’d finally get my first look at the place.  The drive there from the area near Elmira, New York, where I’d been staying while visiting the Finger Lakes region, took about an hour and 15 minutes, and I arrived at the northern entrance to the park a bit before 9 AM.  While it had been raining lightly in Elmira, it was partly cloudy at Letchworth.

Most of the action at Letchworth is in the far southern part of the park, but the main southern entrance was closed during my visit, due to construction.  So I entered at the northern end, near the town of Mt. Morris, New York, and made my way, nearly 20 miles, along the park road to the southern section of the park.

Before really getting going, just inside the northern gate, this dogwood tree in full bloom caught my attention and I pulled off the side of the road to make an image or two.

Dogwood Isolate, Letchworth State Park, New York

Dogwood Isolate, Letchworth State Park, New York

It was Sunday, so I knew that the park would be fairly crowded, particularly as morning lapsed into early afternoon.  I spent most of the day dodging the crowds and dealing with the sun playing footsie with clouds.  But I stayed in the park all day (except for a brief break to check into my motel in Geneseo, New York) until after sunset.  This gave me plenty of opportunity to scout locations.

The Genesee River cuts a deep gorge on its northward journey toward Lake Ontario, and that creates the basis for  Letchworth.  The river bed itself is inaccessible to the public within the park boundaries, and most of the park features are high up on the west rim of the canyon.  There are numerous overlooks, and three huge waterfalls on the river within the park.  There are also a number of smaller waterfalls on Genesee River tributaries located inside the bark boundaries.

On this morning, as I arrived in the southern quarter or so of the park, I stopped at a number of different overlooks, for scouting purposes.  Eventually I arrived at the Wolf Creek picnic area.  Here, Wolf Creek–a Genesee tributary–meanders under a stone bridge and through a wooded area, and then descends, in an abrupt, long cascade, into the river.

Wolf Creek, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wolf Creek, Letchworth State Park, New York

Not all of Wolf Creek Cascade is visible from this spot.  In fact, most of it–several hundred feet worth of drop–is out of sight.  But enough of it can be seen from the picnic area to make it worth a photograph.  In both cases–the creek and the cascade–I waited for the sun to disappear behind a cloud.

Wolf Creek Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wolf Creek Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

My next stop, down the road only a mile or two from Wolf Creek, was Inspiration Point, one of the park’s best known and most spectacular overlooks.  From this spot, both Middle Falls and Upper Falls–both large, wide waterfalls–can be seen.

Middle Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

A high railroad bridge, spanning the gorge just above Upper Falls, can also be viewed.  While both waterfalls can be seen from up close, the best overlook view of the two is from Inspiration Point.

Middle and Upper Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle and Upper Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

I also took the time to photograph some of the trees in the gorge.

Wooded Bluff from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wooded Bluff from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Then I walked across the road to check out Stone House, an attractive structure that can be rented as an overnight accommodation.  I found it highly photogenic, and–while fighting off a swarm of gnats, nabbed a couple of shots.

Stone House, Letchworth State Park, New York

Stone House, Letchworth State Park, New York

Continuing down the road, I stopped next to check out Lower Falls.  I wandered all the way down to the shooting position about 500 feet downstream of the falls–a hike that required the descent of a stone staircase with more than 100 steps.  At this point, the sun was out brightly on what had become an extremely hot day.  The waterfall itself, and the surrounding gorge, were half in mixed light.  But there’s a foot bridge that crosses the gorge downstream from Lower Falls, about 30 feet above river level.  Below the bridge was an area of the canyon entirely in shade, due to a bend in the river.  While I would have to wait to shoot the falls until later in the day, I did take the time produce one image of the river below the bridge where the bend was creating a huge, slow moving eddy.  By placing a six-stop neutral density filter on my lens, I was able to nab the shot you see below, which I subsequently converted to black and white.

Genesee Swirl Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee Swirl Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

After stopping to scout several additional overlooks, I made my way to the end of the road–a large parking area providing direct access to Middle Falls and, by a relatively short, paved trail, Upper Falls.  The Middle Falls area was crowded, the spray from the falls positively tremendous, and the light awful, so I simply took note of  a number of possible shooting spots along the way, with the expectation of returning the following morning.  Then I made my way to the Upper Falls area.

Upper Falls, at a height of approximately 70-feet, spans the wide river.  As had been the case at Middle Falls, there was a lot of foot traffic on the trail near Upper Falls.  And the sun was out strong, though by now it was past mid-afternoon.  Still, I decided to wait it out, as I had scouted just about every location I’d intended to visit that day.

Gradually, some clouds started to role in, and the crowds began to thin as the day wore on.  Just above the Upper Falls viewing platform, a small tributary to the river flows in the form of a small waterfall.  When the sun went behind a cloud bank, I climbed down into the tiny creek bed and produced a couple of images of Shadow Cascade.

Shadow Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Shadow Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Shadow Cascade Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Shadow Cascade Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Then I climbed back and wandered back to the Upper Falls viewing area and began to make some images of Upper Falls.

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

The sun popped back out again, briefly, and due to its angle relative to my perspective and position in the sky, created a brilliant double rainbow out of the waterfall’s copious spray.  I did something I almost literally never do:  I produced an image while hand holding the camera.  I simply couldn’t get my tripod in a position where I could photograph the rainbow the way I wanted; I had to lean over the stone wall that buttressed the overlook to produce the below image.  Given how bright it was, I was able to shoot at 1/1000 of a second and easily could still obtain a sharp shot.

Double Rainbow, Genesee River, Letchworth State Park, New York

Double Rainbow, Genesee River, Letchworth State Park, New York

I then gradually moved back down river, shooting several other perspectives of Upper Falls, when the sun moved behind clouds.

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

I also took the time to produce some long lens semi-abstracts of the rapids in the Genesee River below Upper Falls.

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

By the time I wrapped up at Upper Falls, it was late afternoon.  I decided to head to the motel I was staying at–about 30 minutes away–and then come back to the park for the evening shoot.  I figured the crowds would be all but gone and the light would be good.  I was right.  It was around 6 PM when I got back to the park and I stopped, first, at one of the overlooks–the Tea Table Overlook–that I had scouted that morning.

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

The gorge was bathed in pleasing light and, while the river wasn’t visible from this spot, the pattern of its curving passage was.

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

From here, I drove the relatively short distance back to the Lower Falls parking lot, and retraced the hike back to the viewing area that I had made hours before.  The falls and accompanying canyon were now both in full shadow, so I took time to produce a few images of Lower Falls, while the river reflected the sunlit sky.

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls at Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls at Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

By the time I had climbed back out of the canyon to the parking area, sunset was only a few minutes away.  Because of the way the park is laid out, there are no west-facing overlooks.  Figuring the photographic day was over I was preparing to head out and check into my hotel, about 20 minutes away from the park’s northern entrance (which was at least 20 additional minutes away itself from the Lower Falls parking area), but on the way, I passed the park’s Archery Field–across the road from one of the numerous overlooks I had scouted in the morning.  In addition to the overlook, I had taken a look at the broad, open field and had found the large, mature, isolated maple trees located there, still in the leafing out stage, of interest.  Now, as I returned to the archery field as dusk began to set in, I stopped, rediscovered a favorite composition that had been teased out during the morning’s scouting visit, and grabbed my gear for one last set of images on this day.

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

And with that, another long day of photography came to an end.  The next day would begin at a very, very early hour as I planned to photograph sunrise over the gorge.

What am I doing interrupting a summertime narrative of a spring photo trip by writing about the fall?  I can’t help myself.  My favorite season to photograph has always been autumn.  My very first trip dedicated to photography was to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the fall of 2002.  That experience ultimately led to my current pattern of heading off (usually) twice a year to photograph at some relatively far flung locale.  One of those two trips is almost always during autumn, with fall color at least part of the puzzle, if not the prime object.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Michigan’s UP has been the recipient of the plurality of those fall journeys, because it’s the closest, most accessible North Woods ecosystem to my home base.  The mixture of maple, birch, beech and other deciduous trees that produce colorful fall foliage is exceptional, and it lies in a mostly undeveloped area rich with forest lakes, waterfalls, rushing rivers and the coastlines of three of the Great Lakes.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

My extensive experience in the UP is what led me to co-author, with my friend Andy Richards, the ebook Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a photographer’s guide to the UP, which includes extensive coverage (directions, GPS coordinates, best times and other tips) to dozens of our favorite locations (including, but by no means limited to, those depicted in the UP images in this post).

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

While the UP has been my most visited autumn locale, it hasn’t been the only one.  The first of my many visits to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, was in the fall.

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

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

While I’ve subsequently been to the Smokies four times in the spring, I’ve made no secret of my desire to return there during autumn.  Why haven’t I?  There are too many other fall destinations that I haven’t visited even once to date on my personal list.

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

In more than one instance, I’ve visited a location in the fall and my senses teased just enough to feel an imperative to return to the same area as soon as possible (i.e. the following autumn).  One such example is the Canaan Valley of West Virginia.  I had a taste of this locale over a long weekend under horrible conditions in October, 2010.  Poor as the circumstances were, the incredible potential was self-evident.  I made plans to return, for a full week, the following year.

Spruce Knob Sunrise, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Spruce Knob Sunrise, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

It was a good call.  I spent that week in 2011 surrounded by terrific color (if not necessarily always great weather conditions; and I won’t bother to recount the infamous flat tire experience on a miserable national forest road).

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

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

More recently, I had a back-to-back (2014-15) fall experience in the Canadian Rockies.  It was no accident that I paid my first visit to the region in autumn; I wanted to catch the aspens and larches (the only conifer in the world that drops its needles each year) in their golden splendor.

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

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

It was, of course, my inability to properly photograph the larch-strewn Opabin Plateau above Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park in 2014 that had me plotting my return the next year almost as soon as my O’Hara misstep had played out.  The return experience to the Opabin Plateau was much more satisfying.

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

And I can’t imagine a better time to visit the many meadows and open plains in and around the Canadian Rockies than when the aspen groves are at their peak.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I’ve had the opportunity to pursue fall color in other areas as well, from Ohio…

Bridal Veil Falls, Bedford Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Bridal Veil Falls, Bedford Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

to New Mexico…

Aspen Grove Dawn, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Aspen Grove Dawn, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

to Pennsylvania…

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

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

to Wisconsin.

Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Regardless of the destinations of extended fall photo trips I take in a given year, I always hope to be able to make time to photograph during the peak of autumn color in Illinois and Indiana.  And, most years, I’m able to do so.  I’m almost always able to make at least one quick spin through the Morton Arboretum, less than 20 minutes away from my base in northeast Illinois, each fall.

A Celebration of Color, Morton Arboretum, Du Page Country, Illinois

A Celebration of Color, Morton Arboretum, Du Page Country, Illinois

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

And occasionally, I’m able to hit another location or two in northern Illinois.

Lake Ellyn Autumn, Lake Ellyn Park, DuPage County, Illinois

Autumn's Remains, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Autumn’s Remains, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Lake Bridge in Autumn, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Lake Bridge in Autumn, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

The same is true of central Indiana.  I always try to make at least one day trip in the region.  Some years I’m able to make more than one.

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Misty Falls, McCormick's Creek State Park, Indiana

Misty Falls, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

Autumn Alcove, Eagle Creek Park, Marion County, Indiana

Autumn Alcove, Eagle Creek Park, Marion County, Indiana

Autumn Tapestry, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Tapestry, Brown County State Park, Indiana

So what of this year?  Well, after a planned trip to southern Utah in late October fell through, I pivoted.  I’ve been talking for years and years about a trip to New England in the fall and this year I’m finally going to make it happen.  Beginning in late September I’ll have about two weeks split, more or less evenly, between northwest Maine, northern Vermont and central and northern New Hampshire.  I’ve never photographed in any of the locations I’ll be visiting, which makes it both incredibly enticing and worrisome.  Incredibly enticing because, well, obviously.  (It’s New England in the fall!)  Worrisome because whenever I go somewhere new I fear that I won’t have enough time, or the proper conditions, or the bare knowledge, to make the most of the experience.  To the extent that’s true–witness West Virginia and the Canadian Rockies–it always seems to give me an insatiable desire to return–as soon as possible.

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 2, 2016

Finger Lakes: Clouds Return and there Was Much Rejoicing

I’ve talked at some length on this blog about the merits of overcast conditions when photographing creeks and waterfalls in wooded settings.  On this, my final full day in the Finger Lakes region, the forecast called for the first cloudy day since my second complete day at Ricketts Glen.  More accurately put, the forecast called for clouds in the morning and early afternoon, followed by rain, starting mid-afternoon.  It was time to make (photographic) hay while the sun wasn’t shining.

The previous day’s scouting session had convinced both Ward and myself that, having spent several hours photographing at Watkins Glen State Park, our remaining priorities were Cascadilla Gorge, in Ithaca, and Taughannock Falls State Park, about 10 miles to the north, in that order.  We dutifully got up very early to make the 30-odd-minute drive to the gorge so we’d arrive there approximately at first light.  Parking in the area around Cascadilla Gorge is limited–there is no lot, only street parking–and, on this Saturday morning, we also wanted to maximize time at the location during a part of the day when foot traffic would be at a minimum.  Cascadilla Gorge is a very popular spot, connecting, as it does, the Cornell campus with downtown Ithaca.

We executed our plan, found a parking spot only half a block from the western entrance to the gorge trail, donned our waterproof boots and hiked in.  The gorge was deserted when we arrived (not surprising, given that the clock had not yet struck 6 AM).  Having the advantage of the scouting session the day before, we knew precisely where we wanted to start photographing.

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

The most compelling part of Cascadilla Gorge includes a series of eight waterfalls, three of which appear to have “official” names, connected by countless rapids and covering a span of roughly a mile.  Cascadilla Creek drops approximately 400 feet over this mile-long stretch.  The trail is made of concrete to accommodate daily foot traffic, and it’s a simple matter in many spots to descend into the creek bed (which we did frequently).

Not far along on the trail there’s a spot that is, I think, the most magical in the gorge.  It contains a series of rapids in a glen where the creek bends around both sides of a small island.  Above the island, the creek makes a sharp turn, fed by a slide-style waterfall.

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

I spent a great deal of time at this particular location, tramping from one end of the creek bed to the other, clambering up and down the various tiers of rapids, investigating numerous angles, perspectives and shutter speeds.  There was just an occasional wisp of wind in the gorge at this early hour so, with care, focus stacking and/or long exposures were possible while still allowing a sharp rendering of the beautiful foliage.

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Swirls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Swirls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Most of the photographs in this series were made from within the creek bed itself, but a significant minority were achieved from the concrete walkway.

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

On numerous occasions on this blog, I’ve described and discussed the notion of working the scene.  Briefly put, the concept involves investigating a location carefully, rather than simply settling for the “obvious shot.”  Cascadilla Gorge is one of the best “working the scene” locations I’ve ever visited.  This partly explains why Ward and I spent more than six hours on a one-mile trail.  (The even light and nearly windless conditions didn’t hurt matters, either.)

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

One of the notable things about Cascadilla Gorge is that it is utterly surrounded by development.  Consider the map of the gorge below.  (Click on the image of the map to view a much larger rendition.)

Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca, New York

The part of the gorge covered in this post extends from the western entrance to the preserve located on Linn Street, at the left-hand edge of the map, to College Avenue, on the right-hand side.  As noted earlier, that covers almost exactly one mile.  All of the polygons that you see on the map represent buildings–private homes, commercial establishments, university structures, etc.  Note how close this development is to the gorge trail itself.

Given the proximity of development to the gorge, it’s truly remarkable just how secluded the crevasse feels.  The depth of the gorge and the continuous sing-song of the moving water work together to establish a sense of relative remoteness, choking out most of the sounds above the rim (particularly true early on a Saturday morning when there are relatively few external sounds to overcome).

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Swirl Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Swirl Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

The midway point of the trail, more or less, is marked by Stewart Falls, which flows under a handsome, foliage strewn stone bridge.

Stewart Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Stewart Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

As the hiker moves toward the head of the gorge, the waterfalls become larger, and the trail gets steeper, necessitating increasing instances of steps and staircases.  Lower Falls is the second of the named waterfalls a you hike upstream.

Lower Falls Intimate, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Finally, just as you reach a long, winding staircase that climbs up out of the gorge onto a pathway on the rim that leads to College Avenue, you arrive at Cascadilla Falls (a.k.a. Upper Falls).

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

With that, we put a wrap on our shooting at Cascadilla.  It was around noon when we hiked back to the gorge trail’s western entrance.

The forecast was holding–it remained cloudy, with no signs of a break.  Our next stop was at Taughannock Falls State Park, about 10 miles north of Ithaca on the western side of Cayuga Lake.  There were two spots in the park that we wanted to hit–both of them providing a view of Taughannock Falls, the park’s eponymous main attraction.  There’s an upper viewing overlook–from the rim of the gorge that Taughannock Creek cuts as it flows into Cayuga Lake–and a lower viewing area, accessible via an easy one-mile (each way) out-and-back trail that follows the creek from the lower parking area.  We decided to start with the lower viewing area.

Taughannock Falls itself is a 215-foot straight drop of a waterfall, and a very impressive site.  Just after we hit the trail to the falls we came upon a much smaller–but still interesting–waterfall along Taughannock Creek and we stopped to make some images.

Taughannock Creek Waterfall, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Waterfall, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Waterfall Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Waterfall Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

After a walk of perhaps 15 minutes, we got our first look at Taughannock Falls.  There were numerous spots from this point to the end of the official viewing area from which to photograph the falls and we investigated most of them, starting with the bridge over the creek.

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Having taken in the full view of the falls from the lower viewpoint, I concentrated on telephoto shots and abstracts of the canyon walls.

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Cliff Abstract Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Cliff Abstract Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

We stopped at several spots along Taughannock Creek on the way back to the lower parking area.

Taughannock Creek Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

At the final stop on the return trip, Ward graciously allowed me to use his tripod since I was having a terrible time getting mine to stabilize on the extremely slippery rock surface.  Ward had spiked feet for his tripod; that and a heavier design combined to make his support system better than mine in this instance, and it allowed me to obtain the image immediately below.

Taughannock Creek Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Our next stop was the upper viewing area, which required a drive of a few miles.  When we reached the viewpoint, which we had scouted the previous day, we found a huge group of people, presumably from Ithaca, evidently taking pre-prom photos.  There were dozens of teenagers in formal dress, plus parents and at least one photographer.  This limited access to the overlook, but we were able to, mostly, photograph over their heads.  More problematic, while we were setting up, it started to rain.  Still, we persevered.

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

We wrapped at Taughannock at approximately 3:30, in a light rain.  We decided to head back in the direction of Watkins Glen, with the notion of photographing at Havana Glen, in the village of Montour Falls, weather permitting.  I had shot at Havana Glen on my first day in the region and had shown Ward the site the day before, during our extensive scouting session, my third day in the Finger Lakes.  He had been impressed, and rightly so.  I had wanted to do some shooting along McClure Creek below the main glen area, so while Ward moved inside the box canyon to focus on Eagle Cliff Falls, I donned my rubber boots and descended to the creek bed near the parking area.  This way, there was no concern about getting in one another’s way, since the creek bed isn’t visible from the box canyon.

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

The rain had stopped by the time we arrived, but it was still threatening.  I found many of the rocky areas on the creek bed extremely slippery so I very carefully made my way from spot to spot.

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

While I was photographing it started to rain again, so I found some cover–there’s quite a bit of it in Havana Glen and waited it out.  The rain ceased again after five minutes or so and I resumed photographing.

McClure Creek Cascades, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek Cascades, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek Waterfall Black & White, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek Waterfall Black & White, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

I climbed out of the creek bed and met Ward, who had finished inside the canyon, so we switched places.  I thought I’d nab a few more photographs of Eagle Cliff Falls, even though I’d photographed it pretty thoroughly the first time through, but as soon as I set up it started to rain again, and fairly hard.  Besides, there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing through the canyon which was a real hindrance, so I decided to call it a day and retreated back to the parking area.  Ward fought off the rain for a bit longer and then we called it quits.

It was pushing 7 PM by the time we returned to the motel, and it was still raining with no break in sight.  Ward had to head back to western Pennsylvania first thing the following morning so we said goodbye–it had been a good, though brief and intense–couple of days and I planned out the next day.  The forecast for the following morning was for cloudy skies and a chance of rain, so there would be no sunrise.  I decided that, after check out, I would head straight to my final destination on this trip:  Letchworth State Park.

Posted by: kerryl29 | July 27, 2016

The Finger Lakes: Blue Sky Scouting

After I returned to my motel at  the end of my second day in the Finger Lakes region, I met up with my friend Ward.  We’d photographed in West Virginia on a couple of occasions several years earlier and Ward, who lives in western Pennsylvania, asked me to let him know if I was ever back in his neck of the woods.  When I’d finalized plans for this trip a couple of months prior I told him where I’d be and when, not knowing if he’d be able to take the time off to join me.  He was able to clear a few days and planned to meet me in the Finger Lakes area, arriving some time late that day.  The plan was to photograph together for the following two days.

I’d had time to scout all of the places of interest in Schuyler County and about half of the spots in Tompkins County that I’d wanted to check out.  Given the forecast for the next day–clear, all day long–I suggested that we plan to shoot at Hector Falls first thing in the morning.  I’d scouted Hector Falls on my first day in the area and felt it was well worth photographing.  It was clearly a “work the site” kind of spot.  Hector Falls is located on the east side of Seneca Lake, just a few miles northeast of the village of Watkins Glen, where the appropriately named Hector Falls Creek drains into the lake.  The waterfall is west-facing, so I knew it would remain in shade for some time after the sun came up.

A busy state highway (SR 414) crosses over the falls via a bridge, but despite the “roadside” nature of Hector Falls, it’s possible to photograph the waterfall from numerous different perspectives.  It can be photographed (with care) from the bridge itself, but it’s also possible to climb down to the base of the falls from both the north and south sides of the eastern edge of the bridge.

We arrived at the bridge at first light and, because the water in the creek is quite shallow, I donned my rubber boots and walked right into the creek bed on the south side of the waterway and, after examining the waterfall for a few moments, sauntered all the way over to the northern edge, below the bridge, and set up very close to the bottom tier of the 135-foot section of Hector Falls.

Hector Falls Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls is quite impressive.  It’s wide and it has numerous different tiers and cascades associated with it.  Given my footwear, I had virtually unfettered access to the waterfall.

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

I simply wandered around the creek and set up whenever I found a composition that I found pleasing.

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

When I finished with one tier I climbed up (or down) to another and resumed the search.

Hector Falls Intimate, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

In all, we spent the better part of two hours at Hector Falls because there were so many different perspectives to explore.

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Ultimately I climbed out of the creek bed and retreated to the bridge, where I pulled out my telephoto lens and checked out a series of entirely different views.

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

When we wrapped at Hector Falls we made a quick run over to the (relatively) nearby Excelsior Glen.  I’d scouted the hard-to-find glen on the first day I’d been in the region  We hoped to get a bit of shooting in there before the spot was ruined by sunlit hot spots.  We just barely reached the location before the sun made it unshootable, but we only had time to photograph the nearest of the three waterfalls in the glen.

Excelsior Glen, Schuyler County, New York

Excelsior Glen, Schuyler County, New York

While we were still trying to photograph in Excelsior, the sun crept in.  The forecast had been correct; this was to be an unrelentingly blue sky day, so we spent most of the next eight hours or so scouting.  I showed Ward some of the other nearby spots I’d found in and around Watkins Glen and Montour Falls over the previous couple of days and then we made the drive over to Ithaca, in Tompkins County, so we could scout Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca Gorge and several spots north of Ithaca, including Taughannock Falls State Park.

Cascadilla Gorge and Ithaca Gorge cut right through the Cornell University campus, separated on the north-south axis by about a mile.  Cascadilla was the one I thought had the most promise and our scouting session–which had us walk the length of the gorge trail, a one-mile long paved sidewalk–verified this.  We agreed that this was a must do location and planned to return there first thing the following morning (the forecast was for overcast the next day).  Ithaca Gorge was less appealing to us, though we walked that as well.  It’s not possible to get into the gorge–the waterfalls must be viewed (and theoretically photographed) from above, but there are all sorts of constraints and impediments.  While the subject matter was compelling, access was not so we deemed Ithaca Gorge to be significantly lower than Cascadilla on the priority list.

Taughannock Falls State Park is located on the west side of Cayuga Lake, about 10 miles north of Ithaca, where Taughannock Creek flows into the lake.  The highlight of the park is the 215-foot high Taughannock Falls.  The falls can be photographed, broadly speaking, from two spots:  from creek level, by following an easily traversed trail of about 1.2 miles up the creek, and from an overlook.  We checked out the overlook and from that position we could see the creek level trail and observation point.  While the clear skies and the accompanying harsh light made the scene not desirable to photograph at that time (we knew that this would be the case), it was evident that we’d want to return under more suitable lighting conditions–the waterfall was that impressive.  We then spent some time scouting other waterfall locations in Tompkins County.

It was mid-afternoon when we put a wrap on the Tompkins County scouting session and we had to determine what to do next.  The two locations we most wanted to photograph were Watkins Glen State Park and Cascadilla Gorge.  We’d originally planned to hit Watkins Glen at first light the following day, but after we’d scouted Cascadilla Gorge in Ithaca, we had second thoughts.  The gorge had been really impressive and we figured it would take a full morning to thoroughly photograph it.  As I noted earlier, the next day was supposed to be cloudy, so that would be perfect.  We decided to head back to Watkins Glen immediately and see if we could get some photography in there this evening.  I’d already photographed part of the park the previous morning, and I figured if we went back now we could do a walk through, so Ward could see the place, and then head back in with our cameras about three hours before sunset, when the gorge would gradually fall into full shadow and the crowds would diminish.

So, that’s what we did.  After stopping so Ward could pick up some rubber boots–he’d seen how helpful they’d been for me that morning at both Hector Falls and Excelsior Gorge and he knew they’d come in handy the next morning at Cascadilla Gorge–we arrived at the Watkins Glen State Park lower parking area at around 3:30 PM.  It was quite crowded and the light was still pretty poor, but we hiked the length of the gorge trail and back, without our gear.  I think it was helpful for Ward to see the place before trying to photograph it, as he was able to prioritize some of the better shooting areas.  We returned to the parking area between 4:30 and 5 PM and then waited for about 45 minutes to let the sun sink lower and the crowds to thin out a bit.  Then, we grabbed our equipment and headed back into the gorge.

It was still fairly crowded when we hit the trail for real, and eventually we just pushed on.  While we were in the gorge the crowds grew thinner and thinner and the light got better and better and we simply started shooting.  I concentrated, naturally, on the areas I hadn’t already photographed the previous day.

Minnehaha Falls and Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Minnehaha Falls and Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen Creek Gorge Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen Creek Gorge Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Minnehaha Falls and Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Minnehaha Falls and Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Central Cascade and the Cathedral, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Central Cascade and the Cathedral, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Central Cascade and the Cathedral Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Central Cascade and the Cathedral Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

It started to get dark as we pushed toward the back end of the gorge trail.  I’d already photographed at the Spiral Gorge and Glen of Pools areas the day before, but I wanted to photograph Rainbow Falls with the stone bridge in the background.  I hadn’t been able to shoot that perspective the day before because the bridge–and the area behind it–were exposed to the sun.  By the time I reached this part of the trail on this day, the entire area was in shadow.  Shutter speeds were long and there was just enough of a breeze to cause some of the foliage in the trees visible in the background from this spot to blow.  I spent a lot of time waiting for a lull so that I could render everything (except the flowing water) sharp.

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

There was a glowing quality, produced by some reflected light, to this scene that’s difficult to describe, because it’s quite dark in the gorge when it’s as late in the day as it was by the time this pair of photographs was made.

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

We did make it up near the end of the trail–to an area I’d already photographed–but it was so dark by that time, shutter speeds were being measured in seconds, even when the ISO was raised significantly.  We walked back to the parking area in the gloom.

There had been more scouting than photographing, by a long shot, on this day, but the next day–my last in the Finger Lakes region–would be much more conducive to shooting and we’d try to make the most of it.

Posted by: kerryl29 | July 18, 2016

The Finger Lakes: Schuyler & Tompkins Counties

As I mentioned in my entry on my first day in the Finger  Lakes region, my plan was to arrive at Watkins Glen State Park at first light on this, my second full day in the area. The main attraction at Watkins Glen is the gorge trail, which snakes for roughly a mile in a deep crevasse cut by Glen Creek.  There are numerous waterfalls and cascades along the way.

There were two very good reasons to enter the park as early as possible.  The first?  The gorge trail can become very, very crowded during “prime business hours.”  And, given how narrow the gorge trail is in many spots, photography can be a quite a trying and frustrating experience.  The second reason to hit the park first thing in the morning?  The forecast for the day was sun, sun and more sun.  On the theory that the gorge would be in shade early in the morning, I determined that this was the best time to visit.

Everything went according to plan, for about 10 seconds.  I arrived at Watkins Glen at dawn.  There wasn’t another car in the parking lot.  As the light came up, I strolled up to Entrance Cascade, which lies at the base of the gorge, just prior to the beginning of the trail proper.

Entrance Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Entrance Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Shortly after photographing the waterfall, the sun crested the eastern horizon…and shined directly on Entrance Cascade.  That was a problem.  But I wasn’t inside the gorge yet.  Surely that would be in shade, at least for an hour or two.

Well, not exactly.  As it turns out, a significant portion of the gorge runs east-west in direction.  As a result, a sizable percentage of the gorge lies in direct sun as soon as it comes up.  Portions of the gorge run more north-south in direction and are indeed shaded first thing in the morning.  Reluctantly, I scouted the portions of the park that were in sun and photographed the areas in shade.  I’d have to come back another time over the next couple of days to photograph the areas that were currently marred by sunlight.  At least I had the park to myself for the next couple of hours.

What I learned is that, to have the best opportunity to photograph Watkins Glen State Park, you want to:

  1. arrive first thing in the morning;
  2. choose a weekday rather than a weekend;
  3. pick a cloudy day.

The gorge trail is only open from (roughly) May 15 through the end of October.  Perhaps in autumn, more of the gorge would be in shade first thing in the morning, given the location of the rising sun, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Overcast is definitely preferable.

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

I did find one benefit to being at the park on a sunny morning.  The area around Cavern Cascade was illuminated by reflected light, giving it a kind of glow that wouldn’t have been present on a cloudy day.

The Watkins Glen gorge is exquisite, and reminded me, at least a bit, of Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park in Alberta.  I took mental notes regarding the parts of the gorge that were in the sun.  But when I found shaded spots, I basically went to town.

Quiet Pool, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Quiet Pool, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

The gorge was a generous mix of roaring waterfalls and rapids and tranquil pools and potholes.  A surprisingly large number of trees have found root amid the rocky walls and floors at Watkins Glen.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

The gorge trail itself was built by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  The stone works blend in nicely with the surroundings, but the masonry of this impressive example of engineering often skirts the edge of Glen Creek.  Shortly after arriving I realized that, frequently, it was difficult bordering on impossible to exclude the hand of man from my compositions.  Once I arrived at that conclusion, I started trying to incorporate the walls and staircase elements of the trail into the frame.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

The Glen of Pools section of the gorge was the next shaded area along the trail and I photographed it both with wide angle and telephoto lenses.

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools Intimate Black & White, Watkins Glen State ParkA, New York

Glen of Pools Intimate Black & White, Watkins Glen State ParkA, New York

Perhaps the most iconic scene at Watkins Glen incorporates Rainbow Falls, a thin cascade of water sourced by a tributary of Glen Creek, that runs down the canyon wall, overlaying the gorge trail.  I was able to photograph Rainbow Falls from along the trail, but I couldn’t shoot straight down the trail in the direction of Rainbow Falls, because the background was in open sun.  That perspective would have to wait for the follow-up visit.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

After having to skip over several interesting locations, all of which were in sun, I arrived at Spiral Gorge, a series of narrow, flowing cascades running through a narrow slot cut by Glen Creek, including Pluto Falls.

Pluto Falls and Spiral Gorge Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Pluto Falls and Spiral Gorge Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Spiral Gorge, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Spiral Gorge, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Shortly after Spiral Gorge, I reached the Mile Bridge, marking the end of the most photogenic part of the gorge.  I walked another quarter mile or so on the now-flat trail, but the area was bathed in full sunlight and I eventually turned around and hiked out.  By this time, there was some foot traffic moving along the trail, but still not too much.  It was still relatively early in the morning but the light was only getting worse (and the crowds were getting larger), so I wrapped up and headed out.

It was mid-morning when I finished at Watkins Glen, and I was staring up at mostly sunny skies.  I decided to head back toward Ithaca, in Tompkins County, to scout at least some of the places I hadn’t had time to visit the previous day.  Since, on the day before, I’d only had time for a relatively brief visit to Robert H. Treman State Park, I had no shortage of places to explore.

On the drive from Schuyler County to Tompkins County I passed a very interesting abandoned barn.  I stopped by the side of the road and checked it out.  It was a highly photogenic structure.  There was a brief period where clouds covered the eastern sky, and after circling the property, found what I felt was a compelling perspective.  Crouched just off a state highway, I waited for a lull in the wind, and snapped the image you see below.

1883 Barn, Tompkins County, New York

1883 Barn, Tompkins County, New York

My first stop in Tompkins, late in the morning, was at Buttermilk Falls State Park, just a mile or so down the road from the entrance to Treman.  It was bald blue sky when I was there, but it gave me the opportunity to scout the location for a future visit.  At the time, I didn’t realize just how soon that future visit would be.

Buttermilk Falls is a small park, with a trail following Buttermilk Creek upstream, from Buttermilk Falls itself at the base, a short walk from the parking area, through a wooded gorge filled with waterfalls and rapids.  (Sound familiar?)  The gorge trail at Buttermilk Falls runs about a mile and a quarter and I walked it up and back–without my gear, given the light.  I could see immediately that it would be worth a return trip.

After strolling the trail, it was early afternoon.  I decided to scout Sweedler Preserve, a nature preserve on land owned by Cornell University.  It was less than two miles from Buttermilk Falls.  I had a bit of trouble finding the parking area, but finally did.  By the time I got there, I saw that some cloud banks had begun to flow into the area from the northwest, so before I hit the trail I pulled my gear from the trunk of the car.  I figured that there was a chance that I’d get some even light while I was at this location.

I had learned, from a guidebook, that there were a couple of waterfalls at Sweedler, as well as the potential to find some wildflowers.  It was an easy mile hike to the base of the first waterfall.  It was still sunny when I got there, but I sized it up and figured it was worth a shot or two in even light.  I then headed up an incredibly steep trail, which climbed almost straight up a hillside, to an overlook for the second waterfall.  That turned out to be a total waste of time and (considerable) effort.  The waterfall, visible only across a broad chasm, was barely photographable, and–given a paucity of water–wasn’t very interesting in any event.  I rather sullenly descended the trail without having removed the camera from my backpack.

By the time I reached the bottom of the trail the cloud banks I’d seen had completely covered the sun, so I returned to the glen containing the first waterfall I’d seen.  I produced photographs from several spots, including the image you see below.

Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Then I turned to the flower-strewn forest floor I’d passed on the way in to the preserve.  There was purple phlox seemingly everywhere.

Wildflower Forest, Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Wildflower Forest, Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

While I was setting up to take the above image, it started to rain, which shocked me (there had been absolutely no rain in the forecast).  It only lasted for 30 seconds or so, but the wind did kick up for a couple of minutes and I had to wait that out so that I could produce an image with the flowers rendered sharp.

Even after the rain stopped, the sky was still mostly cloudy.  I decided that, as long as the opportunity for even light was in front of me, I’d head right back to Buttermilk Falls, which was only a few minutes away.  I returned to the now familiar parking lot and headed to the trailhead, this time with my gear in tow.

Buttermilk Falls lies at the base of the trail; it’s a long, mostly slide-style, waterfall.  As is the case with Enfield Glen at Treman, the splash pool below the falls is turned into a swimming pool in the summer.  I didn’t like any of the perspectives I saw of the falls from the bottom so I moved up the hillside a bit and found some more pleasing spots partway up the trail.

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Above Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Creek slides through a gorge in a series of steps, waterfalls and cascades.  I slowly made my way to to the top, photographing at every turn, buttressed by the scouting session I’d conducted just a few hours earlier.  That previous trip served me well, as I’d taken the time to investigate several spots in the gorge to see if they were worth a trip with the camera.  Some were and some weren’t.  I now had my rubber boots on because I’d learned that it was worth descending into the creek bed at a number of locations along the way.

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls State Park is a terrific shooting location.  While the park is fairly small, there are so many different spots worth exploring in the gorge it seems much larger than it actually is.  It serves as a “work the scene” kind of location–something I always appreciate.

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

There are several fairly large waterfalls in the park–above Buttermilk Falls itself–and they all can be explored from a wide variety of different perspectives…especially if you’re wearing waterproof footing that rises above the ankle.

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

During my time in the park, the sun popped out, briefly, on a few occasions, but there were enough clouds in the sky that it was never a long wait for the scenes I was photographing to be accessible in even light.

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

As you approach the head of the gorge, it narrows, and the hiker/photographer is treated to an intimate series of cascades and deep, deep potholes.  While I was photographing in this area, I was occasionally interrupted by some–very polite–high school and college aged kids who were using some of these spots as swimming/diving holes.  This is against park policy (there was a sign near the base of the gorge stating that there was no swimming, other than in the swimming pool area at the base of Buttermilk Falls, during designated seasons and hours), but no one seemed to care very much.  These kids were jumping off the cliff sides into some of the deep potholes (some of which appeared to be well over 10 feet deep).  I got the impression that this sort of thing goes on all the time on warm days (like this one).  Anyway, when they were out of sight, I set up to photograph.

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

When I finished at Buttermilk Falls, it was early evening.  I decided to spend the last couple of hours of daylight photographing the areas of at Robert H. Treman State Park that I hadn’t been able to get to the previous evening.  It was less than a ten-minute drive to the upper parking area at Treman and, upon arriving there (it was nearly deserted), I gathered my things and headed up to the rim trail to photograph the one (very) large waterfall I’d been unable to reach the day before:  115-foot Lucifer Falls.

Lucifer Falls is the main attraction at Treman and it can be viewed, essentially, from two places:  an overlook on the rim trail and by descending a several hundred step staircase from the rim to river level below the falls.  (When the gorge trail is open it can also be viewed from a staircase that makes up part of that pathway, but as I had learned the previous day, the gorge trail had yet to open for the season.)

It’s about a mile on the rim trail from the parking lot to the overlook and I was there in no time.  There were a few people milling about the overlook when I got there, so I sized it up.  By standing on a bench I could almost incorporate the entire impressive drop, deep in the gorge below, though some foliage in the foreground made doing so problematic.  I decided, after a moment’s consideration, to descend into the gorge first, photograph Lucifer Falls from there, and then reascend to the rim and photograph the falls from the overlook before calling it a day.  I figured I had enough time to do that and still get back to the parking lot before it was completely dark.

Since it was all “downhill,” I was at creek level in no time; I was pleased to see that there was no one else down there.

It’s impossible to get too close to Lucifer Falls from the creek; you’re never closer than a few hundred feet away.  It’s probably just as well because the spray from the huge waterfall must be pretty overpowering.  Regardless, I spent some time poking along the water’s edge and ultimately switched back and forth between wide angle and telephoto lenses to capture Lucifer Falls from water level.

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

It was considerably more taxing to climb back up the stone staircase to the rim, but I managed it in fairly short order.  When I returned to the overlook, it was completely deserted–not surprising, since it was only about 20 minutes until sunset.  I climbed back up on the bench I’d used to scout the scene a bit earlier and produced the day’s final image.

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

I was back at the parking lot just as the sun was setting in what was, again, a cloudless blue sky.  The clouds that had allowed me to shoot (mostly) uninterrupted at Buttermilk Falls had drifted off as I, for the second consecutive day, made my way back to the motel at dusk.  There was, to my chagrin, to be more blue sky weather the next day…

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