Just Do It — even in the midday sun

Just do it – even in the midday sun – but shoot raw to tame that contrast.

I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer – I really don’t have enough patience for that. I do have patience to wait for wildlife – birds and mammals – but sitting in one place for hours waiting for the light to become absolutely perfect is not my cup of tea. I’m more of an opportunistic photographer, and my style is more photojournalist than landscape. Plus I like to shoot everything.

In June I challenged myself to get some decent photographs in the middle of the day at three sites in New Hampshire and Vermont. A photo editor had asked for stock images from a number of kayak launch sites, and I was already 10 days late in providing them since I had been in Colorado and Utah photographing two whitewater trips for a rafting company. I had two days to get to her whatever images I had. I pulled what stock images I could find and then made a spur-of-the-moment decision to spend a few hours and visit three of the launch sites for the “serene water kayaking” feature. I hope I could get some newer, better images. These were three sites where I didn’t have much stock — two of them essentially none.

I had two possible routes to get to the first site. Since they were roughly equivalent time-wise, I decided to take the slightly longer one which I knew would take me by a location where I had seen red foxes previously. Sure enough one was waiting for me, sunning itself on rocks in the early afternoon light. I shot out my car window with a long lens braced on a wife-made beanbag.

red fox

I arrived at the first launch site just in time to see a couple of kayakers push off and round the bend out of sight. The darn fox had delayed me. However I grabbed my cameras and ran down a path through the woods to a spot where I knew they would pass. From there I shot a photo that was used in the article. I drove further along the road that paralleled the stream they were kayaking. I was able to get the photo below with a long lens just after they turned around and headed back.

kayaking

At the next spot again two kayakers were launching in the Connecticut River just as I arrived. I quickly parked my car, grab a camera, and was able to photograph the lingering kayaker of the pair still near the boat launch. It was not a great photo, but it had decent composition and told a useful story, so it was used in the article.

I then drove upstream a few miles to the mouth of a tributary stream. I had been in this area earlier doing bird photography so I had an idea of several places that might be good for a photo. The photo below is one of the images I made at this spot.

ED295--Mouth-of-Jacobs-Brook,-Ordford

I crossed into Vermont and headed to the third launch spot along a tributary of the Connecticut River. The launch spot was less than picturesque, but I was able to shoot some photos upstream of it. One of my favorites from that afternoon is below.

Vermont steam

To get these high contrast photos, I shoot in raw – always. I process them in ACR from Bridge – for what I do it works better for me than Lightroom, and it uses the same raw-processing engine. For high contrast images I normally turn the Highlights way down, the Shadows way up, and adjust the Blacks to get a good black somewhere in the image. For the image above I used a “Pseudo—HRD Pan” technique that I described HERE.

None of the photos I have included in this article were used by the magazine. However, the magazine used eight of my images including three I shot that afternoon. If you would like to see the eight images that were published you can click HERE.

~ Jim Block

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Late Summer Wildflowers: Color Before the Foliage

As another summer moves past the halfway point (too fast for many of us), many photographer’s thoughts turn to the oncoming foliage season. Though it’s easy to overlook this time of the year, it, like all of New England’s seasons, offers its own distinct subjects, including a variety of colorful and unique late season wildflowers. Below are some of the key species that are or will be in bloom in upcoming weeks.

 

Cardinal Flower Wildflowers and Waterfall

Look for cardinal flowers along rivers, streams, and waterfalls.

Cardinal Flower: This attractive, bright red flower emerges in late July and remains in bloom into September in New England. It favors forested wetland edges such as riverbanks, stream beds, and pond shores, which often offer a scenic backdrop. With patience and luck, you may see a hummingbird feeding on one as it prepares for its long southerly migration in upcoming weeks.

 

 

 

Black-eyed Susan: A familiar species of meadows, black-eyed Susan’s have a relatively long bloom period and may be seen from June to September. They often form large colonies that can be quite photogenic.

Joe Pye Weed and Viceroy

Joe Pye weed is a popular food source for viceroys and other butterflies.

Joe Pye Weed: If you enjoy photographing and viewing butterflies and other insects, keep an eye out for this purple-pink aster, which is common in wet meadows and forest and wetland edges. It serves as an important food source for monarch butterflies, which are in the early stages of recovery from a significant population decline in 2013, along with frittilaries, swallowtail, skippers, and other species.

 

Fringed Gentian in Meadow

Fringed Gentian blooming in a wet meadow.

 

 

Fringed Gentian:   Consider yourself fortunate if you find this rare and distinctive flower. They bloom in wet meadows, which have declined across New England in recent decades due to forest regrowth and development, and other waterside habitats. A good time to photograph them is on variably cloudy days, when there’s enough sunlight for the flowers to fully open, and diffuse light to bring out the rich blue colors.

 

Bottle Gentian: Also known as ‘closed gentian,’ bottle gentians are logically named for the shape of their rich blue flowers, which, in contrast to fringed gentians, never open. Watch for them in moist forests, including wooded pond and stream edges.

New England Aster and Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies feeding on New England asters.

 

New England Aster: This late-season species is often in bloom until the first frosts arrive in October. The colorful flowers vary from vivid violet to a paler purple. It is another favorite of monarchs, which feed on it during their autumn migrations, and other insects.

 

 

 

~ John Burk

John Burk is a photographer and author of books and guides related to New England. See his Amazon page for more information. 
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Posted in Butterflies, Conservation, Flowers, Forest, Macro, Nature, Scenic New England, Summer, Wildflowers Tagged , , , , |

Are you too humble about your skills?

Have you ever lied to a client about your skills?

I bet you thought I was going to tell a story about another photographer who told fibs to his/her clients about their equipment or skills in order to land a assignment. This isn’t exaggerating your skillset but rather, understating them. For most folks I meet, It’s hard for them to not be humble (now “That” song is going through my head). But photographers tend to be too humble! confused? read on…

This is all about me and the lie I told which did a disservice to every photographer that ever picked up a camera. I didn’t do it on purpose, I assure you, but I did it all the same. By now I bet you’re ready and waiting to be mad at me. “What did that fool of a photographer do now”? I’d love to quote Gandalf about a certain Took but I will refrain. (maybe) :-)

To set up this lie requires telling the story. So gather around the fire and warm yourselves.

foggy morning on Mascoma lake NH

foggy morning on Mascoma lake NH

I didn’t start out that morning to tell a lie, and I wonder how often you might tell one just like it?  We (Lisa and I) broke camp with a heavy moist fog surrounded us. The call of the loons on the lake called out eerily and beautiful through the fog, muffled but still distinct. We knew the sun would soon rise and burn off the fog. My weather sense and my phones weather app declared it to be so.

Today we were hoping for big game, and today it’s hot air balloons. In the past I’ve been able to catch a shot of balloons launching at festivals, but I wanted bigger game! I wanted a sky full of balloons. How does this lead to the lie that wronged you, loyal reader? Read on…

We were heading over to the Quechee balloon festival and Friday’s first flight ascension was cancelled due to winds. The next morning was my last chance to bring home a shot of the sky full of hot air balloons. We arrived, finding that parking near the Quechee bridge was long filled up but we found a spot that allowed us to walk back to the bridge.

Hot air balloon passing the quechee covered bridge

Quechee covered bridge loaded with photographers

The Quechee covered bridge was filled with photographers, cameras, and lenses of every shape, color and length. This wasn’t what I wanted, so I passed through the crowd of Canons, Nikons and I dear say I saw a leica also.

I walked down to the rivers edge and to my amazement there were 3-5 “photographers” with differing levels of equipment. (I know an Ipad does take pictures, but for this?) :-)

I met Judy Lombardi who had been a source of some of my information for this trip and she soon ran off to follow her artistic direction.  The game was afoot and the first of the balloons were in the air and this is when and where the lie happened.

being too humble, did a disservice to me and all of you!

First hot air balloons off the ground

First balloons off the ground

A woman came up to me while I was shooting the balloons and asked me “how, as a professional, did I choose this spot”?

My first thought was yes, how did I choose it? Being preoccupied, I told her “it was all luck of the draw, that no one knows where the balloons will go“. There, I said it, the lie was out for all of you to vilify me over.

I went back to my shooting but in the back of my mind it was bugging me and I realized what I had just done. I just told the woman that skill had nothing to do with it. It was all luck and why, if you were in the right place at the right time with your Ipad or Iphone, You’d be as good as Ansel Adams!

Now that I think back on it, how many times have I been humble and not wanted to say how my experience got me the shot. I mean, we all hear “Wow, great camera, you must be a really good photographer”!

I’ve been told at multiple  weddings, “You are doing such a great job”! I mean how would they know? Even I haven’t seen the pictures yet. But the layperson just assumes that because we have a fancy camera we must know what we are doing.

So when the time comes when I can educate this person on how I came to choose just this spot, I brushed them off with an easy answer and hence the lie continues. Yes, the balloons could have taken off and gone in any direction. So yes, luck played a big part.

Balloon trying to splash and dash

almost touches the water

But how did I choose, just this place to stand? Luck? Hardly. I arrived the afternoon before (when we bought tickets) and I walked along the edge of the river. The winds the evening before were too strong, but if they had taken off, the balloons would have been carried along the river, or nearly along it. So this spot where I stood, was the best place to catch the balloons and the Quechee covered bridge in the same shot.

Hot air balloon navidating the river

Came close to the trees

It wasn’t luck, as much as experience, and a knowledge of winds, which I referenced from a FAA weather app (aviationweather.gov) that lists the more technical aspects of the weather that the FAA gives pilots before they take off. I was an Enlisted crewmember in the Air Force and I can read PIREPS and METARS or at least my head doesn’t implode when I look at one.

Also, for the first attempt to ascend,  on Friday night, the sun would be behind me and illuminating the balloons.  The next morning, as I stood on this patch of ground, the sun was far enough out of the frame to the east, that I didn’t have to worry about light streaks across my lens. It merely sidelit the balloons as they floated down the Ottauquechee River and over the Quechee covered bridge.

Being a professional is more than knowing how to compose your shot, get sharp focus, correct depth of field, or knowing why the rule of thirds is usually followed and when is the best time to use polarizers versus a UV filter. It’s also the experience that we have accumulated over years of practice, education, workshops, and inspiration from our fellow photographers.

A sky full of hot air balloons

Nearly perfect as I got 14 out of 19 possible hot air balloons.

What I should have expressed to this person was that it’s my life experience and decisions made on that morning that helped to put myself in the right place to make the shot. I hope you will all forgive me for being a foolish old photographer, this adventure took sometime in the telling and I fear I may not have as many friends as I once did.

Jeff Folger

Join me on my social media by clicking any of the following. FAA, Vistaphotography gallery, Jeff Foliage.com, My FaceBook foliage page, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, Pinterest, The Four Corners of New England

 

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Posted in Scenic New England Tagged , , |

Tilt-Shift Lenses, Are They Right For You? Part 1

The Lens That Zigs.

A Canon TS-E 17mm f/L lens

There’s a type of lens out there that can bend, twist, and slide up and down, making them one of the oddest looking lenses there are.

Canon designates them as TS, for tilt-shift, while Nikon refers to them as PC, for perspective control. No matter how you slice it these are very specialized lenses that have a few traits that will scare many casual photographers away.

Keeping It Vertical.

In this, Part 1 in a three part series on tilt-shift lenses I’m going to discuss the most common reason for owning a tilt-shift lens, perspective control or correction.

For the serious architectural photographer these specialty lenses are almost indispensable. The reason is simple, when photographing architecture straight lines are expected to be straight and vertical lines vertical. Especially with vertical lines the only way to correct this is by keeping the camera level with the image sensor perpendicular to your subject. The problem is that depending on how close you are to the building you’re photographing you may not have a lens wide enough to get the entire building into the frame without tilting the camera back. This usually results in what is known as the keystone effect. The keystone effect is where vertical lines of the building appear to converge as they get nearer the top of the frame making it look as of the building is about to fall over backwards. Creatively this can look pretty cool, in the world of professional architecture photography it’s not a good thing at all.

Tilt-shift lenses are designed to correct this.

Here are two images, both shot at 17mm on my Canon 5D MkIII.

In the first I framed the shot as normal, which is to say tilting the camera back to include the entire Dover, NH Municipal Building. While I actually think this shot looks pretty cool, the issue with converging lines is pretty obvious with the building looking as though it’s going to fall over backward.

 

Dover municipal building early morning

 

Now in this next shot, by setting the camera perfectly level I was able to use the shift feature of the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens to do two thing, one I’ll get to in a moment. The most noticeable is that the vertical lines are now vertical or very nearly so.

Dover Municipal Building shot with a tilt-shift lens

Now you may notice that this is a more square formatted image compared to the first photo. That is due the the second feature of a tilt-shift lens, the ability to shoot several images to be stitched into panoramic images without having to move the camera, that I’ll be discussing in more detail in Part 2. This shot is a two shot, vertical pano created by first leveling the camera on the tripod and then taking two horizontal shots and merging them in the new Lightroom CC/6 Merge to Panorama feature.

Now The Down Side.

There are 3 reasons I can think of not to own one of these lenses.

1- Cost.

These lenses are not cheap. As of this writing Canon’s least expensive tilt-shit lens, the TS-E 90mm f/2.8 retails for right around $1400. It gets worse if you’re a Nikon shooter. Their least expensive option, the PC-E 85mm f/2.8 lists just shy of $2,000. My Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lists for about $2,200 new. Yikes! There are a few cheaper options for those that want to give these lenses a try, such as the Rokinon TSL 24mm f/3.5 for right around $750.

2- Manual Focus Only

This may be an even bigger issue than cost for some people. There are a lot of people with deep pockets willing to throw money at gear that won’t even blink at the price but will hesitate at having to actually focus the lens themselves. And in the case of the Rokinon I mention above, setting aperture is a manual affair as well.

3- You Can Fix It In Photoshop.

Sort of. Here is the first image again while I attempt to use Lightroom’s Lens Correction tool to correct the perspective and fix the non vertical lines. As you can see by the crop overlay you lose a lot of pixels by doing it this way. You’ll also see that the weather vane on top of the building has been cut off and the top of the flag pole is now very close to the edge of the frame. For a lot of people this a very acceptable alternative to parting with the cost of a dedicated tilt-shift lens. If you frame your photos with the idea of using the lens correction tool later, for instance I could have moved back a little further when framing this shot(though in this case that would have meant standing in the middle of Central Ave) this is a great way to go for photographers on a tight budget or who simply can’t justify the cost for a specialty lens that likely won’t see a lot of use.

dover municipal lens correction

 

 

In the nest installment of Tilt-Shift Lenses, Are They Right For You I’ll be talking about how to use the Shift feature to shoot images for very easily stitching panos.

 

Jeff Sinon

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Posted in Lenses, New Hampshire, Photo Techniques, Photography Knowledge, Photography Technology, Photoshop, Post Production, Scenic New England Tagged , , , , , , , |

Chasing the Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights dance over the A.M. Foster Covered Bridge in Cabot, VT

The Northern Lights dance over the A.M. Foster Covered Bridge in Cabot, VT

On the night of June 22, 2015, residents of New England were treated to an extraordinary display of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

This display was the result of a pair of Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) from a solar flare that left the sun four days earlier. I decided to head, with fellow photographer Mike Blanchette of Michael Blanchette Photography, to Cabot, Vermont and photograph the Aurora over the A.M. Foster Covered Bridge.

We arrived before dark to scout the location for interesting foregrounds for our compositions. While the Aurora was the main attraction, it’s always important to include an interesting foreground subject when considering composition. We knew ahead of time the waxing crescent moon would not be setting until nearly 11:00 pm possibly diminishing our view of the lights. The Aurora can be a fickle beast. Many times we have driven long distances and stayed out late, only to head home empty handed.  But on this night, the green glow above the horizon at dusk proved to be a harbinger of exciting things to come.

By 10:30 pm the sky was awash in green, purple and magenta lights, dancing and pulsating above our heads.  Typically in New England one can’t tell if the Aurora is active with the naked eye – a long exposure with your camera is the most reliable method.

On this night however, the light and colors were easily distinguishable just by looking at the dark sky. Typically, the settings I use for photographing the Aurora are f/2.8, ISO 3200, and a 25-30 second exposure using a wide angle lens.
The lights were so bright, I dropped my ISO to 2500 and my exposure time to 15-20 seconds. By 12:30 am, the clouds moved in and the lights were no longer visible. We both agreed this was one of the best Aurora displays we ever witnessed.

Northern Lights Over Foster Covered Bridge Cabot, VT  June 22nd 2015

Northern Lights Over Foster Covered Bridge Cabot, VT June 22nd 2015

Reflecting back, I’m amazed at how many times I caught myself just staring at the sky in awe, when I should have been clicking my shutter.  It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (so far!).

Solar activity, in the form of earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections, often referred to as CMEs and Coronal Winds, are what fuel the Aurora Borealis. Unfortunately, we are exiting the active period known as Solar Maximum, and entering a prolonged transition period of low solar activity until we reach Solar Minimum around 2020. As we move through this period, there will be fewer sunspots and solar flares resulting in fewer chances of seeing the Aurora. The next Solar Maximum is expected around 2031, so now is the time to get out and see the lights if you hear they might be visible!

The Northern Lights dance across the sky as a backdrop to the Foster Covered Bridge in Cabot Vermont.

The Northern Lights dance across the sky as a backdrop to the Foster Covered Bridge in Cabot Vermont.

Listed below are links to Facebook pages, websites, and phone apps that will educate you on the Aurora Borealis, AND notify you when there is a chance to view them here in New England.

Facebook Pages:
Solarham
Soft Serve News
Space Weather Live
Websites:
NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
Phone Apps:
Aurora Forecast (Android)
Aurora Forecast (iphone)

Good luck and good Aurora shooting!

 John Vose

Jericho Hills Photography

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Posted in Artistic Vision, Covered Bridges, Creative Processing, Creativity, farms, Inspiration, Landscape, Moon, Nature, Night Photography, Northern Lights, Scenic New England, Vermont, Village, Wide Angle Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |