Valley Of Gold

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Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley at Sunset with a view of the Adirondack Mountains from Charlotte, Vermont.

Lake Champlain spans quite a distance from the Canadian border along almost the entire length of the state sharing it’s shoreline with New York as well. The Champlain Valley is a low lying area with a lot of farms and rural areas and during the Spring this year I was able to capture a sunset from a new location. With several smaller mountains in the area there are a number of shooting opportunities but this location which sits in the middle of pasture land is wide open and provides more than a 180 degree view of the entire Champlain Valley. The views of this valley and the Adirondack Mountains beyond is quite impressive and not to be missed!

The area here is part of a network of hiking trails and an overlooked gem in the area. I myself had no idea of the potential here until recently when I talked with the people who were living on the property. The ridge that overlooks this scene was part of a working farm and there were some barns and a giant old farmhouse on the land. I was bale to get some shots of the barns however currently the house is in the process of being moved so there isn’t any access to the old buildings. However you can still go and explore other parts of this location as well as this view!

I shot this image in the early Spring so the tree growth was just beginning to come in. I was lucky enough to get some decent clouds and color in the sky as the sun was setting over the Adirondacks. Processing was minimal here with my usual standard edits but I changed the white balance slightly to emphasis the golden color that was present from the sun. I really love the rural feel to this image as it is a part of Vermont that is rapidly disappearing.

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!

Farmhouse In Blue- A Quick Primer In Star Trail Processing

A blue hour image of an abandoned farmhouse in Vermont with star trails and fireflies.
An abandoned farmhouse at twilight with star trails and fireflies in Duxbury, Vermont.

Finally after a few weeks we had some clear nights so I headed about an hour away from my home to shoot this abandoned farmhouse. One thing that we have a lot of here in Vermont is old barns and farmhouses and this one sits in an area that is just great for night work… No light pollution and a nice subject to place in the frame underneath the star trails. It really is a great feeling to be under the stars by yourself on a country road with no one bothering you. As an added bonus the fireflies were out in force on the night I was here adding an interesting element into this frame!

I challenged myself on this one as I was shooting during the blue hour at twilight and I shot multiple exposures of the house for later blending. In my rush to get to this spot I forgot any lighting implements so to begin processing this star trail I first started with two shots…One for the sky and one for the house at a higher ISO so that it would be more than just a silhouette in the frame. This blended image was used as the base to layer all of the other images in the series. The added bonus in this shot were the fireflies…Each frame on its own looks quite uninteresting but when they are all combined it adds a bit of magic into the shot.

I was a little hesitant to share this one as my white balance was a bit off but the more I looked at this one the less that imperfection bothered me. I was shooting at twilight during blue hour so the light did have a really pleasing blue quality to it. The processing for this one went as follows…

1. I first blended two shots for my base image of the house and sky. One image was shot for the house at ISO 800 just to bring up the shadows and add a bit of light onto the house…I wanted to see the home not just a silhouette. I brought both images together with a gradient and made some tweaks to this base image in Lightroom for white balance and lighting.

2. Once I was done with the base image I imported the base shot plus all of the other images in the series into a separate folder on my computer.

3. In Photoshop CC I then chose File-Browse in bridge- Then choose the folder you placed the series of images into. Select all by right clicking on the first image which should be your base image and the start of your star trail series.

4. Once all of your images are highlighted in Bridge choose Tools-Photoshop-Load files into Photoshop layers. Photoshop will place all of the images onto one canvas in their own separate layers. Here you will have to wait a few minutes depending on how many images/layers you have.

5. Once all of the images are layered in Photoshop highlight and select all of the layers and then set the blending mode to lighten. Before your eyes the magic happens and the star trail will appear!

Fire Man

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A photographer friend of mine doing some steel wool spinning in a ice cave left over from the ice age.

You should always be learning and growing as a photographer and this year I have been getting more and more into night photography and slowly adding in night images to my portfolio. Back in February I had the opportunity to go out and do some steel wool spinning with a photographer friend and we had a blast doing it! Burlington, Vermont has some very interesting geological features one of which is an old sea cave. You wouldn’t think it from its location but sometimes the best photo spots are right in your hometown.

This cave is made up of limestone dolomite and was created by wave action from retreating glaciers. The Champlain sea which covered this area was formed from retreating glaciers as it was an inlet for the Atlantic Ocean. The age of the caves is roughly 10,00 to 13,000 years old. The cave itself is not impressive in size and is located in a wetland area. You can walk to it in the Winter time as the water freezes but for the rest of the year you need a boat to get to the cave.

This was my first time doing steel wool spinning so after some instruction we spent a few hours shooting in and around this cave. I finally settled on this composition as my favorite as it showed a good deal of the cave and the low to the ground view showed off my friend Brian doing some spinning quite well. It’s nice to step out of that comfort zone once in a while and learn some new techniques!

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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Ice Wave

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Shore Ice on Lake Champlain at sunset with a view of the Adirondack Mountains from Burlington, Vermont.

Finally after a tough start to the Winter I feel like I am getting into a photography groove again! The weather is still hit or miss and 9 times out of 10 I get skunked with the light but I feel that I am still getting out to shoot as much as I can and making some decent images despite all of the complications this Winter. Last week we got a few snow storms and in between the two storm systems the light and clouds cooperated so I made my way down to the lake to finally get some ice shots at sunset.

The lake has been in a cycle of freezes and thaws which create these really fantastic shapes in the ice as the waves move it toward shore. When there is no snow cover on the ice it is a great opportunity for some great foreground interest in a photograph at sunrise or sunset. Another bonus for shooting ice or snow at sunrise or sunset is that they take up whatever color is in the sky and you can get some really brilliant color if the light is right. In this image I did not get that effect as much because I was pointed a little bit away from where the sun was setting but the clouds here were pretty awesome!

I focused in on this cracked piece of ice sticking up from the water and setting my tripod low to the ground I crawled out onto the ice to make the shot. I took a risk here on the ice closer too shore as I could here ice cracking everywhere and you could feel the movement of the waves in the ice. However it was quite strong here in the image so without any danger I shot a few frames for focus and exposure and blended them together. The clouds really gave this one a painterly quality as they were drifting in straight lines off to the north and not directly overhead. Images like this make sitting out in the cold on lake ice worth it!

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Frozen Tides

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Ice on the Lake Champlain shoreline with clouds at sunset.

Finally we are getting some favorable conditions for Winter photography but for quite a few months I was worried we wouldn’t have much of a Winter here in Burlington. I shot today’s image a few weeks ago during a warm spell that broke up a good portion of the lake ice that we did have. Now we have a good deal of snow and Lake Champlain is completely frozen over for the first time since 2007! It has been a tough Winter for me with lots of different things keeping me from shooting regularly but I do what I can and go out as often as I can.

As the warming temps here a few weeks ago broke up the lake ice the waves push the leftovers ashore into these really interesting formations among the rocks of the shoreline. For the first time in weeks we had a decent sunset with some nice clouds and I was really looking for a nice bit of ice to use as a foreground to the clouds and color of the sunset. Needless to say even with the warm temps the ground around this composition was quite icy but with a little care I was able to pull off this image!

This is a blended image of two frames that I shot for sharpness and exposure as the foreground ice was much darker than the sky. I merged the two images in Photoshop, equalized the exposure between the two images and made my usual general corrections to come up with the final piece. The clouds were moving quite fast at this point so I had to shoot fast to catch them before they were gone along with the color! The view is looking North from Oaklege Park to Rock Point.

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Titan

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View of Mount Mansfield from Spruce Peak and Sterling Mountain on the opposite side of Smugglers Notch, Vermont.

I love finding new vistas and exploring all of their photographic potential. In this case a photographer buddy of mine showed me the location for today’s image and it was quite the view! Years ago I looked for this spot as I had seen it on maps but it is quite well hidden at the top of a ski resort. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to hike up a mountain to shoot some snow and to finally see where this spot was located. The area here is just like home to me as I have hiked and explored it for years now. It certainly is a thrill to hike up a pretty icy trail to finally see this view at the end of the journey.

This view is exactly what you see when you walk up a slight incline through some tight trees to a view of the backside of Mount Mansfield and Smugglers Notch. I knew right away that this was going to be my shot of the day as the small tree with the imposing mountain behind really spoke to me when I first saw it. The view from here is just incredible with spectacular views of Mount Mansfield ,Smugglers Notch, Stowe and the Stowe ski area and even Lake Champlain off in the distance. This really is the heart of the Green Mountains!

The day that we hiked was blue skies and zero clouds so I made two exposures for blending here as the close trees threw the mountains beyond too out of focus for my tastes as well as the pretty intense sunlight making exposing for both challenging. If you look closely at this image at 100 percent you can even see three people standing on the top of Mount Mansfield in the background. It’s nice to be able to hike in these mountains ans see how they change form season to season. A nice hike on a warm day with some fresh, first snow of the season. It really doesn’t get any better than that!

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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!