Walking On Giants

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View of “The Chin” on the Mount Mansfield ridge line with building storm clouds.

I had a chance recently to hike Mount Mansfield from the Stowe, Vermont side and spend an overnight shooting the sunset, the stars and milky way at night and then the sunrise in the morning. I usually only get the chance to do one or two hikes like this during the year so I jumped at the chance to do this one. I have hiked on or around this mountain many times over the years but this was my first time going up the toll road on the Stowe side and hiking up the ridge line from the visitors center. There are two ends to the ridge line one of which is called “The Nose” and at the other end is “The Chin.”

The Nose which is located next to the small visitors center unfortunately is no longer accessible for hiking as there are several cell towers located on it. You can still shoot around the area but hiking isn’t allowed. The Chin is Mount Mansfield’s other distinctive feature and sits at the other end and the entire ridge line forms a very distinctive shape that is well-known here in Vermont. This entire area is a black and white photographers dream providing a wealth of compositions no matter where you look.  While the color file looks great I felt this image really would be a stunner in black and white. This was one of my first shots of the evening a few hours before sunset and I saw the clouds building up over the Chin.

There really wasn’t much work to be done to this file to get it ready at all. I did a very slight crop on the top left corner because there was a small bit of blue sky that I wanted to minimize slightly. I did my usual tweaks for exposure, clarity, contrast, etc and some lens correction because the Canon 17-40mm has distortion at every focal length. The black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro 2 and here I toned down the highlights a bit because the setting sun was shining into the trees on this face. The clouds building behind the mountain is what caught my eye on this one. The mountain top was a great foreground to them!

The Watchers

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Hay field and trees overlooking the Champlain Valley and the Adirondack Mountains at sunset.

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When looking for new locations going on scouting missions and researching the area thoroughly is always a good skill to have but talking to landowners is also another. It can be nerve-racking going up to someones door that you do not know but a handshake and introducing yourself can go along way to shooting property that is otherwise inaccessible.  The property in today’s image I have driven by thousands of times and have wanted to make some photographs there for a long time. One day this Spring I finally got the gumption to go and shoot on the periphery of the property when one of the owners saw me shooting and came out to talk to me!

I was a bit surprised at this but I nicely introduced myself, shook his hand and we had a pleasant conversation about photography. (Turned out he was a photographer himself although with people and not landscapes!) He told me all about the property and behind the hay fields you see here is actually a nature preserve with trails and a sweeping view of Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley. The driveway through the property which turns into a dirt road through the hay fields is a right of way for the town where I shot this and it was perfectly fine to walk onto the land and shoot!

The property itself contains an old farmhouse with a couple of really large and old barns with some pretty fantastic views all the way around. I made this shot of two trees that sit on the edge of the hay-field and they reminded me of guards or watchers as they look out over Lake Champlain. The setting sun was providing some nice light on the grass fields and just as I was about to move positions this rather large cloud floated directly over the two trees! Sometimes you get lucky and other times you make your own luck.

Tracks

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Ski tracks on a sledding hill with forest and Mount Mansfield in the distance.

It has been quite awhile since I have done a proper black and white and the conditions were just perfect on the day that I shot today’s image to do one! The light and weather conditions were looking really good so I grabbed my gear and headed out to a few spots that I have been wanting to shoot for some time. The location here sits at the base of Mount Mansfield on the road leading to Underhill State Park. I have driven by this scene countless times and with a good coating of snow it was ripe for a few photographs.

The area here is a small hill and hay-field that gets quite tracked up after a good snow so it can be quite difficult to get to this field while it is still untouched. In this instance I really wanted to show the various tracks around the hill as that’s the areas purpose in the winter….Sledding, Skiing and fun times. I thought what better way to highlight the dramatic clouds and mountain in the background then to put these ski tracks front and center in the foreground. I thought they made a nice leading line into the distance and they drew me into those clouds above Mount Mansfield.

This image was part of a series that I though I would blend for focus but as it turned out this image was really sharp front to back so a blend was not needed. The focus point was roughly two-thirds into the image and it worked out well with a lot less processing for me. The sun was coming in and out of the clouds while I was shooting but there was just enough cloud cover to soften the light as it created some interesting shadows on the scene. I worked with what the scene gave me and while the snow was tracked up I think the tracks really added something special to this shot rather than a bland field of white.

Winter’s Dance

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Sunset over Lake Champlain looking South with ice and color reflections.

Finally after a few months of what I like to call a photography slump I am finally getting some decent Winter images. I did almost no shooting in November and December but things really started to pick up in January as the weather conditions improved and I wasn’t sick with whatever the newest funk was going around. I suppose we all go through these slumps from time to time but I fought tooth and nail through it and I am having a great time getting out and shooting the Vermont landscape again!

I shot this image the first week in February after a warm-up/freeze which left some really awesome ice formations along the shores of Lake Champlain. When this happens you have an unlimited set of compositions as long as there isn’t any snow to cover up the ice. In between storm systems the clouds opened up just enough for me to be able to make this shot. The cloud system here is streaking in a northerly direction with some build up happening in the left top of the frame. I take what nature throws at me so I let the sun and clouds do it’s thing and I was able to make this shot.

What really drew me into this image was the color from the sunset reflecting off of the ice. I thought the combination of the ice formations with the color on the ice was just too good to miss! I made two exposures here…One for the foreground ice and the other for the sky and background which I merged in Photoshop. I wanted to get some more light into the foreground as it was darker than the background but I also wanted to get as much of that reflecting color as I could. The blending made it possible to achieve both and come up with a unique shot of Winter’s grip on the lake.

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Whiteface

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Whiteface Mountain and the Sterling Range.

Here we are in 2014 and I wanted to start things off right with a shot of a remote Vermont beaver pond. The pond here is quite a trek to get to requiring some driving on dirt roads and a two and a half mile hike into the mountains! Normally hikes like this are no problem for me but I was not up to snuff at the time with a pretty severe cold, sore throat and cough. Conditions while sunny on this day were quite cold and in the single digits but thankfully there wasn’t much wind which made the long hike that much more enjoyable.

The pond here sits at the bottom of Whiteface Mountain with Sterling Mountain and Smugglers Notch ski resort off to camera left. It is a difficult hike in the Summer as the trail and beaver pond are quite wet and tough to navigate. The Summertime brings a huge amount of bugs which is why it’s much easier to make the long hike here in the Winter…No bugs and the ground is frozen! This spot is off the beaten path and hard to find but the images were well worth the effort. I had just enough time to do an hour or so of shooting before the clouds started to roll in but this is quite the majestic view.

The image is a three shot composite as I had to crawl out onto the ice to get the shot! I was really taken with the circular patterns in the ice so I took a shot and crawled out on my belly and set my gear close to the ice. Luckily it had been really cold for a week prior to this shot so the ice held and I was able to realize my vision for this one. I blended two shots for the ice and one for the background mountains getting a nice and sharp shot from front to back. This was shot in early November when we had out first cold snap and snow in the mountains….Much success to everyone in 2014 and happy shooting!

Monolith

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A large boulder and trees with clouds on Lake Champlain.

Foliage season is in full swing here in Vermont but the leaves are not quite at their peak yet so i am holding off on sharing any of those images just yet. Peak foliage should be within the next two weeks with probably another week or so of foliage in the valley’s after that and then it will be all over. In the meantime I still have several images from over the Summer like today’s image! If you want to see a couple of other shots from this area head here or here!

I was out shooting on a blue sky day with some exceptional cloud formations however it was mid day so the light was rather strong. The conditions were actually great for some black and white photography so I made a few images with the intent on converting them. The rock here is part of the shoreline in Burlington that is part of a larger Thrust Fault that runs under the lake and over to the New York Side. There are a few parts of the shoreline here that I have yet to explore due to the difficulty in access. The rock here is very slippery at the waterline as well as being sharp and jagged so you either cut your hands or slip in the water.

The cloudscape and blue skies here made for a nice conversion to black and white and I did a simple conversion in Silver Efex Pro. I only had to use one control point to darken the lower left corner a bit and I thought out of several different images shot this one had the nicest amount of contrast and combination of lights to darks. Normally I hate shooting in this light because of how harsh it is but I couldn’t pass up the clouds and with a decent exposure I came up with keeper!

Sleeping Dragon

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Storm clouds at sunset over Lake Champlain.

Nothing makes me happier as a photographer than when a good set of storm clouds rolls over Lake Champlain at sunset! You really never know what’s going to happen…Sometimes you get it right and are in position for a great photograph and sometimes you guess wrong and are sitting at home while the magic happens outside. The light takes on a special quality at the beginning and end of a storm and I love when I am there to capture it!

As I was shooting this passing storm I was lucky to capture a number of small boats zipping around the lake. The boats and activity give the image scale in relation to the massive storm clouds above. At times the good cloudscapes like this peter out pretty quickly and even in this image you can see the tail end of the system in the lower left corner where the clouds are thinned out and there is a bit of rain coming down!

There wasn’t much in the way of processing on this one. The image here is pretty close to the original raw file with the exception of some lens correction, white balance and exposure changes. It’s nice that you get a hint of color way off in the distance with the looming clouds dominating the scene. Blue sky conditions just never are as exciting as some good storm light!

Summer Whisper

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Sunset over Lake Champlain with fading clouds and a rocky shoreline.

I follow weather patterns over Lake Champlain quite a bit waiting for sets of clouds that I like at sunset. I love cloud formations and how the vary from day-to-day but I especially love the colors they produce at sunset from all the reflected light! Where I live it’s easy for me to look out my window and see if the clouds over the lake are going to fizzle out or if the sunset is going to be a decent one for images. It was 50/50 on the day I shot this image but I still went out regardless.

As I picked out my composition the light was fading fast and the clouds along with it! I had just enough time to shoot this image with the last of the clouds. In fact this small whisper of clouds disappeared completely a few moments after I shot this leaving only the band of color at the horizon. The clouds here had an almost painterly quality to them as the fizzled away but they were reflecting some really gorgeous pink light along with them!

The processing was pretty simple on this one…One shot for the clouds and one shot for the foreground rocks. I blended the two images together in Photoshop using some brush work to balance out the exposure in the rocks. I always try to keep these blends as close as I can to what I was seeing and as natural looking as possible. It can be a challenge to find good sunset spots here in Vermont but on this night I think I had the best seat in the house!

Red Storm

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Storm clouds at sunset Over Lake Champlain and Burlington, Vermont with the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.

Most of my photography work this year has focused around Lake Champlain as it’s close to home and our new baby keeps us pretty busy. Fortunately we are so close to some pretty beautiful scenery here in Vermont that I am still able to practice and keep up with my landscape work. It’s much easier for me to track the weather and cloud formations over the day for sunset shooting conditions than it is for me to guess at what conditions may be present at sunrise.

The storms that pass over the lake provide some phenomenal light at sunset if you can catch the tail end of them as the sun goes down behind the Adirondacks. This Spring and Summer we were graced with lots of rain and a ton of storms. I have spent a great deal of time learning these patterns this year and I think I have gotten pretty good at knowing when the storm and clouds will just fizz out and when they will turn into great shooting conditions. This storm produced some exceptional cloud formations and some beautiful red light!

I did have a pretty tough time shooting this composition however but in the end it was worth it. the rocky shoreline here rises about 5 feet or so quite severely right behind the camera position so not only was my tripod and camera only a few inches off of the ground in a puddle of water but I was sprawled out on my stomach in the water on some pretty sharp rock! I was aiming for getting a bit of the reflection of the clouds in the water and because of how flat the rocks here were I had to get as low as I could. Sometimes you have to get your clothes a bit dirty to get a decent shot!

Storm Glow

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Rock outcropping on the Lake Champlain shoreline at sunset with a passing storm.

With storms and otherwise terrible weather that comes over Lake Champlain I pay attention to what’s happening with the weather and if the light looks great I will grab my gear and head out to shoot. The view from my house is not the best but I can see how conditions are changing over the lake which makes deciding to go out to shoot or not fairly easy. I tend to look for the tail end of the storm systems as the light and clouds can be quite fantastic. You have to be quick however because the conditions can be awesome one minute and the next the clouds can completely dissipate leaving you with an empty, boring sky!

This shot was a desperation move as the park was crowded with people at all of the best compositions. The light was fading fast when I came across this grouping of rocks so I had to set up and get my images as quickly as I could. The rocks are pretty tight against the shoreline and wouldn’t you know it but this specific spot was infested with mosquitoes! The rocky ground made setting up my tripod difficult and the pesky mosquitoes were all over me but I managed to get my images and witness the end of a beautiful sunset!

I got lucky catching the tail end of a passing storm just as the sun set below the horizon. There was some awesome orange light in the sky and washing over the water and I even managed to capture a small sailboat off in the distance! Processing took a bit as I wanted to bring out some more light in the rocks which were very dark. I captured two images here for the sky and the rocks and blended them together in Photoshop. Nothing much was needed in the sky but I had to brush in a bit of light into the rocks and water in the foreground. It really is amazing the sights I get to see around here!