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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


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!

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock SP, W. Virginia; copyright 2011 Andy Richards

For several years now, I have been aware of the Glade Creek Gristmill, in Babcock State Park, West Virginia. I have seen numerous photographs of the Mill, which is one of those iconic and probably overshot photographic destinations. But like Mt. Rushmore to the tourist, The Glade Creek Gristmill has a draw to photographers and is kind of a “must-have” in a landscape photographer’s portfolio; even if it is just so we can say “been there, done that.”

A couple years back I stumbled on the Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group (MPEG) Forums, and signed up (see my separate, recent, Blog about MPEG). MPEG regional coordinator, teaching professional, workshop leader and artist, James Moore is an expert on West Virginia photo destinations and when I met him recently at Babcock, he told me had has visited and photographed in the park every year over the past 40+ years. This year, a one day “Group Shoot” was organized by MPEG, and hosted by Jim. We missed the day, due to work scheduling, but buddy, Rich and I made the almost 10-hour drive and arrived in the park late that afternoon to pouring rain. We visited with an exhausted Jim at his cabin in the park for a few minutes and then agreed to meet at twilight the next morning, praying for a respite from the downpour. We had good luck and weather the rest of the weekend, and with Jim’s able and knowledgeable guidance, Friday morning, got a pretty good thumbnail sketch of the photographic opportunities, including his insights on perspectives and timing.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock SP, W. Virginia; copyright 2011 Andy Richards

For those who aren’t familiar, West Virginia is perhaps some of the most rugged country in the U.S. Most of the state is covered by ranges of the Appalachian Mountains, and, like I have mentioned in blogs about rural Vermont and Maine (“you can’t get there from here”), there is not always a straight way to get from point A to point B. Switchback roads and steep grades are common particularly when traversing the ranges as you drive East and West. Unimproved roads are even more common (including – a first for me – road that seem to narrow down to one lane, which shoulders wide enough to pull over for opposing traffic. You feel a bit like you have mistakenly wandered onto a golf course cart path).

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

With the exception of a couple of major cities, like Charleston and Wheeling, West Virginia is an essentially rural state, and mostly very small communities. While you can stay in cabins right in the park, they are limited and during busy seasons, must be booked well in advance. Communities with motels or hotels are generally 20 miles away. We stayed in Summersville, and planned on a 25 minute drive into the park each morning, getting up extra early to be in the park and set up by civil twilight. Fortunately, the photography venues are all easily reachable by vehicle and within just a few steps of the parking areas.

We photographers can be a self-absorbed lot and it will do us well to remember that that the parks and our perceived “photographic” opportunities were not placed there specifically for us.

During prime foliage times, expect the Mill to have numerous other photographers there, and to have to wait in many cases, for the foreground to clear of tripods and red jackets (I know mine was red 🙂 ). As the morning goes on, there are also a significant number of “leaf peepers” who will climb around on the foreground rocks, often with their point and shoot cameras. I was amused to hear the grumbling from some of the shooters near me while setting up for the longer view shot. They were probably grumbling at me the previous morning, as I started my shooting down in front of the Mill, with my own bright red rain jacket on. We photographers can be a self-absorbed lot (just ask my wife, who occasionally patiently accompanies me). It will do us well to remember that we are in the decided minority, and that the parks and our perceived “photographic” opportunities were not placed there specifically for us. The non-photographers out there have no idea what our lens coverage is, nor whether their presence in the foreground has anything to do with our images. Since they are taking “memory” shots, they don’t pay attention to the people milling around in their photos. A bit of patience (and these days, some judicious application of Photoshop’s “content-aware fill”) will do wonders for the blood pressure. 🙂

Boley Lake was a nice addition to our photo trip, providing numerous reflection images and interesting “intimate” close up studies.

The Gristmill is plainly the “main attraction,” but the park is beautifully set in the New River Gorge, and has significant elevation within the park itself. There are two roads in the park that have steep grades and switchback turns taking you in one instance to the upper cabins and other recreational parts of the park (e.g., the riding stables), and in the other up to the picnic area and pool, with a large pond (Boley Lake) on the way. Boley Lake turned out to be a nice addition to our photo trip, providing numerous reflection images and interesting “intimate” close up studies. The website notes that Boley Lake is actually a man made “impoundment” in part of the creek that runs through the park. It was interesting to us that most of the lakes around the area we were in were man-made lakes, controlled by damns, and often mainly drained during the winter months in order control the large flow expected to re-fill them during Spring snowmelt and runoff.

New River Gorge overlook, Babcock SP, W. Virginia; copyright 2011 Andy Richards

On the way up to the cabins, there is an overlook out into the gorge, which, while photographically challenging, is worth watching for appropriate light and weather conditions. We tried to catch early morning fog banks hanging in the valley each morning, but were largely unsuccessful.

Babcock State Park is part of West Virginia’s estimable State Park system. They have a well set-up website and there is even a webcam which is purported to give frequently refreshed views of the Grist Mill.  However, in my view, the webcam is bit deceptive.  The placement of the cam gives a very different view than the photos on the site, or those that you see elsewhere.  In part because of that, you cannot see the foliage and the setting that will be your foreground and background elements.  It also does not give you the view of the waterfall (which can be anywhere from raging to an almost non-existent trickle, depending on recent rainfall) below the Mill, which will likely be an element in your images.  In my view, you simply cannot rely on the webcam for good “intel” about the foliage conditions!  There are other State Park Destinations (including nearby “Hawks Nest,” which has a gondola ride out over the New River Gorge) and it appears well worth some exploration. These two state parks bracket the New River Gorge National River (part of the U.S. NPS), which also has some great photographic possibilities.

Better still, if you are a serious photographer, looking for some insight into great locations and photography, check out James Moore’s Transcient Light West Virginia workshops. I am admittedly biased. I know and like Jim. He will give you “value” that many workshops won’t. I am sure you can find many other workshops and workshop leaders out there, but I personally doubt you will find one who has the intimate knowledge of West Virginia locations and conditions (indeed, I “Googled” the topic myself and found a couple. I stopped when I read the “what to bring” list on one of them recommending bringing 6-8 rolls of slide film and an SLR camera – no mention of digital whatsoever. Really?).

Midwest Photography Enthusiast Group (MPEG)

Deer Lake, Michigan UP - Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Two years ago, while “surfing,” I discovered Mark Perry‘s, MPEG Forums. Over the years, I have participated in a number of photography-based forums, dating back to the old AOL photography forums. Some of them have come and gone, like so many other things in life. I have found them to be good resources, and a base for making some good friends. Some of them are free to join (depending on advertisers for their cost of maintenance). Others have found it necessary to charge a fee to maintain their desired content standards. Mark’s has a very modest fee in comparison to other current forums of like quality (currently $20, but will increase in January). Like any forum, your own mileage is going to vary, but I also believe that it has great potential to be what its members make it. On one high quality forum that I have been a paying member of for some time, there has been a recent significant decline in member participation for reasons unknown to me. MPEG has good member participation on the forums, but a less obvious value is how it serves as a resource for other photographic activity. There is one in particular that makes it, in my view, worth the price of admission.  Two years ago, MPEG coordinator Scott Mitchell and I were in daily e-mail contact in early October about conditions in the Michigan Upper Peninsula (we “Michiganians” call it “the U.P.”).  I had been trying for years to get a fall foliage reflection on one of the National Forest Lakes up there and he was able to help me “dial in” the ideal time.  My result was a beautiful, full color foliage reflection shot, near Scott’s town, Munising, Michigan.  It might not have been possible without the forum connection.

MPEG‘s self-styled, “chief enthusiast,” Mark Perry, came up with a great concept, early on, that he calls “Groupshoots” (abbreviated, “GS”). These are organized trips to photo destinations for members. They are led and coordinated by either Mark himself, or other members/coordinators who have local knowledge of the particular area. Some of them have become much anticipated annual events (like the Michigan U.P. Fall Foliage shoot in October each year, led by UP coordinator, Scott Mitchell who lives and photographs, on a daily basis in the “heart” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and knows place and conditions that most people are completely unaware of).

I have not participated in group shoots to the extent that I would like (and should, given their benefit). As a concept it really is a great idea. Not to denigrate photography workshops here (there are photographers who make a significant part of their professional income conducting workshops – some of them are my friends). Workshops have their place and I have attended some and will probably attend more in the future. But the group shoot offers what I think may be the most valuable and sought after component of most workshops for most advanced enthusiast photographers. It offers an opportunity to go to a sought-after photo destination and have a local guide show you the “spots.” It gives you the insights about when and where to be in each destination and other issues of local knowledge. Because they are organized by persons with knowledge of the site, they are set during the proper time of the year for the best photographic conditions. They offer the opportunity to “network” with other photographers (for some that is a value). But there is no “fee” paid to the leader or coordinator; no “classroom” style programs, critiques or other reviews. The leader, coordinator will usually be shooting right along with everyone else.

Obviously for someone who is seeking some instruction, having the workshop leader looking through your viewfinder and giving compositional tips, as well as the “classroom” portion, these will not meet expectations. That is not to say that there won’t be an exchange of techniques, ideas, etc. Only that it will be informal and there will not be someone assigned to do that. OTOH, the cost of the group shoot is normally exactly equal to the incidental costs of a workshop (i.e., travel, lodging and meals). Pretty good arrangement and a great idea, Mark!

There are many other advantages to the MPEG forums. My participation there has lead me to several “back-channel” private conversations and relationships with other participants. None better than my budding relationship with professional photographer, James Moore, who is a regional coordinator on the forum. Jim has been a resource for me for professional critique, consultation on some economic matters, and more recently some insights for one of the group shoot locations. He has given of his time, expertise and talent freely on the forum, which is a benefit that cannot really be appreciated until you look into pricing of one-on-one workshops, critiques, etc. There are other professionals on the forum who I have not had the pleasure to get to know yet. But they all freely contribute.  This October, I met Jim at a Group Shoot location and he was able, again, to help with the decision process about timing and some insight about location for a shot of the Glade Creek Grist Mill, in Babcock State Park, West Virginia.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park, W. Virginia; copyright 2011 Andy Richards

I strongly encourage enthusiast photographers at any level to sign up. The forum is a friendly place, offering advice and assistance to new photographers and seasoned image-makers alike. I am not sure exactly what qualifies as the “Midwest,” I do know that Mark is friendly, approachable, and very responsive and I imagine any new member is welcome, no matter their own geographical location.

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!