A Vermont landscape off the beaten path in Groton State Forest and Lanesboro, Vermont

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The wondering photographer

Lanesboro, Vermont is a tiny speck of a town on a Vermont state map but it sits smack dab in the middle of some of the best foliage viewing the state has to offer.

Route 232 travels through the Groton State forest and on a side dirt road with a tiny sign for the town of Lanesboro you will come across this scene. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it location that’s between Groton, Marshfield and Plainfield.

During the Fall foliage season many photography spots can be overwhelmed with visitors and if you feel adventurous and want to get lost then scenes like this one can be found.

I had passed by this scene many times and on this occasion what really grabbed my eye was the wonderful color in the grasses in this open field along with the changing Autumn color in the background.

Tips for getting yourself lost on Vermont’s back roads

The road this location is near is an old railway bed that has since been converted into a dirt road and recreation path which connects to two very picturesque ponds and some of the more stunning foliage during  peak color of the Autumn season.

With more dirt roads than paved ones you can be assured that there will be a photography adventure around just about any corner in the state. With over 26 years of experience traversing the state’s roads I have come up with some tips for traveling and finding unique locations in Vermont.

  1. Bring a map – Seriously, Google Maps is good but what it won’t tell you is there are roads here that get closed or don’t allow certain types of vehicles or that its mud season. I would highly recommend having a set of paper maps as Vermont’s roads at times can be labeled differently on a map then they are on the road signs. Hell there are still places in Vermont that still use wooden road signs and those are often worn away or illegible. Have maps and know how to navigate, Don’t rely on Google Maps alone.
  2. Don’t be afraid to stray off a main road – Often times the side roads will offer up some really stunning imagery and while not noticeable at first will connect with main roads that can get you back into familiar territory. Most side roads in Vermont can be a little convoluted and can twist you around but most will make giant loops or connect to other roads to get you back onto a main road.
  3. Avoid mud season – This one is a no brainer but that period of time after winter ends but before spring officially starts can play havoc on vehicles. The mud gets deep and it likes to suck in cars or create ruts that are just impossible to navigate around. I have driven on many roads during this season and it just really isn’t worth it. Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere is a pretty unpleasant experience.
  4. Have a rugged vehicle – This one goes along with number three but have a tough vehicle if your going to get off the beaten path. A truck, A car with all wheel drive or four wheel drive, Anything that will not be hampered buy road conditions. I don’t have a truck but I do have awd and it will save your bacon on a muddy or washboard, rutted road.
  5. Not all landscapes will be sweeping vistas – Look for the smaller more intimate scenes as sometimes that grand Vermont landscape can be illusive depending on your location. The northern part of the state tends to be more mountainous with forests and trees tightly packed together and you have to climb above the treeline while the Southern sections are more like flat, rolling hill farmland landscapes. Forests will have ponds with tight forest cover and hard to access areas but you can also find abandoned rock quarries or farms. The smaller scenes will let you hone in on a specific element like my image above and the sky reflection in the small stream.
  6. Look for multiple places to shoot in or around one central location – By having one main shooting location and several side locations you can up your chances of coming home with a keeper. It can take a lot of drive time to reach some of the more scenic places in Vermont and you don’t want to waste your time while out. Have a plan a, b, c, and d around where your main location is so you can maximize your shooting potential.

Trusting your vision

I drive right by today’s image but as you progress as a photographer you learn to trust your eyes and your brain when it says “Stop!” That’s preciously what happened to me and I am glad that I listened to my inner artist otherwise I would have missed this shot.

This small stream here is right along the side of the road and I noticed first that it made a nice leading line into the image. The color on the field grasses was quite striking as well as the changing foliage in the background trees. Grasses like this are a common site here and their color changes throughout the foliage season. The reflection in the water provides a nice focal point to draw you in and to follow through the rest of the image. Here is my original image….

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Here is my original Camera Raw image file and as you can see the sky is a bit bland and the highlights on the grass wash out their detail.

My original shot was off a bit so this one would need some edits to make it really shine. Cropping to center the stream reflection, The highlights, The sky and coaxing some more detail out of the water reflection were all that was needed to really make this one shine. I used the HSL panel to make the colors really pop and add some drama to them.

Getting off the main roads and opening yourself up to the adventure really isn’t so bad is it?

Let the adventure be your guide

Vermont pretty much has it all in terms of what you can find for landscape imagery. All of it really is there if your willing to venture away from the crowds and really explore the state.

I do a great deal of planning when I shoot my landscapes but there as always room to roam the unique back roads that we have here. While we are sadly losing a lot of our rich farming traditions and the industrial production of years past, There still is a lot of vintage charm to find.

Get out there, Zig when you should zag and find your next great landscape image.

Off The Path – Kettle Pond. Groton State Forest. Groton, Vermont.

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Driftwood and Autumn foliage at Kettle Pond in Groton, Vermont.

I made a couple of visits to Kettle Pond in Groton State Forest this year and it is a pretty stellar location for landscape photography! The weather and lighting were not as good as I had hoped for but I made do with what I had to work with. You wouldn’t know it from the road that this location was even there as you pull into a small, unassuming dirt parking lot with a small trail leading to the pond. The trail is a small portage to a boat launch but turns into a three-mile hike around the pond for the adventurous photographer.

I am always up for finding something new to shoot so when I got to the pond on my first visit instead of walking the trails I wandered off trail just a bit and found this small outlet for the pond loaded with really old driftwood. I have seen a lot of photographs of this pond but never any from this spot. To me there was opportunity as there were a ton of decent compositions and angles here. Textures, shapes, lines and form all came together here and although my time was limited both times I shot this panorama to give the spot a sense of scale.

I stitched 15 images in Photoshop cc to make the final panorama which came out to be 4469 x 11997 at 306.82 mb. I did some basic tweaks in lightroom but no major editing was needed to bring out all the best in this shot. I got skunked with no clouds when I made this panorama but I enjoyed the process and the final image. The lines and texture of these old trees really drew me into the shot and I wanted to show how big the spot actually was.  I have not shot a ton of pano’s recently but for some reason I shot several during this Autumn’s foliage season and all of them came together nicely.

A Colorful Wave – Nichols Ledge. Cabot, Vermont

 

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Panoramic view of Peak Fall foliage from Nichols Ledge in Cabot, Vermont.

The Autumn foliage season we had here in Vermont for 2014 was spectacular! I had the chance to get out quite a bit to do some Autumn photography work and visit some locations that I had never been to before. On of those locations was Nichols Ledge which overlooks Nichols Pond in Cabot. Vermont. I had been waiting all of 2014 to visit the ledges due to nesting Peregrine Falcons so the short hike to this overlook was closed until August. Because it opened so late in the year I decided to wait until the Autumn color started to come in to visit and I am really glad that I did! Finding this location was quite an adventure for me but once I was there I was treated to quite a show.

Nichols Pond which sits off to the right edge of this image sits basically in the middle of some very undeveloped forest. The roads leading to it are dirt, confusing and looking at a map won’t tell you much on how to find the rock ledges that overlook the area. Once I found the trail head it is a short and steep 15 minute hike to an open rock ledge that overlooks the entire area around Cabot, Vermont. The day that I shot was very overcast with not much definition in the cloud cover but the foliage color was just phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better view of Vermont’s foliage and this spot is hands down one of the best that I have visited for color viewing so far. This panorama originally covered the entire sweep of the valley here including Nichols Pond but a small tree has fallen over on the rock ledge making composition to get the entire pond into the frame very difficult.

Instead here I focused on the foliage and the ridge line leading away from the rock ledge that I was shooting from. This panorama consists of 13 images that were stitched in Photoshop and edited in Lightroom. I had to do a bit more processing on this one as the lighting conditions were so overcast the foreground ridge line was a bit darker than the rest of the mountain foliage. I was able to make this image right in the last few days of September when the foliage color was second to none. I worked with the lighting conditions and came away with a pretty nice image of the Fall season!

The Dome – Bailey Pond. Marshfield, Vermont.

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Bailey Pond in Marshfield, Vermont during Peak Autumn foliage.

I was excited to return to Bailey pond in Marshfield, Vermont after not coming here for several years. This pond was one of the first places that I traveled to when I first started to shoot digitally and my efforts on that occasion were less than stellar. The first time I was here it was during the Fall foliage season and the lighting was mixed. Nice cloud formations but the sun kept peeking in and out of the clouds making for difficult exposures. The one shot I got at that time was ok but I wanted to improve upon that effort. I am not sure why I have never been back to this spot until 2014 but the entire area is ripe for photography work.

The pond is located on an old railway bed that has since been turned into a dirt road and is used for recreation purposes. It stretches for a few miles in a remote area and it connects to Marshfield pond which is down the road from where I shot this image. On both occasions when I came here I had the entire area to myself and there was no shortage of compositions to find. I love the pond mostly for the perfectly dome shaped mountain which is at the back of the pond. It comes alive during the peak color of the season and I was lucky enough to time the season right and be here to shoot when the foliage looked it’s best!

I shot this panorama in Late afternoon with the sun slowly descending behind me. While it was during daylight hours I was lucky enough to get some really nice cloud formations during my shoot here. The image consists of 17 images merged in Photoshop and edited in Lightroom. After completion the TIFF file comes in at 4006×10899 at 249.86 mb! The file is huge but I was very pleased with how it came out..Total vindication for my first visit when I was not yet comfortable shooting landscapes let alone digitally!

* If you love this image prints can be purchased here!

Mountain Fire

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Last Light from sunset on the slopes of Mount Mansfield.

Curiosity got me during the foliage season as I wanted to see up close how sunset looked on the slopes of Mount Mansfield. Normally I can see it from a distance but I had a feeling that the light would do some amazing things when you add in the color of the leaves. The road to one of my favorite spots has a small pull out with this view and I can tell you I have looked at this shot countless times. I shot this years ago with a wide-angle but I think a much better shot is with a telephoto so you can get much closer and really show off what an incredible mountain this is. Lucky for me a friend has loaned me a long lens so i was finally able to pull off this shot!

I made this image just before peak color and this frame is moments before twilight and the sun dipping below the horizon. Literally right after I shot this the whole face of the mountain here turned dark and I lost this beautiful color. The area just below the image frame is on private property and there is a small house that sits in a field with probably the most stunning view of Mount Mansfield. The sunset light really added something special here and with the foliage color made the mountain look like it was on fire.

A challenging shot for sure due to the difference in exposure levels of the sky and the slopes of the mountain. Most of the weather I had during this foliage season was blue skies and zero cloud cover so I tried to minimize the sky in this one. I had to tame the sky exposure with some neutral density filters but other than that just my usual minor corrections for exposure, white balance, etc. Not a bad way to end a day of foliage shooting!

Mountains Shadow

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Forest foliage at the base of Mount Mansfield in Underhill, Vermont.

This year during the foliage season I decided to take a different approach to my photography work. In years past I would head into the woods, Shoot waterfalls and trees, Then repeat over and over. Don’t get me wrong I love that type of work but this year I wanted to do something different and take a big step out of that box. I did much more scouting then shooting to prepare for future foliage photo ops but I also started to make more trips to random roads and places I have never been to before. I really believe that getting lost on a country road has a ton of benefits…One of which is finding new and unique compositions!

I focused a lot of my attention in the Mount Mansfield area this year and I was rewarded for all of my driving and hiking with shots like today’s image. The road I was on here is a dirt one and it skirts around the base of the mountain giving some impressive views of the peak. It was a blue sky day but I really liked the contrast between the colorful leaves, The mountain top and the tiny bit of blue sky I included in the top of the image. There is something special about Vermont’s mountains and finding views like this really leave you speechless.

The weather for this year’s foliage season I do have to say was fantastic with a few exceptions. My days of shooting fell into two categories…Either blue skies with no clouds or stormy days with mixed lighting of all types. Exposures were a challenge and with several weeks of little to no rain many of the streams and rivers were just not flowing. I made do with the weather I was given and found some new shooting locations in the process!

How to mount a photograph on mat board, Part one: The tools

Mounting a print to mat board is one of the many skills outside of shooting images that is a part of every Photographers tool chest. We are jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance men and women who are artists, business people, printers, computer wizards, software nerds, Weather reporters, travel guides, givers of advice, teachers, searchers and dreamers. We capture small moments of time and then have to figure out the best way to display those moments for all to see.

It can give one a great sense of accomplishment to really be in control of the entire process from capture to display. Learning how to do this however was sort of like trying to figure out who the killer is in a mystery novel. You get bits and pieces of information from various places and once assembled the brain finally kicks in and sees the entire puzzle.

It took me quite awhile to figure out the proper way to mount a print. Like the new guy on the team who wants to impress I said to myself “ This can’t be hard…Who needs instructions?” I am laughing to myself because I quickly found out that improperly matting a print just causes you way too much grief and aggravation, Not to mention cash from wasted prints. Being a person not to be discouraged by my earlier feeble attempts, I soldiered on and with practice and lots of research learned how to properly mat an image. It is actually quite easy when learned and customers who buy your prints will appreciate the fact that the artist captured and mounted the image which gives it more of a handmade quality. I finally feel like the process is complete when the image can finally be displayed.

There are several tools needed for the task which I will outline below. Some are a little more expensive than others but not so much to make doing this project really expensive. A small, clean work space is needed for the task, I used our dining room table which is small but adequate. You want dust kept at a minimum because it has a habit of clinging to the print and the mat so make sure to clean your work area prior to mounting the image. It’s just a precaution as nothing is more frustrating than finally slipping the mat and print into a plastic sleeve only to see dust or other contaminants in the sleeve…Just be wary of this.

1. The print – The print used here came from Shutterfly.com. I use them for all of my printing and have never had a problem or issue with their service. They use Fuji film crystal archival paper and inks and the prints look great. The print in this article is 11×14 inches in matte format, Shutterfly does not do glossy in any print over 8×10. My only complaint with them is that any print over 8×10 is shipped in a roll tube and not flat, When the print arrives you have to press it flat for several days to remove the curl. It is actually a pain because the print takes longer to deliver to the customer and it is very difficult to mount the print unless it is flat. 11×14’s at Shutterfly cost $7.99, I have a print package plan of 30% off any order so the total cost for this print with shipping was $8.58.

11×14 matte print from Shutterfly.com

2. The mat – You want to use a good quality, archival and acid free mat. You don’t want to buy to cheap of a mat as they wont be archival and most tend to yellow with age because they are poor quality. The black mat here was purchased at Creative Habitat for right around $6.00 dollars. It is a good quality mat although not museum grade. Normally I would have ordered it online however it is much cheaper to order several than one at a time so in this case I bought one locally. The same goes for the plastic sleeve, I would have preferred to have bought sleeves online but since I am only doing this one print at the moment I decided to save the sleeve it came in and reused it for packaging.

Black mat board for the image.

3. Hinging tape – Use a good quality, archival and acid free hinging tape. It is the main component for attaching your print to the mat so don’t be cheap here either. Hinging tape comes in two forms, Self-adhesive (pressure sensitive) which requires mineral spirits to remove or the gummed type that requires only water to activate the glue and for removal. I used Lineco’s hinging tape with a 1”x 130′ costing $11.00 dollars. It is a great tape, works well and this small roll will last awhile depending on how many prints you are selling.

Gummed hinging tape that I use.

4. Plastic sleeves – Good quality plastic sleeves of archival quality should be used along with a filler board for support behind the mounted image. The can be bought in all sizes and they are similar to comic book sleeves. Always be sure to purchase ones that are designed to fit a print that is mounted to a mat board otherwise it will be a tight squeeze in the sleeve. They are relatively inexpensive and they come in packs of 100. In this case as I was only doing this one print I reused the sleeve the mat board came in to  conserve resources.

5. Canned air-I always have these around and can be purchased from any computer store or warehouse stores like Costco. They are great for cleaning your computer hardware as well  as blowing any dust off of the print when packaging. Never mount a print without some of this around.

The canned air and the container I used to hold the water.

6. Three small items you will need also are a simple pencil for marking, A small detail paintbrush for brushing water on the hinging tape and in the case here of a black mat, Some type of white marking pen for signing the mat. I used a Pentec gel pen with white ink which worked well here. All can be purchased at an art supply store or office supply store and are really cheap.

Small paintbrush, pencil and signing pen.

7. Water container – Any small container will do and you don’t need a huge amount of water for the hinging tape. Use your best judgement here.

8. Paper towels – Any kind will do and these are cheap as well. You want these to clean up any water spills or for periodically cleaning off your hands. Small bits of glue will adhere to your skin if you are mounting a number of prints, Over time this glue builds up on your skin and creates these black smears on the print and mat. Work clean and always clean your hands every so often.

Cheap, handy paper towels!

9. Drafting T-square – A 24 inch one should be sufficient and costs about $11.00 dollars at staples. A t-square is important for getting straight lines when you mark the back of the mat. You want the print to be square and straight because it will extend ¼ of an inch past the mat opening.

10. Logan mat cutting rail with ruler – While not essential to this task, I have one and use it in the process for measuring. It is simply a long metal rail that either a straight or 45 degree mat cutter sits on allowing you to cut mat board. I like to cut mat board myself with the benefit of it being cheaper to buy than precut mat’s, However pre cut ones are cut by a computer and will always be straighter and look better than I can do myself. The final presentation will look more professional and it will be appreciated. The cost for a 24 inch Logan team system mat cutting rail is about $40 to $50 dollars. Expensive but I do use it enough to justify it.

Household scissors, Drafting t-square and a mat cutting rail with ruler.

11. Self healing cutting mat – This mat is self-healing which means when you cut on it the cuts in the mat close up and it can be reused many times over. This is an essential tool for this task and trust me, You don’t want to do this project or any mat cutting with out one. There is a grid on the mat in 1 inch increments for allowing you to get straight and even cuts. You never want to use cardboard to cut mats on because… As you cut with a mat cutter across the mat board, Cardboard has a tendency to bunch up under the razor blade making it skip on the mat board. Your cuts will be uneven and looked ragged. Always use a cutting mat of this type as it is designed to avoid this problem. I use a plain Staples brand one which cost about $10 dollars. In this instance we are not using it to cut on but  as a guide for marking lines on the mat.

Buy one of these! Trust me don’t cut mat’s on anything else…it wont work. You have been warned.

12. A handy pair of household scissors – Simple and cheap.

13. Business cards or some type of thank you note-While not entirely necessary, I think it’s nice to stick either a business card or a thank you note inside the print when packaged. It’s a nice gesture and you will be remembered for it. I am currently using the mini business cards from Moo.com and a package of 100 costs $20 dollars. These are great as they are a unique product and  you can use 25 different images per 100 for the front of the card, making each one you hand out different.

Moo mini business cards each with a different image.

(Please note – I am not paid nor do I receive any compensation from any of these companies. I list them because I use all of these products and believe in their quality.)