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Atmosphere – Sights and Sounds
There are few things as awe-inspiring as observing the night sky and so few people ever get to see it. I’ve always been a “night owl” – I can remember sneaking out of the back door of my home as a teenager on warm summer nights to go sit somewhere in my neighborhood to enjoy the sights and sounds of the night. In the past year or so I’ve become increasingly interested in taking my love of the night to another level: capturing it on camera. This short essay covers a few of the reasons why I shoot at night, not how: for advice on camera settings and methods for how to shoot in the dark I recommend folks check out Michael Blanchette’s great 3-part blog posts from last March, June and September. And while you’re at it read Jim Salge’s excellent write-up on viewing the Northern Lights from last August.
The atmosphere of the night, the sights and sounds, are so very contrary from normal daytime hours that it is literally a different world – I know it seems trite to try to explain it but it is a radical world of diffused light, excessive shadows and noises that you will simply never see or hear when the sun is up.
Sights – Keep Your Eyes Open
I live in central Maine and I have been fortunate enough to have seen the Aurora Borealis twice in the past few months. I will never forget when I saw the Northern Lights for the first time: at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol, Maine. I went out that night specifically to shoot the Milky Way with the lighthouse in the foreground but I had also heard on the news that the chance for seeing the aurora that night was decent. It was a perfectly clear albeit cold night in March – St. Patrick’s Day morning. I was aiming my camera towards the ocean and clicking away, listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the rugged coastline when something made me turn around (always look behind you when shooting!) and there, behind me was an incredible scene of shimmering light green and magenta colors dancing in the sky. I had never seen the aurora before. I quickly turned my camera around and began shooting the Northern Lights for the first time. I became giddy and a bit nervous that I was actually capturing such a fantastic light show in the middle of the night – but I quickly calmed down and the pragmatic part of my brain took over: check my camera settings, trust my instincts, and keep shooting.
I simply could not believe the colors revealed on the LCD screen on my camera: pinks, reds and magentas that I had never seen in the natural world at night. I ran around for a half an hour capturing different vantage points as the sunrise twilight hour began taking over the sky; within minutes the colors were disappearing along with the stars, the Milky Way, and the fantastic gift that Mother Nature had allowed me to witness. As the sun was piercing the horizon just after 6 AM, six or eight other photographers arrived, setting up their tripods and grabbing gear out of their backpacks. They were all standing in a straight line, shooting towards the sunrise over the ocean, when I started walking towards them. They all looked genuinely surprised that they weren’t the first folks to be there shooting the morning’s activities. A few of them asked me how long I had been there and I simply showed them the LCD screen on my camera. I told them I had been shooting the night sky for the past 4 hours and they all began shouting about how they had missed a (perhaps) once-in-a-lifetime scene because they showed up late to the party. The possibility of seeing the aurora had been well publicized in the local news but none of these folks had heeded the advice.
Sounds – Keep Your Ears Open
The second time I witnessed the aurora was last week, during the morning of May 18. Again the possibility of seeing the aurora was publicized, albeit this time in smaller, specific astronomy circles – and a good friend of mine called me and said, “Go out tonight and capture it man!” So I drove out to a local body of water hoping that the reflections would be impressive and after taking some frantic test shots and realizing that yes, indeed, there was a geomagnetic storm happening, I picked a vantage point I liked: on the train tracks that run along the Western edge of Unity Pond, Maine. Keeping my foreground elements in mind (train tracks, a single tree, the pond itself) and aiming my camera directly North, I set my in-camera intervalometer to shoot 30 second exposures for the next 40 minutes or so. Again, Mother Nature did not disappoint. The wind was calm and although the cloud cover was thick it was also sporadic so I was able to capture some awe-inspiring images of the atmospheric dancing of lights. They were more green and purple this time, the way I’ve always seen them depicted in photos – it was a gorgeous and awesome sight that literally thrust me into the throe of wonder yet again.
But the thing that sticks in my mind the most about that night is surprisingly not the visual light show going on in front of me – it is the sounds I heard; to my right was the quiet, glass-like water’s edge of the pond. But to my left was a bog that was roaring with the creatures of the night – frogs. I smiled at the sounds of the high-pitched, constant chirp of peepers and the occasional load burp of a bullfrog or two. And then I heard something I’ve never heard before – the sound of an amphibian playing the jug. I know it was just a huge frog singing out into the night, perhaps trying to impress the local ladies, but it sounded like he was on someone’s front-porch playing the jug in an impromptu band. He would do his thing for 10 seconds or so and then be quiet for 3 or 4 minutes, long enough for me to forget he was there … and then he’d catch his breath and blow it out for another 10 seconds. And it was almost as awe-inspiring as the aurora – something I had never sensed before, whether it be with my eyes or my ears.
These are just a few experiences I’ve had while out shooting at night that have opened up my world to something new: these existential awakenings and empirical awareness that have sparked my inner child to marvel at the world again. There is so much to see, so much to hear, so much to enjoy during the dark hours of each day – the moon, the stars, the Milky Way, the occasional meteor, the quiet calm and the sounds of the night. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a rarely seen natural light show as well! I urge everyone reading this to spend more time looking up into the night sky, it is a beautiful and magical sight that too few people ever enjoy. And while you’re out there, make sure you take a camera because you never know what you might see – and always take a second to look behind you! There may be something there that you’ve never seen before.
Text & images by Mike Taylor - Taylor Photography
Recently, on our Facebook page, one of the fans posted a question. It was worded something like this: “I desperately want to photograph owls. I have very limited time and live in Boston. Where can I go to photograph owls?”
The person writing the post already had these 3 strikes against them:
1: Owls. They are among the most difficult birds to find.
2: Limited time. This equals almost a 0% chance of finding any kind of wildlife, much less owls.
3: Living in a metro area. This is not conducive to finding owls in the wild.
Keys to Success
To be successful at any kind of wildlife photography you need 3 basic things:
1. Knowledge of your subject.
2. TIME to spend in the field.
3. Finding habitats that support the type of wildlife you’re looking for.
To that end I’ve decided to recount a typical safari I went on to get Bald Eagle pictures. If you think this is over the top I’m sure most of the Guild members who shoot wildlife will confirm that it’s what you have to do to be successful.
For 20 years now, on the weekend after Labor Day, I have been playing in a golf tournament in Maine. One of the birds of prey that I wanted better pictures of was the Bald Eagle. Here in Southern New England they are scarce. I did research and found that one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles is in the Lake Umbagog region in northern New Hampshire-Maine. I got out maps, researched Google map and satellite images, and decided where I was going.
I tacked 3 days on the front end of the golf trip and packed golf gear, photography gear, and kayak gear in my pickup and hit the road. I drove from Rhode Island, up through western Maine, through Grafton Notch to Errol, NH. I had talked my sister Judy, also a photographer in VT, into meeting me there. I got to Errol in the late afternoon. I couldn’t call her because I had lost cell service 50 miles back in Maine. I drove to the Androscoggin River where we planned on putting in. There was the familiar Toyota with VT plates and kayak — Judy was at the river. We scouted the river and planned our launch at first light.
Morning dawned clear but with heavy fog over the river. The date was Sept. 6, the temperature was 31 degrees. We drove the short distance to the river and prepared to launch. It was here that we met Fred. Fred lived in Errol and fished the river almost daily. We questioned Fred on where the eagles were, what we could expect, etc. His local knowledge proved invaluable in planning our day.
Where the Eagles Live
We kayaked up the Androscoggin, taking our time, looking for moose, eagles, and loons. When we reached the headwaters there was Fred, casting for bass at the mouth of the river. Sitting in a tall pine was a bald eagle. We photographed him from the kayaks, taking our time, lining up the shot to take advantage of the light. At some point the eagle swooped over the river and landed in another tree. We started to paddle across the river, anxious to get more pictures. As we passed Fred he said, “Don’t hurry. He’s not going anywhere because he wants this.” Fred then proceeded to lift a nice bass out of the water. He told us to take our time – he’d hold the fish until we got our shots. “I’d give it to him, but it’s a bass,” he said. “I’d give him a pickerel, but I won’t give him a bass.”
Striking a Pose
Eventually he released the bass and the eagle flew back across the river. It was here that he did something that gave us a shot that I haven’t seen in anyone else’s pictures — he posed. He struck the pose that you see on the back of every quarter — wings spread; looking regal. He held it for so long his wings drooped and he finally folded them in and flew off. We spent a total of about 6 hours in the kayaks that day. In the evening we went looking for moose without any luck.
One more Shot
The next morning, before I left, I took one more ride up Rt. 16 looking for moose. I found a spot on the Magalloway River with the morning fog accenting the sunrise. I stopped and took some shots. One of the pictures I took that morning took top honors in a juried art show the following summer.
I drove the long trip back to Sebago Lake and Frye Island for the start of the golf tournament. I switched from photography and kayak gear to golf spikes and clubs. By the time I got back home I had been gone for a week, had logged over 600 miles on the truck, kayaked the beginning of the Androscoggin River and Lake Umbagog, photographed eagles, and took a picture that would win an award. So the next time you see a wildlife shot that really grabs you, you can bet that the photographer, like me, went the extra mile — or two.
~ Butch Lombardi
Shooting, Enhancing, and Sharing right from your iPhone
In my last article I talked about the iPhone apps I use for planning the photographs I make with my “real” camera. In this article I’m going to be talking about a few of the apps I use to shoot, edit, and share, all from my iPhone.
Currently I use the iPhone 4S, and the 8mp camera is amazing. With this camera, I’m able to make some very good photographs, edit them with several different apps, and then share them via email, Facebook, Twitter, and with Camera Awesome, directly to my Smugmug site. What more could you ask for out of a camera that you always have with you?
Always ready to share the precious moments
I always have my iPhone with me, so when the opportunity to capture a great moment — like this father-daughter shadow of my daughter and I, both with our iPhones — I’m ready to not only capture the moment, but to have a little fun enhancing it, and then sharing it with family and friends.
Now the Apps!
Here is a list of the apps I use most often when the iPhone is my camera of choice, along with a few thoughts on each. Note: For more info, click on the app’s name.
Hands down my favorite and most used photo app. There are so many features that make this app a winner for me I’m not even going to try to list them. The best 99 cents I ever spent.
A great app from the people who bring us SmugMug. A lot of great, fun filters and effects, with the ability to purchase more. I like the ability to upload my images to my SmugMug account from right within the app. The messages that pop up while waiting for your image to process, such as “Caramelizing Ogre Burps” and “Hydrogenating Dragon Scales,” are good for a chuckle while you wait (a very short wait). One feature I wish this app had that Camera +, and the built-in app has for that matter, is the ability to use the volume button as the shutter release. Hopefully that is coming soon.
From the makers of Nik Creative Plugins, Snapseed brings advanced photo editing to your mobile device. For those of you familiar with Nik software’s Control points, utilizing their U Point Technology, the ability to selectively enhance your iPhone images brings the tools of advanced photo editing to your phone. $5 well spent, though keep an eye out as they occasionally have a special where you can get it free.
Obviously the iPhone comes with its own camera app as well, and with the exception of one new feature, in my opinion, it’s worthless. The editing options are so limited that I’ve never used them. The one feature that I find very useful, and in my limited testing works pretty well, is the new Pano feature introduced in iOS 6 for the iPhone 4S and the new iPhone 5.
The next time you want to share that great scene, or the whimsical family snapshot, try a few of these apps and simply phone it in.
Other places you can find me on the web:
Jeff Sinon Photography - Archival quality prints on high quality photo paper, stretched canvas, and metal. Starting at $10.
The Jeff Sinon Photography Blog - The ramblings, writings, and images of a New Hampshire based nature photographer.
The Jeff Sinon Photography Fan Page - The most up to date comings and goings, and the first place many of my newest images are revealed.
(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Nik Software affiliate. By clicking on the “Nik Creative Plugins” link , as an affiliate I will get credit for your visit. Should you be interested in making a purchase, please used the code: JSINON. You will save 15% on any of the Nik products, and I will earn a small commission, for which I thank you).
Where Did The Sand Go?
It’s in your mind and you can’t let it go. An idea for the perfect sunset photograph along the coast. In this case, Ft. Foster in Kittery, ME.
Scenic Wonders of Western Maine
Having spent so much of my time photographing Reid State Park in Maine, and farms and barns in Vermont, I decided it was time to start photographing areas of Maine that I had never explored. So on one beautiful day last summer I programmed Eustis, Maine, into my GPS and set out for the mountains at 5:00 am. Leaving the flatlands of the midcoast area behind, I was soon on Route 4 to Auburn, through Mechanic Falls and on to Rumford.
I had decided I would take a side trip to Grafton Notch State Park and maybe even a ride into New Hampshire if time permitted. I was completely taken aback by all the beautiful vistas and photographic possibilities I encountered along the way.
Eustis is a small town that is tucked out of the way and is the last town of any size before the border town of Coburn-Gore. It’s surrounded on one side by water, and the other by mountains. The views here were varied and breathtaking. On one side of the road you look upon a vast marsh that seems to go for miles before it rises up into the mountains. On the other side is a lake with a tall mountain in the distance.
The scenery really started to change as I approached Rumford. The low hills gave way to flat, miles long, open areas, leading to views of the distant Western Mountains. But before I got to Rumford I came to Norway and was fascinated by a long causeway surrounded on both sides by a lake. There were loons splashing in the water and making a huge ruckus. Two of them were dancing wildly on top of the water. I watched this dance for a while and marveled at the way the loons ‘walked’ on the water, and beat the surface of the lake with their wings. I’m told they do this ‘dance’ (called the penguin dance) to distract predators. After browsing the scenery in Norway, I headed for Rangely then over to Eustis.
After exploring the Eustis area I turned back toward Rangely and then took a back road towards Errol, which would eventually hook me up with Route 16 and Grafton Notch State Park.
This park is small and beautiful, and well worth a visit. There are a couple of must see attractions: Screw Auger Falls, and Moose Cave.
Moose Cave is located within a 45-foot-deep canyon of bedrock where water skirts boulders and temporarily disappears into a cave beneath a granite slab. The trail follows a 600-foot long gorge carved through granite by glacial meltwater.
Hikers are urged to show caution on the slippery rocks so that one will not fall in the gorge like the unlucky moose for whom Moose Cove was named. The trail also loops through a moss garden located on the ledges of the mixed growth forest. Several species of lichen inhabit this garden including “Reindeer Moss” which is native to the Arctic Tundra. There is also an excellent view of Table Rock from Route 26 at this point.
After leaving Grafton Notch, it was a short ride into New Hampshire and Vermont, with many more beautiful wonders. But that is a subject for another day and another blog.
To sum it up, I would say that this oft overlooked area of Maine is worth a visit anytime of year. My next trip here will be to photograph the fall foliage. I’m told it is among the best in New England.