Category Archives: Blue Hour

Patience, Flexibility and the NE Landscape Photographer

New Hampshire has the shortest coastline of any U.S. state. I decided to try to shoot a compelling image for every mile. It’s a great project. In 18 miles (sometimes say as low as 14) we have jettys, inlets, harbors, rocky coastlines, sandy beaches, boardwalks and more. After some bargaining at home, I got a half-day pass to go shoot the project last Saturday. What could be better than free time to go shoot on the coast? I was psyched.

Jenness Beach Blue Hour

Jenness Beach Blue Hour

Online, the weather looked good for my adventure. Saturday morning rolled around and the sky at home in Henniker (an hour inland) was wonderful – blue, lots of wispy clouds – good daytime shooting conditions for landscapes. As I drove to the beach my heart sunk as slowly all clouds disappeared and the sky turned a mid-summers bland, overcast grey.

I planned to begin shooting at Hampton Beach State Park at the southern border of the state and work my way north. Arriving at the park I was less than excited to find it overcrowded, the sky boring and bland, and the ocean almost totally flat. Not good conditions at all for my cool project. I knew I would need interesting skies and a nice swell to really make the project sing. After a few minutes debate I decided to shelve my 18-mile plan for the day, wander the coast attentively, and see if I could wander into some good conditions and images.

Driving north I passed through the Hampton Beach boardwalk area – usually a fun place to shoot street and people images . . . but I was just not in the mood. I wanted something of the sea. Driving along The Wall in Hampton I noticed a group of surfers hanging out at 12th Street. The ocean was almost totally flat 2 miles down the road, but this stretch of beach is known for its ability to amplify the tiniest swell. I pulled over to check it out.

Longboarder with dreadlocks surfs small wave

Longboarder with dreadlocks surfs small wave

Score. A small but clean long-period swell was filling in. Several long boarders were just getting in the water as I wandered down to the beach. Hey, these guys (and one gal) were good. Very good. Some of the most stylish log riders I’ve ever seen on east coast. They were walking to the front of the board and hanging five and ten toes off the nose. It was a pleasure to watch them ride, and a relief to find something fun to shoot.

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

Surfer on a longboard hangs five, then 10!

After an hour or so it was time to move on. It was close to six pm and I wanted some food. The Beach Plum was just up the road. They are known for a killer lobster roll, and I had to stop for a while. Yum. Next, I headed north and try to find a good location to shoot sunset.

A delicious lobster roll from coastal NH

A delicious lobster roll from coastal NH

The sky was still cloudless and bland, but I hoped to catch something before heading back home. I drove past Rye on the Rocks and through a crowded Jenness Beach parking lot.  I wandered north almost to Wallis Sands, then noticed the sun was getting low. I turned back south and stopped for a few minutes at Rye Harbor. I was amazed how low the water was. Low tide was still an hour away, timed almost exactly with sunset. I shot a couple frames but was not excited about the spot.

A dingy in Rye Harbor

A dingy in Rye Harbor

A sunstar shines over the breakwater in Rye Harbor

A sunstar shines over the breakwater in Rye Harbor

I had to make a decision where to set up for sunset. Then I remembered Jenness has a great grouping of zen-pool-like rocks that only show up at low tide. The sky was starting to show a little color as I pulled back in to a now-empty Jenness Beach parking lot. The sun had passed below the tree line, but the sky was turning a beautiful pink. The wet low-tide sand was reflecting all that color. I grabbed my bag and tripod and headed for the waterline.

I spent the next hour shooting this beautiful rock garden and ocean as all light slowly left the sky. In the end, with some patience and flexibility I found what I was looking for – some great images, shot at a beautiful beach, and the quiet time to enjoy making them – and even squeaked out a blog post too. Enjoy!

Jenness Beach blue hour images

Jenness Beach blue hour images

Jenness Beach Blue Hour

Jenness Beach Blue Hour

Jenness Beach blue hour images

Jenness Beach blue hour images

Jenness Beach Blue Hour

Jenness Beach Blue Hour

~Scott Snyder
My Guild Gallery

Also posted in Artistic Vision, Beach Photography, Landscape, New Hampshire, New Hampshire, Scenic New England, Seascapes, Summer Tagged , |

Winter Nights, Winter Lights: Holiday Season Photography

New England Village Winter Scene

Blue lights on the common, Templeton, MA


With another autumn in the books and winter fast approaching, the upcoming holiday season offers a wealth of photo opportunities with a distinct New England character. The region’s many town commons, village greens, and other attractions such as lighthouses, covered bridges, and other historic sites are ideal subjects, especially when adorned with distinctive displays and lighting. The possibilities are often as close as your own town center. From a marketing perspective, these images are often popular with local businesses and residents.

Blue Hour

Winter moon over Nubble Lighthouse

Full moon rising over a festive Nubble Lighthouse.Blue Hour

My favorite time of day to photograph these scenes is the twilight ‘blue hour.’ At this time the dark blue or lavender sky offers an ideal backdrop for scenes with snow and light displays. One benefit to shooting at dusk is that this lighting is reliable regardless of the weather, whether it’s clear or dull overcast. Though the period from sunset to full darkness lasts roughly an hour, the window for prime conditions at a given scene generally lasts just a few minutes. As is the case when shooting in all low-light situations, be aware that the image on your camera display will often look brighter than the actual image. For this reason it’s best to start early, shoot throughout dusk, then pick the best in post-processing.


Winter evening at Jaffrey Meetinghouse

Historic Jaffrey Meetinghouse and Mount MonadnockComposition


When composing the image, look carefully for unwanted elements such as power lines, traffic, and street lights. Sometimes the latter can add to an image, but at other times they may be distracting highlights. In many instances you can creatively compose your image and use foreground subjects such as a bandstand or trees to block lights or wires. Exposure times obviously increase as the light decreases, and if traffic and headlights are an issue you may have to carefully time when you trip the shutter or increase the ISO for a shorter exposure.


Smith College Winter Evening

Paradise Pond and falls on the Mill River, Northampton, MA.

Snow Scenes

The best time for shooting these scenes is as soon as possible after a snow storm, when the pristine snow offers a clean image. As we all know snowfall varies considerably throughout New England around the holiday season, and there are no guarantees what conditions will be. If there isn’t any snow, zoom in on the displays or head north – chances are there will be snow somewhere in New England!

~ John Burk


John Burk is a photographer and author of books and guides related to New England. See his Amazon page for more information. 
Visit his John Burk gallery
Visit his website for current images

Also posted in Christmas in New England, Christmas Lights, Historic Landmarks, Landscape, Lighthouse, Night Photography, Photo Techniques, Scenic New England, Winter Photography Tagged , , , , , , , |

Fall Foliage: Think Outside The Box

This time of year in New England is what most photographers live for. The trees in reds, yellows, oranges and combinations of the three combined with waterfalls, ponds, barns, churches and mountains. Classic New England imagery that turns northern New England into a seasonal mecca for leaf peepers. While these images are classic and iconic and I have many in my portfolio, in my opinion, they tend to become routine.

So how does one take something so monumentally iconic as New England fall foliage and put a new spin on it? It’s something I’ve been toying around with for a few seasons and I’ll gladly share some tips with you.


By far the easiest spin on foliage is the abstract. It can be as simple as using a long lens and zooming in tightly to a cluster of trees on a mountainside instead of going wide and capturing the whole scene. A classic fall abstract is to simply shoot the reflection of the foliage in moving water. It’s timeless, and when done right, can sell for a million bucks like the famous Peter Lik photo “One”. To get a true abstract, try using intentional camera movement. Focus on part of a tree, set your shutter speed slow enough that you can zoom in while the shutter is open. Try panning side to side or up and down while the shutter is open, or get really creative and twist the camera while exposing. It’s generally hit or miss, but when it’s a hit you can walk away with a really amazing and unique image. The following images are examples of some of these techniques.

2012-10-21-Hunts Mill - Gammino-175-13.jpg2011-10-11-White Mountains-054-179.jpg2011-10-11-White Mountains-054-185.jpg2011-10-11-White Mountains-054-221.jpg2011-11-06-Backyard Fall-062-47.jpg2013 White Mountains20131005-45.jpgTurner and Meadows20131022-37-Edit.jpg

Long Exposures

Try using a 9 or 10 stop ND filter, or stack a 2 and 3 stop ND to get a long exposure during daylight. This can have a really dramatic effect when combined with water and moving clouds. I have used both my 9 stop and two 3 stop filters in the late afternoon to get 90-second exposures of foliage reflecting into a pond with clouds that appear to be racing by.

2010-10-14 Turner Reservoir_0022.jpg2010-10-22 Turner Reservoir_0013.jpg

Seascape Foliage

There is foliage along the coast that turns color in the fall. Most people either forget that or are unaware. Beach roses in particular, turn very vibrant orange, red and yellow in autumn. The grasses and reeds that grow along salt water marshes also turn golden in the fall. These can be used to create some dramatically different fall foliage images.

Gooseberry Sunset20131110-Edit.jpg

Man Made

Many of the iconic fall images include something man made, like a barn or church. Step it up a notch and include city streets, or an old factory. An abandoned car in the woods would make an excellent subject when surrounded by bright fall foliage. Instead of focusing on the barn and silo, find the tractor or baler and compose it with the foliage.


Close Up and Depth of Field

You could use a macro lens or extension tubes and zoom in really close to backlit leaves. Or zoom in tight with a small aperture and shoot at the sun to get a star burst behind a leaf. Sometimes a little fill flash helps with this. You could use a wider angle lens but open up to as wide as you can and focus on some foreground leaves. This would leave (no pun intended) the background soft and out of focus. This would even work with an iconic shot of a white church blurred in the background. Another option I’ll add in here is a Lensbaby. If you have one, try it out on foliage landscapes. You might end up with something really amazing.

2008-10-26 Slater Park_0025.jpg2010-10-12 Meadows_0034_5_6_tonemapped.jpg2010-10-9 Meadows and Waterfire_0030.jpg2012-10-07-Hunts - Burrs-167-5.jpg

Fall Flowers

Instead of focusing on the trees, turn your camera to the variety of fall flowers and berries that appear in October. Put the trees in the background, and you can have some really great images.


Blue Hour and Night Images

Fall foliage looks its best in good light, but how about moon light? Get out to one of your favorite spots after the sun has gone down and take a few shots. This will look especially good if there is some moonlight. The blue hour, or twilight, also can also make some great images. Light painting would also yield a unique image, especially if you would like to include stars or the Milky Way in your image. Taking a foliage shot at night in an urban setting will let you get artificial light on the foliage and possibly turn the points of light into starbursts by using a small aperture. Shooting in low light conditions like these can be tricky to get proper exposure, so bracketing and combining your images in post may be a good solution. I have to admit that I haven’t personally tried shooting foliage at night yet, but I will have by the time this foliage season is over. I do have this example taken about 20 minutes after sunset as the blue hour was beginning.

2010-10-17 Luthers Pond_0008_09_10_11_12_tonemapped.jpg

In closing, this fall, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your foliage images.

~ Bryan Bzdula



Fine Art America






Also posted in Autumn, Camera Equipment, Creativity, Fall Foliage, Landscape, Photo Techniques, Scenic New England, Technique Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

20 Ocean Sunrise Shooting Tips

This gallery of photos were shot over a 2-hour stretch on August 15 beginning at 5:15 am and finishing around 7:30 am.

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Below are 20 quick sunrise ocean shooting tips. None is ground breaking, but they are a good summary of the common sense, and not so common sense, tips and hints I’ve gathered in my years shooting ocean seascapes.

  1. Pick Your Location ahead of time. You will be arriving in the dark. Especially on the potentially slippery and rocky New England coasts it is important to have a good idea where you will be shooting, and its geography, before you get there.
  2. Check the Weather! Then check it again just before bed. Nothing is a bigger bummer than driving 1.5 hours in the middle of the night only to find a totally bland sunrise . . . or torrential rain, or socked in with fog. Well, fog is fun ;->
  3. Even more important than weather is the Tide. Check local tide charts. I have places I shoot only at high tide. Or low tide. Or receding tides. All images in this post were shot over a 2.5 hour period beginning 2 hours after high tide. Even beginning 2 hours after high tide I was walking directly against the Ogunquit Rivermouth seawall at the beginning of the shoot. And 2.5 hours later was maybe 200 yards seaward. New England beaches have dramatic tides!
  4. Even more important than weather and tides in determining where I’ll shoot is the Swell. Check local boating and surf forecasts for current and upcoming swell information. More than almost anything, the size of swell determines where I will choose to shoot. Big swell = big fun!
  5. Pack the night before. I live 1.5 hours inland. If I shoot a coastal sunrise during most of the summer I am leaving home around 3:30am. Packing the night before is an absolute necessity for me to leave (nearly) on time.
  6. Coffee. Lots of it. Enough said.
  7. Arrive Early. Really Early! Really, really early. I try to arrive where I will shoot at least an hour before sunrise. More if I have any hike in to the location. Already, an hour before sunrise, unless cloud cover is extremely heavy, or there is a thick layer of fog, you will begin to get the early morning blues.
  8. Bring a flashlight or headlamp! If you don’t bring it, you will need it. My favorites these days are the tiny Petzl Tikkas. They are small enough that one lives in my bag at all times.
  9. Use a tripod! Always. Always. Okay, unless shooting pan blurs. But I use a tripod shooting pan blurs too.
  10. Use a shutter release cable or a self-timer. And mirror lockup or shoot using Live View. Don’t know what mirror lock up is? Here’s a little article:
  11. Bring multiple lenses! If you got ’em, use ’em. This morning I used a 14mm, a 17-40, a 70-200, and an 85 prime. By far the most used was my go-to 17-40. But all lenses got some good use.
  12. Filters! I love filters, and always have a few with me. A CPL is always mounted on my wide angle. At the break of dawn it is not very useful, but within an hour it is. I also travel with several solid and graduated NDs. For solid NDs I regularly use a 2-stop, a 4-stop, and a ten-stop depending on the effect I want to create – anything from slightly blurring moving water with the 2-stop to dramatically blurring moving water and clouds with a ten-stop.
  13.  Bring rain gear! Even on mornings with no predicted precipitation a short dawn downpour is not unusual. My camera bag has a ‘raincoat’ tucked in a bottom pocket, and I often carry a small umbrella out shooting.
  14. Experiment with shutter speeds. Find compositions that include moving water then experiment with different shutter speeds. A fast shutter speed will freeze moving water and dramatically highlight big splashing waves. A slow shutter speed will blur and soften moving water and clouds. Changes of even a quarter second can give radically different results.
  15. Look behind you! It is very easy to get sucked in to a sunrise and forget to look around. Look around. It is worth it.
  16. Stay longer than you would expect. If there are any clouds in the sky the drama of a good sunrise can go on for hours. On my last sunrise shoot I shot from 5:00am (with a 6:10 sunrise) until almost 8:00 am. Every 15 minutes had dramatically different and exciting light.
  17. Don’t be afraid to include people in your shots. As landscape shooters we most often try to exclude people from our photos. Fishermen and beachcombers can add interest to our images.
  18. As the sun gets higher in the sky look for reflections. I love shooting beaches with an outgoing tide around an hour after sunrise. Tidal pools light up with gorgeous reflections!
  19. Don’t forget the macro. I always forget the macro on beach shoots. And I’m always sorry. Intimate landscapes and rockscapes are some of my favorite images.
  20. Breakfast! A delicious breakfast after several hours shooting is superb! Especially if you can talk another dawn shooter into paying. Anybody want to go shoot?

I hope you find these tips helpful. Get out and shoot!

~ Scott Snyder



Also posted in Beach Photography, How-to, Maine, sunrise Tagged , , , , , , , |

Filter Play For A Cold Winter’s Day

Winter In New England

It’s been an interesting winter here in New England thus far. We’ve certainly seen an extreme range of temperatures, not to mention some “wicked” ice storms and a recent Nor’easter blizzard.

During this time of year, many of my fellow photographer friends love to grab their camera equipment and venture out to face the elements head on. I wish I could say that I was one of those adventurous photographers, but alas my thin blood and extremely low tolerance to the cold has me instead living vicariously through them.

While I’ve added many new “To Buy” items to my “Winter Photography Clothing Gear List,” in reality I spend most cold winter days indoors staying warm and exploring my creative side through a variety of post-production filters and techniques. I will touch on a few of my favorite post-production filters here today.

I Know I’m Not Alone…

I suspect I’m not the only photographer who tends to avoid the possibility of frozen fingers — and exposing my equipment to ice, snow, and sub-zero temps. So for those of you with simpatico minds — and I know there are more than just a few of us — this article might give you a few new ideas on how to reinvent an existing image, or perhaps take your post-production process in a new direction altogether.

So let’s get to some of those favorite post-production filters of mine…

Poster Edges

Photoshop comes equipped with several built-in filters. Poster Edges is one of them. You can easily access it from the Filter pull-down menu at the top of your screen. (Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges). The filter’s image adjustment sliders then let you alter such things as Edge Thickness, Edge Intensity, and Posterization to your preference for that image.

For this image, I took a macro shot of a coneflower. I then added a texture layer for a fine art effect. For a final step, I applied the Poster Edges filter to give the image a contemporary look.


Coneflower with texture layer and Poster Edges filter applied.

Oil Paint Filter

Another favorite Photoshop filter of mine is the Oil Paint Filter. This filter comes packaged with Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC. The Oil Paint effect also shipped as a free Pixel Bender Gallery plugin for Photoshop CS5.

Note: Variations of an oil paint effect are also available as third-party PS plugins from software makers such as Topaz Labs.


My beloved Mia. Pixel Bender Oil Paint Filter applied.

“Less Is More”

To what degree one applies the Oil Paint Filter to an image very much depends on personal taste. I’m a big proponent of “less is more” when it comes to using this filter. Being conservative with the adjustment sliders gives the image a far more realistic oil painting look in my opinion. However, there are no “rules” to creativity. Surrealism certainly has its place, so by all means feel free to experiment and turn reality into something as abstract as your imagination envisions.

Annisquam Lighthouse Oil Paint Filter

Annisquam Lighthouse with PS CC Oil Paint Filter applied.



Motif #1 with PS CC Oil Paint Filter applied.

Flaming Pear Flood Filter

I love the Flood Filter by Flaming Pear. You can use it to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, or to give added dimension to a visual story.

In this shot, I used it to add a dramatic — and somewhat surreal — effect to one of my HDR Battleship Cove images taken in Fall River, Massachusetts. The adjustment sliders for this filter give you great latitude for “flood placement” and water detail manipulation.


Battleship Cove Reflection with Flaming Pear Flood filter applied.

Topaz Star Effects

Who doesn’t like adding a little pizzazz to images that already feature an illuminated light? I certainly thought this sunrise shot of Maine’s Portland Head Light deserved such a treatment — and Topaz Star Effects made it possible. Again, I believe in the “less is more” approach. The “blue hour” of morning was beautiful in and of itself. Adding a subtle star effect to the beacon seemed like a nature fit to accentuate the beauty of the moment.


Portland Head Lighthouse at sunrise with Topaz Star Effects applied.

Experimental Fun!

So there you have it. Several examples of the different type of post-production filters you can play with on a cold winter’s day.

As you know, it’s only mid January. We still have a couple of months of this New England winter to go. Since we can’t change it, I say let’s embrace the opportunities it offers.

For some that means bundling up and dazzling the rest of us with spectacular winter images. For the rest of us, it means having fun — and staying warm — at our computers while we enjoy some post-production experimentation.


Macro image of a sunflower transformed into a kaleidoscope. PS CS5 Pixel Bender Oil Paint filter then selectively applied to the background.

However you choose to survive this winter’s cold weather, enjoy!

~ Liz Mackney

My Website

My NEPG Gallery

My Fine Art America Gallery

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Also posted in Cape Ann, Creative Processing, Filters, Flowers, Lighthouse, Maine, Massachusetts, Reference Info, Sunrise /Sunset, Technique Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |