Erosion

Sunset-Lake Champlain-Oakledge Park
Cracked rocks and sunset over Lake Champlain from Oakledge park.

In the springtime along the shores of Lake Champlain you have a short window of time to make images with decent, rocky foregrounds before the snowmelt and rains cover them up. This image I made in early April and because of the heavy rains we have had this Summer, The rock here is now submerged in water. It’s something I have to watch out for and depending on how high the water is I have to wait some months to return to certain spots.

We have had so much rain this summer that a lot of the good foregrounds are covered up now including this one but I had the chance to shoot this section of rock before the rains came. The rocks here at this park have a ton of character….Many are cracked and pitted but some are smooth due to many years of the relentless pounding of the waves from the lake. The landscape here changes daily and I was lucky on this trip to catch a really nice sunset with clouds reflecting the beautiful light from the setting sun!

The image itself is a blend of two different shots. Both were made for focus and at different exposure settings to blend together exactly the kind of light that I was seeing while shooting. These exposure blends always require a different amount of work for each one ,Some are easier and some are a bit more difficult. Along with blending the foreground and background together like this image they will need a good amount of brush work to even out the exposure and to add in extra light where I need it. We certainly live in a beautiful world!

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ .06 and 1/15. No filters. Two images blended in Photoshop and edited in Lightroom.

A Brief Respite

Sunset-Lois McClure-Perkins Pier-Burlington-Vermont
The Schooner Lois McClure docked on Perkins pier. Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

Burlington has a pretty rich history over the past few hundred years and an example of that is this replica schooner, The Lois McClure. The ship is an 1862 class fully functioning replica that was designed by intensive study of two schooner shipwrecks that currently sit underwater in Burlington harbor. There are no existing plans for ships of this type which is why the studies were needed for construction. Building began in 2002 here in town at the Burlington Shipyard and the inaugural launch was in 2004. White Oak, White Pine, White Spruce, Oak and Mahogany where all used in its construction with the wood being sourced from Vermont, New York and Maine.

Clouds really provide a great backdrop for sunsets here but on this night I got skunked. I did however like the minimalist feel to the sky with the moored boat against the large granite blocks that make up Perkins Pier. I was most attracted to how the light wrapped around the front of the boat and I wanted to add a bit of the foreground into the image. The light was beautiful and the hint of clouds, boat and land I think give this one a bit of mystery! I blended two images together here…One for the light on the foreground rocks and one for the sunset and Adirondack Mountains beyond.

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/8 and 1 second. No filters. Two images blended with gradients in Photoshop.

Two Trees

Ice covered trees and rocks with sunset over Lake Champlain.
Ice covered trees and rocks with sunset over Lake Champlain.

It’s all about perspective when it comes to shooting images at locations you have visited many times. Changing your perspective several times and really working a composition always 100% of the time will lead to some surprising results! I am fortunate to live in a state where the locations I often return to change throughout the year. While it can be a challenge at times especially in the icy grip of Winter to get something new from an old location I never leave a composition without first exhausting all of its possibilities.

This image was shot during a fairly cold sunset over Lake Champlain at a park that I visit quite often throughout the year. The waves from the lake over the course of the Winter build up a fairly thick coating of ice on the shoreline in the area making it difficult to get down to the water’s edge in places. Not finding good compositions on the ice I stepped back several paces and found this composition looking out between these two trees. I liked the combination of the setting sun with the fading light striking the ice.

Here I had to do an exposure blend of two images. I wanted a certain level of light on the foreground as well as to preserve the light in the sunset something impossible to do in one exposure given the composition and the contrast between the light and dark areas. I try to keep my blends rather simple…..I placed the two images over each other and I used a brush set to about 30 to 40% opacity to blend in the color in the sky. Fine tuning is the key along the edges of the icy rocks and the tree limbs but I think the results were worth it!

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Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/4 and 1 second. No filters.

Transitions

Winter sunset during blue hour over Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.
Winter sunset during blue hour over Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

Sometimes you get lucky with an image and you are in the right place at the right time. Here in Vermont you may get some frozen fingers and toes but if you can position yourself and your gear just right you can come away with some interesting images! I shot this image back in January and I forgot I had shot it but when I took a second look at this one I realized what a gem it was. I would say over the past four months 99% of my images have been shot in the hour before sunset, blue hour and the hour after sunset. We may not get all of the color in a sunset you may see out west but what we do get in the Wintertime is a certain crispness to the images.

In this image I managed to capture the fading light of sunset as well as the transition from blue hour and into night with some stars poking through the sky. It is really interesting to see all three events in one single frame. Cloud cover has been a bear over the past few months but here I got a nice touch of interest in the clouds that were present. I have to take advantage of skies like this as they can turn into an ugly mess in a heartbeat with our fickle Vermont weather!

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 13 seconds. No filters.

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Frozen Embrace

Ice formations on rocks and sunset Over Lake Champlain. Oakledge Park. Burlington, Vermont.
Ice formations on rocks and sunset Over Lake Champlain. Oakledge Park. Burlington, Vermont.

When the clouds and overcast skies do break around here in Vermont, We have been treated to some really fantastic sunsets and winter landscape photography! I try to get out as often as I can when I see the conditions are favorable and I was treated to quite a show last week. Due to the extreme cold we had the waves hitting the shoreline were creating some really great ice formations giving the rocks here an alien world sort of look. While there is not much snow to speak of there are all kinds of crazy shapes in the ice making for some good foregrounds.

Here I was getting some good color in the sky but the positioning of the sun made the foregrounds a bit darker than I would have liked. This image is a two image exposure blend and while the two exposures are pretty close to each other just that small difference in settings allowed me to add in a hint of light and detail to the foreground rocks while keeping the gorgeous color in the sky. I always want to keep my exposure blends believable, That is I don’t want to push the foreground exposure so much that it doesn’t match the light in the sky. I wanted a hint of light and to make the image as close to what I was actually seeing as possible.

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/8 and 1/25. No filters.

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Struggle for life

Canon 7d/Canon 17-40mm F4 L series lens, UV filter, Lee Big Stopper 10 stop neutral density filter. Processed in Lightroom 3. ISO 100 17mm F 16 @ 90 seconds.

I have been looking at this tree for a while now contemplating an interesting composition for it. The tree sits on a tiny spit of land on Lake Champlain in Oakledge Park and I have always admired its tenacity at surviving such a harsh environment.

I wanted to show lots of movement here and there is a little in the tree. With the whipping wind it would have been near impossible to capture the long exposure without showing the movement of the tree and branches. While an image of the tree not moving with the clouds speeding by would have been nice that was not my intent here. Have a good weekend…Let me know what you think of this one!

How to draw the viewers eye to subjects of interest with less than ideal skies in a landscape image

Barge poles at sunrise with light house,breakwater and mountains. Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

Landscape photography is kind of like gambling as it is so dependent on the weather.

You take as many precautions as you can, Do all of your research to get the best image and the weather can change on you in an instant leading to little to nothing to show for your hard work.

For me I have always looked at the pursuit of great landscape image like a duel between the Yankees and the Red Sox. While the games themselves are always filled with excitement they can bring you to these incredible emotional highs or lows.

Landscape photography is no different here in Vermont where we are always subjected to quickly changing conditions and challenging lighting scenarios. The real trick is how to overcome so-so conditions and pull a beautiful image out of what would otherwise be boring.

Can boring really be beautiful?

I have been through this scenario a thousand times shooting landscapes where you roll up to your intended composition and the sky just totally craps out on you leaving you with some decisions to make. Is there really nothing to shoot at the location? Do you leave? Do you continue on as a scouting mission? In the image that I captured above there were a few elements that drew me and made me want to stay versus throwing in the towel. Who wants to do that when you can employ all of your creative powers to shoot what others may dismiss….

The color palette- While the clouds crapped out on me the haze in the background sky caused the rising sun to create a lot of pink and purple hues in the sky. The sky may not be as dramatic without some big, puffy clouds in the background there certainly was some really interesting color.

The thin layer of Spring ice- Due to the air temperature while I was shooting there was a very thin sheen of ice which was covering the lake. The ice was reflecting all of the awesome color in the sky back up into the scene surrounding everything with this wonderful, purple color.

The weathered look on the barge poles- Normally during the summer season the area here is covered with boats making this image impossible except in the Winter time. These wooden poles take a lot of weather and abuse over the years but they have this time tested quality and weathered appearance that i did not want to pass up.

The elements in the background- There is almost an s curve in this image as your eyes move from the poles to the lighthouse and then on to the snow covered mountains beyond. The wooden poles draw you in front and center but the rest of the elements tell the story…..The lighthouse and breakwater are surrounded by water well above normal levels and you can clearly tell that Spring has come as the snow is melting on the mountain tops beyond.

Cropping- By cropping tight on the poles I got rid of any distracting elements including just a hint of clouds in the sky. Much of the scene here was on the boring side but the tight crop told the story of the image with just the right balance of elements better than a wide shot of really nothing in the sky. The purple colors act as a backdrop making the foreground really pronounced.

So how do we draw the viewer in?

There are a number of ways to move the viewer through the image but when it comes to challenging conditions it becomes much harder. This is a time when all of our time spent honing our craft comes into play as well as our artistic vision. You have to ask yourself in this situation how do I make something out of nothing? What is the best way to tell my story? In the image above I used a number of techniques to bring home a decent image including….

  1. Composition and the s curve- The s curve is a classic composition technique that is very effective for leading your viewer through your image. In my case here while not a typical s curve the ridges of ice just behind the mooring poles do form an s curve leading your eye from the poles to the lighthouse and then over to the mountains.
  2. Tight cropping- The original capture is not much different from this final image with the exception of a slight crop on the top and bottom of the image. The tight framing allowed me to get just three elements into the frame that tied together to the location while avoiding anything that made the image too busy.
  3. The change in seasons- Suggested in the image is the change from Winter into Spring. Here in New England this is a welcome change and the image includes ice, snow covered mountains, thin lake ice, and higher than normal lake water due to snow melt which is visible at the lighthouse and breakwater.
  4. Color- Color is always an effective way to draw in our viewers and here the image is dominated by shades of purple. The poles, lighthouse and mountains really stand out in all of the purple giving the image a lot of contrast.
  5. Dominate foreground- Prominent foregrounds are the start of our story in the image and begin to lead your viewer through it. Here the barge poles split the frame in half but the curving lines of the ice lead you from the bottom of the image to the poles then on to the lighthouse and the mountains in the background. The foreground puts the viewer in a specific place and they are not left wondering where they are.
  6. Contrast between elements- In my image there is some really nice contrast between all of the main elements in the image. While the wooden poles are somewhat dark in the foreground the lighthouse and mountains really standout as the foreground fades from dark to light in the background. The colors are subtly different in the lighting transition which adds a bit of drama and the white elements in the frame really stand out.

Conditions always change but your artistic vision does not

Weather and lighting conditions are constantly changing and something we will always have to contend with when shooting landscapes. There will be times and I can attest to this that you will simply get skunked when it comes to landscape work. While we are always free to walk away I personally love the challenge of finding an image in challenging conditions. It sharpens your artistic vision, Frees you creatively and when the time comes to make images in stellar light  you will be ready.