Posted by: kerryl29 | February 14, 2022

The Story Behind the Image(s): White Mountains Sunset and a Cold, Wet Foot

Note: By the time this posts, weather permitting, I will be several days into an eight(ish) day photo trip to the desert southwest. Itinerary is a bit sketchy since it’s based in part on any impact weather might have on travel, success or failure in obtaining permits to certain tracts of public land and, to a certain extent, whim. Regardless, Internet access is expected to vary between unreliable and non-existent for the duration of the trip, so if I’m less responsive than usual you’ll know why. I should up and running again by Valentine’s Day.

Note, Part II (Feb.13): This was supposed to be published on February 7, via WordPress’ autopublish feature. I have no idea why that didn’t happen as directed. The “publish” dialogue displays that a publish time/date of 8 AM CDT on Feb. 7. Obviously that didn’t happen so we’ll try again for Feb. 14.

In the fall of 2017, I spent two weeks in New England, moving from northwest Maine to northeast Vermont to east-central New Hampshire. It was a great trip and I produced many memorable images along the way. On the final day of the trip, prior to starting the drive back to the Midwest, I spent some time on a relentlessly cloudy day photographing along the eastern part of the Kancamagus Highway. Following a minor late afternoon mishap (a poor decision to attempt to jump onto a rock in a creek led to a hiking boot full of water) I decided to call it a day. I was tired, there was no more than an hour of daylight left and there was no sign of a sunset. But as I was driving back to my lodgings, I noticed in the rearview mirror a line of clearing on the western horizon.  There just might be a sunset after all, I thought.  And then again, there might not.  But by the time I reached the junction with NH-16–where  a left turn would take me back to North Conway (where I was staying), I could see that there might really be a decent shot at a sunset.

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

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

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

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

White Mountains National Forest Sunset, Carroll County, New Hampshire
White Mountains National Forest Sunset, Carroll County, New Hampshire

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

But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.


Responses

  1. Kerry,
    A truly gorgeous sunset and what a great story! It’s been my experience that great sunsets/sunrises often appear unexpectedly and when I’m not at a great location. Like you, all I can do is punt and pray. And I heartily agree that it’s better to be lucky than good, especially when dealing with Mother Nature.
    Steve

    • Thanks, Steve. It’s probably always better to be lucky than good. 🙂

  2. Both compositions are terrific. Better to be lucky than good??? I’d say even better to be both lucky and good as you have demonstrated here.

    • Thanks, Ellen.


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