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Twilight; Sunrise or Sunset?

Sailboat; Naraganset Bay Sunset
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Sunrise, sunset; Sunrise, sunset; Swiftly flow the days …”, voices the chorus of men from Fiddler On The Roof.  I am not sure it has any relevance, but whenever this topic comes to mind, I cannot help but conjure this earworm.

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

Something I read recently got me thinking about this topic (and, since it has been more than a month since I last was motivated to blog, it seemed like suddenly – finally – there was a subject to write about, on which I have experience, an opinion, and perhaps some gems of wisdom). As I did some quick and dirty internet research, I was a bit nonplussed to find that it was not my own original thought.  But I will go on anyway. 🙂

Horseshoe Lake Sunrise
Huron NF, Glennie, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Photography topics and opinions can be a rather polarizing subject (see what I did there? ) 🙂 . Canon vs. Nikon.  People vs. landscape.  Digital vs. Film.  Handheld vs. tripod.  Long vs. short lens. And of course:  sunset vs. sunrise.  Like the other debates, I find it a bit humorous that anyone would bite on the “which is better” question. And while we may have a preference, the true answer is obvious enough:  both.  And aptly, the title intro: “Twilight” also means both.

Inside Passage, AK Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

It is, of course, conventional that the “best” time to photograph is during the so-called “golden hours” which occur shortly after sunrise and last for perhaps and hour and begin again, perhaps an hour or 2 before sunset. I used quotes around best, purposely.  I am not sure there is a single best time to shoot and in my world – more often than not – it is “when you can.” Indeed there are wonderful illustrative photos supporting the merits of shooting before and after the sunrise and sunset.  But here, I am talking about shooting the sunrise and sunset themselves.  Or at the very least, subjects directly bathed in it. Like so many of my images shot in rapidly developing conditions, some are of that “f8 and be there” variety, and others are planned and even re-shot.  The sailboat on Narragansett Bay is the former. I was photographing a lighthouse when the image began to develop and I had to just react quickly to make this image. The Otter Cliff shot, on the other hand, was the product of planning – before I left Michigan, and on several mornings while in Acadia National Park.  It was also shot, and re-shot, trying to achieve the optimal sunrise. Both seem to have worked for me. But there is always a component of planning for any photography. Here are some thoughts on that preparation – mental and practical.

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

Practical Considerations:  There are multiple considerations for why you might want to shoot a sunrise, sunset, or both. On a practical level, there are considerations of subject and location.  Some locations obviously are affected by their orientation. Whether your subject faces east or west may factor into the decision of which time of day is best. In order to be ready to catch a sunrise shot (or shots), it is really necessary to be on location before the sun actually rises. This may mean hiking in to a location in the darkness.  It most certainly means scouting the location in daylight, and making some calculations about where the sun will be when you make the actual image. Software programs like the Photographers’ Ephemeris, can be an invaluable tool for this planning.

Soo Locks Sunrise
St. Mary’s River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Distractions are another important practical issue. It may well be that this phenomena is the single biggest reason why I have many more early morning images than sunsets. The main distraction is family and friends (and it may be more correct to point out that a photographer, if she is not careful, may be the distraction). This is particularly an issue during vacations and travel. My wife and I, and occasionally friends and family, enjoy travel. In recent years, we have traveled to a few parts of the world, and we certainly look forward to more of the same. But sunrise and sunset shooting presents a challenge in these circumstances. It is the rare non-photographer friend or family member who has the patience to accompany a serious photographer to shoot. Sunrise means early rising, which often makes for a long day. Sunsets invariably occur at the dinner/cocktail hours of the afternoon or evening.  For many of us, family and friend social time is important (perhaps more so than photography). My wife is not an early riser, so I have found that I can sneak away for some early morning shooting without disrupting the day plan much of the time. Sunsets are harder.  I have come to the conclusion that sometimes, I just need to go off by myself (or with a like-minded companion) on a “dedicated” photo excursion. I guess it is all about balance.

Clearwater Sunset
Clearwater, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Aesthetic Considerations:  Aesthetics will always influence this decision. For example, I mentioned orientation above. This factor is also influenced by your desired lighting (i.e., backlighting, side, or front lighting). Perhaps one of the most significant aesthetic considerations involves compositional elements. For many years, I have sought “pure” landscape locations (“pure” meaning primarily to me: no people in the frame). These days, it seems that all the good locations are populated by tourists and other “viewers.” The vast majority of them are not serious photographers and it can often be a near-frustrating challenge to make a desired composition without someone in your frame.  With only a few exceptions, sunrises do not pose this problem. Only the unique “tourist” is out at that time of day.  Indeed, I have found that, even in my travel shooting in populated areas, that early mornings are the most productive for people-free imagery. As I have grown older, perhaps wiser, and more tolerant (my wife might disagree with this last characterization 🙂 ), I have concluded that there is often some merit in including people in imagery.

Aix-en-Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Photographic Considerations:  As I researched this aspect of the “sunrise/sunset” dichotomy, I learned – not surprisingly – that atmospheric conditions influence the photographic result. Sunrises generally have the characteristic of being clearer, cooler air. This is partly due to climatic conditions (is is usually cooler at sunrise than at sunset), and partly due to ambient influences (natural and man-made).  This often results in a lighter, photographically “cooler” and more contrasty image. The natural conditions are also more like to produce fog and mist – often low and dramatic.  A  significant exception to this may be the “marine layer” which is found along the northern west coast, where fog can be found almost any time of the day. But generalizations often trap us. The Horseshoe Lake image (one of my most successful sales images) was made during sunrise behind a cloud which produced a very diffuse, pastel light – in spite of the fact that the blue tint seems cooler (the blue tint is a characteristic of the film I used that morning – Fuji Velvia – in that kind of light condition). Likewise, cloudy conditions in the early morning produced a pastel-like light for the Alaska Inside Passage image. The sunrise image of the Bridge behind the Soo Locks perhaps exhibits more, the characteristics noted here. The morning was crystal clear, making conditions right for the sunstar image produce by the very small aperture, shooting directly toward the sun.

Sunset, Florida Gulf
Honeymoon Island SP
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sunsets, in addition to being generally physically warmer, also occur after there has been a day-long accumulation of airborne pollutants and wind-blown particles. Predictably, this often produces a more diffuse, softer, darker image. This sometimes results in surprising colors and it is rare that there aren’t variations from day to day. In my new home base on the Florida Gulf Coast, I hope for partly cloudy conditions as the sunset draws near, as that promises often spectacular colored skies, which are both pastel and brilliant at the same time. It is also sometimes the case that building storm conditions can produce dramatic conditions, especially when backlit by the setting sun.

Sunset over Cruise Ship
Carribean
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

What was interesting to me from my research was the science of all of this. Not really the technical side, but what it produces. I think I probably got the most insight from a painter’s website. The advice there and elsewhere to painters was fascinating. For sunrises, painters were advised that the clear skies of dawn yield more brilliant reds and oranges, and their palate should include yellow, bright orange, pink and blue, and emphasize the contrasts using dark blue on the sky and yellow on the horizon.  For sunsets, they are advised to use warm and dark saturated reds, oranges, magentas and purples.

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

Personal considerations:  Some years back, I made a quick trip back to Vermont in late summer, to attend a funeral. On Sunday morning, I was invited to go to church with family members and friends.  I politely declined. I wanted some contemplative time, and I had packed some gear.  Instead, I left my motel room in the predawn light, in to photograph a waterfall I had been to many times in my youth, but never photographed. Arriving there just after sunrise, I climbed down a steep pathway and was rewarded with this beautiful waterfall and exclusive occupancy of the area.  Except for the pounding water, there were no other sounds and no other hint of humanity. My family and friends were in church, but I am certain that I was with God!

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have, in years since, often experienced this feeling of awe, being alone, or nearly alone as the world comes awake. It is a soul -cleansing experience for me. I know for others, getting up that early and mustering out is not a pleasant or desired experience. Ironically, that is good for me. As I get older, I understand the reluctance to rise that early 🙂 .

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning.
I’d rather be here than in church any day!
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I do appreciate though, after a long, good day, being there to watch the suns last rays of the day.

Sunset; Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

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Book Review: “Outdoor Flash Photography,” by John Gerlach and Barbara Eddy

Suggested

What this book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective, editing

Catching Up …..

Wow.  My last post was at the beginning of May, 2 full months ago. I guess I have fallen into one of those “lulls.” Nothing new and notable on the shooting front, and nothing much unique to say.

Over the winter, I played around with B&W and “painting.” I read several books on those subjects, and reviewed a couple of them. More recently, something got me realizing that I needed to renew my acquaintance with supplemental and artificial light; and particularly, flash – the stroboscopic variety.

New Gear and Flash …..

Several years ago, I made a monumental (for me, anyway) change in my “gear.” Having been “married” to Nikon for nearly 40 years, I made a complete changeover to Sony mirrorless cameras. The primary reason for my changeover was not creative or technical. It was convenience; and in particular, size and weight. Along the way, I discovered some creative and technical advantages. These are not really attributable to brand, but to “new” and to features. Every manufacturer seems to have certain areas they do better than anyone else. If only I could build my own ala carte camera.

One thing Nikon did better than anyone else (in my view) and Sony seems to do worse than anyone else (again, in my view) is flash. I got spoiled with Nikon’s creative flash system. You see, flash involves math, and there is very little about math that is either appealing or comes naturally to me :-). Nikon took the math out of it and let me not have to “think” about it. Maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

A detractor for many of us is cost. Brand-dedicated flash units are ungodly expensive. As much as a good lens. And sometimes you want to use multiple units – as much, or more than the camera!  And, flash units are complex, and befuddling: right?

I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”

During my 40+ years of shooting, I have shot 98% natural light. I have, for sure, used flash (I even remember those big, blue, “lightbulbs” that bayoneted into a reflector on my Asahiflex, popped once and ejected – hot!). But I think it is time for me to start expanding my shooting, to include supplemental lighting.

So, I started reading. Always my go-to. And I learned that there are less expensive, after-market units out there (some good/some not so good).  Sure, they have compromises. My friend, Kerry Leibowitz, once said to me in an e-mail exchange, “everything about photography is a compromise. .. Everything.” So I am good with that. For 1/4 the cost (or less), I was able to find a Sony-compatible flash to play with.  Maybe I will review it at some point (after I understand more about it 🙂 ).

There is a lot out there to read. I am a book person. Hence, the review. But before I do, let me recommend the website, strobist. There is a huge amount of information, free for the reader, here. I have just begun to dig into it, but some would say it is all you need.  Me? I am still a book guy. I like to read and highlight and flag, and go back from time to time. I already had Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Flash Photography,” so I started there (I highly recommend two other Peterson books: “Understanding Exposure” and “Learning to See Creatively“).

There is some really good material.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version

So, The Book …..

Wanting to dig deeper, I started researching on Amazon. I have long known of John Gerlach, and his workshops, and the bulk of the reviews liked his book “Outdoor Flash Photography.” I had read some of his other books over the years, and was familiar with him, as he originally lived in my “backyard;” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As many readers know, I have spent some time up there and my “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” is a guide to many of the wonderful shooting opportunities there. So I bought the book.

“Suggested” …..

This book is in my “suggested” category (meaning, I don’t necessarily believe every shooter should have or read this, but I have it, or have owned it, and found some useful material there). But what makes this a “suggested” book rather than a “recommended” book is largely editorial style, unfortunately. There is some really good material in there.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version.

As I looked at the different offerings, and the editorial reviews, I was struck at how often the description said something like, “demystifies” flash, or “contains unique material, not found anywhere else.” This book suggests that there is something unique about “outdoor flash photography,” and that there is no other resource out there that covers these topics.  But my research and experience demonstrates otherwise. To be sure, many, if not most of the resources out there have a heavy concentration on portraiture and even sometimes studio lighting techniques. But my conclusion is that there are some basic lighting principles that really apply to photography in general, and they are not that unique from genre to genre.

I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops

Need For Objective Professional Editing

Readers here know I am good at digression.  But I want to say something here, to put my “critical” (“Critical: expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work ….“) comments in context.  I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”  And you only need to go to their website to see that their imagery is first class, and their workshops well-attended and widely praised.  I had the fortune of bumping into one of their workshops a couple years ago, while shooting fall colors and researching locations for my own Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and introduced myself to John.  He is a very nice man, with an undoubted bank of technical and locational knowledge.  One thing that really impressed me:  neither he nor Barbara had cameras in-hand.  It was their workshop and they were there to be a resource to the attendees.  I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops!  I also studied nearly everything their own “mentors” (the late, Larry West, and John Shaw – both former Michigan residents themselves ) wrote and know the authors’ pedigree is estimable. Knowing this, I was mildly disappointed in this product.

What I was looking for was more of a hands-on, practical, experience-based text. How is “outdoor flash photography” different from “flash photography?” This book partially hits that mark, but it is a difficult path to get there! What the book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective editing. The term I would use to describe the current text is: “rambling.”

I would describe the author’s (while both John and Barbara are listed as authors, it is clearly primarily written in John’s voice) style as conversational.  Too conversational. It feels like maybe a day in the field, or in the lecture facility with John speaking. This style probably works well in person (he is said to be engaging and entertaining).  It doesn’t work in written form. As anyone reading here knows, I am all for an informal written presentation. But in written communication (especially instruction), there needs to be a certain level of formality, structure and organization. This book lacks that structure – in a way that makes it difficult to stay with it. Here are some specifics:

Style – The “conversational” style, as noted above, is off-putting. Sentences throughout the book are replete with misplaced modifiers, which I suspect is a matter of conversational usage, but is jarring when repeatedly read. This doesn’t affect the technical presentation of information, but it certainly makes it less effective. The frequent attempts at humor fall flat. Again, they probably work well as one-liners in an oral presentation, but they come across as borderline lame in a more formal, written text.

And words and phrases……..  I have always been a firm believer that good, strong writing and clear communication means simple, direct writing. It is good to vary word choice from time to time to make the writing less repetitive and more interesting (I use a Thesaurus frequently, when I feel that I have been repeating a single word too much). But the use of “big” words, or flowery phrases does not automatically make writing better or more interesting. Sometimes it is just best to say the word that applies in common usage – direct and simple. I have to believe that an objective, professional editor would eliminate the majority of these issues, and create a more straightforward, informative and readable text.

Relevance – Too often, the author wanders “off the reservation,” getting into totally irrelevant commentary which, while perhaps anecdotally interesting, takes us away from the subject matter of the book – flash photography. While some of it may have nominal relevance, a quick reference to it and “move on,” would be, in my view, much more effective. There is too much “Cannon vs. Nikon” philosophy, for example (I appreciate that these authors each use one of these systems, as do perhaps the majority of their audience, and surely there is some relevance to how these makers handle flash issues – but again, “just the facts ma’am” and then move on would be a good thing here). 🙂

Organization – The book is divided into 14 chapters. Respectfully, I do not believe there are 14 separate chapters of material here. I am not sure about publishing requirements and standards, never having personally done more than my own eBooks (which may not be models of clarity either). I have written enough to know that organization is not always an easy path, and there are always choices about how, where and when to present materials. But I truly believe this book could be condensed down to no more than 5 chapters. What we instead find here is a lot of needless (and I think, confusing) repetition.  In an effort to distinguish terminology and techniques, the author ends up repeating the same materials under different topics. The implication is that there is something different, and yet, there really isn’t (a great example is the segue from “fill flash,” “main flash” and “balanced flash.” After 3 long, repetitive chapters, it really boils down (and is implied, in my reading, by the book) that they are not really different categories. They are just applications of the flash fundamental that every flash exposure is composed of two exposures, one being the ambient light exposure and the other being the flash exposure. The rest is just understanding the relationships of the light sources, and how the technology in the units and cameras handle it.

There are many Positives …..

Having been critical, I have to say there are many positives to take away from this book. It is why I “suggest” it. I believe it is worth the work to slog through it and try to distill the very good information that is in there. I will go back and re-read, and take personal notes on this information and hopefully add it to my own kind of “field guide.” Here are some items I think are worthwhile information/tips from my first reading of the book:

  • The author gives one of the better explanations of how the strobe flash works, including flash duration, that I have read.
  • There are a couple comments regarding the use of flash when shooting waterfalls that I had not previously considered – particularly the ability to “freeze” water droplets while maintaining the “silky” look of the main waterfall in the image.  You can be sure I am going to experiment with that.
  • While most experienced users are aware of this, his explanation of how TTL in the flash unit relates to automatic and manual control of the camera was helpful.  He re-inforces why those of us who rely on “automatic” modes, because we don’t know better (or in my case, because we have become lazy), don’t get the results we expect.
  • There are some helpful tips on the placement of flash (particularly in close subjects) to maximize color and texture.

I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list

The Takeaway …..

The paperback cost just under $27.00.  Today, that is a rather modest cost for a full, published, hard copy book. So I certainly didn’t feel put off or cheated by the purchase. And there was enough in it for me to keep it rather then send it back. But it would not go on my list of “must own under any circumstances” books.

What I think might be a dynamite re-work of this book would be to have some heavy editing, drilling down to the relevant, useful information in the book, perhaps adding some more practical and experiential information, into a shorter and perhaps smaller format (think “field guide”). I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list.

Suggested

Shape

Color

Last time, I wrote about color.  Color attracts.  It always grabs my attention.  It pulls the eye.  But as this image illustrates, it is about more than just color.  This image is boring.  Mundane.  In fact, pretty awful to be displayed on a photographer’s blog.  But I hope it illustrates my point.  Color is a big part of my imagery.  But there are other important ingredients. 🙂

Rose
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Color alone will not make an interesting or compelling image

As the opening image illustrates, color, alone, will not make an interesting (and most certainly not compelling image).  Indeed it is so mundane that I didn’t copyright notice it or claim “artistic” credit.  I am sure I am not the first to have created an image very like this one.  So what’s missing?

Rocks, Lake Superior Shoreline
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

There are a lot of things that will bring interest to an image.  Line, horizon, animation (either illustrated, or in the case of many animal images, imagined).  I want to talk about shape today.

Elliot Falls
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

When I started to look through my archive for illustrations, I thought I was going to have a lot more illustrations that said “shape.”  I also thought about writing about “line.”  A topic to come.  But I was surprised that I was able to find many examples of line, or line and shape.  But fewer that shape alone provided the interest.  Some good examples appeared in the last blog.  The pottery in the shop in Istanbul was really all about color and shape.  Likewise the fans in Japan.

Shiawassee River, Owosso, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

The Rose image has plenty of color.  Two primary colors in fact; red and green.  A blob (or an uninteresting shape) of red and green would not be interesting.  As a photographer, its presence would perhaps pull my eye.  But upon closer inspection, it would not tickle my photographic fancy.

Parking Structure on Wabash Avenue, Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Nature presents us with unique and interesting shapes and textures.  The Lake Superior rocks image is another example of nature’s unique presentation of shape, texture and color.  This image might be interesting without all three of the elements.  Maybe the shape and texture would still make a viable image.  But the color attracted me, and the shape and texture of the image prompted me to make it.  Likewise, shapes make the Elliot Falls image in my view.  This Michigan U.P. waterfall is oft-photographed and it is difficult to find a unique perspective.  But the scallops in the sandstone really make this image.

Street Shops
Madrid, NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I was looking for color the morning I took the Shiawassee River photo.  The background was cluttered and not very picturesque.  So I started looking for reflections.  The shape of the log creates enough interest to the eye to make this image work.  Sometimes you have to “help” nature just a bit.  The Noyes Pond bubbles image is a favorite of mine.  Without the bubbles, you have another “record” shot of fall foliage surrounding a pond.  The familiar shape of the bubbles adds interest.  I must confess that although I was involved in making the bubbles, my photograph was not the primary reason for them on this morning.  This image was made in memory of a dear friend, and enthusiastic fellow Vermont shooter.  But I think George would have loved this image. 🙂 .

Moulton Barn
Mormon Row, WY
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Man made shapes often lend themselves to “shape” composition.  Architecture often lends itself to some dramatic images.  I visited Chicago several time over the years and always loved to walk around downtown in the early morning hours.  This well-known parking structure can be seen in the background of many images of downtown Chicago.  Its unique shape and physical prominence makes it visible from a number of viewpoint around the city.  Color once again drew my eye to the back street shops in Madrid, New Mexico.  Pastel colors abound in much of New Mexico’s architecture.  But again, without the juxtaposed rectangles throughout the image, it would be just a blob of color.  I liked that this image is made up of essentially all rectangles and straight lines.

Canadian Air Force
Fleet Week Air Show
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Shapes in a image can sometimes be serendipitous.  Without the contrails in the Canadian Air Force image, we would just see a handful of red dots in an shapeless, monotone sky.  The contrails make this image.

Starburst
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

And, sometimes you just have to make your own shapes.  The starburst image was taken at Christmas time of a lighted outdoor tree display in front of a large commercial building.  It just wasn’t doing it for me, so I played.  The image is shot at a slow shutter speed, on a tripod, while a zoomed the zoom lens.  But in the end, my favorite shapes come from mother nature and her random, unique artistry.  The Whitefish Falls image is but another nearly ubiquitous single drop waterfall in the Michigan U.P.  There are many of them that all look essentially identical.  To make a more unique image, I walked in close for my favorite “intimate” perspective.  I like the result as much as any shape I have ever shot.

Whitefish Falls
Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

A Change of Pace; 2007

The Les Chenault Islands Michigan U.P. Copyright Andy Richards 2007

The Les Chenault Islands
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

In 2007, we slowed the pace of travel.  Well at least a little bit :-).  We spent 2+ weeks every summer in late July or early August, visiting my wife’s family.  For many years, one of those weeks was spent with a group of “in-laws” on the Atlantic Ocean, renting anywhere from Bethany Beach, Delaware, to the north, all the way south to Nags Head, N.C.  This year marked some life changes for the family, and for the first time in many years, we did not go to the beach.  We did do a short day trip to Shenandoah National Park.

I continued to look for imagery in my own back yard, whether canoeing on the nearby Tittabawassee River sailing in the Great Lakes with my partner and friend, who owns a nice, 36 foot rig, or traveling up over the bridge for short (long-weekend) jaunts.

Little Stony Man Outlook Shenandoah N.P., Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Little Stony Man Outlook
Shenandoah N.P., Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

In early July, I joined a couple of my law partners for a long-weekend sail.  We did 2 overnight stays, one at Hessel, Michigan in the U.P.

Classic Chris Craft Boat Hessel, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Classic Chris Craft Boat
Hessel, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

On our return, we stopped at Mackinac Island, which vies with Frankenmuth, Michigan as our number one tourist attraction.  Its easy to see the draw of Mackinac.  Once a fortress for naval defense, it was settled early on (before lower Michigan was).  The fort is still there and you can see most of the waters of the Straits of Mackinac from the towers there.  It has been preserved and is now an admission-fee tourist attraction.  The little main street is also replete with the usual suspects; fudge and trinket shops.  There are also a few nice bars and restaurants, and the magnificent Grand Hotel, which sits uphill from the downtown area.  Mackinac Island hosts a governor’s conference at The Grande each year, and served as the filming point for the Christopher Reeve movie, “Somewhere In Time.”  The island is a rather steep hill and from the top, you have some magnificent views.  M-185, the single road which goes around the 8 mile perimeter of the island is bereft of cars, as motorized vehicles are not permitted on the island.  It is a great biking trail, if a little short.

Mackinac Island, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Mackinac Island, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Most tourists access the island by passenger ferry and the Sheppler Ferry company has a near monopoly on transport to the island.

Sheppler's Mackinac Island Ferry Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Sheppler’s Mackinac Island Ferry
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

During our regular summer vacation in Virginia, we made the day trip to Shenandoah National Park.  My wife and I agreed that we would spend our anniversary weekend there later in October.  During the early evening hours, I was able to capture a sunset up on one of the overlooks.

Little Stony Man Outlook Shenandoah N.P., Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Little Stony Man Outlook
Shenandoah N.P., Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

The next day, in the early morning light, I found a pathway with light shafts that was intriguing to me (it might look vaguely familiar to those regular readers here, who have looked at my banner image).  I also saw a momma bear and her two cubs cross the road in front of me, and a couple of young stag deer sparring in the road a while later.  Neither incident presented an appropriate opportunity to photograph them, but I will always remember these wonders of nature.

Shenandoah N.P. Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Shenandoah N.P.
Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

In late October, back in Michigan, I shot some fall foliage scenes in the nearby Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.  The photographs here are from a footbridge in the refuge just 5 miles from my home.  The images are “busy,” but show that you can find foliage images if you work at it.  The “big picture” is kind of “eh.”  But I was able to find two shots that I thought were worthy, by isolating areas.  The leaf on the water reflection has resulted in several sales.

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge; Saginaw, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge; Saginaw, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge; Saginaw, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge; Saginaw, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge; Saginaw, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge; Saginaw, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

I was not ready to give up on fall color yet, this particular year.  My sister and brother in law and I took a quick long-weekend trip at the end of October, to a small house he owned for a very short time in the town of Rapid River in the U.P.  We did a waterfall tour, and at the end of our trip, visited an area I had not been to before:  Fayette State Park.  Fayette was a large, iron smelting encampment during the Michigan U.P.’s boom in iron ore production.  There are some really nice image opportunities there.

Rapid River Falls Rapid River, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Rapid River Falls
Rapid River, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Whitefish Falls Rapid River, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Whitefish Falls
Rapid River, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Tannery Falls; Munising, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Tannery Falls; Munising, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

2005 (part II) – My Vermont “Homecoming”

Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Copyright Andy Richards 2005

For the past several posts, I diverted from my series of “old” images over the past couple weeks to write a couple Fall Foliage – specific posts, and to self-aggrandize with my two eBooks covering Vermont and the Michigan “U.P.,” the two best fall foliage locations in the U.S. (in my ever-so-humble opinion 🙂 ).  I will return to the foregoing series for a few more posts, though I am rapidly approaching the point where I began regular postings here and I don’t plan to “bore” you with “re-runs.”  It will have to come to a logical end, soon, and then I will actually have to think of something new and creative to post about :-).

Fittingly, the next couple posts have a substantial connection with Vermont and foliage, so the “theme” will continue into foliage season.  For some time I had been regaling Rich with stories about the utopian Vermont fall foliage.  I had many memories from the years I lived there.  With its high percentage of Maples, and its mountainous territory, when things turn in New England, they really turn and present some truly spectacular color shows.

With its high percentage of Maples, and its mountainous territory, when things turn in New England, they really turn

While we were on our brief spring trip to the Michigan UP, we agreed it was finally time for Rich to visit Vermont.  My last trip to Vermont had been some 20 years ago and I was pretty excited to show Rich the “stomping grounds” of my youth, and really the birthplace of my own photography obsession.  So we planned our trip.

H. T. Doane Farm Bakersfield, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2006

H. T. Doane Farm
Bakersfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Traditionally, fall color “happens” in Vermont any time from the last 2 weeks in September to through the first 2 weeks in October.  It typically progresses from north to south and from the high mountains down to the valleys.  But that is a generalization, I have learned, from my own empirical experience.  There are pockets of the state where foliage happens out of sync.  I have always found good color in Peacham in the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont – sometimes getting there late and sometimes early.  The Village of Barton seems to share that character.  On the other hand, there are parts of Southern Vermont that seem to always peak in September.  Unfortunately, I have missed it every time I have visited those locations.

Big Falls Missisquoi River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Big Falls
Missisquoi River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

We used my aunt and uncle’s (H.T. Doane) farm in the northwestern part of the state as our home base for this trip.  My uncle’s advice was to come the last week of September.  In his lifetime of experience, that was our best percentage chance to see “the good stuff.”  My aunt and uncle were very generous people and I was always welcome (as were many other visitors over the years) to a bed, food and whatever other hospitality they could offer.  I had first lived on the farm in the 1980’s where I spent summers working.  I was anxious to go back and excited about the process of photographing the New England Color.  I spent a lot of time researching and one of the things I found was there was no really good resource for photographers.  During this (and every other) trip, I kept careful notes, and later recorded the information I gathered.  This eventually resulted in my eBook, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage.”  I digress, I know, but I cannot pass up an opportunity for yet another blatant plug for my own wonderful writing :-).

This trip was the beginning of a series of trips that would result in my Vermont eBook

Disappointingly, from a fall-foliage standpoint, this trip was close to a complete bust.  The magical color I remembered from earlier years just never happened in 2005.  As we drove through upstate New York and into Vermont, my heart sunk.  All I could see was green everywhere I looked.  During our week long stay, we drove all over the state to find color.   We started in Montgomery, seeking covered bridges and waterfalls, hopefully surrounded by brilliant fall foliage.  Not to be.  As you can see from the images, there was very little color and where there was, it tended to be Sumac bushes.  But we made the most of what we had.

Longley Bridge Montgomery, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Longley Bridge
Montgomery, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

My research had unearthed the Arnold John Kaplan pamphlet that is referenced in my eBook and often elsewhere on this site.  This pamphlet was to become my primary research tool and the basis for the later eBook (with foreword graciously written by the late Arnold John Kaplan himself).  There were a handful of “iconic” scenes that Arnold had famously photographed many years ago and I wanted to visit them.  So, we set off looking for Peacham, Waits River, East Orange, East Corinth, and others.  We didn’t make it to all, but we did see many.  And, pretty uniformly, there was really no color :-(.

Waits River, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Waits River, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

We did find a hint of color (which I have been able to “tease” out in post-processing) at Peacham, and you can see it was trying to start in Waits River.  The other thing we found was what I note in the beginning of the Photographing Vermont eBookOne constant about nature is that it is constantly changing.  We found the back road up the mountain that would give us the near aerial shot of East Orange.  But we didn’t see the iconic shot.  A passing local noted that over the 20 years since Arnold had photographed it, it had all grown up (meaning trees).  I didn’t bring anything home that I though was worthy of display from East Orange in 2005, but I did return in 2006 and found an opening (partly because the foliage was mostly gone by the time I arrived) which gave me a pretty nice photo.

Peacham, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Peacham, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

One constant about nature is that it is constantly changing

We also visited the famous ski resort/tennis resort/tourist-destination of Stowe, and spent a day in and around Burlington, Vermont’s major city and university town.  The Old Red Mill (now a shop) is in Jericho, on the way to Burlington from the north, and we made it a morning destination.  Basically giving up on the foliage images, we knew this would be photogenic with or without colored foliage.  This is a tough shot as you have to negotiate a very busy road (full of commuter traffic), and scramble over a bridge on around on a steep, rocky embankment to set up for the shot.  The light was pretty hot by the time it was high enough to light the scene, but we were generally pleased with the resulting images.

Old Red Mill Jericho, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Old Red Mill
Jericho, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe is a short distance from the farm and is at the southern base of perhaps the most dramatic mountain (“notch”) roads in New England, passing over Mount Mansfield; Vermont’s tallest peak.  “Smuggler’s Notch” is, from Bakersfield, the shortest way South.  It unfortunately or fortunately – depending on your mission and point of view — also goes through Stowe, which can be a traffic nightmare in high tourist season.  Nonetheless, we found ourselves traveling through it almost daily.  We stopped for mid-day meals and occasionally dinner after the sun had set.  We learned a bit about the place, including that there was a “high view” shot of downtown Stowe.  Like so many of these, the shot we saw had been taken years back and new growth had all but blocked any view.  We found a trail that was very primitive and basically “bushwacked” our way down to a possible view late one night, guided by flashlight.  Believing it had potential, we arrived at dawn the next morning and schlepped our equipment down to the cleared plateau we had found.  Daylight came shrouded in a heavy fog that promised to be slow to lift.  We patiently waited for about an hour and a half as coffee got cold.  While waiting, an inspiration from a year ago (perhaps fueled by boredom) came to me and I started searching the ground for “leaf compositions.”  This leaf image and the covered bridge we photographed one morning while staying close to the farm, were combined later in Photoshop and became the official “logo” for LightCentric Photography (see the opening image).

Maple Leaf Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Eventually, we gave up and sought breakfast.  During breakfast, the sun finally broke through.  It was late enough in the year that we figured we still had some time before the light became untenable.  So with renewed energy, we decided to return to our spot and though it is difficult to find an area that is not blocked, the photo here is my best image of the Stowe Village (and yes, there has been some retouching 🙂 ).

Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

As we prepared for the long return drive to Michigan, we decided the last morning to stick close to the farm.  Waterville, only about 15 miles away (a very short distance in Vermont terms) has several covered bridges that are kind of hidden away.   We decided to start there on our last morning.  The lone tree with muted orange color in the resulting image is illustrative of our frustration.  But this image ultimately served as the primary image for my logo.

Montgomery Bridge Waterville, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Montgomery Bridge
Waterville, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

I would continue to return to Vermont every couple falls, and great foliage would continue to evade me.  But eventually, I found some and some years, spectacular results.

Chicago and back to the UP – (2005; Part I)

Chicago Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Looking back, its hard to believe I have already covered 3 decades, and perhaps more amazing that I am still looking at images from 10 years ago.  2005, in retrospect, seemed like a pretty eventful year of shooting for me.  It definitely ramped up from the past decade.  It proved to be only an appetizer of things to come.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, so more on the in the coming months.

I have a confession to make

For now, in April of 2005, we spent a long weekend visiting my daughter who then lived in Chicago.  My trips to Chicago were always fun, but as a photographer, I was always drawn to the morning light around the buildings on the “miracle mile.”  My friend and mentor, Ray Laskowitz once referred to them as “urban canyons.”  Very apt.  My first photographic “walkaround” happened during this April trip.  The opener here is a favorite of mine.  I like the gold planter, the colorful “peacock,” the morning light, and the general contrasts.  But I have a confession to make.  In the original image, the sky is grey.  This image just screamed for a blue sky, so I found one and replaced itCheater.  Fraud.  Yeah, yeah. :-).  Unfortunately, I probably cannot ever sell this image, even if somebody liked it.  I think NBC might have a problem with that.

Chicago Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Looking at my archives, I did not post-process very many images from that trip.  As this was a family outing, I only carried my Point & Shoot, Nikon Coolpix E500 (a small-sensor camera that, while raw-capable, has nowhere near the image quality the new Sony RX100 does).  But I may go back now that I have more capability with the modern ACR processing engine in my Photoshop software. As an example, I quickly post-processed this image, shot from the top of the Sears Tower, hand-held, through the thick plate-glass, with the Coolpix.  When I first looked at these images (now 11 years ago) I concluded they were unusable.  By then, I had learned (perhaps the hard way) though, to save them in hopes of better future technology.  With the current processing engine and armed with a bit more knowledge, I was able to make this acceptable for a blog posting.

Chicago Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Sometimes you just get lucky.  I have said before here that my family are not “early” people.  I am — generally.  It works out well for me.  When we travel, I get a couple hours most mornings of solitude to explore with my camera.  Just give me a good cup of coffee and some general directions and I am happy.  And in Chicago, there is a Starbucks on every corner, so I was halfway there.  That morning, as I wondered along Michigan Avenue, I happened upon a large gathering of uniformed men.  I learned that it was the annual Chicago Police parade.  I took several shots that I would call “keepers.”  But this one is the one I selected today.  :-).  These are not “Chicago’s finest.”  I think they might be state troopers.  The Black Uniformed Chicago Police were everywhere, also.

Just give me a good cup of coffee and some general directions and I am happy

Shortly after I moved to Saginaw, Michigan to begin my law practice, I met one of my very best friends, Rich Pomeroy.  Our relationship quickly bloomed from professional/business to close friends.  We were two different personalities, but we found we had many common interests.  We played golf together and we traveled for business.  Over time we sometimes moved in different directions, but we never lost touch – finding time for breakfast or lunch and maintaining regular communications.  For a couple years, Rich moved away from Michigan to Minnesota and we still found a way to get together, including a Minnesota trip for me to shoot with our mutual friend and photographer, Al UtzigBut the photography portion of our friendship didn’t start right away.

I gave Canada some of my American Dollars for a new tripod

Rich had cameras before 2002.  But I think his real enthusiasm to learn and shoot came with his earliest DSLR.  We did some local shooting together and then in 2004, did the long weekend trip to the UP I talked about in the last blog.  In the meantime, Rich did a couple trips and seminars on his own, including an eventful trip out to Wyoming for a workshop that resulted in us traveling there a few years later for one of my more memorable trips.  He has a talented eye and I have often shot with him, only review the “take” later, and marvel at shots I he saw that I had totally missed!  You can see Rich’s work at his Photojockey website.  He very graciously credits me with getting him interested in photography there, but he had many other influences and his own natural curiosity and drive to make great images.

Point Iroquois Light Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Point Iroquois Light
Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

In the spring, Rich and I took a quick overnight trip back up to Tahquamenon Falls to shoot it with snow and winter conditions.  While I did keep some files from that location, I concluded that the upper falls were just not photo-worthy in winter conditions with gray skies.  I think there is some promise around the lower falls and a little tributary that flows into the river there, but I had a catastrophic equipment malfunction there, breaking a leg on my tripod.  We ran into some birders later in the day and they told us my only hope for parts was to go over to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, a city large enough to support camera stores (I think I have probably beat to death the concept of the need for a quality tripod elsewhere here – not one of the big box store cheapies).   So with a change in plans, we headed for Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, directly across the St. Mary’s River, which flows down from Lake Superior to Lake Huron.  There is a major drop right in this area, which would make navigation impossible.  So more than a century ago, the first Soo Lock was built (1855).  I don’t remember ever being in Sault Ste. Marie, and was favorably impressed with the small downtown area along the river.  We found a motel, checked in and then headed for the bridge to Canada.  We were pretty naive, considering it was fully 3 1/2 years since the infamous “9-11.”  But we were still a year or so away from mandatory passports in and out of Canada–a good thing, because neither of us were carrying ours.  We were able to get over to the Canadian Sault, where we found a relatively nearby “old school” camera shop, and I gave Canada some of my American Dollars for a new Bogen tripod :-).  Back in business.

Soo Locks St. Mary's River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Soo Locks
St. Mary’s River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Traveling back into the U.S., we did some research and decided to try to get to The Point Iroquois Light, a relatively nearby Lighthouse by dawn the next morning.  When we left Saginaw 2 days before, it was Spring.  Snow was melted and there were signs of things getting ready to bloom.  In the U.P. it was still late winter and there was plenty of snow on the ground (we waded nearly 1/2 mile through knee deep snow back at the Lower Tahquamenon Falls).  So that morning, we were shooting in 20 degree (fahrenheit) temps.  We had to keep warming batteries and changing them out.  But we were able to capture some nice images of the light and of a Lake Superior sunrise.  May favorite was the twilight image shown here.

With some time left, we headed back to Sault Ste. Marie (called “The Soo” by locals), and found a restaurant right on the canal with a view of the locks for breakfast.  As we were finishing our breakfast, we saw an upbound freighter moving toward us.  We later learned that the locks had just recently been re-opened from the winter.  We raced to the car, grabbed our gear, and then onto a very nice viewing platform.  It was still nice, early light and we made a number of captures of the Freighter as it came through and then exited the locks into the icy waters of Lake Superior.  Before we headed home to Saginaw the next morning, we were able to capture the sunrise over the bridge from the locks viewing platform.  This little detour was a pleasant surprise and I am surprised that I have not made it back there.  Some day.

Soo Locks St. Mary's River Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Soo Locks
St. Mary’s River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Next – My Vermont Homecoming

“Digital” Michigan “UP” Photo Excursion – 2004

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

In spite of the newly acquired digital SLR camera, aside from a couple “forays” into “birding,” my photography stagnated during the period after 2002.  I needed some motivation to get shooting again.  I was a reader of Moose Peterson’s books and his website.  He had an associate who helped him with his website and did some shooting on his own – David Cardinal.  When he offered a 2-day, October “UP” workshop at what seemed like a reasonable cost, I signed up (for those who haven’t read here, the “Upper Peninsula” of Michigan is referred to by us Michiganders simply as “The U-P”).  The UP is – in my view – second only to New England when it comes to colorful fall foliage.

To the oft-repeated “truism” that foliage photographs better on cloudy days, in the words of the Dave Mason song, “we just disagree

I communicated directly with David (turns out, his dad lived in Northern Lower Michigan, and David thought it made sense to combine a trip from California to Michigan to visit, with work) and he indicated that the workshop would be based in Paradise, Michigan, and would generally focus on Tahquamenon Falls, just outside of Paradise.  There are two drops, the upper falls and the lower falls, all part of a Michigan State Park.

Curley Lewis Highway Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Curley Lewis Highway
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

The workshop was “officially” from Friday evening through Sunday.  My buddy, Rich and I decided to head up Thursday afternoon, and take a full long-weekend.  The drive up is a 4-hour jaunt from where we live in Saginaw, Michigan.  The northern border of the UP runs entirely along the southern shore of Lake Superior (the biggest and coldest of the 5 “Great Lakes”).  Nearly the entire eastern part of that shoreline is taken up by the Federal National Park System’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Knowing we would be spending the better part of the weekend at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, we decided to head to an area further west – a pretty little summer resort (and harbor of refuge) known as Grand Marais.  We pulled into the town late on a sunny afternoon and began scouting.  We planned to visit Sable Falls – one of the numerous waterfalls that cover the UP in the morning.

Sable Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Sable Falls
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Friday morning we awoke to a steady rain.  It deteriorated from there.  We did find the waterfall.  I have some images, but had to learn how to retouch raindrops on the lens in Photoshop in my later post-processing.  After getting completely soaked, we eventually gave up.  But not before I did something that reinforced one of life’s lessons.  I have no idea who said it first, but:  “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  We walked downstream to the mouth of the river.  It emptied, not onto a sandy beach like I expected, but onto some very rocky shoreline.  Not seeing much of anything but grey skies and therefore boring shoreline images, I turned my camera down and started looking for compositions in the rocks.  The resulting “Rocks, Lake Superior” image is one of my most memorable and has sold a number of times.  It has appeared here in past years’ posts.

Rocks; Lake Superior Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Rocks; Lake Superior
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

The day did not get better, so we headed for Paradise.  We got settled in the hotel, and met the group for dinner and introductions.  Disappointingly, Saturday dawned cloudy with rain showers.  There was no steady rain, and we stayed dry.  But it was a gray day.  There is an oft-repeated “truism” to new photographers that fall color photographs so much better on cloudy days.  In the words the Dave Mason son, to those people, I say, we just disagree.  🙂   If you are shooting close-up images it may have a kernel of truth.  But to my taste, the best I can hope for is a partly cloudy day, with some sunshine and puffy clouds.  Bue sky and sunlight will add some dramatic lighting to your images, especially if you want to include some sky in your images.  For landscape shooting, I think sky is often necessary to give perspective.  So this day wasn’t one of my favorites.  Nonetheless, I was able to make some images of the very impressive upper drop of Tahquamenon Falls, and even squeeze out just a hint of blue behind all those clouds.

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Sunday morning broke very cold and the drenching produced a heavy shroud of fog late into the morning.  The sun and blue sky finally appeared – as we drove home.  But we started the day at the lower falls and one of my favorite images is downriver from the falls with some fog and color.

Tahquamenon River Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon River
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Driving home, we took the Curley Lewis Road toward Sault St. Marie, and the bridge back to lower Michigan.  We finally saw a hint of the great fall foliage shots the Michigan UP is known for.  This trip was a great ending to the year and a beginning of some travels and a lot more photography.  And, this would not be my last trip to the Falls and was one of many more trips to the UP.  As many of you know, my travels to the UP eventually resulted in the recently-published Photographing Michigan’s UP, ebook.