For as long as I’ve been photographing, I’ve wanted to take a trip to New England in the fall. For a variety of reasons, it hadn’t happened prior to this year…and it wasn’t supposed to happen in 2016 either. My original plan was to take an autumn trip to southern Utah, but that fell through due to some unavoidable timing conflicts. In the spring, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to get away in late October–the proposed timing for Utah–I started considering alternatives and quickly settled on New England
And by New England I specifically meant northern New England. (Not that I don’t want to photograph in southern New England, because I do, but my top priority was the area covering parts of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.) And then I had to settle upon more specific destinations within that region.
That wasn’t easy. At one point I had it my head to spend time in three different parts of Maine, for instance, but I knew instinctively–and based on experience–that would mean spreading myself too thin (i.e. too much time moving from place to place and too few days on the ground in each locale).
So I decided that I’d break up approximately two weeks more or less evenly, basing myself in one location in Maine, one in Vermont and one in New Hampshire, spending five nights in each spot. That would, I figured, be a hedge against both bad weather and less than ideal foliage conditions. I figured that this would give me a pretty good chance of catching peak color in at least one location.
The question of exactly where to base myself in each state was a tricky one–and I’ll flesh out the thinking here more completely in future installments–but I ultimately settled on the Rangeley Lakes area of Maine; the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont; and the White Mountains area of New Hampshire.
All of these locations are in the northern halves of their states and, based on some (admittedly scanty) information, I had reason to believe that the best ordering of base camps was Maine, Vermont and then New Hampshire, beginning the final week of September and stretching through the first 10 or so days of October.
The images accompanying this post are a more or less random assortment from the trip; I’ve just scratched the surface in terms of processing material from my time in New England.
As luck would have it, I was a bit early for peak color during the time I was based in Maine–this wasn’t surprising–but the color I did find was excellent and improving with each day I was on the ground. By the time I moved from Maine to Vermont–September 30, to be exact–the color in northwest Maine was at peak in pockets and approaching it everywhere else.
In Vermont and New Hampshire, I caught absolute peak conditions, pretty much throughout my stay in both locations. And, because my New Hampshire base was very close to the Maine state line, I dipped back into Maine one day and caught peak color in Evans Notch.
Not only did I catch peak color, but that peak this fall season was exceptional. The color in northern New England this autumn was as good as I’ve ever seen it anywhere and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years pursuing fall foliage.
The weather was a little bit spottier than the color. The biggest disappointment during the trip was the relative lack of good sunrise/sunset photographic opportunities–a function of a lot of days of either complete overcast or bald blue sky conditions. That’s not to say that there were no good sunrises or sunsets, because there were–just not all that many relative to the number of days on the ground. Still, the temperatures were mostly moderate to warm, there was a bit of light rain, but nothing torrential and, until very, very late in the trip, there was almost literally no wind on any day, regardless of where I was located. So while the weather wasn’t quite perfect, it was still pretty good. Great color and pretty good weather means there wasn’t much to complain about.
I spent a lot of time driving around from place to place during this trip. I rented a car and put nearly 5000 miles on it. (The Hertz corporation doesn’t like me much.) Of that total, well over half excludes the round trip from the Midwest to New England. The average day on the ground in New England involved nearly 200 miles of driving.
I did quite a bit of hiking on this trip. Most of the hikes were pretty short–under four miles in length–but most of them involved some very steep trails. As luck would have it I’d done a lot of working out on a Stairmaster in the months prior to the trip and that stood me in good stead.
And as for the trails themselves, let’s just say that there’s a perpetual Rock and Tree Root Festival going on in New England and the trail system there is a big part of it. While hiking, you take your eyes off the trail at your peril. I’ll discuss some of the specific trails in more detail in later installments.
My primary early source of information about where to go and what might be available to photograph came from a book titled The Colors of Fall. Though written by a professional photographer, it’s not really a photo guide (and, in fairness, makes no claims to be one). I found it useful, to a point, and mainly relied on it for my initial forays while in Maine–where I had no other personal guidance upon which to rely.
While I used the book as the basis for establishing my bases of operations while in New England, once I was on the ground, after the first couple of days in Maine, I referred to it less and less as I became more familiar with my surroundings and moved on to locations where I had other sources of information.
I had better information for Vermont than anywhere else, due in large part to the assistance of some extremely helpful folks at the Scenes of Vermont forum. I’ll provide a bit more on the forum, and the help I received there, in future installments but I will say, without reservation, that if you’re planning a trip to Vermont and don’t know much about the state (or even if you do know a lot about the state) you’d be making a big mistake if you didn’t consult the forum denizens for suggestions first.
At times, as I was driving and hiking around New England, I felt as though I was on sensory overload. The color was so good and the various scenes–both wide and intimate (and regular readers of this blog will know that I’m quite drawn to intimates)–were so numerous, that it was sometimes harder to decide what to shoot rather than whether to shoot. This isn’t often a problem for me when photographing, but it popped up with regularity in New England.
In later installments covering my time in New England I’ll share some thoughts about the photographic experience, given the nature of the subject matter. Generally speaking, I found that my normal m.o. of giving myself enough time to return to particular locations (if so desired); an emphasis on scouting, particularly during times of “bad” light; and following time tested rules about certain types of subject matter, given lighting conditions, stood me in good stead.
Fortunately, all of the locations I frequented had a nice variety of subjects, from creeks and wateralls, to pastoral and scenic vistas, to dazzlingly colorful forests, ponds and lakes.
I’ll begin the chronological narrative with my next installment, covering my first day in Maine, next time.