The Charlotte Ferry

Charlotte Ferry

Charlotte Ferry small channel of water kept open by the Ferry

For the first time since 2007 Lake Champlain is frozen all the way across. There are only two ferries keeping the commute possible for people working and living between Vermont and upstate New York this year. The Grand Isle Ferry, an ice breaking boat, and the Essex, NY, to Charlotte, VT, ferry which is able to fend off the ice simply by traveling back and forth in the same strait, miraculously keeping the channel open on even the most bitter, coldest, sub-zero days of the year. This 95 ton vessel (unlike an ice-breaker which cuts the ice with its bow) wiggles its way around crunching the ice. It does have a protective steel cage on the rudder called a skeg  which can be washed to melt the ice that builds up over night if need be.

Where is the lake?

Canada Geese : Where is the Lake?

Winter travel on the Charlotte Ferry has its rewards

Thousands of ducks – common goldeneyes, mergansers, mallards, scaups, buffleheads, nothern pintails, and more – are camped out in the channel as it is the only open water on Lake Champlain. This has attracted birders and photographers from all over. When would one ever have this kind of opportunity? The crew is terrific, accommodating many new pedestrian travelers with their scopes and telephoto lenses. The crew readily help identify the different ducks, point out an eagle or coyote on the ice, and most importantly keep anyone from going overboard.

Best Blind Ever

Lesser Scaup taking flight.

Scaup taking flight.

This great big vessel has proven to be the best blind ever. It is moveable. I feel like a duck hunter when standing on the bow, taking as many shots as possible of the different ducks that are present. When the boat approaches, the ducks take flight en masse; after it passes, they cluster again in the after churn. If you miss a flight shot on the way over, there is another opportunity on the way back. It is spectacular to see waterfowl in close proximity — a huge advantage for a wildlife photographer. I enjoy immensely watching the behavior of mergansers chasing each other around. In a display of courtship the male duck does what he can to catch the eye of a female who may or may not notice his performance. Ducks taking flight look like they are walking on water until they pick up enough speed to catch the air and fly. For their landing approach, they literally drop out of the sky, flaps down, and zoom into the water at a pretty good clip.

Bufflehead (Buchephala albeola) small compact little fellow..

Bufflehead (Buchephala albeola) small compact little fellow.

Forever Changing

Our weather is forever changing. Spring migration is on its way, the birds are coming in record numbers, and there is not much open water for them yet. Each day brings a spectacular display of wildlife and beauty upon the lake if you are lucky enough to be aboard the Charlotte Ferry. You do not have to be a professional photographer to appreciate nature’s best on Lake Champlain.

 

 

~ Jane Ogilvie

Green Mountain Photos

 

 

 

Embrace The Daylight

Most often, I take my photos at the beginning or end of the day. You’ve likely heard many times that is when the light is the best. I fully agree. You won’t get pinks and oranges in the sky at any other time of the day, and the warm side lighting is wonderful on trees, rocks, buildings, animals, and even people. I also believe that you can make compelling images in the middle of the day. You may find yourself at a great location at completely the wrong time of day for the good light. Instead of complaining about the lemons, make some lemonade.

The Advantage of Clouds

Overcast skies are perfect for photographing waterfalls, streams, or really anything where you want to avoid the bright sunlight. The overcast conditions will also allow you to slow your shutter speed down a bit to help blur the motion of water and clouds. Also, the light is flat and soft, as if the sky were acting as a giant softbox for nature’s studio lighting.

Roadside scene in  New Hampshire's White Mountains.

Roadside scene in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

When it’s the middle of the day and it’s sunny, then you have to get creative. If there are any clouds in the sky, you have the makings of great black and white images. Some of the great black and white landscape photographers of our time made their images in the middle of the day. Process these images with a high contrast red filter to really darken the blue sky and you can easily have images that pop.

Sunny day at Pomham Lighthouse

Sunny day at Pomham Lighthouse.

Overcooked HDR

Intentionally overcooked HDR is another option. From time to time, I’ll bracket some mid-day shots and run them through Photomatix (or similar HDR processing program) with a heavy hand. Sometimes, you get something amazing.

Small Apertures

A trick I will sometimes use is to get the sun in the image and use a really small aperture to create a starburst. Using a graduated ND filter comes in handy for this to keep the rest of the sky from blowing out. A low angle close to the ground with an ultra wide angle lens can create some amazing shots.

Afternoon at Seekonk Meadows

Spring afternoon at the Seekonk Meadows.

The final trick I use is multiple layers of neutral density filters and a small aperture to take very long exposures during the day. I have a 9-stop ND filter, which I can combine with my grad ND filters for up to 15 stops of ND. That allows 60-second exposures (or greater) during the day. Trees blowing in the breeze become painterly and clouds appear to race across the sky.

Springtime at the Slater Park Carousel.

Springtime at the Slater Park Carousel.

Even without any of those tricks, follow the same guidelines you would for golden hour landscape photography: Keep your horizon level, don’t blow the highlights, don’t crunch the shadows, and use a tripod for the sharpest images. I tend to underexpose my daytime shots and then boost the contrast and saturation during digital development. So get out there this afternoon and make some lemonade!

~ Bryan Bzdula

www.bryanbzdulaphotography.com

www.seekonkscenic.com

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Photographing History

The Beginnings of Our Country

Over the course of the New England Photography Guild’s existence we have showcased many of the beautiful attributes of this historic area in which we live. One of the things that makes this area so unique is its rich historic ties to the beginnings of our country. It was the first area settled. The embers that were fanned into a revolt against the English monarchy smoldered and then burst into flames in Boston and the neighboring towns of Lexington and Concord. You can still go to Buckman Tavern on Lexington Green and have a pint in the same tavern where the minutemen gathered that fateful morning on April 19, 1775.  Then you can walk out onto the green and imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with the minutemen as they waited for the British to arrive.

The bell in the historic Baptish Church, Warren RI, bears the name of it's creator and historical figure, Paul Revere.

Sitting in the belfry, high above Main St, Warren RI, the bell in the tower of the historic Baptist Church bears the name of its creator.

Rarely Photographed

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The belfry of the historic Baptist Church, Main St. Warren RI.

We have many historic buildings and areas of historic significance still preserved in New England. They are much photographed and are on anyone’s “must photograph” list when visiting here. This blog, however, concerns 2 pieces of American history that almost no person gets to see. They are rarely photographed and were fashioned at the hand of one of America’s most famous patriots.

That Fateful Night

On the night of April 19, 1775, a rider and his horse waited across the Charles River. Once the intent of the British troops in Boston was known, a lantern would be hung in the tower of the North Church.  One lantern would be hung if they were coming by land and two if by sea. When one lantern was hung, Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith, mounted his horse and started his ride through the hamlets from Boston to Lexington and Concord, rallying the farmers who stood against the British at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge.

An Honored Request

Recently I was contacted by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The 29th Statewide Historic Preservation Conference will be held in my home town of Warren, RI, on April 26, 2014. Five hundred people will descend upon Warren on that date for a full day of tours and lectures. Warren will get to showcase her history, her historic architecture and waterfront through a day-long series of walking tours and presentations. I was honored when I was asked by the state commission to lead the “Lens on Warren walking Photographic Workshop.”

When reviewing what we would do and photograph, one piece of history came up that would be impossible to include on the tour – the bell in the bell tower of the Baptist Church. The Warren Baptist Church is a significant piece of Warren and Rhode Island history. The Baptist Church was founded in 1764. The original church was burned by British troops in 1778 when they came to Warren looking for hidden rebel munitions. It took 6 years to erect another church.

Paul revere's handiwork

The Stamp of a patriot.

History Evolves

It was here that a school was started. It was originally called Rhode Island College. It moved from here to Newport and finally to Providence where it settled on what is now known as College Hill. It also changed its name — you now know it as Brown University. In 1800 the Baptist Church added a steeple. Once the steeple was added, they needed a bell. They contacted a Boston Silversmith to cast them a bell.

The bell bears the name of its creator – Paul Revere. Because of its inaccessibility and daunting climb, I was asked to photograph it. This way we could present pictures of the bell to the public so they could view it, if only in a photograph. It was pretty special to climb into the tower of a church I pass by just about every day, yet had never seen the bell even though I have lived here my entire life. It was a humbling experience to be alone in the tower, wind howling through the open louvers, staring at the name of Paul Revere in the inscription on the bell.

A Paul Revere creation.

Fashioned at the hand of patriot, Paul Revere, the baptismal font, North Church, Marblehead MA.

Fortunate Twice

This was not my first time photographing the work of one of our country’s most famous historical figures. In November of 2009 our grandson was baptized at the North Church in the historic waterfront district of Marblehead, MA. This historic church was founded in 1635 which makes it 378 years old. The baptismal font at the North Church is a beautiful hammered silver bowl. It bears an inscription of the donor, Dr. Samuel Lemmon, and engravings. Stamped in the bottom of the basin is the mark of the silversmith – “REVERE”. It is a stunning piece of silver work and, more importantly, a tangible connection to one of our country’s most cherished historical figures.

revere-13_edited-1

I know there are many historic places throughout our country. We, here in New England, are fortunate in that we get to interact with tangible artifacts from our storied past and, for a brief moment, lay our hands on objects that were fashioned by iconic figures from our very earliest days as a colony. In laying my hands on the bell and the baptismal font, it was like reaching across the centuries to Paul Revere to say thanks for having the foresight and courage to follow a dream that has led us to where we are today.

~ Butch Lombardi

East Bay Images

Fine Art Prints Gallery

 

Stacked Lenses – Part 2

Now that you’ve had time to mine your equipment for the right combination of lenses to stack and to purchase a male-male coupling ring (click here to see Part 1 of this blog), let’s head into the field to photograph some tiny subjects.

TRA-1-Round-Leaved-Sundew-Master

Round-leaved Sundew photographed in ambient light.

Tiny Subjects

While snowshoeing with my boys (two English Setters) recently, I noticed the springtails (aka snow fleas) on the late winter corn snow. Formerly considered insects, but now in their own class since, apparently having six legs isn’t enough to make you an insect any more than, say, orbiting the sun makes you a planet, these dark-bodied, minute, soil-dwelling arthropods average 4mm in length, or about 3x the thickness of your fingernail. They are more than small enough to field-test our stacked lens technique. Quite frankly, if you can manage to capture a sharp image of a springtail on your sensor using stacked lenses, you have truly mastered the technique because not only are springtails nearly microscopic, they don’t hold still. They like to hop, or “spring” about using the only spring-loaded appendage in the animal kingdom, a forked appendage called the furcula located on the underside of the body. 

INS-71-Snow-Flea-Showing-Furcula-Masters

Snow Flea Showing Furcula photographed with strobe lighting.

Technique

A sturdy tripod and a focusing rail are indispensable when using stacked lenses. The depth of field is only millimeters deep. To maintain maximum magnification, you must be able to bring your subject into rough focus WITHOUT adjusting the focal point of the lens, that is, without refocusing your lens. The only way to accomplish this is to move your camera closer to or farther from the subject in millimeter increments. You simply cannot do this by moving your tripod; you must use a focusing rail.

The front lens should be set to its closest focusing distance, and its widest aperture, the latter to allow maximal transmission of light. You can control the exposure and DOF using the aperture of the rear lens, as well as the ISO of course. I recommend using the smallest aperture possible to maintain maximum DOF. You’ll find that even at F22 or F32, it will be a challenge to get the entire subject, from antennae to the tip of the abdomen, into focus. Fine focus is achieved by focusing the rear lens.

INS-72-Snow-Flea-Pair-Master

Snow Fleas photographed with strobe lighting.

Finding the subject in the viewfinder – and keeping it there and in focus – is the hardest thing about stacked lens photography. In fact, I strongly advise those of you with short tempers, little patience, or no sense of humor, to avoid stacked lens photography altogether. With a 50mm on the front of a 200mm macro lens, your working distance, from the subject to the front lens, is less than an inch. Be prepared to poke your front lens into the snow, the mud, the sand, or water now and again. If you can do that and utter no more than a “drat,” you’re on your way to perfecting the technique. If you rage and curse and, Gaia forbid, start throwing your equipment, that should be an indication to you that your inability to use stacked lenses is not your biggest problem.

Lighting

Lighting the subject isn’t easy either. Because you’re right on top of it, you may find that you or your setup are unavoidably shading your subject so that, together with half a foot of lens tube between your subject and the sensor, your exposure may take too long. When using stacked lenses, I usually light my subjects with two small, dedicated strobes positioned opposite of one another just behind the rim of the front lens.

Red Velvet Mite photographed with strobe lighting.

Red Velvet Mite photographed with strobe lighting.

At such an extreme magnification and limited DOF, camera shake, even on a good tripod, is significant. Be sure to use all the tricks in the book to steady your equipment – bean bag on the hook of the center post, cable release, mirror lockup, etc.

Field ant tending aphids

Field ant tending aphids photographed with strobe lighting and diffusing tent.

Many of us don’t have the resources to travel to Madagascar or Australia to photograph exotic subjects. Don’t despair, there’s a cosmos of tiny, extraordinary subjects very near at hand for us to photograph, provided one has the gumption – and a good pair of knee pads – to find them in our viewfinders.

See you in the field!

~ Gustav

www.SojournsInNature.com

 

The Mystery of Madame Sherri’s Castle

The Mystery!

Madame Sherri's Spiral staircase to nowhere

Madame Sherri’s Spiral staircase to nowhere

I first heard the stories after I had been living in my quiet little town of Chesterfield, New Hampshire, for over 15 years. People spoke of a forest castle that had a vaguely infamous history, revolving around a mysterious character named Madame Antoinette Sherri. I first came across the castle ruins a few years later when I was looking for a trail that I had been told led to an isolated mountain pond. I eventually found the beautiful and pristine Indian Pond, but on my first exploration, I wandered right rather than left and stumbled on the “Castle.”

 

Madame Sherri’s retreat in the woods was never a castle, but by all reports, it was an elegantly proportioned house designed for comfort and, most importantly, entertainment. It was most notable for the grand spiral stone staircase which ascended to the second floor and it is this sturdy architectural detail which remains the one proud reminder of the castle’s former glory.

The Story

Over the years I learned pieces of the story behind Madame Sherri and her castle. I am especially indebted for the exhaustive research done by fellow Chesterfield Conservation

Madame Sherri

Madame Antoinette Sherri

Commission member Lynne Borofsky. Lynne has uncovered answers to many of the questions surrounding the Madame’s life and she has corrected many misconceptions and rumors which have clouded the true story. Madame Sherri was born Antoinette Bramare in France in 1878. She took the name Antonia De Lilas for her career as a Parisian music hall singer. It was there that she met Andre Riela, the son of an Italian diplomat. Andre was an acting student in Paris and had performed in silent movies, but other stories suggest that he may have had a more shady criminal past. Antoinette apparently enchanted the young man who was many years her junior, and they married in Puerto Rico before moving to New York City in 1911. Soon after arriving in America the couple changed their names to Andre and Antoinette Sherri and began designing elaborate theatrical costumes for the Zeigfeld Follies and many of the other major Broadway shows of the era. Their “House of Sherri” gained success with a number of innovations for the ornate costumes of the time. Sadly, Andre went blind and died in 1927 possibly of complications of syphilis or the toxicity of prohibition era bath-tub gin, but his early death did not seem to slow the Madame down. Early in her career Antoinette hired Charles Lamaire, a young impoverished vaudeville performer, who became her assistant.  Later Lamaire became a renowned Hollywood costume designer, winning four Academy Awards for film such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and  “All About Eve.” Lamaire never forgot his teacher and appears to have financially supported Madame Sherri throughout her life.

The Castle

While visiting friends who summered in Chesterfield, Antoinette fell in love with the forest onMadame Sherri's Castle in the Forest Gulf Road. In 1931 she built her “Castle,” a summer retreat, in these woods. Antoinette apparently drove her builders to distraction with frequent changes in design and floor plan, but the final product was truly a physical  manifestation of her unique theatrical vision. As described by Lynne Borofsky, “It was a theatrical French chateau of New Hampshire stone, wreathed in Roman arches and crowned with a chalet roof. An imposing stone staircase—grand enough for a Follies stage set  … had stone flower boxes with red and white flowers earning the name “Primrose Path”. The main stairs, cut into the rock ledge, leading to a massive RED front door.”  The indoor bar area even had a tree growing up through the roof. The few images that remain of the castle in its glory suggest a comfortable retreat fitted naturally into its rustic surroundings.

Castle Back,

 

 The Legend

Madame Sherri knew Hats

Madame Sherri knew Hats

Antoinette became famous (or infamous) for the parties she threw for visitors from the city. She was said to have greeted her guests from the top of the castle’s spiral staircase or sitting regally upon her ornate throne, dressed magnificently in costumes from her Broadway shows. There was much speculation about the goings-on at the castle, including rumors that Antoinette may have supplemented her income as a Madame in a more literal sense, inviting beautiful young girls and handsome men from the city to augment the festivities. Regardless of the rumors it does seem that a good time was had by everyone. All that her neighbors could conclusively know came from Madame Sherri’s travels around the community. She was said to have been driven about the town during the summer, in her custom cream-colored Packard, chauffeured by a handsome young man, a pet monkey on her shoulder, and wearing nothing but a fur coat. It is little known that Antoinette actually did not live

Madame Sherri at Indian Pond, Chesterfield, NH

Madame Sherri at Indian Pond, Chesterfield, NH

in the castle. That palace was for entertainment. She actually lived in a modest and rather run-down old farmhouse in another corner of the property. She was certainly eccentric and the more scandalous she was the more she was loved by the community. Madame Sherri died in poverty, a ward of the town of Brattleboro, in 1965 at the age of 84, but for many years prior, the castle had fallen to neglect and vandalism. On October 18, 1962, it was destroyed by fire, leaving only the foundation and that remarkably incongruous staircase.

Madame's 1927 Cream Colored Packard

Madame’s 1927 Cream Colored Packard

 

Avoid Climbing the Stairs

For many years, the castle has been a popular local attraction, especially since the Chesterfield Conservation Commission improved and promoted the trails in the surrounding 488 acres of the Madame Sherri Forest. The site is easily accessible and has been the location for many activities including picnics, photo shoots, weddings and recently a motion picture, “Northern Borders” directed  by Jay Craven. The arches have been a favorite location for group portraits, but the years have taken their toll. As can be seen in this image, serious shifting is visible in the stone work of the arches, so please resist the urge to climb the stairs.  We don’t want to see them collapse any sooner than nature dictates. There has been something of a cult that has grown up around Madame Sherri’s Castle. Visitors report a sense of presence at the site, hearing the distant sounds of gay music or flashes of what they are convinced must be Antoinette’s restless spirit trying to welcome one more guest to the party. I’ve never heard the voices, but learning about Antoinette’s unusual life has given me a richer sense of place as I move about the remains of her former glory.

Most folks in town are aware of the basic outline of Madame Sherri’s history, but recently I’ve come to know the grand Madame more personally, and it all came about through pictures. In her research, in partnership with the Chesterfield Historical Society, Lynne Borofsky, has been assembling materials for a presentation of Madame Sherri’s unusual story and this has included access to a remarkable collection of Antoinette’s personal photographs.

The Pictures

Madame Dressed for the Ball, 1920's

Madame Dressed for the Ball, 1920′s

Lynne asked me to work on the restoration of the collection of images that chronicle important parts of Madame Sherri’s life. I spent several nights scanning and then repairing scratches, stains and spots on over 20 of the more important images dating from the turn of the century to the 1960s. I discussed the process of antique photograph restoration in last week’s article on my personal blog. Image restoration requires close, careful inspection of the pictures and in the process I found myself searching the faces and the eyes of the Madame, and those around her, and discovered a more intimate and personal understanding of who she was. It must be said that Madame Antoinette Sherri was not an especially attractive woman, but she somehow managed to live a remarkably full life within a circle of talented and interesting people. She must have possessed remarkable energy and after studying pictures of her, bedecked in layers of finery, it must be acknowledged that she had a fearless fashion sense.

I always love visiting the ruins, but for me it is the photographs that provide a connection to the mystery of past lives. For more pictures check out the companion photo album on my Getting it Right in the Digital Camera blog.

A visit to the Castle is always worth the trip and should include exploration of the great trails which have their origin from the Madame Sherri lot on Gulf Road. More information and directions can be found on the Madame Sherri Forest page of the Chesterfield Conservation Commission web site. Enjoy Madame’s spiral staircase, but, once again, please don’t climb the stairs. Over the years the arches have shifted and appear to be in danger of collapsing with any additional weight.

Primrose Path then and now.

Then and Now

~ Jeffrey Newcomer

Partridge Brook Reflections

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