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I can remember my father telling me one of his biggest frustrations about getting older was not physically being able to do the things he was able to do when he was younger. At the time, I never really understood or appreciated that frustration. Now that I am in my mid 40’s, I am beginning to understand. This does tie in to photography, I promise.
My entire adult life, I’ve always felt like I did when I was in my late teens or early twenties. Whether it was working hard or playing hard, I didn’t think too much about it. I used to take a lot of risks for the fun of it and survived doing a lot of (what I view now as) really stupid things. Being that I never felt like I really had grown up, I still tend to do a lot of really stupid things. Like taking risks to get the shot. I don’t condone risking life, limb or freedom to get a photograph, so I’m going to leave out any specific examples where I may have put myself at risk for a photograph.
At this point in life, I’m fully in touch with my own mortality and my fear of injury (or arrest) stops me from going places with my camera to get the shot. You wouldn’t see me climbing to the top of a bridge or up a TV transmission tower now like I may or may not have been known to do when I was younger. How it usually plays out now is that I try to get a shot by doing something that I don’t view as risky and something unexpected happens, or almost happens. I have two examples of my brain wanting to get the shot more than my body was able.
The Broken Tale
The first happened during the winter, and is a lovely two-part tale. Or tail. The long story made short is that I had taken my 5-year-old daughter sledding. I had my camera with me, on the sled, because I wanted to get amazing and memorable sledding images. I had my own cheap plastic toboggan that disintegrated quite nicely when I hit a rock underneath the snow, with my tailbone. I knew instantly that it was broken. At least I got a decent shot of my daughter sledding, right? The shot below was taken as I lay there in agony trying to figure out how to get up.
I visited my doctor a few days later and he confirmed it was broken and that it was going to hurt for a while until it healed. My appointment was finished just before sunset, and his office is rather close to Pomham Lighthouse, and I had my camera, so off I went. I arrived and noticed the tide was low. “Cool,” I thought, “now I can get right down to the water’s edge!” My common sense didn’t tell me that “Hey dummy, I bet those green moss-covered rocks down there are wicked slippery and you have a broken tailbone,” until I slipped on them. Down went both my hands to protect my tailbone. I got up with holes in my glove liners and scrapes on my hands and while my tailbone avoided a direct hit against the rocks, it didn’t feel that great. But, I was where I wanted to be so I got my shot. Driving home with a re-injured broken tailbone and cuts on both of your palms is not a pleasant experience. But I got the shot, right?
You would think that I would have learned already.
Shoulder, Shins, and Scrapes
As most of you know, I shoot at the ocean quite often. I’m also in the water quite often, usually intentionally. A recent shoot at Point Judith in Narragansett was one of those occasions where I ended up in the water, only partially planning to. I arrived before sunrise and found several other photographers standing in a line in the exact spot I want to shoot from. My options were to stand higher up on the land or stand in the water. The composition from the land was not pleasing to me. I had my waterproof boots on, so I decided I would stand in the shallow water to get my sunrise shots. The water was several inches deeper than it looked. Within seconds, my waterproof boots filled with cold seawater. The thing about waterproof boots is they do a great job keeping water from getting in, but once it does, it has no way out. So now I had what felt like full milk jugs attached to my feet while I was trying to plant my tripod in a good stable location.
That’s when the first unexpected wave hit me. I was standing in water about shin deep and didn’t think a wave could hit me at waist level. I had cold seawater in my ear and all over my glasses, not to mention some good heavy drops on my camera. I’ve been hit by bigger waves while shooting. I checked the lens and filter…clean. Good, I’m not moving yet. I shook the water out of my ear as best as I could and dealt with the large saline drops on my eyeglasses. I fired off a few more shots until the next big unexpected wave got me. I moved back on the shore at this point. I took a few more shots, but again was not happy with them. I decided to go back in the surf.
This time, my trusty boots slipped on a seaweed covered rock under the water. I stumbled as I tried to brace my fall, twisting my torso to keep my camera backpack out of the water. I put my right arm down against a large rock to stop myself from going under. My left leg was wedged between rocks and scraped hard against them as I fell. What I felt immediately where the scrapes on my shin and palm and the burn of the seawater in those wounds. Then I felt the cold water on my entire right side up to my shoulder. Lucky for me, none of the other photographers saw my graceful moves! I pulled myself up and out of the water and back onto dry land. I immediately checked all my gear. Everything was in working order. The shot I had taken right before falling in was the one I had hoped for. I took a few more shots and then packed up for home, after draining the milk jugs attached to my feet of course!
In the days afterwards, I noticed my right shoulder was sore. Now here I am 2 months later with an upcoming appointment to look at my rotator cuff, all so I could get the shot. It’s unlikely the photo will ever sell to cover any medical expenses. Even if it did, what I potentially lose by having this injury is not worth it.
The moral of the story here is to really know and accept the limits of your abilities if you want to get a shot that may be a bit risky. While you may end up with an amazing one of a kind photo, the risk of permanent injury or worse isn’t worth it.
~ Bryan Bzdula
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In closing, this fall, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your foliage images.
~ Bryan Bzdula
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Snowy Owl Arrival Causes Media Circus
Last weekend a group of my fellow photographers and I were standing in the dunes at Salisbury Beach looking for Short Eared Owls, when we noticed a large commotion along the access road. There is only one thing that could have snarled traffic and had people frantically running from their cars like that. No, Elvis had not appeared, nor had the band One Direction’s bus broken down.
It was a Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus) who had just landed in a tree alongside the road.
Why are We Fascinated With Snowy Owls?
So, what is it about a Snowy Owl that causes people and even wildlife photographers to act out of the norm? I’m referring to trespassing on private and federal lands, feeding mice to the owls to get them to fly, or just chasing them from perch to perch.
Well for starters, Snowy Owls are a rarity in our neck of the woods. Many New Englanders only reference to a Snowy Owl is through Harry Potter.
Typically this species will irrupt south every four to five years, yet today we find ourselves in the middle of the largest unanticipated irruption of Snowy Owls in some say over 50 years.
Snowy Owls are big, white, mystical birds with incredibly piercing yellow eyes.
Unlike most owl species, they are active during daylight hours (diurnal). This gives many more people an opportunity to see and or photograph them. And you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I truly believe that everyone who can, should make an effort to see one of these beautiful birds while they are here. However, I would like to offer some suggestions on how to make the most of your experience:
- Do some research before you go to enhance the experience that much more.
- If at all possible go mid-week. There must have been 50 cars following the Snowy down the road at Salisbury last Sunday.
- When you do find a Snowy, observe him from a respectable distance. You are more apt to witness natural behavior such as hunting and feeding when they aren’t feeling pressured.
If you have a camera, don’t just stare through the viewfinder but take the time to just watch them. Take memories with your eyes. I watched several people literally run up to where a Snowy was perched in a tree with their point and shoot cameras or smart phones, snap several pictures then turn around and leave without ever spending a minute or two just observing the owl. Instead of a great memory, all they will have is a photo.
A couple of links for further research…
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Snowy owls cool facts
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Snowy owls more info and what they sound like.
Respect the Bird and Your Fellow Watchers
Be respectful of other observers. It should go without saying, but again seeing this mystical bird can bring out bad behavior. I have watched on several occasions groups of people observing a Snowy from a respectable distance who had their experience cut short by an individual who insisted on getting closer and flushed the owl.
All the Snowy Owls I have spent time photographing appear to be in great shape. They all have either been actively feeding, or have blood on their feathers and talons suggesting successful hunting. Once they have established a hunting area they will probably stay until late March or until the call of Mother Nature beckons them back to the arctic.
The Take Away
In closing, I hope you get the chance to see this magnificent bird. All I ask is that you are respectful to the bird, its environment, and your fellow observers. I hope to see you in the field!!!
~ John Vose