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Oh, the Places I’ve Been!

D.H. Day Barn, Glen Haven, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2014

D.H. Day Barn, Glen Haven, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

I am pretty sure Dr. Seuss wasn’t talking about my photography when he penned his inspirational book (presumably for kids), “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” which was clearly intended for a higher calling than this blog.  But it seemed like maybe a good jumping off point for this title, so thanks for the inspiration Dr. Seuss.  :-).

This is about my favorite subject:  Fall Foliage photography

Farm in Saginaw County, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Farm in Saginaw County, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

While I am sure my travels pale compared to many readers and acquaintances, I have been blessed to visit many places (near and far) during my lifetime.  I aspire to go to even more new places before I am done here, but in spite of the rambling lead-in this blog is actually about what I normally write about this time of year: fall color photography.

The previous couple blogs have plugged my 2 eBooks, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” and “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Nelson Road Old Mission Peninsula; Traverse City, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Nelson Road Old Mission Peninsula; Traverse City, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The previous couple blogs have plugged my 2 eBooks, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” and “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”  I will believe (and argue :-)) to the grave, that these two locations are the absolute acme of fall color photography.  But I have been to other places which approach their beauty, some in similar ways (like Maine, Minnesota’s North Shore and West Virginia’s Mountains), and some in very different ways (like the West).  While I have not visited them yet, I understand that the Great Smoky Mountains have their own brand of spectacular foliage in the fall.

Shiawassee River_2

Shiawassee River, Owosso, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Readers might be surprised to find that I have found some images right in my own backyard!

Just for inspiration for those who have not already planned their 2016 Fall Foliage trips, I thought I would demonstrate the potential with a few images from around the U.S.  And, based on my travels and commentary about every place away, the reader might be surprised to find that I have found some images right in my own backyard!  The top image is near my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, just east of Lake Michigan,in Leelanau County.  The round hay bales are even closer to home, just a few miles from my office in Saginaw County, Michigan.  The Old Mission Peninsula juts north into Lake Michigan, from Traverse City, in Grand Traverse County.  The Nelson Road vineyard image is near a point on the peninsula where you can stand and see both of the bays formed by the Peninsula.  The Shiawassee River is one of several rivers that all come together in Saginaw County to ultimately form the Saginaw River, which eventually empties into Lake Huron.  The image above was taken in Shiawassee County, just west of Saginaw County.  Perhaps the moral of the story here, is that (at least in certain parts of the country) you don’t have to travel far to find foliage images.

But I have traveled far. :-).

Cadillace Mountain, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, my friend, Rich Pomeroy and I spent a week in Maine, mostly in Acadia National Park, shooting.  Because of our scheduling, we arrived late in the season.  There were some pros and cons to our scheduling.  We were (as the images illustrate), mostly late for color.  But the later turning birch and beach trees were still in full foliage and were cooperative, if somewhat monotone.

Jordan Brook, Acadia National Park, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Jordan Brook, Acadia National Park, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

We were also late for the lobster pounds and many of the restaurants which serve the seasonal tourists.  I had looked forward to a lobster roll at one of the pounds, but that was not to be.  But the lack of tourists did not stop the lobstermen from their daily activities.  We had a great time photographing the boats and tools of the trade in several of the harbors in and around Acadia.  The Southwest Harbor shot shows the potential for great foliage shooting with wonderful foregrounds.

Southwest Harbor, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Southwest Harbor, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

We also found a different kind of color which we had been anticipating.  We had read about the colorful wild blueberry bushes that turn color this same time of year.  Again, we mostly missed that and never found the vast fields of them we were looking for.  We did fin this image, though, which at least gave us a taste of what we sought.

Blueberry Bushes Acadia National Park, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Blueberry Bushes
Acadia National Park, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

There are a number of iconic images in the Park.  One (not technically in the park) is the Somesville Town Hall, with its distinctive white bridge.  As you can see, if timing is right, there is some serious foliage-image potential here.  We made the best of what we had.  Will have to go back someday.

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge Somesville, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge
Somesville, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

My wife and I spent a weekend in October in 2007, in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.  As serious foliage shooters know, timing is critical and also unpredictable.  But as a general rule, this is far enough south that we were probably early in the best of times.  2007 produced an unseasonably warm and dry fall and this weekend was no exception.  On of the images I was looking for was the layered sunset image with the mountains in the background.  It mostly eluded me.  But the image here illustrates that in a few weeks, the color in those mountains might be pretty spectacular.

Little Stony Man Outlook Shenandoah National Park, Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Little Stony Man Outlook
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

In October of 2008, we had better luck, traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to spend a week with my sister and brother in law, who acted as guides during our visit.  In addition to being on the grounds and photographing the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (a color of a whole different kind), we traveled around other parts of the state.

Santa Fe National Forest New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Santa Fe National Forest
New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Western foliage is very different from what I had experienced in the northeastern United States.  With a much higher percentage of Aspen Trees, mixed in with conifers, the foliage is golden yellow and orange, with only an occasional splash of redder color.  It is “Western Foliage.” 🙂  I shot these Aspens, somewhere in the Santa Fe National Forest north of Sante Fe.

Santa Fe Ski Basin Santa Fe, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

My favorite foliage spot was the Santa Fe Ski Basin.  We had gone to Taos and stayed overnight and it rained overnight.  In the higher elevations, that translated into snow!  I was elated.  We headed back to the ski basin, which tops at an elevation of 10,350 feet, and we were able to drive up the ski basin road and stop for several views with colorful (western) foliage in the foreground and snow up top.

Santa Fe Ski Basin Santa Fe, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

My trip in 2011 to West Virginia, to photograph the famous Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park, also yielded very good results, even though we again arrived at the tail end of the season.  You can see a substantial amount of leaf drop (due largely to torrential rains over a period of 2 days just prior to our arrival.

Glade Creek Gristmill Babcock State Park West Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park
West Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

There are some pretty great shooting opportunities in West Virginia.  My friend and mentor, James ____, believes West Virginia (and not Vermont or Michigan’s U.P. – though he was thoroughly impressed with the U.P.) is “god’s country” where fall foliage is concerned.  He might be right (but I will argue that he is not 🙂 ).  I will, however, let you judge for yourselves, based on a very small sampling here.

Boley Lake; Babcock State Park, West Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Boley Lake; Babcock State Park, West Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

There are many more shooting options for fall foliage.  I have friends who have been to Alaska in September and the colors there tend to be along the ground – but are spectacular.  I have been to Yellowstone and and Jackson Hole in Wyoming, but not in the fall.  I have to believe the colors there are also spectacular in their own right.  Idaho and Utah also hold great interest for me.  And, I still want to get to Northern California when the grapevines turn sometime later in the fall.  I have my work cut out for me.  :-).

The foregoing was a smattering of places I have been and have photographed; all places I can highly recommend, in addition to Vermont and Upper Michigan.  So get out there and shoot.  Somewhere.

Boley Lake, Babcock State Park; West Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Boley Lake, Babcock State Park; West Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2011



Bridge to Canada Sault St. Marie, MI Copyright 2005  Andy Richards

Bridge to Canada
Sault St. Marie, MI
Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Of all the architectural structures that lend themselves to photography, there may be no other “wonder” than a bridge. Bridges have been designed, built and used for all of human history. Most often to span a body of water, bridges have brought us the ability to cross water on foot and by vehicle, without getting wet and without the need for watercraft.

Stone Bridge Manassas, VA Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone Bridge
Manassas, VA
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Early bridges were primarily built for pedestrian traffic. Later, they provided a way for our animal-drawn vehicles to cross. More recently, they have been used for train and motor vehicle traffic.  The Manassas Stone Bridge was used to cross Bull Run and was famously used by both the military and “spectators” who mistakenly thought a Sunday afternoon carriage ride out to the battlefield would be great spectator sport and a nice picnic.

Footbridge of Rapid River Rapid City, MI  Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Footbridge of Rapid River
Rapid City, MI
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Bridges can vary from the most simple and utilitarian pedestrian crossing, to magnificent works of engineering and architecture, crossing seemingly uncrossable stretches of water. They can be grandiose, and they can be very simple.

Pedestrian Bridge Somesville, ME Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Pedestrian Bridge
Somesville, ME
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

From a photographic aspect, bridges can lend themselves to wonderful reflections, and as foils to wonderful lighting events – both natural and man-made. They can be marvels of architecture and art (yes, art); or rather pedestrian (pun intended) utilitarian structures. For the photographer, they can be presented as the main subject, or they can be used as backgrounds, leading lines from the foreground, and leading lines from the background to infinity.
Bridges draw the eye as an imposing structure in many cases. In my travels to San Francisco, I have been struck by the fact that the city is dominated by two such structures, leading in and out of the heart of the city.  The Rialto Bridge in Venice is one of the most famous of bridges and in the early days, in addition to being the only major bridge over the main canal, housed many local merchants.

Footbridge Limerick, Ireland Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Limerick, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Bridges can often be unintentionally symbolic. In many American cities (sadly), bridges often separate the “good” and “bad” parts of the city.  I don’t think any of the bridges here represent that symbolism.

Rialto Bridge Venice, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Rialto Bridge
Venice, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I have mostly shot bridges because they were there – never really doing a study of them. On my bucket list, I hope, on day, to make a concerted study of bridges. The image that appear here are a small selection of the numerous bridges I have shot. My files contain many more images.

Footbridge over Canal Venice, Italy Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Footbridge over Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

There are numerous styles of bridges, including floating bridges, suspension bridges, arch bridges, and simple piling-supported bridges. Suspension bridges, like the Mackinaw Bridge – spanning Michigan’s “lower” and “upper” peninsulas – and the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay Bridges, are true marvels of engineering, in addition to being very photogenic.  The “Big Mac,” as it is often referred to by Michigan residents, was once the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Mackinac Bridge Mackinac City, MI Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac City, MI
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

One of the most intriguing styles of architecture is the covered bridge. Next, I will showcase some of the very few covered bridges I have been able to photograph.

New Software and Process; Old Images

Somesville Bridge Town Hall, Somesville, ME Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Somesville Bridge
Town Hall, Somesville, ME
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Sometime during the early summer of 2012, much to my chagrin, I discovered that all of the images uploaded to my SmugMug™ LightCentric Photography website were not large enough files to give customers the ability to order the largest prints offered by their printing services. I originally uploaded every image at 72 ppi resolution, without thinking about the printing side of things. Perhaps part of this was my (erroneous) thinking that people would view my images, and then contact me directly for prints. While that certainly remains an option, I am actually happy to have purchasers go directly through the shopping cart system and printing partners for both my SmugMug and my FineArt America sites. So, I began the laborious process of re-purposing images for uploading, gallery by gallery. It involves hours and hours of work.

But there is an upside. The need to re-work all of the images presents an opportunity. It is making me re-think some of the images I upload to the site, for one thing. But the opportunity presented is primarily because of my “freshened” workflow for post-processing digital images. I blogged in 2012 about “discovering” NIK™ software’s Viveza 2, and Color Efex programs. This software has completely changed the way I view and go about post-processing. Those who have read my blog over the years, or know me, know that I have been a Dan Margulis “disciple” for several years, using his LAB curves techniques as part of my workflow for the bulk of my images over the years (“Photoshop LAB Color“, by Dan Margulis). While I still think the LAB curves approach is a very effective and simple workflow to achieve dramatic color results, it often required painstaking selection and masking activity on an image. This was a time-consuming, and often trial and error, project for each image. Nik’s “U-Point™” technology takes away 90 plus percent of all that “fiddly” work and saves many hours, allowing you to focus on results rather than process.

“U-point” takes away 90-plus percent of the “fiddly” work, allowing you to focus on results rather than process

But perhaps the best opportunity is my recent education about Adobe’s most current raw processing engines, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in Photoshop CS 6, and Lightroom 4′ raw processing engines. I credit—and thank—Jeff Schewe and his newly published book “The Digital Negative” for this new appreciation of the power of Adobe’s raw processing engine. I have been a long-term Photoshop User, and old habits die hard. I still prefer to “work” my images in Photoshop rather than Lightroom, but as Schewe notes, the engines are nearly identical with only small (and perhaps quirky) differences. Photoshop is a huge program (filled with many “bells and whistles” I will never use), and it is expensive. If I were starting out as a digital photographer today I think I would probably have only purchased Lightroom and been pretty darn satisfied with what it can do. But whichever one you use, it is worth doing some “homework” on the power of raw processing.

Whether you use Lightroom or ACR, it is worth doing some “homework” on the power of Adobe’s raw processing engine

In years past, I have been mistrustful of any software other than Photoshop, preferring the “control” I had with Photoshop. But as the digital revolution continues, the technology continues to improve. There is now much more ability to do “non-destructive” editing before you “cook” the image in Photoshop. Adjustments in early versions of ACR were not always kind to images. But the current version (“Process 2012”) is nothing short of amazing. Previous advice was to set white and black points and color temperature in ACR and do essentially everything else in Photoshop, or with a third party program. In ACR process 2012, I have completely changed my workflow. Now, with the sliders (which, since CS6 and LR4, are identical), I set exposure and color temperature, adjust shadows and contrast (something I never did in ACR, but the process Adobe uses with these sliders is so “smart” that is it now nearly impossible to overdue these adjustments), do lens-specific correction, add “clarity” and “vibrance” (essentially specialized contrast adjustments for mid-tone contrast) and set the white and black points. I also make adjustments for noise reduction.

While Schewe says you can take care of your “capture sharpening” needs in Lightroom or ACR, I still use his company’s Photokit Sharpener to do all my sharpening. The images I import into Photoshop for processing already look awfully good. I have used it only sparingly, but both of these image processors also have the ability to do localized adjustments with a brush or gradient tool.

Once in Photoshop, my go-to program is Viveza 2

Once in Photoshop, my “go-to” program has become Viveza 2. I will occasionally use Color Efex’s “graduated neutral density” filter (ACR and Lightroom have a gradient filter you can use for this, but I prefer the detailed control I have with NIK software for this process). I use some of the other Color Efex tools very occasionally. There are different schools of thought on this. My good friend, talented photographer, and Photoshop aficionado, Al Utzig, tells me that Color Efex is his “go-to” software and he uses it nearly exclusively, resorting to Viveza 2 in only specific instances (white milk and chocolate milk 🙂 ).

Park Loop RoadArcadia NP, MECopyright 2009  Andy Richards

Park Loop Road
Arcadia NP, ME
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Back to the “opportunity, I am seeing two things. First, images that I did before, I am able to do better, with better color and better localized adjustments. But the second thing came as a bit of a surprise: I am finding images that I would not have tried to work with that now are coming out with very nice results using my newly-found knowledge of ACR process 2012, and the NIK software. The Acadia National Park Road here appeared to me to have too many exposure issues to yield a nice result. What I have learned, though, is that the exposure was actually much better than I thought, and what was holding me/it back was a fundamental lack of knowledge of how to get the most out of the pixels. My friend and mentor, Kerry Leibowitz, pointed that out to me last year with one of my images. He has developed some pretty sophisticated and impressive post-processing techniques, using blending methods which he uses to get all he can out of the captured pixels. But he also goes into the field with the tools and knowledge to bring home captures that are optimum. While I have known the theory of proper captures (expose to the right—see my blog, “Expose Right to Expose Correctly“), it took some continuing education to see why.

The image of the Somesville, Maine, Bridge, is one that I had originally essentially rejected. There was too much “work necessary” to fix issues. While I am not claiming that it will be an award-winner, the result after running the raw image through my new ACR and NIK adjustments is, in my view, now acceptable. And the total time to process the image was probably less than 20 minutes. The beauty of the Adobe processor engines and NIK is that I can now do a lot of those “sophisticated” things quickly and easily.

It’s That Time Again!

Porcupine Mountain State Park
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Predictably, I do this every year. We are a month or less away from Fall foliage season, and I feel compelled to write about it in my blog. Sometime in about the middle of August, things start a natural progression that show that Summer is winding down and Fall approaching. It has always been in a sense a bittersweet time for me, as I have never been a Winter person. I love being able to get outside, get into the woods, onto the water, or even occasionally, the golf course.

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Early Fall is, has always been, and probably always will be, my favorite time of the year. Ironically, it seems to be one of the most short-lived seasons, and is a time when things are dying, turning, or being harvested. There is something exciting about the sights and smells of that time of the year and I am always sad when, sometime in November, things turn grey and snow is in the air. But from now until then: exciting times.

Glade Creek Grist Mill
Babcock State Park, West Virginia
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Fall always has been, and always will be, my favorite time to photograph

In my view, Fall is the best time to be a photographer. Along with the sights and sounds, comes clear air, with puffy clouds, low-angled light, and shorter days. Why are shorter days good? It means that we don’t have to roll out of bed quite so early to beat the sun, nor wait quite so late for the evening light. And of course, there is the foliage. There is nothing wrong with green foliage (or even the pastel “colors” of early spring). Spring itself rivals Fall with everything coming into bloom. But the Fall foliage is still the “king” of photographic subjects. It makes everything come alive and give color and interest to scenes that might otherwise be “just nice” or even “ho-hum.”

Jordan Pond
Acadia National Park; Maine
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Fall foliage is the “king” of outdoor and nature photographic subjects

Foliage need not be just the traditional reds, oranges, rusts and yellows of large, deciduous trees. Sumac, grape vines, corn and beans nearing harvest-readiness also provide some wonderful, colorful photographic subjects and backdrops.

Harvesting Soybeans
Saginaw County, Michigan
Copyright 2002 Andy Richards

One of my favorite image subjects is the reflection. And nothing brings a reflection more interest than the vibrant colors of Fall foliage.

Kit Carson National Forest
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

In years past, I have traveled to Vermont, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia, California and New Mexico. Each has their own “take” on foliage. We were too early for foliage in the San Francisco Bay area and wine country and I will undoubtedly return there in the late Fall in the near future, for the colorful vineyards. The “bucket list” also includes the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, The Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Alaska and closer to home, Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio. I also hope to spend some time in Canada just to the Northeast of our Upper Peninsula and on the Bruce Peninsula, just East of where I live, and in an area surrounding the North Channel of Lake Huron known as “the Canadian Shield” one day.

Boley Lake
Babcock State Park, W. Virginia
copyright 2011 Andy Richards

As football season starts up, students go back to school, the vacationers close up the summer cottages, and things begin to gear up for Fall, excitement builds for my own photographic senses. I always have a week-long, dedicated trip planned for foliage photography. This year, I travel to the familiar, Michigan UP for a week-long workshop by my friend and mentor, James Moore, where I will have the great privilege of serving as the “local guide.” We have locations lined up, and I have watched the later summer rains and now-changing weather with great anticipation.

The Common Road
Waitsfield, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

I hope you have a plan to get out during the “season” and photograph some of the wonderful foliage on our continent!

Why I Don’t Photograph People

New River Gorge - copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Last week, I posted an image on a critique thread on the Scenes of Vermont Photography Forum, and my good friend and talented photographer, Carol Smith, commented that it was not my “usual” style of photograph. What made it unique for me was that it had a person in the image. It made me think. She is correct, of course. I don’t include “people” and don’t often include them in my images. Indeed, I mostly go out of my way to excludepeople from my images. There are many reasons why. Part of it is my “vision” of natural images. I most often visualize a scene as “pristine,” the way you might come upon it for the first time. It also may be partly a function of the way I approach my work. I tend to be deliberative. You do not see many images here or on my website that are candid or involve action.

Sometimes, I become so absorbed in my “process” that I miss the real photo opportunity. I like the comfort zone of my tripod and immovable objects. Carol saw and shot the Vermont image after leading a group of us to this wonderful scene in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, of me and our mutual friend, Al Utzig. I was so deeply into the beauty of this morning and the “possibilities” of this scene, that I would never have seen this image! But it has human interest and probably more “stock” utility than the plain post-card scenic that I generated that morning.

Barton, Vermont - copyright 2011 Carol Smith

Another reason—which I don’t like to admit to myself—is that I am not very good at “people.” That stems from a combination of factors. One is that I am very hesitant to “invade” others’ “personal space.” Talented pro photographer, Ray Laskowitz, a friend, and mentor, once suggested to me that the key to photographing people is how the photographer approaches people. A perusal of his website and stock images illustrate that he does it very well indeed. Like any discipline, shooting people takes practice, and takes me out of that comfort zone. But there is little doubt that photographs including people can transform a “ho-hum,” postcard scene to a compelling image, sometimes with a “story.” Photographer, teacher and author, and a great inspiration to me, Bryan Peterson, refers in several of his books to “story telling” images. The image of my friend, Rich, shooting Hunter Brook in Acadia National Parkcertainly has a “story telling” element to it.

Photography in Acadia NP - copyright 2009 Andy Richards

If the person is identifiable, the photographer must obtain a release if they intend to ever use or publish the photograph. And, in many cases, the person may also have privacy rights that must be taken into consideration. Again, I have a tendency to use those things as detriments to my own personal motivation to include people in my images. But of course, there are equally as many situations where these are just “excuses.” I have thought back about how often there have been people in the area who were unidentifiable that could have been included in the image. I am also often with others when I photograph, and they could certainly become willing elements of the image. The People in the cable car image certainly make it more interesting to the viewer, giving scale, and “story.” After all, cable cars are about moving people.

San Francisco Cable Car - copyright 2011 Andy Richards

It is often noted that placing a familiar thing in an image gives the viewer a sense of scale, people are certainly able to provide that scale. I made this image of my sister and her Chocolate Lab, Ella, a few years ago after a rather strenuous hike back into this waterfall near Munising, in Michigan’s U.P.

Memorial Falls, Munising, MI - copyright 2008 Andy Richards

So, I clearly need to spend more time and effort outside my comfort zone and find ways to include people in my images.

Thanks for reading . . . . . .

Don’t Be Late!

Sunrise, Otter Beach, Acadia NP, Bar Harbor, ME copyright 2009 Andy Richards

I set out early one morning recently to shoot a scene I have passed by daily on my way to work lately. I had observed the time schedules and knew what time to be there. But as I was driving to the location, sunrise broke and for about 8 minutes, produced the most beautiful, orange hue, lighting the surroundings with warm, low-angled light that photographers wait for. 8 minutes!

My shot would not have been lit, by this beautiful light, as it was a downtown building scene that would have been blocked until about 20 minutes later. I arrived at my scene on time and captured the best light I was going to get for the scene. But oh, to have been bathed in that wonderful, warm, soft orange light!

You must be on site and ready, before the light happens!

The point is this. If my scene had been subject to that wonderful lighting, I would not have been there!I would have been racing to get there—and I would simply have missed it (instead, I lamented that I didn’t have a scene nearby for that light). Even if I had made it to the scene before the light changed, I would have been fumbling around with gear–not the way we want to remember and capture that scene.

Dawn, Horseshoe Lake, Huron NF, MI copyright Andy Richards

There is an old, cliche that photographers like to cleverly repeat: “F8 and be there.” But there is a key to “being there.” You must be there before the image happens. For landscape images, that usually means before the light happens. While it may not always be possible, in the best of all worlds, you will have done your homework and thoroughly planned your shoot. If possible, that means you will already have been to the scene (especially if it is a scene you have not been to before). There is only one thing more frustrating than fumbling around, trying to find a spot to park, or the trail to the shooting location, often in the twilight or even dark, while knowing that you are losing time. That one more frustrating thing is knowing all of the above, and that you are not going to be there on time! Study maps, but then, make a trial run to the scene.

In mid-October, my buddy, Rich and I have a planned trip to Babcock State Park in West Virginia to photograph the iconic Grist Mill that is the central feature of the park. While we have been assured that the “right light” for this image is early morning, we will arrive in the park on the afternoon before our planned shoot. While we will try to find some subject to shoot that afternoon, if necessary, we will gladly forego the afternoon/evening shot in order to plan how to arrive and where our best “setup” perspective will be. We also want to know where to park and how far we need to walk to get to that setup position. This is not something we will want to be doing in the dark for the first time the following morning.

You must meticulously plan your shot in advance.

Another part of the homework is knowing what lens we want to shoot with, and where the light will be coming from. These are all things that we can – and will – plan in advance of the shoot. By arriving the afternoon before, we can explore perspectives and composition, even though we are not there in the best light. One of the great advantages of digital capture is that we can shoot specimen images for review later that evening. We should be able to go into the park the following morning knowing what lens or different lens combinations we will need and the best perspectives for the shot.

This doesn’t mean we won’t deviate from those things, or try different combinations when on site. But if we have a very short window of “good light” we need to have made those fundamental decisions prior to arriving.

Sunrise Over Pond, Barton, VT copyright Andy Richards 2010

What about light angles? If you have never been to a scene before, you may have to make your best calculated guess, knowing where the sun rises at that time of year, and what time to expect that. There are some great tools out there on the internet. Sunrise/sunset calculators are easily found. A friend and participant on the SOV forums, professional photographer, Brandt Bolding, pointed out “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” (TPE), which is a free website designed for photographers. The site allows you to save “favorite places” and gives gps coordinates. It interfaces with what looks like Google Maps, including the hybrid mapping functions, and shows sunrise, sunset times, as well as the angle of the sun at different times of the day and the angle of the moon, also at different times of the day. TPE is an incredible tool that really is worth paying $$ for. Thank you, TPE author, for your generosity! Take a look at it and try it! I have used it to great advantage.

These are all controllable issues. What you cannot control is weather, and changes in conditions. In 2005, armed with the pamphlet prepared by 90 + year old pro photographer (and, I am proud to call friend), Arnold Jon Kaplan, I excitedly traveled to numerous destinations in Vermont, only to find that a number of them had incurred significant tree growth in the ensuing years, obscuring the views that Kaplan had making his iconic images. This is another reason why pre-scouting is so important!

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards

In the final analysis, though, those heart-stopping images you often seen in magazines, calendars, and occasionally on line, usually derive their pzazz from being there in the right light! The only way that can happen – especially in the morning (and in my view, that is when the most dramatic light usually happens), is to get out of bed early and be there before twilight and before the light happens!


Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Water is one of my favorite photographic subjects. Water is essential to the world we inhabit, and the one we photograph. Water covers nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s surface. So it is not surprising that water is often an obvious part of the images we capture. But there are also some very subtle ways in which water occurs photographically.

There is almost always a connection with photographic images and water

There is almost always an indirect connection with photographic images and water. Water is used in many industrial applications for heating and cooling, as a solvent and cleaning agent. Indeed, water has been referred to as “the universal solvent.” Water is also an essential nutrient for humans and most other animals, as well as the majority of plant life. Thus, whenever we photograph wildlife, people or flora, it is likely that water has played a part. Water is often the basis for recreational activity, including swimming, boating, canoeing and kayaking. And what about skiing and snowshoeing? Even when water is not a primary element, there is still an indirect connection. For example, photographs of desert sands and other arid environments signal to us the lack of water.

The water droplets on this daylily add photographic interest and suggest the healthy growth of plant life following a fresh spring rain.

Photographically (and scientifically) water takes on 3 forms, each of which present unique and inviting photographic opportunities. Water in its liquid form is perhaps what first comes to mind. As such it is probably the most often found reflective surface for reflection images. I routinely look for ponds, rivers, pools, fountains and even puddles for reflections, either as an image in and of itself, or as a foreground object of interest.

Fountain in front of Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas

Water in motion is equally captivating, in my view. One of my favorite subjects is waterfalls. Whether a steep, powerful cascade, or swirling rapids, moving water can present some intriguing compositions. We use shutter speed to control the “look” of the water. There is something beguiling about silky, dreamy, flowing water blurred by slow shutter speeds of 1/15 second or longer. Use of neutral density filters in front of the lens can achieve even slower shutter speeds, further blurring the movement of water, or controlling light conditions to produce the slow effect. Moving water can also contain swirling reflections; a double benefit in my view.

Mad River, the namesake for "Mad River Canoe," is really just a small stream, not navigable by canoe. However, this part of the river contains several series of dramatic drops and riffels, making is a wonderland for photographic images

Other times, the photographer may wish to do exactly the opposite, using very fast shutter speeds to “freeze” the powerful or whimsical motion of moving water. Thundering waterfalls or high, splashing waves are sometimes exciting subjects. I used a fast shutter speed and a burst of exposures to capture this crashing wave on the rocky shoreline of Acadia National Park.

Atlantic Ocean surf, Bar Harbor, Maine

Light is clearly the secret to compelling images. Nothing reflects and shows light at its best like water, especially if it is moving.

Bartlett Falls, Bristol, Vermont: Getting a "just right" shutter speed in difficult, but dramatic lighting conditions makes this image unique

Water takes another fascinating form as a gas. Clouds, ground fog, and steam rising off water surfaces are all mesmeric elements in photographic art. These conditions come with a combination of elements. Generally, a rapid change in temperature, preceded by extremely moist circumstances, creates fog or steam. I look for a cool, clear morning following a particularly rainy period, for example, to create these conditions. Also, a precipitous change in temperature will create fog. When in Vermont in October, 2010, I followed the remnants of a tropical Hurricane which dumped several inches of rain on the state. Cool morning temperatures created wonderful ground fog conditions every morning.

Cool early morning temperatures following a heavy rainfall created magical atmospheric conditions for this image

Foggy conditions and clouds filter sunlight and often create vivid coloration in skies. Changes in weather conditions will often yield some of the most dramatic skies one can imagine.

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont

In its frozen form, water has great photographic possibilities. The obvious is snow. However, ice, icebergs, flow ice and icicles all can be entrancing. And frozen water can even make dirt look interesting!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier National Park, Alaska

Thanks for reading………