Bear Pond on Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont in black and white

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Hiking to a remote Vermont location

I knew about the existence of Bear Pond for a number of years and finally I was able to visit this remote location.

The pond sits in the spine of the green Mountains on Mount Mansfield and requires a roughly four-hour hike from the base to reach. Bear Pond can be visited by a trail that is no longer maintained so the trek in to it is not for the faint of heart.

It’s a treacherous scramble over moss-covered boulders and down some steep slopes so a partner is essential.

While much more remote than Lake of the Clouds if you can find someone who has been there to use as a guide your efforts will be rewarded. You won’t meet another person there but you will certainly find enough photographic diversity to keep you busy while you are there.

How do we craft an image in one shot with multiple points of depth and focus?

The trick with this image is to make it sharp and in focus from front to back. I chose this particular composition because there was a lot of depth to it with multiple points of interest for the eyes and it really told a story of the location. It showed remoteness and unspoiled beauty but getting it all into sharp focus would be my challenge.

This image has a flow to it where you move from the foreground grass and dead trees to the middle ground logs and finally to the background and clouds in the sky.  First I needed to identify  my areas of concern and how best to get critical focus where I wanted it to be and my best course of action would be to make multiple exposures at various focus points within the image. This way I could choose the best, sharpest images and blend them together manually ensuring that the image is sharp from front to back.

My concerns about the image

  • The foreground – These alpine grasses and petrified trees make for a really interesting foreground but if I place a focus point there specifically it will throw a good portion of the image out of focus. I really wanted this area of the image to be there as I think it really leads you into the rest of the photograph. The textures and shapes are fantastic but I do not want to crop out this section.
  • The middle ground –This area is problematic as there are three different petrified trees all on different planes within the image. If I focus here the fore and middle ground will be sharp but the background will be soft. That is unacceptable to me  as I want sharpness throughout…..I felt anything less would be too distracting for the viewer.
  • The background – If we place our focus here then the fore and middle ground become much to soft and not what I want for my image. Due to the lack of clouds on my visit I want the ones that did happen to float by to be nice and sharp as well as being able to discern what is in the background. I want to see everything in a landscape and my eyes in particular like when things are nice and sharp.
  • Multiple depths in the image – When your dealing with multiple depths for instance where all of the different logs are sitting, It can be difficult to place where you want to focus in the image. You will have to make a compromise somewhere and usually that means something will not be sharp. The depth in the middle ground is my biggest problem here and focus blending will be my choice to overcome it.
  • Wind movement – While the water in the pond was very still creating a mirror reflection there was a very slight breeze blowing across the grass in the foreground. I had to wait for just the right moment for the grass to settle down in order to get my shots without any movement in the foreground. This would make blending the images manually in Photoshop much easier.
  • Interest in the sky – While not a huge concern on the day that I was at this pond their were clear blue skies so I had to make a choice to exclude a good deal of the sky from the composition. I was fortunate that while I was composing some clouds wandered by into the frame and I was able to add some interesting shapes from the sky into the shot. The clouds added shape and form to the reflections in the water and added some calm into the scene.

A three image exposure and focus blend

Generally when I shoot images of this type I make a series of test shots for my exposure values. Sometimes one exposure will work for the entire scene and other times I need to make separate exposures for the highlights and shadows.

Once I have my composition set I will make a series of exposures starting at my bottom focus point and working my way up through all of the middle focus points in a straight line. Generally this is enough to cover sharpness throughout the image but here and there you will always have to make adjustments.

In this case I made a total of three exposures with a focus point set in the foreground, One for the background and a last one for the middle of the pond and the three logs.

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My first exposure with no edits that was made for the foreground grasses and logs.
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My second exposure with no edits that I shot for focus in the middle ground. My focus point was right on the log in the middle of the pond which kept the entire middle portion of the image very sharp.
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The third image I shot in my series for exposure and for focus on the distant background. Notice the dark foreground but the lighter background.

As you can see in the progression of the images the first two are exactly the same with the exception of where I placed my focus point. These two images I used to blend together the fore and middle ground into one image and the last image was blended in for the focus and exposure in the background.

These images will always need some post processing work in order to blend everything into a smooth, coherent image. I try not to shoot my exposures so far apart that you have to push the processing to the extreme, I just want to process enough to make the lighting look natural and how it was when I shot the scene.

The final look of the image

Once I import all of the images into my computer I always first do the blending and then as my final step I will edit the combined image. I find that it’s easier to do it that way and match the exposure them it is to edit all of them separately and then combine them. In a series of three images like this one or if there are several images I will always break it up into two image chunks so I don’t get lost in the editing process. Most of the images will be so similar that it’s very easy to forget which one you are working on.

Here I took the fore and middle ground images and combined them and once I was happy with the blend I would add in the final background shot and blend that in as well. Especially in this particular shot there are s lot of elements so there was quite a bit of brushwork along with my usual gradient process to get everything looking just the way I wanted to. The final image after processing is what the scene was like and the lighting is accurate. While I don’t always do these exposure blends as at times it’s not necessary but it is a tool that we can utilize.  In  this image we have an example of how to get multiple depths and focus points into one harmonious photograph.

 

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!

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.

Summer Storm

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Storm front moving over Lake Champlain from the New York side.

Sometimes you have to give up a night of shooting to step back a bit from the camera and do some scouting for future shots. Last week I did just that, However as always I never leave home without my camera gear. I decided to take a walk o the bike path which runs along the Lake Champlain shoreline here in Burlington. It extends into the next town of Colchester and makes its way out to the Champlain islands which is some distance away.

I really was hoping for a bit of color but the hot and humid conditions had other plans. My intention was to scout out the shoreline on the northern section of the bike path but the beach areas here are pretty shabby and the high water right now essentially means there is no beach in these areas. As I was walking along the storm clouds kept building gradually covering up the sky and this was towards the end when I knew the color wasn’t going to appear and the rain was going to let loose at any minute!

The very hot and humid conditions made for a pretty boring raw file when I first looked at this one. There was a misty haze in the bottom of the frame from all the humidity and I am not sure how to describe it but I really think the humidity does something to an image. This one just had a weird vibe to it until I converted it into a black and white. Some simple processing in Silver Efex Pro 2 really brought out the drama in this one almost as if the clouds were swallowing up the brighter areas in the sky! It really was an awesome sight watching this storm build!

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

Giant

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Giant boulder fallen from a cliff that is part of a thrust fault that runs under Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

The Lake Champlain valley is a pretty diverse ecosystem with a wealth of photographic possibilities. In my earlier post “A Thrust Of Earth,” I introduced you to a rather unique location on Lake Champlain and another spot with wealth of photo ops! This area is a thrust fault which runs under the lake and is the only spot in Burlington with massive cliffs and rocky outcroppings. There is a ton of visual interest at this location but on the day I was here for my first visit the sky wasn’t great and it was more of a scouting mission.

I took what nature gave me and made several long exposures…One of which is this giant boulder which sits at the base of the fault. The boulder broke off from the cliffs above and now sits in the water on a very small bit of loose rocky shoreline. The location here is very tight with not much room to manuever for compositions but with more time and the right weather conditions this location is prime for some landscape shooting.

The windy conditions allowed me to break out the Lee Big Stopper for some long exposures. The sun kept poking out making some bright spots in the clouds but I think this shot came out nicely. The boulder with the still living trees growing on the side make for an interesting component to a landscape shot! The weather has been less than ideal but when the conditions improve I will return to this location. I have the ideas for some shots in my head, Now I just need Mother Nature to cooperate.

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 90 seconds. Lee Big Stopper.

A Thrust Of Earth

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Thrust fault and cliff face on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.

I have been nagging myself for a few years now to get to this location and I finally made it here yesterday. This is the one and only spot in Burlington along Lake Champlain that I have not photographed and probably the most unusual. The cliffs here are actually part of a thrust fault which runs from here, Under Lake Champlain and all the way to the Catskill Mountains over in New York. Geologically interesting as tons and tons of this rock sits on a layer of black shale which if you were to go here you can see the shale layer as well as the thrust fault. The land here sits on privately owned land which is one of the reasons why it took me so long to shoot this.

I researched out the land and found that is owned by the Burlington Episcopal Church. I discovered online that they have a small blog devoted to the area and I was excited to learn that they allow hiking on the property as long as you stop by their offices to get a pass. Some really terrible skies rolled into the area which never broke so I decided to settle for a scouting mission and I came away with a few keepers! The weather made for some good long exposures in black and white and I took advantage breaking out the Lee Big Stopper after about a year of shooting other subjects.

The rocks and cliffs here are just massive. There are several good compositions here and I can’t wait to explore it further. some of the good comps require a good set of waders and some tough gloves…The shale here is extremely sharp on the hands and the rocks here in the distance are difficult to get to without getting into the lake and walking in the water. I had quite the adventure today, Scrambling among these large boulders and using my time to scout even though the weather was less than ideal.

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Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 95 seconds. Lee Big Stopper 10 stop filter and a Cokin Z Pro two stop graduated neutral density filter. Processed in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and Lightroom. Did some distortion correction as the Canon 17-40mm has some incredible distortion on the wide end at 17mm. (One of my pet peeves about this lens!)

Swift Currents

Canon 7d/ Canon 17-40mm F4 L series lens, UV filter, Cokin circular polarizer and three stop neutral density filter. ISO 100 35mm F16 @ 1 second. Smugglers Notch, Vermont.

A few weeks ago I was up hiking in Smugglers Notch near Mount Mansfield trying to catch some of the spring runoff we are having. It all starts up here and winds its way down into Lake Champlain. This particular falls is hard to get a good composition on from the front so I tried this angle from the side. I wanted more of a detail shot here as this particular section of falls is kind of ugly. Things are still pretty brown in the area as the forest is just starting to bloom..Hopefully in a few weeks there will be some more life to the woods here. Enjoy!

No Fishing: A simulated light leak effect in Lightroom 3

This first image is the original merged HDR image from Photomatix Pro 4. Canon 7d/ Canon 50mm EF F1.8 lens Induro 8m alloy tripod with bhd-1 ballhead.

The other day I saw a really great post by Mark Stagi at Digitalphotobuzz.com on how to create a simulated light leak effect from a toy camera within Lightroom 3. It was such great post and such a very simple technique that I link to the original article here. It sounded so interesting that late last night while editing images I decided to try the technique out myself. (I cannot claim credit for this idea but Link back to Mark’s article for the credit to him.)

Above is a HDR image I took a few weeks ago on Perkins Pier here in Burlington, Vermont. This is part of the waterfront area that sits on the shores of Lake Champlain. What struck me about the image was the no fishing sign on the side of the docks…They were still locked in some ice from the winter. After I processed the image I was happy with it but it seemed a little on the boring side.

I wanted to quickly describe what I did to produce the final image…

1. I imported the final HDR image into Lightroom 3 and edited with the following:

Clarity: 70

Vibrance and Saturation: +10

Medium contrast setting

Sharpening and Noise reduction both set to 30

2. Next I imported into Nik Silver Efex Pro and applied the Holga preset and a red filter to the image.

3. I then imported the image into Focal Point 2 adding a blurring effect to draw the viewer to the sign and dock.

4. Next I re-imported back into Lightroom 3 where I added two graduated filters to the left side of the image. I tried to place them so that the light leak effect looked random and off centered a bit. I added a bit of a red/pink tone to the image as well. I then added a post crop vignette of +15 which blew out the highlights just a bit in the image adding to the effect. Instead of the corners being darkened I think it made the light leak a little more interesting by lighting them.

5. Finally I added Grain/Size and roughness all set at 50 to give the image a vintage feel! See that’s all their was to it…easy and simple but a really cool effect. I must thank Mark for his original and great piece on this technique!

Here is the finished black and white image with the light leak effect!

Two of hearts

 

Canon 7d/ Canon 50mm EF F 1.8 lens, uv filter, Induro tripod. ISO 800 50mm F 5.0 1/250. Flash set to 1/4 power.

I think the best portraits are made when you trip the shutter a few extra times when the subjects don’t know your going to do that. I am a huge fan of the more spontaneous expressions and poses in this type of work. This is my friend Nikki and her daughter and she requested this kind of shot. This was the best image out of the series and it came after the posed one was done with a few extra clicks of the shutter.

I am using two 85 watt CFL bulbs right now for portraits and for this shoot I added in my Canon 430 ex 2 speedlight. I have been wary of doing this because of the competing light sources but to my surprise it worked and helped me out tremendously! We were shooting on a white background and these can be difficult, Turning out gray and flat if not exposed properly. The two lights I was using were not going to light the background properly so with a little bounce flash onto the ceiling and aimed behind the ladies the effect worked.

Image processed in Lightroom 3, Silver Efex Pro and Focal Point 2.

Hiking to nowhere

Shoot and be positive

Sometimes I have all of the best intentions to get some good photography work done but I do have those days where the resulting work is not quite what I expected. I can hike to a location, pre-visualize  the composition, read maps, check the weather and plan all I want but there are times when you just can’t “find your set” as I call it. The despair sinks in as I hike and hike and look in all direction for just the right composition but it is nowhere to be found. It’s a hard to describe feeling but probably most like a painter who does not have any paints to create with.

It is a strange sensation on that one day every so often where the creative mojo just is not flowing and you end up hiking for hours with maybe one or two shots to show for it. I try to handle these days in a positive way, Telling myself at least I came out and looked, got some exercise in the process, and tried as hard as I could to work on my images. For me it’s a simple matter of keeping my focus with photography and going out rather than sitting at home and complaining that I did not get any work done.

Winter hiking can be a crapshoot

In the Winter months I often find myself hiking in the Mount Mansfield State Forest around the Smugglers Notch Ski Area. This is a favorite area for me as most importantly it feels like home when I go there. I have spent many years snowboarding at Smuggs but also the last four years exploring the area quite extensively looking for some good photo compositions. Route 108 runs from the town of Jeffersonville up to the Smugglers Notch Ski Resort and the base of Mount Mansfield. It continues through the notch and down the other side to the Stowe Ski Resort and Stowe village. After the first snow this road is closed which makes it even easier to have access to this area for hiking.

On a rushed drive in early November 2010 for a short window of ok weather before a “winter storm” of warm temps and rain moved into the area. Normally I don’t come out at this time of day but I wanted to try to get some work done and the weather was going to become uncooperative soon. The day itself was very overcast with not a hint of sunlight anywhere. The clouds were flat and lifeless making wide-angle shots with the sky pointless. With no sunlight the light on the snow had no contrast making everything look grey, difficult exposures but not impossible.

Hiking into the lower valley the snow was up to my knees making it slow going. The trees themselves were trying to stop my progress grabbing me and my backpack at every turn. It was almost as if the forest was trying to say “Not today son.” With the temps being warm the snow had the consistency of “good snowball snow”, easy to compact when you walk on it. I had to be  careful where I walked as I didn’t want to ruin the snow in any possible compositions. My location was a stream which runs through this valley and down into the Brewster River a few miles downstream. The snow had covered much of the rocks in the stream with those awesome domes of snow making for some great compositions.

Always look on the bright side

Being that it is early winter here the compositions were difficult as along the stream there wasnt many places to set up for some decent shots. The ice was not that thick and several times as I stepped down to the water I broke through. I tried many different angles and compositions along a pretty long stretch of the stream. Bad light, No contrast and a host of other factors made this one of the days where no matter how hard I tried I could not get the image I was after. In total after three hours of hiking I got four images. I did not look at this day as a failure though. I always try to look at the positives of any shoot versus the negatives, No day is the same and I take it as a learning experience. The one thing that I always tell myself is “If you come away from the shoot with just one image you are proud of then the day was a success.”